Browsed by
Tag: upheaval

How the Education System Destroys Social Networks – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

How the Education System Destroys Social Networks – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

I was at a restaurant for lunch and had time to visit with the waitress, who turns out to be a college graduate from a good institution. She has a degree in European languages. Here she is waiting tables with nondegreed people, some five years her junior, some 10 years her elder.

She is making good money, but so are her co-workers. You have to wonder: given her position, what was the professional advantage to her of those four hard years in school and the $100K spent on them? What were the opportunity costs?

This is not another article to disparage the value of a college degree. I would like to raise a more fundamental question. It concerns the strange way in which our education system has overly segmented our lives into a series of episodic upheavals, each of which has little to do with the other, the value of one accomplishment being oddly disconnected from the next stage, and none of them directly connecting to our professional goals except in the unusual case.

From the earliest age until adulthood, we’ve been hurled from institution to institution in a way that eventually sets young people back from developing continuity of plans and a social support system to realize their goals. At the end of it all, people find themselves back where they started: figuring out their market worth and trying to find a buyer for their services.

Instead of drawing down on accumulated capital, they end up starting fresh at age 22. Even after years of building social capital, they are drawing down on a nearly empty account.

There is something seriously wrong with this system. Shouldn’t our investments in our friendship networks extend across and beyond the stages of our development to make more of a difference in our lives?

The post-graduation diaspora

In a couple of months, for example, many millions of high school students will graduate. Celebration! Sort of. It’s great to finish school. But what’s next?

Many students find themselves devastated to lose the only social group and friendship network they’ve ever known. They worked for years to cultivate it, and in an instant, it is blown apart. They are left with a piece of paper, a yearbook of memories, a transcript, and, perhaps a few recommendation letters from teachers — recommendations that do them little good in the marketplace.

“Don’t ever change,” they write in each other’s yearbooks. The sentiment expresses a normal longing to hold on to the investment the students make in each other’s lives, even as everything about the system tries to take that investment from them.

Is this the way it should be?

Then, the same group, or at least many among them, look forward to college, where they are mostly, again, starting from scratch in a social sense. It can be very scary. College students begin their new experience isolated. They work for another four years to develop a network — a robust social group — to find their footing and to establish both a reputation and sense of self. This is the only world they’ve known for years, and they have invested their hearts and souls into the experience.

The social fabric ends up rich and wonderful, with intense friendships based on shared lives.

Finally, after four years, the graduation march plays, the tassel is moved from one side of the cap to the other, and the whole social apparatus goes up in smoke — again. Then, another diaspora.

Once again, students find themselves nearly alone, with few hooks into the world of commerce and employment. They have a degree but few opportunities to monetize it. Their social network is of limited use to them. All they have, yet again, is a piece of paper. Plus they have recommendation letters from professors that still do them little good in the marketplace.

This not always the case. There are workarounds, and digital networking is helping. People join fraternities and social clubs, and those can be useful going forward. But it might take years for these connections to yield results. The more immediate question is this: What do I do now? Lacking a broad sense of the way the world works, and missing any influential hooks into prevailing networks, a college grad can often find herself feeling isolated once again, starting over for the third time.

The failure of the central plan

This is the system that the civic culture has created for us. For the years from the ages of 14 through 22, students’ primary focus of personal investment and social capital building is centered on their peers. But their peers are just the same as they are: hoping for a good future but having few means to get from here to there.

Why does this keep happening? Looking at the big picture, you can start to see a serious problem with the educational system politicians have built for us. It is keeping people “on track” — but is it a track that prepares people for the future?

A core principle of the education system, as owned and controlled by government, is Stay in school and stay with your class. This is the emphasis from the earliest grades all the way through the end of college. The accidents of birth determine your peer group, your primary social influences, and the gang you rely on for social support.

To be “held back” is considered disgraceful, and to be pushed forward a grade is considered dangerous for personal development. Your class rank is your world, the definition of who you are — and it stays with you for decades. Everyone is on a track as defined by a ruling class: here is what you should and must know when. All your peers are with you.

Many factors entrench this reality. The public school system is organized on the assumption of homogeneity, a central plan imposed from the top down. It didn’t happen all at once. It came about slowly over the course of 100-plus years, from the universalization of compulsory schooling, to the prohibition of youth work, to the gradual nationalization of curricula.

