JR'S Free Thought Pages
The Neo-Conservative (aka Neo-Liberal) Hijacking of Education and the Takeover of the World
The Corporatization of Public Education from K-12 to University and the Bullshitting of the World
by Johnny Reb, Sept 2015
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. … The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of religion and politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept - Harry Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy, Princeton University, author of On Bullshit
First, there is no meaningful substantive difference between Neo-conservatism and Neo-liberalism. The minor conceptual distinctions are insignificant, as negligible as it is between Coke and Pepsi. Albeit there are key ideological resemblances, it's most important is not to confuse either of these mutations with classical liberalism or traditional conservatism. The standard narrative of conservatism since Edmund Burke has been that conservatives embrace tradition and the status quo - as long as their historical medieval entitlements are preserved. What conservatives really believe in is a hierarchical vision of politics and society, with them perched at the top of the economic and political order, having dominion over what Burke called the "swinish multitude". They also value the rule of law, insofar as it does not apply to them. Many revere the British monarchy. Yeah that's right, these conservative folks love decadence and parasitism, even when it isn't them participating in it. Most are religious, belonging to one of the three monotheisms of hierarchy, control, dominance and order. Most conservative elites really don't believe in any of it but have always valued the power of religion to induce docility and obedience in the masses, protecting them from any progressive or revolutionary ideas. Controlling history and the media, they have been able to bullshit those same masses into compliance by manufacturing consent, into accepting their poverty and misery as God's will (the poor will always be with us). Then, as they approach annihilation, there's is the delusionary enticement of the afterlife.
But for both the neo-con and neo-lib, unchecked corporate capitalism and the pursuit of money is the real deity they worship. And Christianity has adapted. No longer do they embrace the social gospel, once the impetus behind social democratic men of integrity such as J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas in Canada and Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas in the USA. These articulate charismatic men with a marvellous vision for the future and a world of peace and justice are long gone. The great Douglas, the father of Canadian public universal health care, died in 1986.These Christian men of decency and integrity have been replaced by hypocrites and venal frauds such as Stephen Harper, Tony Blair and George W Bush. The preachers and pastors of the churches now preach the "prosperity gospel". The alpha male God of Christianity apparently wants you to be rich and will oversee your investment portfolio.
Under the dogma and dictatorship of neo-liberalism, space, time, history and even language have been subjected to the forces of privatization and relegated to the status of a commodity. Public space has been replaced by shopping malls and a host of corporate institutions. The commons and public spaces are now regulated through exchange values rather than public values just as communal values are replaced by atomizing through self-lobotomizing technology (cell phones, social media, dating services, etc) and Social Darwinist survival-of-the fittest market imperatives. God is now the market which has never been truly free, but rather, manipulated and directed by the corporatist state and their theologians, the IMF, World Bank, G-7 and other cabals for the benefit of an aristocratic financial elite. In this sense our political, social and economic conditions vary little from the theocracies of the Dark Ages. In fact levels of global economic inequality are the most inequitable since records have been kept.
The Omnipresence of Bullshit
Bullshit as a modicum of indoctrination and propaganda has existed throughout human history. But with the growth of and plethora of media, it is taking over the world; it's become a staple of our daily cultural diet. It's why we need scepticism and critical thinking in our schools more than ever. Unless you want to remain an ignoramus mired in blissful ignorance, one is required to sift through the endless reams of bullshit disseminated by our culture, the primary purveyors being religion, politics and big business. The latter two have now been fused into one hydra headed monster, the state capitalist gorgon of greed and plunder that knows no limits.
What Professor Harry Frankfurt calls bullshit are the obfuscations and calculating utterances and claims that exhibit no concern for the truth. Influence and power is the primary goal. And as Frankfurt told Jon Stewart, the bovine excrement is piling up higher every day. Politics, marketing, advertising and public relations pollute an already mentally contaminated world, adding to the pre-existing delusional narcotic of religion. In the struggle for the bottom line, bullshit consumes more and more of the informational oxygen in the room. Polarization and atomization is the rule everywhere, leading to factional struggles that assure bullshit an honoured space, as a devotion to the serious search for truth becomes more a quaint and naïve posture. Well, that is, unless the intellectual search is in the service of business efficiency, technological advancement or profit. The fact is, bullshit rules.
Our Canadian prime minister is a Christian fundamentalist, so one ought to add religion to the mix, but Harper's wet dream Christian Zionist Rapture has arrived in the form of the end times of state sanctioned capitalist theology called neo-liberalism. Infinite economic growth and exploitation on a world of finite resources is a death march for life on the planet. But what the hell - there's the rapture - at least for true believers.
