Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers talks of the need to devote 10,000 hours to any activity to become really good at it. He’s talking, of course, about violinists and chess masters, people who stand out, but it struck me the other day, looking back over my life since 1988, that I have 10,000 hours of reading in the bank, or an average of an hour a day during that time. That does not count the hours spent writing on this blog these last eight years, a form of self-guided learning. That’s more time than I spent studying in college.

It does not begin to equate to the number of hours I spent in classrooms, however. Most of that classroom time was spent absorbing material that I would later have to recite back on a test before permanently forgetting it. How that qualifies as “education” – I haven’t a clue.

Looking back at my graduation from college, I am embarrassed at how little I learned. True, I passed the CPA exam, but on-the-job training is where that expertise comes from. I could have skipped most of college. Everything I know I learned since. There was very little learned in school that was truly useful later on.

My wife’s son runs a small business with quite a few employees. I asked him about the value of a college degree in his hiring practices. He didn’t think there was much value except for this: A person with a college degree can undertake a large project and see it through to the end. But honestly, there’s got to be better, cheaper ways of attaining that end than those thousands of hours wasted in classrooms. Can we not find a more visionary rite of passage into adult life?

It is our self-guided learning that matters most, because it is driven by interest. We tend to remember it. In my case, The lessons I had absorbed in sixteen years of classroom learning were those most Americans learn: Religious faith, false history, some numbers, some literature … drawing a blank here. What did I do all those years?

Let’s see: In college I studied …

  • statistics for three semesters. I cannot tell you a thing about it.
  • I studied marketing, but didn’t learn how it is really done, as no one will ever admit they deceive for a living.
  • I studied governmental accounting, and during that semester fell for a really hot girl. What I remember from that class: Betsy.
  • From my college history courses I remember some tidbits, like the type of landing craft used on D-Day, the first American victory in World War II at Al Alamein.
  • Dr. Aaron Small and Shorty Alterowitz, two professors at Eastern Montana College, left a positive lasting impression. They were really smart guys who seemed to like students – they brought some passion to the game.
  • A non-teacher came in and taught a course on insurance and investments, and his stuff stuck with me because it was counter-intuitive. He taught me the life insurance game, indeed a con game. That was a really useful information when I later encountered “experts.” That’s how I learned about snake oil.
  • Real estate – again, non-teachers taught the course, and they were all about closing deals, getting people to commit to borrowing large amounts of cash and thereby turning six percent over to them. The teacher, J. Cody Montalban, was a rich and eccentric character. He did not play it straight, and I really liked him. He died young.

That paragraph above, 233 words, is all that comes to mind as I think back on four years of post-secondary education. There’s more, but I’d have to work at it. Oh yeah: Randy Howard, accounting professor, was considered an excellent teacher because he laid out information in such an organized manner that you could remember it when tested. Mostly, though, here merely brought some humor to the dreary profession. He made a risqué joke one day about early withdrawals. I remember that.

Born in 1950, entered school in 1956, but it was not until 1988 that I started my own education, the self-guided type, following my real interests. It wasn’t an organized program of learning. I did not know the final objective. But I was interested. That year was the 25th anniversary of the death of JFK. I thought I might just solve that crime. I had done well in school, so thought I was able. So I asked the question.

Here’s what it has taken 10,000 hours and 25 years to understand: All of our glorified institutions, including our courts, law enforcement and news media, formed a circle around the criminals who committed the murder of JFK, and protected them. They are still doing so to this day. They do so in an instinctual manner, fulfilling their true function.

Every institution in our land has both a stated function and a real function. The real function is usually so seedy that it is not discussed, even privately. For example, the FBI acts as political police, CIA as professional murderers. Both are charged with watching the population, ferreting out and undermining democratic movements, murdering the leaders if necessary. It’s not just that one murder that one day. Thousands of people have been killed in every way imaginable, from poison to heart attacks to cancer to downed planes to car wrecks to gunshots in an open plaza … god it’s disgusting. Murder, murder everywhere, Michael Hastings recently, for example. And just as with JFK, people know instinctively not to ask questions. Another cover-up.

If it were that one crime … but and it crosses all affairs of our glorious state. Everything about us is a lie.

Nothing changed on that day, 11/22/63. Had the crime been carried out as planned, had Lee Harvey Oswald been murdered by JD Tippet so that he never have uttered those four words “I’m just a patsy”, had not John Connally also been shot, we would not know as much as we do about that day. They bungled the job. The cleanup and coverup have been operations of brute force. Part of our patriotism now demands that we believe the impossible, the Magic Bullet, 2+2=5. Our leaders and institutions were left naked before us that day … for eyes that can see.

JFK does not matter. No matter his glorious intent, one way or another he would have been thwarted. He was just a man, and a deeply flawed one at that. But asking the question – who killed him – leads to other questions leads to answers and more questions, and finally, enlightenment.

Since I know that no others are going to take my journey, I’ll slip you the answer: The United States of America is a totalitarian state hidden behind the thinnest veil of democracy imaginable. In order to maintain the illusion of democracy, the bulk of the population has to be kept in a state of unenlightened patriotism, or deep indoctrination.

That’s what formal education does for us; that is its primary function. It keeps us willfully blind an unknowingly stupid. News and entertainment follow up in our post-education years to reinforce the blindness and stupidity. Teachers, journalists, cops, judges … all of them have to buy into the system and be as stupid and blind as the rest of us. Any who are enlightened are soon jettisoned. Or disgraced. Or murdered.

When I left college with a decent GPA and hours of study and classrooms behind me, the best words that described me were blind and stupid. Formal education had worked its magic on me.

Twenty-five years, 10,000 hours made me an outlier. I overcame my education; I learned things. I asked the question.

3 thoughts on “Outliers

  1. Ever notice how hard it is to strike up a coherent conversation between an outlier and most group-gropers? Is it FUBAR? A game show format might have broader appeal. “Guess the Pathology!” You’ve got 30-seconds to tell us “what you’ve got?” Yes, I appropriated the idea from an old Firesign Theatre album, so all you tm/copywrite rent-a-cops can relax, or not.

    Seriously, though, I just reserved a small meeting room at the Bozeman Public Library for December 22, 7-9 pm to host a non-partisan political conversation about the 2014 election, and possible alternatives to the status quo. All are welcome. Please be prepared to discuss new alternatives as individuals. No party talking points, please.

    Possible agenda items:
    1) Living wage.
    2) Demilitarize local police force(s).


    1. Funny thing Steve, though timing may not work. Our friend George Cole passed away and we are going there for his memorial on 12/20. Would it not be great if we could make your meeting, but proximity to Xmas and weather could be a problem.


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