Pro patria, pro pueris.[1]

As I’ve written before I’m increasingly worried about how our society in the US has come to view itself. We are full of claims about American exceptionalism but can’t rationally back them up.

The unquestioned philosophy of US exceptionalism has the unintended consequence of causing us to fail to strive. Societies perform best when striving for a collective goal. WWII. Sputnik. These were moments in US history when we engaged collective action. People took their mutual responsibilities seriously. Today, it seems, we lack a reason to strive. In a sense we are unwitting victims of our own success; and the threats to our economic and social security are subtle and slow-acting. It’s not to nuclear holocaust that we’ll succumb, but to the slowly decaying competitiveness and irrelevance. As T.S Eliot wrote: “Not with a bang, but a whimper.”

Our collective ambition is in decay. We’ve been etherized by countless distractions - social technology, pro sports, Dancing with the Stars, and stupid cat videos. Our attention has been stolen from us by the unethical purveyors of “entertainment.” Succinctly, we’re not serious about the sorts of things that will ensure our country’s success.

Kids and a window to the future

If we wish to glimpse the future we need only to contemplate our young. Are our kids driven to distraction by SMS, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat? Then we will all soon live in a society that is so distracted that we can’t look each other in the eye.

Are our kids falling behind in our international education rankings? Then we had better resign ourselves to a second class status on the international stage.

None of this is irreversible, of course; but we need to analyze cause and effect to create a world in which we prefer to live.

###Restoring the formulas of success###

Success and hard work are inextricably linked. Contemporary media over-emphasizes serendipity in the path to financial success; but for the majority of us, the only way to get there is by hard work, orientation toward goals, and academic preparedness. We need to begin to draw the connection between striving and eventual success - however defined - in children from their earliest moments. Parents must praise kids for authentic hard work and reserve praise for what’s truly praiseworthy.

###Where there’s scarcity, competition will follow###

The worldwide economic upheavals and the political strife over healthcare, Social Security, and other social support points out the serious scarcity of opportunity. Whether our kids - and the adults they become - seek it or not, they will participate in a society that is increasingly competitive. Nothing can be gained by shielding children from this reality. Instead, we should be equipping them for competition in academics, music, sports and other pursuits.

###Inattention###

Nothing that is unattended-to develops in a positive way. Just as a closed system tends toward chaos, inattentive parenting yields disordered kids. Children need direction, gentle nudges in the right direction, discipline, consistency, and help with goal-setting. Trusting schools and recreational soccer clubs to do the long-term work of child development is misplaced. Parents must simply make development of their children their top priority. Are you reading about child psychology? Are you doing thier homework with them? Are you reading books yourself; or are you playing with your iPad? Are you looking out keenly for their strengths? Are you modeling for them the behaviors that will equip them for success?

What’s good for kids is good for our country.


  1. For (the good) of country, for (the good) of children.

As a progressive, I lament that fellow liberals have granted US conservatives near exclusive ownership over the symbols of patriotism. After all, why does the flag have to mean: “Insufficiently low marginal tax rates.”? Or “Health care is a privilege, not a right”? Or “We believe in limiting the rights of gay people”?

Yet these symbols have clearly been co-opted. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government Study in 2011 concluded that participation in Fourth of July events - parades, fireworks displays - all full of patriotic symbolism - increase potential voters’ identification with Repulican candidates and increases their likelihood of voting for Republican candidates. Furthermore, US Republican voters are more likely than liberals to claim their pride as a US citizen.[1]

What is “the best”?

In my experience, one of the most striking empirical differences between liberals and conservatives on the subject of patriotism, is the unwillingness of the latter to openly question the idea of American exceptionalism. Ask a conservative: “Is the US the greatest country in the world?” and the answer is almost always an emphatic affirmative. Ask a liberal; and the response is more nuanced. “Yes, but the NSA spies on our own citizens. And we’re still unlawfully detaining people at Guantánamo Bay.”

What does it mean to be “the best”?

Best at education? Hardly. On a widely applied, validated examination, US students were well below average.[2]

Best at health care? Wrong again. Our infant mortality rates are higher than in most developed countries. Even among adults, the improvement in mortality rates year-over-year shows signs of a plateau. This plateau is not evident in similar data from Sweden and Australia.[3]

But we have our freedom, right? Sure, like every country in Europe - most of whom outperform us in education and healthcare. And most of those countries don’t feel the need to spy on their own citizens.

