Wednesday, December 23, 2015

One Thing Is Clear

The older I get, the more I realize that there are no simple solutions to problems, be it world hunger, war and conflict, climate change, or something as seemingly straightforward as getting along with that difficult guy down the street. And while I have cast aside most of the facile answers I thought I had in my youth, one thing remains, for me, an immutable truth: the power of education.

In a world beset by extremism and creeping demagoguery, some of it very close to our doorstep, the only real inoculation, although hardly a foolproof one, is that which is conferred by being as well-educated as possible. Had I not believed this, I doubt that I could have managed 30 years in the classroom.

Knowing things, especially how to think critically, provides tools that can help prevent people from falling into an insularity that ignores the larger world and allows for the construction of a world based, not on reality, but rather the prejudices and values that appeal to the lowest instincts of humanity.

A well-considered letter in today's Toronto Star addresses this issue quite nicely, I think:
Re: Fear of Donald Trump is overblown, Dec. 18

Wondering why Donald Trump has so much support for his racist views?

Two anecdotes: In 1941, when I was four, my parents moved from Chicago to a suburb that had good schools. So by 1941, long before the documented flight of whites from U.S. cities, some U.S. school systems were in trouble.

Fast forward to the mid-1960s when I was the manager of Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Ky., the local professional theatre company. In an attempt to sell tickets, I visited an official at the Jefferson County Board of Education, responsible for Louisville schools. When I suggested that the board consider buying play tickets for their students, the official told me that they had trouble finding dollars to buy chalk, paper and pencils, and couldn’t think about theatre tickets. He said that any increase in school funding had to be approved in a plebiscite, and citizens always voted “no.”

In addition to poor investment in education, many U.S. citizens have no experience outside of their country. In the far west and far east, near the coasts, people do travel, but in most of the U.S., including the giant midwest, people don’t even have passports. Plus, their slimmed-down, dumbed-down media are mostly controlled by big corporations whose civic responsibilities are thin.

So who better to respond to a demagogue’s simple, angry answers to complex questions than people who have been poorly educated, don’t know the rest of the world, are poorly informed by media, and have been fed a diet of myths about U.S. greatness. All this while their higher-paying union factory jobs have gone to low-wage countries.

Little was learned from the loss of the Vietnam War, other than learning not to allow the media unfettered access to what is really happening in U.S. wars. Little has been learned from the 1940s and 1950s McCarthy “Red Scare” blacklisting of supposed Communist sympathizers, another time in which politicians deliberately stoked U.S. citizens’ fears, ruining the lives of thousands.

And, most people are unaware that, beginning in the 1930s, large corporations deliberately and successfully courted U.S. Christian leaders in an attempt to counter Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The message was, and is, that Christianity and capitalism have similar goals.

We in Canada, my chosen country, can’t be smug. We are the people that elected Rob Ford, and Stephen Harper three times, and “the base” in both countries is angry for real reasons, but instead of real solutions being offered, “the base” is fed fear and hatred of others by cynical opportunists. Unfortunately, hate boomerangs.

The solutions lie in better education and more opportunities for all, and in setting strict limits on how much wealth or power any person or corporation can amass.

A long, dangerous path is ahead of us. The enemy, and our better selves, are within each of us. In the words of W. H. Auden: “We must love one another or die.”

Douglas Buck, Toronto


  1. Better education and more opportunities for all. But getting there isn't easy, Lorne.

    1. As we know, Owen, it is well-worth fighting for.

  2. We have seen in the States, Lorne, how politicians succumb to the "low tax" mantra and leave their governments - municipal, state and federal - essentially destitute. To an unsophisticated, ill-educated public, tax cuts are as free heroin to a back alley addict.

    For any society it's a cancer and its most visible visage is our rotting infrastructure. When concrete falls from an overpass or a bridge collapses or highways buckle or water mains burst, it's all the evidence of pending social collapse.

    For those of our vintage, Lorne (and Owen), our parents' generation were the builders. Our own generation got the free ride - no Great Depression, no world war, plenty of everything and, inevitably, it became our custom, our reality. Taxes to keep it all going into the future were inconvenient, unwelcome even intolerable.

    As the institutions of society degrade, society becomes weakened, brittle and, ultimately, nasty. It becomes exclusive and cohesion falters. This is the scourge of neo-liberalism, the social tax exacted by globalization.

    Even as we recoil from the very suggestion of taxes, we tolerate the rise of non-governmental players who, in the exercise of incidents of sovereignty yielded in the name of the global economy, exact their own form of tax in the predation of a once prosperous and powerful middle class and the unearned transfer of their wealth and political power to the most affluent. It's just a different form of tribute only without the promise of any return in exchange.

