JR'S Free Thought Pages
Schools as Instruments of Indoctrination
Human Beings as Conservative Clients and Commodities
By JR, August 2022
Capitalists, militarists and ecclesiastics co-operate in education because all depend for their power on the prevalence of emotionalism and the rarity of critical judgement - Bertrand Russell
If you think your belief is based upon reason, you will support it by argument, rather than by persecution, and will abandon it if the argument goes against you. But if your belief is based on faith, you will realize that argument is useless, and will therefore resort to force either in the form of persecution or by stunting and distorting the minds of the young in what is called “education” - Bertrand Russell
At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living – Neil Postman
Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel; for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are - Niels Bohr
The moral and intellectually honest person is one who reflects on the probable effects of his acts and decisions on those who are likely to be affected, who relies on logic, reason and evidence if only to eliminate some choices and acts responsibly even if later he finds that he’s done the wrong thing. Freedom without responsibility is ethically meaningless which is what the anti-covid-19 vaccination Canadian Convoy Truckers and their moronic flag waving disciples and copy cats don’t seem to understand.
The whole point of education and especially the study of philosophy is to make people not only more intelligent and knowledgeable, but also wiser and more responsible. Perhaps it’s not possible to teach virtue to students, not even to oneself in the sense of always trying to do what is best; but one can at least try to teach oneself to become a little less impulsive and irrational and more rational, attentive to the truth, conscientiousness and responsibility. Surely there is an ethical component to valuing truth. And surely we don’t prefer ignorance to knowledge, mysticism to reality and acting with an utter disregard for evidence, reason, sound argument and truth. But some people prefer comfort to truth and morals, tossing these intellectual and ethical virtues to the wind often when it comes to the most important choices in life. This is rather like being cautious when walking, but running blindfolded at high speeds or like spending hours and days deciding what vehicle to purchase but chooses a spouse out of a hat. Learning and acquiring genuine knowledge and understanding the truth is the result of intellectual toil, anguish and often years of hard work. Students need to understand this; hard work, dedication and focus are not options. Both the intellectual and the moral life can be hell and dealing with the assholes, sociopaths and those who just don’t care can be dispiriting and demoralizing, but what are the other options?
But despite all this, given my anarchist leanings and descent into pessimism, I’m not a cynic and certainly not a nihilist. I often take walks down what is called the Rotary Trail a several kilometre path that is adjacent to the Chilliwack River and a two minute walk from our home. Given the out of control no democratic oversight real estate bastards who have overdeveloped this beautiful neighbourhood and adjacent natural beauty including the river, mountains and lakes, the trail has become a mob scene. One needs to be an early riser like me (4:00 to 5:00 AM) to avoid this insanity of humans and their multiple dogs. A few days ago I initiated a conversation with a delightful man, perhaps in his 60s, who was stepping down the treacherous rocks on the river embankment. I feared he might slip and asked him to be careful. He came up the slippery embankment with a plastic bag full of dog shit that some uncaring jerk had tried to toss into the river. We had a long conversation about the dismal state of the natural world and the increasing number of people who are not only moronic pricks, just don’t care and have no idea what it means to be free, be responsible and to care about others and our dying and disappearing natural environment. This man lifted my spirits and reinstated my waning trust in the innate goodness of most people, despite the fact this group seems to be shrinking over time, especially so in the past three or four decades.
What people do with power and, to cite one pet peeve, the behaviour of people and the responsibility for their defecating dogs says a lot about who they are. Most not only have no problem with their mutts crapping on other peoples or public property, they will not clean up the mess when no one is looking. I witness this scene every day and it never fails to thoroughly piss me off. And those that do, what do they do with the plastic bags of dog poop, especially that of an Irish Wolf Hound? One cannot even walk the sidewalks in our neighbourhood without seeing usually squashed coils of dog dung in your path. Did these people not have mothers like mine who taught them the golden rule and other ethical imperatives before they started grade school? And why, despite the amazing programs at education and philosophy departments at our universities, do we not have critical thinking and ethics course in our school curriculums? These programs could be implemented by late elementary school. Two reasons come to mind: First and most importantly, the sclerotic superstitious doctrines and power of organized religion, specifically Christianity and second, the pre-existing immoral authoritarian socio-economic system of selfishness and out of control individualism called capitalism, a corrupt hierarchical system, of greed, exploitation, plunder and predation which would not exist if even the most fundamental moral principle of the golden rule held sway.