In the end, we find the lives of young people strictly segmented by stages that are strangely discontinuous. Where are the professional contacts that result? Where are the friends who can smooth your way into the world of professional work? They aren’t among your former classmates. Your peers are all in the same position you are in.

Laws that lock people out

The workplace might help to mitigate this problem, but it’s incredibly difficult for young people to get a regular job thanks to “child labor” laws that exclude teens from the workforce. For this reason, only one in four high school kids has any real experience outside their peer group. They miss all the opportunities to learn and grow that come from the workplace — learning from examples of personal initiative, responsibility, independence, and accountability.

There are extremely narrow conditions under which a 14-year-old can find legal employment, but few businesses want to bother with the necessary documentation and restrictions. A 16-year-old has a few more opportunities, but, even here, these young people can’t work in kitchens or serve alcohol. The full freedom to engage a larger community outside the segmented class structure doesn’t come until after you graduate high school.

By the time the opportunity comes around to do authentic remunerative work, a student’s life is filled with other interests, mostly social, but also extracurricular. Instead of working a job, people are doing a thousand other things, and there seems to be no time left. It’s not uncommon for people to graduate with no professional experiences whatsoever to draw on. Their peers are their only asset, their only really valuable relationships, but these relationships have little commercial value.

How natural is any of this?

If you look at the social structure of homeschooling co-ops, for example, younger kids and older kids mix it up in integrated social environments, and they learn from each other. Parents of all ages are well integrated too, and it creates a complex social environment. The parents know all the kids and, together, they form a diverse microsociety of mutual interests. This is one reason that homeschooled kids can seem remarkably precocious and poised around people of all ages. They are not being artificially pegged into slots and held there against their will.

A better way

When you read about the experiences of successful people in the late 19th century, they talk of their exciting and broad experiences in life, working in odd jobs, meeting strange people of all ages and classes, performing tasks outside their comfort zone, encountering adult situations in business that taught them important lessons. They didn’t learn these things from sitting in a desk, listening to a teacher, repeating facts on tests, and staying with their class. They discovered the world through mixing it up, having fabulous and sometimes weird experiences, being with people who are not in their age cohort. They drew on these experiences for years following.

The system to which we have become accustomed is not of our choosing, and it certainly isn’t organic to the social order. It has been inflicted on us, one piece of legislation at a time. It is the result of an imposed, rather than evolved, order. Why wait until age 22 to get serious about your life?  Why stick with only one career choice in the course of your appointed 40 years in professional life? Why retire at the young age of 65, just because the federal government wants you to do so?

Think about this the next time you attend a graduation. Are the students shedding only tears of joy? Or, in the sudden mixture of emotions, is there also the dawning realization that they are witnessing the destruction of a social order they worked so hard to cultivate? Are they also overwhelmed with the knowledge that, in short order, they will have to recreate something entirely new again? Where is the continuity? Where is the evidence of an evolved and developing order of improved opportunities?

The most important question is this: What are the alternatives?

Bring back apprenticeships. Bring back remunerative work for the young. Look beyond the central plan, and don’t get trapped. Rethink the claim that staying in school is an unmitigated good. Find other ways to prevent your heavy investments in others from dissipating; ensure instead that they will pay more immediate returns. Our friends should remain in our lives — and yield a lifetime of returns.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager” – A Review – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager” – A Review – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Zoltan Istvan’s new novel The Transhumanist Wager has been compared to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But to what extent are the books alike, and in what respects? In this review, Mr. Stolyarov compares and contrasts the two novels and explores the question of how best to achieve radical life extension and general technological progress for the improvement of the human condition.


– The Transhumanist Wager Official Page
– “Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s ‘The Transhumanist Wager’: A Review” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
Guilio Prisco’s Review of The Transhumanist Wager
– “Larry Page wants to ‘set aside a part of the world’ for unregulated experimentation” – Nathan Ingraham – The Verge – May 15, 2013
Zoltan Istvan’s Reddit AMA

Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager”: A Review – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager”: A Review – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 18, 2013

Zoltan Istvan’s new novel The Transhumanist Wager has been compared to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. (See, for instance, Giulio Prisco’s review.) But to what extent are the books alike, and in what respects? To be sure, the story and the writing style are gripping, the characters are vivid, and the universe created by Istvan gave me an experience highly reminiscent of my reading of Atlas Shrugged more than a decade ago. Even this alone allows me to highly recommend The Transhumanist Wager as a work of literary art – a philosophical thriller. Moreover, the didactic purpose of the novel, its interplay of clearly identified good and evil forces, and its culmination in an extensive speech where the protagonist elaborates on his philosophical principles (as well as its punctuation by multiple smaller speeches throughout) provide clear parallels to Atlas Shrugged.

