Category Archives: Education

Education and the Mental Health Epidemic

Across the western world June is exam time; in Britain, written tests taken in halls of silence and tension have triggered a mini-epidemic of anxiety rooted conditions. Pupils have reported mental exhaustion, panic attacks, crying, nosebleeds, sleepless nights, hair loss and outbreaks of acne.

Over the past 25 years, depression and anxiety amongst teenagers in the UK has increased by 70%. This pattern is repeated across the developed world, and is the result of a cocktail of pressures, pressures that result in 10% of under 18-year-olds in America being dependent on mental health medication.

In parts of Asia things are just as bad or worse: the pressure to achieve high marks in exams in Hong Kong is driving some students to suicide: “71 students took their lives between 2013 and 2016,” reports The South China Morning Post. In Singapore, which produces children who excel in standardized tests, an 11-year-old jumped to his death from the 17th floor of an apartment building in 2016 because he was afraid to tell his parents his exam results. The inquest heard that the boy’s parents relentlessly pushed him to achieve at school: his mother would cane him for every mark he received under 70%. In 2015 a record 27 suicides were reported amongst children between 10 and 19, which was double the previous year’s total.

Suicide or attempted suicide is a raw scream revealing the internal agony a child is living with; pain that he/she feels suffocated by, and unable to openly acknowledge. In most cases children don’t kill themselves, they just become ill, some, chronically. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that neuropsychiatric conditions are the primary cause of disability in under 25-year-olds worldwide and says that globally between 10% and 20% “of children and adolescents experience mental disorders,” feeding what are often long-term conditions. Research shows that 75% of all mental health issues begin before a person reaches 18, with 50% taking root before age 15.

Engines of conformity

There are various interconnected reasons for this mental health epidemic; the burden to conform and the relentless pressure to succeed are primary causes and are present throughout institutionalized education. For many young people education has become a bi-word for competition and anxiety, school or university a place where uniformity is demanded and individuality denied: a hostile place in which pressure and stress dominate.

Despite the best efforts of teachers, many of whom are doing wonderful work, the goal of academic institutions in many countries has been reduced to passing exams and achieving good-to-high grades. This is anathema to what education ought to be. At the heart of education should be the aim of creating happy human beings free from fear. This requires establishing environments that allow an individual to discover innate talents, to explore him/herself and slowly, perhaps clumsily, give expression to that; a stimulating, nurturing space where mistakes can be made, failure allowed, independent thinking fostered and responsibility for society and the natural environment engendered.

Like all aspects of contemporary life, education has been tainted by the values of a particular approach to life, a materialistic methodology that fosters negative tendencies instead of feeding the good and liberating the spirit. Competition is encouraged instead of cooperation, placing people in opposition to one another, cultivating division instead of unity. Individual success is championed at the expense of group well-being and life is reduced to a battleground ruled by desire and the pursuit of pleasure.

The focus within this paradigm of misery is on material success and the accumulation of status and things. Hedonism is sold as the source of all happiness, feeding perpetual discontent. It is an extremely narrow approach to life that denies mystery and wonder, pours cynicism on the miraculous and attempts to crush self-investigation and silence opposition.

Whilst the majority of humanity suffer and struggle to live healthy fulfilling lives within this mode of living, there are those who, economically at least, profit handsomely. As a result, and failing to recognize that they too are trapped, they do everything to maintain it; they are the wealthy and powerful, the ‘ruling elite’. Money begets power and political influence under the pervading paradigm; such influence is used to shape (and draft) government policies that strengthen systems, which maintain the existing unhealthy order.

To uphold the status quo, freedom of thought and true individuality is curtailed, social conformity insisted upon. The major tools of conditioning are the media, which is commonly owned by corporations or controlled by governments, organized religion, and education. The policies of schools and colleges are set by central government, and, consistent with the pervasive ideology politicians ensure that conformity and competition are built into the working methodology.

Students are set in competition with one another, with established standards and with themselves, and are regularly forced to sit written examinations to evaluate how much they can remember or know, about any particular subject. Taking exams dictates the passage of a child’s education and establishes the benchmark against which young people are judged, and by extension often judge themselves. Using tests as a way of assessing a person’s ability and knowledge is archaic; sitting exams exerts colossal pressure, and although some may be able to cope and ‘do well’ the majority feel suffocated.

In Britain, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) relates that in 2016/17 Childline delivered “3,135 counseling sessions on exam stress – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.” Children aged between 12 and 18 reported that exam stress was causing “depression and anxiety, panic attacks, low-self-esteem, self harming and suicidal thoughts.” This pattern is common in many developed and developing countries, where ideologically-driven corporate governments obsessed with trade, continue to pursue methods, that are, by design, detrimental to the well being of children.

Instead of policies rooted in competition, cooperation and sharing need to be encouraged in all aspects of education and standardized exams consigned to the past. The educational environment needs to be one in which children are encouraged to support each other, to share their own particular gifts with the group and build a sense of social responsibility. Many teachers naturally employ such inclusive methods, but working within divisive systems, which promote individual success, conformity and competition, their efforts are often frustrated.

An Alternative way

A more enlightened approach to education is found in Finland. Here, children don’t start school until they are seven, there is no streaming or selection in schools, so children of varying abilities work side by side, no homework is set, school holidays are long and there is only one standardized test, administered in the final year of high school. The result is happier children than in countries where testing, homework, selection and competition reign supreme. Not only are children happier (according to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world), they achieve higher academic marks than students in many other countries; according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) organized annually by the OECD, Finland ranks fourth for reading and 5th for Math in the world; 93% of students graduate from High School, compared to 78% in Canada and 75% in America.

Teachers in Finland are well qualified – all have a Master’s Degree – and are highly valued. They are not dictated to by misguided politicians who come and go, but are trusted to do their job independently, and the country has a long-term approach to education policy, which “means plans remain in place for a significant amount of time, giving them a chance to work, ” says Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

An education system is part of a society’s overall approach to living. As well as being a happy place to live and having a relaxed attitude to education, Finland has some of the lowest levels of wealth and income inequality in the world and the highest level of community trust. In contrast, Britain, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong have some of the highest levels of inequality. The Finland education system is inseparable from the culture, which it serves. Saku Tuominen, director of the HundrEd project says that Finland has “a ‘socially cohesive’, equitable and efficient society, and it gets a consistently reliable school system to match.”

Systems of education built around the ideals of the market that use competition, selection and examinations are contributing to a collective atmosphere of division, injustice and anxiety. Such methodologies need to be fundamentally changed, replaced by creative environments in which children and young adults can simply be, without pressure to achieve or become anything in particular. In such an atmosphere, true intelligence, which is beyond the limitations of knowledge, can flower.

Education vs. The Passions that Rule Our Lives

I pulled two items a few days ago from my filing cabinets — call them “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.” They are separated by a span of 30 years. They are two dots directly connected by a long and more or less horizontal straight line. There is no arc. Thing 1 coming up after this.

My cabinets house a vast “diary of a mad optimist.” Yes, for the cynics, I am an optimist. Mad — at a lot of things for sure — but always hopeful. Being a realist too, I have been hopeful, if not expectant, that thinking, listening, and writing carefully to unpack and face, unfiltered by any lens, the implications of what we thought we “knew,” and then behaving accordingly, might give humanity not just a better chance of keeping themselves alive but justify the effort. I thought such things would make life more worth living than doing this.

After feeling pains in our eyes, we announce with “humanitarian” pride that we are bothered by “the optics,” the sight, mind you—of refugee children torn from their mother’s arms, screaming and crying, as they are held in chain-link cages and sent to Wisconsin while the mothers are deported to the hell they fled. The sight is what bothers us. The reality, if we can arrange to not see it, not so much—especially after we build that big, beautiful Wall to block the view. And because it sounds “deep” that “perception is more important than reality,” we believe it—and believe it “strongly” because it “worked” for a Barbie doll in stilettos—my god! She is rich! She won! And read her awesome book: The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Life and Work. My, what strength! By all appearances, no weakness there! A true winner, living the American Dream!

