Utah Reflection: Scouting for a New Home

2016 has been a year of profound change. Although all years are years of profound change, this one made itself obnoxiously obvious in its sharp cut with the past.  IN a way, this is the razor we need, and in other ways, it is product and producer of much anxiety. Yet it is a bad year in a three decades of softer ones for the world:  economic growth slowing all over in the first, second, and third worlds.  So I find myself in Utah, spending Christmas vacation out of Cairo, and back in my home country scouting out Salt Lake City for a new life.

My wife has improved massively, and will be returning to working here in the states.  She has been living at home for health reasons and for her family health as I had written about before, but now her prognosis is improved and her energy is returning.  We spend the week going to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, discussing the Utah AIDS foundation with friends, visiting the various Mormon holy sights out for cultural understanding, and beginning to think about moving back.

I have been gone for seven years–gasoline is two dollars cheaper than when I left and food is more expensive.  USB outlets are everywhere. Things say “Made in America” again beyond hipster clothing brands.  Things are different and the West is the not the South where I am from or California or DC where most of my friends moved when they could.

I am exited, although I still have six more months as a teacher, away from my wife, in Cairo. At the end of this, I don’t know that I will be a teacher anymore after doing teaching in either secondary or post-secondary settings for over 12 years. I am not sure I won’t stay in the classroom either, but I am open to working in NGOs, consulting, and data-analysis or anywhere that can use my administrative, writing, and data-analysis skills acquired in teaching, educational research, publishing, and working the arts.

I have also been reading on Hellenistic and Greek philosophy and will be doing more writing on that. My thoughts on politics are still forming. I have not commented on the President Elect because I feel like we don’t know enough yet about what is actually going on and while my predictions and observations held up better than the average pundits, being part of the chattering classes on politics before things unfold is, in a way, reading tea leaves or throwing entrails.

So I will watching the Utah snow freeze, we got almost two feet, and four years in the desert and most of my early life being in the South has left me not used to snow. The black ice, the driving patterns, and the shoveling being somewhat alien to me now.

So times they are a-changing. They always are. In six months, I am coming home to a new phase in my life.

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A Not So Definitive List of My Unpopular Opinions…

There is a meme free-floating around social media about unpopular opinions one holds.  I began to think about what unpopular axioms I hold as truth, and decided to some up with a list that will surely alienate someone about something:

Unpopular Opinions on Marxism:

IF economic and historical assumptions of Marx is not true, then Marxism is not worth defending as it is even as a progressive step. There is no moral reason to support it as it currently exists as a system of thought if one thinks it merely a step in the right direction.

The way most Marxists talk about teleology is eschatological–progress is domain specific even within a totality.

All ideological schools of thought, even non-political ones, are necessarily “vanguardist” in a loose sense, and explicit anti-vanguardism becomes incoherent and actually has a higher tendency to develop into personality cults.

Democracy as a concept is not good or bad, but a formal impulse that itself is actually value and polity neutral. The form of democracy is actually probably not value and polity neutral, but cannot be explored outside of specific historical contexts.  Marxists are not seeking then merely “economic democracy” which is an idiotic division of political economy rendered into a slogan.

 

I don’t think degenerated workers states or state capitalism actually completely describe the failure of actual socialist states to achieve even their own internal goals.

We desperately need serious class studies look at the stratifications within the working class, and not just on race, ethnicity, and gender, but also in field of employment, region, etc.

Marxism as a humanistic ideology desperately needs to take research on anthropology and psychology more seriously.

A Marxist society cannot simply develop on capitalist technology and the stage to impose itself by controlling the state.

Social, political, and economic revolutions are all needed, but they don’t all happen at once. I believe that having the political revolution happen before the economic one is a large part of the problem of Marxist development.

I do not think conflating “communism” and “socialism” is in line with later Marx’s writings, and I do think Marx was actually a stagist fairly explicitly even if I don’t agree with that element of Marx’s own writings.

Most of the hatred of Marxism is honestly earned.

 

Unpopular Opinions on Politics in General

Carl Schmitt is right about the way states of exception work for political communities and the definition of political world.

I have learned much from anarchism, including that I am not one.

Any moment that wishes to radically change a polity could learn more from Hezbollah than the New Left.

Anti-Americanism alone is the anti-imperialism of fools.

There is no such thing as nationalism of the oppressed.  That is like chauvinism of the United Colors of Benetton.

Most critiques of Eurocentrism are themselves Eurocentric.

Liberalism is dying from success.

The problem with most anarchism is negation is rarely ever enough.

 

Unpopular Opinions in Ethics, Morality, and Politics 

Virtue ethics is the mostly defensible meta-ethics. The impulses that cover deontological and consequentialist ethics are actually covered in virtue pluralism.

Morality and ethics are distinct but related categories.

Morality is the conception of the limits of one’s self-conception in relationship to one’s actions.

 

Ethics is the normative conception monitoring relationships to others.

