Nov 20, 2006
Teaching Tommy During an Era of Fascism
By Doug Soderstrom
In looking back at that of my own education, I have come to the conclusion that much of what I learned was a matter of propaganda. And I am sorry to say that it wasn’t until “that sorrowful day in September” that I decided to take a serious look at the history of our country, and it was that which has made all the difference, that which no doubt changed my life. As a result, I began to understand the sacrosanct privilege of being a citizen of a democratic republic, what it means to suffer “the swift retaliation” of those incapable of understanding the irrefragable duty to question one’s country, what has no doubt become a determined need to challenge the insanity of a nation having apparently gone mad in an outrageously absurd rush to war.
Then, after having spent forty years as a psychologist teaching at the college level, my sentiments have not changed; we, as teachers, have done a terrible thing. We have chosen to mislead our students. We have led them to believe things that are simply not true. Rather than educating them, arming them with the knowledge necessary to understand “the realities of the life,” we have inadvisably placed an inordinate emphasis upon preparing youth for the workplace, essentially training them to become robot-like cogs in the machinery of mankind. Rather than vesting them with the power to think for themselves, the power to reason in a critical manner, the sagacity to understand the complex nature of the moral dilemmas set before us, we have, through the power of propaganda, chosen to domesticate our youth, deciding that it is preferable that they become flag-waving patriots, loyalists, apologists chauvinistically pledging their allegiance to the Fatherland. This, paired with a combat-contingent reinstatement of the military draft (H.R. 4752: Universal National Service Act of 2006) coupled with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (Section 9528) that has apparently given military recruiters (who quite often do not tell our kids the truth) the nearly unprecedented right to roam the halls of our public schools demanding the name, address, and telephone number of each and every student in the country….…. and we may well be looking at a lead-up to that which occurred in the 1930’s as Adolph Hitler “brown-shirted” the youth of Germany assuring there would be a ready supply of soldiers to serve in combat.
Decidedly, such is no way to raise children unless we, as a people, have decided that we do not want our children to possess the soundness of mind, the skills, necessary to carry out the astonishingly difficult task of maintaining the cumbersome complexities of a democratic republic.
Consequently, as a counterbalance to the many myths (fictions, fantasies, and fabrications) taught in our public schools, I am proposing that youth be taught to respect the wonderful elegance of peace, love, and justice, that our children understand the terrible dreadfulness of war, hate, and injustice, that they appreciate the gravity, the paramount import, of facing the reality of the world in which they live, that they develop the character, even the wisdom, to realize that:
Every human being is sacred, that regardless of one’s sex, race, status, economic condition, creed, color, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation, nothing is of greater value than that of protecting the right for everyone to be treated with respect.
Each and every human being is first, and foremost, a valued member of the human family, and then, and only then, a citizen of any particular nation, that reversing the order of these will, without exception, distort one’s relationship with his fellowman leading to an increased likelihood of mutual misunderstanding, conflict, and, in the long run, war.
Peace is a far better thing than war, that each of us, as human beings, has a moral responsibility to use our energy and talents to move the world toward peace, love, and justice, and thus away from that of war, hate, and injustice.
From the very beginning our country has been enmeshed in violence. First, there was the decision to go to war with the British Empire. Then a near-genocidal attempt to destroy the American Indian, the original inhabitants of our country, followed by a centuries-long exploitation of the Black race. Along with this, our country has a time-honored tradition of conflict with a multitude of others: threatening to destroy our adversaries (nations unwilling to align themselves with that of our interests) through the use of an arsenal of deadly (many of them nuclear) weapons; willingly participating in the overthrow of numerous popularly elected governments unwilling to abide by our rules; demanding that other countries allow us the right to exploit their natural resources in order to maintain our own standard of living; has been, and perhaps still is, involved in the trafficking of drugs around the world; assassinates foreign leaders, aids terrorists, and supports “death squads;” has committed a multitude of crimes against humanity; has allowed the CIA, an organization much like that of the Mafia, to terrorize the world; kidnaps suspects and tortures prisoners; imprisons more of its own people than any other country in the world; is the only nation in the West that kills it’s own people through the use of the death penalty; is an international pariah, a true maverick, refusing to work with the rest of the world in order to resolve problems confronting humanity; has a long and varied history of aligning itself with a rather vicious assortment of dictators, tyrants, and despots willing to do our bidding at the expense of their own people; and, as such, is increasingly beginning to resemble the fascist movements of Adolph Hitler in his nascent 1930’s attempt to take over the world.
