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Posts Tagged ‘education’

Good or Bad

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

While I’m in the middle of a phase of religion bashing I thought it might be a good time to resurrect (an ironic choice of word) the old subject of religion in schools. This has appeared as an issue in the media here a few weeks back, so the subject is topical.

In the past, I have sort of shrugged off the issue saying something like, the young people nowadays are too smart to be taken in by some blatantly transparent myths and are likely to consign religion to the same category of fiction as the Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones.

This is no doubt true in most cases. Because, there is certainly reason to think that our civilisation’s childhood, where it relied on ancient traditional stories as a basis for cultural identity, is now starting to reach a conclusion, and we are growing up and abandoning the imaginary invisible man in the sky.

Here in New Zealand the “no religion” group is about to reach 50% of the population. Additionally, as I have said in the past, most people who indicate Christian as their religion on the census don’t really have any commitment to that belief and never attend church, read the Bible, or even really know much about it.

But it’s when previously powerful belief systems are threatened that they can become most dangerous. It’s a bit like a wild animal’s attack reflex when it’s cornered. So we should be especially careful now that churches don’t make a last ditch stand before they are consigned to the rubbish heap of bad ideas like all their predecessors. And maybe even more worryingly, we need to be careful that even worse religions, like Islam, don’t fill the void left by Christianity.

As I said above, most kids will not be taken in by the silly stuff they are taught in Bible in schools. But it is not the well-balanced, sensible, practical majority we need to worry about. It is the out of touch, emotionally and intellectually immature minority which are most at risk.

As I write this I realise that perhaps I have “shot myself in the foot” to a certain extent, because you might make a case to say that it is those who are not coping well who might have most to gain from joining a church and getting extra support and friendship.

I’m sure that there are some people who actually are better off joining a religion, and I have never argued for complete eradication of religion – at least I can’t recall an occasion, although I might have done during one of my more extreme rants! On the other hand, there might be more appropriate groups than a church those people could gain even more from, without the need to resort to superstition.

At this stage it is apparent that I am still conflicted on this subject. Don’t misunderstand, I am totally committed to the idea that religions are fake and have little purpose beyond that which can be provided far better by other knowledge systems (science for facts, philosophy for values), but fake stuff can still have value for certain people.

In the final analysis, this subject is just like every other: it is not a matter of black and white, or good and bad, just like I have so often said in past blog posts. I think that if kids were taught positive philosophical beliefs or given instruction in comparative religion in schools that would be of far more value than simple indoctrination in the dominant religion of the time, but maybe traditional Christian instruction – as along as it is controlled and doesn’t turn into aggressive proselytising – is OK.

Unfortunately the temptation to regress to aggressive conversion – with the threats of torture in Hell for unbelievers, etc – is just too likely according to many reports in the media. So maybe it would be be best just to expel religions from schools because of current bad behaviour.

Well, this blog post has certainly turned out to be one of my most indecisive ever! So, in summary, religion in schools. Good or bad? Well, yes… yes, definitely good or bad.

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Pointless Jobs

October 15, 2016 Leave a comment

I recently read an opinion piece on the subject of why capitalism has created so many pointless jobs. The idea that increasing automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence would make life easier for people at work has not really worked the way it was predicted to when these trends became more prominent about 80 years ago.

Economist, John Maynard Keynes, predicted that advanced countries would probably reduce the working week to about 15 hours, but that hasn’t happened. In fact, many people are working far more than the traditional 40 hours, and there hasn’t been a conspicuous lack of jobs available for all those people still working for the full week.

So what has happened?

Well a while back I read another piece titled something like “the rise of bullshit jobs” which pointed out that a large fraction of modern jobs are completely pointless and really could be eliminated tomorrow without making any real difference to how efficiently the economy was running.

Our society still values employment very highly and regards unemployment as one of the great social evils to be avoided at all costs. But as technology makes human labour less important shouldn’t we be welcoming the freedom from work, especially the repetitive, unpleasant, and dangerous jobs that really shouldn’t exist?

