Characteristics and traits in individuals can and do manifest themselves more generally across societies but the outcomes they predict can be very different due to scale. I’ve witnessed the Dunning-Kruger effect in myself and in my career over the years, only coming to understand my behavior and the behavior of colleagues in the context of self-awareness and the lack thereof. I’ve become much more humble regarding my ability to teach as I’ve improved: I wasn’t very good for at least my first four or five years but only getting fired from my first full time teaching gig really woke me up to how great an impediment my weaknesses were. I’m still not a spectacular disciplinarian and I need to have a very precise idea of what I want to accomplish in a class period to allow my showmanship and content knowledge to engage the students in ways which highlight those strengths.
In my career I’ve been surrounded, mostly, by people like me with certain strengths and weaknesses who’ve managed over time to become very good at what they do. On the other hand I’ve witnessed some amazing outliers; I mean people with absolutely no self awareness, and gaping holes in their instructional practice who not only have no idea (really, none) of how bad they are but who honestly believe themselves to be among the elite. In a playful interaction with what I might call the Peter “Vice Principal” I’ve seen the self confidence of these types put them into positions of authority and supervision with absolutely no understanding of even the most basic principles of classroom teaching.
For these people there is not enough Kool Aid in the world when it comes to imbibing the educational fads and the dogma of “21st Century Learning”; Yeah, it’s 2019…even if we teach them to plow a field with oxen…it’s still a 21st century skill at this point! I always think to myself: Socrates was a better teacher than I am despite never having attended a single professional development seminar for continuing education credit; but the Kool Aid is where I’d like to shift the focus of this essay.
We were picking up Luna’s friend to come over the house and finish a science project; Luna had been out most of the week performing in the lead role of “Anansi the Spider” (Giving 8 performances in 4 schools over three days!). Her partner lives in an area where a local developer has used the combination of tax credits for historic preservation AND low income housing to revive an entire neighborhood. This developer does incredible work, but what ends up shining through is the quality of the streetscape. Just getting out of the car to walk over to the door of her building, even on a frigid winter morning was a delight; there were families walking home from a trip to the corner store, kids headed out to play, grown-ups hopping in their cars and off to do their Saturday afternoon thing. I wish I had taken a picture, but here are some Google street views:
The society that built this neighborhood was confident, but not grandiose. Overall it conforms to design principles and concepts which had been acquired and internalized over thousands of years while accommodating novelties like gas lines and electricity. I’m sure the developers and engineers understood the limitations of the city’s water and sewer systems and made sure that their future tenants could count on potable water coming in, and not so potable water being taken away by the existing system without any heroic interventions. They also knew that their tenants would be walking distance from the region’s primary industrial employers, and within a few minutes of a street railway line to the downtown. And it was beautiful, from the fluer de lis over the entryway to the elm trees along the streets.
Enter post World War II horizontal style auto-oriented American development; The Sum of All Kool Aids, (Kools Aid?), and a death spiral of societal Dunning-Kruger. What we’ve done is so obviously horrific, so clearly without redemption, so unmistakably ruinous, so patently ugly, but even at a time when the resources to continue the project are diminishing, the impacts of its effluent are multiplying, and the consequences of its limitations are manifest we plow on without the slightest hesitation.
It doesn’t work. It’s ugly. It’s miserable. But people pay a premium for it. If you haven’t already, head over to Granola Shotgun and read Johnny’s two latest posts(Here, and here) and the comments: Homeless camps across from $1.2 million homes, home values of half that amount being viewed as “low”, zoning laws and regulations requiring that private condos look like Pruitt-Igoe, and people lining up to take out 50 year loans to buy units that might be lucky just to last that long. Johnny will comment something which ends with “shrug” or “meh”, and I see his perspective…at a societal level; it’s done, we’ll have to live with it.
It’s the individual I don’t understand: Someone has to buy it I guess, but why would you? With my oft repeated caveat: there is very little distinction between being prematurely correct and just being wrong: This economy and many of its housing markets have been distorted for decades. If you think your house is really worth much more than $200,000 dollars whatever it is and wherever it is in a nation where the median household income is around $60,000 a year, you’re insane. Once the Ponzi scheme of financialization, extreme indebtedness, and artificially low interest rates breaks down home values will fall to and through the level that actual people can actually afford sustainably; my guess is that most will be well under that number in unhyperinflated dollars…including my own…which already is!
I have no idea how much longer the Titanic will remain afloat. I’m trying to arrange my life so that I can still hear the string quartet playing on deck while I ensconce myself in a lifeboat. I’ve written too many times already about my status as an urban prepper though, so I shan’t bore you more with that now…next week perhaps.