How do you explain the difference between Marxism, socialism, and communism in brief to a child?

Thanks for the question. “Brief” isn’t going to cut it. Despite popular myths and misconceptions, you can’t impart real wisdom, history or quality information in a tweet…and even clever parables have their limitations. So discussing socialism in any meaningful way will take some time. The age of the child, and how much they already know about the world, will also require different approaches. But here’s one simplified version you could try:

First gather together a hammer, some of the child’s favorite toys, a pile of clothing, and a bag of unbuttered popcorn.

1) A long time ago, before your parents were even born, there were no factories. People often made things themselves at home (like this clothing, for example, or these toys, or this popcorn). Or, if they had enough money or a skill of equal value to trade with someone, they could have other people make these things for them. Other folks actually had servants or slaves to make things for them. But at that time, not everyone could have everything they wanted! Imagine that. Some people could have lots of toys and clothes and popcorn…but most people could only have very little. And some people — the very poor and the slaves — might not have any at all. As a result, there were some very rich folks who had all of the money and freedom, and who controlled most of society — but all of the poor people (which was most of the people!) had very little say in things.

2) Then the “capitalist” factories arrived. How this happened is another story in itself…but it changed everything. Suddenly people didn’t make things at home anymore, or rely on a few skilled people to make them, or have slaves do the work. Instead, huge buildings full of workers made things…and made LOTS of them. Imagine a steady supply of toys, clothing and popcorn now available for everyone. And one very promising hope was that the workers in the factories got paid money so they could (in theory, at least) buy some of the things they made! The basic idea here was that, because of factories, more and more people could have more and more stuff. Now, even the very poor people could get a job at a factory with the hope of buying some toys and clothes and popcorn!

3) This seems like a pretty good deal, right? But then people started noticing some not-so-good things about these factories — and the cities that grew around them. For example, the factories would hire anyone — including little kids not much older than you — and work them really hard. Children, mothers and fathers all had really long work-days, too…sometimes ten hours or more…and without any breaks! Often the factories would keep people working all week long. No days off! And the working conditions were also often horrible and unsafe. Workers would get injured, or sick, from their jobs in the factories. Sometimes they even died or were maimed for life because conditions were so bad. And the worst thing was, the folks who ran the factories didn’t do anything to help the workers who were injured or sick — they would just hire new ones to replace them instead. In addition to this, the wages paid to work at the factories were very low. So low, in fact, that many factory workers often couldn’t even afford the things the factory made. And, lastly, the cities around these factories were becoming unbearably toxic with pollution from the factories. The air became unbreathable, lakes and streams became so polluted that all of the fish died and no one could drink the water, and even the soil itself became so spoiled that nothing would grow in it.

4) So where did the promise of spreading prosperity go…? Who was getting rich while everyone else was getting sicker and poorer, and the land, water and air was becoming poisoned? And who was actually buying what the factories made? It was the “capitalist” owners and managers of factories who were getting rich, and who could always afford to buy factory-made goods, and make the time to enjoy them if they wanted to. Isn’t that interesting? So it ended up that the factory workers, who were risking their health and lives, gave up most of their time and well-being to make things for the factory owners and managers, who were enjoying most of the fruits of the workers’ labor. And those owners and managers got richer and richer, and bought more and more toys and clothes and popcorn, and had more and more time to enjoy life…while the factory workers just kept…well, slaving away at their jobs. So this would be like me keeping all of your clothes, your toys, and this popcorn for myself…and not letting you have any, even though you yourself made the clothes, toys and popcorn! Do you think that is very nice?

5) Well, “socialists” didn’t think that this situation was very nice. “Socialists” believed that everyone should benefit from the goods the factories made. These socialists also thought the factory owners had too much power, were being too greedy, and weren’t treating workers in a kind or humane way. So socialist movements tried to protect workers from harm, give them better wages, and offer them a better life that was less like a slave’s. Many socialists thought the best way to do this was to have governments — which would be elected by a majority of workers — oversee how the factories were run. Some socialists thought that factories should be taken away from their original owners altogether! Other socialists believed that the government shouldn’t be involved at all, but instead that small cooperatives of people should control how things were made and distributed in their community…and between their community and other communities. But the idea was that, if the public — all of society — had a say in how toys and clothes and popcorn were produced and distributed, then there wouldn’t be so many poor people, or terrible working conditions, and a lot more folks could enjoy these things together. Wouldn’t you like some popcorn? Well, lots of people agreed with this, but the question for socialists then became: how could society bring this new arrangement into being?

