"Is it progress if a cannibal uses a knife and fork?"
(The following essay begins with a lengthy excerpt from Harvard Professor James Loewen's book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong." http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684818868/qid=1071766543/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/102-9431536-2577715)
"Throughout the Vietnam War, pollsters were constantly asking the American people whether they wanted to bring our troops home. At first, only a small fraction of Americans favored withdrawal. Toward the end of the war, a large majority wanted us to pull out.
Not only did Gallup, Roper, the National Opinion Research Center, and other organizations ask Americans about the war, they also inquired about background variables -- sex, education, region, and the like -- so they could find out which kinds of people were most hawkish (prowar), and which most dovish.
Over ten years I have asked more than a thousand undergraduates and several hundred non-students their beliefs about what kind of adults, by educational level, supported the war in Vietnam. I ask students to fill out a chart giving the percentage of polled Americans who were in favor of withdrawal of U.S. troops (Doves), and also giving the percentage of Americans against withdrawal (Hawks). These two percentages were positioned along the vertical axis of the chart while College Education, High School Education and Grade School Education were the three categories occupying the horizontal axis.
The result is a chart containing 6 "boxes" --- three "boxes" on each of two lines. The total for each vertical column of boxes must total 100%, just as the 1971 surveys (which I used for comparison) had totals amounting to 100%. In 1971, 73% of the population was dovish, 27% hawk --- a total of 100%.
By an overwhelming margin - almost 10 to 1 - my audiences believe that college-educated persons were more dovish. I ask these audiences to assume that their tables are correct - that the results of the original survey in fact correspond to what they've guessed - and to state at least two reasonable hypotheses to explain these results. Their most common responses are the following:
1.) Educated people are more informed and critical, hence more able to sift through misinformation and conclude that the Vietnam War was not in our best interests, politically or morally.
2.) Educated people are more tolerant. There were elements of racism and ethnocentrism in our conduct of the war; educated people are less likely to accept such prejudice....
There is nothing surprising here. Most people feel that schooling is a good thing and enables us to sift facts, weigh evidence, and think rationally. An educated people has been said to be a bulwark of democracy.
However, the truth is quite different. Educated people disproportionately supported the Vietnam War.
The people I have polled in recent years assumed that 90% of Americans with a College Education would have expressed opposition to the war in 1971; that 75% of Americans with a High School education would have opposed the war in that same year; and that 60% of people with a Grade School Education would have been in opposition.
In fact, 60% of Americans with a College Education opposed the war in 1971; 75% of Americans with a high school education opposed the war in 1971; and 80% of Americans with a Grade School education opposed the war in 1971.
These results surprise even some professional social scientists.
If you look at other polls taken throughout the course of the Vietnam War, you'll see that the grade-school educated were ALWAYS the most dovish, the college-educated ALWAYS the most hawkish.
Today most Americans agree that the Vietnam War was a mistake, politically and morally; so do most political analysts, including such men as Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford who waged the war. If we concur with this now conventional wisdom, then we must concede that the more educated a person was, the more likely s/he was to be wrong about the war.
My audiences are keen to learn why educated Americans were more hawkish. Two social processes, each tied to schooling, can account for educated Americans' support of the Vietnam War. The first can be summarized by the term allegiance. Educated adults tend to be successful and earn high incomes -- partly because schooling leads to better jobs and higher incomes, but mainly because high parental incomes lead to more education for their offspring. Also, parents transmit affluence and education directly to their children. Successful Americans do not usually lay their success at their parents' doorstep, however. They usually explain their accomplishments as owing to their own individual characteristics, so they see American society as meritocratic. They achieved their own success; other people must be getting their just desserts. Believing that American society is open to individual input, the educated well-to-do tend to agree with society's decisions and feel they had a hand in forming them. They identify more with our society and its policies. We can use the term "vested interest" here, so long as we realize we are referring to an ideological interest or need, a need to come to terms with the privilege with which one has been blessed, not simple economic self-interest. In this sense, educated successful people have a vested interest in believing that the society that helped them be educated and successful is fair. As a result, those in the upper third of our educational and income structure are more likely to show allegiance to society, while those in the lower third are more likely to be critical of it.
