Multiple Searchlights Give You Understanding

Naive views of world events and world history are mono-causal but the world is always “multifactorial.” The Left and the Right keep on pushing these “perfect myopia” analyses:

For example, in the movie masterpiece Reds from 1981, John Reed (played by Warren Beatty) keeps repeating that the cause of World War I is and will be J.P. Morgan’s loans and profits, a variant of “vulgar Marxism.”

We have already seen that one cannot understand World War I and the “winds of war” leading up to it without several layers of analysis including the globalization forces from 1870-1914 and the rise of an integrated Atlantic economy (Professor Jeffrey Williamson book); the rise of the Anglo-German antagonism (described in Paul Kennedy’s excellent book); the flow of loan capital and debts described in Herbert Feis’s classic, re-issued in 1965 and described here:

“This book, published for the Council on Foreign Relations, does not deal directly with the war or with its origins, but it has been included in this category because few books published in recent years have made more substantial contributions to the history of pre-war international relations in the broadest sense.

Feis’s book is the first adequate treatment of international loans in the years from 1870 to 1914, a subject the importance of which has long been recognized but the discussion of which has never got far beyond the stage of loose generalities. The scientific treatment of it involves a thorough command of the extensive literature of pre-war diplomacy as well as an intimate acquaintance with the sources of international finance.

So far as the reviewer can see, Feis has not missed anything of importance. He not only knows the material, but he knows how to use it; he understands the political motives and considerations which lay behind these financial transactions. A large part of the volume is taken up with a pioneer study of the character of British, French and German foreign investments and the general policies followed by the governments towards investments abroad. The remainder is devoted to a review of the major enterprises—the financing of Russia, the Balkan States, Egypt, Morocco, China and some of the less important countries. Other chapters deal with the vexed problems of Balkan and Asiatic railway. In many instances Feis’s treatment is the only adequate one in existence, but even in the larger sense the book is a reliable and thoroughly readable piece of research, one that no student of international relations can afford to overlook.”

(William L. Langer’s review of Europe: the World’s Banker, 1870-1914 by Herbert Feis)

On top of all this, we have the problem of parochial and tribal and personal “sleepwalking,” captured so well by Professor Christopher Clark:

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is historian Christopher Clark’s riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I.

The drastic changes in attitudes, society, values and mentalities is then captured, for post-World War I England, by Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End:

Parade’s End (1924-1928) is a tetralogy of novels by the British novelist and poet Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939). The novels chronicle the life of a member of the English gentry before, during and after World War I.

Only this type of “multifactorial” panorama—what we call “circum-spective intelligence” or “meta-intelligence”—can give you the multiple searchlights you need.

Where the searchlight views intersect is where understanding begins.

Everything else is monomaniacal cartooning à la the “simp” analysis of John Reed in the brilliant movie Reds, from 1981.

What We Mean by “Towards a Composite Understanding of Education”

(MI slogan, motto or catchphrase)

Let’s be concrete and start with the title of the classic 1978 book by the Princeton professor and 1979 Nobel Prize winner, Sir Arthur Lewis, Growth and Fluctuations, 1870-1913 (introduced in the previous essay on “Looking Backwards and Forwards at the Same Time”).

Notice the following other dimensions that have to be included to “compositize” our understanding:

  1. The period 1870-1913/4 is called Globalization I by economic historians. Globalization in this view is not about Marco Polo, but the rise of world prices, such as for wheat.

  2. Paul Kennedy (Yale), who is known for his Rise and Fall of the Great Powers classic, wrote a tighter book called The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914 (1980), described as follows:

    “This book gives an account of the rivalry between Great Britain and Germany in the period leading to the First World War. It gives readers a thorough comparison of the two societies, their political cultures, economies, party politics, courts, the role of the press and pressure groups, and so on. …”

  3. The first treaty between a European power and an Asian country was signed in 1902, “The Anglo-Japanese Alliance.”

    “In this book, Professor Nish deals with one of the most important aspects of far eastern politics in the critical period between 1894 and 1907. His object is to demonstrate how Britain and Japan, at first separately and later jointly, reacted to Russian encroachments in China and east Asia; he is concerned also with the policies of the other European powers and of the U.S., to whose hostility towards the Anglo-Japanese alliance after 1905 Britain showed…”

  4. The first defeat of a European by an Asian nation (i.e., the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5). The famous Indian writer Pankaj Mishra wrote a recent book on this, showing how this defeat of a European country sent shock waves through the world and especially through the anti-colonial movements of Asia and Africa

  5. Partition of Africa:

    “Between 1870 and 1914 the whole of Africa, apart from one or two small areas, was partitioned by the European powers.”

