Archive for the 'on Society' Category

What’s In A Name

There is in our society a long tradition of calling certain things by names other than what they are, deliberately offsetting their true function and nature. It’s a form of perception control utilized by the government to keep awareness and protest muted. A good example is calling our many wars around the world names like “Peacekeeping Missions”, that being easier to sell than yet another war. “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan has yet to produce freedom but the war itself has endured many painful and costly years with no end in sight. Historically a little verbal sugar has helped make our unending global military actions easier to swallow. Not too long ago, “Freedom Fries” was one of those gems used to shame France for not wanting to join us in Iraq. During World War 1 we renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and frankfurters became “hot dogs”. These defiant lexical gestures no doubt sent shudders through our adversaries.

I have always been discomfited by the use of euphemisms to avoid truth. One galling current example is “School Resource Officer”, a.k.a. armed uniformed police officers stationed in a public school to monitor students. According to my dictionary “resource” means:… a source or supply from which benefit is produced.” So, what benefit is produced when cops in schools are referred to as “resources”? Warm fuzzies perhaps?

One morbid possibility that comes to mind is this being an effective way to desensitize kids to the idea of being monitored, watched, and surveilled in the course of their daily lives. Eventually, when these kids grow up they’ll be entirely comfortable knowing they are always being watched and will, no doubt, act accordingly. That may well be the objective. Paranoia over Big Brother always watching will sublimate into bland acceptance and approved behavior.

I’m sure the NSA and other government spy agencies would appreciate our not giving thought to having all of our phone calls and emails recorded and the spending of billions of dollars to store those tidbits out there in Bluffdale, Utah. General Hayden, the NSA chief, would rather Edward Snowden had not alerted us to the fact that we are all under constant surveillance – being watched and listened to for purposes of national security day in and day out – whatever ”security” means in that context and whatever “democracy” means to the General.

Utilizing innocuous euphemisms to mask onerous intent and purpose does not serve us well as a society, it distorts the truth, it is dangerous, it puts people to sleep. Does a little sugar actually help medicine go down?  Consider. Total “security” is the medicine, constant and total surveillance which itself fuels pervasive paranoia about ISIS and other organizations with designs to blow us to smithereens. The illusion that destroying the American social contract and the protections of the Constitution make us “safe” – the sugar.  How sweet is that?

Police officers in place of effective teachers and administrators give schools the ambiance of prison camps. Get used to it kids, this is the brave new world of constant surveillance you are inhabiting. Cameras watch and record you wherever you go. Every phone call you make, cell or otherwise, is known and recorded. Your computer keystrokes can be logged and all the places you visit online noted. The phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” is fast becoming, at best, ironic, itself another  euphemism, for constant surveillance and social control.  And you had better like it – otherwise someone watching somewhere is going to notice!

Where are we going with this not brave but certainly “new”, world?

Herding Turtles

The phrase originates from a conversation that occurred directly after a scientist’s speech in which he described how the earth revolves around the sun.

At the end of the speech an elderly lady stood up and said,

“What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”

The scientist then asked, “What is the tortoise standing on?”

“You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

This anecdote was cited by Stephen Hawking, in his book “A Brief History of Time.”

A belief system is turtles all the way down. Why talk about “Belief Systems and the Social Contract”? Because, before we are anything else we are a species of believing social animals. Beliefs are demonstrably more powerful and durable than knowledge. History is a litany of beliefs triumphing over facts. It is a failing of intellect that has led to wars, depredation, and widespread social discontent throughout human history.  Once past survival, we are at root, meaning-seeking organisms and we go to great lengths to rationalize whatever beliefs we can adduce to reinforce those meanings.

It can be said that beliefs are the actual substance of the social contract; to not believe is to not participate. Beliefs inform the social contract – they saturate it with ideas, fantasies, and ideals that often do not necessarily reflect reality or, for that matter, possibility. There is hay to be made in this by politicians and others seeking to influence the least capable members of a society to achieve approval for policies that are not of ultimate benefit to them.

A belief system is a set of mutually supportive notions, a psychological state which holds the beliefs to be true even in the face of contradiction. The beliefs of such systems can be religious, philosophical, ideological. The philosopher Jonathan Glover says beliefs are always a combination of these and that such systems are difficult to revise. Glover suggests that beliefs have to be considered holistically in that no belief exists in isolation in the mind of the believer – beliefs are social and psychological in nature. It can also be said that beliefs are often an existential black hole into which go facts never to be heard from again. Facts quite often are regarded as irrelevant if they do not accord with beliefs – racial stereotypes being an example of this phenomenon. Truth becomes, at bottom, a belief system you either believe in or not.

