Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cumulative Consequences

Daniel Greenfield, writing as Sultan Knish, recently inveighed against the higher education racket in “Free Market Socialism” (January 28tth). Among other observations, he noted:

Mass education also devalues the actual education being received. Today's college students know less than yesterday's high school graduates. Today's high school graduates know less than a middle schooler from 50 years ago. And there is no way around that. Tossing everyone into the same system and expecting the same results leads to a lower quality system.

The post-World War II G.I. Bill, passed by Congress to keep countless returning and unemployed soldiers busy and distracted and out of trouble while bureaucrats and policymakers continued to regulate an economy which otherwise would have boomed sooner and faster than it did following the war, was the beginning of higher education’s addiction to and dependence on federal money. Private and public universities and colleges were introduced to the federal teat. The intervention co-opted the “Greatest Generation” and set another precedent for government intervention in the economy and the culture, an unchecked intervention which inexorably and ultimately led to control.

And to the “degree mills” that exist today. Of course the greatest beneficiaries of a mandated college education are the very ones who are in positions of government power or who teach socialist economics, history and “diversity” in those very same institutions.

By way of seconding Greenfield’s points on economics and politics, it should be observed that President Barack Obama has a college education. Why, he was even a “professor” of Constitutional law at the University of Chicago. One imagines that this stint was on-the-job training for how later to usurp the Constitution. Well, both Bushes, and Clinton, and Carter and virtually every president going back to the early 19th century have had a college education. I think George Washington and Lincoln are the only exceptions. And except perhaps for the Adams’s and Jefferson, those graduates invariably made a mess of things, or wisely refrained from trying to apply their college-imbibed learning to policymaking.

Some people wonder whether or not the dumbing down of education (and of Americans) was an “accident.” I don’t think it was a conspiracy. It’s an issue of philosophical disintegration, aided and abetted by government intervention.

Take the G.I. Bill mentioned in the beginning. Aside from becoming addicted to and dependent on government subsidies, in order for private and public universities and colleges to admit hundreds of thousands of discharged G.I.’s to school – countless among them not really after such an education, but they couldn’t find work, so, what the hell – the schools had to lower their admission standards and settle for minimal criteria. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule; many veterans took to “higher education” like ducks to water and did well, usually in the sciences and in engineering.

One unfortunate result of this is that G.I. Bill beneficiaries, when they went into the private sector, were inculcated with the “You’ve got to have a college education to get anywhere” mantra and succumbed to hiring and employment requirements, which they easily met but imposed on a new generation of job applicants. Consciously or not, they helped to foist upon that generation an unnecessary and unrealistic policy for living.

But, just as I had no use for a college education – no law mandated having a college education to pen a novel, and no publisher, either – I don’t think most veterans back then had a use for it, either. They’d done their duty for their country, and perhaps many wrongfully thought that a subsidized education was the least the country owed them. After all, they’d been drafted, that is, the government had required service of their lives and bodies and appropriated those lives and bodies for the duration.

The initial lowering of admissions criteria was the beginning of the dumbing down. No mastermind or secret society conspiracy was behind it, no government master plan to lobotomize Americans could ever be drawn up. That is the stuff of dystopian novels. There’s no such thing as an omniscient or omnipotent evil, just occasional and random concessions by the rational to the occasional and random irrational in acts of futile and suicidal pragmatism.

To pose an analogy: We wound up applying all sorts of car-making rules, including emissions and safety standards, and the steel-bodied 1939 Packard ends up being a General Motors dog-cart, less safe and certainly more expensive.

That is, higher education began early in the 20th century turning out graduates who had to know that Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher, how to perform trigonometry, how to parse and analyze the Constitution, and had been introduced to the literary canon. Now it turns out expensively educated graduate students who may think Heraclitus is either a rock band or a mutation of herpes, cannot balance their checkbooks and for whom simple math is an arduous challenge, have been taught that the Constitution needs “reforming,” and who won’t bother with the literary canon because it can’t be “texted” (not that universities are pushing the canon, anyway, that would be too “elitist” and discriminatory against lesser literature).

And with the dumbing down come shorter attention spans and conditioned appetites for quick fixes and instant gratification.

It’s a matter of cause and effect. Ideas matter, and have consequences. And the G.I. Bill, together with a government reluctant to relinquish control of the economy, was a bad idea opposed by few.

The consequences and results are cumulative in nature, if not checked, opposed or questioned. This rule applies to all realms.

From the minimalization of the American mind and spirit, we turn to the practiced delusions of the political oligarchy.

In his article, “Weaponizing the Passenger Plane” (January 30th), Greenfield noted:

The war against us has been made possible by a leadership that is unable to identify the problem, let alone formulate a meaningful response to it.

I disagree. The war against us was made possible, and continues to be made possible, by a leadership that is evasive, that will not identify the facts of reality – at least, not publically – because those facts will challenge or contradict their most fundamental premises. Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand called this “blanking out,” that is, knowing the facts but shoveling them beneath an impenetrable carpet of rationalizations and excuses. Holder, Napolitano, Obama, and the rest of that crew know that Islam is an ideology more than it is a theology, that it is essentially political in nature because it governs every aspect of an individual’s life and also the contents of his mind. Not surprisingly, these are also the ends of liberalism. They recognize the peril posed by Islam. Yet they will not identify it in public and formulate efficacious polices to combat Islam. Instead, they ally themselves with Islam in a replication of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

This constitutes a refusal to think. Why do they refuse to think? Because every one of them recognizes a symbiosis between the secular tyranny they prefer and Islamic tyranny. To question one is to suggest that both species of tyranny are prime candidates for intellectual interrogation. If you question the rightness of Sharia Law and assert its incompatibility with individualism and liberty, it is but a short step to question the rightness of the altruist premises of, say, ObamaCare and assert its incompatibility with individualism and freedom. You simply remove Allah and Mohammad from the picture and substitute a bureaucrat or politician and his champion in academia. And from there one must logically question the moral underpinnings of the welfare state. Rebuttals, refutations, and repudiations would follow exponentially from one premise to another.

Privately, a refusal to think will earn one many just desserts, usually death or tragedy. But a public official’s refusal to think, regardless of the issue, affects everyone else, especially the electorate.

I don’t say that Obama, Pelosi, Reid, Holder and the rest of them know this as clear, objectified knowledge. They don’t dare pursue their secret, gloppish, unformed suspicions to their roots. They simply sense the threat as a feral warning that they shouldn’t “go there” if they wish to retain their power, never have it questioned, and rest easy in their hubris. It would interfere with and imperil their agenda to enlarge an omnivorous welfare state complemented by a growing police state. That’s the symbiosis between, say, ObamaCare and the TSA. There are other symbioses festering in Washington – it’s too long a list to include here, feel free to name anything or any action that has not been the subject of controls, including speech – but they’re all cut from the same collectivist cloth.

The rot or cancer of federal controls – and this also applies to any government’s interference in the economy, state or municipal, the scale and object of intervention and control are immaterial – may, like the G.I. Bill, have benign and good-intended origins but foster unintended consequences, with the result always being the same: the steady accumulation of power by the state and the steady extinction of liberty.

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