Capitalism, an economic system in which it is assumed that self-interest (exclusive concern for one’s own family and personal welfare) is an undeniable good, that greed can (and perhaps should) be tolerated, that one ought to be allowed (and perhaps even encouraged) to make as much money as possible, that the right to own property is inalienable, and that equality (the relatively equal distribution of goods among folks) is, for the most part, of little or no value, and that capitalism, as an economic arrangement, is in no way preferable to that of socialism, an economic system that cherishes a relatively high degree of equality amongst its citizens (the right for everyone to share in and to have access to “the basics of life”), while simultaneously encouraging individuals to overcome the temptation to be indolent (lazy and/or unproductive) by mandating that each has a moral responsibility to share with others, as indicated by Karl Marx’s aphorism, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” the early Christian communist (communalist) expectation that each share his/her belongings with others, along with the prophet Jesus’ (Mark 10:17-27) advice to “the Rich Young Ruler” concerning what must be done in order to be saved, what one must do in order to inherit eternal life…… “Go and sell all of your possessions, and give the proceeds to the poor, and then, and only then, will it be possible for you to be saved,” but, as we are told, since the Rich Young Ruler had great possessions, he (like many of us no doubt would) in fact did leave with a saddened and grievous heart……. much like that of “the camels of antiquity;” it is a very difficult thing for those with money to humble themselves to the point of crawling on bare knees through the “proverbial eye of a needle!”
From the very beginning, the United States has been a class-based society in which the government, for all practical purposes, has served the interests of the rich, and more or less been forced to tolerate the poor, while allowing those of the middle class, those who happen to work for a living (sometimes referred to as “wage slaves”), to remain eternally nervous out of a deeply-ingrained fear of losing their jobs thus enabling those in power to maintain control over workers, folks with seemingly little, or no, concern for those at the bottommost levels of society, those (the indigent poor, those of color, others “down on their luck,” Viet Nam and Iraq War veterans, and those who are mentally ill) with little or no opportunity to make it to the top….… no matter how hard they try.
The United States of America, as well as Israel, by virtue of their eagerness to go to war, their apparent willingness to plunder and pillage other lands have, without question, become the most hated of nations in the world, and that the President of our country, George Walker Bush, due to having formulated a preemptive military policy (one that mandates a right to destroy any nation threatening our right to control the world) paired with that of a foreign policy that shows very little respect for that of other nations, has become the most hated man on Earth.
The citizens of our country ought to be ashamed of having allowed the phrase, “In God We Trust,” to have been placed upon our coins, the very emblem expressing an assiduous craving to consume, even to devour, more and more things, a hypocritical tendency to say one thing, but to do another, the fact that our nation has, for all practical purposes, never placed its faith in God, but rather in something much more tangible; an unrestrained need to generate more and more wealth (that of an increasingly large gross national product), individual and corporate assets protected by a military arsenal ready and willing to destroy any nation audacious enough to interfere.
Organized religion has become an astonishingly complex problem for nearly every nation, that, along with the good, it is rather evident that religion has become one of the primary, if not the primary, cause of war, violence, and death, that it would be much better if individuals were less inclined to be religious, less inclined to regard themselves as “masters of the universe,” folks so ethnocentrically predisposed that they seem to have little doubt that they have received the divine right to determine who it is that will go to Heaven versus who it is that needs to be punished in Hell, a people so terribly arrogant that their lot in life would be much improved if they were willing to relinquish such piety, replacing it with something much more genuine such as an authentic interest in serving the legitimate needs of the human family.
