Ab absurdo, ad libertatem
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Mea Culpa

Mar 13, 2008

While at work we must toil to further our technical abilities and enhance our administrative skills -- but only as they apply to our specific duties. Often, outside of legal work hours, we must increase our competitive rank by continuing to work or study for work. The wage labourer is left with little mental energy to devote towards dense research topics. The potential of such a worker is bent only towards competitive consumption and a narrow form of productive capacity; the complex man is reduced to simple machinery. The profit motive ensures an ever increasing need to enhance efficiency and throughput, at the expense of social considerations. It is blind and arrogant elitism to presume that those who question this arrangement do not enjoy work, for if competition is what defines the man then there is no man at all, only an automaton. Which is precisely the point.

The "very weight of modern industrial organization reveals a series of dysfunctional elements. Work becomes routinized. Bureaucracy tends to dull initiative. Automation intensifies the difference between effort expended and results achieved. And leisure tends to be anomic, tending towards excitation without meaning, to a breakdown in long-range goals as such." It is not by chance that the day job drains us of our daily allotment of mental energy, and reduces our capacity for study outside of work. The structures of modern life are such that the capacity for study beyond our profession is diminished and we avoid unfamiliar or complicated social disciplines such as psychology, geography, history, philosophy, and politics, instead delving into uncomplicated pursuits such as television and shopping, thus pursuing escape rather than involvement. "At least in the middle class, that fills the colleges, this technique of socializing is unerring, and the result is a generation not notable for self-confidence, determination, initiative or ingenuous idealism. It is a result unique in history: an elite that had imposed on itself morale fit for slaves."

The very real and consciously developed device behind this dilemma is defined as the manufacture of consent;

"The point is that you have to work. And that's why the propaganda system is so successful. Very few people are going to have the time or the energy or the commitment to carry out the constant battle that's required to get outside of Lehrer, or Dan Rather, or somebody like that. The easy thing to do, you know, you come home from work, you're tired, you had a busy day, you're not going to spend the evening carrying out a research project. So you turn on the tube, you say it's probably right, or you look at the headlines in the paper, and then you're watching sports or something. That's basically the way the system of indoctrination works. Sure the other stuff is there, but you're going to work to find it."

In browsing the web sites of University departments for history, political science, and philosophy, you will find that political science departments include sections presenting students with career opportunities, while philosophy and history departments contain only links to self-help lectures, focusing on topics such as "Applying for Non-Academic Jobs. Life and work beyond the university. Identifying your transferable skills. Turning your degree into a career asset" (emphasis mine). This is indicative of the value assigned to these disciplines by society. The calculations of those in power have determined that the study of philosophy and history yields no industrial value (or perhaps might even work to establish values that counter those of industry?). These are not economic growth areas. There is little question where prospective students, faced with the burgeoning costs of higher education and the inevitable quest for social standing, will place their efforts -- or more to the point, where they will not. "[I]n colleges and universities, students forsake philosophy, literature, and history to study advertising and marketing -- two 'disciplines' that are concerned not with truth but with increasing the sales of products of dubious value."

The limitation of study is problematic. Higher education in the West does not establish a critical mindset, instead it breeds a sense of entitlement and produces self-righteous experts -- primarily in the fields of administration and accumulation. We fancy ourselves as intelligent and motivated to learn, but how intelligent can we be when we do not venture to peer beyond the comfortable area of our own expertise? "Today, all the talk is about global competitiveness, and the public discourse in Western nations is on how to improve national educational performance in science and engineering. But many citizens are ill-informed about global affairs, not least geography and history. Do we really need engineering skills more than global vision?"

The dominant motivation developed under the current political economy is the profit motive. The dominant option for acting on this motive is wage labour. The dominant results of wage labour are competitive acquisition, elitism, and social apathy. If society is built atop a mountain of capital, then beyond the edge of this precipice lies a sharp drop into the abyss of poverty, housing a multitude of life that is destitute of resources and opportunity. What we atop the mountain fail to recognize (or perhaps, fail to accept) is that the existence of the abyss obviates our own poverty in moral dimensions. No human environment or situation is beyond the influence of the masses, and the masses can only be organized by working upwards from the individual. It is inarguable that the general quality of life for most people living in developed societies is materially sufficient, but it is also inarguable that this is not the case throughout the underdeveloped and developing areas of the world. Do we accept this condition? If not, what will be done to help? Here, it must be made conspicuous that regardless of our chosen vocation -- be it economic, social, or health service -- our choices and lifestyle outside of work must also be altered in order to effect material change for those in underdeveloped nations. The unreflective egoist will resist introspection and dismiss these words as an appeal to some abject self-defeating sense of self-hatred, while the realist will understand that the goal here is to motivate social analysis and action.

It should not be so, but for many of us it is exceedingly hard to answer the question "what will I do to help?" Many can not even begin to conceive of a possible range of answers beyond donation, volunteer, social or medical services, all of which are noble undertakings, but remain subordinate to the systems of our economy, and thus do not address the overarching problem. To even formulate thoughts outside of an economic framework requires significant effort. Clearly, we are not working with genuinely critical faculties, faculties that should be able to switch rapidly between opposing contexts. But if we are not working with open-minded critical faculties, then what precisely was engendered in us during our education? This shows just how successfully our consent has been manufactured.

Part of the series: Narcissa