Whatever we can get ourselves to believe, and believe strongly, and say “with strength,” we believe we must therefore know—at least think we know—and can all the more easily get others to believe we know. When we speak with strength, those who believe perception trumps reality will surely feel we know, for winning their credulity is all that matters, for when we have their vote, and soon their money, we’ve got just about everything. And we can don a jacket that reads on the back for the world (not the wearer) to see: “I really don’t care. Do you?” Then, jet off to “see” in a show of concern the sufferings of little children.  But …

What if all my library cards amount to a Royal Flush, and trump, in reality, the Trump Card whose face value I assess in this essay as being worthy of a flush, bigly? What if, despite perception, the more important reality should be this: The principal occupation of 98% of the human brain is to frantically shop around (or rummage about) for a new pair of shades for the remaining 2% of it: blackout blinds for the feint-of-heart, the scared, the scarred, the scalawag, the xenophobe, the autocrat, and the comfortably ignorant bigot alike. With such a sunscreen to block all light on anything that may hurt the eyes outside the private temple of the Church of Self, one’s body can be gainfully employed, Duty-Free of taxing responsibility. No photos! No video! No fake journalists! CNN: you are the worst! The press is the Enemy of the People. Thus one can then do their job, any job, he or she would, in their shade, be “humbled, honored, and privileged” to execute: From managing a cigarette factory, speaking for a President, dismantling the EPA, scheduling trains to Auschwitz, or acting as head of ICE. If asked, “But is the job you are doing humane?” He or she may stutter … uh … and stutter more … uh … until they find the Romans 13 roller shade and their voice: “What kind of insulting question is that? I believe it’s the law. My job is to enforce the law, and, by God, if we are going to have a country, we need laws, I am going to enforce the laws. That is what I am going to do.”

Thus even Aristophanes knew how a sausage vender could rise to a Tyrant’s Everest on his own petards with the help of banners, hats, and the throngs who do not read books because propaganda and beer are more … exciting and relaxing for basking in the schadenfreude. The Greeks knew this: Beware the man who would sell you anything—from an AR-15 to Fentanyl, from steaks to vodka, from a degree from his own university to a MAGA hat made in China, from a condo —- to himself as a candidate to command the power of a military and economy unknown in the history of humanity. Who is this sausage vender? How would it be wrong to answer: A bankrupt casino mafia don in elf’s clothing and golf shoes, a man rich enough to buy a porn’s star’s body (while his wife gives birth to his son) and then believe he could buy her silence because he believes when you’re rich, you can do anything, even grab a country by the pussy. As the Greeks might say: A man who would sell you anything is a man who would do so because he has already sold out of everything worth having: his own soul.

Sometimes, in my heart-sick desperation, I fear that nearly half of America has bowed to the psychopath we have collectively created in our own image, needful to relieve ourselves of the burden of our own guilt, from the weight of our daily responsibility: to bear the pain or shame of the thoughtful brain, of “thinking what we do.” Because Knowledge entails the Responsibility its possession thrusts upon us, in our weakness and fear we have sought an out and forked over our brains and consciousness to the perception of a stronger and more brazen man’s Will to Power. Obviously he knows better what to do than I! We have bought the hook that a wealthy man is a “successful” man, that a successful man is a “smart man,” that a smart man is a wise man and is thus a “true leader” of people, and that such a man cannot be bought—nor already sold out. We believe that a man without shame has nothing to be ashamed of, and in his shameless presence find our refreshment. We have bought that hook because he has sold it to us—in the abject poverty of our critical intelligence.

The pursuit of knowledge is a too-difficult proposition, for as knowledge grows in complexity and relevance, so does its burden on our sleep and behavior. Faith instead will do, and by calling it “knowledge by faith” we turn the trick of unloading our brain to lighten our step, and thus we go … sailing. I am sorry to say that, among others, certainly the “evangelicals” (“knowing by faith” their “prosperity gospel”) have, in their bliss-born ignorance, rendered themselves blind to the implications of what they have done. They have bowed to a liar, a thief, a clown, and offered to him, this Golden Cow, the last shard of their souls as a burnt offering.

May I say I saw this was coming, knew this was coming, and have suffered every moment since a certain student’s essay was handed to me and the year it took me to unpack the blackened box of its ashen implications.

Let me close these opening remarks with this. Three minutes ago I was sent this message from a dear friend: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it.” (The Talmud)

To my friend: Yes, Laura. That is my work, my life. In that light, I stand until I cannot, and I will say and do what I must, as we each must find our place to make the big picture more bearable to look upon.

Thing #1:

These are my old notes on a fellow teacher’s assignment, a sample student essay, and my own written response after reading it.

*****

[Journal Entry: October 29, 1989]

A colleague of mine, when teaching his Writing 101 classes, has made a regular practice of having each of his students, college freshmen and sophomores, write an essay on the subject of “The Three Passions that Rule My Life.” The inspirational model of the assignment is Bertrand Russell’s prologue to his three-volume autobiography (the first volume of which was published in 1967):

What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy─ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness─that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I have sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upwards toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

The students of Writing 101 were to read these words, and with all due thought and consideration, pen their own. More than a year ago [ed. note: the winter of 1988], Julian showed me a few repre­sent­ative samples of these student essays (with their authors’ names appropriately and carefully inked out), suspecting that I might find their words of some interest. This is what one young male (in his early twenties) had to say:

The Easy Life

I want a successful life, a life of ease with only a few thorns, a life of leisure with little pain. In light of this I have created many more passions such as a search for education, a desire for wealth, and a need for health.

I seek an education to earn money with. An easy life starts with hard days at school. Some may get lucky and win the lottery while others may be happy living off low wages but I want the most money for my abilities. An education will not increase my intelli­gence but it will improve the chances of employment in a high paying position that is not only easy on the body but also challenging to the mind.

I desire wealth because it will buy me a better life. People often say money cannot buy happiness, but I will be happy when I have the money to buy everything I want. I can only be content in a big house full of spicy food and comfortable furnishings, a garage with a nice new car and expensive snow skis.

I need to be healthy to live a better life. I want to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of my labor. All the money in the world would do me no good if I were not vigorous enough to spend it. I want to be in good shape while spending my money, instead of spending it on an expensive sick bed or giving it away to some doctor who can spend it on something more gratifying.

Perhaps those of us who are not teachers, and not acquainted with the thoughts of contemporary college students, might read this as satire, black humor or clever jest, for the alternative is nearly impossible to believe. How is it possible for this human being to put into words the substance of his own soul and not cringe at the picture he has painted of himself? How can he not shudder at the cold vacuum at the heart of this narcissistic portrait of utter self-absorption? How can Russell’s words fall, without resonance, indeed, without effect, upon his ears?

How? Because not once in this student’s career has he been challenged, compelled to examine his own beliefs and values. Not once has he been asked to spell out the logical implications and presuppositions of his own words, least of all on the printed page. He has been allowed to grow and flourish (or merely get older), protected from perceiving the material, social, and ethical consequences of his own thoughts and behavior. He has been taught self-esteem, at the expense of self-consciousness. His beliefs and feelings have been “respected,” and have festered, unexamined, unanalyzed, uncriticized by teachers who have been trained to do everything except challenge him to open his mind to his fellow human beings and to the world that gave him birth and now sustains his life.

Pictured here, in this student’s essay, is a man, a child, no, a worm, whose first words are “I want,” and who then proceeds to equate a successful life, which he “wants,” with “a life of ease,” which he also wants, while remaining utterly incapable of seeing the contradiction. Here is a person whose first passion is the avoidance of pain. And whose pain? His own. He feels no other. Here is a human who seeks, above all, leisure for himself. He mentions no friends or family, perhaps because he has none, or perhaps because he takes them for granted and does not notice; nor does he mention the rest of humanity, perhaps because he doesn’t wish to draw attention to the reality that his leisure is a function of other people’s labor.

Being pragmatic, he seeks devices by which he might achieve his leisure. The first device he finds is money. He would consider himself “lucky” to win the lottery, but, being a realist, is aware that this is improbable. An education seems a better bet. An education for him is a tool with which he intends to “get money.” Other tools would do, but they could get him into trouble, if not jail, jeopardizing his dream of future leisure. And if education didn’t work as a tool to get money, it would not be relevant to any of his concerns, for learning about the world, past and present, outside the periphery of his own flesh, is merely his contingent instrument for acquiring the easy life.

In his view, the easy life begins unfortunately with hard days at school, empty days devoid of the excitement of finding profound answers to his questions, for he has no questions, least of all questions his school could ever answer, or even help to answer. Education will increase his chances of obtaining a high paying “position” (a job does not interest him). He believes this because this is what his parents and teachers have told him. They have told him that he must pay attention in school because what he is being taught might one day be of use to him. Thus he has learned that what is not of use to him is not worthy of his attention.

