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Sivar

Pre-teen Violence Not Just Us Problem

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Of the greatest concern to me is that I think some modern democracies are, potentially, in danger of devolving back into this state.  I believe religious influence in politics is the strongest indicator (for causal reasons) and correlator (given existing evidence) of such a tendency.  I am particularly concerned for the future and stability of the elephant to the south of me given this.

Funny that I feel likewise, and based on several indicators I'd say the end of the world's last superpower is less than a generation away. I've said as much a number of times already. Freedom without reason is exactly what I'm seeing more of. People drive automobiles as if let out of a cage, oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Add to that rampant sex with little concern for the consequences. Throw in politicians who create a sense of entitlement without responsibility. Add in the misassociation of morality with religion which prevents the teaching of rational morality. Barring a miracle, it's only a matter of time.....

I'll throw in something I've thought of since it seems relevant to the discussion:

The greatest freedom in the universe is to have the power to destroy all the world, but to decide never to use that power.

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I'll throw in something I've thought of since it seems relevant to the discussion:

The greatest freedom in the universe is to have the power to destroy all the world, but to decide never to use that power.

That reminded me of another good Nietzsche passage, that's somewhat related. It took me a little bit to dig it up:

It is not unthinkable that a society might attain such a consciousness of power that it could allow itself the noblest luxury possible to it --letting those who harm it go unpunished.  "What are my parasites to me?" it might say.  "May they live and prosper: I am strong enough for that!"

The justice which began with, "everything is dischargeable, everything must be discharged," ends by winking and letting those incapable of discharging their debt go free: it ends, as does every good thing on earth by overcoming itself.  This self-overcoming of justice: one knows the beautiful name it has given itself --mercy; it goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or better, his --beyond the law.

(all emphasis the author's)

-Nietzsche. Genealogy of Morals. Trans Kaufmann, W. & R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. P. 72-3.

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I admit I am troubled by these characterizations of current western society in comparison with historic western society...you both imply that somehow in the past we were MORE likely to use reason and enlightened morality. I contest this point. While it is possible that our LEADERS used to be more enlightened, I think as a society our people are far more enlightened and better educated now than they were in generations bygone.

In short, I sense a bit of the old nostalgia overcoming reason....

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BA is right. With mandantory education people greater number of citizens were able to better reason. In the past not all citizens had the luxury of education and therefore didn't have the capability to reason in the same way we reason today.

Additionally, today people record events more often and possibly more accurately. If violence was a large issue in the past it might be getting more attention as of now.

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I didn't mean to imply that people were more enlightened in the past. I tried to assert that things aren't where they could, and should be today. We have had public education for several generations now, and the rationales for democracy have not been recently discovered --they've been well-known since the French revolution. That we have failed to publicize the fundamental philosophies that are responsible for the freedoms we enjoy cannot be, I believe, construed as anything other than a tremendous failure of our educational system. Somehow, people are growing up today with no understanding of the fundamental moral basis for our public institutions and the constitutions that govern them.

I think that the education systems in North America should be significantly superior than they presently are, and that certain simple elements, that are crucial to the education of a citizen in a democracy, are being left out of education for no good reason.

I assume that the source of your perception of my nostalgia originates from my post regarding the definition of post-modern. The first line was intended as a joke ;). I don't really think our predecessors were any better than us, although they certainly, culturally, were imbued with a more positive vision.

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We are facing two major historical changes that skew the above discussions:

1) The integration of a large (10%+) ex-slave population, that was only recently (in historical terms!) granted full citizenship rights and access to similar education to the majority.

2) A rapid rise in the effect and power of media, both mass and targeted. This has lead to a horrific shortening of the average attention span due to sheer overload.

I will let others debate their points, but I think ANY discussion of the past versus the present needs to at least acknowledge the importance of these points.

Future Shock

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We are facing two major historical changes that skew the above discussions:

1) The integration of a large (10%+) ex-slave population, that was only recently (in historical terms!) granted full citizenship rights and access to similar education to the majority.

And I think Gilbo discussion of the failure of democracy in the Arab is relevant to this. The slaves were granted freedom, but most were never made to understood why reason demanded that they be set free. If I had to hazard a guess I would say lingering fear of their former masters is what kept them in line for maybe the first 100 years. As the last person who was actually a slave died, this was forgotten, and was replaced by a realization that they were now free, but without knowing the reasons for thier freedom. The result was predictable-the mayhem that we witness in many minority communities today, made worse by the misguided efforts of politicians to "help" via entitlements with no responsibility. As one black politician so aptly put it, Lincoln didn't free you so you can sell crack on the local corner.

2) A rapid rise in the effect and power of media, both mass and targeted.  This has lead to a horrific shortening of the average attention span due to sheer overload.

