Mittwoch, 15. November 2017

Support for the highly gifted and social reality

Together with Uwe Rohr, I published an article on the topic of "Post-school education for the most gifted" in the magazine of the Austrian High-Intelligence Association, issue 372. As I have noticed now, Uwe has made another article about the same problem in issue 376, which was the first issue after I left the club, so I didn't get it delivered by mail.

Uwe was convinced that it would be good for society as a whole if the most gifted people were encouraged and enabled to gain responsible positions in which they could provide services for the common good. Taking the financial crisis as an example, it would have been clearly seen that the economists at the German universities were not the brightest minds of their profession and that this caused great damage to the German people.

Uwe also believed that gifted students were being actively disadvantaged and that the reality was that gifted students were not very welcome at universities. They would be perceived primarily as competitors who would challenge the established ones in their positions. So the reality is quite different than what Uwe longed for.

I have to say that I myself have always believed that the university would be the ideal employer for the most gifted students. During my studies, however, I got the impression that there was not too much interest on the part of the university staff in recruiting and supporting talented students as employees. It seemed to me that it was more like a favoritism - not the most gifted, but those who somehow had a close relationship with the university or particularly influential and powerful parents were supported. I researched once who of my fellow students had all been employed at the university after their studies, and most of them were those who had been involved in the Cartellverband or another preliminary organization of the Christian Democratic Party during their studies. Every time I meet a university employee, I also research which school he or she had graduated from. Surprisingly, I haven't found a single graduate of the Popperschule. The Popperschule is a school for highly gifted students, and the achievements in Olympic competitions - whether maths, computer science, physics, Latin or philosophy - regularly prove that these people can actually do more than just solve intelligence test tasks. I contacted a former teacher of mine who is now working at the Popperschule. He said succinctly that it also depends on "the social" - meaning which family you come from, who you count as your acquaintance, which party book you have, etc. I felt a little bit of a laugh when he said that.

In the meantime, I have become accustomed to the fact that in our society there is no longer any general social solidarity, but that everyone only cares about the interests of themselves and their families. Of course, I realize that this will forgive many opportunities. But most people don't seem to care.

Höchstbegabtenförderung und die gesellschaftliche Realität

Mit Uwe Rohr habe ich in der Vereinszeitschrift des österreichischen Hochintelligenzvereins, Ausgabe 372, gemeinsam einen Artikel zum Thema "Nachschulische Förderung von Höchstbegabten" veröffentlicht. Wie ich nun erstaunlicherweise festgestellt habe, hat Uwe im Alleingang noch einen weiteren Aufsatz zu exakt derselben Problematik gebracht, nämlich in Ausgabe 376. Das war die erste Ausgabe nach meinem Austritt aus dem Verein, deswegen habe ich sie nicht per Post zugestellt bekommen.

Uwe war der Überzeugung, dass es der Gesamtgesellschaft gut täte, wenn die Begabtesten gefördert würden und man es ihnen ermöglichte, verantwortungsvolle Positionen zu erlangen, in der sie Leistungen zum Wohle der Allgemeinheit erbringen könnten. Am Beispiel der Finanzkrise hätte man deutlich gesehen, dass die Ökonomen an den bundesdeutschen Universitäten eben nicht die klügsten Köpfe ihrer Zunft waren und es dadurch zu großem Schaden für das deutsche Volk kam.

Ferner glaubte Uwe, dass Hochbegabte aktiv benachteiligt würden und die Realität eben sei, dass Hochbegabte an Universitäten nicht allzu willkommen wären. Sie würden in erster Linie als Konkurrenten wahrgenommen werden, die den Etablierten ihre Posten streitig machen würden. Die Realität sehe also ganz anders aus, als Uwe sich das vorstellt.

Dazu ist zu sagen, dass ich selbst immer geglaubt habe, dass die Universität der ideale Arbeitgeber für die Begabtesten wäre. Im Laufe meines Studiums gewann ich jedoch den Eindruck, dass zumindest von Seiten der Hochschulmitarbeiter kein allzu großes Interesse bestand, begabte Studierende als Mitarbeiter zu bekommen und zu fördern. Eher noch schien es mir, als herrschte Günstlingswirtschaft - gefördert wurden nicht die Begabtesten, sondern diejenigen, die irgendwie ein Naheverhältnis zur Uni hatten oder besonders einflussreiche und mächtige Eltern. Ich habe einmal recherchiert, wer von meinen Studienkollegen nach dem Studium alles eine Anstellung an der Uni bekommen hatte, und die meisten waren solche, die sich während des Studiums im Cartellverband oder einer anderen Vorfeldorganisation der christdemokratischen Partei engagiert hatten. Jedesmal, wenn ich einem Hochschulmitarbeiter begegne, forsche ich zudem nach, an welcher Schule er maturiert hat. Erstaunlicherweise ist mir bisher dabei kein einziger Absolvent der Popperschule untergekommen. Die Popperschule ist ja eine Schule für Hochbegabte, und die Leistungen in Olympiade-Wettbewerben - egal ob Mathe, Informatik, Physik, Latein oder Philosophie - beweisen regelmäßig, dass diese Leute tatsächlich mehr können als nur Intelligenztestaufgaben zu lösen. Ich habe deswegen einmal einen ehemaligen Lehrer von mir kontaktiert, der jetzt an der Popperschule tätig sind. Er meinte lapidar, es komme eben auch auf "das Soziale" an - will heißen: aus welcher Familie man kommt, wen man zu seinen Bekannten zählt, welches Parteibuch man hat usw. Bei dieser Aussage fühlte ich mich schon ein wenig veräppelt.