6) Now two of these socialists were named Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and they came up with a version of socialism called “Marxism.” Marx believed that, in order to make the capitalist factory owners kinder and more fair, there had to be a revolution led by the workers. That is, he thought the only way to make socialism happen was through a big fight, where the working class rose up against the factory owners, and took the factories away from them by force. Eventually, Marx thought, this revolution would lead to an end result — many years in the future — where all people would live in more harmony with each other, and their wouldn’t be differences in class, or wealth, or political power, and everyone would be involved in making decisions together (including about how clothing was made, how toys and popcorn were shared, and so forth). This eventual conclusion of the revolution would be called “communism,” and Marx famously described the communist ideal this way: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” So folks in a communist society would make toys and clothes and popcorn together, according to their ability, and then give those toys and clothes and popcorn to the folks who needed them.

7) Unfortunately, there was a big problem, and that was that many of the people who tried to carry out Marx’s violent revolution (and much of this happened after Marx passed away) didn’t really follow through on the rest of his ideas. Instead of giving the power and authority in society to the workers, as other socialists (and Marx himself) had planned to do, they kept the power for themselves. They did take the factories away from the rich owners, along with all the rich folks’ money, and used the workers to fight this violent and bloody takeover…again, using workers kind of like slave soldiers. But then the rulers of the revolution kept all of the money and power for themselves — and they ended up with all the best popcorn, all the best toys, and all the best clothes. So the basic situation — suffering workers slaving away for wealthy leaders who had all the control — really didn’t change. So the “revolution” never led to the “communist” ideal that Marx and Engels envisioned…even though it was still called “Communism” by many people!

8-) Now in other places around the world, “socialism” was put into practice without a violent revolution. This is where our worker’s labor unions came from, and worker’s rights and protections at factories — so they could be safe and work a reasonable number of hours in a day, a reasonable number of days in a week, had time off for recreation, and so on. Socialists are why we have weekends and vacations! You’ve probably also noticed that children like you aren’t working in very many factories anymore either, and that was because socialists advocated for laws making child labor illegal. And there are now also certain factories and services that are run by the government as well, so that everyone can have equal access to their products and service. This is called “socializing” something. So socialized medicine, socialized transportation, socialized retirement, and so forth…these are all a result of socialism, and help all of society have more freedom and feel safe, with everyone sharing the costs and benefits together. There are also companies that have “socialized” themselves — that is, given ownership of the factory to the workers, so the workers manage themselves. But the key to all of this…and this is important…is that these “socialized” societies always have open and fair elections — they have a strong democracy, where everyone can vote. Because if the workers can’t vote, well then there won’t really be freedom and equality, will there? What if, whenever you asked for popcorn, or new clothes, or a new toy, I always said “No, you can’t have that?” That’s what a dictator or authoritarian does. In this way, socialism is really part of almost every capitalist, democratic country in the world today, and socialist ideas are used whenever their needs to be more freedom and equality in a society…as long as there is also democracy.

9) Finally, you have probably been wondering what this hammer is for, right? This hammer is the threat of fascism and totalitarianism. I won’t go into what causes people to become fascists and totalitarians…that is a story for another time, but let’s just say it is a kind of mental illness that spreads through a mob. Fascists and totalitarians have no respect for equality, freedom or fairness…no respect for anyone but themselves, really. All they are really good at is destroying democracy and civil society — that is, taking away people’s freedoms and equality. Imagine if I smashed all of your toys with this hammer! That wouldn’t be very nice, would it? But that is what fascists will do if you don’t give them whatever they want. They are big bullies. And that is why, when you are old enough to vote, you want to be very careful about who you vote for. Now, after we have put these clothes away, maybe you and I can have some popcorn together, and play with your toys. What do you think…?

My 2 cents.

How should I go about thinking for myself and not just regurgitating ideas I learn from other people?