The position he seeks in life is not only easy on the body but challenging to the mind. Challenges to the mind, he has heard, are good things. Challenges to his body are things with which he is more familiar and finds them difficult, and now knows he does not want them. It does not occur to him to suspect that challenges to the mind might be equally difficult and therefore incompatible with the easy life he values most. This possibility would be a challenge to his mind, and no doubt he has failed, for that reason, to consider it.

Being a doctor is of no value, except insofar as it enables one to buy hard goods and real estate. The services of a doctor mean nothing, for if our young man should become ill and need them, he would have to “give money away” to him, “some doctor” who would take that money and spend it on something more grati­fying. This would be a bad thing, for giving money away and getting no self-gratification in return would be tantamount to an act of generosity. He wants his health, therefore, lest he be deprived of the pleasures of spending money, and be made jealous of doctors who would take his money, buy nice new cars, expensive snow skis, and houses full of spicy food.

But should he ever go to school to become a doctor himself, it would be, of course, to obtain the most money for his abilities, chief of which would be the ability to do anything for a buck, including performing the super-human task of enduring at least 10 years of medical training for an occupation he disdains as unworthy of being paid.

This man desires wealth because it will buy him a better life. Better lives, for this person, are on a par with commodi­ties purchased, rather than worlds constructed by our own human hands, minds, and hearts.

This man will be happy when he has the money to buy everything he wants. His wants and needs are fused as one in his mind. And money, instead of being a medium of exchange of value for value, is merely the incarnation, the material embodiment of the power by which he will have others produce what he will consume.

He can only be content in a big house, built by the labor of others who have accepted those challenges to the body which he has rejected, a house full of spicy foods─foods planted, cultivated, harvested, processed, cooked, and served by the efforts of others, spicy food to satiate his sensitive and discriminating Epicurean palate. It will be a house full of comfortable furnishings obtained by money, instead of work. In his house, he must have a garage with a nice new car and expensive snow skis. The car must be new, rather than functional and efficient, else the wrong message might be conveyed to the neighbors who he believes, perhaps rightly, share his aspir­ations. The skis must be “expensive,” else his peers will be unimpressed. His house will be full, full of everything─except other human beings. For here is the human being whose concern for future generations has utterly terminated with not merely his own, but himself.

Our student, an archetype of the late twentieth century, has written little, but implied much in the interstices of his words. Our student, it seems, has not yet discovered the mirror into which he could gaze upon the face of his own soul. Should the day arrive when he finds it, he shall hear, with Russell, the cries of pain of a soul in famine, reverberating in his heart, and we too shall suffer with him, and be sorry for him. Yet he lives, for now, making a mockery of what human life should be.

Semper Fidelis or Das Kapital Uber Alles: From Eisenhower to Trump!

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

— Smedley Butler, War is a Racket (1935)

I don’t think so. I think that the – the hook for many of our supporters was the idea that this was an unusual messenger for an important environmental message. You know, people who support environmental issues are constantly trying to find a way to preach beyond the choir, to reach beyond their base of people who are already on board, and I think one of the things that’s very appealing about the film, but primarily Jerry as a messenger, is that you don’t expect this message to come from a career military person.

And through Jerry, you’re – we’ve been able to reach this audience of military folks who maybe wouldn’t be attuned to the environmental message about the effects of toxins on health and things like that. So I think there was a real appeal to many of those organizations from that perspective.

— Rachel Libert, co-producer of filmSemper Fi

I’m thinking harder and harder about the Continuing Criminal Enterprise that is the Corporate State. Thinking hard about the buffoonery, really, “regular” citizens, and members of the armed services, taking hook-line-and-sinker the foundational belief that it’s we the people, by the people, for the people, because of the people.

How wrong my old man was, 32 years combined Air Force and Army, believing he was upholding some decency, some safety nets for all, old folks homes, jobs for college grads and those without any training. Turning in his grave, absolutely, if he could now witness the evisceration of our post office, libraries, public schools, health care, roads and infrastructure. He fought for government oversight, EPA, FDA, and the rights of nature over the thuggery of madmen and Mafiosi and financial philanderers. He witnessed the abuse and fraud of the US Military Lobbying Corporate Ripoff complex, up close and personal. When he was in Korea, he had the utmost respect for Koreans, on both sides of the line. When he was in Vietnam, he had the utmost respect for the Vietnamese. He taught me the words of General Smedley Butler when I was 12. Now how fucked up is that, man. Living half a century on that graveyard of lies, propaganda and insufferable patriotism.

Daily, that American exceptionalist clarion call is pummeled and delegitimized by purveyors of Capitalism – rapacious, arbitrary, steeped in usury, couched in profits over all, cemented by the few elites and their soldiers – Little Eichmann’s – to define all human and non-human life as anything for the taking, consequences be damned. It’s a bought and sold and resell system, United States. Many times, it’s a rip-off after rip-off system of penalties and penury.

Think of Capitalism as, in spite of the people, against the people, forever exploiting the masses. Daily, I have seen this played out as a kid living on military bases around the world; or in just one of a hundred examples, as a student at the University of Arizona watching white purveyors of capital squash the sacred mountain, Mount Graham, in the name of telescopes and tens of thousands of profits per hour for anyone wanting to peer through the scopes. Sticking to the Sonora, I saw the developers in Tucson and then in Kino Bay, Guaymas, all there to push ecosystems toward extinction and to hobble the people – of, for, by, because – with centuries of collective debt and decades of individual fines, levies, taxes, penalties, tolls, externalities. This has been a Greek tragedy of monumental proportions, my 61 years of hard living, shaped by Marxist ideology and informed with communitarian reality.

Name a system or an issue, and then I quickly and easily jump to the cause and effect of the problem, and searching for intended and unintended consequences, and then comprehending shifting baselines, and then inevitably, realizing the tragedy of the commons tied to anything enshrined in consumer capitalism, and then, finally, acceding to the full context of how exponential growth and the limits of growth all come pounding like an aneurysm into my brain.

Call it death by a thousand rules, death by a thousand loopholes, death by a thousand fine print clauses, death by a thousand new chemicals polluting land, soil, air, water, flesh. Death by another thousand PT Barnum adages from dozens of financial-extracting arenas — “a sucker is born every minute,” all tributes to this casino-vulture-predatory capitalism which is insanity as we go to war for, because, despite it all.

Teacher-journalist-social worker-activist-unionist: Who the hell said I had any place in this society of “money takes/speaks/controls/shapes all,” or the Holly-dirt celebrity that is Weinstein or Rosanne Barr, the lot of them, and the unending perversion of big business-big media-big energy-big finance-big pharma-big arms manufacturing-big war as the new coded and DNA-embedded value system, the existential crisis (hog) of culture, civil society, the commons, community, and nature?

The men and women I work with now, after a cavalcade of careers under my belt, are wounded soldiers, sometimes wounded warriors, and many times wounded children – both the inner child and the literal children of soldiers. We’ve had one-day-old babies and 83-year-old veterans in this shelter. Every type of service, every type of discharge, every kind of military history. Some were never deployed overseas, some were but in support capacities, and others saw combat.

That is the microcosm of society reflected in this homeless shelter. I’ve written about it here and here and here. The prevailing winds of one or two strikes, then one or two bad debts, then one or two evictions, or one or two convictions, and, one or two co-occurring maladies, or one or two levels of trauma, and you are almost out; and mix that up with failed relationships, and capitalism and militarism, joined at the hip like a six-legged frog, and we have homelessness. Living in garages, in mini-vans, on couches, in tents, on floors, in wooden boxes, in abandoned buildings, in cemeteries, in cars.

For veterans, there is some level of dysfunctional help through the VA, the medical and dental system, the psych wards, and with housing vouchers and some debt relief. Thank a veteran for his or her service to the country, well, that’s a sloppy invocation of superficial respect.

The crumbs of the octopus that is capitalism wedded to war trickle down to some sectors of society – those who were diagnosed before 18 with some developmental-psychological-intellectual disability and veterans who served. I am talking about vets who didn’t go full-bore and retire after 20-plus years. These vets sometimes ended up in for four or five years, some a few months, and as is the case, here, the hierarchy of character and demographics kicks in, as veterans deployed to war and those who were wounded in war get a higher level of “benefits” than, say, someone who was in a few months or a year with no splashy combat rejoinder to his or her record.

We have vets in continuous, long bureaucratic lines working on their service connected disability claims, and, it’s sometimes a huge Sisyphus game of producing medical record after medical record going up against the hydra of the US government, Arms Service Committee pols, and the western medical system that was bound for failure after the striped barber pole days ended. The military does not help, denying injuries on the job, in combat or otherwise.