OK, well, we’re the happiest. Wrong again. We ranked 17th in the UN World Happiness Report 2013.[4]

###The unexamined life###

Socrates said that “the unexamined life isn’t worth living” meaning that there’s no instrinsic value in living an existence without the introspection that yields personal growth and development. In the same way, unquestioned American exceptionalism does no one any good. We need to let go of our Cold War beliefs and look critically at where we find ourselves now in history. Other countries are passing us by in productivity, education, health care, happiness, and environmental sensitivity.

Preference for symbols

There is a particular disorder in the preference for the symbol over the thing that it represents. No less sad is the preference for an obsolete meaning of a symbol. If flags, fireworks, parades, and lapel pins once meant American exceptionalism, it is objectively wrong to make that association today.

Data, rationalism, and a way forward

Only awareness of objective data about our international standings and rational evaluation of their causes can drive us out of the doldrums of confused patriotic symbology. We must ask ourselves critically what it means to be the best. What strongly-held opinions are slowing our progress? What have other countries figured out that we’re missing?

Every assumption must be questioned.


  1. Gallup poll, 2013 This poll published in 2013 showed that 89% of self-identified conservatives are extremely proud to be an American citizen, in contrast to 76% of US liberals surveyed.

  2. U.S Students Slide in Global Ranking on Math, Reading, Science The Program for International Student Assessment, PISA, collects data on 65 countries and ranks countries by their students’ academic performance. In mathematics, 29 countries outperformed the US.

  3. N Engl J Med 2010; 362:98-99

  4. UN World Happiness Report, 2013 The top 5 countries in order are: Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Sweden.

Authority cannot be asserted; it must be earned.

In nearly every discipline, traditional hierarchies of authority are dissolving. Although this is supported by evidence in some cases - aviation and its crew-resource management (CRM) philosophy, for example - the leveling of authority in all cases is by no means universally beneficial.

We want students to develop critical reasoning skills by questioning received wisdom. But breaking down the gradient of authority impairs kids’ ability to receive well-vetted, widely-held knowledge. The transition from student to teacher is exemplary. One becomes an expert by working under the guidance of an expert. To prematurely flatten the hierarchy short-circuits the intellectual development of the nascent expert.

Even in the parenting relationship, authority must be earned. For some, authority is a punitive, prejudicial word when used in the context of child development. It conjures up ideas of a restricted range of expression, meanness, and even corporal punishment. But this confuses an authoritarian style with an authoritative one. In the former, parents assert authority by over-controlling, giving few options, punishing without explanation, and providing no warmth or nurturing. Parents who exhibit an authoritative style provide limits on what is acceptable and what is not while giving some latitude on how to live within those limits. The authoritative style balances nurturing and warmth with consistent limit-setting. Of course, there is a third style, common among U.S. parents, that places feeble and inconsistent limits on children while indulging their whims and desires. This laissez-faire style muddles nurturing with indulgence; and no authority is possible. Only good luck can salvage that style.

But authority cannot be taken for granted. Children need to sense that authority comes from a consistent place of wanting them to be successful, responsible, and ethical in the world. They do this by evaluating the tacit curriculum of the household. In other words, if parents model the behaviors and attributes they intend for their children to adopt, they must exhibit the same. Do you want your children to take learning seriously? Then you must show them the ways that you are constantly learning something new as an adult. Do you want your children to be able to delay gratification? Then put first things first yourself. The old adage: “Do as I say, not as I do.” sadly ignores the power of modeling.

The right of children to exert unconstrained choice is not appropriate. Instead, we should be thinking about how to help them progress from from dependent to independent in a stepwise fashion over years of development. When adults and kids do this, there is a symmetrical development of authority.

When kids live within a framework of earned authority and respect, not only do they progressively claim their own authority, but they learn and exercise the willpower that comes with deferring gratification.

For the last several years, after leaving my medical practice, I’ve been a full-time iOS and Mac developer.

Increasingly, I feel an uneasiness about my work, especially on mobile devices. I’m proud of the professionalism and rigor that I bring to my work; but I fret about the consequences of our ubiquitous use of smartphones. In short, I feel as if I’m part of the problem.

Every time I see a parent “anesthetizing” their child with an iPhone or iPad. Every time I seem someone texting while driving. When I see teenagers glued to their phones while tuning out the real world. When I see parents surfing and not paying attention to their children.

I don’t doubt that mobile technology has helped us in many ways. But I question the net effect.

