We are in a
mess. Sure, after almost falling off the cliff a few years ago, the U.S.
economy has stabilized. But the lives of most Americans have not improved.
Looking at our society as a whole, it seems just the opposite, that more and
more Americans are dejected about the direction our country is heading. Wealth
and power have become increasingly centralized into the hands of a few, our
schools have been hijacked by a bunch of number-crunching bureaucrats, and most
folks don’t see things improving, either for themselves, their children, or
their communities. Meanwhile, the people who run this country view the average
American as good for three things: As votes that can be bought, as consumers
who can be sold to, and as soldiers to go fight and die in their wars. Welcome
to the American Empire.
How did we
go from a nation of neighborhoods, where rich and poor lived in relatively
close proximity, where everyone watched out for one another, where there was a
comparatively small difference between rich and poor, to one where the
economically and culturally advantaged have segregated themselves into a
handful of elite communities?
paraphrase Hannah Arendt, true evil is more often than not a mundane affair,
hiding its impact in well-intentioned orderliness and pedestrian execution. In
looking for culprits to tar and feather, I find no Stalins or Pol Pots, those
agents of evil who, like Brazilian soccer stars, need only a single name to
evoke their posterity. My list of indicted are a comparatively dull lot. But
that’s the sad thing about evil: It often doesn’t even have the good grace to
be interesting. In this light, here are the three figures I find most to blame
for the erosion of the American dream:
many sins upon which I could accuse him, but there is one that cuts me close,
and that is how Bill Gates has elected to use his astronomic wealth to have an
out-sized influence on how we teach our children.
Gates is an
advocate of national standards. Specifically, the kind of standards that his
button-down brain can understand, the kind that can only be measured through an
ongoing battery of standardized tests. The bureaucrats in Washington D.C. have
decided that national education policy only works if they can be in control of
the outcome, and that they can only be in charge of the outcome if they have a
way to measure what is being learned. And Gates has the perfect tool to assure
this centralized control. He calls it the Common Core curriculum. Every
teacher, in every community in every state, is expected to teach to this Common
Core. And there are standardized tests that judge how well each student, each
teacher, each school, each district meets these standards. As 45 states have
signed on to this Common Core curriculum and its incumbent testing, it means
pretty much every public school in the country is teaching towards having their
children master these tests.
I attended my first meeting of parents at my son’s school. Most of the other
parents had absorbed the language of their oppressor. They were focused on how
they wanted more computer skills taught in the classroom. I felt compelled to
declare that I wanted less emphasis on computers, that I’d rather have them
learning how to deal with their fellow human beings. They were worried about
how to effectively implement all the new state and national requirements. I
argued for the importance of art and music, of critical thinking, of spending
less time learning how to take a test and more on how to live creative,
productive, well-balanced lives. I felt pretty alone that night, and a little
sad for the state of public education.
in the business world and in our government, Bill Gates and his ilk are winning
the battle over the nation’s educational policy, convincing the general public
to accept the regimentation of the American mind, as the public schools churn
out millions of mid-level white collar drudges to fill their cubicles and buy
their products. Meanwhile, the kids of the ruling class get an entirely
different kind of education, one that fosters creativity and independent
thinking as well as personal discipline and an abiding respect for others, as
the rich are wise enough to know these are the skills that will get you ahead
in this world. But Bill Gates doesn’t want my child or yours to get ahead. He
wants the nation to get ahead. And, to Gates, that can best be achieved if our
masses become even more efficient drudges than the ones in China.
Gates for how he transformed the software industry into his own image, making
it a dull yet cut-throat endeavor where everyone watches out for the bottom
line. I hate him for being such a soulless nerd. I hate him for a dozen petty
things. But when Gates and company start fucking with the mind of my kid,
that’s when it gets serious.