Tinnitus or loss of hearing, well, that’s usually a given after even a few months of service in the military. Knees, hips, feet, back problems. Anxiety, depression, skin issues. Kidney, teeth, TBI issues. PTSD and MST (military sexual trauma). The list is a ten-volume encyclopedia.

What I’ve found is most guys and gals are not wired for the obscene confusion, machismo and endless stupidity of repetition and humiliation of barking dehumanizing orders and tasks coming out of service to our country – all branches of the military make the Sanford Prison Experiment look like a walk in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

A Documentary About Cover-up, Collective Guilt, Toxins in the Water, Death

The precipitating factor behind a review of a 2011 documentary, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, directed and produced by Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, is I am working with a former Marine client as his social worker. In a homeless shelter for veterans; that moniker – social worker — is a deep one, a cover-all assignment, with wide ranging responsibilities, some anticipated and others surprisingly serendipitous.

His case, age 63, former Marine, in at age 17 with parents’ permission, is complicated – as if the other cases are not. A lot of these cases involve young men and women, virtually boys and girls, getting out of Dodge. Some with a sense of patriotism, for sure, and a few with aspirations of turning the military into a career. But make no bones about it, these people many times got caught up in the rah-rah patriotism of the day, Apple Pie, Mom, Hot Dogs and Football. Some were in it for the macho badge, and others wanted to learn avionics, electronics, logistics and nursing, etc. Many were discharged because of physical injuries or some sort of mental strain, or many were rifted for the unjust downright downsizing.

I’ll call my man Larry, and he grew up on the Oregon Coast, ending up hitching up with the Marine Corps because he wanted out of bubble of the small town and wanted in with a band of brothers.

Today, he is still tall, but a bit hunched over. His face is frozen in a heavy screen of sadness and fear. Both hands he is attempting to calm, but Parkinsonian tremors have taken over; he can’t hold a tray of food and drink, and he has no signature left. He has bruises on his arms and shines from falling over, tripping. He repeats himself, and knows it, telling me his words are coming out slurred.

He spent two years in prison for what amounts to minor (in my mind) medical fraud with his company. Those two years, he tells me, were nirvana. “The prison guards told me they had never anyone say they were glad to be in prison. I told them this was the calmest and most level I had ever been, or for at least years.”

His life was one of overwork, overreach, clients all over the Pacific Northwest, gambling addiction, big money from his business, lot of toys and big home, and children who ended up spoiled and broken as adults. Larry’s juggling a hoarder wife whose mother is dying, a heroin-addicted daughter with a child, another daughter in an abusive relationship, and countless appointments now to the VA, psychologists, counselors, OT and PT professionals, and support groups.

Today, he is quickly slipping into miasma of Parkinson’s, with all the symptoms and negative cycles of someone with Parkinson’s hitting him daily. He barely got a diagnosis, as early on-set, a few months ago; in fact, he’s been living with the Parkinsonian-triggered suite of maladies for up to 12 years, he tells me. “I remember my clients telling me I was repeating myself. I really think the stupid decision to defraud the state for a few hundred dollars was triggered by Parkinson’s.”

He and I have talked to support groups, looked at the literature around Parkinson’s, watched TED Talk’s focusing on the disease, gone to Michael J. Fox’s web site, and just honed in on what his life will be like in a year, two years, and five.

Right now, his Parkinson’s is one of nine major maladies tied to service connected disabilities the VA is now processing. This ties into the movie – Semper Fi – because my client was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as part of the Marine Corps where learning the art of war was also combined with the silent spring of water contamination that eventually resulted in diseases that both affected the veterans but also their families, and civilians who used the water, as well as their offspring.

This is a three decades long exposure, 1957 – 1987, with an estimated 750,000 to 1,000,000 people who may been exposed to the cancer- and neurological disorder-causing chemicals. They consumed and bathed in tap water contaminated with “extremely high concentrations of toxic chemicals.”

The documentary follows three main protagonists fighting for their lives, the legacy of loved ones who were affected, and for the truth.

This is Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and according to the epidemiologists and scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, it is one of largest water contamination incidents in US history. We learn in the film the main carcinogens the people were exposed to — benzene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE), three known human carcinogens, in addition to perchloroethylene (PCE), a probable carcinogen.

The list of physical damage caused by exposure is long — Birth Defects, Leukemia, Neurological Damage, Bladder Cancer, Liver Damage, Ovarian Cancer, Breast Cancer, Lymphoma, Prostate Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Lung Cancer, Scleroderma, Kidney Damage, Miscarriage, Skin Disorders.

My guy Larry is afraid of watching the documentary, as he is now in a spiraling malaise and deep anxiety tied to the reality of what life with Parkinson’s is, and that maybe many of his life decisions, from infidelity in a marriage to spontaneous behavior like gambling addiction may have stemmed from the stripping of his neurological web by these solvents and fuels that were leaking into the water supply, a contamination known by the United States’ Marines.

Knowledge is power but it can be a leveling power, one that forces people to look at the totality of their lives as may be based on a stack of lies and false ideologies. The movie reveals to the audience that this is one of 130 military sites in the USA with contamination issues. Alas, as I’ve written about before, the US military is the largest polluter in the world, and other militaries have the same standards or lack thereof for storing fuel, solvents, cleaners and other chemicals utilized in the war machine of the West.

Three Lives Following the Chemical Trail, Lies and Deceit

The documentary looks at three lives intensely – a 24-year veteran of the Marines whose 9-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, a man who was born on the base and raised there and then developed male breast cancer, and a female Marine who served years at the Camp and who throughout the film is going through chemo to fight her rare disease.

We see the gravestones at the military cemetery at Camp Lejeune and remarkable typographic evidence of strange deaths – babies buried after a day living, stillborn babies buried, families with two or three deceased individuals, the offspring of serving Marines buried in plots surrounded by others who prematurely died.

Jerry Ensminger, the former drill sergeant, pushes hard to attempt to understand how the Marines could have lied and covered up the years of contamination. He fights to understand how the chemical producers through their lobbyists could hold sway over the common sense duty of protecting the citizens of the United States who swore an oath to defend the US Constitution. In the end, Jerry Ensminger (Janey’s dad), Michael Partain (male breast cancer survivor), and Danita McCall (former Marine enlisted soldier) make for compelling film making, since the project went on for four years.

Here, Rachel, the co-producer, talks about Danita:

The woman who shook her head is a woman named Danita, who we also followed in the film. When we met Danita, she was actually healthy, but shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with cancer that honestly had metastasized so much in her body that I don’t think they could even say what the organ of – you know, what organ it started in. And we began to – in addition to following Jerry and Tom and the others, we also followed Danita as she fought to stay alive, as well as fought to get this issue out.

She did not make it in the time that we were making the film. And neither my co-director or I had ever experienced that in a project we’d worked on, and it was really hard. But Danita felt very strongly that her story should be in the film, and she – even though there were times where she was not feeling so great when we were trying to film her, because she had chemo treatment and whatnot, she really rallied through.

The ultimate sacrifice fighting for your life because of chemical-toxin induced cancers are eating at your very soul while also going up against the PR and hellish propaganda systems that define America, define the powerful, the political, the lobbies, the Captains of Industry, in this case, the chemical purveyors who have been given carte blanc the right to kill entire neighborhoods and classes of people and non-people species because Capitalism is predicated on unfettered rights of any snake oil salesman or demon shyster to bilk, bust, and bill for all the disease they perpetrate. Is anyone with a sound mind going to believe that Agent Orange and PCBs were not already deemed harmful to human life before they were even sprayed on the innocents of Vietnam? Does anyone believe the polluted, lead-flecked water of Flint doesn’t kill brain cells? Off-gassing, Volitile Organic Compounds, plastics, solvents, flame retardants, pesticides, fungicides, diesel fumes, nitrous oxide, fluoride, well, the list goes on and on, and those demons will hide, obfuscate, and downright lie to keep the pennies from Capitalism’s Heaven falling into their fat, off-shore, tax-free bank accounts.

Here, Jerry, talking to C-SPAN:

When any family ever have a child, especially a child, that’s diagnosed with a long-term catastrophic illness, without exception — because I’ve talked to so many other families, when Janey was sic– the first thing after you have a chance to sit down after the shock of the diagnosis wears off is that nagging question: Why? Well, I was no exception.
And I looked into her mother’s family history, my family history, no other child had ever been diagnosed with cancer.