Sadly, today’s students have been conditioned by an overly nurturing, handholding, mollycoddling educational system that promotes self-esteem without understanding its meaning and blaming everything on external factors (which of course are not just, democratic, meritorious or fair) and not to take responsibility for their own actions. The prime responsibility surely rests with the devotees of corporatized customer and consumer driven education and enrolment maximizing educational administrators, managers and efficiency drones who foster an atmosphere in which teachers must exert near Herculean effort to make the necessary adaptations to ensure that all students are successful and happy. Failure is party of daily life which we must address and try to rectify and not repeat bad behaviour. I can remember when failure had become anathema to the education system and the responsibility for success of a student has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the classroom teacher. Not everyone can handle advanced calculus, number theory or Bayesian probability. Hell, many kids can’t do fractions and elementary algebra. Much of our contemporary education system is doing the right things and most teachers are dedicated but there is much that has been wrong. In the past few decades teaching has become more challenging and the environment increasingly worse with the business model that has been shoe horned into the entire system. Let’s be clear: schools and education in general are not entrepreneurial exercises or business enterprises; in fact these activities are open to scepticism and critique as is everything else.
In addition to personal experience of many years teaching mathematics and the often toxic conservative political environment of the draconian education system, this essay has been motivated and inspired by many intellectual influences from anarchist philosophy to the critiques of Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky, George Carlin and the scathing book Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto which was originally written in 2002 and re-released in 2017. Since I retired after 30 years of teaching senior high school mathematics 23 years ago I’m out of touch with the culture and current challenges teachers experience in today’s classroom. But I have read critiques by writers such as John Stanton, a substitute teacher who posts his scathing appraisals of neo-liberal capitalism and the increasingly corporatized education system on the web site Counterpunch. Here is the late Mark Fisher and his assessment of the 21st century classroom.
Ask students to read for more than a couple of sentences and many will protest that they can’t do it. The most frequent complaint that teachers hear that it’s boring. It is not so much the content of the written material that is at issues here; it is the act of reading itself that is deemed to be boring. What we are facing here is not just time-honored teenage torpor, but the mismatch between a post-literate New Flesh that is too wired to concentrate and the confining concentrational logics of decaying disciplinary systems. To be bored means simply to be removed from the communicative sensation-stimulus matrix of texting, You Tube and fast food; to be denied, for a moment, the constant flow of sugary gratification on demand. Some students want Nietzsche in the same way they want a hamburger; the fail to grasp—and the logic of the consumer system encourages this misapprehension—the indigestibility, the difficult is Nietzsche. – Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
If you've read any of the classic critiques of public education such as those by Bertrand Russell, Noam Chomsky, Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich or Neil Postman's books such as Amusing Ourselves to Death, you will relish John Taylor Gatto's offerings. His books, the aforementioned Weapons of Mass Instruction and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling are well-argued and thoughtful pull no punches exposes and analyses of what's wrong with our school system from kindergarten through university.
Almost all of us have been through the mind numbing meat grinders of the school system as a student and so it ought to be easy enough to understand what he's so passionately trying to tell us. Any self-reflective and honest person who has either been a student or taught in the system will know exactly what Gatto is talking about. The best teachers I can recall were those who had something esoteric to offer us, often contrarians, radicals and rebels who had the temerity to transcend the tedious banality of the curriculum or even better, toss much of it in the waste basket. This is especially true of the top down conservative propaganda we were fed in high school social studies and history courses.