Two of the most influential thinkers on the subject, Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud, differed on what underlies belief systems. Adler’s social/psychological theories stood against Freud’s. Whereas Freud claimed sexuality lay at the base of personality, Adler said power was the real aphrodisiac. Actually they were both right. Power attracts sex as a magnet does iron but it does something else as well – it creates fear and, too often, submission. There is the belief system called Capitalism which would destroy any social contract standing in the way of accumulating wealth. Perhaps to the disappointment of Freud, the contemporary Oedipus fantasy is wealth beyond the dreams of avarice with requisite social control.

In the case of those seeking power and influence, such as politicians running for office, the more believable is going to prevail. It’s marketing exercise with a certain quantity of shuck and jive telling people what they want to hear. May the best man win comes down to making the best sounding case, plucking the right strings, addressing fears and aspirations with the best sounding rhetorical spiel. It comes down to who can create the most believable fantasy addressed to either end of the political spectrum. Who can best tell the public what they want to hear. It has little or nothing to do with truth.

An example of fantasy social contract “rights” are gun laws that permit people to carry loaded weapons into public places on the premise that gun owners have the right to do so, ignoring the right of other people to be safe. Anyone who has ever fired a sidearm even at a shooting range knows most people don’t have a clue as to where their bullets are headed. It is a certainty that innocent people are likely to be wounded fatally or otherwise if some paranoid would-be gunslinger decides to open fire in a crowded public space.  Another example involving public safety is where people speeding along on a crowded freeway believe that all the cars in front of them have functioning brake lights.

What is belief after all but a handy acceptance of what is presented, thought, experienced, or felt as real and true without the necessity of objective proof? In spite of the efforts we make as organized societies to make it possible for diverse people to coexist peacefully and productively, beliefs intervene at nearly every level – our socially destructive race relations being a perfect example infecting the American social contract for centuries. Ironically we must organize social contracts which, in spite of conflicting beliefs, which will allow us  to live together in some state of harmony. Thus we add yet another belief system to the stack – the notion that we can all get along which holds until other beliefs conflict. It’s a stack of beliefs inextricable one from the others. They are all too clever by half, those turtles.

American Agonistes?

Is it ironic that in the second decade of the 21st century we are still debating equality in a country where all are supposed to be political equals? In the 18th century, the equality debate concerned the rights of colonists. In the 19th century the debate erupted into civil war over slavery, followed in the 20th over suffrage, and in the 21st the battlefield is economic equality, a societal battle over the rights of money over the rights of citizens as embodied in the destructive sophistry of the 2010 Citizens United decision.

Earlier equality debates have not been resolved either as there is always someone with a new twist seeking to undermine what should be settled law. Racism, sexual orientation, religion, bigotry, and mysogny are unrelenting, persistent, and tragically reinvented daily. It’s a curse, this agon, this quest for equality. Not so long ago Southern European immigrants were persecuted presently it’s Muslims and migrants fleeing economic and political oppression. It has always been blacks; next week it will be someone else. Truth is, if every person of color were to disappear tomorrow morning a new target group would be found by nightfall. While discrimination on the basis of wealth isn’t new on the list of divisive social issues it has now become critical when so many are unemployed, underemployed, or simply dropped out including college graduates laden with debt who cannot find employment.

Hedge fund managers making $24 million annually are taxed at 15% while truck drivers who earn $43 thousand a year are taxed at 28% the tax burden thus falls to working class people. In Kansas budget shortfalls will be made up with increased sales taxes and fees paid mainly by the working middle class and poor. A non-partisan policy group says the poorest 20 percent of the state will now pay 1.5 percent more in taxes than they did in 2012. or an average of $197 a year. The Governor, Sam Brownback, in a classic Orwellian trope, told the press this isn’t an increase but a tax cut.  I think we’re in Wonderland, Aunti Em.

  When wealth is gained at the expense of the majority of the members of a society, social viability becomes the paramount question. Historically such has  been the prelude to one sort of revolution or another and some think we may be on the precipice of a foundational evolutionary social reformation. Sentiments go well beyond the numerous books recently published about economic inequality and Capitalism. Petitions are being circulated calling for a constitutional amendment to nullify the obviously biased Citizens United decision. The presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren and others are also speaking to larger more fundamental deeply felt issues.