We are talking about over one thousand Freedom of Information requests to have Navy, Marines and other government agency files open for public viewing. The concept of we the people, by the people, for the people – public health, safety, welfare – has never really been a reality, but a myth. For filmmaker Rachel Libert, she too has been caught with wide open eyes around how rotten the systems in place are for supposedly cross-checking and protecting people’s lives:

It’s been eye-opening for me. I think the thing that was probably the most eye-opening – I don’t consider myself a naive person, but I – I actually believed that our regulatory agencies were doing their job and protecting us, bottom line, that things that were really, really harmful and known to be carcinogens wouldn’t really be in our environment, in our water and things. And in making this film, I realized that that system is very flawed and that we aren’t as protected, and that was a very difficult thing for me to accept.

I mean, I certainly didn’t go into it thinking, oh, the government’s perfect and there are no problems, but that was a big revelation.

Again, the film is a microcosm of the world I live in, the world I work in, and the world of a Marxist struggling to make sense of the psychology of power and the impact of that power on the common people. Yes, schooling has helped with the American mythology of greatness. Yes, the Madison Avenue shills have aided and abetted the stupidity of a collective. Yes, the genocidal roots of this country’s illegal origin continue to splay the DNA of Americans. Yes, the food is bad, the air contaminated, the medicines polluted and the human spirit malformed in the collective American household. Yes, those in power are perversions, open felons, war mongers and money grubbers.

But, when you see over the course of four years – these main “actors” in the documentary are not paid – the Don Quixotes flailing at windmills, just replace Camp Lejeune with Love Canal or Monfort slaughter house, or fence-line communities around Houston or the flaming waters of the Cuyahoga River. Just spend a few years studying the largest Superfund site, Hanford in southern Washington. Just spend time looking at the research on Glyphosate (Monsanto’s DNA-killing Round-up). Just delve into the research on EMFs and cancers, or cell phones and brain lesions. Again, this so-called exceptionalist country is a purveyor of lies, purveyor of mentally deranged uber patriotism, and without exception, eventually, anyone going up against the system will quickly hold to him or her self the belief we all have been snookered by the Titans of Industry and the Wolves of Wall Street.

Here, the good Marine, 24 years in, Semper Fi, now a farmer in North Carolina, wondering just what he was fighting for:

Well . . . one thing that they’ve done over the years is that they have obfuscated the facts so much, they have told so many half-truths and total lies, they’ve omitted a lot of information to the media, and now if they were to sit down with me face-to-face, I could show them with their own documents and counter what they’ve been saying, and they don’t want to do that.

I mean, I have been very, very cautious throughout this entire fight to speak truth. I’ve told Mike Partain, when he got involved in it, and everybody else that gets involved in this situation, don’t ever speculate. If you’re talking to the media, if you’re talking to Congress, never speculate. If you don’t have a document out of their own files to back up what you’re saying, keep your mouth shut.

And going back to Mike Partain, when Mike got involved in this back in 2007, Tom was starting to fall out of the hike. Tom’s in his 80s. And Mike was a godsend. I mean, Mike has a degree in history. And he has also got investigative skills, because he is an insurance adjuster. He couldn’t – he couldn’t pay to raise his family on high school teacher’s pay, history teacher’s pay, so he went and got a job as an investigator.

Admirable, the story telling and truth Sather qualities in this film, for sure. The audience gets up close and personal with Jerry and Mike and Danita, and the directors let the soldiers tell the story. We get the cold hard stare down of the military brass. Indeed, for the uninitiated this story is compelling.

But also on the outer edges of this piece are the obscenities of blind obedience to command. There are some ugly truths to being a Marine, of following orders, of sadomasochistic drill sergeants, the culture of rape, the outright racism, and all the attendant issues tied to military service.

This is the fiftieth year after the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. The two or three soldiers who stood down some of the killers and reported the crime were vilified. That bastion of war, Colin Powell, was a junior officer whose job was to hunt down any incriminating evidence against the soldiers who reported the murders. Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer for his reporting on My Lai. Yet, Colin Powell rose to power, ending up in another war criminal’s administration – Bush Junior. To think of all the illegal wars these soldiers have prepped for and gone to, one wonders if any soldier can believe anything around their sometimes teary-eyed salute the flag patriotism.

The USS Liberty, 51 years ago, and Israel murders 34 sailors, and wounds 171, yet deniability, no repercussions, and here we are, US DoD and US Military are the beckon call of Israel firsters running our government, and the blind allegiance to the apartheid and genocidal state 70 years after forced trail of tears for Palestine, and all those deniers now in positions of Fortune 500 power, and who decide the fate of the plebes, the foot soldiers of industry and military services.

Conversing with my veterans, so many are confused about aliens and Area 54 and reverse engineering from that Roswell kid from space; somehow a Trump is more palatable than an Obama than a Bush. How many times have I been spat upon and cursed when I fought against illegal wars, overt or proxy, in South America, Central America, the Middle East? How many times have I been yelled at for fighting against chemical plants or fighting for clean air, water, soil? How many times have I been called a Pinko Fag for fighting for spotted owls or gray wolves?

As an avowed revolutionary, Marxist, one who has been hobbled by the middling mush that is America, from acidified sea to oil slick sea, I can only say that George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain, respectively, say it correctly about this thing called “patriotism”:

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

— George Bernard Shaw

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

— Mark Twain

I’ve got a more horrific story to tell about Larry, my former Marine. Yes, he might get some more service connected disability money coming in for the toxic water exposure he attained in North Carolina while on the Marine Corps base for a few years.

He is now stagnant, fearful of uncontrollable tremors, fearful of not getting words out, fearful of falls, fearful of a life now full of attendants, and as we all are, fearful of ending up destitute (he is in a homeless shelter, readers), and alas, his one asset — his brain — is now fogged and riddled with the bullet holes of anxiety and paranoia.

Yet, his toxic waters story pales in comparison to what happened to him as a 17-year-old at boot camp in Dan Diego. A story so bizarre and troubling, that it’s one the military has dealt with since time immemorial, when the first militaries came about under those pressed into service rules of the rich needing bodies to fight their unholy skirmishes, battles and world wars.

That story and series of human penalties Larry encompasses will come soon, but for now, imagine, a country run by the likes of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Trump, et al. Imagine those swollen jowls and paunchy millionaire politicians. Imagine their lies, their sociopathic inbreeding. Imagine the tortures they foment at night. Imagine these people sending people to war, and imagine the entire lie that is America, the land of the free.

Hell, in my own neck of the woods, Portland, again, we are a third world country when it comes to we, for, by and because the people:

In one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the fight for clean water is taxing. From Salem, Oregon to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and from Flint, Michigan to the L’eau Est La Vie Camp in Louisiana, Americans are finding their access to clean water threatened.

Emma Fiala

Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

QUESTION: We have choices in other areas of life. Why not in schools?

RESPONSE: Choice and rights are not the same thing; they are distinct categories with different properties and should not be conflated.

Education is a right, not a privilege, opportunity, or choice. A right is essentially a need, something indispensable for the existence or development of something. Rights belong to humans by virtue of their very being and for no other reason whatsoever. Rights cannot be given or taken away. They cannot be waived, sold, transferred, or forfeited in any way. Nor are they earned, deserved, or based on “merit.” Rights are also not based on skin color, language, religion, nationality, or gender.

Choice refers to the simple act of selecting something from a list of alternatives. Under capitalism, choice means being a consumer who decides what goods or services to buy or sell. Choice in the capitalist “free market” sense rests on the idea that humans are mainly individualistic proprietors, consumers, and entrepreneurs, not humans or citizens. Among other things, choice and consumerism fetishize the “me” while citizenship and being human address the “we.” Choice and consumerism are part of the old antisocial outlook that views humans as reward-seeking “rugged individuals” who bravely fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world and owe nothing to anyone else. Risk and peril are built-in features of such a world.

Needs are essential and cannot be selected or unselected. They cannot be chosen, bought, sold, or forfeited. Like food and water, for example, education is not something one can choose to go without, especially in the twenty-first century. No education almost always means no future—in more ways than one. No human chooses to be hungry, homeless, unemployed, uninsured, and uneducated. Indeed, one can only be human when their need for food, shelter, clothing, education, work, and healthcare is satisfied in a way that is commensurate with the level of development of society. You may be able to choose what kind of breakfast cereal you subjectively prefer, but you cannot avoid food because it is a human need.

The right to fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to be consumers who shop for a school, cross their fingers, and hope it all works out. Modern education should not be a lottery or a gamble.

