Flowerboxing: Ending the willfully negligent destruction of 98% of all human capital.

Two of my favorite people, my wife, Cathleen Collins, and my nephew, Sebastian Brannum.

On the day my nephew, Sebastian, was born, we played a game together. Not much of a game, obviously: I would stick out my tongue, and then Sebastian would stick out his tongue. And then I would stick out my tongue again, and he his – and so on like that for about five minutes. Eighteen hours after he had scrambled his way out of my niece, Maddie, he intentionally played a game of voluntary muscle control – for fun!

I knew this was possible. I’ve taught very young children lingual fun – like ‘raspberries’ – for decades. I was lucky to get to meet Sebastian on the day he was born, and I was lucky to get to hold him when he was awake, fed, clean, dry and bored – psyched for some of that hurly-burly extra-uterine action. But any normal infant should be ready and eager to learn how to have fun from Day One.

If you’re looking for human equality, go to the nursery. Infants have got reptile brain stuff going on, lots of it, as do all owners of a reptile brain. And they are as much mammals as any clowder of suckling kittens. But that thinking brain up front is empty at first, and everything that ends up in there requires exposure, experience and effort.

Do you see? If tabula rasa implies that you taught yourself how to sweat, then it’s a joke – and claims about further fruits of the autonomous nervous system have been used to undermine the thinking brain for centuries. But if the blank slatists are willing to concede that all higher organisms are born with amazing abilities that are not derived from that individual animal’s own exposure, experience and effort, it’s easy enough to make a strong case for tabula rasa in the thinking brain.

That matters to me, because the implication is that the success or failure at ratiocination, for a particular human being, is the result of cultivation and effort, not talent or superior mental prowess. We are all of us born equal into the nursery – but only a rare few of us are ever permitted to escape from that imprisoning womb.

Here’s a way of thinking about this:

In a square flower box, you plant 100 seeds, ten rows by ten columns in good Hellenic order. A cool, dry space, good moist soil, steady, reliable light – even though that’s not really needed yet.

Your seedlings come up in good order, first just a few, then almost all the rest all at once, then a few stragglers, but all 100 plants emerge into the light within two days of each other.

They grow that way, too, apace – a few a little taller, a few a little shorter, the rest seemingly identical – with all of them hale, healthy and thriving.

It’s when they flower that you really kick into action. Were you a farmer, you would prize them all: They’re all perfect. But you are a horticulturist, so you replant the two flowers that seem to you to best exhibit the particular characteristics you’re looking for.

What happens to the rest? Not even a merciful extermination, just no more water, no more light, and soon enough no more life. You sowed 100 seeds but you reaped only two fully-cultivated plants, with the rest left to wither and die.

That’s what we do to our children. We idealize the highly-Cautious INTJ nerd as the paragon of humanity, and then we steadily ignore the cultivation of all children who do not fit into that tight little box. We palliate the Incandescents with pageantry and the Sociables with socials – and we drug the drive right out of the Driven – but the only children who are encouraged to master the thinking brain are the lucky 2% who look, talk and act just like their professors, with all the rest of this incalculable wealth in human capital left to wilt and wither.

That’s a mistake of some consequence, but, fortunately, we’ve only been making it forever.

I know how to fix this, and fix it in a way that will enrich all of us fifty times faster – since we’re wasting 98% of our potential. Cultivation is expectation, so simply ceasing to excuse easy failure will make a huge difference in short order. Meanwhile, usus est magister optimus – practice is the best teacher. If there actually is such a thing as talent, it only matters among competitors who are already masters of technique. Talent is what lazy people call the results of hard work.

There’s lots more we could talk about, but that won’t matter much if it’s only me who believes in the farmer’s evaluation – they’re all perfect! – and not the professoriate’s bizarre ideal of a clinically-asexual reproduction-by-proxy.

So what can you do? Start by sticking out your tongue. See who salutes. Follow up with me when you’re finally ready to permit human beings to thrive as human beings.

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