Neo-liberalism is, one might say, neo-conservatism without the devious and pious born again grin. Neo-liberals are fascists in drag, pretending to be Christians whereas neo-conservatives are more often than not, the full-blown fundamentalist incarnation. Neo and theo-cons like Ronald Reagan, Stephen Harper and the Bush father-son dimwit duo do not attempt to hide their Dark Age beliefs or black shirt authoritarian conservatism whereas neo-liberals like the Clintons and Barrack Obama try, but fail miserably in their attempts to portray themselves classical progressive liberals. A plague on them all!
None of them believe in egalitarianism, freedom, social justice or any semblance of real democracy. They love war, the tried and true avenue to profit for wealthy elites and corporations, especially those dealing in weapons and other industries that profit from endless imperialistic plunder. They care not one whit about the unprecedented grotesque economic inequalities throughout the world, a world in which the richest 85 people have more wealth than 4 billion people at the bottom of the economic pile. In fact they enrich themselves from this state of affairs - it's the essence of the internal logic of capitalism since Adam Smith.
Let me try to cut through some of the bullshit. What neoliberals and neoconservatives have most in common is that they are corporate-fascists. They covet power. Benito Mussolini defined fascism as “the merger of state and corporate power.” It's the fusion of corporate, state, military, and technological power by a handful of political elites that enables them to manipulate and control the docile, credulous and highly indoctrinated population through the use of money, markets, media, religion, patriotism, corruption and an increasingly corporatized internet. The sycophants and courtiers in government and their masters in the corporate elite are now one and the same. And the ultimate humiliation: every four years you are granted the privilege of choosing your corporatist/fascist master from a short list of bought and paid for pimps. This is called an election and is deemed one of the hallmarks of our fraudulent democracy.
And Big Brother Google, Apple and Microsoft are inexorably spying on you, monitoring your every mouse click and keystroke. Heroes of real democracy and freedom such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have informed us of their nefarious crimes. And for this, the fear mongering neo-con and neo-lib governments have declared them criminals, even "terrorists", the latest bogeyman that has replaced "commies". All rulers need enemies, real or imagined, usually the latter. In earlier times they could rely on religion to wield the carrot and stick, but in an increasingly secularized world, that is no longer effective.
Neoliberals and neoconservatives alike march to the beat of the same drummer – the largest, wealthiest, most powerful, most materialistic, most racist, most militaristic and most violent empire of all time. All empires are evil and we all know what is the latest manifestation.
Simply put, the differences between neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism are merely cosmetic. You can take your neoliberal or neoconservative fascism with a contemptible smirk or a pious smile. The outcome is the same: tyranny and slavery by an immoral plutocratic socio-economic and political order.
The Death of Liberalism and Public Education
Not only does neo-liberalism undermine both civic education and public values and confuse education with training, it also treats knowledge as a product, promoting a neoliberal logic that views schools as malls, students as consumers, and faculty as entrepreneurs. - Henry Giroux (You can read the text of an interview with Giroux on the corporatization of higher education here)
I can recall as early as the late 1980s when this mindless business model bullshit started polluting the education system. It's now the hegemonic paradigm for all human interaction, including our corporate controlled governments . At the senior high school where I taught mathematics, staff and students were inundated with warmed over business nostrums complete with vacuous bureaucratic administrative time wasters (the contrarians and radicals like me on the staff called it "administrivia"). We were bombarded with mission statements, New Age regurgitations of the power of positive thinking, marketing slogans and total quality management gobbledegook about "leadership", depicting students as consumers, prospective compliant drones for the workplace or nascent venture capitalists. Administrators, bureaucrats, bean counters and other managerial, yes men moles on the teaching staff and other superfluous wastes of human skin hopped on board this time-wasting drivel in a big way. But this is unsurprising because administrators and managers are never hired as critical thinkers, or even to think at all.
The staff ended up spending hours debating the concoction of a school motto and "mission statement" which reminded me of a religious crusade. Only our monthly staff meetings could compare with the tedium. After countless wasted hours, we came up with "South Delta Senior Secondary: a great place to work and learn". Profound, uplifting and mind enhancing eh? The school motto was even more banal, too embarrassing to mention. The administration had signs made up to post the mission statement in our classrooms. I refused to comply as I did with much of the bullshit in the system. I was not about to tear down my and replace my Che Guevara and John Lennon posters and George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and Noam Chomsky quotes on my classroom walls with empty drivel created by a coerced committee.