After blogging on Octopress for a couple years, I got tired of its “heaviness.” Octopress has been a great way to blog; and deployment to Amazon S3 couldn’t be easier. But after playing around with the styling a bit, I still felt like trying to radically change and simplify the design required too much dealing with the internals. In short, I was looking for a static blogging system that offered more simplicity and flexibility than Octopress. That’s how I wandered into Hakyll.

At its core, Hakyll is a Haskell library on which bloggers can build a system for generating static sites. Because at its core, Hakyll is just a library, it means that the blogger can develop his own systm for parsing posts, generating pages, linking the blog together, and even deploying. I admit that I know nothing about Haskell; but it looks interesting. And I like the way Hakyll works; so I’m willing to give it a try.

##Installation##

####Installing Haskell on OS X 10.9####

I chose to install haskell-platform using homebrew[1], simply as:

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2
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$ brew search haskell
haskell-platform

$ brew install haskell-platform

There were a handful of issues involving the Xcode command line tools and the PATH variable; but none were difficult. And I failed to record what they were. Sorry.

####Installing Hakyll####

Install Hakyll using cabal[2] as:

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$ cabal install hakyll

One of the things that the cabal package for hakyll gives you is an executable called hakyll-init that when run, creates an example site. Ideally, you should just be able to:

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$ hakyll-init my-great-site

but for me, hakyll-init is not found. You’ll have to make sure that ~/.cabal/bin is in you PATH for that to work.

####Configuring the example site####

Once you’ve built a sample site with hakyll-init you need to use the use ghc to build the site configuration program site.hs:

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$ cd my-site
$ ghc --make site.hs
$ ./site build

Now you can preview your site with ./site watch on localhost:8000.

####Deployment####

My site is hosted on Amazon S3 and I use Transmit to synchronize my local directory with the bucket that serves the site. This works well, except for the fact that CSS is poorly handled by Amazon web services when you serve a static site from an S3 bucket. The problem is the Content-Type of the css files is provided as binary/octet-stream. This is not right. You can change in the management console; but it gets reset every time you upload the file. Clearly not a good solution.

If you use Transmit, though, you can set the Content-Type for cloud uploads on a per-file extension basis. The relevant details are described in a blog post by Adam Wilcox. Basically, you just go Transmit preferences, Cloud tab, and set the Custom S3 Upload Headers for css files:

Header name Value
Content-Type text/css
x-amz-storage-class REDUCED_REDUNDANCY

After making those changes, static blogs hosted on S3 will return css files with the correct type header.

Since Transmit is scriptable, you can write an Applescript to connect to your S3 bucket and sync. The most straightforward way to make this work is to create favorite in Transmit as show in the screenshot. If you use a named favorite that specifies both the remote and local paths, you should be able to adapt the following script to perform the sync.

Finally, you’ll want to link that script into the deploy command in your blog configuration. There you’ll want to modify your site.hs file and recompile it.

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config :: Configuration
config = defaultConfiguration
{ deployCommand = "osascript /Users/alan/Documents/dev/scripts+tools/applescript/scripts/active/sync-blog-s3.scpt" }

Now from the command line, I can just:

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$ ./site deploy

to execute my deployment Applescript.

####Post migration####
Your post source is written in Markdown; so you’ll probably want to write rules into your site.hs file that specify how you want to parse the metadata in those files. If I knew more Haskell, I’d describe that in more detail for you. I had a small number of posts to migrate; so I changed the metadata format manually. Essentially I changed the formatting of the tags (they’re called categories in Octopress) and removed quote marks from the post titles.


  1. Homebrew is a package manager for OS X.

  2. Cabal is a build and package system for Haskell.

Many adults remember music lessons - some fondly, some not-so-much. But there’s an enormous amount of evidence about the beneficial effects of music training in kids. Some lines of evidence point to how the benefits of musical education can spill over into other areas of life, improving how one’s brain functions, the ability to learn languages, math abilities, and so on. As a musician, I feel conflicted about this sort of reason for starting music lessons. Music isn’t solely important to kids because it might get them to behave better, get a better SAT score, or get them into Harvard. Music is its own reward. It possesses a beauty and value that can’t be reduced to utilitarian terms. Perhaps parents start kids in music for practical reasons; but it’s best to treat music as just music and let whatever other magic can happen just unfold with time. With that caveat, here are three reasons why music education is critical for kids.

Brain development

The brain undergoes massive development in early childhood.[1] Kids are born with very capable brains; but most of the brain capacity in infants is channeled into its ability to form its own “wiring.” Although the brain weighs about 25% of the average adult weight at birth, by age 3 it has already grown to about 88% of its eventual size. By age 10, the brain is 99% of its eventual maximal weight. The enormous growth in the brain reflects billions of connections being formed between neurons.

