The Paradox: How We Teach and What Our Instincts Require
Note: I will being using ‘our’ ‘us’ and ‘we’ often; consider I am speaking on behalf of the majority of America and in reflection to the American system and culture.
**Please reread Summary, and then continue
The American Dream (AD) is an expression in which has evolved from one image to another. Arguably, it originated from the campaign and national desire for ‘slightly above’ mediocrity in living conditions; a house, white fence and two cars in the drive way, in a suburb. And for those times that image was wealthy living, compared to the majority of the world; which still is very much true. However, today the AD is more materialistic than it existed originally… A rich and leisurely life; house on the beach or apartment in a major city, a six figure income and a 100,000 dollar sports/luxury car – just to start the dream off! This expression the AD gives today, is the one I will reference from now on; the majority of Americans act as if they were rich or will eventually become rich. The above explanation will be discussed further in argument B. This part of the conflict, at quick glance, seems to contradict the idea we want to be sociable. However, evolutionarily, it proves to make sense of how the American Dream has also evolved.
I do not suggest ‘altruism’ in broad terms; the practice to do selfless actions of welfare for others. We have reasons for our want in aiding others; whether they be socially or individually influenced desires (nurture) -and/or- instinctual requirements (nature). The altruism I will discuss can be more refined as the following: the practice that is consensually accepted in/by a group as altruistic. A group can vary from a social circle of friends to international identities of a nation or continent. The fact there may be groups within groups could cause confusion; for this paper’s purposes the culture of America and the subcultures which exist in America are being referenced: majorly education [from media and school], but also fashion trends and thought movements both underground and mainstream. Example of group altruism: Participating in church events is deemed charitable by the church’s community members. My altruism definition is a parallel of social altruism – (as far as I am aware) coined by Nigel J. Barradale. The difference between social altruism and how altruism is normally viewed is mildly significant. Rather than assuming altruism means to be charitable in a general sense; the social altruism perspective seems to be more realistic. People tend to want to help those who will later help them in return, and this mutual payoff is seen majorly in dynamics of groupthink theory; which will be slightly referenced.
What follows is a more precise expression and explanation of social altruism from Barradale himself from his theory paper – Social Incentives and Human Evolution: “… behaviors are exhibited that benefit the group at the apparent cost to the individual, when the social incentives are excluded. This behavior is termed social altruism. As per the above, social altruism may be displayed due to: genetic predisposition; behavioral conditioning; awareness of intrinsic incentives; and awareness of social incentives. Of these, the first three may lead to behaviors that are costly to the individual, even when the social incentives are included. For example, genes may be selected because they encourage us to behave social altruistically, which has a fitness benefit on average; but those genes are unlikely to perfectly distinguish instances that are fitness enhancing from those that are fitness detracting, and so both behaviors are likely to be exhibited. This is not, of course, to suggest the ability to better distinguish between the behaviors would be socially desirable. Quite the opposite, in fact-the many instances when people behave altruistically at a personal cost is a wonder of human societies and may have been a necessary prerequisite for our evolution as a species” (Barradale). In section C. I will propose another reason why we do not have “the ability to better distinguish between the behaviors [that] would be socially desirable” but in fact behave in a manner that is only socially desirable to our sought out and indoctrinated groups. The reason being another cognitive argument; our reptilian brain complex being the cause for us to defend and protect our group thoughts.
A. Paradoxical Problem Finding
Barradale, in the above, has expressed some of the reasoning for the paradox’s conflict; as value forming involves both instinctual and social dimensions, it appears that there are conflicts of conflicts. These conflicts seem to involve majorly: i. the concern of what does the system/culture look like, in which is prepping people to carry out their metaphysical desires (of being altruistic) ii. as well as the irrational (or not necessarily rational) tendencies in which we are likely to appeal to groups. Ideally, after these conflicts of conflicts are illuminated, we can better find examples of such conflict in the paradox.
Concerning the first conflict of conflict: What/who socially creates the guidelines in which we are to react instinctual-ly? Or to be more specific; what is [/does] the foundation of our education [look like] in which we have to adapt to, in order to create values? We have this instinct to want to figure out how to be socially altruistic in order to benefit from certain groups, but also we are given the education of the American Dream. First of the conflicts within conflicts – involves our education system (although only apart of the entire education we receive).