Giulio Prisco calls the philosophy of The Transhumanist Wager’s protagonist, Jethro Knights, “an extreme, militant version of the radically libertarian formulation of transhumanism”. However, this is the area where I perceive the most significant departure from the parallels to Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (which she did not like to be called “libertarian”, though it was in essence) has the principle of individual rights and the rejection of the initiation of force at its ethical core. Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged was formed by a withdrawal of the great thinkers and creators from the world of those who exploited and enslaved them. However, there was no active conquest of that world by Rand’s heroes; rather, without the men of the mind, the power structures of the world simply fell apart on their own accord.

Jethro Knights creates his own seasteading nation, Transhumania, a fascinating haven for innovation and a refuge for transhumanist scientists oppressed by their governments and targeted by religious fundamentalist terrorism. The concept of an autonomous bastion of innovation is timely and promising; it was echoed by the recent statements from Larry Page of Google in favor of setting aside a part of the world to allow for unbridled experimentation. Transhumania, due to its technological superiority, spectacularly beats back a hostile invasion by the combined navies of the world. It is when the Transhumanians go on the offensive that the parallels to Galt’s Gulch cease. Instead of letting the non-transhumanist world crumble or embrace transhumanism on its own accord, Jethro Knights conquers it, destroys all of its political, religious, and cultural centerpieces, and establishes a worldwide dictatorship – including some highly non-libertarian elements, such as compulsory education, restrictions on reproduction, and an espousal of the view that even some human beings who have not initiated force may not have an inviolate right to their lives, but are rather judged on their “usefulness” – however defined (perhaps, in the case of Transhumania, usefulness in advancing the transhumanist vision as understood by Jethro Knights). Jethro Knights permits a certain degree of freedom – enough to sustain technological progress, high standards of living, and due process in the resolution of everyday disputes – but, ultimately, all of the liberties in Transhumania are contingent on their compatibility with Jethro’s own philosophy; they are not recognized as absolute rights even for those who disagree. John Galt would have been gentler. He would have simply withdrawn his support from those who would not deal with him as honest creators of value, but he would have left them to their own devices otherwise, unless they initiated force against him and against other rational creators of value.

The outcome of The Transhumanist Wager is complicated by the fact that Jethro’s militancy is the direct response to the horrific acts of terrorism committed by religious fundamentalists at the behest of Reverend Belinas, who also has considerable behind-the-scenes influence on the US government in the novel. Clearly, the anti-transhumanists were the initiators of force for the majority of the novel, and, so long as they perpetrated acts of violence against pro-technology scientists and philosophers, they were valid targets for retaliation and neutralization – just like all terrorists and murderers are. For the majority of the book, I was, without question, on Jethro’s side when it came to his practice, though not always his theory – but it was upon reading about the offensive phase of his war that I came to differ in both, especially since Transhumania had the technological capacity to surgically eliminate only those who directly attacked it or masterminded such attacks, thereafter leaving the rest of the world powerless to destroy Transhumania, but also free to come to recognize the merits of radical life extension and general technological progress on its own in a less jarring, perhaps more gradual process. An alternative scenario to the novel’s ending could have been a series of political upheavals in the old nations of the world, where the leaders who had targeted transhumanist scientists were recognized to be thoroughly wasteful and destructive, and were replaced by neutral or techno-progressive politicians who, partly for pragmatic reasons and partly arising out of their own attraction to technology, decided to trade with Transhumania instead of waging war on it.

