Friday, February 4, 2011

Post No. 156: Great Expectations or Low Expectations - Which Would You Prefer?


© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We, here at the Institute for Applied Common Sense, don’t claim to be the sharpest knives in the drawer.

But as the Laughingman often reminds us, “Doing the right thing is not rocket science™,” which is typically followed by, “Common sense ought to be a way of life™.”

In our last post, What the U.S. Deserves, we argued that the individual citizens of any nation might consider taking more personal responsibility for the state of their nation, and place less responsibility and blame on those who they consider to be their “leaders,” elected or not.

Also, in light of the current turmoil in Egypt, we suggested that Egyptians might learn something from America’s experience with that great experiment, still ongoing, called democracy.

Apparently we did a poor job of making our points, since a number of you questioned what we thought the Egyptians might learn from us. Some even felt that it was presumptuous on our part, if not downright condescending, to suggest that a culture of more than 5,000 years could learn anything from one around less than 1/10 of that time.

But in the same way as parents can learn from their children, the current version of this ancient culture, however defined, can still learn something from Michael Jackson and the New Kids on the Block.

There are many, including some prominent historians, who consider Chicago to be the optimal American city. Although not without its warts, it is frequently said that “Chicago gets things done,” and has many things about which to be proud.

Those historians placing the Windy City at the top of their lists claim that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow should be considered one of the great Founding Fathers of this modern city.

By kicking the lantern in his owner’s barn on October 8, 1871, he provided the citizens of Chicago with an opportunity to rebuild, and start afresh. In many instances, the old, the questionable, and the undesirable were instantly destroyed (admittedly not by choice), and in their place the citizens (and many outside of the city) pursued cutting edge, idealistic projects.

These included not only physical structures embodying the latest engineering and architectural thinking, but also grand sociological and artistic experiments in pursuit of Utopian society.

And thus our first point, although poorly stated, was that this presents the Egyptian people with an opportunity to rebuild. And, in the event that the end result of this human revolution is some form of “democracy,” perhaps they can avoid some of the mistakes that America has made during its democratic life.

Democracy comes in many forms, and based on our experience, it can be quite messy. To quote David Letterman, “It is nothing if not constantly evolving.”

Our second point, also admittedly poorly stated, was that perhaps instead of 1,573 leaders emerging from the ashes of this event, the Egyptians might strive to have at least 157,300 of them.

A friend once shared with us that while in high school, he was forced to read two books which would have an impact on his view of the world. The first was Charles DickensGreat Expectations, a novel about growth and personal development, including the themes of class and ambition.

The second, much more modern and much less known, was Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age. As compelling as some might find the title, the subtitle is even more revealing – The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools.

Death is the story of how low expectations of the black kids, on the part of the teachers and administrators in the school system, became self-fulfilling prophesies.

When one expects little, one generally gets little.

When one expects more, one generally gets more.

It’s just as simple as that. Just plain old common sense.

And that’s not only applicable to what we expect of others, but also to what we expect of ourselves. It’s been said that one of the great problems in the Middle East is that so many of the youth, who constitute such a large percentage of the population, are not only unemployed, but have no sense of the future being better than the present.

We, the inarticulate minions here at the Institute, hope that this cauldron will result in a nation with a much higher percentage of its citizens constituting the Creative Class and taking responsibility for its fate, than has been the case here in America in recent years.

P.S. We’re not through with this subject yet.

17 comments:

  1. “Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.”

    [C. E. Stowe]

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  2. Thanks for the quote Douglas. Nice characterization.

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  3. ‘Spector,

    I must apologize for being late to this party. Yes, I did indeed receive an engraved invitation . . . but clearly I failed to RSVP in a timely fashion.

    As to the topic du jour: I am among those condescending prophets of self-fulfillment who will condemn “The Egyptian Revolution” to failure status and still sleep well at night.

    Does history teach us nothing? How much democracy was born from the Bolshevik Revolution? From the essential overthrow of the Weimar Republic by the Third Reich? From the Cuban Revolution? From the Iranian Revolution? From numberless revolutions on the South American continent?