The rights of citizens, as indicated in The Bill of Rights, were not given to the people, rather such rights have always been earned, essentially taken from the firm grip of a government never inclined to give freedom to its people, either through the power of the law or through an unrelenting willingness of folks to engage in acts of civil disobedience, suggesting that teachers have a responsibility to make sure that students not only understand the principles of civil disobedience, but that they might have an extended opportunity to learn how to implement (to carry out in an effective and efficient manner) well-intentioned acts of civil disobedience.
It is important that one be honest, that one be honest with God, himself, as well as with others, that one summon the courage to tell the truth, a realization that veracity must not be compromised, a rather simple recognition that the most dangerous thing one can do is to tell the truth, to say that which nobody wants to hear, a resolute willingness to be a maverick (even that of a whistle blower), to be one who can be counted on to tell the truth regardless of the consequences.
It is important that one be a man or woman of integrity, one who is governed by one’s conscience, the rudder of one’s soul, that which empowers the human spirit, impels an individual to live in such a way that one’s values affirm the sacredness of life, that which directs an individual to treat others in a manner that one would like to be treated, that which sets in motion an empathic resolve to make sure that “the least of us” are treated with respect, a precondition for that of self-respect.
It is important that one have humility, an inner power manifested by those who understand that they are no better than anyone else, a rather calm and unpretentious realization that one’s accomplishments are of no special significance, no doubt the only known cure for those shackled by the chains of conceit so terribly central to that of arrogance.
It is important that one have the faith to doubt, a simple recognition that no one, no human being, has “a direct pipeline to God,” that no one can authoritatively tell another what he or she must believe, that, like it or not, no human being has the capacity to comprehend “the truth of God,” that, as a human being, one has no choice but to face the fact of “ontological uncertainty,” the fact that truth (the perfect knowledge of God) is necessarily “off limits” to man, that although one has an existential responsibility to search for truth, one must do so realizing that what is searched for will never (can never) be found, leaving one with little choice but to accept the fact that whatever one is able to find will emerge only if one has the fearlessness to question anything and everything (God, one’s church, one’s parents, one’s nation, the law, society, others, but, most importantly, that of one’s self), that nothing should be taken for granted, that skepticism (the willingness to question) should rule the day, that answers, in and of themselves, are of little value, whereas the great questions of life represent the engine of knowledge, that if one is to muster the courage to search for truth, it is essential that one appreciate the perilous nature of such a journey, realize that such a trek requires the absolute courage of one’s convictions, the sureness of self, the existential capacity to confront “the incredible incomprehensibility of eternity.”
It is important that one become self-reliant, that one develop the skills necessary for self-governance, that one develop the capacity to think things out for one’s self accompanied by a firm resolution that one must never allow one’s self to become a servile slave of the status quo, that one must resist the temptation to go along with the crowd, to become “a good ole boy,” an organizational man, or that of a team player.
It is important that one develop the defiant power of the human spirit, a tenacious, absolutely indefeasible, willingness to overcome any and all odds, an inexorable unwillingness to allow anything or anyone to “keep one down,” an ontological resolve to surmount the “tough times of life,” a courageous commitment to respond to tragedy by saying “yes to life.”
It is important that one find meaning in life, an ontological reason for which to live, an existential willingness to move beyond the superficial pleasures of life such as that of money, power, reputation, status, success, and the acquisition of things, an effort to acquire a transpersonal interest, a willingness to give one’s life for something greater than one’s self, a resolve to live one’s life for God, for one’s children, a beneficent cause (such as that of Martin Luther King’s commitment to civil rights), or perhaps even a career that might enable one to serve the best interests of mankind.