Without knowing more about your personality, experiences, aptitudes and interests, it is difficult to offer anything but the most generic advice. Keeping that in mind, here is what I would encourage you to do to help formulate your own opinions about things:

1) Drastically reduce social media immersion, 24/7 mass media stimulation, and entertainment media immersion. In other words, limit your interaction with these media to an hour or two each day…max. Maybe even take a “media vacation” 1–2 days each week (on weekends, etc.). This also includes music and podcast consumption (even as “background” noise). The objective here is to give your mind a rest…and some spaciousness.

2) Wean yourself off of regular MJ use. It’s going to interfere mightily with your ideation, introspection and reflection capacities, as well as your ability to emotionally mature. Occasional recreation is not what I would be concerned about — it’s daily use (or several times a week) of the latest high-THC varieties that tends to create serious problems over time.

3) Learn to meditate. This takes time and discipline — and experimentation with different techniques — but it will help you focus inward and gain more internal reliance, rather than orienting all thoughts and emotions to external inputs. It will also help you manage anxiety and depression. If you can develop a healthy, regular habit of daily mediation, this will vastly enhance your abilities to navigate ideas, formulate your own thoughts, and intuit what is most important to you.

4) Consume carefully. What you eat, what you read, what you watch, what you listen to (music, podcasts, whatever), whom you spend time around…even what you spend time thinking or fantasizing about. Garbage in, garbage out. What you reinforce with constant exposure and focus will become your mind’s primary orientation, locus of energy, and interest…but you get to control this if you choose.

5) Spend regular time alone in Nature. Here again, this is about spaciousness. Creating space and time for different aspects of your being to expand, find their own level, and prompt you into an authentic relationship with your own interiority.

I hope this was helpful! :-)

What essential principles of critical thought would you include in a high school level crash course on critical thinking?

Great question, thanks. Here are some fundamentals I would include, keeping the high school audience in mind:

1. The psychology of rationalization. I think this is probably the most important bit - learning just how creative human beings can be at inventing self-justifications for various beliefs or conclusions. An open class discussion that invites students to offer their own beliefs around a topic, then to critique rationalizing elements of each others’ reasoning, can be a great way to break the ice on critical thinking.

2. Common logical fallacies. After covering the basics, this can be turned into fun group exercises, where students “catch” each other making one or more errors while presenting their reasoning based on cases you provide (i.e. as they draw conclusions from a set of facts on a specific topic…)

3. The Socratic method. Seems like this could be a great in-class exercise, especially within a broader conversation about dialectics.

4. The flaws in empiricism, and the iterative process for truth. This can be a helpful longer-term homework assignment - giving students the names of researchers who have made incorrect assessments of their data (or been unable to clearly see what the data was really conveying), or where peer review and replication have reinforced incomplete or incorrect conclusions, etc. - and encouraging the students to find out what the errors were, why they may have occurred, and how the initial assertions were later revised by later research. This is a great way to “reverse engineer” critical thinking by helping students recognize real-world errors or incompleteness.

5. Freakonomics. Assigning the original book and/or some of the subsequent podcasts to help students sharpen their critical thinking skills and avoid jumping to “obvious” or premature conclusions.

6. Self-critique. If students are advanced enough I think a powerful culminating homework assignment could be having them identify their own patterns of logical fallacies, rationalizations, premature suppositions and errors in reasoning. This is, after all, what we would hope they will take with them into the real world.

If possible, I would also touch on the importance of emotions in what we believe to be rational thought or decision-making. Lots of good research on this.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-essential-principles-of-critical-thought-would-you-include-in-a-high-school-level-crash-course-on-critical-thinking

What are the biggest current blind spots or uninvestigated areas in sociology?


Thanks for the A2A, but wow this is a really broad question. Those familiar with sociology know it has almost endless specializations and variations - both theoretical and applied - so it is a bit difficult to generalize. Also I haven’t really kept up with the intradisciplinary literature for more than a handful of sub-specialties, so I’m likely only speaking to a very narrow slice of the overall picture. Lastly, I would say some of these issues apply to much of academia.

Hmmm…blind spots. Okay:

1. Predictive methodologies seem woefully underdeveloped in sociology. This would be an ideal field to aggregate diverse metrics for predictive analysis for all sorts of sociological impacts and change that are, in fact, already being studied independently of each other.