    (David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914, 1978, Penguin Books, page 203)

  6. Rise of Suburbia:

    “The 1890s saw the coming of the first electric trams, the first “tubes,” and the first motor-cars. By 1914, almost any provincial city of any size had its electric trams, mostly under municipal control, and London had its buses and underground (i.e., subway). “These changes in urban transport created suburbia.”

    (David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century, 1815-1914, 1978, Penguin Books, page 202)

In other words, the world itself is a crisscrossing composite of processes at different scales.

We have growth and fluctuations, the partition of Africa, suburbanization, Anglo-German tensions, techno-revolutions (including those in urban transport), interacting with Globalization I.

All of this culminated in the “guns of August” (i.e., World War I).

We are downstream from World War I, what the Germans call the “Urkatastrophe” (i.e., original calamity), and its reincarnation in World War II and its progeny, the Cold War.

The more you can “compositize” the elements of this “historical matrix,” the deeper your MetaIntelligence will be. Hence the catchphrase for the MI site:

Towards a Composite Understanding of Education

Essay 1: Unnoticed Dimensions of Knowledge

Let’s “get down to cases” right now:

  1. You learn decimals and fractions in school. You see that 1/2 can be written as 0.5 or 0.50 or with as many zeros as you like. That seems “clean.”

But 1/3 is equal to something more complex (i.e., 0.3 recurring or repeating, like 0.3333 and so on infinitely).  If you divide 1 by three you keep getting three.

Imagine you want to experiment a bit, and multiply the fraction 1/3 by three and the 0.3 recurring by three, thus not affecting things since you’re doing the same thing to both sides of the equation.

You get:  1 = 0.9 recurring or repeating.

You’re suddenly puzzled: How can 1 be obtained by adding “slices of 9 fractions” (i.e., 9/10 + 9/100 + 9/1000) to infinity. How do you get to the end? What end? 

It turns out that it’s not that simple to get a grip on all this.  A person who allowed themselves to become fascinated by this specific conundrum would enter a “beautiful ocean” of mathematics beginning with so elementary a phenomenon.

This shows you a deep connection between a part (e.g., the fraction and decimal 1/3 and 0.3 recurring) and the wider world or domain or universe of numbers.

How can it be that such a simple elementary “thing” becomes so intricate, deep and elusive?

  1. Let’s jump over to an entirely different kind of example. Think of Dinesen’s novel Out of Africa. Remember the movie with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

Suppose you turn the movie “inside out” and “upside down” and ask: is this movie about coffee and coffee bushes, coffee markets and coffee growing, in a colonial context?  The coffee plantation is near Nairobi (today’s Kenya) and involves plantation economics, colonial relations with Kikuyu peoples, German-British colonial tensions around World War I.

Suppose I take the “backstory” and make that the “frontstory”.

The story of “economic botany” (coffee growing is one case) and colonial tensions between and among Europeans as well as Europeans and Africans is the deeper and larger story while the “musical beds” of the Westerners is a colorful footnote.   

We have the perennial question of “parts and wholes” which is one theme of this book.       

  1. Why does science “orbit” some numbers such as π (pi) (i.e., 22/7)?

You learn in school that there’s a ratio called π (pi) which is 22/7. Think of π (pi) as some kind of essence of circularity. Remember πr2 and 2πr in grade school.

Why does it keep appearing in almost every equation of physics? Why would “circleness” “haunt” science and math? Probability and statistical theory are dependent on π (pi) as a variable. Why?

You could peruse:

A History of Pi is a 1970 non-fiction book by Petr Beckmann that presents a layman’s introduction to the concept of the mathematical constant π (pi)

Why does science “orbit” some numbers such as π (pi)?

This is an example of this quest for connectedness.