By the way, the Delta School Board bureaucrats came up with their own enlightening and inspirational motto: "Delta School District: Where Learning Matters." No, I'm not joking. Un-fucking believable isn't it?. In addition to this wasteful ignorance about the meaning and aims of education, as teachers we were getting no wage increases and ever-increasing workloads. After several years of this insanity, I'd had enough and retired with 30 years of what was, for the most part, a satisfying career. I had some dedicated and earnest students and like to think I had a positive impact. The real problems and frustrations of teaching rarely had anything to do with student behaviour. With the abysmal conditions and dysfunction of the BC education system at is currently exists, basically a bureaucratic nightmare made worse by the ignorance of the Ministry of Education in Victoria, I'd would not choose teaching as a career.
I can recall shortly after I retired in 1999 browsing through the Chapters bookstore and seeing four young ladies at a table in the Starbucks coffee shop attached to the bookstore who appeared to be studying. At this point in time, none were on cell phones. So I decided to intrude and asked them if they were college students and what they were studying. I thought perhaps I could strike up a conversation about the potentially exciting science, history, mathematics, philosophy or literature courses they were taking. They cheerfully responded, " we're all majoring in marketing". I almost fell over backwards in stunned incredulity. I felt inclined to remark on why they were wasting their time with such a mind destroying endeavour (glorified salesmanship) and how such anti-intellectual banality ended up in a college curriculum. This program would be rejected by a third rate vocational school, I thought. The fact that someone could spend four years earning a degree in the fine art of selling people crap they neither need nor want shocked and saddened me. That was 15 years ago; since then the college curriculum and the classical liberal idea of a university as a place of intellectual inquiry and bastion of free thought has deteriorated further. Intellectual freedom and tenure of professors has been trashed. Students now descend into debt penury studying such superfluous rubbish as marketing, management and business administration. Moreover, those same young students would now be text messaging one another across the table on their overpriced i-phones, adding to their ignorance and debt peonage.
Public education is arguably the most important remaining cultural public domain under attack by the neo-con/neo-lib onslaught of privatization of the planet. Notions of the common good are apparently for socialists and other losers in the dazed and confused 99%. Efforts by these extreme right wing market ideologues to privatise education from kindergarten through university have been gaining strength in the past decade or more.
These reactionary phenomena called neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism are upshots of the neo-fascist political response to the post World War II social democracies, emergent notions of social justice, labour unions and public welfare, an affordable open-ended liberal education (that should be free) and the social upheavals of the 1960s. This counter-revolution began with the neoconservative proto-fascist assaults on public services and working people in the late 1970s. During the 1980s implementation of these phoney neo-con free market trickle down economic dogmas and the destruction of the commons began in earnest with the likes of Ronald Reagan in the US, Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Brian Mulroney in Canada. For them self-interest and profit take precedence over every aspect of our lives, including ethics, freedom, democracy - even the air, water and ecosystems that sustain our very existence and survival.
In a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine called “Neo-Liberal Arts: How College Sold Its Soul and Surrendered to the Market,” William Deresiewicz writes that what we used to call a “liberal education” - a curriculum that emphasized accumulating a breadth of knowledge that included history, literature, philosophy, art, logic, science, mathematics and the capacity for critical thinking in order to produce a responsible reflective citizen - is being systematically fazed out of existence. It is being replaced by big business institutions that emphasize careerism, job training and to be a winner take all in what is commonly called “neo-liberalism” — that is, market-oriented corporate capitalism. “It is not the humanities per se that are under attack,” he writes. “It is learning: learning for its own sake, scepticism and curiosity for their own sake, ideas for their own sake.” As an example, he cites how Florida Governor Rick Scott “has singled out anthropology majors as something that his state does not need more of.” Scott has even proposed raising tuition costs at Florida state universities for liberal arts majors.
Here is a lengthy excerpt from a recent essay by John Grant called "Bullshit Rules":
I can appreciate where Governor Scott is coming from. As a Vietnam veteran on the limited GI Bill, if I’d had to pay more tuition for an English degree than for a degree in Engineering at Florida State back in 1971, maybe I wouldn’t now be writing critical essays like this one about America’s need for serious change. Maybe I’d be designing robotic assembly lines to produce more cell phones and other min-destroying consumer toys and entertainment items with reduced labour costs. Maybe I’d be rich like Governor Scott, who founded a very successful private, for-profit health-care company. He resigned as CEO just before it was hit with 14 felony fraud charges and had to pay a record $600 million in fines. Scott came out smelling like a rose and went on to be a parasitic venture capitalist and governor of Florida. Now he wants to squash liberal studies.
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, a presidential candidate, wants to rewrite the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin by eliminating references to “public service and improving the human condition” and the phrase “basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” According to Deresiewicz, “The university’s mission would henceforth be to ‘meet the state’s workforce needs.’ ” It’s noteworthy that Walker is the rare politician without a college degree; he completed 94 of the required 128 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree. Son of a preacher, he credits an American Legion sponsored youth leadership program called Badger Boys State with inspiring him to pursue political office.
