Thinking about all this health “reform” debate. There are people out there eho are saying that they want their “country back” (from whom, I ask), and that we have to get back to the Constitution, whatever that means. I listen to what some of these people are saying, and sometimes I feel that some of them have no idea what they are talking about. I’ll be the first to admit here. I’m no scholar. I’m not an expert on the Constitution (although I’ve actually read it), nor am I in any position to dictate what and who can or cannot speak against or criticize the government. But, I do on occasion watch television, and I gotta say that there are some of us who really need to read before they speak.
There’s a sentiment out there (both here and abroad) that Americans (of which I am one) are stupid. All one needs to do to confirm this is to go to YouTube and look for “stupid Americans”. When our global neighbors called former president Bush a “cowboy” they weren’t being friendly. I don’t think that most Americans are stupid. Misinformed, yes. Ignorant, definitely. Undereducated… my God yes! It may upset us to admit it, but there are people out there who are just plain apathetic. It’s not that they’re stupid people, it’s just that they don’t care. I don’t think that I’m stupid. And I take offense to anyone who says that “Americans” (as a blanket term) are. What I know that I am, however, is I am undereducated. I don’t think this was by accident, either. Call it a conspiracy theory, but I think that somewhere in my learning, someone decided that I had learned enough, and then proceded to stop teaching me and my generation. When I look back on my education, it started off well enough. Teachers stopped teaching. I know that it was this because I hadn’t lost the want to learn (that didn’t happen until high school).
Sure, my teachers were nice people, but they didn’t seem very motivated to do the thing that they had been hired to do (i.e. teach). By the time I got to high school, the want to learn anything had been bled out of me. No joke, during my US government class we watched The Price Is Right. This was the class where I was supposed to learn how to be a citizen, but instead I learned that the Navy guy always wins the final showcase. In fact, I don’t remember reading anything beyond the Preamble of the Constitution during my entire stay in public education. Funny, because so far as I’ve been able to tell, the Constitution is the owner’s manual for the country. The writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was an advocate of public education. In his Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, Jefferson wrote what he felt that the objectives of a primary education should be. Jefferson wrote, ” To enable to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing… to improve by reading, his morals and faculties… to understand his duties to his neighbors and country… to know his rights”. Jefferson felt that the purpose of an education was to teach people how to be citizens. “To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend”. I don’t see how my teachers could have looked themselves in the mirror every morning knowing that they had in no way taught their charges how to operate such a complicated machine as the United States of America. Maybe it’s because vampires don’t have reflections (ha, ha).
I know that, if a child fails to learn, that oftentimes that child is blamed for not learning. But I know for a fact that at least until I hit the tenth grade that I wanted to learn. I loved reading. I still do. I remember that, when I was in elementary school, I used to win all sorts of RIF (reading is fundamental) awards, and I did it because if you read so many books during the school year, you’d get to pick out a book (for free!). But to say that my teachers were the ones that were lazy would be too easy. It was something beyond that. It seems that the unwillingness to teach went beyond one or two lazy teachers — it was systemic. Someone didn’t (or doesn’t) want us to learn. They say that stupid people are easy to control. That when a dictatorship takes over a country, they get rid of the intellectuals first because the intellectuals are the people who are most likely to question what the dictatorship is up to. But in a democracy, there’s the idea that everyone is equal. That everybody has a fair shot at success, no matter from what class a person comes from. If we work hard and we use our noggins, we can succeed. This sounds great, but there’s this little economic program that we adhere to called capitalism. And as we all know, one of the big ideas in capitalism is scarcity. If everyone gets everything, then nothing is scarce.