Yes, this has most definitely impacted on the ability of teachers to teach. I find even many adults get impatient if an explanation of something takes more than a 30 second sound bite. I blame the media entirely for this. Media is just another tool. It can be used for good or bad. Using it mainly to sell things and for misguided political agendas is clearly the wrong use. For examples of better uses look towards educational/documentary programming, an occasional good film or series, informational sites on the Internet. Bad uses include political and prescription drug commercials (in fact any commercials), trash talk shows, sitcoms, mindless violence/sex (although these can both have a place as part of a larger story, but not for their own sake), celebrity worship, pop music, etc. In fact, any use of media solely for profit is inherently wrong. I have nothing against those in the media business earning money, but the profits should be incidental, not the main goal. Ratings driven programming is the biggest factor responsible for the plethora of mind-numbing trash on TV these days.

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We are facing two major historical changes that skew the above discussions:

1) The integration of a large (10%+) ex-slave population, that was only recently (in historical terms!) granted full citizenship rights and access to similar education to the majority.

I agree that that is a significant issue. However, I think the primary reason for the existence of today's characteristic post-modern skepticism towards science, reason, and progress in general, is derived from a universal fear that has permeated our culture as a consequence of other recent events.

Warning, the following is rather grim:

Our predecessors didn't have to explain World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Nagasaki, or Auschwitz. For that matter, they didn't have to explain a child murdering another child with a bolt cutter as if it was just another piece of news. When I look for a reason to explain the source of the ubiquitous political paralysis that has gripped the populations of the first world democracies, it is those landmarks that jump to mind. Emil Fackenheim wrote that Auschwitz is "a rock on which, throughout all eternity, all rational explanation will crash and break apart." I think that the shadow cast by Auschwitz, and the shadows cast by similar, frequent acts of similar character may have doomed us to our faithlessness. Maybe, just maybe, if we don't believe in anything, if we don't try and move forward we won't repeat the mistakes that we seem unable to remember. Perhaps we have finally accepted the one lesson of history: "that no one ever learns the lessons of history." So we distract ourselves, and pretend that our knowledge and freedom does not, also, presribe upon us responsibilities. If I was to look for the place where mankind's faith in itself was murdered and buried I would probably end my search at Auschwitz, after visiting the Somme, Vimmy Ridge, Veitnam, the Congo, the Sudan and the thousand other battlefields of the recent 20th Century.

So, if anything has led us to lose faith in progress and science and reason, I think it must be the seemingly inexhaustable capacity of humanity for destruction. One of the greatest virtues of democracy, a virtue that its founders emphasized time and time again --often above all others-- was its ability to prevent war: They claimed that no democracy would ever go to war except in the last extreme of self defense. Did democracy fail us? Or have we failed democracy?

Perhaps post-modernism is nothing more than the realization that nothing can save us after all, because we are our own enemy. Maybe that is why religion has begun growing in first world democracies for the first time in generations. Maybe, as a culture, we've subconsciously decided to give up. Perhaps disease and famine haven't been our real enemies for some time, and the moderns were so optimistic only because they had polio, tuberculosis, and small pox --small victories-- to distract them.

I don't think that belief in humanity's potential has never been harder to come by than it has been for the last four or five generations. Because of that, I think it is especially important that our youth, today, be taught the spirit of the enlightenment and the moderns. I think they need to see that inexhaustibly optimistic human spirit or they will simply give up. The weight of Auschwitz alone is capable of crushing the dreams of mankind. We need to balance the doom presribed in our history text books with hope. If we can't teach our youth reason, if things have to have a religious slant to them, then, IMO, the least we can do is make sure that everyone gets a copy of Pico della Mirandola's Oratio on the Dignity of Man.

There is nothing more demoralizing than knowing exactly what you need to do to succeed, knowing that it is possible --nothing more than a matter of will--, and failing time and time again.

Sorry for the grim post, but I suppose it's in line with the starting point of this whole discussion.

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this [the rational necessity and obligations of their freedom] was forgotten, and was replaced by a realization that they were now free, but without knowing the reasons for thier freedom. The result was predictable-the mayhem that we witness in many minority communities today, made worse by the misguided efforts of politicians to "help" via entitlements with no responsibility.

I don't want to comment on the plight of African Americans in the U.S. But you do remind me of my favourite quotation of all so I am going to shamelessly plug it :) (I'll never be so irritatingly pedantic in the B & G ever again, I promise).

It relates purely to the intimate association of freedom and responsility. No doubt by now you've realized that I strongly believe that these two things are intrinsically associated (much like the Spiderman "great power and great responsiblity" thing ;) --I always loved Spiderman ), and this quotation is my favourite in this respect:

You call yourself free?  Your dominant thought I want to hear, and not that you have escaped from a yoke.  Are you one of those who had the right to escape from a yoke?  There are some who threw away their last value when they threw away their servitude.

Free from what? ... But your eyes should tell me brightly: free for what?

Can you give yourself your own evil and your own good and hang your own will over yourself as a law?  Can you be your own judge and avenger of your law?  Terrible it is to be alone with the judge and avenger of one's own law.  Thus is a star thrown out into the void and into the icy breath of solitude.

Yes, I know, it's very melodramatic. Just be glad I chose to quote Nietzsche on freedom and responsibility rather than Kant ;)... no offense to Kant, but forcing Kant's writing on people --especially English people-- is just plain cruel. Plus, it's very sterile, boring, and specific. Nietzsche is emminently quotable especially because of his melodrama (which has led to some rather dangerous misunderstandings in the past --it's my opinion that young people should be kept away from Nietzsche; a superficial grasp of Nietzsche is worse than no understanding at all).

