In the interest of personal disclosure, I herein issue a disclaimer as to my party loyalty.
I don’t have any. I wouldn’t say that I’m non-partisan, that’s too indecisive, and would give the false impression I’m trying to be fair to both sides. I wouldn’t be fair to either side. After all, political parties have made enemies of half our countrymen.
A political party’s sole purpose is to acquire and hold political power. The pretense of principles and fairness is essential to manipulate voters, and to gratify the partisan true believers. But in practice, fairness carries a huge disadvantage in achieving power.
“There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville
Because my loyalty is to the Republic, I am instead radically anti-partisan, owing to the warning of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Madison, and their philosophical predecessors going back to ancient Athens.
The ageless warning is that faction—what we call partisanship and division— is the greatest threat to a republic. The notion of party appears nowhere in the constitution. The establishment of our “two-party system” may be a necessary evil according to some, but it merely trades of one vice for another, the other being the laziness we all all prone to.
Unfortunately, people depend upon parties for guidance out of rational ignorance. It sounds bad, but it’s not meant as an insult. There isn’t enough time in the day for everyone to learn everything about every political matter.
It’s an ordinary and necessary part of life to take shortcuts to save time and effort. Everybody does it. We rely on parties to understand politics, and the politicians rely on lobbyists and ideology to formulate policy.
Rational ignorance in this case is the calculation that the time and effort necessary to inform ourselves enough about political matters to make informed decisions would outweigh the expected personal benefit.
So therein lays the paradox—you have to make a guess as to the value of what you potentially could learn without knowing what it is you would forgo by not learning it. It is easier to decide it’s not worth the time and effort to find out.
The fact is that life is uncertain. Nevertheless people feel a need for certainty, that is, the Truth, with a capital T, and they satisfy that need with the instruments closest at hand—the easy answers of the party line, the commentators, talking heads, and most of all, the internet.
So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand. —Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book I, 1.20-
My mentors at the university had a little trouble with my Master’s Degree graduation track. They were concerned that I was just hanging around taking classes without an exit plan. I didn’t see the problem, but they of course are committed to doing their jobs.
They created a special degree track just for me and a few other problem students. They pulled the de-rail lever to the jury, and then waved good-bye. You don’t have to take every single course they offer, but I otherwise might have.
During my jury, one of the professors suggested that I blog, which would be more ethical than taking whatever knowledge they had instilled in me to the grave. I have little desire to teach, especially in public schools, and I’m not a good fit for politics.
I took only one graduate level course in economics, Public Sector II, which is the tax area of fiscal policy. The “International Political Economy” course is in the government department, so it’s not really economics as such.
I previously had done a little reading in economics. But most of what I read was material written prior to the “miracle of marginalism”—the classics, as well as a bit of the Austrian perspective. I also got my minor in environmental management from the engineering department that was also germane to my area of study.
The Engineering Department was an impressive experience. I loved those guys; they made the most sense. Of course that’s because engineering deals with well-structured problems. The ill-structured problems of politics have no real solution, but only can be dealt with through ongoing management—what Thomas Jefferson called, “eternal vigilance.” Economics was the most disconcerting area of study.
My bachelor’s degree was in music education. The main takeaway there was how public schools could take a subject as beautiful as music, and create such a grotesque distortion, or so I thought at the time.
After earning my bachelor’s degree, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in government. I thought it was the best way to understand how the rest of the world operates. It would seem quite a leap from music to government, but there is great similarity in how to understand it.
In music, the second instrument you learn is easier because you learn how to learn on the first, and every new instrument gets easier. Likewise government is like music in that one of the essential components is the idea of “antecedent and consequence”, which is merely the concept of how one thing leads to another.
That was my inexperienced concept of it at the time. Since then I have discovered that antecedent and consequence do not exist in the world, but is only how we see the world in the mind’s eye. And the same is true with the rest of the world. We believe the world is real, but only understand it through the filter of our human nature’s perception.
The following illustration of naïve realism is a very misleading depiction of reality. It looks plausible at first.
But notice there’s nothing going on in the mind. How ridiculous! The mind is where it’s all is happening. When you dig a little deeper, things are not as straightforward, the world becomes rife with rabbit holes, and you walk an insecure path where you risk running into your own self-delusion. Because the feeling of security that that comes with certainty, many stick with a perception where they are safe, confident, and ignorant—maybe rationally, or maybe not. Whatever the case, what you see is what you get.
The main lesson of my educational career is: I’m smarter on paper than in real life. I somehow seem to generally know the answers on the tests I have taken, but hardly have an answer regarding the questions of life as lived.
In high school my goal as a smart-ass was to squeak by with the lowest possible score without failing a grade. I never failed a grade and my D minus average I thought was a great success to that end, along with the bragging right that comes from never taking a book home.
In public school, you are an empty vessel for them to fill with crap. But I did my utmost to keep my vessel as clean and barren as possible. And after graduating, I knew less than I ever did, that is, about whatever it was they were trying to get across to me. I hope others had better experiences.
I scored well on the SAT and was admitted without problem to the University of Texas, El Paso. I finally begin my education after enduring all that ridiculousness of high school.
I get a lot of pleasure from reading, listening to smart people, and trying to understand. And take stock of many of the ideas I come across:
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for. ― Socrates
We call that, “standing on the shoulders of giants.” And it works for music as well as academics for all those like me that are not geniuses. So my quest for understanding has turned out to be hedonistic; it has all been for my own personal indulgence. I have not shared much with others—not that I think most people would be that interested.
After all, the information is out there in the world for anyone to find for themselves. Many don’t seem very curious about the big questions of life, its purpose, and your individual relation to the world. They prefer doing other things―like video games or watching sports―and there’s nothing wrong with that. You wouldn’t want to force such things on people. And the dilemma of American compulsory education might have something to do with this lack of curiosity.
“Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” ― Socrates
It turns out that much of understanding the world is gained through understanding human nature and the self. Self-understating gives an insight into the world because all human beings share the same qualities. But those qualities are not necessarily shared equally. And that’s why compassion and love are the essential elements to the good life.
The lessons of love instruct not only how we interact with others, but also the primary guide of personal aspirations and the basis of all human reasoning.
“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.”