It is important that one develop an empathic concern for others, the willingness to place one’s self into “the shoes” of another person, the capacity to view the world from the perspective of folks unlike one’s self, even those of a foreign nation, a resolve to overcome the narrow-minded confines of one’s own cultural conditioning demanding that we glorify the deeds of our own nation, while simultaneously damning those of our enemy, a blind presumption that we, as a nation, are always right whereas our enemy is, without question, always wrong, a programming that has taught us to live our lives according to the Lex Talionis (red in tooth and claw) Law of Retribution, that there is nothing wrong with that of hating one’s enemy, that during a time of war we should be proud of a willingness to kill the enemy, that any effort to place ourselves in the shoes of an enemy (to want to understand, and therefore forgive, him as a human being who is in no way different from that of ourselves) has become equated with that of having become an apostate, a turncoat, a traitor, a disloyal American willing to collaborate with the enemy, an arrogance so profoundly ignorant that we, as citizens, seem to be left with little choice but to follow the Machiavellian edict to simply “do away with” those we have been taught to hate.
It is important that we develop an appreciation for the fact of death, the fact that each and everyone of us will one day die, an existential reminder that if we are to be good stewards of our lives, we must live each day as if it was our last day on Earth, that, because we have only a limited amount of time to get done “what must be done,” we must take seriously the imperative that we live a good and decent life, for without such an inclination, we will certainly miss the mark, miss the existential responsibility to make the most of our lives.
Finally, it is necessary that we comprehend our responsibility in regards to the future, in regards to those who will populate the planet once we die, the mandate that we respect, that we have a true reverence for, life, that we honor and respect the needs of those who will follow in our footsteps, that we be willing to defend the Earth from the awful onslaught of progress, that we, as a people, be willing to live with less, that we put an end to the practice of plundering and pillaging our planet, that we understand that anything less than this may well lead to the decimation, perhaps even the annihilation of, the human race.
Clearly then, a partisan approach to anything results in children having little choice but to believe what they have been told, what has more or less been collectively “crammed down their throats,” effectively depriving them of an opportunity to know “the facts,” the facts, of course, being the essential ingredients, no doubt the bedrock, of truth. Even though Christians (primarily those of the religious right/the fundamentalists) have done a great deal to muddy the “waters of truth,” the prophet Jesus (in John 8:32) promised that “the truth will set us free,” that an awareness of the facts, an informed understanding of the way things are, a thorough “sifting of the chaff from the wheat,” will provide a solid foundation from which to launch a search for truth, a place from which to begin, a progressive opportunity to figure out what should be discarded, what ought to be retained, and what needs to be added in order that youth might be educated in an objective and honest manner.
Rather than allowing ourselves to be filled with fear, the fear of loosing our jobs, afraid that someone might be a bit upset by what we say or do; let’s reverse course. Why not strive to “upset a few apple carts,” strive to teach the things that nobody wants to hear, demonstrate the courage of our convictions, risk the consequences of telling students “the truth.” Otherwise, if we choose not to do such a thing, we will be forced to face the fact that we have become “partners in crime,” willing participants in having chosen to lead our sons and daughters down the “yellow brick road” of arrogance, which leads to inhumanity, war, and then to death. Thus, I believe that we must demand that we teach our students “the truth,” demand that we teach each and every side of each and every issue, enabling students to transcend, to move beyond, the bondage of personal and collective bias, to move beyond a self-inclined willingness to bask in the twilight of social and cultural ignorance, demand that we do our best to set humanity free from the shackles of self and society in order that we, as a people, might one day thirst after righteousness, that we might be more inclined to love God, our neighbor, and perhaps even that of our enemy, placing us on the firmest of ground, the freshly prepared path of peace leading to the promise land of life, liberty, and justice, not just for us, but for all of mankind.
No doubt something for all of us to consider since it is our very own children, that of the next generation, who will one day inherit the future, and thus govern our nation. Accordingly, it is imperative that we ask who will be most qualified, most able, to take the reigns of leadership; statesmen eager to build a democracy committed to peace, love, and justice, or another bunch of thugs anxiously awaiting their turn to rule the world with the “shock and awe” of their most recently developed weapons of death?