Modern society based on large-scale industrial production cannot leave education to chance and personal choice. A society based on fending for yourself, “survival of the fittest,” “might makes right,” “rugged individualism,” consumerism, and behaviorism needs to be replaced by a society fit for all—one that provides dignity, prosperity, peace, stability, and security for all. Society can move forward only if the accumulated knowledge of humanity is passed on to the next generation in a conscious, organized, and humane manner.

Conclusion

The choice today is not between privatized, marketized, and corporatized charter schools that operate on the basis of the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market,” verses under-funded, over-tested, constantly-demonized public schools deliberately mandated to fail by the neoliberal state. These are false and harmful choices. Neither serve education and society well.

It is no secret what is needed to ensure world-class schools in every community. Thousands exist already. Given the level of development of society and its productive forces, it is more than possible for a government truly accountable to the people to guarantee fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code. Our society does not lack the resources to ensure this. Scarcity is one of many self-serving and harmful capitalist myths that go unexamined every day.

Fully-funded, world-class, locally-controlled public schools in every neighborhood and zip code would mean that parents would not have to shop for a school. Why should humans have to do this in 2018? It is absurd. The havoc wreaked on education and society by the so-called “free market” and charter schools can be avoided altogether and a big measure of security, reliability, and quality can be attained. It is far from impossible.

Progress cannot happen, however, by remaining silent, being passive, conciliating with the neoliberal agenda, relying on wishful thinking, resorting to careerism, being an opportunist, or hoping “someone else” will figure it out. These are not solutions. They just prolong and exacerbate the pain for everyone. Everyone must become activated in these increasingly dangerous times and play their role at their level. Reality is making itself felt more forcefully. Combating charter school disinformation and raising social consciousness is part of affirming the modern human personality and creating new arrangements that favor the people.

Where to begin? An important starting point for bringing about change that favors the people is by actively implementing the following conclusion: understanding requires an act of conscious participation by the individual, an act of finding out. The prevailing culture blocks serious disciplined investigation in endless ways and rejects scientific theory. Actively resisting this pressure and investigating the world is indispensable at this time. By simply resolving to start everything by investigating, by taking nothing for granted, by rejecting conditioned thinking, and by avoiding facile answers we can all take a big step forward together. This is not small potatoes. Such a disposition is priceless and requires continual cultivation. It is key to unleashing the human factor. The overwhelming disinformation, dogmatism, lies, illusions, and retrogression of the rich and their outdated system only increase anticonsciousness and block the path of progress to society.

Charter Schools: Backpack Full of Cash

QUESTION: If a school is educating a child, whether it’s a private school or a charter school, doesn’t it deserve public dollars?

RESPONSE: Public and private mean the opposite of each other. Public and private are antonyms.

Public refers to the common good, everyone, the whole society. Public means inclusive and for all; non-rivalrous. Public also means not narrow or sectarian. Synonyms for public include: open and transparent. Private, on the other hand, refers to some, a few. Private means exclusive, not for everyone, not inclusive, not shared. Synonyms for private include: restrictive, secret, closed, not transparent.

Public and private are not synonymous in any way. Mixing them up produces conceptual confusion and harmful policies, practices, and arrangements all the time. There is a reason that public schools and private schools operate differently and have different profiles and features.

Charter by definition means contract. Charter schools are contract schools. Contract is the quintessential market category. Contracts make markets possible. Significantly, contract law is private law, which deals with relations between private citizens, whereas public law deals with relations between the state and individuals. These points cannot be overstated. It is because of these legal realities that charter schools are inherently privatized, marketized, corporatized arrangements. It is precisely why charter schools lack most of the public features of public schools and the public sphere. It is for this reason that a charter school cannot be something other than a charter school, regardless of whether it is if for-profit or nonprofit, “good” verses “bad,” operated by “mom-and-pop” or a corporation. There is a reason that charter schools are deregulated, deunionized, practice selective enrollment, have high teacher and student turnover rates, are plagued by corruption, lack accountability, and enrich a handful of individuals. If an individual with “good intentions” thinks they are going to make “their” charter school great and different from all the other rotten ones—think again. Such an idea is based on no thinking and no analysis. It is based on wishful thinking alone.

Public funds, assets, buildings, facilities, resources, and authority belong only to the public and no one else. They are produced by the public and must be controlled by the public at all times, not someone else. This is why the fate of public funds, assets, and buildings must be decided upon by the public alone and are to be used strictly for public purposes. Public funds for public schools must not go to private interests.

Private and sectarian interests have no claim to public funds, assets, and buildings. Public wealth must never be handed over to the private sector, let alone in the name of “efficiency,” “choice,” “competition,” “innovation,” “accountability,” or “results.” These buzzwords have provided cover for much of the neoliberal destruction that has unfolded over the past 40 years. Privatization in its many forms ultimately harms the economy and the national interest.

Charter Schools: “Backpack Full of Cash”

Backpack Full of Cash is a 90-minute documentary about the negative consequences of the growing privatization of public schools in America. Produced several years ago, the film focuses mainly on the harmful impact of charter schools on public schools and America’s most vulnerable children. The film has been viewed by thousands of people in many different venues, and many continue to organize film screenings in their communities.

Among other things, the film makers have produced a useful 28-page discussion guide which includes questions and answers surrounding privatization and charter schools.

This three-part series tackles a few of these questions in greater detail.

QUESTION: We live in a capitalist country. Why not look to the free market for solutions?

RESPONSE: Labor is the only source of value. Profit equals unpaid labor. Capitalism is a transient economic system designed to maximize profit as fast as possible for major owners of capital. Production under capitalism takes place for the purpose of profitable exchange, not for meeting social needs. If something is not profitable, it will not be produced. And what is not produced, cannot be distributed. This is a very narrow aim for society and the reason why, even though society has an overabundance of wealth and resources, millions go without many basic needs being met. For example, there are thousands of homeless people in the U.S. even though there are thousands of vacant houses.

Far from ensuring that goods and services are produced and distributed in the most “efficient” manner, the capitalist “free market” ensures chaos, anarchy, volatility, and uncertainty. Risk, insecurity, and instability are inherent, not accidental, features of the “free market.” Economic slumps, recessions, booms, busts, depressions, and crises are the fellow-travelers of capitalism. This is how the so-called “invisible hand” operates. The “free market” produces carnage in business and society every day. A dog-eat-dog ethos prevails. Fortunes are made and lost overnight. “Winners” and “losers” abound. Greed, jealousy, rivalry, narcissism, individualism, and “getting ahead of others” are treated as normal, permanent, unavoidable, and healthy. These traits are supposedly part of “human nature,” rather than the direct expression of an impermanent economic system plagued by violent internal contradictions.

Why should collective human responsibilities like education rest on uncertainty, insecurity, instability, and chaos? Why should critical social responsibilities be based on the narrow profit motive? Modern humans need education (and healthcare, food, and shelter) on a reliable, sustainable, crisis-free basis. Subjecting basic needs to the blind destruction of the “free market” is irrational, irresponsible, and historically unwarranted. Schools should not be closing and opening every day, and in such an inhuman dog-eat-dog environment. The needs of students, educators, parents, the economy, and society cannot be met properly when the profit motive and the “law of the jungle” are the main modes of life.

The “free market” works only for a tiny ruling elite, and even then with great risks and insecurity. Education, like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare are social responsibilities which cannot be treated as commodities. Education is not a business. Nor can it be left to chance. Students, parents, and teachers are not consumers. Their identity, needs, and complexity cannot be reduced to buying and selling, winning and losing. Homo Sapiens are more than Homo Economicus.

The right to education in a modern society based on large-scale production cannot be guaranteed without conscious human planning. Economic “booms and busts” and the devastating ripples they regularly send through society and all of its institutions can be avoided. There is an alternative, one whose seeds lie in the present. It is both possible and necessary to set a new direction for society and the economy and to live in a human-centered way. No human or institution has to be the victim of blind anarchic “market forces” that always seem to perpetuate upheaval and anxiety while always benefitting the privileged few the most.

Universities, Branding and Saudi Arabia

The modern university is a tertiary colonising institution.  Like the old mercantilist bodies – the Dutch East India Company and its equivalents – the educational world is there to be acquired by bureaucrats, teachers and, it is hoped, suitable recruits.

To that end, a good degree of amorality is required.  Scruples are best left to others, and most certainly not university managers, who prefer counting the sums rather than pondering deontological principles.  Such a point seems very much at the forefront of an arrangement between the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The MGSE, which seems, in acronym, similar to a salt brand, struck gold in its arrangement to reform the Kingdom’s school curriculum – some 36,000 schools in all comprising 500,000 teachers.