A study[2] by Nina Kraus and colleagues at the Northwestern University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory showed that the beneficial effects of music lessons in childhood were sustained well into adulthood even among adults who hadn’t played their instruments in years. Kraus measured the timing of brain responses to speech in three groups of adults, some with no music training in childhood, some with just a little training, and some with a moderate amount of training. What she showed was that the brains of adults who had experienced musical training in childhood responded faster to speech stimuli than those without. And there appeared to be a dose-response relationship between the amount of musical training and the effect size.

A counterpoint to instant gratification

Everything about contemporary culture is designed for speed. There internet has transformed life in millions of ways, some good, some bad; but we’re all moving faster and faster. Don’t want to wait for a book? Download it on your iPad. Don’t want to wait for your fast food? Order on your phone ahead of time.

But music disobeys the contemporary heuristic that anything can be accomplished faster. Sure, there are more efficient ways to practice.[3] But training the mind, the muscles, the ears, and eyes to work in flawless coordination cannot be hurried. Music teaches us to slow down, accept our imperfections, and to be patient. It situates us in history by linking us to the past and forward to the future.

Shinichi Suzuki, the father of the modern concept of talent education, reframed talent as little more than persistent work. Suzuki observed the effortlessness with which young children acquire their native tongue. With persistence, subtle feedback, and a lot of nurturing, children tacitly master complex sounds and grammars. He began to wonder whether music, another auditory pursuit, could be similarly acquired. Time has proven Suzuki right, of course. But while the concept is enormously empowering, its implications for the size of the task are equally large. It’s really about slow, progressive acquisition of ability.

Above all music training is an adventure in willpower. Although willpower seems like an old-fashioned virtue, there is considerable evidence that willpower - a purposeful exercise of delayed gratification - can predict positive social and intellectual outcomes.[4] Furthermore, we know that developing willpower in one area of life can have benefits in other areas of life.[5]

A point of focus

Americans obsess about self-esteem in children often to their detriment. There is practically no evidence that interventions designed to deliberately boost self-esteem through unearned positive messaging and rewards actually work. Yet they are commonplace. For example, our local community soccer organization gives out medals for participation, presumably to bolster the self-esteem in children who didn’t score any goals or spent a lot of time on the bench. Showing up is not a rewardable event. If you sign-up for something, participation is an expectation. Furthermore, efforts to artificially boost self-esteem in this way have been shown to actually reduce performance.

The problem with trying to manipulate self-esteem is that it is a symptom of something, not a primary entity. If you want people to feel better, then they need to be better and do better.[6] Without attaching an intervention to what really matters, you’re working against strong psychological countercurrents. Instead, I like to think of self-esteem as the byproduct of two orthogonal factors: differentiation and accomplishment. Accomplishment boosts self-esteem by increasing a person’s sense of self-efficacy in the world. Differentiation, on the other hand, allows us to distinguish ourselves from others and adding to our own sense of unique value. The latter is particularly important in teens who struggle with the dichotomy between wanting to belong and wanting to be a unique individual.

What does this have to do with music? We know from Suzuki’s work that talent is just another word for hard work. But I think even that stops a little short of what’s really going on in kids. Instead, talent is found at the intersection of hard work and focus. Without focus, hard work can mean just doing a lot of “stuff.” Since music requires so much of both, the sense of accomplishment can be enormous. The more accomplished the kids become, the more they begin to differentiate themselves from others. This becomes the source of their self-esteem.

Of course, all of these principles operate with other pursuits. But why not music?


  1. https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/dev.html

  2. The Journal of Neuroscience, 6 November 2013, 33(45): 17667-17674; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2560-13.2013 Full text

  3. I was never really taught how to practice. We just practiced for hours. Start at the beginning, go to the end, and repeat. There’s a lot of good material around on how to practice more effectively. For example 10 easy ways to optimize your music practice and others.

  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment The famous marshmallow experiment conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford is instructive. Young children who were able to defer eating a marshmallow had better SAT scores, higher level of academic achievement, and better health indices later in life than those who could not resist eating the marshmallow.

  5. In a study recounted in ”Willpower” by Baumeister and Tierney, students who were asked to maintain a good posture performed better on tasks unrelated to posture.

  6. The idea here is similar to that which is encapsulated in a quotation often misattributed to Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” The misattribution is a product of Will Durant’s text formatting in The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers (1926). His summary of Aristotle’s text is faithful in meaning, though. What Aristotle actually wrote was “the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life… for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy” in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book I.