(An aside is in order, here. The use of the term liberal can get a bit confusing. Liberal as in the classical liberalism of John Stuart Mill or social democratic liberalism of Bernie Sanders and liberal as in neo-liberal are, of course, contradictory. It reminds me of when I was traveling in Sandinista Nicaragua in the eighties how confused I was when I learned the bloody tyrant Anastasio Somoza had been with the Liberal Party, which was opposed to the Conservative Party. As one who “loves ideas for their own sake,” I soon realized it was good to be confused: It helped get beyond unquestioned assumptions and allowed one to analyze things on their own terms. Concerning Somoza’s father, also a Liberal tyrant, Franklin Roosevelt famously said: “He’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard.” This is a key distinction to understanding American foreign policy. The elder Somoza’s career ended when he was shot in the head by a patriotic restaurant busboy who agreed with FDR 100 percent.)
It’s common knowledge now that politicians love to worship at the trough of the phoney free market and corporate welfare, since they must feed on its nutrients to run their ever-longer and ever-more-expensive campaigns. They live a paradox. As they pander to free-market “winners,” their real talents come to the fore when they’re forced to spread layers and layers of bullshit to appease the growing community of working class “losers” in our ruthless, neo-liberal free market. This pressure will only increase, as it has been suggested the rocket-like rise of technological advancement in the corporate workplace may make up to 40% of the current workforce superfluous in coming decades. Some of these neo-liberal-market losers will become immune to the bullshit. Some will turn to people like Bernie Sanders. Some will run amok with guns in huge Ram or Ford F-350 macho diesel trucks.
No one is better at bullshitting the TV-addled working-man and woman than Donald Trump. Thanks to his personal billions, he’s not beholden to the usual fat cats, and his reality-TV instincts are impeccable. We know it’s all bullshit, but he’s so incredibly good and entertaining at it it’s impossible to turn away. Better than anyone, he knows that presidential election campaigns have become all about nepotism, bribery, big money, moronic fundamentalist Christians and other regular major American style entertainment cycles complete with freak shows. Celebrities gouging and biting to obtain power: What better Reality TV could anyone come up with? Instead of a new car or a million bucks, the ultimate winner gets to be President of the United States, even a village idiot like George W Bush, the dumb and dumber son of his former president father. Benito Mussolini coined the term fascism from the ancient Roman magistrates’ symbol of power, the fasces, a battle axe surrounded by sticks that represented the people huddling up to his power. Mussolini referred to it as corporatism. How apposite. One man recently said of Trump, “He’s my microphone.” Accordingly, the Trump symbol might be a silver microphone surrounded by plastic cocktail stir sticks.
Deresiewicz again: “Neo-liberalism believes that we have reached the end of history, a steady-state condition of free-market capitalism that will go on replicating itself forever. …The world is not going to change, so we won’t need young people to imagine how it might. …All we need to do is … run faster and faster.” He tells how educating youth in ideas and thinking used to be considered a critical function of an evolving, more enlightened society. Then he concludes, “If there was ever a time that we needed young people to imagine a different world, that time is now.”
Today’s reality can be pretty demoralizing, which no doubt makes the likes of Rick Scott and Scott Walker dance in delight. Then someone like Bernie Sanders comes along, a man unafraid of ideas and open minded thinking and how they encourage change. Picture it: The once socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, is drawing huge crowds. As they do with Trump, the politics-as-sports reporters and pundits all say Sanders will burn out and we’ll have to settle for someone like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. Joe Biden! The guy who, when Reagan cleaned their clocks, saved the Democratic party from oblivion by colluding with Dixiecrat-turned-Republican racist Senator Strom Thurman to beef up America’s police forces and fuel the Drug War that has filled our jails to the brim with young black males. Joe, please go back to Scranton.
Deresiewicz cuts to the chase: “Instead of treating higher education as a commodity, we need to treat it as a right. …That means resurrecting one of the great achievements of postwar American society: high quality, low- or no-cost mass public higher education.”
It’s called levelling the playing field. Sanders would tax Wall Street to make a college education free for all Americans. This way, a young person can educate him- or herself, then go to work and build a family and a life without an oppressive lifetime debt burden to the neo-liberal market economy. It makes me think of that old Tennessee Ernie Ford song about a coal miner, “Sixteen Tons.” You may recall the line, sung to a dirge: “I owe my soul to the company store.” That kind of oppressive debt peonage would be lifted from our young citizens’ futures.