John Taylor Gatto tears the sheep's clothing off of the predatory wolf that is government run schooling (the privately run, primarily religious based, schools are even worse prisons of indoctrination and inflexibility). The structure of schooling in North America continues to be modeled on the authoritarian draconian Prussian model that churns out catatonic consumers and docile compliant unquestioning obedient drones for the capitalist wage slave market. And most importantly to dumb-down the general population to a submissive catatonic state of docility and compliance so they accept the notion of an authoritarian hierarchical class based socio-economic corporatist capitalist society as democratic and immutable. But there is precious little that is democratic or immutable regarding either the current system of education or the global capitalism system of greed, selfishness, acquisitiveness, toxic individualism and exploitation.
There are of course exceptions to models of education such as the anarchist Modern School of Francisco Ferrer in Spain or the prototype practiced in contemporary Finland whereby they do pretty much the opposite of what is done in North America. Teaching is one of the most in demand professions in Finland and all teachers require at least a master’s degree to teach K-12. They are paid well, have attractive benefits and pensions, unions are considered a positive and private schools are not only not funded, but illegal. From my reading on what is done in Finland, students are given more autonomy and larger degrees of freedom in their choice of study. Of course literacy, mathematical and science are core subjects and required. Their outcomes are superior, their students seemingly more balanced and confident and they are at or near the top in mathematics, science and literacy skill international competitions. The Finnish system is consistent with Gatto’s contention, “Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your roadmap through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.”
With rare exception, what we currently practise as education is not real education, but rather training and indoctrination, subject to the demands of the oligarchic corporate capitalist plutocracy and the global market. Rather than facilitating a critical examination of the world, education functions as a massive industry actively creating and recreating our society's venomous and injudicious projects, along with its venal ideologies of power, greed, violence , endless wars and injustice.
Rather than backdrops for free inquiry and critical thought, our education systems (both public and private) are but tools of a style of thought so uncritical it leads one to wonder whether it even qualifies as thought at all. But as the late George Carlin tells us, "there's a reason for this, and it's why education sucks":
But as Carlin argues, why would those conservative elites in positions of power, privilege and wealth, the same people who own the country and the political apparatus, desire a skeptical, reflective and critical thinking populace? They don't - and they never have. Rather, they want unthinking docile drones to fill the wage slave jobs that are left available to the vast majority of them, who will do as they're told and walk in lock step in support of every imperialistic war. Your PhD in physics today will result in massive indebtedness and few career opportunities other than becoming an “entrepreneur of the self” with Uber or Skip the Dishes.
These days, from kindergarten through university, not unlike like what has happened to organized religion and their pathetic prosperity gospel, schools function as businesses. Moreover, they are the purveyors of the prevailing socio-economic ideology and resemble minimum security prisons. The United States, land of the free, has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of all those incarcerated in the prison system, 90% of which are for non-violent crimes. On a per capita basis, that's six times more than Communist China, a country US politicians and conservative pundits brand as a totalitarian nightmare. The message conveyed by such a scandalous statistic ought to be patently obvious; the United States is a fascist police state. But most countries in the West - including the politically corrupt corporatist Canada, a constitutional monarchy and lap poodle client state of the US - are only marginally better.
So what then is the point of education? Though some may contend that the purposes of education are merely instrumental, its aims probe far beyond that to the question of the reasons for any pragmatic functions. Surely such larger, critical philosophical questions lead not only to the interpretation of the world and our place in it, but to questions of political, social and economic justice.
As more and more public schools are being corporatized and privatized, and as standardized test-taking skills (nowhere present in Finland which trusts their teachers) become the standard for thinking and evaluation, and even essays are being graded by computer programs, it is disheartening that the opposition to the idea that education is a commodity like cell phones, i-pads and wage labour, we need to seriously question the basic model, paradigm and function of education.
