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Thread: To Be Nice vs. To Be Good

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    Senior Member Makers!*'s Avatar
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    To Be Nice vs. To Be Good

    I was watching a video where Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and MIT doctorate, discusses the unraveling of American working class values. He provides evidence of the increase in crime and substantial decrease in marriage and participation in other institutional programs that traditionally better communities. His conclusion to correct the trend--dismantling the welfare state-- is different from where I arrive, however, I can support some of his other claims, one of them being that we are at a place in history where youth are not told to “be good,” but to “be nice,” and this is bad.

    I’m aware the point is generally put, and many parents or teachers might, today, tell their children or students “be good,” but let’s consider the difference between the terms for the sake of discussion and how preferring one over the other bears on culture.

    To say, “be nice,” implies what? To share, to help others, to control your anger. Hell, put that way it might be the terminus of clichéd sayings. I mean what more does society need? … I would argue, a lot. Being nice, while one good thing (some of the time), doesn’t nearly equip future citizens with the values pivotal for success. To instill those values, there must be some higher good enforced by a cultural script, or we face nihilistic dissolution where, objectively, the druggie and the pornographer are beyond disparagement. The result? People stop getting married, families break down, PTA meetings go unattended, communities break down, etc. The issues are inextricably linked.

    I’m aware there are great single mothers and fathers, that there are nice druggies and pornographers, and sometimes the confluence of societal or family influences prevents people from success. But the data Murray presents doesn’t lie about the negative consequences on a whole, and I think the distribution of porn and a drugs among youth is apparent. While politically measures should be taken to prevent the disparity that mires families in poverty and destroys the environment, culturally we should uphold higher forms of good.

    your thoughts?
    Last edited by Makers!*; 06-30-2015 at 08:53 PM. Reason: qualification

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    Sky Anvil Vison's Avatar
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    I was heavily socialized to be nice over being good.

    Being nice protects the status-quo, being good disrupts if your definition of good differs in any way.
    Oh fuck it, Its the 90's.

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    Senior Member Makers!*'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vison View Post
    I was heavily socialized to be nice over being good.

    Being nice protects the status-quo, being good disrupts if your definition of good differs in any way.
    I think this a good point. Culture can encourage critical societal and self reflection if the right works are properly engaged. The problem is the "right works," are ever shifting under theories that undermine the existence of good, replacing it instead with multicultural indifference.

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    Senior Member Makers!*'s Avatar
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    Strangely, I began Anna Karanina the other day, and upon reading today, have found the dichotomy between two of the main characters--Stepan and Levin-- parallels this exact observation. Stepan is characterized as "Nice" throughout, although he cheats on his wife destroying their marriage. And Levin, who I'm just learning of, seeks good. I'm very interested to see how they develop and continue to effect the lives around them. It's a great book so far.
    Last edited by Makers!*; 06-30-2015 at 09:52 PM.

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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Makers!* View Post
    I think the distribution of porn and a drugs among youth is apparent.
    Eh, is it?

    I mean, I don't know about porn, and illegal drug use, like anything else illegal, is notoriously dicey to track statistically. Still:


    "Percent of students reporting marijuana use in last year"




    More stats like this


    your thoughts?
    My thoughts are generally that complaining about "culture" is like complaining about the weather--of course there will be things that you or I or anyone don't like about it, and of course some of those things can be legitimately dangerous, but... what are you gonna do about it?

    Culture doesn't change just because someone says "hey, let's make our culture different"--it changes in complex, unpredictable ways over time (you know, like weather does) because what you see happening in a "culture" at any particular place and time is influenced in extremely complicated ways by a huge array of forces that might be very remote from what you're looking at.

    Centralized institutions that do specific, tangible things, however, can be changed when someone--the right someone, with the right kind of influence--decides that they should change, so my general advice with this sort of thing is to focus on the tangible things that are clearly under the control of centralized institutions, try to convince the people who can make the changes you want to see to make them, and then let "culture" do whatever it's going to do in response to see if you got it right, because there's really no point in getting a bug up your ass about it either way.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Senior Member Makers!*'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post
    My thoughts are generally that complaining about "culture" is like complaining about the weather--of course there will be things that you or I or anyone don't like about it, and of course some of those things can be legitimately dangerous, but... what are you gonna do about it?
    I appreciate the graph, but I stopped after reading this, because I don't think it's complaining when you're deciding for yourself what texts you'll teach and how you'll teach them to students down the road. The very notion of good v.s. bad, higher v.s lower, canonical v.s. non-canonical is in question in the humanities, and I believe the way teachers, who are attentive to cultural values, respond, does have impacts on the development of youth, which I would think you, being teacher yourself, would understand.