    Do you realize just how rare was the success of the American Revolution? Pretty damn rare! Why is Egypt unlikely to accomplish the same thing today? Because “government” is synonymous with “corruption” in the Mideast, and because that region is Ground Zero for religious zealotry and intolerance. When was the last time a self-directed revolution in that part of the world ended with anything but more corruption, oppression and violence? For that matter, when has any action directed by outside forces resulted in anything approximating a durable “success”?

    “ . . . a culture more than five thousand years old . . . “ Well, yes, it is . . . but let us also remember that it is a “culture” in which the infant Moses would have been murdered had his Mama not sent him “down the river”. Unlike Western culture, the Mideast culture of brutality has obviously not evolved appreciably since ancient times. If that attitude marks me as an elitist Western pig, then I will simply be forced to wear that mantle.

    One thing is for certain: The success of the Egyptian Revolution will in no way be influenced by my brain-droppings, one way or t’other. It will be left for others to (attempt to) influence . . . and for history to judge.

    And if I were a bettin’ man . . .

    Jeff

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  4. Welcome back independentcuss. We've been waiting for you and your unique brand of analysis.

    Additionally, we've been waiting for someone to bring up the points you so appropriately raised.

    Eugene Weber of UCLA, and the host of The Western Civilization series which appears on PBS, contends that the revolution which was most extreme (namely the French Revolution) led to one of the world's most autocratic and restrictive regimes shortly thereafter.

    He suggests that when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it has a tendency to swing very far in the opposite direction shortly thereafter.

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  5. Inspector - As you have reminded us on numerous occasions, governance is about managing bodies. The more bodies, the more autocratic the governing body needs to be, just like a corporation, or the military.

    The big problem in Egypt is that there is no order yet. You can't start to solve problems until there is order.

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  6. Inspector:

    Re File #156, Chicago fire and Mrs. Leary's cow: "he"......Cows are female.

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  7. Thanks much Anonymous:

    Thanks. We were waiting for someone to notice and comment on the gender issue.

    Actually, we originally had it as “she,” and then changed it out of concern that someone would contend that we were female bashing.

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  8. Well, well, well. We often say that we learn more from you folks than you probably learn from us. This is an example.

    Per the American Heritage College Dictionary:

    "Cow (kou) n. 1.The mature female of cattle of the genus Bos. 2. The mature female of other large animals, such as whales, elephants or moose. 3. A domesticated bovine of either sex or any age.

    We need you folks to keep us on our toes!

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  9. Individual citizens of any nation will consider taking more personal responsibility for the state of their nation if they are properly informed and are given the chance to take responsibility. Like in Switzerland for example: it allows citizens to gather petition signatures to challenge government policies and laws in nationwide referenda. On rare occasions we have been able to vote on different issues over here as well. It proved that most people; no matter what the background or class; will make good responsible decisions, if you give them all the information they need.
    The Egyptians certainly can learn a lot from other Democracies. Mostly from the mistakes that have been and are being made, rather than good examples.

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  10. According to our good friend wsteffie: "Individual citizens of any nation will consider taking more personal responsibility for the state of their nation if they are properly informed and are given the chance to take responsibility."

    Without getting into the issue of what is "proper," we must admit that the issue of information is any interesting one. Does that mean that if they are not provided the appropriate type or amount of information, they are justified in not being responsible for the state or condition of their nation?

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  11. The Inspector asks if lack of information justifies 'not being responsible for the state or condition of their nation?' Perhaps you could explain how 'they', meaning I suppose a group of people, can be responsible for a 'state' or 'condition' of a nation. (including information they are given) An individual can be partly responsible for his or her actions, but not surely for all the conditions that led to them.

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  12. CorfuBob: Every single citizen of any nation is a potential contributor to the positive or negative state or condition of their nation. Every single citizen has the potential and option to be the best that he or she can be.

    Individual citizens can choose to be inventors, discovers of cures for diseases, master teachers of others, or entrepreneurs. Most folks are content with little and do not wish to put in the energy to maximize their human potential, no matter which country in which they live.

    Our point is that when you do not give the absolute best that you can POTENTIALLY give to society, it is a little difficult to bitch about what others have not done, and the collective state of the nation.

    All of us have the option to run for public office or to start a corporation, admittedly with varying degrees of difficulty.

    When a society thinks that good citizenship simply means raising a family, going to work and church, and paying one's taxes, at some point in time, that's not going to be good enough. During periods of prosperity, you may survive; during tough times, trouble will loom.