Based on my own thirty years experience as a mathematics teacher in the public system, there seem to be three types of parents:
(1) Parents who want their kids to defer to authority, regardless of the source
and legitimacy. This is the sole purpose of religious private educational
institutions and has been a major component of the public system. Indoctrination
and docility, which is what comprises about 90% of the curriculum, is what they
will get. So these parents will be, for the most part, satisfied with the
product. Their kids will walk into wage slave jobs with few obstacles.
(3) The parents who want their kids enlightened, intellectually challenged and educated for freedom of thought and critical thinking. Of this, they will get precious little other than from renegade radical teachers who are often harassed out of the system. These parents will be very much disenchanted and dissatisfied.
However, I have been enlightened and uplifted by a few of the 3rd category of parents and their students, some of whom were the best and most inspiring that I had taught. One girl and her younger brother whose parents were from a Greek background and were perhaps the best students (I had many great students) I had taught in my career. The community in which I taught was upper middle class but the fine father of these two kids was a humble taxi driver. The mother was a real dynamo and driving force behind her two kids who were straight A as she strongly stressed the importance of education. I taught them both in Math 11, Math 12 and Advanced Placement Calculus, eventually writing letters of recommendation for them to McGill University in Montreal where they received full scholarships. Either one I thought would pursue a PhD in Mathematics, but after undergraduate degrees in science both ended up in medical school, eventually taking specialties, Dina as a paediatrician and Kostas an orthopaedic surgeon. I corresponded with them for some time; they were two of the finest most moral hard working and dedicated students and human beings I ever had the pleasure of working with.
I can recall when many students would bring their Sony walkmans to class and be wire up with headphones. I would warn them not to bring them to class otherwise they would be confiscated and that their parents would have to come and pick them up after school. Most parents other than the inconvenience it caused them, agreed with my strategy, but some, particularly the self-satisfied wealthy business types were indignant that I’d humiliate their kid, damaged their “self-esteem” and had violated their “rights”. This sort of problem has surely become far more serious today as the testament of contemporary teacher John Stanton will reveal. Other than the increasing addictive banalities of technologies like the addictive new drug called the “smart” phone and coercive marketing and surveillance corporate social media platforms such as twitter and face book which have turned many students into illiterates, not much progress has been made in the curriculum. This is what American substitute teacher John Stanton wrote about his experiences in the K-12 system:
“I am a substitute teacher (grades K-12) in a public school system located in Virginia, a state on the eastern seaboard of the United States. For many years prior to becoming a substitute teacher, I also taught at a private school in Virginia. Tuition and fees at the private school are approximately $42,000 (USD) but the public schools are, of course, tuition free…
From what I have observed in the tiny microcosm in which I’ve worked, adults have not figured out how to teach Generation Z. It is as if K-12 students are; well, lab rats, in a messy experiment that reflects adult confusion about how to facilitate learning in an era when all the “book learning” education seeks to impart is largely available on the World Wide Web (WWW). Reality hits video screens before adults can interpret it for their children; that is, assuming the adults are up to the task. Twitter, a modern day ticker-tape, dumbs down the American populace. Attention spans for students and adults are measured in 10 minute increments, if that.
Teachers are little more than circuits in America’s educational network and, as such, transmit surface information to the students and little more. The kids know a lot, for sure, but those kids like the adults that school them and lead them, have no intellectual depth, something required for critical thinking. It is fitting, I suppose, that in these times when the United States is a polarized nation of cynics who believe in nothing, it’s not surprising that its educators teach the young to be cynics. But as Oscar Wilde noted through one of his characters, a cynic is “one who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
And yet the very adults (academics, corporate leaders, politicians) that created this cynical, digitized short attention span world whine about students not being able to read and write, think critically or master math. There is a reason for that: They are not being taught effectively to do those things. All of which reaffirms something I wrote in 2013: The American Education System is creating Ignorant Adults.
