Saturday, February 10, 2018

All you need is cognitive empathy-based living for the good of all

One of the 33 bakeries preserved in Pompeii by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 C.E. Via Classofoods.

That's what changemakers have, according to David F. Brooks ("Everyone a Changemaker") :

For example, Ashoka fellow Andrés Gallardo is a Mexican who lived in a high crime neighborhood. He created an app, called Haus, that allows people to network with their neighbors. The app has a panic button that alerts everybody in the neighborhood when a crime is happening. It allows neighbors to organize, chat, share crime statistics and work together.
To form and lead this community of communities, Gallardo had to possess what Drayton calls “cognitive empathy-based living for the good of all.” Cognitive empathy is the ability to perceive how people are feeling in evolving circumstances. “For the good of all” is the capacity to build teams.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is cognitive empathy the ability to perceive how people are feeling in evolving circumstances? I mean, I'm left wondering if there's some kind of noncognitive or pre-cognitive empathy for perceiving how people are feeling when circumstances aren't evolving.

Also, how exactly is "for the good of all" the capacity to build teams? Fortunately I'm a semanticist. I can check this out by a simple substitution test: if Brooks's hypothesis on "for the good of all" is correct, the following two sentences should be equivalent in meaning:
  • You've sacrificed yourself for the good of all!
  • You've sacrificed yourself the capacity to build teams!
Nope. I don't think that works.

Ashoka is the name of a nonprofit organization that used to be about the cultivation of social entrepreneurs, who are, if I'm understanding this right, people who bring the skill set of Internet startup managers to the pursuit of social goals, like giving people panic buttons and the ability to share crime statistics. The term was invented by Bill Drayton, Ashoka's founder and CEO, and Brooks first wrote them up in 2008 ("Thoroughly Modern Do-Gooders"), when he seemed particularly impressed that they weren't hippies—
These thoroughly modern do-gooders dress like venture capitalists. They talk like them. They even think like them. That means that aside from the occasional passion for heirloom vegetables, they are not particularly crunchy. They don’t wear ponytails, tattoos or Birkenstocks. They don’t devote any energy to countercultural personal style, unless you consider excessive niceness a subversive fashion statement.
I dated an heirloom tomato once, but it didn't last.

Drayton is now working out what sounds like a more cosmic kind of issue, the problem that automation seems likely to deprive most of us of our livelihoods:

For millenniums most people’s lives had a certain pattern. You went to school to learn a trade or a skill — baking, farming or accounting. Then you could go into the work force and make a good living repeating the same skill over the course of your career.
But these days machines can do pretty much anything that’s repetitive. The new world requires a different sort of person. Drayton calls this new sort of person a changemaker.
Changemakers are people who can see the patterns around them, identify the problems in any situation, figure out ways to solve the problem, organize fluid teams, lead collective action and then continually adapt as situations change.
For generations (from around 1840 to 1940) most people wrote "millenniums", but "millennia" has been much more current for almost 80 years. Just saying. We know Brooks is conservative, but this is a case where it is plainly preferable to be right.

But if you're talking about millennia, I think the historical period during which anybody has gone to school to learn farming has been a very short one. It would be more accurate to say that over the long term most people were born on farms and didn't go to school at all.

Accounting goes back a good 7,000 years, and clearly involved some training—the rulers of Persia hired professional accountants in the 4th and 3rd millennia B.C.E., and Chanakya, the adviser of the first sovereigns of the Mauryan empire in the India of the 4th century B.C.E., wrote a textbook on the subject, though apparently not a very useful one for the historians of bookkeeping (my impression is historians of economics get more out of it—I should add this is all Wikipedia, not stuff I could literally know), but most people were certainly not accountants. Or bakers, although that too is a pretty old profession, originating in Egypt, where the first commercial yeasts were developed, and in the late Roman Republic there was a collegium or guild of foreign bread bakers, suggesting some kind of apprenticeship.

I don't think there's ever been a time when most people went to school to learn the skills that they would practice in working life unless maybe in Germany since World War II. The idea of most people going to school at all is a pretty recent development, compulsory schooling having originated in Germany and North America in the 19th century; and if you think back to your own education, you'll realize that few of us learned skills that actually served us in working life beyond basic reading and math, and hardly any of us outside the formal professions specifically trained for the jobs we ended up doing.

Which is not to say people shouldn't worry about technology stealing their jobs (a fear that goes back to the the Luddites of early 19th-century England), but there is a weird little Brooksian disconnect here between the idea that everybody must be a changemaker, as in Ashoka's vision
Because we live in a changemaker world, everyone must be an effective and confident changemaker.
For many generations, society was organized around a few people at the top telling everyone else to repeat their specialized skills faster and faster. Today, all of us have the means to lead and get big things done. This is causing social change to explode in every direction.
—and the real tendency of programs like this, which is clearly the nourishment of lower-elite management classes to mediate between the rulers and the "teams"; those kids you've heard of if you've had kids of your own in school over the past 20 or 30 years who organize mass online movements like the Ice Bucket Challenge (which will in fact get them into schools where they will learn to be tax attorneys, or princes among the accountants, performing work so repetitive it would drive them to suicide if not for the boat or the Hamptons place):

Once a kid has had an idea, built a team and changed her world, she’s a changemaker. She has the power. She’ll go on to organize more teams. She will always be needed.
Drayton asks parents: “Does your daughter know that she is a changemaker? Is she practicing changemaking?” He tells them: “If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you have urgent work to do.”
Too late!

Brooks's writing in this piece is really awful beyond the usual standard, and as far as that goes Drayton's is worse, like a Thomas L. Friedman for whom writing actually isn't a priority or a computer-generated Prosperity Gospel preacher—
It is a fact that the rate of change and the degree of human interconnectedness have been accelerating exponentially since 1700. Change now begets change—ever faster and more broadly. 
This is the new reality. 
It brings with it a new definition of what success in growing up (and therefore parenting and education) entails. Because value now comes from changemaking, today’s key measure of success is: “What percent of teens know that they are changemakers?” They can only know this if they have actually had a dream, built a team, and changed their class or school or community. Practice is the only way they can master the four critical underlying skills—cognitive empathy, new types of teamwork, opposite forms of leadership, and changemaking. One cannot know one is a changemaker without knowing one is well on the way to such mastery.
He may well be doing good work—how would I know?—but linguistically he's a conman. Maybe opposite forms of leadership are going to be my thing. I'll try to keep you updated.

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