In a report covering most ot the last century it was found that the number of productive jobs (in manufacturing, agriculture, etc) has crashed but these jobs have been replaced with professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers which have grown from about a quarter to three quarters of the total.

I’m not saying that all jobs in these categories are pointless because they’re not. I myself am a computer consultant/programmer so I guess I would fit into professional or service sector (depending on how highly you rate computer geeks) and I think I perform a needed function. So not all the new jobs are pointless but a lot (maybe most) of them are.

So instead of creating the opportunity for greatly reduced working hours by having the same working population doing the lesser amount of productive work we have created a whole pile of pointless jobs to fill the void. The most ironic thing is that it often people who work in these jobs who complain about the lack of “productivity”, even though it is precisely them who are causing it!

So let’s have a look at the type of job mentioned in the article that the author regarded as being in the “pointless” category: private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs, legal consultants, most administrators, financial service professionals, health administrators, human resources experts, and academic administrators.

These are the sort of people who I often see the blanket term “worthless bureaucrats” being used to describe. It may be that there is a need for these professions to exist at a certain level, but a case could be made that we could dispense with them completely and make the world a better place.

Because the title “pointless jobs” is actually a bit too generous. These people are not only a complete waste of time and space but they actually make the people who are doing the real work less effective and productive. If a worker is constantly interrupted with the need to do pointless paperwork to keep a bureaucrat happy, for example, that bureaucrat doesn’t just have zero value, he or she is actually worse than useless!

And the argument that administrators take some of the burden of the paper work away from the workers doesn’t really work. What is that paper work for? In most cases it is just pointless nonsense to keep another bureaucrat happy who can then use the meaningless information collected to keep an even more senior bureaucrat informed on a subject she/he knows nothing about and is simply being mislead about through junk information. And inevitably the workers are the original source of the information so it is their time which is wasted in creating it.

I do have to say that blaming capitalism for this is arguably a bit unfair. One of the worst places I have seen it is in schools where teachers are expected to teach bigger and more difficult classes while at the same time coping with an increasing burden of reporting, evaluation, and generation of other, mostly pointless, nonsense.

Schools aren’t generally thought of as being run on capitalist models, although modern education does more closely follow the board, CEO, senior management model and have financial constraints as an important aspect of its operational principles. So technically schools aren’t capitalist entities but the rise of neoliberalism has ensured that many capitalist ideologies are followed.

But capitalism is supposed to create efficiencies because each company wants to optimise its income. Surely having a whole layer of bureaucracy stifling greater productivity is an anathema to this ideal?

Well, no. Because companies are run by boards and senior managers who are exactly the type of person who start the bureaucratisation process. It’s hardly likely that these people are going to suddenly experience an epiphany and say that managers are parasites, considering they would be describing themselves.

The other critical factor is what is often referred to as the “Protestant work ethic”. This isn’t to say that everyone who rate the simple fact of working as being virtuous has to be a Protestant, it’s more just that this is where it is often thought to derive from.

And in the past, when there was little automation available, hard work was a genuine advantage to society and many of the advances in Europe and America stemmed from it. But it’s just not relevant any more.

It’s time to make it OK to spend more time on interests, leisure activities, sporting goals, and other non-work related pursuits. We can make society operate on a 15 hour working week. And eventually maybe a zero hour week. People will still do things, but it will be the things they want to do instead of what they have to do. And society will be so much better as a result.

Zappa!

August 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Frank Zappa was a controversial figure, both because of his sometimes odd behaviour, and because of his counterculture ideas. I have never been a fan of his music (I have nothing of his in my collection) but – as often happens on the internet – I recently came across some quotes of his and was quite impressed with them.

As I often say, quotes don’t really mean a lot because they generally just represent an opinion a person holds. But they are a useful starting point for a discussion of the subject of the quote. Also, even though I often start with this warning about not taking quotes too seriously, I also use them in many blog posts and enjoy discussing them. And this post is no exception…

Quote number one: “Without deviation progress is not possible.”

