Saturday, April 06, 2013

The legacy of king making and socialised standards

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Contemporary society is all about hierarchy. Why shouldn't it be? We recognise a hierarchy in knowledge; there is a sequence and succession in the entire universe, from causation to more specific examples of evolution and social organisation. Ok, so we have established that hierarchy is necessary and 'natural'. The question is - how should it be framed. It is a value system; but what should be the standard of value.
I reflect on this question because of two issues:
1. The case of a politician who I suspect is being vetted to fill a certain position.
2. The case of a student given a generous scholarship to an American university.
3. The case of my own life experience

The question of the politician 'making good' highlights in my mind the question of why this person and not another. This guy is confident, engaging, charming, has a history of success, and probably wants the job. But there are a lot of people like that, many of these salesmen. Organised and an effective leader? They are certainly important traits as well. And yet this politician probably had to develop those capacities as well, and his family already had politicians in the family, so he was perhaps 'born into it'. The question I entertain is - born into what? What standard of value? If this system posits certain standards, and everyone who is 'made king' is required to meet these conditions, is it not inevitable that they will affirm those values which made them successful; which affirmed their value. Of course its possible that they could 'humbly' or 'honestly' extricate themselves from the 'system' later in life, but how many people are so honest to do that, and how many people are such critical, reflective thinkers to start off with. We might even ask whether, under contemporary standards we are in a position to know whether a person is successful or not, because of their own efforts, or because of the people under them. A lucky pick or is their natural talent to pick and develop the skills of people. The truth is - we don't know or care. We as a society only care about the 'concrete' results. When it goes wrong; we don't care about the reasons; we punitively spurn failures and elevate success. Its the same for criminals as well. We only take an interest in criminals when the offend our sensitivities. I would argue that crime prevention, like empathy, is a conceptual capacity. I don't wish to cite the politician I am discussing here because I suspect he will end up being my local MP. Time will tell. Truth be told, he will probably be a good politician, 'according to contemporary standards'.

The next case is the student making good. I watch with interest his development. A smart kid to be sure. Better than any other kid? Well, he won the prize, so apparently so. But by what standard? The standard again in this case is an external appraisal. Some people came to regard his academic and civic track record as exemplary. But how fair was the race; and is that important. I know this child's family from a distance. The parents are proud, hard-working, engaging, and they'd do anything to contribute to the success of their child. In fact, I suspect it was the parents who were seeking opportunities to win scholarships, but perhaps they were offered through the school. In any respect, engaging parents are a solid basis for the development of a child's self-concept, and equally important in terms of their broader 'non-academic' education, as well as important in terms of shaping their values. But might we ask what role this plays in shaping a child's success. I suggest its critically important; and most reflecting of the parents engagement rather than a child's actual academic skill, and still less perhaps their own values. This is a controversial point. How well versed is the child with their own values, or merely reflecting:
1. The values of their parents
2. The values of the gatekeepers to credentialism - the pursuit of titles.

Not just this student but another student who was the son of an old boss, who got a Rhodes Scholarship. He is entering politics as well. The king makers have chosen well or are they merely cultivating certain measures of success. To what extent did they kids choose the values they were judged by? Given their parents custodianship; to what extent did their parents choose their success? They didn't. These philanthropic institutions presided over by king makers decided their values; the hurdles they would have to jump, the standards of value which will apply. What society will eventually conclude is the measure of the good. The philanthropists are deciding this - setting the standards of success - for the ultimate admission to the kingdom of the chosen. 

