Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Social production of moral indifference - 10b

In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis says that by denying that values are real or that sentiments can be reasonable, modern education saps moral motivation and robs people of the ability to respond emotionally to experiences of real goodness. He holds that  the true purpose of education is higher than work or skill: it is wisdom. He believed that unless students were shown how to understand the proper way to feel toward virtue and vice, we risk committing cultural and societal suicide.

If we prevent children from ever feeling shame over wrongdoing, we encourage shamelessness. Indeed, the logical end of a world in which negative emotions are not allowed to signal error is a world in which error is excused, permitted, and expansive — in other words: chaos. 

Rather than education seeking to improve young people by both increasing their stock of facts and improving the sensitivity of their sentiments, students began to be tutored in facts alone. This shift was thought to benefit youth, protecting them from the emotional sway of propaganda. But Lewis argues that not only did dropping an education in and emphasis on sentiment fail to provide this protective effect (and in fact made students more susceptible to hype and disinformation), it deadened their capacity for virtue and human excellence.

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. . . a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

What Lewis is saying is that young people have a tendency to be apathetic or cynical or complacent anyway. You only magnify this cynicism by telling them that all value and emotion is subjective and that absolute truths do not exist. Being subjected to the endless rubbishing of ideals imparts to young people a smug “pleasure in their own knowingness”. By doing this, you create a vacuum that is actually more vulnerable to being filled by advertising and propaganda. A man with a well developed sentiment for an ideal, a real love for something, does not fall prey to the enticements of advertising. 

Emotional sentiment not only functions as a defence against negative propaganda, but acts as a catalyst for “offensive” activity. As Lewis argues, dry rationality alone can never be a sufficient spur to positive action. It is not recognized that pursuing the simple virtues may not be welcomed by authority and power. Mainstream schooling is designed to make us all conformists and harmless  citizens.  Courage doesn’t have to look dramatic or fearless. Sometimes it looks more like quiet perseverance.

Gandhi said that education had made a 'fetish' of the knowledge of letters and ignored completely the ethical dimension, cultivating instead 'the pretension of learning many sciences'. One recent article, for example, proclaimed in true MBA style,  “Whether we like it or not, colleges and universities are a business. They sell education to customers….While the typical for-profit firm tries to maximize its profit, non-profit universities generally try to maximize their endowments or operating revenue…”.

In Small is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher writes about the terms 'divergent' and 'convergent' to distinguish between problems which cannot be solved by logical reasoning from those that can. Life consists of solving divergent problems which have to be 'lived'. The true problems of living - in politics, economics, education, marriage, etc. - are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites. They are divergent problems and have no solution in the ordinary sense of the word. 

They force people to bring love, beauty,  goodness, and truth into their lives. It is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites,  that are an inevitable part of divergent problems,  can be reconciled in real life situations. These are problems that cannot be soled by employing reason alone. To have to grapple with divergent problems tends to be exhausting, worrying, and wearisome. Hence people try to avoid them and to run away from them. 

Convergent problems on the other hand do not exist in reality but are created by a process of abstraction. The solution can be written down and passed on to others, who can apply them without needing to reproduce the mental effort necessary to find them. Convergent problems may even require difficult brainwork, but they do not call for straining to a higher level which is the specific challenge of a divergent problem.  Modern education deals mostly with convergent solutions which comes with a big price - the loss of all higher forces to ennoble human Life.

Allen Shawn said, ‘Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.' Conversion of divergent problems into convergent problems results in the degradation not only of the emotional part of our nature, but also of our intellect and moral character. Schumacher shows this tendency with an extract from Darwin's Autobiography:

'Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it', wrote Charles Darwin in his autobiography, 'poetry of many kinds ... gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. 

But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music.... My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. ... 

The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.'

Schumacher gives an example of this phenomenon which has had negative consequences in the modern world. Keynes said, 'For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still.' When great and brilliant men talk like this we cannot be surprised if people are losing the ability to distinguish between fair and foul. Schumacher writes:

That avarice, usury, and precaution (i.e. economic security) should be our gods was merely a bright idea for Keynes: he surely had nobler gods. But ideas are the most powerful things on earth, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that by now the gods he recommended have been enthroned.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Social production of moral indifference - 10a

‘School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.’ - Ivan Illich 

Much reliance is today being placed in the power of education to enable ordinary people to cope with the problems thrown up by scientific and technological progress. The modern way of life is becoming ever more complex: this means that everybody must become more highly educated.  But subjects like science and engineering produce only 'know-how'; 'know-how' is nothing by itself; it is a means without an end.  Education should mean something more than mere training, something more than mere knowledge of facts. As Daniel Kahneman says in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore the extent of our ignorance. 

Many people believe that education makes people more enlightened, accepting and more humane. It’s almost like they believe that education is the saviour of the human race. If only we could learn this or that, or teach this or that, THEN all will be well in the world.  This is a fallacy. Modern education only enables wicked people to be more cunning in their wickedness. But the idea that education is what wicked people need to make them better is surprisingly common.

Educated people have caused untold miseries to large numbers of people through their fancy ideas like social Darwinism or medical procedures like frontal lobotomy. Many of the vicious, misogynist, jingoistic comments by trolls on Twitter are by college-going students. More than 95% of the causalities in riots in India have been in cities, where the majority of the educated live, and not in the villages, where the majority of the population lives. These riots are orchestrated and  directed by the educated. 

A Lancet study pointed out the disturbing possibility that recent increases in literacy and Indian per-person income might have contributed to increased selective abortion of girls. I heard in a talk by the Dalai Lama that over 200 million people were killed by violence in the last century and most of these were at the hands of educated people. Educated people seem to be more likely to drool over terrible weapons that cause immense destruction somewhere far away and over the costly ceremonials of state power. 

Many of the vicious Nazis were Germany's educated upper class, and their education did not make them more moral. In fact it was the uneducated soldiers who more often objected to the horrific orders handed down to them. Being more educated and advanced enabled us to split the atom, which was great, but it also illustrates the fact that education gives people power to magnify what they would otherwise have done: hurt (e.g. nuclear warfare) or help (e.g. nuclear energy and medical application). In The Educationist as Painkiller (pdf) ,  Neil Postman writes: 

The teaching profession, it grieves me to say, has generated dozens of . . . superstitions — for example, the belief that people with college degrees are educated, . . . For me, the most  perilous of all these superstitions is the belief, expressed in a variety of ways, that the study of literature and other humanistic subjects will result in one’s becoming a more decent, liberal, tolerant, and civilized human being. 

Whenever someone alludes to this balderdash in my presence, I try to remind myself that during the last two decades men with Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences, many of them working for the Pentagon, have been responsible for killing more people in any given week than the Mafia has managed since its inception.

On average, the educated and uneducated don't seem to be very different when it comes to basic human values. Knowing more about protons or perfect markets doesn't seem to help in this regard. Education merely enables people to be more resourceful in doing whatever they wanted to do anyway. People with a genuine desire to do the things that we think are  good, caring and helpful are able to do so all the more thanks to a good education. C S Lewis says in  The Abolition of Man, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” 

The first task of education should be the transmission of ideas of values. It is foolish to put great powers into the hands of people without making sure that they have a reasonable idea of what to do with them. Our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas and this makes us  think that we know what to do with the immense power that science gives us. Thinking is generally the application of pre-existing ideas to a given situation. In modern times no importance  has been given to the study of the ideas which are used to interpret facts. In Small is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher writes: 

Economics is being taught without any awareness of the view of human nature that underlies present-day economic theory. In fact, many economists are themselves unaware of the fact that such a view is implicit in their teaching and that nearly all their theories would have to change if that view changed.