Every year around the time of the Super Bowl, I wonder if I’m ever going to bother to learn the rules of American football. I suspect not, since at age 48 I’ve never made it through an entire game start-to-finish.

Mostly, I don’t really care for the game because it conjures up bad memories from school days.

Passive consumption

Now, as an adult, what really bothers me about football, is that the only real way to enjoy the game is by passively consuming it. No one except for professionals actually plays the game. Instead, we sit on the sofa, watch the game on the television, analyze the plays and the outcomes, and buy team colors and paraphernalia. All without actually do anything of value.

The world and individuals progress by doing something. Watching isn’t doing.

Spectacle as commercial vehicle. Buying fans

The phenomenon of the Super Bowl commercial has elevated the event to near holiday status. Many people who would not otherwise watch football, tune in to the Super Bowl solely to see the clever, creative commercials.[1] That companies collectively spend over $220 million[2] on television ads suggests that the association between the game and the marketing of products and services unrelated to the game is no accident. But this alliance benefits no one but the companies themselves. In a sense, the football game itself, which should be a celebration and test of athletic accomplishment, is merely a vehicle for delivering something more potent. Like the cigarette which exists only to deliver nicotine, the Super Bowl exists mostly to deliver marketing.

Opportunity costs

The saddest thing about the Super Bowl is the number of lost opportunities when money could be better spent. Americans spend about $1 billion each year on Super Bowl snacks. About 4 million Americans plan to buy a new television set before the Super Bowl game to enhance their viewing experience. Hint, it won’t be a smaller one; and the one it replaces will undoubtedly end up in a landfill somewhere.

With the $1 billion that we spend on Super Bowl snacks each year, we could provide foor to over 3 million starving children for nearly a year.

Or, we could provide safe, clean drinking water to 50 million people in impoverished countries.

We’re fond of wringing our hands about constrained resources and that we can’t pay for universal health care or take care of our public infrastructure. But we can come together for a day and spend a billion dollars on crappy food, $220 million on ads, pay millions in salaries for football players, etc.? Something’s wrong with this picture.


  1. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/football-part-super-bowl-article-1.1597013#ixzz2sCm31n65 Fewer than half of respondents watch the game solely for the game itself; and over 25% watch the Super Bowl solely for the commercials.

  2. http://www.examiner.com/article/how-much-money-did-cbs-make-from-2013-super-bowl-ads-try-220-million According to sources, 55 ads aired during the last Super Bowl at about $4 million for each 30 second slot.

For years I’ve harbored a deep skepticism for homeschooling, seeing it as antisocial, undemocratic, and as Dana Goldstein put it in Slate last year: " If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing." [1] That is, if we subscribe to progressive values, we should endeavor to improve the educational experience in an egalitarian way.

But I’ve come to regard homeschooling differently. And despite the fact that our daughter attends and excellent, well-regarded private school, she’ll be attending homeschool starting in first grade next year. This post

Homeschoolers have always been forced into a defensive position as exemplified by Deborah Markus’ “The Bitter Homeschooler’s” Wish List[2]; so in my head, I’ve rehearsed answers to questions that I imagine being asked about our decision. Now that I’ve practiced them in my imagination, I’ve decided to write them down so I can refer askers to them. The format is a list of frequently given answers. Why not an FAQ? Well, the format of frequently asked questions misses the point of documenting the responses. We all know the questions; the interesting part is contained in the answers.

Insanity, ideological extermism, political viewpoints

If your question is similar to:

  • Are you insane?
  • Are you just religious zealots?
  • Are you some sort of libertarian, antigovernment people?

Then the answer is:

As far as we’ve been able to detect, we are not insane. But it’s possible, so we’ll keep an eye on it. We are a secular family; and if we teach any religion at home, it will be a unit on comparative religions. Values, character strengths[3] and ethical behavior in the world are important attributes that we’d like to pass down.

We’re also not political extremists in any sense, though undoubtedly most conservative people would regard us that way. I’m not a libertarian, although libertarians sometimes get things right. I believe, for example, that people should be left alone with the minimum necessary limits. I believe that what people do in private, to the extent it affects no one else, is no one else’s business. I believe that people deserve second chances. And that problems like poverty and its attendant social ills that seem simple, are not; and they are not synonymous with laziness or graft. I believe that the government, not unfettered capital markets, has a role to play in equalizing opportunity.