The other process causing educated adults to be more likely to support the Vietnam War can be summarized under the rubric socialization. Sociologists have long agreed that schools are important socializing agents in our society. "Socializing" in this context does not mean hobnobbing around a punch bowl but refers to the process of learning and internalizing the basic social rules -- language, norms, etiquette -- necessary for an individual to function in society. Socialization is not primarily cognitive. We are not persuaded rationally not to pee in the living room, we are required not to. We then internalize and obey this rule even when no authority figure lurks to enforce it. Teachers may try to convince themselves that education's main function is to promote inquiry, not iconography, but in fact the socialization function of schooling remains dominant at least through high school and hardly disappears in college. Education as socialization tells people what to think and how to act and requires them to conform. Education as socialization influences students simply to accept the rightness of our society. American history textbooks overtly tell us to be proud of America. The more schooling, the more socialization, and the more likely the individual will conclude that America is good.
Both the allegiance and socialization processes cause the educated to believe that what America does is right. Public opinion polls show the non-thinking results. In late spring 1966, just before we began bombing Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam, Americans split 50/50 as to whether we should bomb these targets. After the bombing began, 85 percent favored the bombing while only 15 percent opposed. The sudden shift was the result, not the cause, of the government's decision to bomb. The same allegiance and socialization processes operated again when policy changed in the opposite direction. In 1968 war sentiment was waning; but 51 percent of Americans opposed a bombing halt, partly because the United States was still bombing North Vietnam. A month later, after President Johnson announced a bombing halt, 71 percent favored the halt. Thus 23 percent of our citizens changed their minds within a month, mirroring the shift in government policy. This swaying of thought by policy affects attitudes on issues ranging from our space program to environmental policy... Educated people are over represented among these straws in the wind.
We like to think of education as a mix of thoughtful learning processes. Allegiance and socialization, however, are intrinsic to the role of schooling in our society or any hierarchical society. Socialist leaders such as Fidel Castro and Mao Tse-tung vastly extended schooling in Cuba and China in part because they knew than an educated people is a socialized populace and a bulwark of allegiance. Education works the same way here: it encourages students not to think about society but merely to trust that it is good. To the degree that American history in particular is celebratory, it offers no way to understand any problem -- such as the Vietnam War, poverty, inequality, international haves and have-nots, environmental degradation, or changing sex roles -- that has historical roots. Therefore we might expect that the more traditional schooling in history that Americans have, the less they will understand Vietnam or any other historically based problem. This is why educated people were more hawkish on the Vietnam War.
Why have well-educated audiences been so wrong in remembering or deducing who opposed the Vietnam War? One reason is that Americans like to believe that schooling is a good thing. Most Americans tend to automatically to equate "educated" with "informed" or "tolerant." Traditional purveyors of social studies and American history seize upon precisely this belief to rationalize their enterprise, claiming that history courses lead to a more enlightened citizenry. The Vietnam exercise suggests the opposite is more likely true.
Audiences would not have been so easily fooled if they had only recalled that educated people were (and are) more likely to be Republicans, while high school dropouts are more likely to be Democrats. Hawkish right-wing Republicans, including the core supporters of Barry Goldwater in 1964, of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and of groups like the John Birch Society, come disproportionately form the most educated and affluent segments of our society, particularly dentists and physicians. So we should not be surprised that education correlates with hawkishness. At the other end of the social status spectrum, although most African Americans, like most whites, initially supported U.S. intervention in Vietnam, blacks were always more questioning and more dovish than whites, and African American leaders -- Muhammed Ali, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X -- were prominent among the early opponents of the war.
American history textbooks help perpetrate the archetype of the blindly patriotic hard-hat by omitting or understating progressive elements in the working class. Textbooks do not reveal that CIO unions and some working-class fraternal associations were open to all when many chambers of commerce and country clubs were still white-only. Few textbooks tell of organized labor's role in the civil rights movement, including the 1963 March on Washington. Nevertheless many members of my audiences are aware that educated Americans are likely to be Republicans, hard-liners on defense, and right-wing extremists. Some members of my audiences know about Goldwater voters, Muhammed Ali's induction refusal, Birchers and education, or labor unions and the war --- information that would have helped them "fill in the blanks" correctly. Somehow, though, they never think to apply such knowledge. Most people fill out the table in a daze without ever using what they know. Their education and their position in society cause them not to think.
Such non-thinking occurs most commonly when society is the subject. "One of the major duties of an American citizen is to analyze issues and interpret events intelligently," "Discovering American History" exhorts students. ("Discovering American History" is one of a dozen high school textbooks which Loewen examined as the basis of "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.") Our textbooks fail miserably at this task (of teaching us how to "analyze and interpret events intelligently".)