The realities of a diminished, if not extinguished, democracy are denial and negation of truth. Neither propaganda nor appeals to patriotism can make this go away because there is no alternative to inequality but equality. There is no livable alternate reality when 33 American cities already have or are planning to make feeding hungry people illegal. The casual abandonment of moral consideration is truly remarkable.

In an analysis  of federal policy initiatives dating from 1981 to 2002 researchers at Princeton concluded, “ economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” The denial and destruction of a government of, by, and for the people, is the antithesis of a democratic society paving an inevitable path to disengagement, and ultimately – dissolution. We can fairly ask as we must, how is it possible for a society to maintain a non-democratic economic system, qua religion, conflated with a barely functioning social contract? It is inarguable that a civilized society must correct those inequalities which can be corrected to provide the economic and social capital necessary to minimize inequalities of economic opportunity and political access.

Democracy as a political and social system requires equity, sharing, and engagement. Democracy is an expression of distribution and inclusion – capitalism is accumulation and exclusion. Capitalism is fundamentally a winner take all zero sum game, it has no ethic or morality other than to take it all is opposed to the sharing ethic required for a viable democratic civil society. Capitalism being finite and material has a natural end point – democracy being politically and socially aspirational does not, its horizon is indeterminate. In the absence of equal economic justice there is no possibility of a viable democratic social contract. As Adam Smith cautioned in his 1776 classic, The Wealth Of Nations: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

The United States has been engaged in one war or another for 222 out of the past 239 years. Since 1776 we have also been at war with ourselves. Is this then the ongoing American agon? We must decide.

Children And Society As Fair Game

What is with the anti-children political agenda going on across the country? What do Republicans have against children? Why do they push laws to force women to have children then pass laws to harm those children and not just at the state level but at the national level as well by cutting funds for education, food stamps, health care, and anything else of social value?

To have witnessed a revolting fist-pumping celebration by a New Mexican Republican legislator for his victory over third-graders who aren’t ready to learn to read by third grade was an eye-opener. If someone had told me adults would celebrate such a victory I wouldn’t have  believed it – but I saw it with my own eyes! At the moment, 3rd grade retention is an iconic right-wing red-meat political issue, part of a larger strategy to privatize public education nationally. Public schools in Kansas are closing early because of a $51 million funding short-fall caused by the Governor’s budget cuts and tax breaks for businesses which themselves caused a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues. Children be damned – we won! Yea Us! Remember Hitler’s little dance at the fall of Paris?

Fourth grade school children in New Hampshire recently received a lesson in how vile partisan politics has become. The kids had proposed naming the Red Tailed Hawk as the state bird and then witnessed a Republican lawmaker take the floor and use the proposal to disparage Planned Parenthood.  Here is what the politician said to the body as the children watched: “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.” The measure was defeated along party lines. The lesson the kids learned wasn’t part of the curriculum but it was an indelible lesson.

In North Carolina lawmakers recently turned down a school girl’s request to designate a state fossil because, as many were creationists fossils were an existential challenge. In Idaho naming the Giant Salamander the state amphibian as requested by school kids was killed by Republicans because they feared it would lead to environmental protections for that animal. This is like believing that having intercourse standing up leads to dancing. Sad but substantial lessons in contemporary political behavior and disregard for education in America today. And more than disregard, I believe fear of educated people is a root cause, people who can think and analyze before they vote, if they are allowed to vote, that is, and there are billionaires and their politicians working on that voting problem as well.

I’ve been thinking lately how fortunate we are that the Child Labor Laws were enacted in 1938 because I doubt they could be today. My mother worked in a Western Massachusetts mill at the age of 12. She had to carry a stool because she was too short to change bobbins without it. Her recollections of 12 hour work days and children regularly being injured were vivid into her late 90s. Remember, there was no workers comp back then and WC is now another target for the new reformers as are unemployment compensation, food stamps, and health care. In recent weeks Republicans in Congress just proposed a budget that would remove 11 million people from food stamps so Congress could provide bigger tax cuts to billionaires. Presently some Republican legislators and one born-rich presidential candidate in particular are going so far as to call for the end of 40 hour work weeks and the minimum wage. It’s starting to look like “back to the past”! Nothing surprises me anymore. What’s next? Perhaps bondage and children sold into servitude at birth? Debtors prisons have already been revived.

