Getting Knowledge by Giving Knowledge

Teacher and Students Gaining KnowledgeI spent almost all of yesterday on the road and so I don’t have much time to go looking for things to write about. But there has been something on my mind for a good long time that I would like to related to you: how we gain knowledge by giving it away. But I’ll be honest: I may have written about this before. By the end of this month, Frankly Curious will have published 7,000 articles — the vast majority of them being by me. And I don’t know what I’ve written. The funny thing is that I often find that things I had thought I had written about — obvious things — I hadn’t.

When I was taking math in college, I was always at the top of my class. I remember the first calculus exam I ever took, I got an 86. The next best score was 63. And the rest were in the 40s. I don’t say that to indicate that I am particularly brilliant, even though when it comes to math I am something of a natural. But the point is that I was always helping other people. I was also a tutor of the more basic math students. But I always felt that I was getting far more out it than those I was helping.

But helping others does come naturally to me. I have never been of the mind that giving away knowledge is harming me. Others do not feel this way. I used to take care of all the IT work for a mid-sized real estate investment company. The “stars” of the company were the acquisition agents, who were responsible for purchasing land that could be sold quickly at a profit by the “lesser” agents. And these guys (all men) made a lot of money — between $10,000 and $20,000 per month. I rather liked them, although a few were jerks.

I am not a great mathematician. In graduate school, I met a number of people who blew me away. And I loved it! It’s great to be in a position to appreciate the brilliance of others.

There was one guy I quite liked. He was the most technically savvy of any of them. He was very accomplished with Visual Basic and could do amazing things with Excel. And over the years, I taught him a lot. And he explained a number of things with me. He had no problem answering any question I might have of him. (It wasn’t often; Excel wasn’t even part of our standard work tools.) But he certainly saw me as a guy who gave as much as he took.

But I noticed that he would not help the other agents. If they were having technical problems, they were on their own. And if they saw him do some cool trick, he would refuse to explain it to them. I thought this was very shortsighted. The truth is that he was always going to be top dog and by explaining, he was going to learn more.

Now I understand: he had other work to do. He was paid only on commission. But that attitude toward maintaining one’s knowledge advantage is very common. And it is more or less the basis of our economic system. This is, after all, what patents and copyrights are all about. You will notice that at the bottom of all the pages on Frankly Curious, it says, “© 2009-2016.” But that is the nature of the system. I would gladly change to a system where I do nothing but produce the best content I can in exchange for a reasonable standard of living but no ability to ever get rich. But that isn’t on offer, so I yield to the the realities of life.

Despite the fact that I was by far the best math student in any of my college classes, I am not a great mathematician. In graduate school, I met a number of people who blew me away. And I loved it! It’s great to be in a position to appreciate the brilliance of others. And I think that as time goes on, if our civilization continues to grow, we will get past this petty desire to maintain a knowledge advantage. Because passing on knowledge helps us all. And from a practical standpoint, it helps those who share it most of all.

Afterword: Knowledge Giving in Its Place

There is another side of this that I used to run into when I was doing IT — and which Will still has to deal with. When you are fixing a computer as a contractor, people will often want to sit next to you and “learn how to do it.” This is not the same thing. For one thing, having people ask a stream of questions makes the repair go much slower, and most repairs are not done on an hourly basis. For another thing, it is offensive. The implication is that all you are doing is this one thing — that knowing what to do isn’t part of a vastly larger base of knowledge. No one would ever think it appropriate to ask a plumber to teach them the art while the toilet gets fixed.

The Barack Obama Hate Machine Is Transferable

Obama HateShakezula is a very smart guy, but I think he was wrong yesterday, Yesterday Was All We Had. He noted that there will be a lot of very sad people when Obama leaves the White House, but the saddest of all will be “the people who profit from Barack Obama Hate Machine, Inc.” He is right to some extent. Just in the most general sense, Fox New and other conservative hate organizations do best when the Democrats are in charge. When the Republicans are in charge, the Hate Machine is asleep. Everything is just fine because “our guy” is in charge and they only start to complain at the end when even the truest of the true believers can’t deny how bad things have gotten.

But Shakezula said this, “Assuming the next president isn’t named Trump or Cruz, neither a President H Clinton or B Sanders would generate a tenth of the visceral reaction and hence the money and the power that’s come from using President Barack Hussein Obama to frighten to terminally resentful white people into falling in line and forking over the cash and/or votes.” I don’t think that’s true. I accept that there is something special about Obama because he is a black man and these kinds of people are terrified of black men.

I was amazed at the things that people would say about Clinton. I said about him more or less what I say about Obama today: he’s the best president we can reasonably expect. Yet the conservative vitriol against both men were almost identical.