The Vietnam exercise shows how bad the situation really is. Most college students, even high school students, would never put up with such obvious contradictions when thinking about, say, chemistry. When the subject is the social world, however, they are often guilty of nonsensical reasoning. Sociology professors are amazed and depressed at the level of thinking about society displayed each fall by the upper-middle-class students entering their first year classes. These students cannot use the past to illuminate the present and have no inkling of causation in history, so they cannot think coherently about social life. Extending the terminology of Jules Henry, we might use "social stupidity" to describe the illogical intellectual process and conclusions that result.
Students who have taken more mathematics courses are more proficient at math than other students. The same is true in English, foreign language and almost every other subject.
Only in history is stupidity the result of more, not less, schooling. Why do students buy into the mindless "analysis" they encounter in American history courses? For some students, it is in their ideological interest. Upper-middle-class students are comforted by a view of society that emphasizes schooling as the solution to intolerance, poverty, even perhaps war. Such a rosy view of education and its effects lets them avoid considering the need to make major changes in other institutions. To the degree that this view permeates our society, students automatically think well of education and expect the educated to have seen through the Vietnam War.
Moreover, thinking well of education reinforces the ideology we might call American individualism. It leaves intact the archetypal image of a society marked by or at least striving toward equality of opportunity. Yet precisely to the extent that students believe that equality of opportunity exists, they are encouraged to blame the uneducated for being poor, just as my audiences blamed them for being hawks on the ware in Vietnam. Americans who are not poor find American individualism a satisfying ideology, for it explains their success in life by laying it at their own doorstep. This enables them to feel proud of their success, even if it is modest, rather than somehow ashamed of it. Crediting success to their position in social structure threatens those good feelings. It is much more gratifying to believe that their educational attainments and occupational successes result from ambition and hard work - that their privilege has been earned. To a considerable degree, working-class and lower-class Americans also adopt this prevailing ethic about society and schooling. Often working-class adults in dead-end jobs blame themselves, focusing on their own earlier failure to excel in school, and feel they are inferior in some basic way."
"One reason (for our belief in the essential goodness of America) is that Americans like to believe that schooling is a good thing. Most Americans tend to automatically equate "educated" with "informed" or "tolerant." (However,) hawkish right-wing Republicans, including the core supporters of Barry Goldwater in 1964, of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and of groups like the John Birch Society, come disproportionately from the most educated and affluent segments of our society, particularly dentists and physicians. So we should not be surprised that education correlates with hawkishness." James Loewen
Since Loewen focuses on American high school history textbooks, it's easy to assume that changing the way these books are written will remedy the deficiencies he highlights. However, compulsory government schooling has created such tremendous bias on behalf of "The Official Story" that it is virtually impossible to persuade America's "well-schooled" adults to adopt more "enlightened" textbooks since -- if textbooks provided equal-time "truth-telling" -- they would undermine most people's identity, purpose and sense-of-belonging.
Schooling is not designed to make people think except in technical, task-oriented, problem-solving ways. Examination of values (and the a priori debate over "first principles" which such examination requires) ultimately evokes questions of religious - or at least subjective - belief. Not surprisingly, any serious discussion of religious belief in the nation's schools is verboten. (See Yale professor Stephen Carter's "American Politics and the Trivialization of Religion."
Unable to discuss what is essential, we dither "on the periphery of the obvious" making minor technical adjustments while the thrust of America's secular religion goes unexamined.
The rubrics of America's secular religion are as real as the credos of more traditionally-defined religions. Furthermore, our secular credos are more powerful and more dangerous than "consciously-held belief systems" since their alleged "objectivity" --- their presumed "matter-of-factness" --- puts them beyond reproach and above criticism. Consequently, we have evolved a society of extraordinarily clever monkeys whose self-arrogated "enlightenment" prevents them from glimpsing the "unexamined lives" they live.
Says Loewen: "The Vietnam exercise shows how bad the situation really is. Most college students, even high school students, would never put up with such obvious contradictions when thinking about, say, chemistry. When the subject is the social world, however, they are often guilty of nonsensical reasoning."
Why do we tolerate such nonsense?
Why is technical brilliance coupled with social stupidity? (See Neil Postman: http://alanarchibald.homestead.com/Page3.html)
Technocracy validates intellectual rigor in the mathematically-based sciences, but dismisses discussion of "value systems" because the latter can not be quantitatively assessed. The essential credo of technocracy insists that "quantitative analysis" and "qualitative values" be kept in separate domains --- one public, the other private.
