Monday, July 12, 2010

A Society of Alphas

My first impression of my dormmates at Brown was that most of them seemed to be rather closed and not inclusive. By the time 10 minutes had passed in our class, though, my impression had been changed. There are some amazing people in that class. Most voiced their opinions with confidence, and even the people who said they were shy didn't seem shy at all. I was expecting that in the back of my mind, but it still interested me to see that happen. Our discussions sometimes morphed into small debates, and I imagined that if any really controversial topic was brought up, the classroom would probably explode from the intensity of the arguments and our passion for the discussion. 

I love the professor, too. Her style is very fun but she provokes deep thought. The class is quite small, only 23 students, and we connect a lot through the discussions and various community-building activities.
Watson Institute, where our class meets
All the leaders in the same classroom and the potential disaster (or the wonderful sharing of diverse views) reminded me of the novel A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In the novel, human beings are manufactured and manipulated to a specific mental and physical level. The ones optimized for intelligence and physical health are called Alphas. A character in the novel argues that "a society of Alphas couldn't fail to be unstable and miserable" because they would all want to be leaders and do work that would contribute meaningfully to the rest of the community. Nobody would want to do minimum-wage work that didn't engage very much of the mind. I'm not sure if I agree with that, but the issue is complicated within the novel and even outside it when applied to our world.

The reading homework made the point that even the people traditionally thought of as "followers" can be leaders too, without being the leader. Active "followership" is important in a group, and is necessary for leadership. Leaders must know how to step back when it's necessary. So a society of Alphas would probably be smart enough to know to participate when necessary and respect the leader. They could rotate with the less engaging jobs, and everyone would be relatively happy.
The outside of our dorm, Harkness
Selene and Lupe enjoying themselves
To end the day, the entire Leadership Institute split up into the separate classes again and did an activity called North/South/East/West. This activity was meant to open our eyes to the different techniques that we have naturally using to lead ourselves and others in different situations. It definitely opened my eyes. I thought that my attitude would stay the same throughout the many scenarios presented to us, but it didn't. That's valuable information and I will remember that.
Thayer Street: like Telegraph Ave. but in Providence
Initially, I identified myself as a "West" person, which means that I often get caught up in the details of a project and forget about the big picture or the original goal. I feel that sometimes that's true, but not all the time, depending on the scenario. I learned that I need to develop my confidence and my delegation skills. I would also like to get tasks done more efficiently and be more goal-oriented. Especially when I'm with a group, I need to be on task and organized, but not obsess over the little things.


  1. Irene,

    I've been around this class for several years now and every year I'm more fascinated than I was the previous year. I would love to see a class like this taught in our DIstrict not only where the women can learn things but the men as well. We could start it out by keeping the sexes segregated and then finding a way to merge them together and see how they can integrate themselves so there's some equality between the sexes. What are your thoughts on this?

    You, like the rest of our Brownies, are pretty smart young ladies so what do you think it means when every one of you is having your minds opened so broadly on just the first day of class?

    I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on 'active followership'. This is a novel concept for me and demands further investigation and discussion. I'm not sure that Huxley is all wrong, though, about the inability of these Alphas to be willing to perform tasks that they might feel are beneath them. We see this played out in real life all too often.

  2. I'm not sure that we can even do that legally within a public school district unless it's reproductive health or something along those lines. Can we?

    Plus, I feel that dividing people based on the assumption that there are two genders and only two genders would alienate people who present as ambiguous or the different gender than the sex they were born with. I do think that a college-level, in-depth leadership course would be beneficial to all students in WCCUSD. Our current leadership classes (as far as I know) and student governments can *sometimes* lose focus on the ways to improve leadership efficiency and coalition building, and instead function through some students' popularity. The priority should be to bring back real social responsibility into our leadership classes.