Andrea Kuszewski in her article The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience crudely but accurately has summarized the methods of modern education systems. The methodology is listed as follows:
1. Encourage linear, single-solution thinking, rather than exploratory learning (rewarded for the single correct answer, i.e. standardized tests, conformity is expected)
2. Hinder creativity and discourage innovative thinking (once students have the answer, they aren’t motivated to look for alternate solutions; errors are not rewarded when resulting from a potentially beneficial risk)
3. Don’t measure up to other types of integrated teaching models in regards to the amount of information retained by students (less effective at actually teaching material)
4. Aren’t as motivating or engaging for the students (students report less satisfaction and show poorer attendance)
5. Really aren’t that much fun for the teachers, either (Kuszewski)
A troubling list to accept as accurate. Yet, for this paper’s purposes we will assume the list is accurate to most (if not all) primary to secondary education methods in the U.S. Is there is one systematic method to being socially altruistic to others? Is there only going to be one or a few group(s) in which we have to socially respond to? Absolutely not! Depending on the group in which altruism is being attempted for, depends also on the method. Also, this methodology of education in schools is not preparatory for how to respond to a variety of groups (how to join/associate). The contrary seems more likely; education that molding abilities to only be able to respond to one or few group(s) at most. Which can further stifle exploratory attitude formations. If these are early attitudes, no doubt will they be at minimal, partially internationalized. Perhaps there should be a method (or part of method) in which is open-ended enough to anticipate change in group dynamics as being the foundation of the lesson plan or as an entire class: Group Method!
The second conflict of conflict: What makes us appeal to certain groups and/or distance us from others? How much does nature entail where we are likely to be drawn to; as far as group identification? These questions are no longer limited to philosophic and literary critique (although resources should/do come from such), but science has something to say! Namely evolutionary paradigms of research; majorly biology and psychology studies in evolutionism. These very real factors of how we have adapted during our evolution over the course of history, should be taught in a class room; not directly but designed into the lesson plans to relate allow the material to be more relevant towards societal thinking.
Although scientific evidence would be great to defend the argument that the paradox exist; I don’t feel it necessary. One must be just open to the idea, we respond to groups in order to self identify. Seems common sense filled – so, I will appeal to such. The majority will do whatever is necessary to be accepted by the groups they choose to want to be apart of; in return to receive recognition. Exaggerated when I say ‘whatever’ maybe, but objectively what one may do to gain access to a group is not nearly as extreme as another would. For instance: is paying 40,000 dollars more of less crazy than giving 100 hours a week to a group to be a member? I feel this question is preference-based and variable depending on who we are discussing with. So, keeping the idea as general as possible can avoid vagueness while maintaining ability to argue; individuals will sacrifice in order to be apart of a group.
With that said; “what does an individual wanting to be part of a group have in common with how our education system is designed?” Well that is the gist of the paradoxical problem at hand. While we have this natural tendency to associate with groups, we also have to be educated within a system. Does that education system teach to respond to our natural desires to associate with others? No. Does groups tend to educate us within their social guidelines? Yes. So… We get educated from the groups we are associated with, but there are a lot of groups existing… How do we know how to respond to them? Are we forced to rely strictly on our groups to know how to respond to the rest? In reference to the number one method Kuszewski notes – linear thinking (one answer is best) is the normative in our education system. Does this overlap into our other educations? What else teaches us; which groups teach everyone?
B. Pop-cultural Paradoxes
As defined earlier the American Dream (AD) is the ideal of rich materialism; in a nut shell – celebrity idolizing, in both properties and personalities. The concern of being wealthy is a prime example of the fact our education outlets hinder the majority’s value forming; in schooling especially with their linear methods; one answer for every question. The idea of being rich is an easy thought to entertain; little to no work, anything you want and fun whenever one wants. This argument suggest almost directly; linear methods of education create the AD, in addition to the rest of American education.
The way in which our media demonstrates rich and luxurious lifestyles depict selfish attitudes, especially since the means of obtaining the riches does not usually involve bringing others into rich status as well. The AD does not have any intention of bringing others with the individual to achieve such a goal. There are no shows about charity, none about humanitarianism and definitely none about morality and ethics – besides the Jersey Shore. Perhaps the biggest source in which progressive ideologies are displayed are in our contemporary documentaries. Still overall, as far as public media goes, there is no source in which teaches multiculturalism, humanitarianism and tolerance – but, rather in the norm, display examples of materialization of people and possessions; people going to prison, people [re]decorating places and things, and people gossiping about celebrities (politicians, actors and artist).