“This project,” stated the Minister for Education Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Issa, “will have a significant impact on the development of the new educational process in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  It will require “patience”, and the contributions of “international experts”.

Irons were already being laid in the fire the previous year, with thirty teachers from Saudi Arabia engaging a six month program “designed,” according to the MGSE dispatch, “to transform their teaching knowledge, skills and attitudes.”

The search for such experts is part of a broader Saudi mission, the “Vision 2030” ostensibly designed to produce a new generation of “critical” thinkers.  “A system of transmitting existing knowledge,” opined Al-Issa to a gathering of education and business figures at the Yidan Prize Summit in Hong Kong last year, “is no longer adequate.  We need to rethink education from preschool through graduate schools and we need to do this urgently.”

Al-Issa has spread matters broadly, with his ministry signing an agreement with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in November 2017 “to explore opportunities to further deepen cooperation on the design and implementation of education reform in Saudi Arabia.”

The Melbourne University newsroom was beaming with remarks sweetened by success. MGSE’s Dean Jim Watterston kept it vague and professional. “We look forward to working with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deliver evidence-based research methods into classrooms.”  The impression given by Watterston is a system of education that enlightens rather than indoctrinates, something distinct from what passes for Saudi teaching fare.

Which brings us to the sticking, and even fatal, point behind the whole ghastly business.  As the chief Sunni state wages remorseless war on Yemen, in the process robbing cradles and breaching human rights in the name of geopolitical goals, business is still to be done.  Australian education envoys, sent by overly managed universities, are the ideally blinkered.  Given that it remains the country’s third largest earner of gross domestic product, principles would be a needless encumbrance.

What gives this whole matter of pedagogical enterprise between the MGSE and Saudi Arabia a good lashing of irony is that the Kingdom is at war with what it deems extremism.  Only its own Wahhabi brand, the same sort that inspired those who flew the murderous missions on September 11, 2001 against US targets, is tolerated.

Saudi Arabia, for one, boasts an education program that lends itself to the standardised, hardened teachings of Wahhabism.  Nina Shea, director of the Centre for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, told the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade in July 2017 how “violent and belligerent teachings” abounded in the curriculum like dandruff.

Two years after the 9/11 hijackers reaped sorrow, the National Dialogue in Saudi Arabia sported the findings of a scholarly panel commissioned by King Abdullah.  The religious studies curriculum, in particular, “encourages violence towards others, misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate each other.”

According to Shea, not much had changed.  The textbooks authorised by the Ministry of Education still taught “an ideology of hatred and violence against Jews, Christians, Muslims, such as Shiites, Sufis, Ahmadis, Hindus, Bahais, Yizidis, animists, sorcerers, and ‘infidels’ of all stripes, as well as other groups with different believes.”  If you hate, hate well, thoroughly and diligently.

Behind the current agenda of the Ministry of Education is an effort to root out rival Islamic doctrines, a program that is only critical in its evisceration and selective censorship.  In March this year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS television that the dreaded Muslim Brotherhood had found its way into the Saudi school system, a carcinogenic force that needed a good dose of administrative chemo.

The Kingdom, he promised, will “fight extremist ideologies by reviewing school curricula and books to ensure they are free of the banned Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda”.  This act of pedagogical cleansing was promised to be harsh, seeking to “ban books attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood from all schools and universities and remove all those who sympathise with the group.”

Short shrift, in other words, is being given to the functions of actual critical thinking, the very stuff Watterston boasts about somewhat uncritically.  But that will not bother him, or those who have put their signatures in this particular form of international engagement.  The perks are bound to be endless.  Like the selling of arms, education is a business designed to line pockets, feed the parasites of management, and enhance an empty brand.  Forget the students – they are the last in the dismal food chain. Even more importantly, ignore the politics of it all.

When Things Fall Apart: A Graduation Message for a Dark Age

When the rivers and air are polluted, when families and nations are at war, when homeless wanderers fill the highways, these are the traditional signs of a dark age.

— Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, September 26, 2000

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people.

They will find themselves overtaxed, burdened with excessive college debt, and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state. They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Worse, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern America.

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

No, we haven’t done this generation any favors.

Based on the current political climate, things could very well get much worse before they ever take a turn for the better. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help those coming of age today survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Be an individual. For all of its claims to champion the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity which, as John F. Kennedy warned, is “the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” Worry less about fitting in with the rest of the world and instead, as Henry David Thoreau urged, become “a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

Learn your rights. We’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights before it’s too late.

Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We must learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Resist all things that numb you. Don’t measure your worth by what you own or earn. Likewise, don’t become mindless consumers unaware of the world around you. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. Those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions desire compliant subjects. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Don’t let technology turn you into zombies. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and have lost our humanity. We’ve become sleepwalkers. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens.

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love and help one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. All the while, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police the rest of the world. This is an egregious affront to anyone who believes in freedom.

Cultivate spirituality, reject materialism and put people first. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics. Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Say no to war. Addressing the graduates at Binghampton Central High School in 1968, at a time when the country was waging war “on different fields, on different levels, and with different weapons,” Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling declared:

Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition. That men die for causes does not necessarily sanctify that cause. And that men are maimed and torn to pieces every fifteen and twenty years does not immortalize or deify the act of war… find another means that does not come with the killing of your fellow-man.

Finally, prepare yourselves for what lies ahead. The demons of our age—some of whom disguise themselves as politicians—delight in fomenting violence, sowing distrust and prejudice, and persuading the public to support tyranny disguised as patriotism. Overcoming the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism. It will require decency, morality, goodness, truth and toughness. As Serling concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:

Toughness is the singular quality most required of you… we have left you a world far more botched than the one that was left to us… Part of your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a minister… Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong. This is one of the challenges. Be prepared to seek out the middle ground … that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides. If you must swing left or you must swing right—respect the other side. Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate, rebut—but don’t close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition. In their eyes, you’re the opposition. And ultimately … ultimately—you end divisiveness by compromise. And so long as men walk and breathe—there must be compromise…

Are you tough enough to face one of the uglier stains upon the fabric of our democracy—prejudice? It’s the basic root of most evil. It’s a part of the sickness of man. And it’s a part of man’s admission, his constant sick admission, that to exist he must find a scapegoat. To explain away his own deficiencies—he must try to find someone who he believes more deficient… Make your judgment of your fellow-man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts. Be tough enough, please, to live with prejudice and give battle to it. It warps, it poisons, it distorts and it is self-destructive. It has fallout worse than a bomb … and worst of all it cheapens and demeans anyone who permits himself the luxury of hating.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for the American people to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it.

Wake up, stand up, and make your activism count for something more than politics.

Neo-Liberal Academia and the Death of Education

Recent cases of personal information collecting for corporate interests highlight the urgency of revisiting the topic of higher education in its connection with the corporate sector and the government. We ought to reconsider at least some aspects of the complex web of the contemporary “education industry” and its social implications. Understanding how contemporary (Western) education works (or doesn’t work) can contribute to raising the awareness of the general population as to the scale of the problem, and making a change, no matter how small.

What’s the problem?

Why should one be concerned with the way the system of (higher) education works? Although the manifold issues related to the contemporary system of higher education in the West (primarily in the US) cannot be summarized in one word, one phrase does capture the most important problems: corporatization of universities.

This process is not new. It follows the more general tendency of applying “neo-liberal” policies, “business logic” and “market principles” to virtually all spheres of our private and public lives. Higher education—and, in particular, the humanities as the main focus of this essay—seem to be one of the latest victims of the all-penetrating (neo-liberal) capitalist ideology. The application of this ideology in academia has resulted in a couple of significant changes over the past decades, primarily in the US and the UK, but the rest of the world is catching up. These changes have diminished to quite a significant degree the very idea of education in the sphere of the humanities, its meaning and its purpose.

Higher costs

The costs of higher education have skyrocketed. According to some sources, the cost of acquiring a university education in the US has increased 1,120% over the last three decades, and even more if compared with the 1960s and 1970s. It is hard to find any relevant economic justification for this, and in reality, one can show that the rising costs of higher education have a very negative general economic and social implications. However, what makes no sense from the perspective of the economic interests of the general population or the society as a whole makes perfect sense if viewed from the perspective of class warfare.

