I’ve interacted with thousands of people during a life exceeding half a century. Most of these people are quick to judge others, primarily on the basis of items beyond the control of the person being criticized. For these “critics,” ideas and acts are viewed as irrelevant. But personal features such as the size of one’s nose or the shape of one’s ass are subject to rampant criticism within this celebrity-obsessed culture. I’m reminded of the words of John W. Farley, distinguished American physicist, astronomer, and author: “The scientific case is not dependent on citation of authority, no matter how distinguished the authority may be. The case is dependent upon experimental evidence, logic, and reason.” In this case, the word “scientific” can be removed without loss of meaning.
On the rare occasions ideas are held up for scrutiny, self-proclaimed progressives are the worst of critics. Their goal is “progress,” which means going over the cliff faster than previously thought possible. At least “conservatives” rarely abandon their misguided principles. They gladly throw your children, and theirs, into the breach of conquest. They gleefully sacrifice other people’s children, especially people of color, to maintain the illusion of freedom otherwise known as the American Dream. They adhere to principles regardless of clear evidence exhibiting the insanity of their views. In much the same way, “progressives” are uninfluenced by information contrary to the narrative of “progress” as omnicide.
Among the most-often criticized, from every perspective, are the messengers: those who transmit knowledge. I’m including myself, of course. Indeed, as is often the case of late, this essay is yet another trip into the land of self-indulgence.
I’ve been accused of many undesirable things. I suspect some are understatements. Others are ridiculous. If you believe what’s posted on the Internet, I’m causing near-term human extinction (NTHE) merely by presenting evidence pointing that direction. Here’s a recent example from my email inbox:
One thing that is bugging me is the logic and ethics of spreading the message, because of the possible downside of inducing widespread panic, if the message ever truly went viral, and people realized that nothing they or anyone else can do, will stop NTHE.
My response, poorly developed late at night as I lay in bed:
Along with NATO, American Empire is the source of widespread, ongoing panic. And chaos. And genocide. Few seem to mind, or even notice.
Kill the message? Why not go the usual step further and kill the messenger?
Evidence be damned. A culture based on lies cannot persist in the face of the truth. But most people I know prefer propping up imperialism to avoid scaring people. Privileged, Caucasian people are the chosen ones.
What am I missing?
I’d hardly be the first person to question the intelligence of the typical contemporary human on Earth. Albert Einstein arrived at that point long ago: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
I’d go a wee bit deeper than Einstein in this particular case. I suggest that the stupidity he described is a product and a goal of the dominant culture. In support of this strong statement, I offer a few words from Letters to a Young Academic, a book I wrote in 2003-2004 (it was published in January 2005):
Consider, for example, a few words in a speech to businessmen by President Woodrow Wilson: “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” Wilson’s sentiments echoed those of William Torrey Harris in his 1906 book The Philosophy of Education: Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.” In vogue with his time, Harris extended the idea of subsumption to the land as well as the individual: “The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places …. It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature.” As I indicated in previous correspondence, Harris was the U.S. commissioner of education from 1889 to 1906.
Harris was not the only influential educator willing to express his desire for docile American citizens during 1906. That same year, the Rockefeller Education Board, a major advocate of compulsory public education, issued this statement: “In our dreams … people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poet or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple … we will organize children … and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”
The statement by the Rockefeller Education Board and the book by Harris were preceded a year earlier by Elwood Cubberly’s dissertation at Columbia Teachers College. The future dean of education at Stanford University wrote that schools should be factories “in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products … manufactured like nails, and the specification for manufacturing will come from government and industry.”
Tracing these ideas further back in time, we find the 1888 Report of the Senate Committee on Education, a summary of which is provided by a single sentence on page 1,382 of this gargantuan document: “We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes.” According to John Taylor Gatto, award-winning educator and author of the 1992 book Dumbing Us Down, the committee was justifiably nervous about the high qualify of education provided by nonstandardized, local schools where students were actually taught to think for themselves. The Senate Report parallels the 1897 writings of famous philosopher and industrial educator John Dewey. Dewey’s famous pedagogic creed, first published in The School Journal, included this thought about the role of teachers in society: “I believe that every teacher … should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.” Cubberly provided the “proper social order” and the “right social growth” less than a decade after Dewey and the U.S. Senate supplied the rationale for herding the masses on behalf of business.
In other words, the captains of industry and leaders of government set out to create an educational system that would maintain social order (and increase their profits). How? By teaching students just enough to serve industry but not enough so they could think for themselves. Questioning the sociopolitical order and communicating articulately were not part of the plan. Americans were to become drones in a government-subsidized country ruled by corporations. While Reagan-era neo-conservatives were excoriating communism as a system in which government controls industry, they were promoting a system built on an even worse idea, one in which industry controls government.
Mind you, the development and implementation of K-12 concentration camps is not part of some giant conspiracy. Rather, it is the outcome of the way our educational system was created. Most of the people who originally developed the system believed they were doing the right thing, and they did not try to hide their plans or intentions. It was completely consistent with the perspective, derived from religious organizations, that the domination, cohesion, and vitality of society were inversely related to individualism; permitting free inquiry and action were anathema to control by religious societies and also by corporate society.
I wrote these words a long time ago. If I were to revise them today, I’d be less harsh on Ronald Reagan and more critical of the system that produced him. Furthermore, I would argue that if you’ve been indoctrinated by the public education system in the industrialized world, you bear little blame for your ignorance or for your stupidity. The system is the problem, and it is rooted in the predicament of civilization. There is no solution. There is no escape.
As a minor example of cultural programming, even in this space I’m ridiculed when I write poetically, or from my heart. Intellectual risks are disparaged within this culture, a culture that also disparages the fragility of being human. When there’s no reward and ample punishment for stepping outside the straitjacket of culture, the straitjacket gains strength. When I take intellectual risks here, I’m accused of being a child, as if that’s a bad thing. As Carl Sagan wrote: “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.” In this case, I’d replace “science” with “reality” or “Earth.” But in Sagan’s day, science was used to describe reality on Earth, and beyond.
If there is no solution, and no escape, then what remains? For one, awareness. It’s often said to be overrated, and I’ve shared that sentiment in the past. Now, however, I believe awareness to be neither blessing nor curse. As with evidence, it merely is.