    1. An apt synopsis of our current situation, Mound. The tunnel vision that so many have adopted is leading, literally and figuratively, to the crumbling of our society, a fact that the forces of neo-liberalism care not a whit about.

  3. Lorne, we humans never learn from our past. I understand the first WORLD WAR was to end all wars. Rest is history.

    Greed is one of the worst human trait. Developed countries go after countries who have resources like fossil fuels. Bush's one of the motive was to control oil wells in Iraq.

    Then weapon companies need to sell their deadly weapons and they do it when there are wars.

    I don't see an end to these destructive tendencies of humans.

    Education indeed is one hope.

    1. No doubt, LD, that the destructive tendencies of humanity will continue, and there will always be those quite happy to exploit them. Education, at least, can help to provide the tools so that people can resist such impulses and demagogues.

  4. When governments abandon truth , tyranny takes its place. Yet we allow over and over again our governments to acquire power over us.We have been doing this almost from the time governments were formed. To have done the hard work and progressive thinking in creating a democracy, then to allow some demagogue to dismantle it and replace it with tyranny requires complete indifference of the rights and freedoms
    that we live under and that most no longer value. Canada came very close to doing just that under Harper. Understanding what it means to live in a free society and placing that freedom as societies greatest value, requires critical thinking. Education now, especially in the US does not teach students to think. This is why I think the students with the best minds go into the physical sciences. There they can think and they can realize the results of that thinking. Education at one time may have taught students to think, but now they learn by rote and memorizing. I heard a lecture years back in Boston. It was given by a Canadian professor, who had studied the American educational system. The title of the lecture was "Why Johnny can't think" He explained step by step how the educational system prevents "Johnny" from rising to the conceptual level of learning and of course without the conceptual level of thinking
    you have only concrete bound knowledge. Very little if any abstracting. It was a brilliant lecture. How else can a government constantly lie to its citizens like the US does and get away with it. Donald Trump and actually the whole right wing politics is a product of the non-thinking anti-intellectual culture at large.For those who take ideas and thinking seriously it is painful to listen to. Endless wars, constant propaganda, dire poverty all products of authoritatianism, neoliberalism and the worship of anti-intellectualism. It's 2015 and we now, because of being governed by ignorant, psychopaths, fear the possibility of nuclear war.

    1. Your indictment of the systems of education now in place is well-taken, Pamela. While I am almost 10 years removed from the classroom, I know as my career was winding down that the emphasis was increasingly on 'skills training' to the detriment of critical thinking. While I am by no means a conspiracy buff, I do believe that the goals of education today have less to do with turning out thinking citizens than it does with turning out people who will fit into the capitalist ideal of non-questioning and productive workers.

  5. Pam hell nuclear war its happened before will the insanity ever end? The education system has been taken over so long ago we were taught bull-tweet. What saved us what made us different, why were we immune to programming?

    I never paid attention in grade school or high school after a certain point. It was all nonsense I learned math biology reading and writing of course that is all I had patience for. Then I read everything I could get my hands on. Spiritual stuff [I ain't religious though] but I am serious about spirit. I know that that part of us exists. I was struck by lightning once on a 12,000 foot plus peak and lived to tell about it. What saved me? Spirit. My own. I beat the lightning to the ground not by my wits I'll tell you that. I had no chance to think at all the little part of me we call spirit that is mostly ignored by people even if they are religious acted to save my life. My right arm was struck and me [SIC on purpose]spirit had me on my knee's hugging a boulder [a big rock] while I was still marveling at the electric blue of the lightning...

    My spirit as I understand it from reading is the size of one atom and leaves at the point of death of the human body. And supposedly it resides in the heart and the human body weighs less one atom at death.

    The human problem is not so much education as I see it it is paying attention to that single atom called spirit. If not greed walks through the door and takes over. How do you educate for that? Not all will believe not all will subside their greed. But once you do life does not always get any easier it just takes on a newer better meaning. Pamela and Lorne I have always enjoyed your comments on Owen Gray's blog.

    Lorne, your last reply to Pam December 23, 2015 @ 7:46 PM is what I experienced while attending grade school and I am 60 this year. It has been going on for far too long and now they want to out-law home schooling, so everyone gets brainwashed.

    Now back to the Nuclear war thing I was there I ain't crazy you know the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter? Used to be a planet nuclear war got it disrupted. Mars was allot like Earth greed destroyed it.

    Now what the frack are we doing? Destroying Earth we are all collectively guilty. You know what? I am ashamed to be a human.

    Too much information? Ya I Know already!

    I wish all of us the collective of humanity to have the best new year 2016 ever, I hope that is possible.

    Love always,

    1. Thanks, Mogs; I think we all share your wish for a new year like no other, in the the best possible way.