The effects of the rising costs of higher education are very real—students are trapped by huge debts created by extensive borrowing in order to be able to pay for unattainably high tuition costs. In such a situation, they cannot afford to spend time on extracurricular activities or get engaged in social activism; in other words, they cannot afford to work against the system. Borrowing huge amounts (to pay for what should be free to them) teaches them an important lesson about the system in which they are supposed to live: one must be obedient, accept the rules of the game, get a degree and try to find a “good” job so that they can start paying back the loans. This ideological instrument turns out to be very effective—it helps the system to replicate and expand. It is not difficult to see a very conservative ideological framework behind this logic. It basically says “conform to the way the system works” (i.e. to the “markets” as a new version of secular gods), “don’t question, don’t try to change anything” (since that’s “unrealistic” or even socially “irresponsible” behavior). In continental Europe, where the institutions of higher education are still predominantly publicly funded, class and culture wars are fought differently (but that is a topic for another essay). Instead of individual’s intellectual capabilities, personal motivation and readiness to invest a lot of time and energy in learning, deep pockets and obedience become much more decisive factors of the overall study success.

The growth of the university administration

Higher costs are accompanied by the changing academic culture and the institutional functioning of universities. The role of the faculty and students in governing the university has declined to a remarkable degree. Faculty members are increasingly expected to be obedient executors of the policies designed by the university managers. The corporate-like university management (presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans, vice deans, etc.) has grown significantly, both in size and in power. In many cases these managers come from very different worlds (e.g. the entertainment industry, politics, financial institutions, etc.) with little or no understanding of what education or university is all about. But they (supposedly) know what the “real world” looks like, and that seems to be sufficient qualification for the positions of the university bosses.

One of the results of this is that the faculty members are becoming administrators—instead of focusing primarily on (real) research and teaching, they are often overwhelmed with “assessment” forms, meaningless meetings and other corporate-like administrative duties that are often not only useless but actually directly counterproductive. Contemporary US academia resembles, in many ways, the late Soviet bureaucracy—an ever-increasing number of forms and procedures mask the lack of any real content.

Market-oriented “education”

The question that is usually asked when education is discussed is, “What do the markets need?” Today, education is understood as training for doing a particular “business.” Many “solutions” that are proposed to the problem of contemporary education fail precisely because they accept this very same “business metaphysics” as the ultimate horizon of meaning. New programs are designed and justified in front of university managers based on the “needs” of the “markets.” But we rarely pause to examine the logic behind this reasoning.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with training for particular jobs (unless, of course, that training is for the aggressive war industries, harmful financial speculations and the like). The problem is that this is precisely what education is not. Education should not be about our ability to fit into the existing, pre-given systems. Education should never be simply training. This is what made higher education, at the dawn of modernity, different from the medieval guilds, where one could obtain training, but without education. University education is about inquiring into the broader context and theoretical principles of things, it is about questioning the very framework of the system and the society as a whole. Doing something that “the markets” expect us to do, although necessary up to a point, is essentially a bizarre enterprise. Why should we do what “the markets” tell us? Who says that what they tell us is good, necessary or meaningful? Who says that this or that is a real problem that we need to “fix”? Maybe there are more pressing issues to address? Well, without (real) education, we will never know.

Asking simple questions like these is already enough to expose the highly ideological nature of today’s concepts of education and of the “real world.” Expert-oriented training (which also often suffers from its low quality, for the reasons listed below) is not what higher education—especially in the humanities—is all about. By limiting the scope of thinking, research and practical engagement, “the markets” (i.e. the leaders of the corporate sector) become the “agenda designers,” the “trendsetters,” those who determine the problem to be fixed and how to fix it (with somewhat predictable outcomes). To further ensure that problem-solving remains within this market-driven framework, one needs to call upon the “experts” and the obedient mainstream media to “explain” to the (already indoctrinated) general audience what the problem is and what the solutions are. This strategy effectively prevents alternatives views, issues and solutions from penetrating the (mainstream) public discourse.

The consumer-type of “education”

In neo-liberal academia, students are increasingly being treated as customers/consumers. The logic they are trained to absorb is that they “pay” for a certain “product” or “service.” Applied to higher education, that “product” is the diploma or certificate, not education or knowledge. Obtaining real education and knowledge is not the same, not even similar, to going to a supermarket or a restaurant where we are supposed to be “satisfied.” Education implies hard work, challenging situations, dissatisfaction, frustration, creativity, initiative, dedication and much more. The results of this consumer-centered “education” are the well-known phenomena such as grade inflation and low learning outcomes, accompanied by an increase in all possible services on campuses (sports halls, coffee shops, entertainment rooms, etc.), except those that have something to do with (real) education.

Related to this is the broader issue of the impact of technological advancements and the broader cultural shift that has accompanied it. It has been evidenced now that when we read from our laptops, cellphones, tablets and other screens, we memorize and understand less than when we read from old-fashioned (paper) books. In addition, the sense that all information (mistaken for knowledge) is readily available to us diminishes careful reading, analysis and thinking about what we read. To paraphrase Baudrillard, more and more information seems to result in less and less knowledge and understanding. This is not an argument against technology; it is merely an argument about many of the side effects of the way we use it, with elements having a direct, detrimental impact on our reading and thinking culture, both vital for (good) education.

The culture of “safe spaces” and political correctness

This issue is intimately linked with the “consumer-centered” ideology. Since students are treated as customers, there is a tendency to keep them “safe” from anything that can potentially be “harmful” or cause “distress.” This means that students are exceedingly kept from exposure to different ways of thinking, different types of information and different values. This is literally killing education. When the consumerist logic is taken to its extreme, and applied to all spheres of our lives, it results in students being encouraged to advance the anti-intellectual discourse in which “I feel like…” is a sufficient argument against all the points of view, arguments and values that they “feel” they don’t like. More and more classrooms begin to resemble the one from the famous Modern Educayshun video. The culture of “trigger words” and politically-correct speech becomes the stage on which the play of education is staged. This spectacle is often called “progressive” and “liberal.” The true name for this is not progressive, left or liberal, but a sad, anti-intellectual performance of the late consumerist era. The paradox is that when many of these “liberal” or “leftist” circles (primarily in the US) advocate political correctness, “safe spaces” and other supposedly noble and progressive ethical postulates, they, in fact, advocate a secularized fundamentalist worldview (some of which is so brilliantly captured in Nikki Johnson-Huston’s essay “The Culture Of The Smug White Liberal”).

The persecution of professors is a part of these crusades launched against freedom of speech and freedom of thinking. It becomes not all-too-uncommon to find cases of tenured professors being fired for simply speaking their mind, for expressing views that are considered “problematic” or “unacceptable.” This brings to memory the darkest episodes of totalitarian systems.

The public discourse and, even more tragically, academia, are thus often hopelessly caught between religious-fundamentalist oppressiveness (called the “right”) and secularized fundamentalism, both very oppressive.

Consequences

Neo-liberal academia, in some of its features, seems as a return to the pre-modern types of training, when a student would enter a guild to penetrate a particular interest group, learn a skill and then conform to the market demands. This understanding of education is fundamentally different from the humanistic idea of education, with its stress on theory, analysis of principles, critical and free thinking (which means thinking without any pre-determined purpose or constraints).

Following the business/market logic as the ultimate criterion in education is harmful. The reality is that at this point the neo-liberal logic of global corporate capitalism (with its disregard for the ecological and humanitarian crises for instance) is driving the world toward its ultimate destruction. Designing university curricula to conform to this logic is therefore nothing short of contributing to the destruction of the world.

What’s the solution?

Contrary to the present tendencies, one can think of a different form and meaning of higher education. Its primary role should be to question everything, especially widely accepted views and values, everything that has become “normality.” Its role should never be to make people fit into existing models. A meaningful system of higher education should, in my view, offer three key elements:

(1) Systematic, in-depth knowledge of a particular field or discipline. This is supposed to make students future experts/professionals in their respective fields. This is what the “training” is about, and this is a necessary, yet, alone, insufficient element of good education.

(2) Critical thinking and social responsibility. We should educate students to question and change the existing ideological frameworks and social and political institutions every time they do not meaningfully contribute to the society, and especially when they become harmful. The goal of (serious) education should not be to prepare students to fit into the (corrupt) system; the goal should be to prepare them to change the system and the markets, to make them more humane and meaningful.

(3) Personal growth. This dimension of education, which once upon a time was considered vital, has almost completely disappeared from academia. Education and the growth of one’s knowledge should not be a “job” divorced from one’s personality, from who we are. Education should be about activating our individual creative potentials, it should be pleasurable, adventurous, it should make us better persons. It should allow us to reach who we can be, beyond the demands and limitations of the currently existing power structures.

We should not let capitalism make us forget who we are as human beings.

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.