What’s new at tdaxp: August/September

A New Middle East imagines a southwest Asia were Jews, Sunnis, and Shia can all win. Who loses? Only the National-Secularists who we empowered in the Suez Crisis.

Be Resilient proposes objective measures for resilience, resiliency, and agility. It is written to be read along with Stephen DeAngelis’ Enterprise Resilience Management Blog.

My travelogue of West River South Dakota, The Black Hills, is a companion to my impressions of Tianjin. Just as other Chinese pictures are available in Beijing ’06, other South Dakotan pictures are available in America ’06.

Two new serials have just been started, Islam without Irony and Classroom Democracy. Islam without Irony will be a way to catalog the angry jihadist cause celebre of the week. It is inspired by Joshua’s “Death of an Alliance” series (now up to part 53!) Classroom Democracy, a bit more cerebral, is my first serious stab at learning since Liberal Education, but is much more applied.

Additionally, my series on Jesusism-Paulism has been extended to cover two shocks to Empire. In “Jesusism-Paulism, Part IV: The Fall of Rome” the Christians finally graduate to stage 3 of 4th Generation Warfare, while in “Jesusism-Paulism, Part V: The People of the Book,” the Islamic ruleset swept through the lands of Jesus and the Disciples.

Last, Mangan’s has been added to the blogroll, and Critt Jarvis has returned, after some technical snafus.

Identity, Reason, and other Lies

Your identity does not matter.

Last semester, a partner and I conducted a small-n study for a class project on talent and expertise. We examined a variety of factors and one of them was “identity,” or how one would verbally describe one’s self to oneself.


We found a perfect zero-correlation between self-description and achievement, and after we went back to the literature we found this to be supported by educational studies.


Practice, location, sacrifice, and interest all matter a lot. Identity doesn’t. In short, we found what Lieberman et al found: “self-reports of mental processes are notoriously unreliable” (682).

For years we have assumed that because we talk and write, thinking could be best understood in terms of talking and writing. With talking and writing comes reason, and thus we have put a premium on logical analysis and rational behavior. Yet as we have understood the modular nature of language, so we have learned that language (like every other module) is separate and distinct from the rest of the brain and the mind. Language can be important as well, but we increasingly see that placing faith in language and what comes with it (logic, rationality, etc) is no more wise than placing our main trust in our ability to detect cheaters, our innate sense of what is attractive, or any other instinct.

This has been accomplished in two main ways: evidence that human decision making is irrational (and not merely rational but often ignorant) and that irrational decision are often better than rational ones. Human thinking is irrational. It is true that “most citizens most of the time will be biased reasoners” (Lodge and Taber 1-2). Over the past few weeks we have read paper after paper demonstrating irrational behavior in controlled laboratory settings (Guth and Tietz, Smith, Smith et al, etc.) There is no need to rehash those details here.

A corollary is that rational thinking is a style of cognition that is unhuman, or at least maladaptive to humans. Indeed, Lieberman et al’s statement that “when novices must provide explicit reasons for their preferences, they tend to focus on features that are easily described in words rather than the features that contribute to their natural preferences. Indeed, novices later regretted their preferences if they had originally been required to express them linguistically” (685) is probably generalizable to experts, as well. That affect “is so useful that sometimes thinking too hard can lead to inferior choices” (Casmerer, Lowenstein, and Prelec 25) would be no surprise to military strategists such as Erwin Rommel, who describe the power of “fingertip feeling” in deciding what to do next. (Nearly identical advise is given by teachers before giving multiple choice test: trust where your fingertips want to go for an answer, don’t over think!)

“Standard economic models of human decision making (such as utility theory) have typically minimized or ignored the influence of emotions” (Sanfey et al 1755) and sadly these biases live on. Much of our research is of questionable value, as political science’s “reliance on introspection” (Morris et al 3)means that much research to date is of questionable value Indeed, they are so questionable that even methodologically questionable “bias” tests may be better (Bower). Lodge and Taber repeat the statement that “the self is the strongest node in the ]cognitive] network and that identity … and self-esteem are the strongest links in the network” (4) — a statement said without evidence.