The upshot of this bifurcation is widespread belief in the "truthfulness" of "numbers" coupled with implicit denigration of belief systems that do not rely on numeric "proof."
However, the apodictic assertion that we can base our lives on "a-religious" principles denies the essential religiosity of all belief systems whether they encompass transcendent deity or not. (See Footnote 1)
"Religion" is any attempt to heal the existential rift that pierces the human condition like a seismic fault. In this regard, it is revealing that Buddhism is avowedly agnostic and Jainism avowedly atheistic, yet no one disputes the religiosity of these belief systems. By creating a false distinction between Almighty God and Almighty Dollar (to choose just two examples) "progressives" relinquish the only ground on which a stand can be made against the real religiosity that informs Golden Calf worship on Wall Street just as it did at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
No matter how diligently "scientific objectivity" tries to expunge axioms from "value systems", we remain, functionally, religious. Short of suicide, every human action is an essentially religious attempt to mend the innate breach in the human psyche, whether this attempt is made through meditation, politics, Judeo-Christian sacraments, science, sex, drugs, or rock-and-roll.
Once we abandon the puerile notion that religiosity depends on transcendent deity, we finally level the human playing field so that every core value is seen for what it is: 1.) a belief, and, 2.) an attempt to re-ligature the rift in the human psyche. (Revealingly, the word "re-ligion" derives from the Latin "re-ligare," meaning to "re-connect" or "re-ligature.")
It is not a matter of science, but a matter of belief that we reward people according to their intellectual performance and not according to their virtue. Admittedly, it is easier to quantify the former, but most people, in their daily lives, recognize the importance of virtue more readily than they recognize the importance of intellectual capability. Even if we could "prove" it is "better" to reward "intellectual competence" ahead of "virtue," we would soon embark a discussion concerning the dominion of experts and the buro-institutional erosion of democratic traditions, issues that are beyond the scope of this essay.)
The technocratic abhorence at "rewarding people according to virtue" argues on behalf of our ability to measure intellectual performance, whereas "virtue" occupies an unquantifiable domain inhabited by values that are construed as touchy-feely fuzzy-wuzzy.
However, in the course of our daily lives, whenever we have opportunity to compare people who are manifestly virtuous with functionaries whose competence is primarily technical, most folks - even technocratic functionaries - prefer the virtuous person.
Has "meritocracy" become a mechanism for rewarding (and controlling) those individuals dull enough to sit in state-designated seats long enough to receive (relatively) meaningless credentials, while depreciating people educated in the crucible of experience?
Although "the best and the brightest" routinely bungle things at the highest level of social engineering, "the world is run" -- as Harry Truman noted -- "by C students." Admittedly, such bureaucrats are highly-credentialed "C students." But why does our meritocracy deem these "formal achievers" worthy of disproportionate reward? (Linda Tripp, for example, was receiving a salary of $88,000.00 per year when she embarked her sordid tattle-taling on Monica Lewinsky.)
To cite Loewen: "Upper-middle-class students are comforted by a view of society that emphasizes schooling as the solution to intolerance, poverty, even perhaps war. Such a rosy view of education and its effects lets them avoid considering the need to make major changes in other institutions."
It is the college-educated and university-credentialed who -- in addition to being the keenest supporters of American belligerence -- keep the status quo in place.
Perhaps the most radical position staked out by Loewen is the relationship between American individualism and our "contempt for the poor" accompanied by simultaneous self-congratulation for "doing so much to help."
Says Loewen: "Thinking well of education reinforces the ideology we might call American individualism. It leaves intact the archetypal image of a society marked by or at least striving toward equality of opportunity. Yet precisely to the extent that students believe that equality of opportunity exists, they are encouraged to blame the uneducated for being poor, just as my audiences blamed them for being hawks on the ware in Vietnam. Americans who are not poor find American individualism a satisfying ideology, for it explains their success in life by laying it at their own doorstep."
Ultimately, community is at odds with rugged individualism. The individualistic urge "to own one of everything" "to take care of oneself" and, eventually, to retire to a gated community is inconsistent with community life inspired by the Common Good. All "the things" we value most are, ultimately, consolation prizes. We have these things - and want these things - because our regard for individualism diverts us from the requirements of healthy community on which all other Good depends.
Rugged individualism despoils the planet in the name of consumerism while isolating each "consumer unit" in a matrix of fear that is scarcely identifiable since this fear is the residue left behind by the destruction of community. The enveloping angst of the modern world is fear of "the void" and fear of "the abyss" --- in sum, the self-imposed terror of having no recourse other than ourselves.
