Thursday, July 05, 2018


By the time a person gets to the end of formal institutionally supported education -- the end probably being a "Ph.D" in something or other -- that person should be at about the end of the brain development stages which might be complete by 26 years old.  Simple maturation has helped to make them achieve their best skills.  All they lack is experience.

David Brooks has suggested that in the US "class" is distributed this way:  the top  .1% (it makes a difference to put that decimal point in there -- it means one tenth of the top one-per-cent.) will be ultra rich, to the point that if they want to be invisible, idle, and separated, they don't need to worry about this information above at all.

The next 9.9% are what he suggests are the new American aristocracy if we're using economic criteria.  These are the people on boards, heading major corporations, and so on.  They are very rich but also involved.

From there the professional and salaried people are "streamed" according to the their income, but not just the amount.  The proposal is that the nature of the divided populace who only make a hundred thousand or so is dictated by the kind of work they do.  Academics are one type, medical are another, bureaucrats are a third, and so on.  They develop a consensus of what is "real" and who they are.  

Everyone else is poor and just trying to survive.  This includes artists, musicians, and can include clergy, most lawyers, and so on.  

But Brooks also suggests that there is a similar hierarchy among the educated.  An eighth-grade education used to be legally imposed.  Then a high school degree became basic for employment.  Now probably college graduation is an indication of being serious.  Grad school must produce people who make enough to pay off their tuition loans, except that the American aristocracy is able to handle tuition directly and also to influence who is admitted and who is hired afterwards.  This consolidates their class.  They control the rule of law to tilt it in their favor with definitions and hidden features.

While people are solemnly or even desperately trying to understand this, like earnest reformers trying to understand "America," the big picture shifts in ways no one can control.  Part of this is climate change, part of it is political and economic in unexpected ways, like demographics or public obsessions with something like drugs or the changing beliefs about sex triggered by "the Pill", and part of it is the amazing and overwhelming amount of knowledge we now have about the world.  Religion is minor, at least institutionalized religion that talks about faith and salvation.  It's obsolete along with much of what we thought was scientific, forgetting that science is a process rather than a content.  

Instead we have deep pre-human time written in rocks, completely revised human history that must now include all forms of life including bits of DNA detached in the sea, cosmic webs, and a molecule-by-molecule understanding of our bodies.  Few, if any, of the people who are struggling to guide and "own" our future have any grasp of all this.  They don't have time to do the amount of reading or watching or talking that will give them the new understanding.  The people who DO know at least that this exists are a new elite.  It has nothing to do with demographics -- no matter what color, what nationality, what parentage, what physical skill, people who have assimilated this vision of existence are living in a new world.

One result of education is hopefully a widening view, a deeper sense of possibility, and a willingness to give up past venerated constructs that no longer work:  democracy, states, nations and possibly old forms of institutions that are better served in other ways: hospitals, universities, churches.  We find ways to make infrastructure in place -- wind, sun, tide, earth-heat -- instead of demanding grids and long transport distances.  Once again we have the willingness to learn many languages, including the patois and slang of the local community, whether Haitian or literary.

It's important to realize that there is an abyss between old-think, (mostly WWII) which came out of trauma and domination, and new think, which is much the result of internet sharing and the removal of walls between disciplines because the reasons that sort knowledge fall aside.  I look at the politicians gathered at the microphones to tell convenient lies and see the Skeksies from "The Dark Crystal."  Enough other people see the same thing to fund a prequel to the movie.

Our new concern for structure/antistructure and the arbitrary medieval understanding that underlies much of what is wrongly considered "modern," reveals that there are far more possibilities than we thought, supplying a wave of fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as longing for an imagined past.  

Once past the early elementary grades, education is ideally no longer passive.  Much of it is old culture passed on by parents through the biologically supported institution of family.  Some of it is ignored by many people, like the legal entity of marriage, some of it is so new it's not really possible to see or understand it.  Hopefully, the struggle to find new ways will create something that will heal our current mess.

In terms of evolution, many very shrewd people believe that the next advance will be emotional but still in the pre-frontal lobe of the brain that houses the executive abilities (how to decide, morality, comparisons).  It will be a kind of empathy, an ability to share the world-view of others without being captured.  Already there are individual cells that enable empathy in some people.  It's not the same thing as compassion, which is more based on emotion.  It's more visionary, more amenable to groups, more a way of entrainment, gathering for a common purpose.

Most of the parts of the brain arose as single cells, then those cells grouped into one blob, and finally became a shape with an enmeshed function, a hippocampus or amygdala joining the body system.  The earliest parts are about the earliest mammals, small and furtive, and the new cells told them whether there was a void nearby or whether they were against a wall to follow.  They were the beginnings of physical structure which became intellectual structure, the basis of thought, which can step away from the given to find new order.

When a writer learns grammar these days, the real goal is to be able to leave it.  For a while there might be a concern for propriety -- proper usage that indicates a level of schooled accomplishment -- then a gleeful violation of the norm in order to be clearer and more expressive.  Finally there is the flight to images, something more than merely oral language -- art in fact.  This may have been the leap that made Neanderthals give rise to us.  We should be grateful.

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