Liberal Education, Part III: Infection

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos. Why do you suppose
that when you have crossed great Acheron’s
eddying stream you will see the sun’s pure light again?

Alcaeus, “Fragment 38a,”

“A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism

“The problem with rules is
they alienate the criminals when whose to say
if what they did was wrong that day.
If you’d open your mind up
you’d see that there is nothing that’s always wrong.”

Pedro the Lion, “Nothing

The petty troika of folk, kin, and trade are genetically driven, and that means they should obey the same rise in genetic factors that Dr. Hibbing has uncovered in his research. Within the context of a particular sex, evidence for genetic correlation of attitudes and beliefs is weak until 20 years of age. After that the relationship increases, until genetics take up 2/3rds of the reason for believing something….

The Sociailizable Moment and the Genetic Lifetime

Therefore, the extent to which concrete thinking deprives a person of meaning begins after the second decade, and gradually increases after that. Liberal education causes cognitive dissonance

The Consistent Moment and the Dissonant Lifetime, under Liberal Education

Liberal education has another main effect: while liberal education relies on generating rulesets, by weaking the existing rulesets of students (which are hitherto focused on obeying authority figures), it decreases the control that adolescents are under and increases their freedom of action. In other words, while liberal education creates cognitively dissonant rulesets among adults, it weakens existing rulesets among adolescents. The effect of this is seen during the emergency of formal, symbolic logic among students, which begins in early adolescence.

Ruleset Strength During Adolescence Collapses Under Liberal Education

The combination of this collapsing ruleset strength combined with a latter increase in cognitive dissonance is dangerous for a society. It creates two separate cadres — adolescents and adults — who are harmed by liberal education in two different ways.

Liberal education, by destroying existing rulesets while not able to create strong new ones, acts like a Leviathan engaged in drive-by cognitive regime change. It is an ideological movement without a SysAdmin follow through. And just as blowing up a country with an incompetent reconstruction effort opens the door to dangerous insurgencies.

In other words, liberal education makes independent thinkers “drunk” on its questioning, without sobering them with more knowledge.

Another analogy: liberal education weakens the cognitive immune system to dangerous memes both during adolescence (when liberal education has smashed an existing, controlling ruleset) and during adulthood (where liberal education forces one to derive meaning from rulesets at all).

Foreign memes excluded by a cognitive immune system

By interfering with the ability of adolescence to adopt socially-stable rulesets, and switching the loyalties of adults from folk, kin, and trade to rulesets, it allows these foreign memes to enter the thought process and become part of an individual’s orientation

As Viri Use RNA to spread their DNA, Memes use Rulesets to Spread Themselves

Of course, people people compose the State, the entry of potentially catastrophic ideologies into the minds of the people enters those same ideas into the cognitive loop of the State

Just as cancer spreads through the body through bone marrow, ideologies spread through the State through societal rulesets

Once these ideologies have entered the mind, either during the weakened immune system of adolescents or during the cognitive dissonance of adulthood, they enter into Darwinian competition against each other in the arena of the wider society.

Liberal Education, a tdaxp series

Liberal Education 1: The Petty Troika
Liberal Education 2: Liberation and Rulesets
Liberal Education 3: Infection
Liberal Education 4: The Mitochondrial Peace

11 thoughts on “Liberal Education, Part III: Infection”

  1. Ya, right. I spent most of my life proving I was not my father, until I realized I was.
    I can't see liberal education being able to change us, as much as simply give us knowledge. I hear people protesting about those liberal professors, so someone must be able to understand how full of it most of us are. Are we all sheep? Please don't protect me from that which attacks me, I will be stronger from the attack. Please protect me from that which can kill me, I am only flesh and blood holding on to implicit law.

  2. dan: another intriguing post. i simply can't keep up with you! i will try to formulate a worthy response shortly. for now, can you think of aspects of self which are not explained by your formula?

    larry: you write…

    “I can't see liberal education being able to change us, as much as simply give us knowledge.”

    this is precisely the misunderstanding i was hoping would be avoided. the liberal education is not a prcoess of dispensing knowledge. that is technical training.

  3. Federalist X,

    I apologize for the unclear writing. Hopefully with practice I will begin to write more accessibly.

    The model looks at social man, so a lot of what Dr. Kurzban mentioned [1] (competitive-cooperativeness, etc) is taken as a given. This series abstracts that stuff out, which may not be the wisest.

    The model ignores sex roles, which is a big exception. I've already talked about the masculine/feminine loose-net/dense-net divide [2], but this model doesn't account for it. There is a lot of stuff that, while non-contradictory, I'm leaving out.


    I agree with Federalist X. By encouraging formal reasoning, liberal education causes qualitative shifts in self — it “changes” us. Technical training, by focusing on quantitative shifts, does not.


  4. So long ago when the sled was pulled by trades, we obtained knowledge in the form of implicit laws, passed down by our ancestors or tradesmen.

    These implicit laws that gave us trades, now are explicitly installed by the use of technical schools.

    Liberal college, on the other hand, educates us, much like the military, by giving us implicit laws, explicitly through books and lectures.

    So the advice I got from my doctor friend when he said, “I never let college get in the way of my education” was sound advice. Unless of course, I wanted to be like the mindless robots you envision, roaming our college campuses today. Not that there is anything wrong with mindless robots I might add.

  5. Larry,

    Thank you for your excellent comment. I have one reservation, and one disagreement.

    I don't think implicit laws (implicit controls) are quite the same thing as a liberal education. The big thing about liberal education is abstract reasoning. Implicit rulesets come with these, but much bigger than any given implicit ruleset is that liberal education increases the power of societal rulesets in general.

    Likewise, liberal education is far from “perfect” — but it is a mistake to say that because American liberal education is imperfect it is illiberal. American students from a young age question and debate, even if the American education system is not fully optimized for this. That American education does not create top-rate or very critical symbolic thinkers en masse is seperate from the that fact it creates critical or symbolic thinkers en masse.

    You have a wise friend.

  6. Guest,

    Nifty graduation speech. Let me take four aspects of it:


    “Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice.”

    He's circling around constructivism. Constructivism holds that, epistomologically, there is no absolutely knowably “true” statements, but statements that are more is less viable depending on the context. In psychology, constructivism also holds that the learner is an active participant in education.

    The first claim is right as far as it goes; the second is sometimes true.


    “Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.”

    Here, he is arguing that a liberal view of the world is a response to lack of a liberal education.

    As my series of posts argue, one's folk, kin, and trade are part of one's self. The distinction between you and them is a consequence of liberal education (which liberates you from the constraints of the post), not a natural inclination.

    This doens't mean that people aren't naturally greedy or selfish, but that such greed or self takes place in an illiberal concept of “self” that includes one's folk, kin, and trade.


    “. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop.”

    Few would argue that traffic jams are enjoyable. However, in this case a liberl arts education hurt, because they open one's eyes to the variety of the world and force recognition that one's position is largely voluntary. Tedious work in our society is best done by those without a liberal education, because if they would get bored on the job, they might stop doing it!


    “It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:”

    Agreed. As this post argues, an illiberal mind won't naturally latch onto the memes around us ([insert your favorite]-ism), except as a functional vehicle to increate the position of him, his folk, his kind, his trade. A liberal mind might.

  7. dan: more good stuff in these comments. i wasn't trying to say you were unclear, just too fast! have you read any of jacob klein's work on liberal education? what about eva brann? i'm asking because my reply to this line of posts is heavily influenced by the both of them and i'd like to understood the audience a little more. let me know at your leisure.

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