Socializing

If your question is similar to:

  • Won’t your daughter be incredibly sheltered?
  • Will she have no friends?
  • Isn’t she going to miss out on all these wonderful opportunities with friends?

Then the answer is:

School obviously offers a plentiful source of friendship. But while out-of-home school offers quantity of relationships, by sending your child off to school, you are outsourcing their network of friends. Given the tremendous importance of social networks in the socialization process[4], children turn out, in part, to mirror that values, attributes, and preferences of those around them. Why would anyone want to outsource that?

But homeschoolers do have to work harder to setup opportunities for their children to be with their peers. It has to be more intentional. But what important aspect of our lives isn’t intentional?

Qualifications

If your question is similar to:

  • How can you possibly be qualified to teach?
  • It must be very difficult?

Then the answer is:

I’m not a certified teacher. I have B.S. and M.D. degrees. Both my wife and I have been involved in professional education throughout our careers. I think we’ve learned a few things about education along the way. I don’t discount the wealth of knowledge, both explicit and tacit, that professional teachers bring to schools. Our daughter has benefitted greatly from their talents.

But our involvement with Suzuki training has taught us that we are both great teachers. The special insights that come from knowing your child deeply as only a parent can, offset any difficiencies that we have in formal training.

Is it difficult? Of course it is!

Public school

If your question is similar to:

  • As a progressive, don’t you support public schools?
  • Aren’t schools in your area excellent?
  • Isn’t your child already attending a great school?

Then the answer is:

We support the egalitarian ideals of public school. I support the concept of a national curriculum backed by a set of national standards. Why should the quality and integrity of a child’s education be subject to local or state whims? If we are to teach children in an evidenced-based way, then we need to recognize that evidence doesn’t change according to state lines.

But while we support public education and a national standard, we recognize that the implementation has been disastrous. The assumption that more data means better quality is absurd; and it is inconsistent with the what we know about how better-performing public education systems achieve their superior results. The cultural milieu in out-of-home schools is also horrifying. Texting, tweeting, Facebooking and the like are at best grand wastes of time for kids. Social tech may be central to contemporary teen development; but we want no part of it.


  1. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/02/homeschooling_and_unschooling_among_liberals_and_progressives_.html

  2. http://www.secular-homeschooling.com/001/bitter_homeschooler.html

  3. The Values in Action Institute on Character is a source of inspiration for thinking about what character strengths are. See http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/classification.aspx

  4. Here, I’m using the term “socialization” in its proper way, which is to say not the same thing as “socializing.” Socialization is the process of developing and inheriting norms, customs, and values from others in the community. It is the transmission of shared elements of culture. Good or bad.

Almost everything you want to know about dysfunction in US politics can be symbolized by the most recent findings on the public’s views on human evolution published by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project[1].

On the whole, 33% of US adults say that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. An additional 7% say that they “don’t know.” We can confidently state that about 40% of the US adult population is either grossly unfamiliar with the overwhelming body of knowledge that supports the hypothesis that all present living organisms evolved over time, or they simply choose to deny it. This is an embarrassment because while the US claims its primacy in the world, a large percentage of its population is ignorant about a critical body of scientific knowledge.

Beliefs about evolution

More disturbingly, partisan differences in beliefs about evolution are growing. In general, where factual evidence exists and is widely available, consensus around that knowledge grows in a predictable way. Instead among US Republican voters, understanding of evolution appears to be receding rapidly. In 2009, 54% of Republican voters stated that humans and other living things evolved over time. Now, four years later, only 43% agree with the same statement. A nearly 10% decline in knowledge cannot be attributed to a change in the evidence base around evolution, because no negative evidence has surfaced during the period. Instead, it reflects something more pernicious about the bundling of science, policy, and religion. See Figure 1 [2] for the gory details.

US voters have few options. Fiscally-conservative voters have no choice but to support candidates who openly trumpet their disdain for scientific knowledge around evolution because these are the positions that are most likely to attract US evangelical voters who find that the science of evolution does not fit properly into their worldview. On the opposite side, voters who support scientific integrity have little choice other than supporting Democratic candidates.

It is indisputable that all existing living things, including humans, evolved from earlier living things. Citizens put tremendous trust in their leaders to make rational decisions. When leaders fail to apply reason in their understanding of fundamental questions about science, how can they be trusted to make rational decisions about matters of policy? We need political candidates and other leaders who are willing to stand up and unequivocally label nonsense when they see it. In short, we need more leaders and fewer panderers.


  1. http://www.pewforum.org (accessed January 4, 2014)

  2. http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/ (accessed January 4, 2014)