Here at Cobb, I have discovered that I am at war with conventional wisdom. Why? Because conventional wisdom is so easy to come by. All you do is listen to NPR, read the Washington Post, watch Fox News and subscribe to a couple magazines. All the stories are connected and all the pundits read each other's work. Getting the conventional wisdom is a no-brainer. It's what we intelligent people do with our spare brain cells, because we have so many of them since we're all underemployed, right? Well, I'm less underemployed than ever so I have less time with my precious few brain cells. That is why I blog a whole lot less than I used to, I follow news less and less every year, and I become more and more comfortable reading old historical stuff that almost nobody reads any longer, like George Orwell's *other* books. Yeah, right now I'm in the middle of The Road to Wigan Pier. What an eye opener. More on that later. Right now, I'd like to rip up the cliche - "If it would help just one person, I'd.."
I'm not really against the American middle class. I happen to believe this axiom, and somehow it should become one of Cobb's Rules. But basically it goes like this syllogistically. What is the purpose of public education in a democracy? Moreover why should we have it at all, and how should we judge its effectiveness? It's actually rather simple. The common man should be educated to rule in a democracy. That is to say, a public education should be good enough to train the leaders of society. Or another way of saying it is that "If you go to public school, you can be President" should not sound ironic in any way. So we know that our system is broke. And it is that brokeness that makes me focus on the American middle class and its conventional wisdom.
Now some people say that critical thinking means question everything. But it's funny how Orwell reminds me that the same thing is true today as was true in 1937 - the masses of people who are supposedly better off with a socialist program are not intellectual socialists at all - they completely ignore the principles of 'thesis, antithesis and synthesis'. So it's more about hating the other guys than putting together a solution. No surprise there. More conventional thinking.
So now I get to the title of this with the interesting note that the other day I got an Amber Alert on my iPhone. Did you? If you live in California, you probably did. Why? Because the government mandated that their new texting version of the Emergency Broadcast System was embedded into the technology (that you don't understand) in your iPhone.
Cobb readers know I rail on about scientism, basically the religious belief in science. You know. The people who avoid cholesterol like the plague, but couldn't identify it with a microscope. The people who complain about Americans lagging in math scores but couldn't name one practical application of linear algebra. The people who say other people are anti-science but can't name one successful application of embryonic stem cells and haven't followed up on 'the science' since the election of The One. I could go on about this, but you understand, hopefully.
This skepticism of mine is tightly tied to my undying support of the common man. Yes I am an elitist, or more properly a formalist (formalism only becomes elitism when there are relatively fewer and fewer people left who know how things actually work, knowleged gained by formal education) not that I have any problem whatsoever with tinkering, hacking and experimentation. And so I hate the fact that automobilies have become too complex for people to fix themselves. That computing devices are becoming more opaque. That shoes can no longer be repaired, nor clothing nor houses. We seem to be riding a technological wave of opaquely obsolescent product, and that not only accellerates a wasteful consumerism, but it poisons what's good about *any* consumerism. I want the common man to be able to buy a $550 suit in 1993 and have it still be useful and fashionable in 2003, and cooly retro this summer. I actually have some $200 wingtip shoes that fit that description except they're not even retro. A wingtip is a wingtip, and mine have been repaired three times. Same with watches, cars, refrigerators. These are all mature technologies. Make a repairable beast version that lasts 20 years. Sell it to the common man, so that he can learn in time to fix it himself. That's respect. Anything else is disrespect.
Disrespect is what we get all the time in the consuming mainstream. Why? Because we are suckers to fashion and that's what we deserve.
So. Don't be surprised if someone takes you at your conventionally wise word and starts taking your conventional altruism for granted. If you could help just one little girl from being abducted, would you help? Why sure I would, you say. OK, so now we have implanted this chip in your cell phone that allows us to broadcast Amber alerts. If you could help us capture just one more terrorist, would you help? Why sure I ould, you say. OK, so now we have figured out how to read all the email in the world that allows us to find the bastards. If you could add just 3 more years to your own miserable life, would you help? Why sure I would, you say. OK blam. Sugar is illegal, because we have proved it's bad for you (on average), scientifically.
Did I say a public education should be sufficient to train the leaders of society? If everyone actually gets such an education, then the leadership is more like a voluntary organization. But our governments are a bit far off that mark, neh? Our feel for society is slipping and millions are turning over their autonomy religiously, and the actual leaders are pimping fake science to justify their overlordship. Meanwhile the conventional wisdom is struggling to keep up, which is too bad, because conventional wisdom could be a very good thing, if it were wise enough. Instead, I'm stuck doing battle with the sort that doesn't perceive that which becomes obvious to me, that we are being suckered away from self-service.
Yep. That's a phrase that should have legs. Suckered away from self-service.