Verbal ability – the linguistic component that feeds into IQ – was the foundation for Modernism and its belief in Progress and Rationality. The belief that human desires are calculable and that our words give us insight into our thinking created the High Authoritarianism, and all the other conceits of planners who wished to “redesign society from the top down using ‘scientific principles” (Pinker 170). This has created the systems of explicit rulesets we see everywhere, the outside controls which limit our freedoms. Yet we have learned from these research findings, and from new paradigms such as the Wary Cooperator Model, that humans are not only altruistic but willing to altruistically punish. So much of the verbalized, rational, top-down controls are unneeded, if humans are allowed to act naturally: to altruistically cooperate and altruistically punish free-riders.

The precise nature of what will come after Modernism is open to dispute. We can only know that its nature will be irrational, illogical, and impossible to describe.


Historical Map of Sioux Falls

Ever wonder what your city looked like a century ago? The answer is available from The University of Texas at Austin’s Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection (which has previously been described at tdaxp and by Catholicgauze).

Here’s what the grandest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls, looked like in 1920:

What’s interesting to me is how few of the streets I am familiar with. Main and Philippes are still in the city’s center, and Minnesota and Cliff are still imposing avenues. But Ridge? Colton?

I recognize some further sites — the Big Sioux River, obviously, as well as the South Dakota Deaf Mute Institute School for the Deaf

1920 Map of Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls is a beautiful city. ‘Specially when we blow stuff up. And afterwards, too.

Classroom Democracy, Part II: A Defense of Republics

One reason Classroom Democracy succeeds is the powerful human drive for socialization. “Students have a more enjoyable and profitable learning experience when they feel connected to each other,” (Royse 6), and hands-on role-playing (11) such as classroom democracy enable this. Classroom democracy succeeds because it is founded on social interaction, and “the most successful programs for developing critical thought have been those involving social interaction” (Bruning 4).

The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

The innovative nature of classroom democracy makes this doubly true, as its unusual processes challenge “established orthodoxies” (Ruiz 159) and force students to be aware of how they learn and how they want to learn. Socialization encourages students to develop “self-regulation [to] use personal (self) processes to strategically monitor and control his or her behavior and the environment” (Lee and Young 32). Whatever we would wish, many college students do not develop study skills because they are never given any control of their learning in a classroom environment. Classroom democracy allows students to develop self-regulation in a Vygostkian, zones-of-proximal-development, style by working with more established learners in deciding how to learn.

Further, the benefits of social cognition are intertwined with motivation. The reason that recent pedagogical models “include not only purely cognitive processes but also motivational ones” (Bruning 5) is that students are moved by group processes. It is not correct, for example, to say that students ask themselves “how well can I do by working and learning as little as possible” (Ruiz 160), but it probably is true that students have “a preference for cooperation, a modest level of mistrust, an ability to persuade others of one’s own good faith, and an ability to detect lack of good faith in others” (Smith 1014) and that instead of utility maximization, what drives the behavior of wary cooperators is ‘sucker aversion'” (1015). Students will contribute and try to help until they believe they are being cheated. The ability for even a small amount of students — holding just one-third of the assembly — to prevent the re-election of an Administration they dislike — means that the “type” of student who is most concerned with unfair play (Smith et al 12) will have the power to act on the behalf of the group. Further, the deliberative, inclusive manner of the elections are likely to correlate with student happiness, because folks “do not necessarily need to receive more resources to be happy, but they do need decisions to be made by decision makers who are not selfishly motivated and who are not driven by ambition” (24). I suggest that “apathy and disengagement” are less the result of “dialogical instruction” and debate (Reiter 302) than the process of the debate.

The processes I use also fit the various learning styles of students better than a series of lectures. Classroom democracy allows both dynamic and static matching for personalities. Learners express “appreciation for teachers who make a point to appeal to a broad range of learning styles” (Holonen 49), yet the ratios of students who thrive in discussion sections, or review sections, or other sections changes from class to class. All teachers are familiar with the glazed-over eyes students can quickly acquire during lectures, and the difficulty in reading students minds. Again, the deliberative and minority-sensitive nature of classroom democracy comes through. Because of the two-thirds majority, “all learning” really does become “collaborative learning” (Dawson 47) because students collaborate even in setting the process criteria. “Students need to write” (Roth 207) and study in different ways, and the inherent “community-process criteria” (Bruning 19) allows for that range. Additionally, the pre-defined ministers allow the thriving of personalities who may simply be shy. Information Ministers may be tasked to provide detailed notes, say, and Interior Ministers to think and write critically on the assignment, and this provides social interaction for students who might otherwise keep their heads down and only show their work on predetermined quizzes.

Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography