Songs as Another Kind of Parallel University

Meta Intelligence is a heterodox view of education where formal education (courses, diplomas, universities, fields) are incomplete and limited without adding informal education which is part of your life such as movies, songs, conversations and images (paintings, posters, etc). Your “lifeworld” (Edmund Husserl’s apt coinage) fuses all the kinds of education where the word education means thought-provoking and illuminating. Even personal experience counts such as illnesses or bad marriages! Only via this Meta Intelligence will you achieve a glimpsed “holism.” (Meta Intelligence is that meta-field outside fields, borders and boundaries.)

Take songs.

Think back to Jim Morrison’s classic tune, “Riders on the Storm” which begins:

“Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house, we’re born
Into this world, we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm”

This song (by the Doors), expresses in a simple way Heidegger’s notion of human existence as partly governed by “Geworfenheit” which derives from “werfen,” to throw. “Geworfenheit” means “thrownness.” Jim Morrison and his band the Doors are songphilosophers without (probably) being Heidegger’s acolytes. Max Weber, one of the fathers of modern sociology, uses the word “disenchantment” to describe the modern world, “Entzauberung” in German, where “zauber” means “magicality” and “ent” means “removal of,” and “ung” means “condition of being.” The magic here does not mean something like a card trick but rather sacred mysteries, perhaps like the feeling a medieval European felt on entering a cathedral.

Enchantment in the West survived in our notions of romantic love and was associated with the songs and outlook of the medieval troubadours. Such romantic enchantment which is fading from our culture in favor of sex is still celebrated in the classic Rogers and Hammerstein song, “Some Enchanted Evening” from the forties musical and fifties movie, South Pacific.

The song lyrics give you the philosophy of romantic love as the last stand of enchantment:

“Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger,
You may see a stranger across a crowded room,
And somehow you know, you know even then,
That somehow you’ll see here again and again.
Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing,
You may hear her laughing across a crowded room,
And night after night, as strange as it seems,
The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams.

“Who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.

“Some enchanted evening, when you find your true love,
When you hear her call you across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side and make her your own,
Or all through your life you may dream all alone.

“Once you have found her, never let her go,
Once you have found her, never let her go.”

Notice that “chant” is a component of enchantment.

One could say that conventional enchantment has been transferred to the world of science and mathematics where a deep beauty is intuited. Professor Frank Wilczek of MIT (Nobel Prize) wrote several books on this intersection of science and the quest for beauty whereas Sabine Hossenfelder of Germany has argued, per contra, that this will be a “bum steer.”

You should sense that like movies, songs give you a “side window” or back door into thinking and knowledge, which should be center stage and not depreciated.

Education and “The Three-Body Problem”

The brilliant math-watcher, Ian Stewart, says of this classic physics problem, the Three-Body Problem:

Newton’s Law of Gravity runs into problems with three bodies (earth, moon, sun, say).

In particular, the gravitational interaction of a mere three bodies, assumed to obey Newton’s inverse square law of gravity, stumped the mathematical world for centuries.

It still does, if what you want is a nice formula for the orbits of those bodies. In fact, we now know that three-body dynamics is chaotic–so irregular that is has elements of randomness.

There is no tidy geometric characterization of three-body orbits, not even a formula in coordinate geometry.

Until the late nineteenth century, very little was known about the motion of three celestial bodies, even if one of them were so tiny that its mass could be ignored.

(Visions of Infinity: The Great Mathematical Problems, Ian Stewart, Basic Books, 2014, page 136)

Henri Poincaré, the great mathematician, wrestled with this with tremendous intricacy and ingenuity all his life:

Jules Henri Poincaré was a French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and philosopher of science. He is often described as a polymath, and in mathematics as “The Last Universalist,” since he excelled in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.

Born: April 29, 1854, Nancy, France
Died: July 17, 1912, Paris, France.

We now think of applying in an evocative and not a rigorous mathematical way, the unexpected difficulties of the three-body problem to the n-body (i.e., more than three) problems of sociology or economics or history itself, and sense that social life is always multifactorial and not readily pin-downable, since “everything is causing everything else” and extracting mono-causal explanations must be elusive for all the planetary and Poincaré reasons and beyond.

This suggests to the student that novels are one attempt to say something about n-body human “orbits” based on “n-body” stances and “circumstances” with large amounts of randomness governing the untidy mess that dominates human affairs.

Words are deployed in novels and not numbers as in physics, but the “recalcitrance” of the world, social and physical, remains permanent.

Education and meta-intelligence would be more complete by seeing how the world, as someone put it, “won’t meet us halfway.” Remember Ian Stewart’s warning above:

“There is no tidy geometric characterization of three-body orbits…” and you sense that this must apply to human affairs even more deeply.

Do Disintegrating Societies “Vomit Up” Disturbed and Demonic Leaders? Durkheim’s “Anomie”

The great American social critic Chris Hedges, who has seen a lot of disintegrating political systems in his travels as a foreign correspondent, offers a very resonant or thought-provoking concept when he says that disintegrating societies often “vomit up” criminal psychopathic leaders like the Serbs Mladić, Karadžić, Milošević, et al and Trump himself.

Hedges brings back the Émile Durkheim (one of the fathers of sociology who died in 1917) usage of “anomie” which Durkheim introduces in his masterful book Suicide from 1897. Anomie refers to a level of social bewilderment and lostness where a person or people opens the door to suicide or demonic demagogues who become cult figures rather like Trump to his supporters.

The real question becomes the social rot and dislocatedness that allowed for the rise of the devilish leaders (and secondarily the leaders themselves). The anomie is the problem, the leader a symptom of the problem.

The term anomie—“a reborrowing with French spelling of anomy”—comes from Greek: anomía (ἀνομία, ‘lawlessness’), namely the privative alpha prefix (a-, ‘without’), and nomos (νόμος, ‘law’). The Greeks distinguished between nomos, and arché (ἀρχή, ‘starting rule, axiom, principle’). For example, a monarch is a single ruler but he may still be subject to, and not exempt from, the prevailing laws (i.e., nomos). In the original city state democracy, the majority rule was an aspect of arché because it was a rule-based, customary system, which may or may not make laws (i.e., nomos). Thus, the original meaning of anomie defined anything or anyone against or outside the law, or a condition where the current laws were not applied resulting in a state of illegitimacy or lawlessness.

The contemporary English understanding of the word anomie can accept greater flexibility in the word “norm,” and some have used the idea of normlessness to reflect a similar situation to the idea of anarchy. However, as used by Émile Durkheim and later theorists, anomie is a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society, and is a completely separate concept from anarchy, which consists of the absence of the roles of rulers and submitted.

Nineteenth-century French pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim borrowed the term anomie from French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau. Durkheim used it in his influential book Suicide (1897) in order to outline the social (and not individual) causes of suicide, characterized by a rapid change of the standards or values of societies (often erroneously referred to as normlessness), and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for better or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This was contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person’s life and their subsequent depression.

In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community. Robert King Merton also adopted the idea of anomie to develop strain theory, defining it as the discrepancy between common social goals and the legitimate means to attain those goals. In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result, the individual would exhibit deviant behavior. Friedrich Hayek notably uses the word anomie with this meaning.

(Wikipedia’s entry for “Anomie”)

Chris Hedges’ point is intriguing because it offers an unusual “flashlight” on the problem of “destructive charisma” in leadership styles where the socially diseased state of the society itself calls forth (i.e., “vomits up”) such leaders from Hitler to Trump.

While not perhaps the whole story, it does get at something crucial, the “endogeneity problem” not in economics where it is usually discussed but in politics. Endogeneity comes from endogenous (i.e., generated from within). Exogenous is the opposite.

The German literary masterpiece Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) shows a society where life and values are too topsy-turvy and dislocated to be sustainable and this creates an “ecosystem” of disorientation where Nazis begin to emerge or rather “crawl forth.” Thus the Hedges metaphor of “vomit up” is suggestive.

Is the Concept of “People-Class” Illuminating?

Abram Leon was a tragic Belgian/Polish Jewish sociologist who was murdered by the Nazis in 1944. He fused the concept of people (e.g., the French people, or the Japanese people) with the concept of class (e.g. “the working class”) to make a hybridized concept of peopleclass.

Can we say that the Rwandan genocide in 1994, say, was the murder of a peopleclass (i.e., the Tutsi)?

Were the Armenian victims in 1915 an analogous phenomenon for the Ottoman Empire?

One immediately thinks of the Jews of Europe in WWII and the Chinese in 1965 Indonesia. (Think of the movie, The Year of Living Dangerously with Mel Gibson, which gives some “atmospherics” for this time in Indonesia.)

Is the Abram Leon notion of a peopleclass helpful in understanding these modern genocidal phenomena as an ensemble?

Meta intelligence is defined as working towards a “Composite Understanding of Education,” as you see in the masthead for this site.

Is peopleclass such a composite?

Essay 93: Education and the Movies: The Issue of Political Irrationality

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a movie masterpiece that is enormously educational not for the particular details of the story but for the phenomenon of politics as an outlet for personal problems: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1969 British drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Muriel Spark. Directed by Ronald Neame, it stars Maggie Smith in the title role as an unrestrained teacher at a girls’ school in 1930s Edinburgh.

Maggie Smith (whom you know from Downton Abbey as the aggressive matriarch) plays a romantically naive schoolteacher at a girl’s school in Scotland, 1930s. She has a “big time” crush on a handsome gym teacher whom she discovers in bed with one of the young girls—“Sandy” and has a kind of nervous breakdown or better, “image of the whole correctness of the world” breakdown.

The teacher sees newsreels of Mussolini in Italy and begins to think of him as a “romantic savior and ‘world-cleaner’ who will clean up the illegitimate situation at her girls’s school in Edinburgh and salvage her dignity and place and prestige and sense of how the world should be. On the one hand Miss Brodie talks about the girls of the school as ‘la crème de la crème’ but how does that comport with ‘Sandy’ and the male gym teacher sharing their beds with each other? The ‘cognitive dissonance’ (incompatibility) in Miss Brodie’s mind is causing her to break down and flee into fantasy land (i.e., Mussolini will restore the romantic world to the way it’s supposed to be). She goes deeper and deeper into this nutty vision of salvation and romantic re-balancing and at the end of the movie, ‘Sandy’ senses that she’s coming unglued and is borderline bonkers. Thus the title ‘the prime of’ can be thought of as ironical or sardonic since the teacher Miss Brodie is flipping out and ‘maps’ her romantic frustrations” onto Mussolini. This is what makes politics so dangerous (i.e., it serves as a “Rorschach test” for people’s inner irrationalities and yearnings and they “see” what they need to see).

Harold Lasswell (died in 1978) spent his life exploring politics and people’s private lives, order, sense of things, grievances, in such books as Psychopathology and Politics.  If you watch the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie you will see how people use politics as a “screen” on which they project their emotions, grievances, hurts, humiliations, hysteria, anger.

Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 – December 18, 1978) was a leading American political scientist and communications theorist. He was a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, and he was a professor of law at Yale University. He served as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA), of the American Society of International Law and of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).

He has been described as a “one-man university” whose “competence in, and contributions to, anthropology, communications, economics, law, philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and sociology are enough to make him a political scientist in the model of classical Greece.”

Table of Contents for Lasswell’s Psychopathology and Politics Book

I. Life-Histories and Political Science
II. The Psychopathological Approach
III. A New Technique of Thinking
IV. The Criteria of Political Types
V. Theories of Personality Development
VI. Political Agitators
VII. Political Agitators—Continued
VIII. Political Administrators
IX. Political Convictions
X. The Politics of Prevention
XI. The Prolonged Interview and Its Objectification
XII. The Personality System and Its Substitutive Reactions
XIII. The State as a Manifold of Events
Afterthoughts—Thirty Years Later
Appendix A. Select Bibliography
Appendix B. Question List on Political Practices

(2016 reprint of 1930 edition. Full facsimile of the original edition.)

First published in 1930, this classic study of personality types remains vital for the understanding of contemporary public figures. Lasswell’s pioneering application of the concepts of clinical psychology to the understanding of power brokers in politics, business, and even the church offers insights into the careers of leaders as diverse as Adolf Hitler and, arguably to more recent figures such as Richard Nixon, Donald Trump and the Clintons.

Movies should be your off-campus alternate university. You should ask yourself does this movie and Lasswell’s notions of psychopathology in politics help me understand authoritarian leaders today and such bizarre phenomena as half-dead prisoners in Stalin’s gulags bursting into tears in March 1953 when they learned of his death. Why sob over the death of the man who’s murdering you and tormenting you and your family?