But Obama has done an amazingly good job of not being a black man. This is part of how he became president. The main thing that the conservative base hates about Obama is that he’s a Democrat. Someone I have to work very closely with is a hate radio addict and, as a result, a bigot. She is certain that Obama is intent on starting a race war. Now that may sound like it goes along with Shakezula’s contention, but I heard the exact same thing about Bill Clinton when he was in office. The big conservative complaint against the Democrats is not that they are black but that they are on the side of the black man against the white man.

Really: in the 1990s, I was a libertarian. And I was amazed at the things that people would say about Clinton. I said about him more or less what I say about Obama today: he’s the best president we can reasonably expect. Yet the conservative vitriol against both men was almost identical. They were both socialists who were determined to use racial tensions to start the revolution. It was the Obama Hate Machine before anyone knew who Obama was. It was nuts then and it is nuts now. I mean, why would the leader of the most powerful nation on earth want to start a revolution? Also stated was that even though nothing big happened during the first term, just you wait until the second! And then nothing happened and they just dropped it.

But you know who did wait until his second term to show his true colors? George W Bush. This was the man who originally ran on “compassionate conservatism” and then got all the evangelicals to vote for him because the gays were coming. And then once he won re-election, he told the nation that he was going to privatize Social Security. This is entirely typical. The Republican Party is all about projection: they see voter fraud everywhere because they commit voter fraud. They see conspiracies everywhere, because they commit conspiracies. And they think the Democrats are always lying because their entire economic and foreign policy positions are based on lies.

If Clinton or Sanders is the next president, the Obama Hate Machine will just change to the Clinton or Sanders Hate Machine. Nothing substantial will change. There will just be new bits of their personal biographies that will prove that they truly want to destroy the country. It will continue on. Sure, Obama being black helped in a certain way. But there is lots of good material coming from a woman or a socialist. In fact, if the next Democratic president happened to be a black man, it might make their work harder. You can only claim that the president wants to destroy America because he’s black for so long. You have to come up with new narrative — new hokum to sell.

It’s not the Obama Hate Machine; it’s the Democratic Hate Machine. And the conservative base will continue to shell out money to fight it for as long as there are angry old white people.

Morning Music: David Gilmour

David GilmourWhen I was young, my favorite guitarist (by far) was David Gilmour. That was probably because he is one of the few lead guitar players who thinks in terms of melody. Most guitarists get too lost in scales and not much more. I believe after Roger Waters used his inner pain to banish all other songwriters from Pink Floyd, Gilmour was still given songwriting credit based purely on the basis of his guitar solos. See, for example, “Dogs” off a fairly unlovable album, Animals.

Here is David Gilmour with Richard Wright (who Waters threw out of the band — as you can see, I have a bit of an attitude toward Waters) performing “Comfortably Numb” off The Wall. It’s a great performance:

Anniversary Post: Dennis Rader and the BTK killer

Dennis Rader - BTK KillerOn this day in 1974, Dennis Rader (known as the BTK killer — “BTK” standing for “bind, torture, kill”) started his string of murders with the Otero family. He tortured them and then killed them. He’s a classic psychopath. In total, he killed ten people. The authorities in Kansas searched desperately for any other murders he might have been guilty of, hoping that one of them might have been after Kansas had enacted the death penalty, so they could kill him.

I understand this. It would be hard to feel too bad for this guy if he were killed. Just the same, he’s a classic example of what I think of as a grizzly bear murderer. It’s just what he does. What was done to him seems appropriate: put him in jail for the rest of his life so that he couldn’t hurt anyone else. I still don’t quite understand a society that thinks that sinking to the level of its worst individuals is a good idea.

One interesting thing about the BTK killer is that from 1974 through 1988 — the time during which he committed 9 of his 10 murders — he worked as an installer for ADT Security Services in Wichita. A lot of the people getting ADT installed were doing so because of their fear of the BTK killer. I don’t know if he ever killed anyone who had an ADT system installed. I do know that they are mostly useless.

He had a wife and two kids. He had been elected president of the council of his local Christ Lutheran Church. He was a Cub Scott leader. And he didn’t seem to have a problem getting or keeping jobs. None of this surprises me. I think that psychopaths are really in a much better position in this regard than normal people. I’ve often noticed in business how total idiots — incompetent in their work — are rewarded because they are so confident.

It seems natural that the United States would have far more than its fair share of serial killers. We are that kind of country. In a fundamental way, we love psychopaths. Sure, we would prefer that they didn’t kill and torture people. But other than that, the BTK killer was kind of the perfect American. It’s no wonder they are so hard to find. In fact, the BTK killer would never have been caught if he hadn’t decided he wanted to get attention long after he had stopped killing. He should have focused his efforts on teaching Sunday School instead.