When you have an economy driven by want, people gotta want what they ain’t got. Which menas some people ain’t gonna get. So we can say that we’re a meritocracy and that all it takes is elbow grease and the right education to get ahead, but the problem is, is that somebody out there has to clean the toilets and wipe gramp’s butt at the nursing home. There has a disincentive to achieve built in the system. There has to be something that lets some get ahead and holds others back. But the real kicker is that nobody can know this. So we tell kids either a) that they can succeed no matter who they are or where they come from, or 2) (and I think this one happens more often than not) nothing. We simply stop educating them. Of course, we keep telling kids the old song and dance. The one I heard goes like this: Our democratic ideal are rooted in the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment stressed a break-away from the beliefs of the dark ages (in superstitions and scholaticism) to beliefs in science and progress and that man is ruled by reason. Through his rational mind, man can progress. This sentiment is most supremely expressed by Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence “All men are created equal”. Blah, blah, blah. We know now that when Jefferson wrote that he was only a fourth telling the truth. We know that as the man wrote one of the greatest documents conceived from a human mind, he was probably looking out of one of his many windows at Montecello, with a full view of the slaves that labored in his fields.
Of course, we know that in addition to Jefferson, that the Founders included the likes of James Madison, the “father” of the Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton, who, the more I read about, the more I’m a fan of Aaron Burr. Madison and Hamilton, who co-wrote the Federalist Papers with John Jay, believed that government was better rested in the hands of those who were fit to rule (think Plato’s philosopher-kings, here), rather than allowing the people to rule. Hamilton wrote,” …our countrymen have all the folly of the ass and all the passiveness of the sheep”. Hamilton continues,”All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government…” This is what Hamilton, the dude on the $10 bill, thinks of us. Democracy didn’t get rid of the idea of an elite that rules while we, the rabble, sit passive like sheep, it merely hid it from view, and gave it a veneer of “choice”. My favorite founder, Alexander Hamilton wrote,” Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people be supposed steadily to pursue the public good?”.
Not to be outdone, James Madison believed that “the more capable” should rule government, and that government should be led by a “benevolent philosopher”. If the Enlightenment was at all inspired by the writings of the ancient Greeks, then for every Jefferson who wrote that the people should be educated to rule, there was a Madison or Hamilton who believed that to rule meant that one had to naturally be fit to do so. This idea hasn’t changed. When i use the word “rule”, I’m not talking about anything more than the ability of an individual to rule himself. Self-rule, believe it or not, is rooted in our ability to think for ourselves. And in turn, our ability to think for ourselves is rooted in our education. Of course, no one wants to admit that they believe in social Darwinism or that they believe in neo-platonist ideas of who is and who are not naturally fit to rule — especially if one is a politician. So as politicians worry about campaign contributions, whether or not someone will uncover their secrets (whatever they may be) or the diatribes of Glenn Beck, so-called intellectuals need no be so quiet.
Echoing the sentiments of Plato and Hamilton, Walter Lippman wrote “the public must be put in its place” and “responsible men… [must] live free of the trampling and the roar of the bewildering herd”. People, according to Lippman, are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders”, who have no business getting in the way of those who run society, namely the elite. But things aren’t so easily kept under control in the age of television and other multimedia. So how do you maintain an elite while people are able to figure out what you’re doing? Simple. it is accomplished by the manufacturing of consent (Edward Bernays said that the engineering of consent is the “very essence of the democratic process”). You don’t rule by the fist and the sword. You simply sway the public’s interest from the important things, like paying attention to exactly who is running their country, to paying attention to the latest feud between Jon and Kate or what “Speidi” is up to lately.
The Romans figured out that what the people really want is bread and circus. And that’s exactly what we get. All the while, we hear that we live in a democracy and that we have the right to choose, and so long as we work hard and play by the rules, we’ll get what we deserve. That’s what we are made to believe. We’re not educated with the idea in mind that we’ll be better choosers in elections, we’re educated so that we’ll be better choosers of the next American Idol (I know, people pick on American Idol alot. So what? Do you think that Simon Cowell cares one damn that I hate his show?). When you live in a country where students at the University of Michigan riot because they stopped serving beer on campus (this actually happened), it’s time to stop criticizing people like the French, who, when they riot, are actually rioting about something.
The point is that it is exactly as President Obama said, when we are content with being uneducated, we not only shortchange ourselves, we undermine our country as well. If we are going to own this democracy, and if we intend to participate in it, it is our obligation to know how she works.To be the informed citizenry that Jefferson wrote about. To understand that, when Jefferson wrote “We the People”, he meant all of us. We are not seperate from the government, but that the government is us. But then, none of what I’m saying hasn’t been said before. But it certainly is worth repeating.