Morality often drives epistemology and metaphysics (like it did formally in almost all ancient philosophical systems, or they conflate morality and metaphysics and derive epistemology form that), not the other ways around.

There is no one moral way to engage in relationships, marriages, etc. There are, however, tons more immoral ways to engage in them.

One should not completely separate one’s morality from one’s normative politics, but one HAS do separate one’s morality from one’s descriptive politics.

Good and evil aren’t particularly helpful in A LOT–read most–everyday moral questions.

Ethics and morality are contextual even in absolutist cases.

 

Unpopular Opinions in Education: 

Learning Styles don’t exist, those are only learning preferences.
All the psychological research agrees with me, educational research doesn’t but see the next few points for why.

Overuse of technology in education is a cause of executive function decline. All the psychological research agrees with me, educational research doesn’t but see the next few points for why.

Despite recent educational research for administrations, the distinction between skills, content, and behaviors is actually not psychologically meaningful as they are all forms of knowledge and this pretending of a distinction in assessment cuts against most administrators concern for student achievement.

Most education research is methodologically unable to question its assumptions, and its notions of best practices are often statistically questionable. This is why there are all kinds of small level effects found in education research statistically, but achievement has not improved in aggregate for the entire student body much since 1970s and even educational research book I have ever read admits that. Many assumptions in educational research look for implied statistical significance in ideas that have been completely debunked in the fields that they originated in, but since applied research in education is all based in correlations and it is frankly a-scientific, and thus cannot build proper causing models.

Administration and systems are much, much more important than most teachers realize.

The whole “factory model of education” is a myth itself. The models of education even during the Prussian period are influenced by military models and ideas of human capital, and Dewey’s models of education have been influential since they existed. This is actually a myth about both the Enlightenment and economics that pushes as consumer model of education.

Educational choice in schools is only bad because of the way educational funding is structured.

Most educational research is also questionable because it results more than any other field seem to match up to things in recent legislation or administrative decisions and NOT research in humanistic fields.

Economists meta-studies in education are perhaps the worse of the fields in education studies.

 

The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia: Wonktopia’s Little Big Horn or Wonktopia’s Crossing the Rubicon.

Plot Twists abound: I have been avoiding continuing to blog about the minutiae of Trump transition team and general Democratic reaction to it.   I have been avoid this because it is droll, complicated, and I want to see how everything plays out. However, recent events have let me to write on what I am seeing as a dangerous trend in progressive circles.

You can’t save wonktopia with wonks in the security sector of the executive giving vague releases. The CIA’s consensus view that Russia was election tampering has been picked up with a confluence with the faithless elector argument.   Podesta and the White House seem  trying to expand the argument by having a report given to the Electors. The issues with using an anti-democratic institution to restore a popular vote without either legislative, judicial, or state oversight should be obvious as it creates precedents that literally violate several state constitutions and statutes on faithless electors, tries to bypass the one function of the electoral college to favor another function, and does nothing to address that legislative and state (and probably judicial) would have absolutely no incentive to government with a Clinton executive.

The compromise elector is to the install a moderate Republican as a compromise, but in light of the CIA’s supposed revelation, there is an urgency to do something. Most progressives favor Kiasch or Rubio being installed, which would be interesting in so much that almost no one voted them and would destroy the primary/caucus process that is a province of the states.  If they put in Clinton as the executive, it would be worse.

The problems is that Electoral College is anti-democratic but it keeps large swaths of the country from feeling like they have no federal recourse. In Latin America, where no such institutions existed in the post-Revolutionary Republics both rightists and far leftists in non-metropoles were kept out, and the results were either a quasi-dicatotorships like the PRI in Mexico or lots of civil wars like most of Central and South America. Without the states having more representation of urban areas and without significant work at state level, this use of executive and procedural power that Wonktopians have become addicted to since 1960s, risks empowering their opponents more and more as well.

Furthermore, the claims are thin: The Democrats are asking the entire country to embrace faithless electors off of a statement by the CIA prompted by a President of the opposing party that has not proven anything but illegal release of true documents and possible theft of RNC data. IF there is vote hacking or manufactured documents, then we need to know. We don’t know that. The Democrats are essentially asking for a anti-democratic institution to save democracy from an election where a foreign power may have done agitprop and that is so far all we have evidence for. The FBI seems hesitant to endorse the claims as well. 

The kinds of constitutional crisis this can provoke as serious, and while it is a stretch to imagine civil war immediately, the use of executive procedures would prompt popular revolt in most of the states and would lead to pressure for amendments to the constitution and a possible backlash against Democrats in the next congressional election period whereas such an election would traditionally favor Democrats if prior history is an indication. This would be effectively risking killing most of the structures of the Republic t0 save the popular legitimacy of the Republic. It either looks desperate and doomed, or like crossing the rubicon.

Either way, it would make progressives complicit in their supposed worse fears of constitutional crisis.