The leaders of Boeing and Lockheed Martin worry out loud about the absence of US school aged students who can excel at science, technology, engineering and math disciplines (STEM). But they have no problem funding initiatives for Chinese students and aviation professionals in China.
Back in the USA school classrooms are a mishmash of technology, new wave/repackaged learning techniques and revisionist history. Apple I-Pads and Smart Boards are located in each classroom for student/teacher use. They are all connected to software that provides music, cartoons and learning platforms like Canvas for most grade levels. The latest teaching fads like Maker Learning with its “Digital Promise” backed by Google and Pixar, among others, competes with concepts like the Flipped Classroom, Blended Learning and other pedagogies that come in and out of vogue. And yet, alongside all the technology are crayons, magic markers, pencils, paper and cardboard for writing and drawing.
It’s no stretch to say that I-Phones, Android and other hand held devices may cause epigenetic changes. Students, teachers/coaches and administrators are constantly staring head down at their computing-communications devices. It is tough to get a face-to-face conversation going with most anyone in these groups as their eyes and heads are in the down position while sitting, walking or standing. Even if you are having a meat space meeting, participants will incessantly dart their eyes to the handheld safely nearby the hand, in the hand, or on the lap (looking down again)…
I have often winced at some of the practices I observed in classrooms. On a typical day as a substitute, I arrive at a school, pick up instructions left by the teacher who is absent (or has a meeting), and head to the classroom. Substitute teachers, or Subs, are a lower class of species, members of the gig economy, and treated as such by the “real” teachers and students. I remember one teacher I subbed for was headed off to a meeting and as she left said, “Sharpen my pencils for me.” I dutifully did. A majority of the teachers and administrators don’t ask for your name, you’re just known as “The Sub.”
Once students complete their work (if they even choose to do it), which for most does not take much class time, they are free to play video games, stick ear buds in and listen to music or hang out with friends via the handheld device. One of the popular video games with male 6th to 12th graders is Krunker, a first person shooter game. Is US society really that concerned about active shooters in schools?
The State and corporations can be increasingly found in some form in the public school system. One elementary school has Lockheed Martin as a sponsor of a science program. In another elementary school, a class is learning about Virginia’s geography: The students print and video work product will ultimately be used by a tourism association in the State.
In both public and private institutions learning is calibrated to the SAT, ACT and various Advanced Placement tests. Student test scores serve as one metric for teacher performance reviews along with standards set by school boards, the State, or independent audits in the private school case.
There is a functioning big data brother at work tracking students as they make their way through K-12 known as the Common Core of Data (CCD). CCD is described by Marc Gardner in a presentation for the US National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)as “the annual collection of the universe of United States public elementary, secondary education agencies and schools. Data include enrollment by grade, race/ethnicity and sex, special education, English learners, school lunch programs, teachers, dropouts and completers.” The CCD also gathers information from state justice, health and labor departments. The NCES also collects data from private schools.
It doesn’t end there. Colleges and universities are tracking high school seniors as they begin their searches for schools they’d like to attend. The Washington Post recently reported that many colleges and universities have hired data capture firms to track prospective students as they explore websites. “Records and interviews show that colleges are building vast repositories of data on prospective students — scanning test scores, zip codes, high school transcripts, academic interests, web browsing histories, ethnic backgrounds and household incomes…”
The owner of Canvas, referenced above, is Instructure. Their mission, according to their investor website is to “grow [the young] from the first day of school to the last day of work [retirement].” One of the capabilities that Instructure provides its clients is Canvas Folio Management. According to the investor webpage, it “delivers an institutional homepage and deep, real-time analytics on student engagement, skills and competencies, network connections, and interactions across various cohorts. It allows institutions to generate custom reports tied directly to student success initiatives and export accreditation-ready reports on learning outcomes at the student, cohort, course, program, or institutional level.”
Ah, yes, the thrill of being hunted for a life time by big data brother. Anyway, there is no escape.