“Well media and entertainment do not necessarily guide our values.” That is true but they are apart of where we take what we know from and can existentially be considered apart of the entire value making process. As a example of how media and entertainment can influence the population of America; yolo and swag. These words spoken five years ago would hold no significance. Yet, today, through the power of media they are standard used words in the young generation. Although this is not a value-based argument, it can still dictate clearly media does influence our perspectives with fades and fashions; in both thought and style of outfits.
What does the appeal to ‘celebrity-ism’ have to with groupthought and group-following? A counter question: What does the majority think is in fact popular and notable to discuss? Celebrities. How the majority of fashioned are formed appear to be lead by popular figures of our culture. Musicians particularly, but also authors, actors and athletes are apart of the pop-culture dominating American education. I would even go as far to argue they are central figures, which historically is no different than any other times, except today we idolize what they usually ‘do’ rather than ‘say’ more often than not. If we cared about what they had to say… I do not think most of the pop-icons today would be very popular.
Having noted the most powerful way in which we gain values as a national identity; pop-culture through entertainment. There still are unanswered questions: How does this effect our abilities to be altruistic with others? In what way does our linear education and the American Dream cause us to either good or bad at dealing with groups and others? Do these two ‘manners’ really conflict to the point of creating a paradox, if so, how does it alter our perceptions in value forming?
C. The Infection of the Paradox on Our Lives
Argument A. discussed how our education system uses linear methods of crafting our pursuits of knowledge, and how we are naturally prone to wanting to identity with groups. Then concludes the education system does not accurately prep children to associate with various groups; rather more likely does the opposite; encourages children to find safety in one or a few groups. Argument B. discusses that our pop-culture is a major form of our overall education as well as creating values of the American Dream. Concluding the majority gains their impressions of value forming from pop-icons and celebrities. So, how can we summarize all of this up together? As a nation, in the majority, we are terrible at forming collective values, but why? How can we naturally have an aptitude for social altruism, but still prove to be so individually selfish? Do we have a culture that inspires individualism? If we do, then, what causes us to defend these individualistic attitudes of selfishness? Perhaps the reptilian brain complex can help provide clarity of the above questions, but first let’s tie together what we have discovered so far.
Did we ever have a chance to be good at value forming? Between a linear education, the American Dream, the celebrities who we idolize, and lack of group-reflection… This all adds up to a sort of culture which is worried about self preservation and identity safety; a culture of individuals (inspired by Nick Tingle); which is the source of the paradox at hand. A part of any American, who has not stopped and reflected on the majority of what I have tried to argue thus far, has this paradoxical individualistic attitude. We had no ability to not be individuals in this sense of being worried about the AD in a linear scope of mind, because our nature and public nurturing conflict(ed) in such a way to form this paradox of values (which escalated overtime into our national identity). On the nature side; the desire to be grouped with others and to associate in order to be apart of something bigger than oneself (group-identity). The nurture side: our academic education system and our superficial pop-culture.
Since apart of our nature is to identify with others, we will automatically do so; this is without question. We will always require others in order to develop both individually and socially. And since we have no other environments besides our immediate ones, in which to gain resources, to satisfy our natural needs… The paradox manifests… A culture of individuals… A working, functional contradiction of a system – well at least seemingly functional. What keeps this absurd mindset going? This crazy aptitude of a national identity? Well, this is where our reptilian brain complex could come into the discussion, one of the three parts of the theorized triune brain, and may have something to say about all of this paradoxical conflict.
“The neurologist Paul MacLean has proposed that our skull holds not one brain, but three, each representing a distinct evolutionary stratum that has formed upon the older layer before it, like an archaeological site. He calls it the “triune brain.” MacLean, now the director of the Laboratory of Brain Evolution and Behaviour in Poolesville, Maryland, says that three brains operate like “three interconnected biological computers, [each] with its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space and its own memory” (Kazlev). Interesting to consider, none the less, but what does this have to do with being like a reptile? “MacLean has shown… that the physically lower limbic system, which rules emotions, can hijack the higher mental functions when it needs to” (Kazlev) In essence, another argument in favor of a natural, evolutionary development in our thinking; our most primitive brain still exist and takes charge, as it is foundational for the entire ‘interconnected’ machine (ourselves); the R-complex or the reptilian complex is the base for the developed brain. This argument means nothing without the description of what the R-complex actually does for a number of animals, not just humans: “It is rigid, obsessive, compulsive, ritualistic and paranoid, it is “filled with ancestral memories”. It keeps repeating the same behaviours over and over again, never learning from past mistakes. This brain controls muscles, balance and autonomic functions, such as breathing and heartbeat. This part of the brain is active, even in deep sleep” (Kazlev). The reptilian complex is essentially what I am discussing as part of the natural reasoning for our paradoxical issues in this nation.
