Friday, September 1, 2006

on really bridging personal and social growth

A respondent to my "Hamas, grow up!" wrote:

R: I am not sure how beneficial it is to shout about it, no one likes being told to "grow up" or that they are "stupid" even though there comes a time when it is [nearly] impossible not to be exasperated beyond the point of endurance.

G: The respondent provided a great analogy in terms of teaching (or trying to teach) early teens, and I want to expand on this analogy relative to interest in social evolution, which my Hamas posting was tacitly about. It was not about primarily implying that Hamas is stupid. The content of that posting is about gaining political realism. Of course, teens are paranoid about looking stupid.

A Jewish comedienne / talk show hostess in the U.S., Joan Rivers, has a trademark retort: "Oh, grow up!" (She happens to have suffered a lot in her life, and her public knows it.) My point was (at least tacitly) that Hamas' refusal of Israel is ultimately a "Great Refusal" (Marcuse) of modernity (which is supposed to be politically oriented by U.N.-types of problem-solving processes, including the U.N.-based entitlement of Israel to exist as member state of the international community).

A keynote of Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action is that there are isomorphisms between developmental and social-evolutionary processes. This implies that "mature autonomy" in one modality (political cognition) may be tied to another (self-identity). Genuine modernity is an "adulthood" in political cognition, as well as in post-conventional role competence.

The Marcusean "Great Refusal" was endemic to the countercultural '60s for good reason—but also was sometimes taken to extremes (becoming an extremism!), and some lives got stuck there. (Relative to the comic strip Doonesbury, the aging Zonkers of the world need to be told by the teen Alexes on their way to M.I.T. "Oh, grow up!")

During the counterculture years, paternalist and imperialist versions of authority were validly refused as simulacrum of real maturity, but this sometimes became a way of life, a self-aggrandizing extremism that retarded lives. Some leftism systematically prevented itself from gaining capability to engineer actual progress. Obviously, well-publicized demonstrations and civil disobedience are powerful instruments of social activism, especially when the activism is integrated with broad-based "programming" through organizational learning, manifold educational processes, institutionalization of exemplars and models, engineering of new laws, and smart use of media. But world-historical alienation ends up having to reproduce the despicable Other that "justifies" its congestion of self-development (which is stuck in a reification of world-historical time)—opposition-dependent identity that feeds on itself, leading to nihilism. (The academic correlate is the straw man reading that "warrants" one's self-understanding.)

While many readers of Habermas in the 1990s continued to come to his work from stances of a romantic Marxism that works itself out primarily via out-of-The-System adversarial organization, Habermas was doing theory of law relative to the real complexities and potentials of modern societies. Those who protest war primarily (or merely) by carrying signs and yelling do little more than supplement those who work directly to elect progressives; or those who can gain a voice for good arguments in leading venues (and those who persuasively promote those leading voices among others), or those working for systemic educational reform, or those who gain expertise to contribute to organizations that are engineering genuine progress systemically (which includes community infrastructure, technological development, integration of change with constitutional processes, etc).

In light of this, extremist violence is either merely cathartic (when others aren't harmed) or criminality. Non-defensive pretenses of violence as having political significance are something to diagnose, rather than engage collegially.

I'm delighted by thinking of dealing with early teens. Ironically, one can't simply tell them to grow up, even though they'd kill to be adult ASAP. The selfish gene still "anticipates" a lifespan of 20 or 30 years: Early teens in modern society are paleolithic near-adults that were supposed to be initiated by rite of "elders" (in their '30s!) into majority. Modern postponement of cognitive majority, relative to real social complexity, meets resistance by genetic legacy of hormones, relative to brutally short lives.

Most of human history lacked any notion of the teenager—even lacking a notion of the child as such, rather as unblossomed adult-in-miniature. Socialization was oriented for what we know now as merely adolescent-level conceptuality (post-conventionality belonged to esoterics, etc). Modern adulthood is now relativized to distinct eras of childhood and adolescence in an extension of normal maturation into, say, one's 20s, which was generally inconceivable several centuries ago.

Though high individuation within a private life has been part of aristocracy for millennia, sociality has been almost entirely composed of extended familial life at an adolescent level of cognition. Isomorphism between conceptions of history (e.g., theocentrism of Western religion) and conceptions of identity (e.g., according with paternalism) expressed isomorphisms of cognitive "adolescence" common to a differentiated world, in Habermas' sense (differentiation of world concepts within singularly adolescent worldviewing). Differentiation of world concepts happens within an evolutionary-developmental level of worldviewing differentiation itself. .

Modern education strives to educe socially unprecedented actualization of capacities that are largely unanticipated (let alone supported) by the backgrounds of the student. The better the student background, the more beyond that an excellent educational process strives, as the aims of education serve actualization of individual potential, rather than socialization. (It is largely invalid to understand the potential of individuation—what makes an individuation distinctive or really individual—relative to socialization, except inasmuch as one fudges to make socialization mean everything, and all cows become black, and the nature of individuation is lost in a sociocentrism that defines everything relative to its defense against marginality.)

Education for high individuation is not basically nurturing a development whose end is already latent, as if given potential contains some homunculus of its futurity (a given "end in itself" with some discernible sense that can distinguish individuations, thus validly appreciate individual developments). Rather, education for high individuation challenges immanently-evolutionary developmental processes (the difficulty of achievement, which expresses entropy in biological systems) that cannot bloom on their own, but must be dramatically drawn into innovating their capability in ways that capacities (which develop into capabilities) aren't set to anticipate. Individuation originates its futurity unforeseen by sociogenic legacy (which is inherently conservative) and unforeseeable by instructional design (which should be primarily facilitative of self-managed inquiry, curricularly sophisticating one's capability; and only training in support of that or as last resort—or for instilling functional skills. Teaching is not basically instructional; instruction serves teaching. Training involves instruction, too, but it's not teaching; it's training).