Few people would debate this idea. In this context progress is defined as “development towards an improved or more advanced condition” (Oxford British English Dictionary). Clearly a prerequisite for improvement is change. Of course change doesn’t guarantee improvement because it could just as easily lead in the opposite direction, but without it nothing can get better.

That is why I find conservatives so annoying. They might be afraid of change leading to a situation which is worse (for them in particular) in future, but without change everything stagnates, and to allow for things getting better we must be prepared to take risks.

Of course this concept of an “improved or advanced condition” is a difficult one. There is clearly an element of subjectivity here, and someone dedicated to the political, religious, or social status quo will see any change as the opposite of improvement. On the other hand, few people would suggest that things are perfect the way they are and nothing can get better without deviation from the current norms.

Quote number two: “The whole foundation of Christianity is based on the idea that intellectualism is the work of the Devil. Remember the apple on the tree? Okay, it was the Tree of Knowledge. You eat this apple, you’re going to be as smart as God. We can’t have that.”

While it is always dangerous to stereotype any group and to criticise all members equally I think there is a clear tendency towards this in Christianity. I see it in both the Bible itself, in other religious texts, and in the attitude of many Christians.

I think that the core value of faith as the ultimate manifestation of valuing ignorance. Faith is celebrated in most religions yet essentially it is believing something without any real understanding or critical examination of the phenomenon.

As the quote says, they Garden of Eden myth is an obvious example of the how religions tend to warn against the dangers of knowledge, and there are many others. In reality it is not usually the individual who is in danger after gaining too much knowledge, it is the religion which is threatened. It is no coincidence that as education and knowledge levels increase, religiosity decreases.

I often see in the debates I have with religious people that when I destroy their arguments I am accused of spreading dangerous rhetoric, inspired by the devil, and the conversation is shut down on that basis. Or the person simply says they will keep their current beliefs even though they aren’t true, because they have “strong faith” (as if this was a good thing).

It seems that Zappa has truly discovered the essence of religion with this one!

Quote number 3: “Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts. Some of you like Pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read.”

I think it’s rather harsh to say that the inevitable outcome of exposure to our education system is “mind rot” because I think it has a place in teaching the basics. But the vast majority of time people spend in education is a total waste and I think that, after learning good reading skills, basic math, and how to research new information, there is probably little further point in education for the majority.

The more significant point is that traditional education most often doesn’t encourage a genuine search for knowledge and inhibits original thought and optimal use of a person’s talents.

And it is also a way to encourage people into adhering to societal norms, which brings me to the next quote…

Quote number 4: “The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”

Yes, we are all slaves of our current politico-economic system and the claim of freedom is largely an illusion. Of course, things have been a lot worse in the past and at least there are certain freedoms available to us now. Freedom isn’t a true or false thing. There are different extents to individual freedoms.

A person with counter-establishment views like mine would not be able to express them at some points in the past for example, but there are numerous informal systems in place to make sure that no one with those sorts of views ever gets into a position where they can have any real influence.

Quote number 5: “Government is the Entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.”

The claim that government is just a facade and that corporations and other powerful groups are really in charge is another one which can’t be evaluated as simply true or false. There would be few people who would say that big business doesn’t have an influence which seems counter-democratic, but the idea that elected governments have no control is far too conspirational.

Finally, quote 6: “One of my favorite philosophical tenets is that people will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people’s minds.”

So if you started off thinking these quotes are nonsense, chances are you still will, even after I have tried to justify them. But I always look at my efforts to change people’s minds as a long term effort of gentle persuasion rather than an attempt to elicit a sudden revelation. After all, when I debate religious people it’s usually revelation I am arguing against!

I think that every little effort at chipping away at people’s irrational beliefs might lead to change in the long run. At least it would be nice if it did, but even if it didn’t, discussing ideas and representing opinions is always fun in itself.

