Topics: 9-11, Commentary, Education, History, Politics, STEM
When I was a student at North Forsyth High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina I had the distinct pleasure of taking Air Force JROTC under Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Moody and Senior Master Sergeant Roland S. Wilkins. Surprisingly, I didn't come out of the class a warmonger - both gentlemen were veterans of the Vietnam conflict (and, had no stomach to repeat it), most of the lessons were a combination of Social Studies and Civics. What impressed me was that our democratic republic was special and unique; that in order for it to exist, "We The People" have to be a part of it. How we participate in it is not merely by voting alone, it's informing ourselves on the processes and procedures of divided government. That is commensurate with an informed citizenry, hence the importance of education to make the modern state function.
It is now fourteen years since the attack on these shores, this generations' "Pearl Harbor moment." I remember where I was: in a Motorola cafeteria in Austin, Texas, seeing the first then second plane hit the twin towers; terrified a third hit the Pentagon and Flight 93 was bound for either Capital Hill or the Executive Mansion. I now film a memorial, after a day with friends at NBC Universal/SNL studios, walking around this surreal site. I thought at the time of wanting to talk to my father, who had sadly been deceased for two years then. There were some that wanted our collective nightmare to steel the resolve of a public so diverse in perspectives and experiences that we would be unified; a truly "United States." That didn't last very long. We quickly sequestered ourselves into comfortable tribal groups - the non-religious and religious; the STEM and science phobic; the skeptic and conspiracy provocateurs; the lucid and irrational - all of the negative clusters led by narcissists addicted to sycophantic devotion. Some of them lead talk shows, reality shows or run for president.
"Democracy is not easy, and not everyone can do it right," Sergeant Wilkins said. Realize, the world wasn't so politically correct, as the statement could have some negative connotations today. [He explained] you have to be involved in your government; that you ARE the government. The assumption of public education, for example, is not just to prepare you to work in a job or profession: its primary mission is to prepare the body politic - "US" - to function as involved citizens; to hold power accountable. Public education is not merely reading blogs and reacting to soundbites formulated for manipulation and effect: it's in the reading of books - electronic, comic and papyrus - for pleasure as well as information, pondering deeply what they mean; what the authors of fiction and non-fiction were trying to say. Knowledge, books, access to them and literacy are the hallmarks of democracies and republics.
I will never be a proponent of charter schools or corporate education beyond merely investment in the Common Good. Education should not be just job preparation or an investment for dividends; it should be citizenship and critical thinking training. If the return on investment is a mindset that is so departed from logic and reason; if there is an insistence on pseudo-controversies that have been confirmed false or true by science over and over; when volume and trolling replaces debate - which in its purest sense, presupposes you have a point and feel confident you can make it in a civil manner; you don't have a state: you have a mob. To have more than this, to maintain this fragile construct called a democratic republic: we all need the resilience to accept the responsibility of being educated citizens, not entertained, bewildered sheep. We will quite naturally, demand more of our media; our current and future leaders when we start demanding more of ourselves.
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
"But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble-puppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
"Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business,"
"How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition"