“Men would be Angels,
Angels would be Gods.
Aspiring to be Angels
If Angels fell,
Aspiring to be Angels
“An Essay on Man” Alexander Pope, 1733-34
Children are gods, according to Van Jones? Geniuses and walking superpowers, to boot? Well, apparently, Van Jones, the Super Genius, doesn’t read Scientific American. And if he doesn’t, his progeny certainly don’t.
Three years ago, this month, SciAm published an article entitled, “White Matter Matters.” White matter versus gray matter, not white skin versus other skin. “Gray matter,” author R. Douglas Fields writes, “the stuff between your ears…is where mental computation takes places and memories are storied. This cortex is the ‘topsoil’ of the brain; it is composed of densely-packed neuronal cell bodies-the decision-making parts of neuron (nerve cells).”
But underneath it is a huge complex of “white matter” that takes up nearly half the human brain – greater than the percentage found in the brains of other animals.
“White matter is composed of millions of communications cables,” Fields writes, “each containing a long, individual wire, or axon, coated with a white, fatty substance called myelin. This white cabling connects neurons in one region of the brain with those in other regions.”
For decades, scientists discounted the importance of myelin, regarding it as little more than insulation. Learning and memory were considered functions of the neurons and the synapses, the tiny contact points between the neurons. But lately, scientists have been reconsidering the importance of myelin in the transformation of information among brain regions.
“New studies show that the extent of white matter varies in people who have different mental experiences or who have certain dysfunctions,” says the author. “It also changes within a person’s brain as they learn or practice a skill such as laying the piano.”
Gray matter may execute mental and physical activities, but white matter may be just as critical to mastering mental and social skills, as well as why it is as hard for old dogs to learn new tricks – or young dogs to know what to do with the tricks they’ve learned.
“Nerve impulses race down axons on the order of 100 times faster when they are coated with myelin, which is glued onto axons somewhat like electrical tape, wrapped up to 150 times between every node.” Without myelin, the signal leaks, just as in telephone wires, and dissipates.
The big “but” is that it takes experience, practice if you will, for this myelin coating to be laid down. Our brains are better able to do this when we’re younger than when we’re older. But until that time and experience is settled, we’re just not all that smart. The last place myelin is laid down is in the frontal lobes, where higher-level reasoning, planning and judgment take place.
“Skills,” Fields writes, “that only come with experience. Researchers have speculated that skimpy fore-brain myelin is one reason that teenagers do not have adult decision-making abilities. Such observations suggest that myelin – white matter – is important to intelligence.”
The study also found that concert pianists had very high levels of myelin and that the more hours a day they practice over time, the stronger the signals were in the white matter tracts. “The axons were more heavily myelinated or tightly packed.”
“Rules for Radicals” author Saul Alinsky had pretty much the same opinion of youth. In the very opening paragraph of the prologue of his book, he wrote, “The revolutionary force of today [the book was written in 1971] has two targets, moral as well as material. Its young protagonists are one moment reminiscent of the early Christians, yet they also urge violence and cry, ‘Burn the system down!’ They have no illusions about the system but they have plenty of illusions about the way to change our world. The failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous.”
By the time “Rules” came out (it was preceded by another book, “Reveille for Radicals”), Alinsky was well over 30 – he was 62 – and writing to the generation that would teach the Van Jones and Barack Obama generation. They listened to Alinsky, but only after their brains had reached maturity. Their own students were – and are – still essentially Lenin's "useful idiots," mouthing Sixties platitudes and threatening violence to people who don’t agree with them.
As a communicator, Alinsky was right on many points. Community organizers have to know the community they’re organizing. But what speechwriter hasn’t known that? He had the audacity to quote the Founding Fathers to further his arguments. He makes no bones about using dirty tricks to further his cause of redistributing the wealth, including ridicule and mockery.
However, Alinsky underestimated Conservatives greatly if he didn’t think we had the capability to use the same tactics. What we didn’t have, at least until the Age of Rush, was a microphone. When I helped my local Tea Party organized, I used many of the same principles in “Rules for Radicals,” a book I only just read this week.
Alinsky gets more horrible as you get to the end. The mercy is the book is just under 200 pages and filled with nothing you didn’t know already or don’t have the ability to do – and better. The difference is in philosophy. Alinsky meant for his students to read this book and become teachers themselves, organizing and cajoling their witless charges to follow them into battle, rational, calm, although totally wrong. They would do it with confidence, though, Alinsky cautioned, if they followed his advice. They would win.
One telling anecdote reveals Alinsky’s true nature (that, and his dedication to Lucifer” “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment … to the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom – Lucifer”).
In organizing a black, ghetto community in Rochester, N.Y., one of his suggestions was to give the upper-class community mud in the eye by disrupting a Rochester Symphony Orchestra concert. They would invite one hundred black people to a dinner and the concert, with beans as the main fare. He pictures the scene for us, but admits they would have to sort of force-feed the blacks this meal because some of the black might balk at doing something so ostentatiously rude and embarrass themselves in the process and in the eye of the better-bred society.
Alinsky goes on to say that his organization’s merely planting rumors of such a debacle was enough to force the city fathers to rethink their attitudes about the ghettos. They did try such tactics in other cities and in corporations to great effect, intimidating shoppers into not crossing the picket line of one store and shop at another, rather than calling a mass strike on all the stores in the city, wreaking economic havoc on the stricken store.
The Wisconsin Senate’s actions are straight out of Alinsky’s playbook. If Gov. Walker wants his budget passed – and it is a law (“hang them up by their own rules,” Alinsky wrote) that it must be – at least one Democrat must be present in order to hold the vote. If they don’t hold the vote, the senators and even the governor can be recalled, and in fact, recall efforts are in motion. That is why the Republicans have been brought to kneel down before the Democrats.
There are enough Alinsky-taught Liberals with enough developed gray and white matter to think up and continue such Machiavellian schemes, enough Mainstream Media with enough gray matter to carry the message, and enough followers with little or no white matter to make sure it succeeds. And enough backers like George Soros with enough green matter to back them up in their efforts.
We Conservatives, older and wiser, have enough white matter to laugh at the notion that young people are gods, or even cupids. They’re more like brownies, those malicious, brainless sprites of olde who enjoy destruction and chaos.
I’m older now and they say it’s harder to learn new tricks when you’re older. But I didn’t learn all my tricks when I was old; I learned them when I was young, quite young, from my parents, and they’re well-ingrained, thank you very much, with those 150 wrappings of electrical tape. So is Rush Limbaugh’s, among others, and Rush has young followers. If Alinsky thought he was going to seduce the Middle Class - whom he denigrated in every possible way (what business was it of his if we preferred to tend our gardens to bombing buildings?) - he reckoned wrong. Incidentally, since when are teachers, who often have Master's degrees, blue collar workers?
Not all the children of the Sixties wore flowers in their hair or the peace sign around their necks. Some of us just watched, biding our time, which has come.