Monday, September 20, 2004

Distortion: in the eyes of flawed humanity, or in the way they are taught to see?

  How is it that it is so easy for us to see what others find so challengingly unreal? Where we cast our eyes and find rubble, others seem to have palaces before them.
  Bobocop's previous post asks us to find these people ignorant, and to consider that they are ultimately responsible for their ignorance. This is fair enough, for 'no-one is innocent' - we all know the world we're living in and can only choose to be so callously unswayed by the desperate pleas all around us.
  Or is it this simple?
  To me this seems like the doctrine of original sin, that in the very creation of human life is a flaw that exacerbates the person's venal desires until we are all Hulking out in all sorts of incestuous / murderous / beastialicious ways if not for the calm guidance of Faith.
  Naaaaa. The world seems more like some stinking pond into which we, like tadpoles from eggs, unthinkingly emerge. Our tails catch in the muck, we are blinded by it, all around us is the stench and the taste of corruption. Who should blame us for exercising our privileges as utterly rich people - if you earn 'even' a minimum wage in the West you are in the top 10% of wages, since most people exist on less than that hourly minimum wage each day - wallowing in what ever cheap enjoyments our many many pennies can afford?
  An Image: Life is a coach ride. What it is driving through is dark, unpleasant, and moves one to tears, to fears, to wanting to do something, to wanting to escape it. And most people exercise their ocular facilities in the exercises of the onboard TV which displays many varieties of lifestyle programmes. And dodgily homophobic prime-time sitcoms about gays.
  Yes, yes, yes, we as a race ignore so much of what is happening around us. And it seems so obvious, so right, and so true to get angry at the morons who continue in this agonisingly amoral trend of absolute apathy, their ambitions aspiring ever asswards. (What of the self is more worshipped now than the ass?, a thing sat on so happily, fattened so swiftly, toned so self-redeemingly.) But I submit to you this - an anger of this size is untenable. It is a balloon so full of rising incandescent gas that it rises too swiftly into the reaches of the atmosphere and pops.
  If humanity is so unshiftingly Failed, and there is no God to sort the Wrong from the Right, what else but wearily except it?
  So I prefer this belief. A useful belief, a helpful belief, a nourishing belief.
  That people are made stupid for the prime reason that this is how we can keep the status quo going. That people are made stupid entirely because stupid people don't buck the trend. That people don't have to be like this, although changing it won't half be difficult.
  I am training to be a teacher in the post-compulsory sector, teaching the subject of psychology. This will involve a bewhildering array of people - I can possibly be in contact with kids of 14 to adults of any age before death - in any number of places - the college, the school, the church, the university the community hall, wherever a class can be pulled together.
  The books I have on teaching are few, but one of them is 'Dumbing Us Down' by John Taylor Gatto. In the Publisher's Note, David H. Albert writes that "[i]n the context of our culture, it is easy to see that critical thinking is a threat." This is because "the Combine needs dumb adults, so it ensures the supply by making the kids dumb... the Combine only has limited use for hundreds of millions of self-reliant, critically thinking individuals who engage in conversation and who determine their own needs as individuals and communities free of the Combine's enticements and commands... What the Combine needs, most of all, is Wal-Mart clerks and burger flippers..." (Note: the 'Combine' is from Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a book about how power can convince people into believing that they are the problem when they disagree with society, when in fact the problem is society and etc. It's pretty good and Jack Nicholson was in the movie and he was in Batman and there is no finer test of acting brilliance than Batman.)
  The world has a vast array of techniques to persuade us into silent dumbness. What is exemplified most commonly by the loudest voices? Innovation in business, the competition amongst others to end up on top. What is ignored by these voices? The use of co-operation to produce a better future. What are we told to want? Not even things per se, instead the very accruing of desires that need to be ever fulfilled, to want want itself, to have such a prodigious amount of want that one can prove oneself financially strong enough to be able to weather its fearsome excesses. And what are we told not to want, not to aspire to?
  Well, practically anything that's a bit, you know, 'liberal', 'bleeding heart', 'touchy-feely'.
  We damn well want the survival of the fittest, even if it means that the fittest keep ruining everything so much for the unfit that it destroys everything.
  But, friends, it is important that WE see through this. We don't accept the ideologies that have created all this and keep creating it. We do, to our credit, attempt to think critically, and enjoy being a little snarky clever numpkins for its own deliciously bastardy sake. ('Oi, you, I'm going to question your beliefs, even though it's not seen as particularly polite or productive within the framework of our 'efficient' IT-based economy.') And we can do something about it.
  I'm interested in learning to teach in order to use the qualification and experience to step up into a professional area of psychology - probably educational psychology, but perhaps instead community psychology. In this area, I will be surrounded by people blithely doing and thinking what they're told is best, interested in the perks and the moneys and the home-life with their family and widescreen TV at weekends. They will catch up with the footie and the soaps and buy expensive consumer electronic equipment and perhaps join a book group at 40 and read some Rabelais and declare it 'very smashing indeed, pass the Beajoulais'. And some of us will use our positions to agitate, to question, to change.
  And we can best keep on doing this in any way possible, to tell others the hows and the whys of what we are doing, climbing the structures of power around us in order to expose them for what they are.
  A teacher can turn round and write 'Dumbing Us Down', and attempt to start a movement. A philosopher can get a chair at Cambridge and then complain angrily about admissions policies that seek to deny those from disadvantage backgrounds their place. And a burger man can poison late night revellers outside pubs because they're loud and drunken and just basically unpleasant.
  We can always do something. And we must keep doing it, and trusting in it, and asking others to join in, and making our case. Because maybe people aren't born stupid, they're very carefully trained to be.
  And some of us seem to be catching on to this possibility.


Blogger Claypot said...

I think your point about people being 'made' stupid is a valid one. Of course the people at the top look around them and think 'Equality? No thanks. Let's keep them all down there in their shitty existence.More for them means less for me.' And it's no big step to move from there into conspiracy theories (of which I have to hold my hand up and say I am a fan). At what point did 'someone' decide that there would be nothing on British TV apart from awful 'reality' programmes? Who was the 'someone' deciding that what the UK really needed was 20 'celebrity' magazines on the newstand? And so on. BUT, people accepted them. Therefore they made a choice to keep themselves ignorant and uninformed about the world at large and things that really matter. Take fizzy milk. That bombed. So why didn't the populace also spit out in disgust the 'journalism' that abounds in Britain? Why did we all say 'yes please, vegetate me'. It is an active decision to remain ignorant and apathetic. Perhaps a more pressing question ought to be 'where do people's morals and ethics come from?' If you take a group of people and educate them in a similar fashion, why will the majority of that group go out in the world and do their very best to claw their way to material wealth, spitting on people as they go, and only a minority actually make an effort to change things for the better for everyone?

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead

12:55 PM  
Blogger Bobocop said...

I think NiG's completely inspiring post wraps up the problem of what our place might be in the order of things. We are the agitators and have the ability to open more eyes both as a collective voice and as individuals from our various social positions.

It is not then, the apathetic that should be deplored (for who can blame them for making the decision to ignore the cries of the starving?) but rather the Combine whose dumbing down is the real evil out there.

What then is the best weapon against the process of dumbing down? Education, obviously. And an emphasis on ethics - perhaps a humanistic version of Christian Agape - has to be encouraged.

4:59 PM  

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