We, naturally, want to survive; no one can deny otherwise. The reptilian brain is worried about survival and is supported by instinctual drives. To connect this with our drive to be socially altruistic, it may immediately seem contradictory, but such incite couldn’t be further from the truth. What has and continues to allow us to survive is grouping with other people. So, at the core of our ‘rigid, compulsive, ritualistic and paranoid’ R-complex also exist the group mentality we used to survive through millions of years. Consider the group, and the individual in the group are not separate entities at this point! Our brain would not only evolve to worry about our survival, but the survival of our [pre]selected groups. Without reflection of who we group with, we will unconsciously follow the group over the cliff, because we instinctively already are apart of the groups we identify with. But, the cliff is not physical, it is a mental cliff, and falling off doesn’t kill you, it just keeps you unable to break through the nurture v. nature which creates your reality; how much do you allow your groups to dictate your thoughts?
How Evolution, Groups and Ourselves Clash
The above scientific concern seems to not effect how we educate at all, yet, this theory of the Triune Brain has changed many mindsets, in psychology, about how to look at the evolution of the brain, and it is time education specialist, theorist and politicians followed the mindset of thinking evolutionarily. This is available knowledge! Search engine anything I have said and one will find no fictitious information was used to argue with, but perhaps my conclusion will not be suffice enough for most. No matter, we are all able to understand our entire ‘self’ – the biology, the neurology and the spiritual/self-actualization. Yet, we don’t care to… In America, we could care less, not because we find the information useless, but because we do not have musicians composing lyrics about how the reptilian brain is the core of our thoughts, or a reality show about living as hunters and gatherers in the middle of a forest or jungle (w/ the theme of our dependency on others). It seems we meet our primitive needs on a more superficial level… A more direct and reflective level… We truly exist in an individualized culture; groups of people will believe their group is the best, and will reject working with others unless proven beneficial by group standards; usually the American Dream is the standard…
At this point, I hope the question going through your mind is: why, oh why, do we as a nation of over three hundred fifty million people continue to give into a system which proves to only stimulate our most primitive desires, and does not care to enhance our evolving social desires… ? Why are we so obedient to this system that predicates ideals of shallow-mindedness and non-divergent thinking? How? “Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to. Some system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the person dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, with defiance or submission, to the commands of others. For many people, obedience is a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed a potent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct.” (Milgram) Because we were never given another option of a society to find authority with, because there was never an option, because these are the cards we were dealt (we were born into what we get)… This random occurrence eventually will be honored and defended our predestined live, without or little reflection, because that is our nature. Had we an education where we are taught to be divergent (many answers to a question), we would quickly see how our system of politics and public education are magnificently terrible, and reward winningly awful.
But that does not answer how the herd (the system) continually runs off of the cliff, for as long as it has, without significant notice of the general population. As if the herd are given blinders from subtle sources; I am not one to call conspiracy, but for over 60 years we have went from the world’s industrial leader to the world’s entertainment source. Either we as a nation unconsciously ingrained these paradoxical issues onto ourselves, or their may have been a bigger hidden agenda at hand. From who? I do not know, but, to go off topic for a moment… The first rule of Capitalist politics should be “follow the money” because that’s the reality of the philosophy in which Capitalism presents and practices. Who ever has the most to gain from a nation of mindless consumer zombies, may also have the most influence on keeping a nation’s mindset in the realm of linear dreaming (the primitve brain)… But that will not be the conclusion to this paper! Leave the conspiracy talk to the blogs and websites which already exist, this paper is worried about how to solve the problem, not to point fingers at who may have caused the paradoxical issues.
