(2017-10-26) Hunt Clever Hans

Ben Hunt (Epsilon Theory): Clever Hans. Mustangs have to be “broken” to accept a human’s touch and control, a word that conjures up images of bucking broncos and the forcible crushing of an animal’s spirit. But that’s not how it works.

The most effective way to break a horse is “negging”, a word familiar to high schoolers but not to me. Negging is negative attention

In the horse training scene, it’s sitting in the paddock and turning your back on the mustang, ignoring her entirely.

This highly intelligent animal is so desperate to have a social interaction, so frustrated at being ignored, that it willingly surrenders its autonomy. Sound familiar?

Dick Thaler, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics a few weeks ago. He’s best known for the ideas presented with Cass Sunstein in the book Nudge, where they describe a system of “libertarian paternalism” in which a State-directed “choice architecture” improves public policy outcomes by influencing our behavior through clever framing techniques.

By treating citizens as manipulable objects, the Nudging State can get them to give more, save more, and insure more, all on their own volition. What possible objection could anyone have to that?

This is Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, aka The World’s Smartest Man, from the classic Alan Moore comic series Watchmen. The central plot of Watchmen is that the world’s smartest man saves humanity from itelf by tricking us into choosing a peaceful set of behaviors. This is the pure expression of Nudge. This is the pure expression of smiley-face authoritarianism. By the way, Adrian Veidt is also the world’s richest man.

Ad men (advertising) understand “choice architecture”.

Mob bosses (mafia) understand “choice architecture”.

An offer you can’t refuse is what game theorists call a Hobson’s Choice, part of a more general class of games that includes ultimatums and dilemmas. (game theory)

Nurse Ratched has two employers — the Nudging State and the Nudging Oligarchy. Tough enough to resist separately, and they’re merging today. We’re all in line for McMurphy’s final treatment.

Oh captain, my captain! Writing your own verse — as a parent, as an investor, as a citizen — is the Resistance to smiley-face authoritarianism.

This is Clever Hans, a celebrity animal at the turn of the 20th century, a horse who could perform complex arithmetic calculations.

Clever Hans could absolutely recognize the subtle tells in his trainer’s expression as he approached the right answer. Clever Hans would have been a good sheep. Or a good investor here in the Hollow Market.

We homeschool because most of the practices and structures of the modern school (schooling), public or private, exist for the benefit of the institution, not the child. There’s nothing evil or bad about this, it’s just inherent in the logistics and organization required for any effective institution responsible for hundreds or thousands of people.

Modern education is a perfect example of the Industrially Necessary Egg — spotlessly clean and cool to the touch, not because that makes for a better tasting egg, but because the protein factories that supply mass society with mass quantities of eggs require chemical washes and refrigeration to turn a profit.

But what’s not fine is that we have all been nudged into believing that the Industrially Necessary Egg is the Best Egg, that a fresh egg, which isn’t scrubbed clean and never sees a refrigerator, is an Inferior Egg.

What I begrudge is the question that I always get when I tell someone that we homeschool our kids: “Don’t you worry about their socialization?” My response: “Don’t you?”

Engaging actively in our children’s education has given us two great gifts.

First, the stress level in our family evaporated the day we got off the industrially necessary schedule of the school

Imagine if you suddenly found three or four hours of new time every day.

Second, we were able to inject a program of critical thinking and critical speaking into our children’s curriculum, what a classical education would have called Rhetoric and modern education calls Debate.

Our girls can think on their feet. Our girls can stand their ground. Our girls can make a persuasive argument, and they can recognize how others try to persuade them

Our girls are now teaching these critical thinking and critical speaking skills to those who have a hard time raising their voice effectively in a Team Elite world, from middle schoolers in Bridgeport, Connecticut to high schoolers in Malelane, South Africa to prison inmates in California. What do I mean when I say we need a Movement to change the world? This.

What I’m describing is the difference between education and training.

Education — whether we’re talking about the education of a child, the education of an investor, or the education of a citizen ­— is always additive to the free-thinking autonomy of the child/investor/citizen. But that’s not what the Nudging State and the Nudging Oligarchy have in mind. They don’t want education. They want training.

In all of these Industrially Necessary Systems — schools, markets, and politics — recognition and critical thinking is the antidote to Clever Hans Syndrome, and active engagement is how you administer the medicine.

Actively engage with others to spread the word. To educate, not to train. We treat others as free-thinking autonomous human beings, not as manipulable objects. Never as objects, even if it means losing the client or losing the election. This is how we fix things.


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