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I don't know.  Maybe with the present-day curriculum it's impossible, but there are things that should be taught that aren't.  Critical thinking skills aren't emphasized enough, and being trained to think critically would change and illuminate the world for a lot of youth.  It's hard to be an ignorant, violent piece of trash when you're trained to think critically about things.

I agree whole-heartedly about critical thinking skills. I didn't receive a significant, concerted effort to teach critical thinking (i.e., skepticism + applied logic + the Scientific Method) until I got to college (incidentally, where it received a huge focus).

One of the problems with public schools is that all these tests and teaching of basic reading, writing, arithmatic, and science don't ensure that students learn critical thinking skills, which are far more important than the specifics of algebra or the Periodic Table of Elements or reading Moby Dick (IMHO, writing is quite another issue, just as important as -- and nigh inseperable from -- critical thinking).

The problem with teaching critical thinking is that students really do need to have a basic, fluent understanding of reading and math. Lacking that, lessons in critical thinking will by and large be lost on students.

I think the truly critical issue here is the lack of high standards for every student early in education. As someone with some experience in the teaching world, there are some students who just aren't smart enough to get this stuff down early, and those same students are unlikely to be able to apprehend the ideas behind critical thinking even if they do grasp basic math and reading. However, this is a minority. The potential for apprehension is there for most students; it's a matter of discipline of both teacher and student (and, by extension, the student's family support structure). It's kind of like a tripod: if one leg is missing, it's very difficult to keep standing. If two are missing, it is nearly impossible. For each missing leg, the remaining legs are required to be that much stronger and more stable to make up for it. A teacher with very high standards, who does not accept failure, is a very strong leg. One must of course temper high standards with high teacher availability, engagement, and patience.

Part of the reason that high school, the logical place to really pound on critical thinking, does not address it much is that many students simply don't have the tools yet for it to be of use. AND the curriculum does not have critical thinking as a primary goal (unlike where I attended college, where it was THE primary goal). Perhaps if we design curricula to have critical thinking as the eventual goal (instead of the "three Rs"), the lower grades will do a better job of preparation, and the higher grades will do a better job of implementation.

Also, rational morality can't be taught in schools because it freaks Christians out.  I don't know if they're intimidated by the fact that faithless atheists can be bound by a moral code, or if they want to pretend that consideration for others and universal human rights are somehow a consequence of faith and religion, which couldn't be farther from the truth.  As soon as a teacher tries to tell kids that there are laws that weren't sent down by god but exist by virtue of causality alone, Christian parents start getting all reactionary.  As if their freedom of religion and every other freedom (except to bear arms) that they enjoy and cherish wasn't prescribed by these same laws.  God didn't set them free, reason and Immanuel Kant did,and they need to sit down and accept that.  God, if he exists and cares, will survive.

This is really only true in some places in the US. In most places, Christians are not particularly threatened by critical thinking, as long as it doesn't use the Bible as a foil.

Regardless of the specifics of this, it is a huge problem.  Leaving our youth in the dark about the wealth of reason and thought that birthed our democracies perpetuates this post-modern despair with which we have come to characterize our own age.  And only someone in a postmodern despair, convinced of the meaningless of their life and of their actions, performs violent acts like these we abhor.

I agree with the first part of your statement, but emphatically disagree that only someone in a postmodern dispair performs such violent acts. These sorts of acts have existed far before cultural postmodernism came about. In addition, plenty of people do things they know is wrong, and think themselves is wrong, but do anyway.

Your comments on the ME and concerns about the "devolution" of America are insightful if (IMHO) speculative.

Our predecessors didn't have to explain World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Nagasaki, or Auschwitz. For that matter, they didn't have to explain a child murdering another child with a bolt cutter as if it was just another piece of news.

I think this is also a sort of myopic view of tragedy. What is worse about Auschwitz than various tribes across history that literally exterminated one another, aside from sheer magnitude of numbers? Our predecessors had to (but usually didn't CARE to) explain the extermination of Native American tribes throughout US history. Or how about Sherman's march across Georgia? Heck, even in the Bible God destroys a few cities as effectively as an atomic weapon.

Perhaps you are instead referring to our ability to "consume" such events in the form of "news?" News that was far more vivid than the previous times, and events that were far more carefully recorded.

I'm not arguing that the events you list have no effect on our consciousness and culture; quite the opposite. I'm merely arguing that these events are not "new" or unprecedented, and have not just recently become a part of human consciousness. I do think it likely that the development of the human psyche/culture in many ways caused us to take these issues to heart in a different way than we had previously.

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I think parents should be the one who will act on this one. Consider how long the troubled teen has been making poor decisions. If there have been months of negative behaviors and it seems like he/she is getting worse as every week goes by, then you may need an intervention quickly. Often times parents don't know how bad it really is. Most parents only see the tip of the iceberg as far as their teens destructive behaviors are concerned.

Edited by murrayskeeter

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