Sunday, May 08, 2011

Replacing democracy with authoritarianism

Deformed: Authoritarian undercurrents in education, Part VII

Chris Hedges has identified the propaganda campaign waged by Wall Street bankers to get the US into World War I as the starting point for mass-media generated existential hysteria that has destroyed the liberal class. Instilling fear into the US population was the only way the bankers could motivate the country to war in 1917. The bankers knew the country wouldn't be roused just to protect the loans they had made to the European allies, which wouldn't be repaid if Germany won the war. The successful campaign to demonize Germany to involve the US in World War I became the modern model for financial and corporate elites to control the polity through authoritarian distraction.

The Great Depression interrupted the plutocrat's authoritarian march, but the mindset was restored first by World War II, then by the invention of nuclear weapons, followed, importantly, by the creation of the Rand Corporation, a think tank intended to help the military understand the strategic implications of nuclear weapons. Rand, dubbed The Academy of Science and Death by Pravda, has had a profound effect on the American psyche and polity.

You need only consider two things to understand the damage done to humanity by Rand: First, the lead character in Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, is a composite derived in part from Rand think tanker Herman Kahn, known for his cold-blooded evaluations of nuclear war. Kahn was a strong advocate of preventive nuclear war, who argued, according to Alex Abella in his book Soldiers of Reason, that “Moral and humane considerations should never interfere with policy analysis.”

Second, Rand, with its theories of rational expectations and game theory removed altruism, empathy and compassion from calculations about human behavior, a “discovery” of huge import. The Randians attempt to reduce human behavior to numbers, if true, would have “destroyed the academic validity of most kinds of social compact,” according to Abella.

Alas, eventually Rand would “...ruefully acknowledge the futility of trying to reduce human behavior to numbers.” Nevertheless reliance on numbers to judge people is perhaps more in vogue today than ever. One need look no further than the outsized value placed on students' standardized test scores to see how Rand fallacies live on despite their acknowledged failures.

Authoritarian theory tells us that levels of Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) fluctuate both within the population as a whole and within individuals, and that it is particularly activated by fear. The attacks of 9/11 exaggerated authoritarianism to a level where the country was unable to resist lies told by social dominators to make war abroad and to obliterate privacy and human rights at home guaranteed by our constitution and international treaties.

The democracy obliterating authoritarianism ushered in by the 9/11 attacks have cost the US dearly. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are projected to cost more than $3 trillion – more than all of the spending of the federal government per year prior to 911.

Only authoritarianism explains the factually wrong views held by large segments of the US population over the past 10 years. Authoritarian social dominators in government, in an unholy alliance with traditional media, led a large part of the population, gripped in authoritarian submission by ginned up fear into authoritarian aggression against two countries half way across the globe and against Muslims and liberals at home. Polls taken by the Program on International Policy Issues (PIPA) showed that in the run-up to the Iraq war, and for many months afterward
a significant portion of the American public has held a number of misperceptions that have played a key role in generating and maintaining approval for the decision to go to war...”
In other words, the social dominators in the White House and traditional media told stories they knew not to be true to stoke existential fear for reasons of political expedience. The Bush administration was able to convince enough Americans of factually false information – information that citizens believed long after it had been discredited – to carry out its aims unhindered.

That kind of obeisance to authority and resistance to logic and facts is explained by authoritarian theory. Though it may seem that this streak of authoritarianism has diminished in the years since 9/11, a recent poll shows that slightly over half of all Americans believe “torture is justified in some cases to thwart terrorist attacks,” and another poll, this one by PIPA in 2009, found that “only” 39 percent approved of “physical torture.” In a country of 310 million people that is a lot of authoritarian aggression just waiting to be tapped. As might be expected, “Republicans, conservatives, males, and those with low levels of education are most likely to support the use of torture.”

This is the way that authoritarianism explodes the bounds of rational discourse necessary in a democracy. One way out of this quagmire would be to educate students in critical thinking and get them to question conventional ways of knowing. Corporate education reform is doing the exact opposite: teaching of critical thinking is diminishing and more students are being taught in authoritarian constructs emphasizing rote recitation of answers rather than creative and critical thinking. Another study recently found that
“An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.”
It's bad news when even college graduates don't learn “critical thinking” and “complex reasoning.” Though this deficiency can't be pinned entirely on the education deformers, they're not helping things any. The study noted that
“Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event...The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.”
Other studies have noticed, like the one of six charter schools in Brooklyn, that “critical thinking was missing,” particularly at schools labeled as successful by district administrators. Schools might also cut into this growing authoritarianism by better integrating schools by race and class, forcing students to come into contact with people who are different from themselves. But as new studies of charter schools show, “school choice” has had just the opposite effect of re-segregating schools.

Tomorrow: The authoritarian journalism of education reform 

Part I:  Deformed: Authoritarian undercurrents in education
Part II: The danger to education and democracy posed by authoritarianism
Part II:  School choice birthed in authoritarian racial animus and market fundamentalism
Part IV: Education deformers' achieve political success through a culture of lying, repitition, and compliance, not logic, reason and evidence
Part V: Deformed schools: Reduced diversity, authoritarian education styles, narrowed curriculum, and harming of critical thinking skills
Part VI: Collapse of authority breeds authoritarianism

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