    We take the position that all individuals are 100% responsible for whatever state they find themselves, unless they are born with some disability. In reality, we realize this is simply not true. However, if one plans to excel, one must create some standard or construct to assist in achieving higher performance, and getting the most out of their human potential.

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  13. You and I, Inspector, were born with privileges denied most people. My parents were farmers in England's West country. Hard-working, cripplingly honest, sceptical of education, kind, modest, conventional, respectful of leadership. He farmed with respect for the environment, without ambition beyond (or for) his three sons.

    I was not physically strong enough to farm, decided for myself to study photography, left home for London at 17 believing all the qualities listed above were the basis of a good life.

    What chance in hell did I have eh? My 'potential' existed, if it existed at all, to find my qualities in the undergrowth of poor health and self-esteem.

    But it only took me a few years to discover a few modest gifts, and the attitude to make the most of them, becoming more and more grateful for the absence of 'confidence' that might well have led me into much worse trouble.

    I am in sincere awe of your achievement in this blog of yours, IC, but dispute the idea that a person's potential is some kind of reality that they can get 'the most out of' or that anyone else can know about (bit like the future)

    I wish your readers the good luck to adjust their ambitions to the gifts they have and don't know about, and to future conditions, to which they will contribute by being alive and (more or less) happy. To an extent near zero unfortunately. It doesn't matter.

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  14. Interesting opening line CorfuBob. You wrote: "You and I, Inspector, were born with privileges denied most people."

    Before addressing the other contentions in your comment, we are curious as to what led you to form this conclusion. Do you know the Inspector personally?

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  15. CorfuBob:

    We are still interested in your response to our inquiry regarding your statement to the effect that both you and the Inspector were born with privileges denied most people.

    In fact, we have deferred responding to your other very thoughtful comments until we get some better appreciation of the "privileged place" from which you and IC come.

    That being said, your brief description of your life and what led you to become the person you are today was very pithy and well crafted. It's almost the subject of another post.

    Do you have any interest in generating a piece as a Guest Author? Check out the section at the very bottom of this column.

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  16. CorfuBob:

    The operative word in your comment is "attitude."

    Thanks for your compliments regarding our blog. However, it is the contributions of our readers like you which drive us to continue this exchange.

    There is a line which you wrote, which is rather thought-provoking, and about which we will have to think further:

    "I wish your readers the good luck to adjust their ambitions to the gifts they have and don't know about, and to future conditions, to which they will contribute by being alive and (more or less) happy."

    Although we need to think this one through a little further, we suspect that we are not far removed from you on the concept.

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  17. ‘Spector,

    I must apologize for being late to this party. Yes, I did indeed receive an engraved invitation . . . but clearly I failed to RSVP in a timely fashion.

    As to the topic du jour: I am among those condescending prophets of self-fulfillment who will condemn “The Egyptian Revolution” to failure status and still sleep well at night.

    Does history teach us nothing? How much democracy was born from the Bolshevik Revolution? From the essential overthrow of the Weimar Republic by the Third Reich? From the Cuban Revolution? From the Iranian Revolution? From numberless revolutions on the South American continent?

    Do you realize just how rare was the success of the American Revolution? Pretty damn rare! Why is Egypt unlikely to accomplish the same thing today? Because “government” is synonymous with “corruption” in the Mideast, and because that region is Ground Zero for religious zealotry and intolerance. When was the last time a self-directed revolution in that part of the world ended with anything but more corruption, oppression and violence? For that matter, when has any action directed by outside forces resulted in anything approximating a durable “success”?

    “ . . . a culture more than five thousand years old . . . “ Well, yes, it is . . . but let us also remember that it is a “culture” in which the infant Moses would have been murdered had his Mama not sent him “down the river”. Unlike Western culture, the Mideast culture of brutality has obviously not evolved appreciably since ancient times. If that attitude marks me as an elitist Western pig, then I will simply be forced to wear that mantle.

    One thing is for certain: The success of the Egyptian Revolution will in no way be influenced by my brain-droppings, one way or t’other. It will be left for others to (attempt to) influence . . . and for history to judge.

    And if I were a bettin’ man . . .

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

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