We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Sunday, September 1. 2013
Like some other readers, I found Charles Murray's presentation fascinating.
I have been thinking about it. As I commented then, sociologists tend not to discuss psychology. A good rule of thumb is that a person's character traits - personality traits - determine a lot about their adaptation to life and to reality - their success in making goals, and pursuing their goals, for themselves.
It doesn't matter where character traits come from: genetics, examples, or wherever. What matters is the balance between the useful ones and the detrimental ones.
Furthermore, some character traits, like obsessionalism, are good for some things (eg being a pilot or surgeon) but detrimental for others (eg being a jazz musician, or displaying emotion in relationships). For another example, the capacity for controlled violence (useful for cops and soldiers and, in fact many other jobs too including my own, at times). People are even beginning to talk about the usefulness of Asperger's traits.
Each of us is our own stew of traits and strengths and weaknesses. Mature adults do not blame the world or others for their difficulties, but look at themselves, try to identify their shortcomings, and try to improve them if they chose to.
I do not view social class or income as a measure of life success or life adaptation. In my professional world, we use other, less superficial measures such as quality and stability of relationships, breadth of interests, responsibility and reliability, self-control, active engagement in life, and so on.
However, as Murray implies, social class can be a very rough measure of human adaptation for people with material ambitions: people in the upper middle class tend to be more adaptable and able socially and intellectually, and those in the lower class tend to either have more adaptive problems, or to cause more problems for others (which includes governmental or charitable dependency, crime, disorder, etc).
Before I run out of space, I want to say a word about social capital, as I constructed my own practical understanding of it. In my simple-minded way, applying one's social capital means participating in and contributing to one's community, whatever that may be. Being a constructive part of it, beyond the bare minimum of holding down a job or raising a family.
Whether it's as simple as introducing people to each other, throwing holiday parties, getting a stop sign on a corner, helping a kid find a job, volunteering at church, raising money to sustain the local chamber group, running a Boy Scout troop, attending town meetings, joining clubs, starting a softball team, or coaching soccer, we all have ways to contribute to our social network, our neighborhoods, and to our communities. I do know how corny all that sounds, but I believe it is very important.
Our social capital is truly the kind of capital which we must either spend or waste before we die. People who do not jump in and spend theirs before they die are selfish, mean, and un-American, in my book.
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I always think about social capital when I see a stopped car waiting to turn into traffic--"By letting you in now, I make a small deposit of capital in the 'let's all give each other a hand' bank, and someday soon someone else will make a deposit when I need to be let in myself."
Funny, when I see a stopped car waiting to turn into traffic I keep going because I don't want to hold up all the people behind me.
Okay. Some real traffic related social capital. Happened today.
I’m in the habit of coasting and lower-gearing rather than using the brakes. I was in a hurry once and turned a corner and found myself behind another car that had just pulled out. My habit of coasting and lower-gearing put me close behind him, for would have only been a moment, until he got going. But that driver took offense and stopped his car in the middle of the road, and then put it into reverse nearly tapping my bumper.
Instead of getting out of the car and beating his ass, I politely let him have his symbolic victory and eventually move on to his destination, no harm done.
I'd never read any Charles Murray until I watched your link last month. Since then I've been enjoying "The Bell Curve" and "Real Education."
Sometimes the best way you can contribute to society is to look at yourself, try to identify your shortcomings, and try to improve them if you chose to....often that is more important than other kinds of social contributions, especially if you have children.
How about the entrepreneur who starts a company and drives himself for 40 years building a business? Imagine he never does any of the "community organizer" activities you approve of during his time as an adult, but he employs dozens of people and makes a product his customers like.
Capitalism in itself provides social capital. But working in the fluffy area of psychology I totally expect you to judge and hold in contempt those who live their lives building companies instead of coaching soccer.
They had this event called Street of Dreams near where I live. My own neighborhood is typical middle class exurban, so I went to see. There was this Victorian I loved. 3 story high circular stairway atrium, cupolas, media room, great room, waterfalls, 5 car garage, the whole shibang, selling for millions. Never forgot it.
Years later, and in a snoopy mood, I decided to see if I could find out what kind of person might live in such a home. What I found, was an obituary for a guy my age.
From the pictures he had been a tall, fit and robust looking man about town. He had been a successful owner of an internet marketing company, popular, beautiful family, lots of spent social capital. He’d had a heart attack while puttering around in his garage. His surviving family had to sell out and move away.
A couple years after, I met a friend of that very guy. I told them my story. He then told me the rest of the story. That successful internet marketing entrepreneur had gotten rich selling his company, conditional to his staying on as president for a while. He couldn’t handle the changes and the pressure. His celebratory cocaine binge became an addiction. The heart attack that killed him had been his fourth.
Now, could fluffy have helped him? Who knows. But I do know that the social capital he’d created died with him.
When my brothers and I were growing up in the late '50s and early '60s, there was a gentlemen in the community who was a contractor and owned a lumber yard/hardware store. Every year he would hire a few 15-year-olds (they needed school permission to work) for a few hours after school and on Saturdays with more hours during the summer. Along with the job, he offered lectures on customer relations, retailing, basic accounting, simple repairs and appropriate products, supplier relations, etc. By the time these students graduated from high school, they had a decent idea of what they wanted to study in college or vocational school plus some money to pay toward tuition.
He was a hard nose, but added more to the community than most. I think about him frequently when I see teens without a direction in life.
What you say is not "corny" at all. It is at the bedrock of what used to be thought of as the American way of life. In addition to the many ways of spending social capital that you mentioned, I might add one that is vital and takes a lot of sacrifice of time (at the most inconvenient moments) sweat and even blood -- volunteer fire fighter. It involves danger, yes, but also a lot of tedium, false alarms and drudgery (we just finished pumping a lot of basements after a flash flood). But it is rewarding in a way you have to experience to appreciate.
"I do know how corny all that sounds, but I believe it is very important."
Is there anything else?
It strikes me as interesting to see this discussion on the same forum as many posts about the state of university education -- graduates not getting appropriate jobs in their field of study, indoctrination vs education, the economic benefits of the degree not being worth the cost of admission.
And it strikes me that a big unexamined purpose of sending young people to uni is to build their social capital.