Ayn Rand is guilty of a multitude of sins. But I only hold her responsible for
one: Having lured a good percentage of the financial overachievers in our
society into believing that they would be better off without all of us
riff-raff around, and through this perpetuating and extending the move of those
with wealth and power into boutique communities, where they don’t have to deal
with their fellow citizens, other than of course when they need someone to
plump their pillows and service their needs.
with what I don’t accuse Rand: She is no idiot. There is this tendency within
academia to make Rand somehow intellectually inferior to their conceits, but
there is nothing de facto illogical in her approach.
with Rand comes not from her mind but from her soul. She is a cold heart, one
that beats fast at innovation and the ideas of the chosen ones but that has
little use for the foibles of human nature. When the millions of thoughtful, industrious
young people who have been reading Atlas Shrugged over the past fifty years are
attracted to her ideas, they are unlikely to be dissuaded by academic ridicule,
because logically there is really nothing to ridicule. It’s no wonder she
remains so popular. To paraphrase Swift, you figure that a genius must have
entered the world when all the dunces have aligned themselves against her.
because of this, Rand’s peculiar brand of individualism, one without God or
virtue, has weaved its way into the fabric of American conservatism. Ever since
the early 1970’s, the titans of commerce have been captivated with the idea
that they aren’t really responsible for anything but their own vision and the
pocketbooks of their shareholders. Much like the “creators” in Atlas Shrugged,
the creative minds of America have now gathered in their shiny burgs, peppered
across the continent but generally someplace soft and comfortable, within
shouting range of a major body of water, out of sight of the lives of most of
America, free to redefine themselves as they see fit. Meanwhile, the country is
There was a
time not that long ago when an owner of a factory in Cleveland probably lived
somewhere in town. No more. More likely, he lives on the Florida coast or maybe
in the concrete canyons of Manhattan. He has no real connection to the factory,
the town where it is located, or its people. It is all just numbers on a
balance sheet. So when the numbers so dictate, it is an easy decision to do
what is right for the balance sheet and not for the people and the town.
last age of the robber barons, at least the great industrialists and
philanthropists gave back to their local communities, helping to build our
libraries, fund our charities, found our schools. But when your community is an
island in the Caribbean accessible only by private jet, it is easy to forget
about the folks back home. And the view is not much different from your private
dude ranch in the California hills.
master work, Atlas metaphorically shrugged, shaking off the burden of the
planet and thus relieving himself of the responsibility to aid the worthless
sacks of flesh otherwise known as his fellow man. It is a vision much of
today’s meritocracy has taken to heart.
and Rand, Woodrow Wilson is guilty of a series of crimes. Here is a short list:
He got us into World War I, possibly the most inexcusable war in the history of
the West, despite running as a candidate of peace and neutrality just months
before; after the war, he helped slice up the planet in such a way as to
virtually guarantee a century of war and conflagration; with his extended
detentions of hundreds of anti-war advocates, some of whom were guilty of
nothing greater than writing an opinion piece in the local newspaper, and whose
detentions extended well past the end of the war, he is probably America’s most
egregious violator of civil and individual rights.
much like Gates and Rand, there is one crime that I blame Wilson for most of
all, as it still impacts the daily lives of many Americans: Wilson developed
the doctrine of Moral Diplomacy, providing the ideological justification for a
century of global interventionism.
American Empire begins with Woodrow Wilson. He popularized the idea that we had
a moral obligation to perpetuate and extend democracy around the globe. Sure there were plenty of generals and
politicians who had dreams of American glory before Wilson became President,
but it was Woodrow Wilson who gave this ambition a global directive. Wilson gave
imperialism its raison d’etre: Making the world safe for democracy.
while, President Wilson was sick. He suffered a debilitating stroke in 1919
while in the process of campaigning to have Congress ratify the Treaty of
Versailles. But medical records indicate that Wilson also suffered smaller
strokes in 1896, 1906, and possibly 1915, and it has been speculated that his
sometimes erratic behavior at Versailles stemmed from another bout of hemorrhaging
in his brain.
The Disease of the
physical and mental trials bring me to the moral of my story: Righteousness,
even when it is couched in the dry terminology of the businessman or the
theories of a philosopher, is often observationally indistinguishable from a
disease, and should be treated as such. Of all the weaknesses and failings of
the human psyche, the most insidious of all may be the hubris of the righteous,
convinced in the justness of their cause. It is at the root of the failings of all three
protagonists in my tale of devolution. And when the cocksure idealists take
over, confident they know how to make a better world, it is usually the common
man who pays the price.
Labels: Common Core curriculum, the righteous, wealth and power