Monthly Archives: February 2011

Change a-stirring

As is the nature of college life, my consciousness is filled with lots of lost ideas, floating around like strands of RNA trying to construct their counterparts. This post is an attempt to write some of them down, just to bring my awareness to them and perhaps to crossbreed with others’ random ideas. No, I’m not in a biology class, though you wouldn’t know it from this paragraph.

I feel like I am in the midst of a spiritual awakening. I am certainly epiphanizing a lot. Knowing my history, I am probably just in an epiphanizing mood, and the true learning I am acquiring from this time in my life will become clear to me in about half a year. I feel an increased devotion to integrity and “right action” (perhaps dharma is an appropriate word). I am developing my ability to approach all situations from a place of love and compassion toward myself and others. This involves taking opportunities to stretch when I realize I am avoiding something from a place of fear or discomfort, taking time to mini-meditate and focus, and creating external reinforcement for my internal goals (this was a huge realization for me).

Last night I had an epiphany about mortality. It was the most potent realization I have had that my consciousness ends. That whatever I do in my life, at some point I will no longer be able to observe the consequences, that the world will continue without me. So even if I do help to change the world for the better (as we all wish to), at some point I will have to trust it to continue for itself. It makes me want to make my impact now, because every day that passes is a missed opportunity to do something meaningful. Anyway, this sentiment is tired, I have read it many times before, and I have to arrive at it myself for it to mean something. Without loss of generality I assume that I am similarly failing to communicate it to my readers.

This state of mind has stirred up an internal conflict. I went back to school to finish the degree I started, and now I feel like I have something to say and am too busy with school to devote energy into saying it. Do I wait until I finish school? I am just now breaking a detrimental pattern in my life: that of waiting for some other event to happen before I do the right thing. It’s a form of procrastination. I see it coming out through my school dilemma: I really want to work on this economic responsibility project, but not until I finish school. Eighteen months from now who knows whether my passion for this project will persist.

I am holding to my commitment. I am certain that school seeded the ideas that pushed me in this direction. Perhaps I can trust that continuing school will help me continue to refine the idea, so that when I finally finish my picture will be so clear there will be no stopping me. Indeed, one quality of my current idea is that I don’t really know how to execute it — I have some ideas, but none that is obviously the right way to go.

My recent thoughts about social issues share a common thread: the stable equilibrium. The areas in society where we have the most trouble (from my present, incredibly biased perspective) are those areas that resist gradual change. For example, relating to the theme of my my last post, Americans are spending their money irresponsibly because there is not a good source of information about what constitutes responsible spending according to each person’s values. Many people know what kinds of companies they would like to support and which they wouldn’t, but the information to take that goal and derive which products to support is not available. The reason this is a stable equilibrium is that companies must choose to reveal this information, and in the current climate, any company that chooses to reveal this information puts itself at a disadvantage with respect to the ones that do not. If the culture shifts such that most companies reveal this information, then it looks suspicious not to reveal yourself and you put yourself at an advantage by revealing your details. But there is no mechanism to get from the former to the latter — the former reinforces itself. Indeed there are many powerful people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

A similar pattern arises in the state of public education. Schools are judged and funded by standardized tests. It is the opinion of many progressive educators that the nature of the tests is too broad and shallow, and reinforces a superficial, fact-memorization-based education, the kind that doesn’t really produce competent students. But any school that experiments with its methods will deviate from these tests before it has a chance to show long-term achievement, and thus get its funding cut (or if it is a single teacher, the teacher will get fired by No Child Left Behind). The system discourages variation and reinforces its own status quo, so its problems cannot be evolved out by the natural forces of gradual variation and competition.

Examples of such equilibria abound. Reforms must be taken to the top, which is a dangerous place to reform because the effects are so sweeping. Reforms that should be taken to the top are those that enable competition and variation, so that gradual improvement is allowed to happen. Unfortunately, for the above two examples, I cannot think of what such a policy would be. (The latter could theoretically be addressed by privatizing education — indeed many private schools have very effective new methods — but there is a cacophony of social issues that comes with that, which includes, among other things, further widening the class gap).

In order to focus discussion, I will save my (relatively few) technical ideas for another post.

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