OK, I can’t help it. One last quote (from the song “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing”): “Those Jesus-freaks, well, they’re friendly, but, the shit they believe has got their minds all shut. An’ they don’t even care when the church takes a cut! (ain’t it bleak when you’ve got so much nothin’?)”

Yes, it seems bleak to me.

Richie Rich

June 10, 2016 Leave a comment

In the past I have been quite impressed with Richie McCaw, the previous All Blacks captain. He was a great (I use that word deliberately) player and an effective captain. He was humble when interviewed about his achievements, but wasn’t obviously just following a PR script. And, most importantly, he rejected the offer of a knighthood in 2012 because he thought he didn’t deserve it yet (he now has an Order of New Zealand which is theoretically a higher honour).

When he was All Blacks captain he probably made well over a million dollars a year according to various sources, so you might think there would be little need to make extra cash by participating in activities of doubtful moral value, like doing advertising for large corporates.

But, unfortunately, that’s what he has done. After having such a high opinion of McCaw it is very disappointing – and I might even go as far as saying sickening – to see him in a TV advertising campaign trying to improve the public perception of Fonterra, the biggest company in New Zealand and the largest milk exporter in the world.

Fonterra has a poor public perception because of the way they manage milk exporting from New Zealand where they have a virtual monopoly. They have concentrated on producing larger amounts of low value products like milk powder and this has lead to two big problems: first, more cows have lead to major issues with water pollution; and second, when the price of commodities has slumped many farmers have been adversely affected and many have had to get out of farming.

There’s no excuse for it because various commentators have been saying for years that a better strategy would be to emphasise lesser volumes of higher value products instead, or at the very least have a greater diversification in production.

The criticisms of Fonterra don’t end there though, because they have also been criticised for extravagant director salaries, excessive numbers of managers and bureaucrats of doubtful value, and unfair payment terms for suppliers.

Sure, there have been times in the past where the company has been held in high regard. But these have been primarily when the price for milk has been high and payments to farmers have been generous. Any company can do a good job in those circumstance and it’s only when things go wrong that the true value of those highly paid executives is really tested.

And – disappointing but perhaps not surprisingly – they fail miserably. And not only are they incompetent but they are also immoral. And I’m afraid that, by association, so is Richie. Was he not rich enough? Why did he sell his soul to the devil? Surely he cannot possibly believe the inept drivel in the advertisement.

And in addition, I’m not impressed with the fact that he accepted an honorary doctorate as recognition of his sporting achievements. So he got a degree for running around a rugby ground throwing a ball around? Makes me wonder why we bother with universities. I think almost all honorary degrees are a travesty. A degree is supposed to be a recognition of academic ability, not a reward for being a good sportsman.

It seems more that honorary degrees are a dishonest attempt for the university to gain credit through association with a famous person. Lincoln University might say “oh yes, the All Blacks captain has a degree from here, aren’t we great?” I do admit that McCaw almost completed a bachelors degree before rugby took over his life, but many people don’t complete study for various reasons, so I don’t think that can really be used as a justification.

The fact that McCaw accepted something that he must have known was morally wrong is also a point against him, in my opinion. So, along with the Fonterra propaganda campaign which is even more morally wrong I find the whole thing very disappointing.

Sure, no one is perfect, but there are some actions which are unforgivable. It’s just as well Richie Rich isn’t playing for the All Blacks any more or I might have ended up supporting England or South Africa instead… or even (gasp) Australia!

If You’re Right, You’re Right

August 6, 2015 Leave a comment

My political views are broadly left-wing and liberal but I don’t usually use labels like that because they can be misleading. For example I despise political correctness and many traditional left oriented beliefs have a significant component of this in them. Because of this, sometimes the people who would usually be my allies are surprised when I have a completely contrary view to what they might expect.

There are two other elements to my personality which can also mean I sometimes appear to be controversial, or even rude! The first is that I sometimes like to present an alternative view to that held by the majority just to emphasise that there is always more than one way to approach a question (you might call that being “devil’s advocate”), plus I like to pursue pure rationality and forget about history and what the traditional response might be.