In puberty, the young explorers (tending to hormonally bounce off the walls, with no apparent interest in potentials) need to get as good as they give, so they sometimes relentlessly test every adult for candidate modeling. Correlatively, social development needs secure "normative authority," as It meets evolutionarily original challenges that aren't implied by its given bases (but may relentlessly test authority in order to discern for itself what still deserves fidelity). The power of valid norms for individuation is primarily to constructively channel potential, secondarily to regulate interaction. Validity here involves openness to unanticipated constructive outcomes, e.g., via norms of good teaching, which are "consensually" established relative to the progressive history of the profession; or norms of good parenting, which are modeled through family life, otherwise via progressive guidance for parents through family medicine, schools, libraries, bookstores, and other media—where altogether emergent "consensus" about what's validly developmental is part of an epistemic reconstruction of tradition that is ongoing. Potential evolutionarity of development tends to mesh with ongoing evolutionarity of tradition. The teen tacitly needs to know what are the practicable, really feasible boundaries to their "automatic" explorations, and they will declare that they can figure this out for themselves, which is sometimes true (maybe even largely so, for those with a cognitively well-formed childhood, which instills good self-management of learning processes). Likewise for societies vis-à-vis leading figures and norms which foster constructive development (but become lightening rods for generational testing).

Rules have to be challenged to be revised to fit the times, obviously, but they're also challenged in order to learn what they durably mean. (The moderating outcomes of '60s radicalism led many baby boomers into graduate school, etc). Resistors that lack willingness to learn why meaning may be durable (and rules worthwhile) never gain the competence to change the ineffective rules that are in force; so, they can only imagine expelling authority from their willful domain.

Teens (and societies) need trustworthiness and reliability, as new generations are always at risk of endangering themselves exploring their own potential to juggle multiple plates (competing social agendas), to live up to proud avowals of self-responsibility (ideals of self-determination), to push the envelop of self formation (the liberal ethos). They are looking to shape anchors in their "night sea journey" that will fatefully undermine their dreams of immortality (e.g., the tacit belief that they can't he harmed by what they "truly" desire).

R:...My main tactic in class...[with disruptive 13 year-olds includes] a little bit of class-shaming...

G: That works, especially in light of a distributed solidarity with most of the students that can make the shaming more quickly effective.

On the one hand, for distributed solidarity, the disruptive person needs reassurance that you identify with who s/he's becoming. S/he needs appreciation of the validity of what s/he's living through, not overtly in terms of articulations or mirrorings of what exactly that may be—no one knows, in particular cases (and presumption otherwise is either embarrassing or insulting)—but appreciation that tacitly respects the integrity of the other's need or desire, relative to clarification of the desirable goals (action-orienting boundaries) that "we" really do share: What we are here together to do that's really so worthwhile for all of us to do, that I know "you" already appreciate. This is a commissive element in recognizing the other: imputing to them what they really want to be the case (though they may not acknowledge this), thereby helping make it so, as something originating from them. (Let's act as if Hamas really is on the road to legitimate leadership in Palestine. What must we thereby see in Hamas' struggle that validates it?—which they may secretly—maybe desperately—wonder of us, as they need to save face in facing their learning curve.)

On the other hand (in building distributed solidarity), you create popularity for yourself among most of your students, which can be turned into tacit peer pressure toward rogues in terms of everybody else's apparent buy-in to your mission, widely shared because it's evident to most all as worth "our" time. (Supposedly, multilateralism in "the international community"—the diplomatic theater—can be an effective basis for inducing conflict resolutional processes without sanctions.)

Don't overtly isolate the misbehaving person before this is necessary. (Constructive engagement was needed by China, now needed by "rogue nations"). Be clear about your need to have their membership in what the class is doing. (Commissively preserve the scope of meaning for 'the international community'.) But use "everybody's" preference for what "we" are doing as tacit peer pressure effecting the rogue's desire to go along constructively. Let the misbehaving persons get the message on their own. (Let the leadership save face.) At heart, we all need to belong.

If peer ethos doesn't work effectively in the classroom, one disciplinary method is to use checkmarks on the chalkboard by the rogue's name, such that a certain low number of public chalkmarks results in clearly-understood debts, like 15 minutes of detention somewhere, after "indebting" 2 marks (first mark is a warning, second is a "bill" for 15 minutes of detention; third mark is 30 minutes).

R: Again, how to analogize this [classroom work] successfully to the Arab Middle East...Hamas and Hezbollah?

G: U.N.-defined interventions remain an option broadly supported by the international community, but at worst, sanctions processes will happen in a stepwise way.

This began as a short and pleasant response, but obviously to me, I've sketched by now such a slew of themes that the discussion may lose coherence. Actually, I'm improvising from extended discussions elsewhere that are more properly focused, rather than trying to innovate anything here. A short email to a respondent became a recollective occasion for me that I've tried to make coherent. But this is an online workbook. If you had read the above every few hours during the past 24, you'd see that it was changing, like any drafting process. But normally, drafting processes set out with an aim in mind. I didn't; this just got longer and longer, and I've tried to make the best of it, rather than deleting what was spontaneously here 24 hours ago (and more crudely written because I was inadequately focused, symptomizing a complex of old interests that I've realized I needed to somewhat clarify).