Posts Tagged philosophy

Key ideas – a list in progress

Camouflaged !

Originally uploaded by Kamala L

See the picture? Can you help her pick out the handful of items that she really needs to keep?

What are the key ideas in the field you are teaching? If you are teaching American history or culture or literature, what are the key ideas that you think the students need to get over the next 15 weeks?

If you have to choose, which will it be: the Declaration of Independence or the latest Lady Gaga/Beyonce music video?

I’ve been listing certain key concepts that seem important for people learning English in Japan to know. Overarching these is the notion of the importance of ideas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Learning from history

Head of a bearded man. Glass, 4th–3rd centurie...
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Does history repeat itself? Can we learn anything from ancient civilizations, especially the ones that declined and fell? Nah!

Thanks to scribd, I’m reading Ayn Rand-contemporary, Isabel Paterson’s “The God of the Machine”, which begins with a brief history of the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans, and asks, for instance, why the Romans beat the Phoenicians in naval supremacy:

with the strongest fleet on the seas, and with a naval experience gained though centuries, the Carthaginian admirals lost six out of seven of the naval battles, despite the fact that the Romans had never possessed a quinquireme before this time (the first Punic war), and very few Romans had ever set foot on shipboard.

Later, the Roman civilization also declined and fell, though for different reasons (Paterson writes) than the earlier ones of Egypt, Carthage and Greece. Here’s how it happened:

The exactions of the bureaucracy increased, and the number of officials multiplied. More and more of the flow was diverted from production into the political mechanism… the bureaucracy took such a large cut, at length scarcely anything went through the complete circuit. Meantime, the producers, receiving less and less in exchange for their products, were impoverished an discouraged. Naturally, they tended to produce less, since they would get no fair return; in fact, effort from which there is no net return must automatically cease.  They consumed their own products instead of putting them up for exchange. With that the taxes began to dry up. Taxes must com from surplus. The bureaucrats inevitably came down on the producers, with the object of sequestrating the energy directly at the source, by a planned economy. Farmers were bound to the soil,; craftsmen to their workbenches; tradesmen were ordered to continue in business although the taxes and regulations did not permit them to make a living [see Atlas Shrugged]. No one could change his residence or occupation without permission. The currency was debased. Prices and wages were fixed until there was nothing to sell and no work to be had.

Those silly, silly Romans. How could they not see that would never work! No wonder the Romans were left on the rubbish heap of history. Now US, we would never go down THAT road, would we?

Oh, wait.

A letter to the Chinese Premier, from a free-market-loving U.S. businessman’s blog:

An increasing number of citizens in this country have had enough of the BS and, having been ignored when EESA/TARP was debated (by over 100:1 we told Congress not to bail out those bastards who ripped both us and you off) are intentionally reducing their output.  This of course reduces the tax base against which our government can extract money to pay you with.  Further, our government has over the space of more than 30 years embarked on programs that allow any US Citizen to effectively live for free, paying nothing.  There’s not a thing you can do about this, and we both can and are de-funding our government’s ability to tax.  Have a look at tax receipts – the government is running a near-$2 trillion deficit for this reason above all others.  Attempts to raise taxes on the remaining productive citizens simply cause more of them to decide to join those who erect their middle finger toward Washington DC, choosing Food Stamps and Medicaid over hard work.  There’s a phrase for this: “Going Galt.”  I recommend you read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” – I’m sure there’s a Chinese translation somewhere.

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Meltdown in Japanese – just in time for the election?

Thomas Woods
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“Meltdown”, historian Thomas Woods‘s book on the origins and causes of the present financial crisis, based on Austrian Economics Business Cycle Theory, has been translated into Japanese, and can be bought on Amazon Japan. Woods’ own summary/review can be read on the Lew Rockwell website.

Just in time for the Japanese elections. (The electorate is, of course, focusing on the key, important, issues).

If you are not familiar with Austrian economics, you can start educating yourself at Wikipedia then just read anything on the Lew Rockwell or the Mises Institute websites. I knew nothing about it until about a year ago, but am now hooked. I never realized economics could be so fascinating. Be warned: if you have a socialist way of thinking, as do most people brought up postwar; if you firmly believe, as the media have been telling us, that the cause of this financial crisis is unfettered, unregulated capitalism, then be prepared to have your cage rattled and some of your precious sacred cows slaughtered.

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Reading Rand can be good for business

John Allison retired at the end of last year as CEO of BB&T:

he had recently shepherded it through the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression, leaving it in fairly good shape. He’s certainly seen as a success where many others in his field have failed miserably as of late...“We didn’t do negative-amortization mortgages,” Allison told NRO, “and to the degree we’ve had more successes, I believe it’s because we’ve had a long-term integrated philosophy. We’re very much a principle-driven organization, and those principles we adhered to in the good times and the tough times are an example of the reason we didn’t do the negative-amortization mortgages.” Further, it’s worth noting that while troubled banks went looking for handouts, Allison slammed the government bank-bailout program.

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Phun with Philosophy

(mouse-tip to Recent Reflection for the link)

Hurry! YouTube may not last much longer! And speaking of youtube and philosophy, check out this clever one on the history of Western philosophy, set to a catchy tune.

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Literacy vs digital literacy = fundamental vs derivative?

A fellow blogger and teacher of history in the UK, Doug Belshaw, is working on his Ed.D. and his thesis is on digital literacy. I’m sceptical about “digital literacy” being touted as some completely new kind of animal, unrelated to “literacy”, and after groping for the right words, found better ones written by Ayn Rand. Here’s the comments I posted on his website:

I’m still not convinced this hunt for the ultimate definition of “literacy” isn’t a giant red herring. Perhaps “literacy” meant being able to read and write, but even in those pre-digital days, critical thinking and the ability to make connections and understand cultural references were all considered important, even if they weren’t given an umbrella name like “literacy”. Those skills are still important in the digital age; the digital age hasn’t made them any more or less important, I would argue. I’d agree that “writing” means something new with the advent of web-publishing for everyone thanks to Blogger, WordPress, etc.: when you have the option to add media and links, it matters whether you use this or not.

On a slightly different tack, Stokes writes In education’s continuing mission of meeting the needs of learners: Gatto would argue that never was compulsory schooling’s mission. And skills that may have been appropriate for the medieval clerk, are giving way to skills of analysis and innovation that are considered desirable in today’s modern cultures “Considered desirable”… by whom? “Proficiency with words and numbers is insufficient “. Insufficient… for whom? Who decides? Literacy is not a natural phenomenon, but man-made. It’s important to examine the values that underpin literacy, in order to make up our minds whether those values are our own, or did we absorb them uncritically?

My favourite philosopher at the moment, Ayn Rand, has exactly the words I was groping for to express my uneasiness with “digital literacy”: “all human knowledge has a hierarchical structure… [we must] learn to distinguish the fundamental from the derivative.” Is digital literacy a fundamental, or a derivative? And what are the consequences of learning/teaching a derivative while ignoring the fundamental? To whose benefit is it to push a derivative before a fundamental? Or even, to push a derivative AS IF IT WAS a fundamental? The quote comes from Ch 2 “Philosophical Detection” (I think) in her book “Philosophy: Who Needs It?” Here’s a link to Rule of Fundamentality entry in the Ayn Rand Lexicon…
Search for the book on Google books, then search for “fundamental” and “derivative” (the excerpts they give you are severely limited. If you can, get the book).

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