Don’t try this in a Classroom
Learning is an active process, not simply a matter of banking information in a recipient passive mind. Teaching therefore has to be a transactional process rather than just the transmission of information. The transactional aspect is essential to enabling students to challenge their situations in life, which they must learn to do if they are to play their parts as active citizens of a better world…teaching must be approached as an intellectually disruptive and subversive activity if it is to instill inquiry skills in learners and encourage them to think for themselves rather than mindlessly accept received ideas. We believe it is more important in the digital age than ever before.” (Ingenious: The Unintended Consequences of Human Innovation by Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, Harvard, 2019)”
In a later post two years later Stanton wrote about the ubiquity of technology invading the classroom:
“Video learning games have polluted the school curriculum where I work, and I-Phones and I Pads have clearly led to technology addiction for many students. For example, on one particular sunny day, a student came into the central office crying with such intensity and shaking (as if in withdrawal) saying, I lost my phone!” You’d have thought that a puppy had gone missing, or a family member had died, or the student’s life had been disassembled. The device was eventually found but not before bemused staff experienced what, no doubt, Apple, Inc., strives for: hook the kids on their products for a lifetime of shareholder profit and make sure those Chinese workers keep laboring for cheap wages.
During a class I was overseeing, a student refused three times to turn down the backing track music that accompanies a non-sanctioned video game. Moreover, he refused to do the work he was assigned by his full-time teacher. I took the I Pad away from him and, once I had walked away with it, he clearly was stunned, displaying a dumbfounded look as if I had taken away his means to existence. And it is not just the students. When teachers are confronted with a noisy, unruly class, they can always retreat to the safe haven of letting students play video games (Slope for example) passing class-time on their I-Pads or I-Phones rather than engaging with the teacher in a lesson-learning exercise…
One day, I received an email (so did all employees) from the superintendent of the school system announcing that a social justice speaker was going to speak on the hot topics of diversity and equity. The speaker is fixture now on the social justice scene raking in cash from speaker fees. As a practice, I have always checked out the backgrounds of speakers no matter what field of expertise they represent. The school system brought in someone who was formerly the subject of a State Inspector General’s investigation (“IG”) into fraud, waste, and abuse of state resources. The IG found that the speaker used 95.5 hours of state-time to create private consulting websites and recommended the speaker reimburse the state $25,000 for the time spent on creating a consultancy on the state’s dime. The speaker evidently reached a settlement with the state and was ultimately found to be in good standing. She resigned not long after to pursue greener pastures running a social justice consultancy.
I talked to a staff member about the matter, and we concluded, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.” Such is the era of zero accountability and responsibility. Just look at the Wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Who was held accountable for those debacles? Not a soul. So, what’s a little use of state time to start a social justice consultancy in the larger scheme of things?”
Stanton’s experiences with the complacency and resignation of today’s students are consistent with my perceptions, at least with the young people to whom I’ve had any dialogue. Yet their conditions and future prospects are far more precarious and harsh than when I was growing up and attending university in the vibrant counter-culture, radicalism and protest movements of the 1960s. Reformism, as history has informed us, has not worked. Any progress toward democratization, egalitarianism and workplace rights have been rolled back with union busting, privatizations and outsourcing of companies and jobs with pauperized wages and labor rights at home resembling late 19th century working conditions. And everything including public education and healthcare are being run like businesses. The epidemic of depression and other mental health maladies are treated with drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Ritalin that only treat symptoms and not the root causes which are economic, political and sociological. The notion that these mental health problems, especially prevalent in young people, are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain has been discredited. Therefore, the causes of these conditions are clearly existential and externally induced. And the root cause: It’s an abstract parasitic ideology and megamachine called capitalism that is making people sick. But coercion and control only work if there is reticence, resignation and complicity. Why are not seemingly politically disengaged young people out in the streets with pillories and pitchforks? In my dialogues with young people who in many cases understand their predicament, I find them in a state of capitulation and surrender, accepting their fate of boring jobs and low pay. Many have given up on a college education, fearing the stifling debt which many have already been subjected.