Inzwischen habe ich mich schon daran gewöhnt, dass es in unserer Gesellschaft eben keine gesamtgesellschaftliche Solidarität (mehr) gibt, sondern für jeden nur die Interessen seiner selbst und seiner Familie zählen. Natürlich ist mir klar, dass dadurch viele Chancen vergeben werden. Aber den meisten ist das offenbar egal.

Dienstag, 14. November 2017

Social Democratic Morals and Politics

The morale in which I was educated could be described as social democratic: I felt obliged in my youth to achieve maximum performance for the benefit of the Republic. I only realized as an adult that life is a struggle and that one has to look after oneself first and foremost. In my naivety I considered the existence of the individual to be assured. But reality is another. If I now follow the "liberal" moral: "Everyone is a blacksmith of his or her own fortune", then I feel much freer, because I know that I only feel sorry for myself if I do not fulfil my duties properly. And this is more in keeping with reality.

Social democracy may have been at the helm again in Austria for about ten years (in Vienna without interruption for an even longer period of time), but in the meantime it seems to have lost much of its ideology. I have always perceived the party first and foremost as an instrument of power. In order to get good marks in school, it was necessary to always express oneself in a way that would be compatible with the social democratic world view. But the fact that social democracy would have actively defended the interests of the workers or fought against the excesses of financial capitalism was beyond my grasp.

My membership of the Liberals is also due to the fact that I never saw in social democracy the chance of advancing to a position of responsibility in which it would be possible to shape the world, and I also had the impression from my experiences at school that free thinking was undesirable in the Social Democratic Party and its environment. This unwelcome state of free thought, which is sometimes even actively suppressed, is the thing that bothers me most about Austria. It seems to me that we are a liberal democracy only in terms of the Constitution. But at least - at least the constitution grants certain rights, which some people have long forgotten.

Sozialdemokratische Moral und Politik

Die Moral, in der ich erzogen wurde, könnte man als sozialdemokratisch bezeichnen: Ich fühlte mich in meiner Jugend verpflichtet, zeitlebens maximale Leistung zu erbringen, zum Wohle der Republik. Dass das Leben ein Kampf ist und man in erster Linie auf sich selbst achten muss, habe ich erst als Erwachsener erkannt. In meiner Naivität hielt ich die Existenz des Einzelnen für gesichert. Die Realität ist aber eine andere. Folge ich nun der "liberalen" Moral: "Jeder ist seines Glückes Schmied", dann fühle ich mich wesentlich freier, denn ich weiß, dass ich nur mir selbst schade, wenn ich meine Pflichten nicht ordentlich erfülle. Und dies entspricht auch viel eher der tatsächlichen Realität.

Die Sozialdemokratie mag zwar seit etwa zehn Jahren in Österreich wieder am Ruder sein (in Wien sogar ohne Unterbrechung seit noch längerer Zeit), aber inzwischen scheint sie schon viel von ihrer Ideologie eingebüßt zu haben. Ich habe sie stets in erster Linie als ein Machtinstrument wahrgenommen. Um in der Schule gute Noten zu bekommen, war man gezwungen, sich immer in einem Sinne zu äußern, wie er mit der sozialdemokratischen Weltanschauung kompatibel sein könnte. Dass aber die Sozialdemokratie aktiv die Interessen der Arbeitnehmer vertreten oder die Auswüchse des Finanzkapitalismus bekämpft hätte, entzog sich meiner Wahrnehmung.

