RE: continuity of self [ was META: Sept. 11 and Singularity]

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri Sep 20 2002 - 20:17:17 MDT

> On Fri, 2002-09-20 at 17:06, Ben Goertzel wrote:
> > Just look at the nature of public school systems. Most people
> working in
> > the public school systems really care about kids, and are "good
> people" who
> > care about good education... but yet the school systems as a whole often
> > acts to oppose good education. For instance, the teachers' union fights
> > against charter schools, pays legislators to burden charter school
> > legislation with bureaucratic counterproductive nonsense, etc.
> The problem with your example is that the system artificially behaves
> this way. The poor results of the school system are the direct
> unintended consequences of the laws and regulations that education
> currently happens under. You are assuming the value of a premise that
> is itself the problem.

I don't understand your distinction between "natural" and "artificial"
social subsystems.

Your statement reminds me of the common Libertarian assumption that the
state and the government are some kind of parasitic excrescence that can
just be scraped off the surface of a society that functions essentially
without them.

Rather, I think the government and its actions are integral parts of a
highly complex system (which has strengths and weaknesses), and that
institutions and social patterns implemented by the government are the
"natural" and "organic" consequences of deeper social forces. Governmental
systems evolve by largely the same patterns as nongovernmental social

In my statement, I was not assuming anything about the "value" of public
school systems. That is a deep topic unto itself, which your historical
analysis didn't fully address, because back in the 1800's when public
schools were started, the existing private school system didn't really deal
with the issue of educating lower-income kids. The current debate over
privatization of schools, centers around effects on lower-income kids; I
think it's more widely accepted that upper-income kids (the only kind who
went to school way back when) would fare at least as well under a privatized
education system. (Personally, I am in favor of the voucher system, but
that argument would take us too far from SL4 topics).

I was merely giving an example of Cliff's point: that changing the minds of
people is even MORE difficult than it would be otherwise, because the social
institutions in which they're involved enforce a kind of conservatism.

The sad fact is, the social institutions that have persevered and flourished
are in large part not the ones with the greatest positive benefits for
humans, but rather the ones that have done best at surviving and
multiplying. Straightforward evolutionary logic.

This pattern can be seen throughout history. Look at the history of
Christianity (to introduce another controversial topic). In the 200 years
after the birth of Christ, there were dozens of interesting gnostic
Christian sects, many of which were nonsexist, egalitarian, and oriented
toward individual spiritual/mental exploration. Which of these sects
survived and eventually dominated? The one that grew into Catholicism?
Why? Largely, because its authoritarian and dogmatic structure was more
amenable to "franchising".... It was better at propagating itself than its

Generally, authoritarianism and dogmatism (characteristics of the public
schools system as well as the Catholic church) seem to grant institutions
with a lot of survival value.... Flexible, egalitarian organizations seem
more prone to dissolve. Modern parliamentary democratic systems occupy an
interesting middle ground, and obviously have achieved some survival value.

It may be that the Net and other modern communication systems can change
this dynamic somewhat. Looser forms of organization, like the
much-discussed Linux team, have demonstrated a fair bit of staying power.
If modern communication tech can allow different sorts of social structures
to survive and flourish, this may make a really big difference in human
psychology and sociology. So far, the verdict is not in on this point,

To an extent, we are relying on these recent, tech-driven trends
organizational structure within the Novamente team -- which is a physically
widely distributed organization, with a central core that is a traditional
software development team, and another group of broadly distributed
communicators not organized in a traditional manner...

-- Ben

> As most people are aware, public education didn't always exist in the
> U.S., with it being implemented as late as 1920 in some States. Before
> the advent of public education, the US was the most literate country in
> the world, with some states in the mid-19th century boasting literacy
> rates higher than they are today in those same states.
> Massachusetts was among the first states to dabble in public education,
> and opened public schools in the 1830's as an ideological alternative to
> the vast number and range of private schools in operation. The schools
> were an utter failure, both in terms of the quality of the teaching and
> in their ability to attract even the poorest students even though they
> were free. The quality of the education provided by these schools was
> regularly savaged by representatives in the State government, a number
> of whom thought the whole idea of public education was a disaster and
> this experiment in an open market proved it. Even while the public
> schools were free, virtually everyone chose to go to private schools.
> There is substantial historical writings during that period to this
> effect, as it was a topic of significant discussion. Note that even the
> poorest children were able to get a private education -- there were many
> free schools around to provide for this.
> As a solution to the problem of the public schools not attracting
> students during the twenty year experiment, the State of Massachusetts
> passed a body of legislation in 1851 that effectively forced most of the
> private schools out of business and mandated school attendance within
> strict guidelines that were designed to favor public schools. Because
> the public education system could not compete on an open market for
> education, the State legislatively eliminated the competition.
> Massachusetts was the first State to do this, and most of the rest of
> the States copied this model eventually. It was not a popular decision
> at the time.
> This is one of the cases where we have a long history of both private
> and government provided solutions, as well as significant periods of
> time where both these solutions existed in parallel, allowing people to
> vote with their feet and dollars for what they preferred. The sad part
> is that even though private education was considered vastly better and
> widely recognized as such at the time when both options were available,
> the government still chose to force people to use public education.
> I did a lot of research (due to a heated argument) on the history of
> education in the U.S. a year or two ago and was amazed at what I found.
> I have since become avidly against the institution of government-run
> education, as history does not look favorably on it at all and the
> people who actually had an honest choice between the two despised public
> education as an option for the very same reasons that people despise it
> today. It is something that should never have happened, but now that we
> have exceptionally good data points for all cases, nobody has the
> courage to actually switch back to the model that worked best.
> Most people-systems that exhibit pathological behaviors are that way
> because somebody created a rule that makes them that way, regardless of
> the intent of the rule.
> Admittedly off-topic,
> -James Rogers

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