However, people who are counter culture (as many were in the sixties and seventies decades of love, uplift, hope, optimism, radicalism and social activism), anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist, who are willing to challenge the status quo have always been considered mentally unstable and diagnosed with invented pathologies. Capitalism seems to induce illiteracy with its endless anti-intellectual marketing ploys with apparent adult people depicted as unthinking helpless dyslexic ADHD morons who behave like children who have never been exposed to any parenting. Neo-liberal capitalism seems to be producing a post-literate world of docility and capitulation. The three groups of people described by my friend Gil, a 39 year veteran of teaching are (1) Those that are sociopaths, selfish, narcissistic and can never be trusted, (2) those who always try to understand the world, politically and socially active, try to do the right thing and live by the golden rule and other moral imperatives and (3) those conservative types, often religious, generally well-behaved but are un-inquisitive and generally hold to or tolerate the abysmal status quo. Generally they don’t give a shit so long as their own personal lives are reasonably stable and tolerable. In short, they don’t give a shit. This third group I find in many ways worse than the first. Those annoying, usually decent people who don't care and don't even care to know. Sorry people, ignorance is not bliss.
In a recent online post on Counterpunch by history professor and socio-political activist Paul Street called “The Best Lack all Conviction”, he describes group three with the same unacceptable contempt as I do, referring to them as those with “mass indifference to and abhorrence of politics” by “millions of decent, non-fascistic people”. Why so many people refuse to talk about either religion or politics, the two most important issues in human history I find both disturbing and unacceptable. Is it that it might upset their golf game? In the article Street cites sixteen “intersecting streams and categories” of creeping American fascism:
This last problem has been weighing heavily on my mind in recent years. It is wonderful to find hundreds and sometimes even thousands of folks ready to confront authority and “the whole damn system” in the streets and public squares. Still, it is difficult to watch a much larger mass of individuals pass marches, rallies, banners, tables, and leaflets by, seemingly indifferent to atrocities – liked forced motherhood and the continuing racist murder of Black people by police – that they too-privately oppose.
“The best lack all conviction,” William Butler Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” True to that line, I have often been struck at family and social gatherings by how much more interested Republi-fascists are in hearing my revolutionary views – and in discussing politics – than are the liberals and moderates. The FOX News-polluted Republikaner freaks might be mired in vicious and stupid beliefs but at least they give a fuck in their own horrific way. They bring “passionate” if lethal and idiotic “intensity” to political topics.
The more civilized, cultured, and virtuous folks in the room are commonly far less animated to say the least. Their non-authoritarian views lack public conviction. To be sure, they typically vote Democratic once every two and/or four years. That’s enough disturbing “politics” for them. They often look away and absent themselves from the conversation when political topics come up. A few of these demure and honorable people speak language from the recovery and therapy cultures, rhetoric on how “it’s dysfunctional to concentrate on stuff you can’t change. Focus on something in your actual sphere of influence, like your career or your retirement plan.” Some of these thankfully non-fascist folks turn their repudiation of engagement almost into pathology. They may not want an authoritarian, patriarchal, and white nationalist order but they have no interest in discussing how and why the nation sits at the brink of neo-fascistic rule and what could and must be done to prevent that from happening.
Which brings me to something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote in 1958: “He who passively accepts evil,” King said, “is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. There comes a time,” King also remarked, “when silence is betrayal. In the end,” King added, “we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
King voiced similar sentiments five years later in his justly famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he worried that “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who…prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…Shallow understanding from people of goodwill,” King wrote, “is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
We desperately need less silence and more truth telling and activism from our friends, from the decent people. Politics is indeed an ugly game, especially in the US thanks in no small part to the factors I listed above. But retreating from engagement only makes it worse. It’s no mere accident that the capitalists and the right have long worked to make politics toxic: it’s an old strategy to discourage activism, passionate intensity, and conviction on the part of the people, the majority of whom do NOT share right-wing values.
