Educating for Democracy: Something of value
The recent series of shootings on college campuses reminded me of how fragile our "civilization" really is, hanging by a thread of "normalcy" when, as I've written before: "Crazy is the new normal." The young man responsible for the massacre in Oregon used a legally purchased arsenal of guns powerful enough to have decimated the entire population of Roseburg. To most people his homicidal behavior might seem the rare reaction of the many young people who are disillusioned with a future that seems to be without promise.
At the same time, on a much larger scale, thousands of young jihadists -- some of them Americans and Western Europeans -- who feel they are in a similar state of aspirational limbo are being provided with much more firepower and are wreaking havoc on innocent victims, the random casualties of a nihilism that seems to have become more obvious: if the young cannot live the life they've dreamed of in a consumptive society, then many feel that in this pitiless world life is not worth living: theirs and others.
There have always been rebels in our history and fiction that have been idealized for their prowess with guns: Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone, Jesse James and the rest of the "Wild West" band of murderers, thieves and often trigger-happy sheriffs as well as Hawkeye and the Lone Ranger. One of the few heroic figures that did not use guns as a rebel was Huckleberry Finn who refused to be "civilized" and "lit out for the territory." It is likely that young Huck, in seeing the sins of the world such as deadly family feuds, fraudulent hucksters and a racism that he rejected although he believed he would "go to hell" for not turning in his Black friend, Jim, saw the "civilization" he explored as irredeemable.. But Huck was a very young man and his adolescent take on his society was still quite innocent.
The young in almost every society become disillusioned sooner or later-unless they are very lucky-when their aspirations bump their heads on the ceiling of reality. The most significant differences between the young discontented of today and those of two hundred years ago before the development of weapons that can be carried and used by 6 year olds as well as adolescents were patience and prayer: the inevitable consolations for the poor and marginalized in a world in which instant gratification was only considered likely for the rich and powerful. Now Facebook gives many of the young images of material success that compliment and feed the imaginations of the "Global Village" that has become a common source of information, the good and the bad. A lot more young people want to have the "stuff" that the media and advertising present as the only things of value yet are often unattainable.
The shooter in the Oregon massacre didn't need to know economics, however, to realize that our system is now almost "perfectly" developed to foment such violence by promising a future most college students will find impossible to realize.
The results are beginning to show symptoms of domesticated nihilism often symbolized by the "death images" that are celebrated in ghoulish movies, T shirts and slogans that seem to cater to a death wish such as one I recently came across on the subway advertising a food delivery service: "You can cook after you're dead" or words to that effect.
A group of students I know volunteered to write their opinions on the way they are feeling about the future. I have little doubt that their opinions are typical:
"At this point in my life, I'm not exactly sure where I thought I'd be when I was younger. Although my goals haven't been achieved yet, good things take time for some and I will see what happens despite all of the uncertainty [the future] holds."
"I don't believe in expectations. They lead to disappointment and I've been let down too many times."
"No [more] wars! No terrorists! We can't play double games."
"l'ennui. Often people live in the pursuit of comfort and ease. For some for whom financial stability came with birth often ennui sets in. If you're not chasing money and you don't know what to do with yourself, money won't fix your malaise."
"I wonder what's the most important thing in people's lives. I've come to the conclusion that Freedom is crucial to anybody's life. No one can be happy without Freedom. We are all thirsty for Freedom: to live, choose, learn."
"About robots: What is human? What does it mean to live? Who am I? The questions may seem pretty obvious but there are no accurate ways to answer them."
I think those comments speak for themselves but I am hoping that some sanity and logic and humanity will bring the corporatocracy to its senses and start giving young people a likely alternative to the wage slavery that seems to be the direction in which the global economic systems seem to be going. If young people are raised on the credo: "Be rich or be miserable" and see that all doors to not even wealth but a decent life are being closed on them, they might more easily be lured to the promise of an "After life" at the expense of the living. Here are some of the systemic elements that show are flirting with disaster:
1.IF we continue forcing students to take out unmanageable loans so that student debt is unsustainable since repayment depends on decent-paying jobs and it seems that mostly through networking are those jobs available.
2. IF we continue to get students into this bind with the dictum: "You must get a degree in order to get a good job." Since probably half if not more college-age people can't afford to go long enough to college to get a degree, and those include the many who have developmental and emotional problems who are not capable of college-level work, a significant number of youth have no way of earning a decent living in an economy that largely depends on low-wage jobs: part-time and one-shot 'gigs.
3. IF we continue to terrorize the teaching profession by eliminating tenure for most college teachers and use test scores as a way of reducing the number of veteran grade school teachers, the most valuable asset for the inexperienced teachers to develop their skills.
4. IF we continue to fossilize a political system that depends on the wealthy for politicians' maintenance of power thus insuring that the interests of most voters are thwarted or ignored.
5.IF we continue to make the acquisition of guns as easy as possible in order for citizens to become more dangerous to each other and, given the dilemma of the young, more likely to use them.
6. IF we continue to establish an updated version of wage stagnation as an equal opportunity form of "wage slavery" which depends less on race than class.
7.IF we continue to promote a break-down in the social safety network and impose a "security alert" in every municipality and state in the interests or "Law and order."
8. We will now have established a 'demockracy."
WE just might find a way to establish a new cultural norm: "values economy" in which a cooperative form of economy functions through valuing what people freely give to one another rather than what they buy from one another.