Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

June 7, 2012

Feed the Heads

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:23 pm

Enough pruning people down into well-controlled bonsai bushes. Let’s feed the heads, and build a world from the individuals up.

Here are some great skills that empower people:

* Literacy. Arming people in the battle of wits since the dawn of civilization. An essential to learning from books or using the internet, not to mention expressing yourself in writing.

* Computer literacy. Having access to the Internet and means to look things up and communicate with your social network and interest groups. Excellent for self-education and organizing.

* Gardening. It produces food and medicine, and can be quite cheap to keep going. It’s also insight into the natural world.

* Statistics. Understanding the difference between median and mean, and the significance of error bars, gives you a much stronger grasp on polls and studies as reported in mass media. A little insight into study design will go even further.

* Critical Thinking. Examining arguments for logical validity and fact-checking their axioms. Spotting fallacies and biases. If this were effectively taught in public schools, those schools would be shut down.

* Domestic Chores. We’ve been sold a lot of harsh, expensive and unnecessary cleaning agents — let’s try mixing our own. Cooking is the difference between a crash pad and a home. There’s nothing lowly about operating your own household.

A lot of people worry that Americans have become too stupid to operate a democracy. It’s pretty sad, indeed, that public opinion can be bought for a few dollars a head.

After the disappointment that is Barack Obama, I don’t see change as something that is gonna come through political campaigns (well, maybe we can lift marijuana prohibition, but that’s about the deepest we can go.) Bonsai people just vote along with the rest of their hedge. We need to teach each other and train up, through reading groups, internet DIY forums, maybe even offer some time at a community program teaching people how to read. You can reach out really far if you learn Spanish or Conservative.

It’s going to take a lot more intelligent and undomesticated people to pull civilization off of its suicidal path.



  1. Of course I agree with all you say here. BUT. While we (whoever “we” is: society? gov’t? charitable groups?) can offer such things as literacy training and computer skills, it’s the individual who has to take advantage of such offerings. By the same token, the individual has to want to develop numeracy/knowledge about statistics, has to want to think critically. In my experience, especially as a teacher, I’m only too aware that people tend to avoid those things that challenge their comfortably held assumptions and beliefs. I once had a student insist that bigotry against Puerto Ricans in NYC NEVER existed–she just refused to believe that landlords put out signs reading “No Puerto Ricans” etc. Mind you, this is a historical fact attested to by such things as actual photographs. Maybe the problem is that schools don’t teach critical thinking starting at a young age, and by the time students are in college, they just don’t want to do the work of thinking for themselves. I also recently saw a depressing study that showed that college doesn’t increase students’ critical thinking skills. I think religion is one of the ways people avoid thinking for themselves, especially in the more extreme religious groups. It’s just easier for people to fall back on the stereotypes, handed-down beliefs, unvoiced assumptions, etc. than to ask whether such-and-such is true or makes sense.

    Basically you are calling for people to take charge of their lives to the extent this remains possible to us, and I totally agree with that. Now if we could just convince people to do it … How do we make people see that it’s dangerous to hand control of our lives over to the corporate state, and that we really need to undermine corporate state control? I feel like the vast majority of the population just finds it easier to go along with the status quo.

    Comment by Kris — June 10, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    • You make a number of points there. Regarding your students’ resistance to learning critical thinking, I assume we’re talking about the just-out-of-high-school set. Those students are like a resistance army against learning… they’ve just gone through 13 years of force-fed schooling.
      Perhaps we can make resisting the corporate state cool and socially attractive… you get to hang out with interesting people, drink homebrews, and never see the inside of a cubicle…

      Comment by paragardener — June 10, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  2. People need to believe that the world makes sense, and that they can figure it out through a little observation and deduction. Too many people say “Well, I hear conflicting things, so what do I know.” They don’t have faith that the truth has more logic and evidence behind it, and that they can discern what the truth is. And of course, it goes without saying that after 13 years of “outcome based” education (thank you Carnegie Institute!) people are terrified of making a mistake in their thinking.

    Infants know the world makes sense and that they can figure it out; by 9 months and maybe even by 6 months they are conducting experiments in order to determine the rules of their world. Toddlers are amazingly fast learners and very good scientists. Somehow this is taken out of us. Religion is certainly a factor (you cannot find logic in the bible) but so is corporo-governmental schooling.

    Without the faith that we can figure shit out, I’m not sure how much of a benefit the skills are that you list. But assuming that one *does* have faith that we *can* figure out our world, I think that’s a great list.

    Comment by freelearner — June 11, 2012 @ 3:40 am

    • . The national news is built around the idea “Democrats or Republicans — who could possibly decide?” If you try to figure out how to be healthy, you aren’t compliant with your doctor or you’re practicing nutrition without a license. If you point out that economics and sociology have yet to put together working paradigms, you’re condemning whole fields of experts with more training than you and who do you think you are? So answers are either impossible to get, as with the question of Dems or Reps, or just way out of -your- reach. Maybe we need a self-esteem movement aimed at the intellect?

      Comment by paragardener — June 11, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

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