But withdrawal and mere spectatorship if even that (I know “good people” who now refuse to even pay attention to the news “horror show”) just make the game worse, even calamitous. Dropping politics, policy, the placement of societal decisions into the category of The Serenity Prayer’s conception of “things beyond our sphere of influence” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other and very dangerous people and forces do not feel the same way about things! They are quite actively using others’ withdrawal to turn the planet into a massive Hell of detention camps stewing in a planet being turned into a giant Greenhouse Gas chamber. The game has a way of leaping up off the court/field/pitch/rink and swallowing everything whole, including the crowd and everyone else outside the arena. The “negative peace” doesn’t last. It doesn’t work. It helps bring into being a positive Hell on Earth.
Never forget the counsel of the anti-Nazi German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller
‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’
Words worth remembering as red zone school and library districts remove “controversial” books from shelves, including an illustrated version of The Diary of Ann Frank in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.
The Republifascists have come big time for women and girls in the hideous Dobbs decision. But make no mistake. The undoing of abortion rights is just the beginning, a pulling of the string meant to unravel the whole yarn ball of civil, social, and human rights that have been won through years dedicated popular struggle.
The absence of conviction and passionate intensity is not limited to liberals and moderates. Serious Marxist and radical thinkers I know deeply grasp and recognize the US Republi-fascist specter and its capitalist, racist, sexist, imperialist, Christian, bipartisan, and nationalist roots and dimensions but share little if any of my “wild-eyed” notion that anything much can or will be done to slay the authoritarian beast – certainly nothing like a revolution, which is all-knowingly proclaimed a pointless pursuit by armchair Marxists who have never lifted a finger to bring one about, much less given any serious consideration to what would be involved in making one built to last. The pessimism of their minds has negated the optimism of their wills (to use the fascism-incarcerated Antonio Gramsci’s terms). But that’s another topic for another day.
In an earlier comment on the banalities of the corporatized education system Street refers to “ An educational-industrial complex that inculcates passivity, conservatism, specialization, individualism, subordination, appeasement, hierarchy, oppression, identitarianism, narrowness over rebellion, liberation, critical thinking, many-sidedness, solidarity, radical class analysis, active resistance, egalitarianism, and revolutionary vision. This bankrupt ideological structure has hatched a “chickenshit conformist” intelligentsia that lacks the courage and vision to tell people the full truth about the depth and degree of the authoritarian menace that stalks the land – and the rooting of that menace in the nation’s underlying and interrelated unelected dictatorships of capital and empire. It scoffs at and scandalously maligns and misrepresents the notion of popular revolution over and against those dictatorships” combined with “ a relentless, many-sided dumbing down of the population so savage that “more than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.”
Below is link to disturbing yet vitally important essay by educational philosopher Henry Giroux on the emergence of fascism, intolerance and authoritarianism in all sectors of Western capitalist culture, especially big business, politics, education and the combination of vile ideologies of Christian fascism and neo-liberal casino capitalism that prevails globally.
So why are critical thinking courses not a part of the curriculum in our public schools? I can recall the resistance and reactionary impediments that existed back in the 1990s when I as a mathematics teacher and a group of progressive colleagues tried to implement such critical thinking program in our high school. Conservative power sources within the community, especially the authoritarianism of the politically powerful draconian churches, blocked us at every turn. But other reactionary forces were at work as well. Does capitalism want critical thinkers? Of course not; as the late comedian and social critic George Carlin put it, capitalism prefers docile compliant workers who follow orders. People need to give up on the delusion on the separation of church and state in Canada. It is no more a fact than in the United States of Jesus despite church-state separation being written into its constitution. The undemocratic authoritarian Christian churches are capable of wielding enormous power, especially when a capitalist Christian fundamentalist is elected to lead the country such as former authoritarian control freak Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose wet dream was to create a neo-fascist Canadian theocracy.