Monday, September 19, 2011

'Non-cognitive' Skills and the American Bias Towards Rules

Recently the term "noncognitive skills" has caught on in business and education circles. Just google 'noncognitive' to see that many academically published research articles use "noncognitive" as an umbrella term for anything which cannot be measured by a written test, usually things like communication, kindness, social intelligence, perseverance, and other 'intangible' traits.

But 'non-cognitive' is really quite a bizarre term to use! All of these skills have to be learned somehow, and so why is the term 'noncognitive' being used? 'Cognitive' comes from the Latin 'cognoscere' 'with knowledge.' 'Non-rational', or 'not based on rules' is a much better description of these skills.

The reason 'noncognitive' has stuck is that academics in America have a huge bias towards rules. We take it as a given that a technical solution must exist to every problem. The idea that these skills could be 'non-rational' or 'not based on rules' is highly unappealing to us, so we prefer the ambiguous 'non-cognitive' label.

This is a mistake. It is interesting to note that, despite its abundant use in university-level research, there is no wikipedia page on "noncognitive skills." A google search for "non-cognitive skills" returns 162,000 results, while a search for "non-rational skills", the correct phrase, returns just 277 results!

Carl Jung wrote in the just recently published Red Book, "Scholarliness alone is not enough, there is a knowledge of the heart that gives deeper insight." Knowledge/cognition goes deeper than scholarliness or rationality. We must look beyond institutional, formalized knowledge, and into the knowledge of compassion in our hearts if we wish to move society forward.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

On capitalism and sociocultural transition

When I was growing up I was told that capitalism is great because it “allows you to be anything you want to be!” By “anything you want to be”, they really meant sit at a desk all day doing what a person in the office above you tells you to. “But you can be at whatever desk you want, if you just go for your dreams!” Uhhh, yeah. Thanks, I guess.

So what to make of capitalism? Are we to join Michael Moore in mock outrage at it? Or what about those rational voices claiming that better alternatives are possible? What if they are right, and the rest of us are missing out on a whole different quality of life?

Are we not like the tribe of Israel, demanding to be ruled by a king? The prophets cry to us there is a better way, but we don't even understand what they are saying. We know only the primal thrill of the vicarious experience of power. Donald Trump is our generation's King Saul.

So why not join the radical left and anarchists? The problem is that progress is slow.

Capitalism itself is a form of progress over the monarchy of King Saul. This can be a disheartening thought for an idealist. There is no shortcut. Utopia can only come about one mind at a time. Yet we are dealing with archetypal forces here. The unconscious desire for even a vicarious experience of power is embedded more deeply than we would like to admit.

Irrationality is the prima materia of culture. Irrational drives are the basis for music, dancing, games, art, story-telling, governments, economies, or any socio-cultural institution.

Capitalism taken to the free-market extreme is "reason turned against itself"--a system that assumes the innate rationality of our behavior, but yet exists only because of our irrational desire to experience power over our neighbor, if only vicariously. We want to see our neighbors struggle and fail, so we can say “Ha! You're no Donald Trump! I told you you'd never make it.” Ridicule is an easier, more instinctive pleasure than friendship. That's why the Israelites served a King, and our age serves capitalism.