                                            child labor

At least for the moment children aren’t working in factories or on farms as child labor they are in school (for as long as that lasts) learning what we as a society believe they need to know to become productive fully-functioning adults. With state legislatures banning the teaching of global warming and trying to replace high achievement college placement courses with bible studies the definition of “fully-functioning” is undergoing profound distortion and re-definition. Texans for Education Reform and Republican leaders in that state’s senate are openly pursuing an ALEC sponsored agenda to privatize public education. Texas cut funding for public education by $5 billion a few years back and has offered no new money since then. School systems are floundering. What is being sought is total destruction of public schools and teachers.

But why? What is the desired outcome? What future are right-wing activists seeking? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be the objective, they must have something else in mind. Social control perhaps? A nation of sheep? Then again the rank and file of the movement may not have anything in mind except satisfying deeply held resentments and perceptions of being left out. Or, perhaps it’s fear of an increasingly uncertain future.

People are increasingly disinclined open their hearts for the homeless or for impoverished hungry children but they did open their wallets to the tune of nearly a million dollars for a bigoted bakery owner who shut down her business in order to not serve gays. Whatever the cause, sociopathy is fast becoming the new normal and children are the latest targets joining people of color, women, and gays. Next?


The Politics of Insanity

In the “Politics” Aristotle says, “ The mere establishment of a democracy is not the only or principle business of the legislator, or of those who wish to create such a state, for any state, however badly constituted, may last one, two, or three days; a far greater difficulty is the preservation of it.” Today we are confronted with the preservation of American democracy in the face of an ongoing political assault on behalf of oligarchs and assorted religious zealots. Something has gone terribly wrong in a society when elected representatives of the polity are hell-bent on destroying that polity’s social contract on behalf of sociopathic billionaires.

At the end of the film, “King of Hearts” Alan Bates’ character enrolls himself in an insane asylum to escape the madness of war. Where do we go to escape the madness this country is becoming? Whether it’s a U.S. Representative speaking about an imminent attack on US soil by the ISIS group, “Boca Raton”, or a cop in Jackson, Mississippi feeling sufficiently threatened by a 6 year old child to draw his revolver, or the Georgia legislator who introduced legislation to prohibit the mixing of human embryos with jelly fish cells to prevent creating “glow in the dark” children. We are sailing along the shores of insanity. It’s a refrain from a Pink Floyd tune,”… and everyday the paperboy brings more” that comes to mind.

There are large segments of the American population easily manipulated by shameless politicians and propaganda media outlets like Fox to enflame their emotions and anger. Roger Ailes, the Fox News President, goes so far as to say, “The truth is whatever people will believe.” According to a study done last year, 60% of the information Fox viewers receive ranges from mostly false to “pants on fire” lies which rise to the level of propaganda. Insecurity, ignorance, fear, anger, and resentment are thus driven by outright misrepresentation and lies. And this leads to, as one writer put it, a “… mis-recognition of social orders as natural ways of life, rather than political products.” How can a society function in the wake of such an onslaught? Actually, it cannot as people become angrier and ever more resentful.

Resentment is epidemic as politicians play as many segments of society off against one another as they can devise. It is important to understand that people probably wouldn’t agree to being characterized as resentful but this circumstance has historical precedence. Tocqueville, described the build-up to the French revolution as having been a period of relative affluence and “gratified expectations” followed by “a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.” We are seeing the same dynamics now as more and more good paying jobs are shipped overseas resulting in diminished wages even as prices for necessities inexorably rise. A trip to the grocer is a lesson in point. Young people and old are looking for work and middle class families with jobs are living on credit with foreclosure breathing down their necks.The result is fear, uncertainty, acted out as anger ready to be manipulated and focused.

To make matters worse legislatures, at the instigation of their wealthy sponsors, are moving to freeze or lower minimum wage levels as they advance so-called right-to-work laws. In New Mexico where right to work is being considered there is even mockery as a legislator had the unmitigated gall to attach an amendment to the RTW bill raising the state’s minimum wage by 50 cents per hour which, over an eight hour day, amounts to less than the cost of a gallon of milk. Such is the disregard and disdain for working class people and why they are being driven to resentment. Resentment against what or whom they aren’t always sure but, more often than not, against the wrong people. People who post nasty on Facebook against any statement in support of the poor or against the looting of the American social contract are desperately afraid that they are next and, in fact, they probably are next.