Since 1967, when I could walk anywhere in Latin America - day or night - without fear of personal peril, the globalizing impact of American "culture" has 1.) dismantled the peasantry, 2.) vastly expanded the domain of open-sewer slums, and 3.) inculcated a generalized sense that "everyone is in it for themselves."
With the destruction of traditional societies, we have witnessed a meteoric rise in violence and a generalized collapse of confidence in personal security.
Recent opinion polls in Latin America identify "personal security" as the foremost social and political concern. In Colombia -- as in many parts of Mexico and Central America -- fear for personal security is more acute than anywhere on the planet. (This essay was written before 9-11.)
It is, of course, impossible to predict the future. However, it is certain that globalizing systems regard "market forces" as superior to the deliberate guidance of wisdom traditions.
The System, propelled by "the invisible hand of the marketplace," is "on automatic pilot" heading toward no chosen goal.
As Yogi Berra pointed out: "If you don't know where you're going, you probably won't get there."
Just before her death in 1998 - and with her nose already pressed hard against the glass of eternity - Meg Greenfield wrote:
"The system never was pretty. But it has become a lot less so in recent years. You almost never hear of a candidate's being selected because of positions anymore. Descriptions of the prospective president's or senator's or representative's or governor's leanings, ideas and record tend to be sketchy and vague. The candidate is "a moderate." The candidate is a devotee of the "middle way." But these definitions that leave out everything of substance, in the hope of producing an irresistible, one-size-fits-all candidacy. And in addition to the candidate's ability to raise money, you hear a great deal about what the candidate's polls show. With luck you will have got yourself a prodigious fund-provider (either the candidate's own money or that of lavish contributors) and a sure winner. The rest will take care of itself. Because these two indispensable qualities come most reliably with celebrities and very, very rich people, you will likely end up with more of both as officeholders, as is already happening.
I don't have anything against very, very rich people or celebrities, but I do have something against the way they are being routinely used by both Republicans and Democrats to rig our politics. And the same goes for what is innocently known as "spin."
The reason it is felt necessary to raise so much political money a couple of years before an election or convention or primary is that this much time is required to buy the professional spin and let the spinners do their work and let their fabricated message sink in. It takes this much time to achieve the parroting outcome --- in which millions of people are suddenly saying more or less the same thing at the same time and honestly believing it to be an original thought of their own. A new reality will have been created. It will be almost impossible to break through or challenge as to facts...
Now these, I admit with embarrassment, are pretty paranoid thoughts. But I do think we have let ourselves get boxed into a political order that does less and less for people, that rewards the greediest and pettiest of the politicians' instincts and invariably seeks to punish the ones who try to take an independent stand or think for themselves or otherwise fight back. The obscene amounts of campaign funds sloshing through the nation's political arteries have not seemed to trouble people very much. What do those that provided the funds want? What did they get, and who gave it to them? How much of these transactions was camouflaged? More paranoia, I suppose..."
It is characteristic that Einstein and Planck had the greatest admiration for Kant's work, agreeing with his view that philosophy should be the basis of all sciences.
Ilse Rosenthal-Schneider, "Reality and Scientific Truth"
We are convinced that theories do not matter... Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, anyone can discuss it... Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed. Sixty years ago it was bad taste to be an avowed atheist... now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian. But there are some people nevertheless - and I am one of them - who think that the most important thing about man is still his view of the universe... We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them. G. K. Chesterton
The merely rich are not rich enough to rule the modern market. The things that change modern history, the big national and international loans, the big educational and philanthropic foundations, the purchase of numberless newspapers, the big prices paid for peerages, the big expenses often incurred in elections - these are getting too big for everybody except the misers; the men with the largest of earthly fortunes and the smallest of earthly aims.
There are two other odd and rather important things to be said about them. The first is this: that with this aristocracy we do not have the chance of a lucky variety in types which belongs to larger and looser aristocracies. The moderately rich include all kinds of people even good people. Even priests are sometimes saints; and even soldiers are sometimes heroes. Some doctors have really grown wealthy by curing their patients and not by flattering them; some brewers have been known to sell beer. But among the Very Rich you will never find a really generous man, even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egoistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it. G.K. Chesterton
The coming peril is the intellectual, educational, psychological and artistic overproduction, which, equally with economic overproduction, threatens the wellbeing of contemporary civilisation. People are inundated, blinded, deafened, and mentally paralysed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves. G. K. Chesterton Toronto, 1930