Meine Mitgliedschaft bei den Liberalen ist auch darauf zurückzuführen, dass ich in der Sozialdemokratie nie die Chance eines Aufstiegs in eine verantwortungsvolle Position sah, in der es möglich wäre gestalterisch tätig zu werden, und ich zudem durch meine Erfahrungen in der Schule den Eindruck gewonnen hatte, dass freies Denken in der sozialdemokratischen Partei und ihrem Umfeld nicht erwünscht sei. Dieses Nichterwünschtsein freien Denkens, das teilweise sogar aktiv unterdrückt wird, ist überhaupt diejenige Sache, die mich an Österreich am meisten wurmt. Nur der Verfassung nach sind wir eine liberale Demokratie, scheint es mir. Aber immerhin - wenigstens räumt die Verfassung gewisse Rechte ein, die manche schon längst vergessen glauben.

Freitag, 10. November 2017

How people deal with unwelcome high-flyers

1. Denial: One claims that these people are not highly gifted at all, but only "nerds", or that they had particularly ambitious parents, that they are only "hard-working memorizers", that they have had a lot of luck in life and so on.

2. Playing down: Finally, one admits: Okay, these people may be talented. But they are not as talented as they think they are. They are at best gifted to a low degree, at the standards of other gifted individuals at best average, etc.

3. Silence: If you realize that denial and playing down are of no use, because it is obvious that these people are really good, the final solution is to be silent about them. You don't mention the names of these people unless you have to - but then you don't mention the achievements of these people, the academic degrees they have earned and so on. One tries to ensure that these people are not perceived and do not receive the recognition they deserve.

This is an original knowledge of mine, which is based on my experience and does not in any way represent textbook knowledge. The list of these three strategies - denial, playing down, silence - originates from me.

Wie man mit unliebsamen Hochbegabten umgeht

1. Abstreiten: Man behauptet, diese Leute seien gar nicht hochbegabt, sondern lediglich "Streber", oder hätten besonders ehrgeizige Eltern gehabt, seien lediglich "fleißige Auswendiglerner", hätten im Leben viel Glück gehabt usw. Alles Dinge, die man sehr oft zu hören bekommt!

2. Kleinreden: Schließlich gibt man zu: Okay, diese Leute mögen begabt sein. Aber sie sind auch nicht so begabt, wie sie zu sein glauben. Sie sind allenfalls geringgradig hochbegabt, an den Maßstäben anderer Hochbegabter bestenfalls Durchschnitt usw.

3. Totschweigen: Hat man erkannt, dass Abstreiten und Kleinreden nichts nützen, weil es offensichtlich ist, dass diese Leute wirklich gut sind, kommt die finale Lösung: das Totschweigen. Man erwähnt die Namen dieser Leute nicht, außer wenn es sein muss - dann verschweigt man aber tunlichst die Leistungen, die diese Leute erbracht haben, sowie allfällige akademische Grade und dergleichen. Man versucht zu erreichen, dass diese Leute nicht wahrgenommen werden und ihnen die Anerkennung, die sie sich verdient hätten, nicht zuteil kommt.

Das ist im übrigen eine Original-Erkenntnis von mir, die auf meinen Erfahrungen beruht und keineswegs eine Wiedergabe von Lehrbuch-Wissen darstellt. Die Auflistung dieser drei Strategien - Abstreiten, Kleinreden, Totschweigen - stammt original von mir.

On life as a human in "society"

An essay I wrote back in 2011, which was published in THINK magazine. It is considered to be rather controversial.

When a child is born, he or she is weak, and totally dependent on the love of other, elder people.  Usually children are loved only by their parents, sometimes also by their grandparents; some are even only loved by their mother or their father, not by both of them, and some are loved by nobody at all.  So we learn at early age that the environment is hostile.  We are at permanent risk of being killed by our fellow men who dislike us, and, therefore, we live in the permanent fear of death. 

However, soon we learn that people get around with each other, forming something that can be called a "society".  The principle all human relationships are based on may be called the "principle of utility" (NB: this is not to be confused with the principle of utility in utilitarian philosophy).  The utility of a person, the degree to which you can make use of him or her to achieve your own goals, determines the (subjective) value of this person.  We realize that if we acquire skills that are useful for other people, they will not kill us; on the contrary, they will, if possible, protect our lives as long as we prove useful for them, and do something that will give them a benefit. 

As long as the worker is needed and does his or her job, the employer will try to keep him or her alive.  As soon as the worker is no longer needed, of course, the employer will no longer have to do so.  On the contrary, the employer might even decide to kill the worker.  The complementary scenario is also possible: if the employer is no longer able to pay the worker, the worker might just as well kill the employer – after all, the employer is no longer useful for the worker. 

The prevention of such excesses is the objective of law.  But law only works if people stick to it.  Since it seems impossible to make all people obey law voluntarily, there needs to be a law enforcement institution.  There are, however, two problems to that:

1. Can it be ensured that the law enforcement institution obeys law itself?
2. The law enforcement institution needs to be more powerful than all the subjects the law applies to.  Is that achievable?