All of this is illustrated very nicely in a recent incident involving New Zealand’s Prime minister, John Key (henceforth referred to as the PM or JK) and a comment be allegedly made at a school meeting about his opinion of Maori Language Week (a week where the language of the Maori – the original inhabitants of New Zealand – is emphasised).

So here is one statement about the incident I found on a national new source: “John Key leaves girl in tears after calling Maori language month ‘boring'”. The question was something like did the PM support extending Maori Language Week (which had just finished) to Maori Language Month.

The whole issue has become rather convoluted and hard to get any real facts on, but apparently what he really said is that he thought the shorter time was better because people might be bored with a full month. And the reaction of the young (16 year old) woman asking the question has only been reported second hand from a “friend” who is involved in pro-Maori activism!

Naturally many of my politically correct friends were horrified at the whole thing. First, how evil was JK that he made a young girl cry? Second, how evil was he that he didn’t support te reo (the Maori language)? And third, well they just don’t like the PM no matter what he does.

So let’s look at each of these issues to show how I treat them differently from my erstwhile allies…

Is upsetting someone by making a comment they don’t approve of a bad thing? I guess it depends on the circumstance to an extent, but I think the PM just gave an honest answer here, which was his opinion at the time (exactly what the questioner wanted). Whose fault is it that his answer wasn’t what she expected and therefore upset her?

If she was offended by an honest answer to a potentially controversial question then I would say that is her fault, not JK’s. And yes, she was quite young, but when I mentioned this to my daughter she said 16 isn’t young, running away and crying because you don’t like an answer sounds more like an immature 5 year old!

So come on everyone, toughen up, and be prepared to accept a bit of diversity of opinion. What’s the point in asking a question if you are only going to be able to cope with one answer? If you don’t want to hear the answer then just don’t ask the question!

I think this is a sign of how bad things have got in our schools though. Rational thought, fair consideration of contrary opinions, and honesty in answering questions has been thrown out and replaced with repetition of politically correct slogans and other meaningless nonsense.

So on this first point I support the PM. He gave an honest answer (something to be encouraged in politicians, surely) which not everyone agreed with. What is wrong with this? Nothing that I can see. If the girl really did get that upset (highly doubtful) then it’s about time the school did its job and taught her about how to handle genuine political debate.

So the second point is should JK have been more supportive of the Maori language? Well this is a politcal question in the end and depends on your perspective, but even if he was trying to support the language more having a month designed to advance it isn’t necessarily going to be more successful than a week.

It’s not the people who are already interested in the language (or at least determined to pretend they are interested to keep their political correctness status intact) who should be the main target of the week (or month) it is more the people with no current interest or knowledge at all. And they are the type of people likely to get very resentful if they think they are having someone else’s political views forced on them!

So would people get bored with a Maori Language Month? Well it depends on exactly what form it takes, but a fair fraction of the people I know find the week boring enough so yes, I think he has a really good point there! I have to say that on the second point I also support the PM!

So what about the third point, should I just reject the opinion of someone who I would normally not have a political affiliation to? Of course not. That is one of the saddest things about modern politics. People make their decisions based on what their political leaders say, not what is right or wrong. I’m quite happy to accept it when the right make some point I agree with, just like I am happy to point out any deficiencies in the left.

Yet again, on the third point, I am on the side of the PM, even though he represents a general political view contrary to mine. Here’s the way I see it: If you’re right, you’re right, even if you’re from the right!

Another Three Years

September 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Well the latest New Zealand general election is over and we did not get the result I really wanted. On the other hand, if you read my post from 2014-09-09 (“Pretty Relaxed, Except…”) you will see that I am not completely stressed about the outcome either.

I didn’t realistically expect that Labour could form a new government but I did hope that National would be weaker and require a more moderate party to limit some of its more extreme ideas. Instead National will probably team up with the ultimate extremists (Act) even though that might not even be necessary to gain a majority.