Jethro’s concept of the “omnipotender” is a vision of the individual seeking as much power as he can get, ultimately aiming to achieve power over the entire universe. It is not clear whether power in this vision means simply the ability to achieve one’s objectives, or control in a hierarchical sense, which necessarily involves the subordination of other intelligent beings. I support power in the sense of the taming of the wilderness and the empowerment of the self for the sake of life’s betterment, but not in the sense of depriving others of a similar prerogative. Ayn Rand’s vision of the proper rationally egoistic outlook is extremely clear on the point that one must neither sacrifice oneself to others nor sacrifice others to oneself. Istvan’s numerous critical references to altruism and collectivism clearly express his agreement with the first half of that maxim – but what about the second? Jethro’s statements that he would be ready to sacrifice the lives of even those closest to him in order to achieve his transhumanist vision certainly suggest that the character of Jethro might not give others the same sphere of inviolate action that he would seek for himself. Of course, Jethro also dismisses as a contrived hypothetical the suggestion that such sacrifice would be necessary (at least, in Jethro’s view, for the time being), and I agree. Yet a more satisfying response would have been not that he is ready to make such a sacrifice, but that the sacrifice itself is absolutely not required for individual advancement by the laws of reality, and therefore it is nonsensical to even acknowledge its possibility. Jethro gave his archenemy, Belinas, far too much of a philosophical concession by even picking sides in the false dichotomy between self-sacrifice to others and the subjugation of others to oneself.

Perhaps the best way to view The Transhumanist Wager is as a cautionary tale of what might happen if the enemies of technological progress and radical life extension begin to forcefully clamp down on the scientists who try to make these breakthroughs happen. A climate of violence and terror, rather than civil discourse and an embrace of life-enhancing progress, will breed societal interactions that follow entirely different rules, and produce entirely different incentives, from those which allow a civilized society to smoothly function and advance. I hope that we, at least in the Western world, can avoid a scenario where those different rules and incentives take hold.

I am a transhumanist, but I am also a humanist, in the sense that I see the advancement of humanity and the improvement of the human condition as the desired aims of technological progress. In this sense, I am fond of the reference to the goal of transhumanists as the achievement of a “humanity plus”. Transhumanism is and ought to be, fundamentally, a continuation of the melioristic drive of the 18th-century Enlightenment, ridding man of the limitations and terrible sufferings which have historically been considered part of necessary “human nature” but which are, in reality, the outcome of the contingent material shortcomings with which our species happened to be burdened from its inception. Will it be possible to entice and persuade enough people to embrace the transhumanist vision voluntarily? I certainly hope so, since even a sizable minority of individuals would suffice to drive forward the technological advances which the rest of humanity would embrace for other, non-philosophical reasons.

In the absence of a full-fledged embrace of this humanistic vision of transhumanism, at the very least I hope that it would be possible to “sneak around” the common objections and restrictions and achieve a technological fait accompli through the dissemination of philosophically neutral tools, such as the Internet and mobile devices, that enhance individual opportunities and alter the balance of power between individuals and institutions. In this possible future, some of the old “cultural baggage” – as Jethro would refer to it – would most likely remain – including religions, which are among the hardest cultural elements for people to give up. However, this “baggage” itself would gradually evolve in its essential outlook and impact upon the world, much like Western Christianity today is far gentler than the Christianity of the 3rd, 11th, or 17th centuries. Perhaps, instead of fighting transhumanism, some representatives of old cultural labels will attempt to preserve their own relevance amidst transhuman-oriented developments. This will require reinterpreting doctrines, and will certainly engender fierce debate within many religious, political, and societal circles. However, there may yet be hope that the progressive wings of each of these old institutions and ideologies (“progressive” in the sense of being open to progress, not to be mistaken for any current partisan affiliation) will do the equivalent work to that entailed in a transhumanist revolution, except in a gradual, peaceful, seamless manner.

Yet, on the other hand, the immense urgency of achieving life extension is, without question, a sentiment I strongly identify with. Jethro’s experience, early in the novel, of stepping on a defective mine has autobiographical parallels to Istvan’s own experience in Vietnam. A brush with death certainly highlights the fragility of life and the urgency of pursuing its continuation. Pausing to contemplate that, were it not for a stroke of luck at some prior moment, one could be dead now – and all of the vivid and precious experiences one is having could one day be snuffed out, with not even a memory remaining – certainly motivates one to think about what the most direct, the most effective means of averting such a horrific outcome would be. Will a gradual, humane, humanistic transition to a world of indefinite life extension work out in time for us? What can we do to make it happen sooner? Can we do it within the framework of the principles of libertarianism in addition to those of transhumanism? Which approaches are the most promising at present, and which, on the other hand, could be counterproductive? How do we attempt to enlist the help of the “mainstream” world while avoiding or overcoming its opposition? For me, reading The Transhumanist Wager provided further impetus to keep asking these important, open, and as of yet unresolved questions – in the hopes that someday the ambition to achieve indefinite life extension in our lifetimes will give rise to a clear ultra-effective strategy that can put this most precious of all goals in sight.