Oligarchs behind social destruction are using their money to manufacture popular anger and direct attention away from themselves as they manipulate the legislative process at all levels. Resentment of minorities, the under-class, and intellectuals is frothed into anger the energy of which is directed as we see, in the rise of demonstrations of open bigotry and misogyny across the country. Today people feel free to publicly utter vile comments as, for example, the South Carolina legislator who publicly declared women to be a “lesser cut of meat”. In Arkansas, a Republican Legislator, Don Young, told his colleagues who were debating controlling predator wolves, “I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”

Public education and educators are also under attack. Along with other Republican Governors around the country, Wisconsin’s Walker is cutting budgets for state schools, Oklahoma is eliminating advanced placement classes to replace them with bible studies, and in New Mexico and other states a meaningless and counter-productive third grade retention crusade is underway. A Virginia Congressman believes the country doesn’t need to spend money on education because Socrates “trained Plato on a rock”. It brings to mind the film, “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the crippling of children to make them better beggars. Pity the children.

Pity the country also when people on an anti-social rampage work to abolish the most civilized aspects of society – public education, public welfare, health care, safety standards, any and all things public. A jihad against all things civil. If they are successful, there will no longer be a society nor a viable democratic polity.  As one author succinctly put it, “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”

Ripples Into Riptides

John Adams once wrote – “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” The unrelenting war on all forms and manifestations of a democratic social contract has led to bloody revolutions in every era, on every continent, and in virtually every culture. They all begin as slight disturbances, ripples on the surface of daily events, minor perturbations in the status quo that eventually take on a destructive life of their own not unlike the early gentle rumblings of an earthquake.

History clearly demonstrates political Democracy and Capitalism are not compatible ideologies, they are contentious and contradictory belief systems. Capitalism has, at bottom, become a quasi-religion as much as an economic system. Whereas Capitalism is amoral imposing no limits on wealth extracted from the commons, Democracy, on the other hand, requires morality of community, civility, and commitment to the common welfare, in a word, “sharing”. Sharing is anathema to Capitalism because there is no monetary profit and so is vilified by calling it “socialism” or worse. Controlling the vocabulary of debate is an old and useful tactic.

When any kind of amorality becomes pervasive, it desensitizes a society with a form of instrumentalism that justifies other amoral behaviors creating a destructive pathology of civil decline. One need only recall the rise of Nazis and their vilification of Jews in pre-war Germany to understand how this dynamic works. For a recent example, how can a society justify killing someone for selling a loose cigarette while lionizing and bailing out with taxpayer money, bankers who impoverished millions with their greed? In the US today 49.7 million people qualify as poor, 80% of the total population is in or near poverty.  In the face of this calamity politicians are proposing cuts in the Food Stamp programs, Social Security, and health care. To what end are we again, it seems, being driven to the intersection of civilization vs barbarism, a society committing suicide.

When a country acts immorally it diminishes its moral authority across the board. When a government offers “facts” contrary to the truth people who are actually living it it relinquishes its moral authority, authenticity, and agency. The innocent adults and children killed by our drone strikes is a truth not ameliorated by the fact that there is always collateral damage during war. Collateral damage is a morally reprehensible argument against justice, a false use of truth invalidating claims of moral superiority over the enemy. Sadly this behavior also speaks in the names of all of citizens of the state causing the harm and that includes you and me. The US is a country in which thousands tout their Christianity and at the same time accept criminalizing feeding the hungry and homelessness. Everything is related to everything else in one way or another.

In Cleveland, police summarily executed a 12 year old boy at a playground. The boy was holding a bb gun. The same cops also threw the kid’s sister to the ground and handcuffed her for wanting to reach her dying brother. The boy died, the cops offered no first aid or care. In a news interview Police Union Chief, Jeffrey Follmer, placed absolutely no value on the 12 year old’s life – none! His callous  response? “How about this: Listen to police officers’ commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop … that eliminates a lot of problems.” He added, “I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it.” Listen up, Nation, Jeffrey Follmer has spoken a fact which is truth for many Americans, you live in a police state – do what you’re told – or else we’ll kill you even for selling a lose cigarette. Is this American Exceptionalism? Is it justice? What kind of society have we become? What are we becoming?  We have the facts but are we ready to face truth?

