The Paradox: How We Teach and What Our Instincts Require
Note: I will being using ‘our’ ‘us’ and ‘we’ often; consider I am speaking on behalf of the majority of America and in reflection to the American system and culture.
**Please reread Summary, and then continue
The American Dream (AD) is an expression in which has evolved from one image to another. Arguably, it originated from the campaign and national desire for ‘slightly above’ mediocrity in living conditions; a house, white fence and two cars in the drive way, in a suburb. And for those times that image was wealthy living, compared to the majority of the world; which still is very much true. However, today the AD is more materialistic than it existed originally… A rich and leisurely life; house on the beach or apartment in a major city, a six figure income and a 100,000 dollar sports/luxury car – just to start the dream off! This expression the AD gives today, is the one I will reference from now on; the majority of Americans act as if they were rich or will eventually become rich. The above explanation will be discussed further in argument B. This part of the conflict, at quick glance, seems to contradict the idea we want to be sociable. However, evolutionarily, it proves to make sense of how the American Dream has also evolved.
I do not suggest ‘altruism’ in broad terms; the practice to do selfless actions of welfare for others. We have reasons for our want in aiding others; whether they be socially or individually influenced desires (nurture) -and/or- instinctual requirements (nature). The altruism I will discuss can be more refined as the following: the practice that is consensually accepted in/by a group as altruistic. A group can vary from a social circle of friends to international identities of a nation or continent. The fact there may be groups within groups could cause confusion; for this paper’s purposes the culture of America and the subcultures which exist in America are being referenced: majorly education [from media and school], but also fashion trends and thought movements both underground and mainstream. Example of group altruism: Participating in church events is deemed charitable by the church’s community members. My altruism definition is a parallel of social altruism – (as far as I am aware) coined by Nigel J. Barradale. The difference between social altruism and how altruism is normally viewed is mildly significant. Rather than assuming altruism means to be charitable in a general sense; the social altruism perspective seems to be more realistic. People tend to want to help those who will later help them in return, and this mutual payoff is seen majorly in dynamics of groupthink theory; which will be slightly referenced.
What follows is a more precise expression and explanation of social altruism from Barradale himself from his theory paper – Social Incentives and Human Evolution: “… behaviors are exhibited that benefit the group at the apparent cost to the individual, when the social incentives are excluded. This behavior is termed social altruism. As per the above, social altruism may be displayed due to: genetic predisposition; behavioral conditioning; awareness of intrinsic incentives; and awareness of social incentives. Of these, the first three may lead to behaviors that are costly to the individual, even when the social incentives are included. For example, genes may be selected because they encourage us to behave social altruistically, which has a fitness benefit on average; but those genes are unlikely to perfectly distinguish instances that are fitness enhancing from those that are fitness detracting, and so both behaviors are likely to be exhibited. This is not, of course, to suggest the ability to better distinguish between the behaviors would be socially desirable. Quite the opposite, in fact-the many instances when people behave altruistically at a personal cost is a wonder of human societies and may have been a necessary prerequisite for our evolution as a species” (Barradale). In section C. I will propose another reason why we do not have “the ability to better distinguish between the behaviors [that] would be socially desirable” but in fact behave in a manner that is only socially desirable to our sought out and indoctrinated groups. The reason being another cognitive argument; our reptilian brain complex being the cause for us to defend and protect our group thoughts.
A. Paradoxical Problem Finding
Barradale, in the above, has expressed some of the reasoning for the paradox’s conflict; as value forming involves both instinctual and social dimensions, it appears that there are conflicts of conflicts. These conflicts seem to involve majorly: i. the concern of what does the system/culture look like, in which is prepping people to carry out their metaphysical desires (of being altruistic) ii. as well as the irrational (or not necessarily rational) tendencies in which we are likely to appeal to groups. Ideally, after these conflicts of conflicts are illuminated, we can better find examples of such conflict in the paradox.
Concerning the first conflict of conflict: What/who socially creates the guidelines in which we are to react instinctual-ly? Or to be more specific; what is [/does] the foundation of our education [look like] in which we have to adapt to, in order to create values? We have this instinct to want to figure out how to be socially altruistic in order to benefit from certain groups, but also we are given the education of the American Dream. First of the conflicts within conflicts – involves our education system (although only apart of the entire education we receive).
Andrea Kuszewski in her article The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience crudely but accurately has summarized the methods of modern education systems. The methodology is listed as follows:
1. Encourage linear, single-solution thinking, rather than exploratory learning (rewarded for the single correct answer, i.e. standardized tests, conformity is expected)
2. Hinder creativity and discourage innovative thinking (once students have the answer, they aren’t motivated to look for alternate solutions; errors are not rewarded when resulting from a potentially beneficial risk)
3. Don’t measure up to other types of integrated teaching models in regards to the amount of information retained by students (less effective at actually teaching material)
4. Aren’t as motivating or engaging for the students (students report less satisfaction and show poorer attendance)
5. Really aren’t that much fun for the teachers, either (Kuszewski)
A troubling list to accept as accurate. Yet, for this paper’s purposes we will assume the list is accurate to most (if not all) primary to secondary education methods in the U.S. Is there is one systematic method to being socially altruistic to others? Is there only going to be one or a few group(s) in which we have to socially respond to? Absolutely not! Depending on the group in which altruism is being attempted for, depends also on the method. Also, this methodology of education in schools is not preparatory for how to respond to a variety of groups (how to join/associate). The contrary seems more likely; education that molding abilities to only be able to respond to one or few group(s) at most. Which can further stifle exploratory attitude formations. If these are early attitudes, no doubt will they be at minimal, partially internationalized. Perhaps there should be a method (or part of method) in which is open-ended enough to anticipate change in group dynamics as being the foundation of the lesson plan or as an entire class: Group Method!