The main paradoxical issue I am concerned with is the poor value forming between what is -and- is not essential to being an average American; are charity, multiculturalism and tolerance our foundational values? Social altruism provides benefits to the individual from the groups, but in argument A. the idea of altruism was privatized towards selected groups; mainly probably immediate ones like family, friends, business patterns, churches, etc. Whether or not we are designed to only capable of being altruistic to a few choice groups or everybody we come into contact with – does not seem clear. Regardless, we still have this instinct, and if our instinct can guide us to naturally form relationships with people (as evolutionary psychologist suggest) unconsciously – I finalize my position, with the notion: alternatives to how education is presented can not only create a more well rounded human being, but, also a better nation in which we can be proud of, one void of superficial tendencies of wealth and singular positions of answer finding. And in place – social idealism; the pursuit of creating a nation where the abuse of others and the system is not wanted, because the desire to improve oneself and their groups (ultimately everyone) will become primary in our values. This social idealism would satisfy our natural intents of taking and giving back to groups, while not posing threats to our overall developments – both socially and individually.
Idealism of Group Methodology
Having suggested heavily that evolutionary issues are very real factors in how we perceive the world and respond to other people. I believe this is knowledge we should not ignore. Education systems need to take into account the very real psychological factors that exist in order to educate children to being better thinkers, learners and overall human beings. The reality in which the world works is not individualism; individuals get nothing done without the support of others. Anything one wants to do is dependent on a system in place, and the system is carried forth by a society. Our education as noted in argument A. does not educate in groupthought, but the contrary; education that the individual is the key to success and that one answer, is desirable. This singular/linear thinking does not allow for ‘surprise’ or ‘quick change’ and makes these moments in time more often scary than interesting. I suggest we educate in a manner that is beneficial to both the individual and to their future relationships with others, by educating in the mindset the will be doing just that.
A group method class for primary and secondary school – structured to challenge the normative natures presented here (namely group-following) by creating situations where children will have to consider the ‘checks and balances’ of picking either group, or picking to not pick either group. Basically the goal of the class would be to allow children to challenge the very natures that will guide them through their lives. Unfortunately, such a proposal seems very problematic in structure. Perhaps group method should be the backbone of other types of classes that impose critical thinking? Science Fiction Appreciation. Nonfiction Writing. Poetry. Basic Philosophy. Any of the above would be excellent classes to allow exploratory thinking to occur; creatively inspired classes (the design for each class are pending papers of mine). With a group methodology at the core, however, exploratory thinking may prove more than to spur creative juices, but also provide tools for practical everyday use. We are social animals after all; although, almost ironically, being social to multiple groups rather than a few selected ones appears to not be natural. So, we must allow education systems to nurture us beyond our short sighted attitudes of conforming to a few choice groups; beyond our reptilian brain. Educate in the pursuit of multiple consciousnesses, in another sense, and the benefits will be immense.
Put kids in groups! Give them assignments with roles for everything, not just a project once a year! Figure out how to allow them to configure with one another in order to succeed. An example of a project would be to co-author or group-author papers; assign a ten page paper instead of five for two kids, this way they have to collaborate on the paper and agree. I feel this value will be revolutionary, because there already exist co-authored books, and group authored – it makes sense; people tend to share the same thoughts and impressions but have two modes of looking at a problem; put two different minded people together on the same topic, the results can be amazing! Imagine a philosopher of mind (specialist) and a neuroscientist collaborating a book that explains to teenagers about their developing bodies, or their minds (in their level of understanding, w/ relative examples). To promote collaboration early in education will platform the rest of the students live; our whole lives are based on collaboration! Whether it be natural or nurtured.
A group method class could be organized to do so, and by doing so, individual grading is not done but group grades. One will argue, what about the kid who will not do anything? The rest of the group will scold him/her of course, but is that any different than the real world? Why must we protect children from how things actually are? We can only do so much for the bullying problems existing today, and direct attempts to resolve them seem to only make things worse. More group work will benefit more than there would be draw backs. Especially, objectively considering, how the rest of their lives will be most likely involved in group activity. Again, like the above suggest classes for exploratory thinking, the idea of group method is unheard of in academic training. Yet in the end game, after college, that is the reality of the situation; we will be immersed in groups forever – let’s start early in educating children how to be better at reacting and relating to others, because again, they will be doing it anyways one day. This group method, in either a class or a part of class, may (I pray) help our future of America destroy the current paradox we are in; this culture of individualism. The individual is not the future, you are not the future! The group – a nation, a religion, a movement – are the future, we are the future. Start acting like it, question where it is you gain your primary values from and question those values. If they are ‘good’ or ‘true’ they will last through inquiry, that is this writer’s promise to whom ever read this absurd paper. “What does it take to be entirely in control; with one’s own thoughts and environment?”