2. Postmodernism seems to have shattered interest in a cohesive theory of sociology. IMO, academia could and should be making a concerted effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I recognize that there have been recent individual efforts at doing this, but (and I’d love to be corrected on this point) I’m not aware of any sustained, broadly-inclusive, widely coordinated projects to resolve this lingering issue.

3. The distance between the dots in economic sociology that take on big-picture, meta-analysis of capitalism is far too great. When was the last major publication in this arena? Nee & Swedberg in 2005…or Fligstein’s work around the same time? And before them, Polanyi? And before that…Weber & Marx…? IMO such broad considerations should have been at the forefront of economic sociology in a consistent way. Too often this topic has been ceded to economists…who almost always arrive on the scene with an indoctrinated axe to grind. Again, though, please let me know if I’ve missed some notable, more recent contributions.

So there are three. Let me know what you think.

From: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-biggest-current-blind-spots-or-uninvestigated-areas-in-sociology-and-what-makes-them-difficult/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What in your opinion are some of the biggest problems with education and traditional educational institutions?

This is something I’m passionate about - having worked in both a K-12 school district and a large university, as well as being the son of a professor. Okay so, from a U.S. perspective, here goes…

The shift to STEM and business proficiencies, and away from liberal arts, is a symptom of one underlying problem: the belief that education should be about preparation for the workplace and high-paying careers. This is not what education should be about, IMO. If education was about workplace preparation, then why, at the dawn of public education, did we take children away from productive jobs at their family farms just to learn how to read? The whole idea was to enrich the mind of a student, help them see the world in larger ways and multidisciplinary contexts, and hopefully provide fundamental skills that would be applicable in ALL fields of study. Foremost among those skills are of course the ability to think critically, to challenge our own assumptions, to be curious about the unknown, and to improve our understanding and abilities. All other disciplines should be a natural consequence of this foundation. But that is not what our education system here in the States does. Not by a long shot. Instead, it conditions children and young adults to memorize and regurgitate with no sense of interdisciplinary context, no critical examination (other than perhaps an overarching self-doubt and depressive anxiety), and no real training in higher-order thinking. So these young people learn how to pass tests, please instructors, and obtain a decent GPA….In other words, with the exception of a few innovative programs, conscientious instructors and courageous students who break from these expectations, our education system is an utterly idiotic waste of time and energy.

How did this happen? Well it would be easy to blame crony capitalism - to say that the State is just trying to churn out obedient cogs for their corporate benefactors. And to some degree (certainly regarding the overemphasis on STEM) that is probably true. It might also be convenient to blame standardization and institutionalization…the bigger the system, and the more conformity to predefined metrics that is required, the more homogenous and “watered down” the outcome. We could also blame poor diets and lack of exercise: feed kids excessive amounts of sugar and fat, and make them sit around all day, and you’re not likely to get high-performance brain function out of them. But we could also throw in a slew of additional factors: stressful lifestyles, increases in Autism Spectrum Disorder, increases in drug abuse and mental illness in youth, the breakdown of the nuclear family, postmodern skepticism and individualistic materialism as cultural norms, a technological landscape that grow exponentially more complex by the day, ever-accelerating cultural changes…. In reality I suspect all of these things in fact contribute to the poverty of mind and heart we too often encounter in the modern educational system. It’s not any one thing…it’s a convergence of pretty intense modern causal factors.

So what’s to be done? In my opinion, we need to address as many of those underlying causal factors as we can, and quickly, rather than pretending there is some sort of systemic magic wand (i.e. Charter Schools, revised educational standards, free college, etc.). For example, high quality education is often a consequence the relationship between a student and their parents - and parental involvement in and support of the education process - when the student is young. Parents need to participate and invest emotionally. How can some new K-12 policy make that happen by itself? And if students aren’t empowered with a more participatory, democratic environment throughout their educational experience, why should they ever feel the urge to “learn how to think, question and learn?” To take ownership of their own learning process? In a top-down, dictatorial institutional model, it’s much easier to just find out what the instructor wants, and provide lock-step, superficial conformance to those expectations without really learning anything. So I think the real answer is a much more…structural one. It has to do with how we operate in society as a whole, how we model behavior for our young, what we value and how we embody those values. If those who “succeed” in our society are living stressed-out unhappiness, are in constant debt, hate their ass-kissing jobs, medicate themselves with reality TV and pharmaceuticals, don’t actively participate in civil society other than via self-destructive consumption, how can we expect young people to be any different…? Thus our education system can’t be adequately reformed until our society is.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-in-your-opinion-are-some-of-the-biggest-problems-with-education-and-traditional-educational-institutions)

How do I build interesting online courses for youngsters?