    To answer your question, what am I going to do about it? Well, as of now, while I might recommend non-canonical or young adult literature to students outside of class, or even make it an assignment to do a report on a reading of their choice, I won't be teaching anything that I don't think has the highest value, so far as it's within my control. Deciding what exactly those values are and how to derive them from our reading, along with "good" formalistic qualities, is the special sort of challenge I get in the post-modern/ multicultural/ politically correct cluster fuck we've inherited, but it’s a challenge I am nonetheless happy to accept.

    Also, I wonder why people ask, "Well what are you going to do about?" when they've posed a problem, like I never do anything, or like people never conform their actions to their ideals, or even like the lense through which people choose to perceive things doesn't shape their everyday encounters with others.
    Last edited by Makers!*; 07-01-2015 at 06:06 AM.

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    dormant jigglypuff's Avatar
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    to be nice VS to be good, in what context? without context there's no question to me.

    i don't really see where the question of "VS" is coming from in the first place.

    there are many scenarios in life where to be good is to basically be compassionate, but there are also those scenarios where to be good is to fight for justice ("by any means necessary") even if that means you're spitting in the face of your oppressor and not being superficially "nice." idk, i guess i kinda don't see what this is asking. i get that the second is probably what we're supposed to be thinking about as "true" good but you can't pretend the first scenario is even rare or necessarily "false" good.

    unless this is about nice = PC & you can't trust PC discussion again...

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    creator kali's Avatar
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    Is this kind of like growing up and my dad was all like "I can't be nice to you, it's for your own good" lol nice one dad

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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Makers!* View Post
    I appreciate the graph, but I stopped after reading this, because I don't think it's complaining when you're deciding for yourself what texts you'll teach and how you'll teach them to students down the road. The very notion of good v.s. bad, higher v.s lower, canonical v.s. non-canonical is in question in the humanities, and I believe the way teachers, who are attentive to cultural values, respond, does have impacts on the development of youth, which I would think you, being teacher yourself, would understand.
    Yes, of course as a teacher you have a role to play and choices to make. Personally, I'm not really into the "canon" concept and am more of the "that you are reading ultimately matters more than what you are reading" school, although there's a caveat to it in that I think it's important to be exposed to texts of sufficient complexity and sophistication to take note of the range of literary forms and techniques that can be employed.

    In my experience, you can teach students what to think about but not so much what or how to think about it. When I've taught literature, I've emphasized form/function relationships in the vein of "here's things to pay attention to in an effort to understand what the author is trying to tell us, and how they're trying to get that message across." The thing is that kids may or may not care very much what kind of values or ideals you're espousing--this isn't in your control--but nonetheless you do have an important role in picking ideas to expose them to based on what you think is important for them to take into consideration in the formation of their own perspectives and opinions.

    My main background is really in social studies, so as far as selection of literary texts I basically aimed at selections that both covered a variety of literary forms and demonstrated different expressive devices while also representing a range of historical events and topics of social relevance in a range of different societies, because I do think that element of "multiculturalism" is important. You should be teaching students about the world (not just some particular part of it, whether in geographical or cultural terms), and showing the breadth of how human beings communicate and think. Properly understood and executed, this really has little or nothing to do with any question of value equivalency or whether one idea from one culture is somehow more valid than another idea from another culture, because your role is to expose students to ideas and make the ideas accessible, not pass judgment on that sort of thing.

    All in all (encompassing two years' worth of classes with one group), I think we covered short stories, poetry, theater, autobiography, novels and essays, and my list of authors/texts/topics covered (among other things) ancient Greece, 18th-20th century Britain, Nazi Germany, the Cultural Revolution in China, apartheid in South Africa, the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and contemporary social issues in Guatemala (the novel we read touched on everything from poverty to child trafficking to the aftermath of the genocide against indigenous groups in the 1980's).

    (It was a World Literature class, but even if it was American Literature or something I'd still try to account for the cultural diversity that encompasses--indigenous mythologies, contemporary immigrant stories, and things like that--even if I had to skip a "canon" author or two to fit it in. IIRC, Last of the Mohicans was better as a movie than a book anyway--the kids might as well just Netflix it at home if they're really curious.)