There are many more examples but the foregoing seem to encapsulate a version of the social contract that is in opposition to what we believe to be normal – they portray a new normal in which truth has no moral function and human life has no value. The facts are, do what you’re told and everything will be alright, but the truth is something else. The truth is we cannot be parties to torture abroad or unwarranted killing at home unless we accept our own complicity. It is valuable to note that the most outspoken critic of CIA torture was a Congressman who himself, as a prisoner of war, was tortured by North Vietnam. Is that what it takes for people to understand that inhumanity – to be tortured themselves?

  In all of this, it is essential to understand that facts and truth are not, in fact, the same thing. Facts are devoid of morality, they simply describe and nothing more. Truths, on the other hand, are an integral aspect of moral thought and behavior, truths give facts meaning. Facts exist in a moral void and truths are a moral context. I have personally witnessed many instances of individuals spewing facts and not describing the truth, using facts to obscure the truth, to create cognitive dissonance. Lawyers and politicians do this routinely. It’s a shuck and jive the end result being that an audience or a jury never understands the truth and so defaults to the better liar.

We are, in the 21st Century, engaged in a new round of Democracy vs Capitalism. We must question. We must challenge – each of us. Time is running out on what’s left of this Democracy and what is left of a civil society because we are avoiding truth. We must tell truth to power and demand truth from them lest the ripples turn into waves and the waves into riptides of destruction. Truth is a virtue not an inconvenience, there can be no justice without it.



Weaponizing Children

 It has been done before – weaponizing children. Of course in the US  we aren’t talking about explosive belts but about the use of children to undermine public education and further political ambition. The term “social conservative” is a case of contradiction – what is being conserved has not to do with society at large. What is being conserved and expanded is wealth for a relative few while the remainder of society is being disenfranchised and impoverished – slowly perhaps but inexorably. And the impoverishment goes beyond money as it destroys dignity and self-respect. Taking over public education is an instrument of impoverishment, a weapon directed against children with a larger and more important strategic goal down the road when they become adults – the social contract. Third grade retention is only one tactic of that strategy.

People don’t often think of the social contract per se even though it influences every aspect of their lives, much less do they link third grade retention to that contract. One can suppose this is similar to fish not being aware of the water they are immersed in. The water is there and taken for granted. We live in society, we interact with others and with social institutions to such an extent that their existence apart from us isn’t any more noticeable than the air we breathe. Who thinks about the double yellow line on the highway? You simply don’t pass cars ahead of you unless … and that “unless” is what we are concerned with here. Personal awareness becomes acute when the contract is violated as when a car passes you in a no-passing zone and is confronted by an oncoming vehicle with no place to retreat save to cut you off. The purpose of double yellow lines is made obvious and the anti-social aspect of the passing driver’s behavior immediate and personal.

A less obvious example is when politicians use pubic education to further anti-social agendas. Third grade retention as punishment for not learning to read at an arbitrary rate is a classic example. In no rational world is it writ that any child must learn to read by the time they are in third grade, by fourth grade, or for that matter, that they should be prohibited from reading in second grade. This “rule” exists for no reason other than as administrative convenience. Human beings exist as individuals  and each individual learns different skills at a rate particular to them. That is a fact and not amenable to politics. This truth may very well be inconvenient but is immutable. Some children warm to arithmetic at an early age but when older cannot learn algebra much less understand differential equations. Are we to consider someone who doesn’t understand differential equations less educated or less intelligent than someone who does? Of course not. After all, you don’t have to know or understand differential equations to be a brain surgeon. It isn’t that differential equations is as fundamental as learning to read but is illustrative of the broad variations in human intellect and understanding.

Having been educated as a mathematician and having known more than a few I do not believe mathematicians are necessarily more basically intelligent than biologists, chemists, philosophers or diesel mechanics. In fact I have known mechanics who were quite a bit more broadly intelligent than some math majors I’ve known. So what is it then with this crusade to punish kids for not being good readers by the end of third grade? In short it is politics and shameful politics at that. It is nothing but pandering and using children as weapons in the war to privatize yet another covenant of the social contract.

Educating children  is a matter of public interest, public concern, and most importantly public responsibility for the simple reason that an educated polity is of vital necessity to the survival of democracy. A society needs citizens who understand their role in governance more than it needs mathematicians. A society needs people who can think critically, ask good questions, and see their way through political rhetoric to a logical conclusion – in short a society depends on people with well developed crap detectors to survive. Corporatized education will produce, in its own best interests, non-thinkers who will also not read well in third grade but they will do what they are told and believe what they are told to believe. They will become de facto soldiers in the relentless war against democracy.

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