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.

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