If the law enforcement institution P is more powerful than person B, but less powerful than person A, A will be able to ignore law and, on the contrary, force P to make B obey A's own wishes, independently of whether they match common law. 

The primary questions regarding law enforcement are:
1. What determines the power of an entity?
2. Under what circumstances is A more powerful than B?
3. If A is more powerful than B at one point in time, will A always be more powerful than B?

Regarding the first question: the power of person A might be regarded as the capability to kill, or at least effectively harm another person B.  If A is able to harm B, but B is not able to harm A, then A is more powerful than B.  It is, however, questionable whether it is possible at all that the application of harm can be unidirectional only.  Is it not rather likely that A can always harm B, but B can harm A as well?  The situation in which the mutual potential of harm becomes most obvious is called a battle.  Usually, if A and B battle each other, both of them will be harmed.  The question is just whether both will be harmed to the same degree.  If A survives and B dies, then A has definitely proven more powerful.  However, it is probably not always possible to foresee the outcome of such a battle.  And thus, it is not always possible to determine the power of a person.  B might just as well obey A because B believes that A is more powerful than him- or herself.  It is, therefore, a question of the rationality of the servant that determines whether he or she will obey his or her master.  Rationality may even be the basis of the stability of certain political orders.  If the servant behaves irrationally and risks his or her life fighting against the master, we call this a revolution.  A revolution may fail, but it may also succeed.  If a revolution succeeds, does this mean that the power of the rulers had been wrongly estimated?  Yes, I think so; if the rulers had really been as powerful as people believed, the revolution would not have been successful.  So power is a value to be estimated.  In effect, we do not know the real power of an entity; we just assume that it has a certain power.  In real life, therefore, it is not the actual power of the entity that matters, but what others estimate it to be.  This estimated power determines the behaviour of the people. 

Regarding question number two: basically, power is all about physical force.  But physical force need not necessarily mean bodily strength or deadly weapons.  Physical force can also work indirectly; an example is the power to decide who gets food and who does not.  Since food is essential for life, you can effectively kill a person if you are capable of depriving him of access to food.  All of "society" in our complex developed countries is about indirect physical force.  There are many subtle ways to harm a person.  If the person ignores all the rules of "society", he or she will be gradually deprived of social contacts, of a work place, of money, and in the end of all of the basic goods needed to survive.  Thus, person A need not be stronger than person B in order to harm him or her; harm can be applied in a very subtle way.  The question, however, is how we can determine that person A can harm person B more than the other way round.  Again, the answer is: nobody can determine that; all anybody can do is just to make an estimation. 

Concerning the third question, finally, most people would probably intuitively guess that the answer is no: persons can gain and lose power.  That may be true.  However, I would like to make a remark on that.  A battle is a process that lasts time.  Some battles may be short, while others take longer.  The most primitive kind of battle, a physical fight person versus person, is a short matter, of course, but battles which others might call "battles in a metaphorical sense" (which is actually wrong, since, as explained, power is ultimately always about inflicting physical harm) may last for years, decades or even centuries if we do not just regard individual persons as the acting parties.  It is a metaphysical problem whether it is justified to consider the power of an entity involved in a battle changing during the course of the battle, or whether the power of the loser should, in retrospect, be considered lower than the power of the winner from the beginning.  If you think the second option is correct, then the answer to this question must be yes – the power of an entity is constant.  But this is a controversial issue, and I will remain neutral on it. 

To conclude this essay, let me emphasize that the nature of life as a human in "society" is related to human nature as such.  If human nature could be changed, life as a human in "society" would become different as well.  People who would like to improve the world we are living in are often derogatorily called "Weltverbesserer" (world improvers).  On this I would like to remark that human nature might be changed, but "the world" cannot be changed.  Since everything is a part of the world, the potential of the world to change is a part of the world as well.  Therefore, the degree to which the world may change is inherent in the world.  The current state of the world determines all the possible future states of the world, and the current state of the world is itself determined by any state in the past.  For this reason, it is not justified to say that the world can be changed; it could only be changed by an external force, but such a force does not exist, since everything is part of the world.  So the world will always remain the same, and the differences in the shape of the world we notice as humans in the course of time are part of THE world; it is all predetermined.  Human nature, by contrast, may change.  The ways how human nature can change are, however, not subject of this essay. 

In general I would like to state that in my eyes, thinking about how the "world" could be improved (as if this were possible) does not make sense.  Instead, I would recommend analyzing the world as it is, and making use of the apparent rules in order to achieve one's own personal goals.

Donnerstag, 9. November 2017

Everything in life is selection

Everything in life is selection. Anywhere, not only in school. Selection is less about intelligence than about personality. It is only often said that people are judged according to their intelligence. This creates feelings of inferiority, especially among young people, which in reality are unfounded.