You're welcome. I'll bill you later...


I really have to get out of this Liberal Arts racket and into the more highly-renumerated world of management consulting.  You know, the place where 'old-as-dirt' Liberal Arts ideas go to be reborn, repackaged and resold to the private sector.  Case in point: the "executive coach" and management consultant Ira Chaleff, author of Standing Up To and For Our Leaders (now in its third edition) and Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You're Told to Do is Wrong.  

Chaleff is paid to tell MBA programs teaching leadership that--wait for it--leadership needs followers.  More importantly, he stresses the value of followers doing the right thing in the face of pressures to do wrong.  And where did Chaleff gain this deep insight?  Here, I'll let him tell it:
The idea comes from the world of guide dogs.  One of the things guide dogs are taught to do is called a counterpull.  If the leader is about to step off a train platform, for example, they pull in the opposite direction.  Now think of human organizations, whether companies, schools or police forces.  The best followers--and they tend to be very senior--know when to pull the leader back from the edge.
Yep, guide dogs.  What a novel idea. 

I mean you would never find any ideas like this in texts like Plato's Apology and Crito, Thoreau's Civil Disobedience or Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  Or, what the hay?  How about Huck Finn, The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass or A Room of One's Own? 

Nearly every semester I find myself patiently pointing out to students the distinction between horizontal and vertical critical thinking.  Horizontal critical thinking is practical and concerned with How do we do X?  How do we get the infection rate down?  How do we increase our market share?  How do we raise our profit margins?  Vertical critical thinking, on the other hand, tends to question unquestioned assumptions: Is it morally right for us to fatten our profits by figuring out cute pretexts for denying the insurance claims of gravely-ill people?  

HeckEnron and the Third Reich had some of the best horizontal critical thinkers on the planet.  How do we "arbitrage" obscene profits by rigging the California energy market?  How do we dispose of millions of bodies?  The problem wasn't an inability to think horizontally.  They were geniuses at that kind of thinking.  The problem was an inability to exercise some self-awareness and moral courage. Or to put it in consultant speak: "meta-cognition and counterpull."

I'm done justifying the Liberal Arts to the private sector.  It's useless.  Let's just periodically rename what we do and start charging consultant fees instead of tuition. 

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