Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Culpable Priors

A recurring series of posts in which Ross hears something in Ballroom class, and decides to blog about how it's actually general life advice. This is the first.

Today, in Harvard Ballroom's Wintersession series, the advanced class was doing Waltz. The only thing you need to know about Waltz to read this post is that steps come in repeating sets of three:

  1. drive (forward)
  2. swing/rise/shape
  3. float/lower/prepare

Our instructor had this to say about what to fix when things go wrong:

...And here's the thing: Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some people have strong drive, but problems with float. Others have problems with swing. But remember this: If a step feels bad, the problem is with the previous step.

If you have problems with float, it's probably because your swing left you off balance. If you can't drive, it's probably because you didn't lower out of your float in time...

And I think that there's a bit of this that makes good sense in general, in a pattern I'll dub the Law of the Culpable Prior: If you see a problem in a thing, look for the real problem in the thing that came before it:

  • If there's a financial crisis...look at the economic policies that were instituted three-to-five years ago.

  • If Millenials are whiny, fragile, entitled, and unmotivated...look at the Millenials-parents generation. (I'd link to an appropriate editorial, but, like everything else including the word "Millenial", you can pretty much extrapolate the entire text from the title and your imagination.)

  • If a student -- or a discrete subset of students -- is doing poorly at grade level [N]...look at their educational experiences in years [N-k], for all [k]<[N].

  • Similarly, if there are already fewer [persons A] in [field B] by high school...look at the experiences of [A] in [B] in middle school. (sim. ...middle school...elementary school.)

  • If someone has truly toxic ideas about [issue]...look at the ideological environment they're coming from.

In fact, I like this last one a lot; I think it bears a few variations-on-the-theme:

  • If you want to discover someone's inner ideological leanings...look at how they differ from their friends, not how they differ from you.

  • If you want to understand a blogger...diff them against the aggregate-sum of their blogroll. (Cursory introspection reveals that I'm...intentionally-naive and lean ever so slightly conservative? My close friends shouldn't be surprised.)

  • Read history of philosophy backwards.

  • If someone explains how they have reservations supporting ideological position [X]...look at what (bad) experiences they've had with (things that could be mistaken for) [X]. (I'm making an oblique reference to a particular recent controversy here, just smile and nod if it goes over your head.)