This is where I enter the picture. I contrast very differently with these students in a number of respects. I did arguably go to a worse school than one of these students, but a better school than the other. This is I believe less important than the level of engage by my parents. I can never remember getting any advice from any of my parents about anything. Perhaps for that reason I never asked them questions. No career guidance, no lessons in morality. They did provide for every material need, and perhaps felt obliged as a parent to send me to a private school because they went to one. They were rather insistent about they. I did not get a reason; and was rather defiant. This might be construed as typical of conservative values. Who is to know whether I would have otherwise been convinced. I did not get the opportunity. The fact is that I was forced to develop my own values; I did not get any support in this regard. No one went looking for scholarships for me, and no one offered them. Maybe that was a good thing. Judging by the fact that my father 'forced me to go on a holiday to Canada' (yep most people laugh at that) and that I was disruptive & disagreeable for the entire trip, he may have (when I was 16yo) decided that there is something to be said about parental engagement. Nope, as it turns out he did not later reflect on that decision. 
So it was not from my parents that a curiosity was evoked. That would come from science in school, and eventually philosophy in early university. If there is anything to convey from this blog post, its that:
1. Values are a source of success - depending on whether they are life-affirming or compatible with social institutions.
2. Values are a source of disruption - there I was at the age of 19yo - an ardent materialist pursuing money as a mining analyst, eventually a mining entrepreneur, and I was being pulled in another direction by such profoundly important philosophical questions and answers, that I was about to change my entire life direction.

The question is - was I better off or less a candidate for success because:
1. I was self-reliant - I had no parents to depend on. I consider it their role as custodians to prepare; though they might argue that 'disengagement' was their mode of preparation, and my critical insight and conceptual awareness is a testament to their success as parents. Its a nice rationalisation for them; but no. I think their mode of engagement was in fact a reflection of their own parents lack of engagement and ardent conservatism. My parents custodianship was actually 'outsourced' to my (private) school. 
2. I challenged convention - I would later walk out on a geology field trip because my lecturer was ineffective. I would defy the traditional career path in mining finance and travel to Japan. I would become self-employed and attempt to make money from philosophy. 

Irrespective of those issues, it might well be argued that I was free but ineffectual. I did as I pleased, or did as I thought important, but was it right? I personally think it was the best I could do in a bad system, coming from a partially unsupportive 'anti-intellectual context'. The good news is that that historical legacy was critical in giving me a new lease of life at age 19yo when I discovered philosophy. The problem however was that my success in many respects was written in the sand when I was young, and it would take years to overcome shyness and largely anti-authoritarian values. 

The positive of course is that, having had that philosophical education in my 20s and evolved as a critical thinker from that age, I was able to advance my education a great deal. But actually I have nothing to show for my brilliance. It is seldom that I don't win a debate, even in my field (resource analyst), and I don't even consider it my strength. The reality is that people only measure you for those 'tangible successes', which all too often don't even depend on you; which are not even a reflection on you. Too often those 'successes' are written in the stand at birth, and we are validated for a path rather than for the particular values we embody. We debate in society the causes of crime; whether its nature or nurture. I think its none of these. I think its values. You are not born with a criminal mind; you are not defined by your environment; you are shaped by your mental engagement. That 'engagement' depends upon being confronted by opposing standards of value. i.e. Two different parents. I had two parents the same; so I was invalidated and otherwise disengaged from parental insight until I discovered philosophy. I don't begrudge my parents to this day. I think they are simply products of their parents and society, simply because they were not challenged by 'differentiated' standards o of comparison that demand 'a choice' - to think or not to think. To think the way others think, or to forge one's own path. To react against other's values, or to develop an independent, coherent framework of values. Probably most people will take the money and be defined by others values. I wonder if you can do both. I tend to think you will get away with that once before you will be defined by your track record. Critical thinking is merely differentiated thinking. If you want to be a critical thinker, you first need to depart from conventional values in some fundamental way. Then you are destined to confront a litany of problems which you will have a very different 'solution'. This I would suggest to you is the foundation for genius. Basically I don't believe in genius. But I can say is that history shows that the reputed geniuses were rebels. Einstein and Nicola Tesla come to mind. Their trick was to place themselves in a place and systematically express 'differentiated thinking'. They did not seek out captains of industry until they were successful; until they offered something of 'recognised value'
So I say to people, define yourself differently, and piss your parents off. Let's rock this edifice until it changes. Let's destroy this hierarchy; a legacy of feudal times. The institutions have reformed only to preserve old conventions. As it turns out Einstein became 'institutionalised', whereas Tesla was arguably destroyed by institutional investors like J.P. Morgan. I have read different accounts of these facts. 

Truth be told; fundamentally I respected objectivity rather than social acceptance. 

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