    I had a fairly standardized approach to any text (adjusted as appropriate for genre) where I presented a structured interpretive framework--"identify the general theme(s) this text addresses, then identify a question of some sort that the author seems to be asking you to consider about the theme(s), then determine what the author's own personal perspective seems to be on what the answer to that question is (considering how things like plot structure, allusion, symbolism, and the use of figurative language may be telling you any of these things even if the author doesn't literally say them outright)". My units were organized around studying one particular genre at a time, so the interpretive work would typically be paired with a project where students produced their own writing in that genre so as to understand the techniques used in each style of writing from both a writer's and reader's perspective.

    Overall, these classes ended up being more about the idea that writing is a tool (or set of tools) that serves a purpose (the conveyance of ideas from one person to another), and learning how the tool is used is how you benefit from it (whether you are using it to convey an idea to others, or trying to absorb ideas that are being conveyed to you by someone who is using it). I personally feel that this is vastly more important than trying to make sure my students have read all the right "important" literature for the sake of some Platonic notion of the moral guidance they're supposed to get from it. (Because, again, a lot of them just won't be receptive to that kind of intention on your part, and you really can't make them be receptive.)

    Thus, e.g., we read A Modest Proposal because it's a great illustrative example of how serious ideas can be conveyed indirectly by way of sarcasm and mockery, (also admittedly because I love it and I think it's fucking hilarious) not because there's something intrinsically more important about knowing what Jonathan Swift thought about poverty in 18th century Ireland than knowing what some other author had to say about some other topic. I had, the previous year, also had that class read an absurdist satirical story called The Censors about the Argentinean dictatorship in the 1970's, so they had multiple examples of satire to work with, covering fairly different topics and written by authors from different cultures and time periods, in their exploration of how satire works as a literary form. (What makes a satire effective, and what can be expressed through satire more effectively than through other literary forms, e.g. the idea of a commonly accepted and normalized belief or behavior being actually in some objective sense absurd and strange.)



    If you haven't, I'd highly recommend reading some of Paolo Freire's writing about pedagogy. I got assigned a lot of it in grad school, and it's pretty interesting stuff. (A lot of his basic ideas are worked into the kind of approach I've summarized above.) He is notably quite hostile to the whole "canon" concept because he says it ultimately doesn't serve what should be the fundamental purpose of real education, which consists of empowerment rather than indoctrination. To over-simplify one of his more central overarching theses, one should always be asking not "what am I trying to make my students understand" but rather "what am I trying to enable my students to do". One objective is about control (and thus ultimately about repression and containment) while the other is about freedom (and thus ultimately about progression and growth).
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Senior Member Makers!*'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Mexico View Post

    If you haven't, I'd highly recommend reading some of Paolo Freire's writing about pedagogy. I got assigned a lot of it in grad school, and it's pretty interesting stuff. (A lot of his basic ideas are worked into the kind of approach I've summarized above.) He is notably quite hostile to the whole "canon" concept because he says it ultimately doesn't serve what should be the fundamental purpose of real education, which consists of empowerment rather than indoctrination. To over-simplify one of his more central overarching theses, one should always be asking not "what am I trying to make my students understand" but rather "what am I trying to enable my students to do". One objective is about control (and thus ultimately about repression and containment) while the other is about freedom (and thus ultimately about progression and growth).
    http://forums.intpcomplex.com/showth...mmie-Dialogue) I wish now I hadn't added the commie part to the title. It's an unwarrented disparagment.

    Below, I've posted an example of the debate I've been trying to synthesize. The question an audience member poses at around 42:40 gets at my main concern. I almost think Eagleton takes his approach a step further than can be reasonably justified. I don't see what's wrong with supposing there are values that transcend time and culture, and that some works convey those values more adequately than others. I understand when you say
    You should be teaching students about the world (not just some particular part of it, whether in geographical or cultural terms), and showing the breadth of how human beings communicate and think.
    But time constraints in the classroom necessarily limit what can be taught. Therefore, it's necessary to be judicious when planning a cirriculum.

    After reading this though
    (It was a World Literature class, but even if it was American Literature or something I'd still try to account for the cultural diversity that encompasses--indigenous mythologies, contemporary immigrant stories, and things like that--even if I had to skip a "canon" author or two to fit it in.
    And the thematic and literary devices you teach,

    I don't think we're far off.

    Last edited by Makers!*; 07-01-2015 at 01:06 PM.

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