Answering the question: "How do I build interesting online courses for youngsters?"

Thanks for the A2A Roberto, but frankly I wouldn’t encourage it. I truly believe even the most advanced VR environment is no match for active learning among students in a live group - in the real world. Sure, there is a place for computer assisted learning, and I was there in the beginning when Oregon Trail and other such programs were introduced into K-12 here in the U.S. But our cultural screen-addiction will, I believe, ultimately be viewed as an antagonistic and even harmful trend, resulting in young adults whose knowledge, learning style, social skills, mental health, perceptive functions, physical well-being and intellectual capacities have all been hopelessly crippled by computer-based curricula (not by that alone, but in conjunction with a more general technology dependence).

I suppose this wasn’t what you were looking for, and I apologize for that, but having worked in IT, in education, for nearly a decade (four years in K-12, five in a University setting), I view the most essential elements of multidimensional learning to simply be outside the capacity of tech-centric modes. Being outside in natural environments, working in groups, having tactile learning experiences, performing physical tasks as part of the learning process, discussing, debating, questioning, socializing, and engaging with others in a joint learning adventure that is almost entirely outside of a representational world of computer graphics…these are the central characteristics of quality learning.

It is, after all, the real world that children most need to learn about, and beyond that what their own imagination can provide. A computer representation offers neither, and I believe can actually rob them of both.

My 2 cents.

If information is now available for everybody, What is the purpose of teachers?

In answer to Quora question "If information is now available for everybody, What is the purpose of teachers?"

A2A. My take is that teachers:

1. Help students learn how to think critically about information and how to evaluate it, and to not just absorb information indiscriminately.

2. Help students learn the various skills of research, the different qualities of information, the importance of the scientific method, ways to prioritize and organization information, ways to deepen understanding of subject matter, ways to ask probing questions about information - in other words, teachers help students learn how to learn.

3. Help students contextualize, correlate and interrelate information so that it can become useful knowledge.

4. Help structure the learning experience in a way that allows students to build on previous knowledge and create the requisite foundation for the next step in their understanding of a given field.

5. Help inspire students to discover and become interested in new information - or whole new fields of thought and experience - that they may never have been exposed to before.

6. Help students realize just how profoundly ignorant they are - no matter how much they think they know - to facilitate a necessary and perpetual humility and as an antidote to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

7. Help students overcome the natural fear of and resistance to learning something new or different, or something that contradicts what they already know, or something that revises their entire worldview.

8. Help students prepare for ever more rigorous, challenging, complex, sophisticated and/or specialized learning curves as they continue into higher levels of education.

So teachers do an awful lot - if they are skillful teachers.

My 2 cents.

Are our schools doing enough to inspire young minds to think rationally?

In answer to Quora question "Are our schools doing enough to inspire young minds to think rationally?"

A2A. I worked for many years in both K-12 and University environments, have friends who are professors and grade school teachers, watched my younger siblings and my wife's two children grow up through the American education system, and mentored young people of all ages. My observation from these experiences is that no, our schools are not doing enough to inspire young minds to think rationally. In fact, I think they mostly encourage the opposite: fine-tuning the art of test-taking and grade-making, conforming to unreasonable expectations, being confused about how knowledge is structured and interrelates, and generally encouraging children to become disinterested worker bees with uncritical minds and reflexively adopted habits and beliefs. But that's really not the fault of the schools. Not at all. There are some great teachers out there, some pretty interesting curricula, and increasingly sophisticated and engaging teaching technologies. But educational institutions are up against a juggernaut of commercialistic culture, parents with busy schedules, financially stressed communities, easy access to drugs and materialistic pursuits, and environments toxic with distracting gadgetry, Diabetes-inducing food, and a general isolation of the individual. And against this highly disruptive backdrop, schools don't really stand a chance. So I would counter: could schools ever do enough to inspire young minds to think rationally, when that isn't modeled anywhere else in their lives...? And the answer to that question would also be: no, they could not.

My 2 cents.