Liberal Education, Part I: The Petty Troikaon January 22, 2006 at 12:00 am
“Must be your skin that I’m sinkin in
Must be for real cause now I can feel
and I didn’t mind
it’s not my kind
Does liberal education destroy the three things that humans want most?
This is a speculative post, made to answer questions by Mark, Chet Richards, and Federalist X, and to expand on some questions I had. This isn’t a definition of a strategy, like “Embracing Victory” — or even a rumination, like “The Magic Cloud.” It is an attempt to clarify my thinking, as well as an honest question. Feedback is warmly appreciated.
In particular, this web series will expand on a comment I made at ZenPundit
If [the root of "4th Generation Warfare"] a crisis of legitimacy of the state, it may be a self-inflicted one.
The grand educational project of the past 130 years has been the destruction of identity. Liberal education is designed to create relativists, to introduce critical thinking, and to break free of the past.
In other words, create a need for belonging where none existed before.
So now instead of widespread if petty sub-national groups, we have a highly-cognitive elite, a middle morass of nothingness, and among far too many a need to belong.
The (slow) rise of competitive primary and secondary education in the United States, coupled with an affinity for Confucian methods in China, may show a rejection of liberal education methods.
Would the weakness of states made possible by liberal education also be a root cause? The education system in most modern countries is designed to sweep away the petty identities students come in with, making them more amenable to 4GW-style revolutionary ideologies.
I would imagine a significant fraction of American ideological-revolutionaries (from SDS to American salafis) share a fantastic liberal education.
I earlier wrote that reality is a sea of friction, but for most of history, human interactions relied primarily on the troika of folk, kin, and trade.
For instance, in The Good Earth the protagonist can be neatly summed up as
Folk: Northern Han
Likewise in Atlas Shrugged, our hero Dagney is
A troika, a social sled drawn by three characteristics
Even sketchily drawn characters, such as the motorcyclist in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, are best identified by this troika
Kin: Father of Chris
Trade: Rhetorician / Philosopher
Throughout time, it was the interaction of these three categories which provided the conflict of life. Each of these qualities can naturally lead to their own petty leagues
And indeed the better part of history is the struggle between these. Until the rise of Capitalism.
The two greatest desires of humans are the needs for power and justice. The most effective movements, such as Holy Wars, combine rewards for the followers (ample tracts of lands, enslaved concubines) with justice for all (That all will hear the Call of the Lord equally). However, in mundane matters the wealth and justice drives directly conflicted. Most historical economic system were essentially zero-sum, meaning that for every winner there had to be a loser. Therefore strife between tribes, clans, and guilds often turned violent. Those who also believed in justice were largely marginalized, except for rhetorical purposes.
Capitalism allows the explosive crystallization of folk, kin, and trade networks. Production capacity continually crimes, reducing the incentive for violence and increasing the incentive for peaceful cooperation. The expanding wealth of a society naturally leads to governments which are able to buy off enemies — to manage crime — which allows for potential internal enemies to be pacified while the societal pie grows larger. Further, capitalism increases the number of proven technologies and techniques, allowing ever greater security. The triple-identity of man as a folk/kin/trade creature doesn’t diminish, but the troika becomes increasingly “petty” from the perspective of the state.
Sadly, the desire of the State to do more soon interfered. Governments failed to focus on decreasing inter-group conflict and protecting citizens against enemies. Instead, the traditionally hegemonic State became imperial, and attempted to focus the citizen around it. Unable to focus the folk, kin, and trade identities around it (the number of States which tried this is small, and includes Khmer Rogue Cambodia), States instead focused on breaking the identities of its citizens.
The tool the State used to do this was Liberal Education.
To quote from Wikipedia…
Today, the liberal arts are often promoted as “liberal” in a later Enlightenment sense, as liberating of the mind, removing prejudices and unjustified assumptions. In spite of the earlier medieval meaning, this is regarded by many today as the more relevant sense of the broader term liberal education.
The purpose of liberal arts is snap out the petty engines of the folk, the kin, and the trade. Because all men find themselves under the State anyway, this should create less friction in State-citizen interaction. For similar reasons, States cobbled together out of tribal societies (such as Ba’athi Iraq and Saudi Arabia) try to dilute the influence of tribes, to bring the citizen closer to the State.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that any education with furthers these petty loyalties is illiberal education
The scope of the liberal arts has changed with society. It once emphasised the education of elites in the classics; but, with the rise of science and humanities during the Age of Enlightenment, the scope and meaning of “liberal arts” expanded to include them. Still excluded from the liberal arts are topics that are specific to particular occupations, such as agriculture, business, dentistry, engineering, medicine, pedagogy (school-teaching), and pharmacy.
These illiberal educations still exist, because they help the State promote economic growth. Non-economic illiberal education, such as homo economics and genealogy, have been largely excluded from public education all together.
Through liberal education — through its weakening of the ties of folk, kin, and trade, the State seeks to “push out” from what’s really important, making the citizen more bendable to the State’s desires
Liberal Education, a tdaxp series