So what happened? Basically it seems that marketing has beaten substance. The right was far more professional, organised, and consistent than the left in this election campaign and that seems to have been enough to persuade people to return them to power with an even bigger majority.

In fact, talking to people I really couldn’t find many – especially National supporters – who could name any actual policies that they liked. I did hear a few mangled attempts at criticising Labour policies, such as the capital gains tax, but even that was more propaganda than fact.

So it really does seem that we have entered an age where spin beats everything else in forming public opinion. I should say at this point that, as I said in the post mentioned above, the National Party isn’t as bad as it has been in the past and has moved to a more moderate position (possibly aiding in its popularity) so I’m certainly not saying that a National government is total evil entirely relying on propaganda to survive.

But probably the most annoying thing about this election was (yes, you guessed it) Act. The party got less than one percent of the vote, barely more than the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, yet because of a dirty deal done with John Key, they will be part of the next government, no doubt attempting to inflict their totally discredited economic ideology onto us. They have no mandate for this and deserve no ability to influence policy.

But as I have said in the past, Act provide National with a good excuse to push some more extreme policies onto the country without being blamed directly. They can just say that it is part of the coalition agreement and escape the blame that way. One of the most ill-informed and dysfunctional policies from this government’s last term (charter schools) started that way.

So it has been a wild ride, a bizarre election campaign, and great entertainment. But now it’s over and we have to settle in for another 3 years with John Key in charge. I saw in a news item today that he wants to take a fairly centrist approach and not do anything too radical. I hope so. That way he probably won’t solve any of our big problems but at least he won’t create any new ones, and that’s all we can really hope for!

More Stupid Decisions

July 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Why do so many of our politicians make so many stupid decisions? Is it because they are, themselves, stupid? I don’t think so, and in fact many seem fairly intelligent. More likely it is because they know nothing about the subject they are supposed to be in charge of, along with the obvious additional factor that many politicians are driven by the ideology of their party rather than what is genuinely the right thing to do.

One of the more obvious signs that politicians are making stupid decisions is that what they do is so often criticised by experts in the relevant area. I agree that experts aren’t always right, but compared with politicians I know which side I would be backing!

There are numerous examples of this phenomenon when any party is in power but when we have a right-leaning government in control, like we do now, the most common disagreement generally comes from education. They really just always seem to mess it up and go against the opinion of experts.

I know that ministers have experts advising them on what to do, but I would be very surprised if any adviser felt free to disagree with the clearly stated policy direction of their political masters, even if they knew it was wrong. In other words, they only tell the minister what he or she wants to hear.

To be fair, this phenomenon is common in all large organisations where managers, advisers, or consultants generally just say what the person in the next level up in the hierarchy or who is paying them wants to hear.

The justification for unpopular decisions generally involves suggesting something like the opponents just can’t cope with change, or can’t see the big picture, or are acting out of self-interest, or have a political or philosophical bias. I’m not saying that there aren’t occasions when some of these might actually have an element of truth, but most of the time they are just a convenient way to try to discredit perfectly reasonable points.

A phenomenon which often surprises me is how ministers swap their portfolios around. You would expect that to be sufficiently skilled to be a minister in one area would be impressive enough but what about these people who have had multiple successive portfolios? Were they really so skilled and expert in multiple areas or do they just know nothing about any of them?

A good example in our current government is Anne Tolley, who started with the Child, Youth and Family portfolio, then became Minster of Education, and is now Minister of Police. Is she an expert in social work, education, and law enforcement? Well no, she has no qualifications or expertise that I can establish. In fact she seems to make a total mess of everything she touches, but she does toe the party line so what else matters?

I realise that to be a leader and to be able to make the big decisions isn’t necessarily the same thing as being an expert in the area you are making the decisions about. But it would seem to me that a few relevant qualifications or experience as well as being a good leader would not be a bad thing. Unfortunately that isn’t the way the system works so I guess we had better just get used to more stupid decisions!