The second conflict of conflict: What makes us appeal to certain groups and/or distance us from others? How much does nature entail where we are likely to be drawn to; as far as group identification? These questions are no longer limited to philosophic and literary critique (although resources should/do come from such), but science has something to say! Namely evolutionary paradigms of research; majorly biology and psychology studies in evolutionism. These very real factors of how we have adapted during our evolution over the course of history, should be taught in a class room; not directly but designed into the lesson plans to relate allow the material to be more relevant towards societal thinking.
Although scientific evidence would be great to defend the argument that the paradox exist; I don’t feel it necessary. One must be just open to the idea, we respond to groups in order to self identify. Seems common sense filled – so, I will appeal to such. The majority will do whatever is necessary to be accepted by the groups they choose to want to be apart of; in return to receive recognition. Exaggerated when I say ‘whatever’ maybe, but objectively what one may do to gain access to a group is not nearly as extreme as another would. For instance: is paying 40,000 dollars more of less crazy than giving 100 hours a week to a group to be a member? I feel this question is preference-based and variable depending on who we are discussing with. So, keeping the idea as general as possible can avoid vagueness while maintaining ability to argue; individuals will sacrifice in order to be apart of a group.
With that said; “what does an individual wanting to be part of a group have in common with how our education system is designed?” Well that is the gist of the paradoxical problem at hand. While we have this natural tendency to associate with groups, we also have to be educated within a system. Does that education system teach to respond to our natural desires to associate with others? No. Does groups tend to educate us within their social guidelines? Yes. So… We get educated from the groups we are associated with, but there are a lot of groups existing… How do we know how to respond to them? Are we forced to rely strictly on our groups to know how to respond to the rest? In reference to the number one method Kuszewski notes – linear thinking (one answer is best) is the normative in our education system. Does this overlap into our other educations? What else teaches us; which groups teach everyone?
B. Pop-cultural Paradoxes
As defined earlier the American Dream (AD) is the ideal of rich materialism; in a nut shell – celebrity idolizing, in both properties and personalities. The concern of being wealthy is a prime example of the fact our education outlets hinder the majority’s value forming; in schooling especially with their linear methods; one answer for every question. The idea of being rich is an easy thought to entertain; little to no work, anything you want and fun whenever one wants. This argument suggest almost directly; linear methods of education create the AD, in addition to the rest of American education.
The way in which our media demonstrates rich and luxurious lifestyles depict selfish attitudes, especially since the means of obtaining the riches does not usually involve bringing others into rich status as well. The AD does not have any intention of bringing others with the individual to achieve such a goal. There are no shows about charity, none about humanitarianism and definitely none about morality and ethics – besides the Jersey Shore. Perhaps the biggest source in which progressive ideologies are displayed are in our contemporary documentaries. Still overall, as far as public media goes, there is no source in which teaches multiculturalism, humanitarianism and tolerance – but, rather in the norm, display examples of materialization of people and possessions; people going to prison, people [re]decorating places and things, and people gossiping about celebrities (politicians, actors and artist).
“Well media and entertainment do not necessarily guide our values.” That is true but they are apart of where we take what we know from and can existentially be considered apart of the entire value making process. As a example of how media and entertainment can influence the population of America; yolo and swag. These words spoken five years ago would hold no significance. Yet, today, through the power of media they are standard used words in the young generation. Although this is not a value-based argument, it can still dictate clearly media does influence our perspectives with fades and fashions; in both thought and style of outfits.
What does the appeal to ‘celebrity-ism’ have to with groupthought and group-following? A counter question: What does the majority think is in fact popular and notable to discuss? Celebrities. How the majority of fashioned are formed appear to be lead by popular figures of our culture. Musicians particularly, but also authors, actors and athletes are apart of the pop-culture dominating American education. I would even go as far to argue they are central figures, which historically is no different than any other times, except today we idolize what they usually ‘do’ rather than ‘say’ more often than not. If we cared about what they had to say… I do not think most of the pop-icons today would be very popular.
Having noted the most powerful way in which we gain values as a national identity; pop-culture through entertainment. There still are unanswered questions: How does this effect our abilities to be altruistic with others? In what way does our linear education and the American Dream cause us to either good or bad at dealing with groups and others? Do these two ‘manners’ really conflict to the point of creating a paradox, if so, how does it alter our perceptions in value forming?
C. The Infection of the Paradox on Our Lives
Argument A. discussed how our education system uses linear methods of crafting our pursuits of knowledge, and how we are naturally prone to wanting to identity with groups. Then concludes the education system does not accurately prep children to associate with various groups; rather more likely does the opposite; encourages children to find safety in one or a few groups. Argument B. discusses that our pop-culture is a major form of our overall education as well as creating values of the American Dream. Concluding the majority gains their impressions of value forming from pop-icons and celebrities. So, how can we summarize all of this up together? As a nation, in the majority, we are terrible at forming collective values, but why? How can we naturally have an aptitude for social altruism, but still prove to be so individually selfish? Do we have a culture that inspires individualism? If we do, then, what causes us to defend these individualistic attitudes of selfishness? Perhaps the reptilian brain complex can help provide clarity of the above questions, but first let’s tie together what we have discovered so far.