Thursday, November 24, 2016

Another One

Crawford Killian voices the frustration that many of us who spent our lives in the classroom feel in the wake of the American election:

As a lifelong teacher, this really alarmed me. After all, I’d spent over 40 years trying to teach students to be critical thinkers with well-tuned bullshit detectors, able to detect a bogus argument and counter it with solid evidence. I wasn’t alone; critical thinking is built into the B.C. curriculum, and no doubt the curricula of most American schools as well.

Yet here was a president-elect who was a living, breathing repudiation of what teachers dedicate their lives to. It’s bad enough to get panned on, but Donald Trump’s triumph really rubbed our collective nose in our failure. A teenage Trump would have been the class clown in any school in North America, and promptly flunked. Instead he has flourished through a long life and many wives and bankruptcies. Now he’s proved that anyone, indeed, can become president of the United States of America.

Searching for an explanation of Trump's triumph, Killian returned to the work of Jean Paul Sartre and Theodor Adorno, two survivors of Nazism:

Reading Sartre again in 2016, I found him unpleasantly timely: “The rational man groans as he gropes for the truth; he knows that his reasoning is no more than tentative, that other considerations may supervene to cast doubt on it. He never sees clearly where he is going; he is ‘open’; he may even appear to be hesitant.

“The anti-Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devaluate words and reasons. How entirely at ease he feels as a result. How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew appear to him. …

“[Anti-Semites] know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. 

There are echoes of Neil Postman there. And Theodor Adorno spent a lot of his time researching the authoritarian personality:

“Hitler posed as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber,” a projection of the fantasies of his followers.

“Hitler was liked,” Adorno argues, “not in spite of his cheap antics but because of them, because of his false tones and his clowning.” So he could shout the unspeakable things that his followers had long thought, including the prospect of sadistic cruelty against the enemy.

Seen in that light, Hitler’s raving and Mussolini’s strutting were strictly show business, a way to market violence. They were also literally irrefutable. The late historian Tony Judt noted that “The fascists don’t really have concepts. They have attitudes.” You can’t debate an attitude.

Again, more echoes of Postman.

History has had its share of dangerous clowns. We are now going to have to live with another one.

Image: The Guardian


The Mound of Sound said...

Killian's best paragraph is his closing:

"Donald Trump may delight the ignorant and bigoted with his clowning, but his rise is the signal for Canadian and American teachers to teach reason as if their kids’ lives depended on it. Because they do."

That may be all that saves us from "idiocracy."

Owen Gray said...

I note that his new Secretary of Education is an advocate for charter schools, Mound. The assault on public education continues.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm slowly coming to wonder whether Trump isn't the burning fuze on a giant bomb that could take down America's supposed democracy and clear the way for a new era in governance that might be better but just as likely could be even worse. Perhaps this is the fate that awaits governments that cannot break the suffocating chokehold of neoliberalism. It could be that the only means for a people to get out from under neoliberalism is to turn against the governments insistent on perpetuating it. Trudeau certainly fits that mold and the Tories are even worse. The NDP is only mildly better.

Owen Gray said...

Trump could be the storming of the Bastille, Mound. What we're not sure of is whether or not he will be followed by a Reign of Terror.

John B. said...

Too many want conclusions without the effort required to observe and the complications that arise in analysis. We’re becoming a conclusion-demanding culture.

They want answers. They want someone who’ll “tell it like it is” in a way that they can associate with the random incomplete thoughts that have barely occurred to them during feeble attempts to sort out situations that confuse them, and thereby allow them a temporary respite from their bewilderment. But that’s all that they’ll escape and the freedom won’t last.

They have no understanding, and seek to have none, of cause-and-effect. They want conclusions and are prepared to listen to almost anyone who presents himself with self-assuredness and ample bombast, and will provide those conclusions for them.
“He says what I’ve been thinking.”

Wrong people – you haven’t been thinking. And the only thing that your saviour has been thinking is about how to put your sorry ass in his pocket.

And on the note by Owen at 4:01 pm: The appointment of the Coupon Lady as Secretary of Education should dispel any remaining doubts that the Koch-Trump pillow fight is over.

Quotes from:

Can we offer you a discount coupon for your school of choice?

“Trump’s choice of DeVos delivers on his campaign promise to increase the role of charter schools, which she has long championed. …

“[I]t would be hard to find a better representative of the ‘donor class’ than DeVos, whose family has been allied with Charles and David Koch for years. Betsy, her husband Richard, Jr. (Dick), and her father-in-law, Richard, Sr. … have turned up repeatedly on lists of attendees at the Kochs’ donor summits, and as contributors to the brothers’ political ventures. …

Sister of Blackwater/Daughter-in-Law of Amway

“The marriage of Dick DeVos to Betsy Prince only increased the family’s wealth and power. Her father, Edgar Prince, had made a fortune in auto-parts manufacturing, selling his company for $1.35 billion in cash, in 1996. Her brother Erik founded Blackwater, the private military company that the government infamously contracted to work in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its mercenaries killed more than a dozen civilians in 2007. …

Quick - Somebody tell the commander the Establishment is still alive!

“Betsy, who served as the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party in the late nineties and again in the early aughts, spent more than two million dollars of the family’s money on a failed school-vouchers referendum in 2000, which would have allowed Michigan residents to use public funds to pay for tuition at religious schools. …

Paid-for-Play in Full

“‘My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee,’ [Betsy] wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. ‘I have decided to stop taking offense … at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect something in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment.’”

See also the chapter in Greg Palast’s “Armed Madhouse …” (2007) on the “School Voucher Hoax”.

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the information on De Vos, John. And he said he was going to drain the swamp.

Steve said...

I once again must disagree. Maybe I am deluded but I consider my BA from the University of Western Ontario cira 1980 to be of a vintage where you had to think to get one. I spent 20 years traveling the world. I lived in Europe for 7 years. I consider myself a pragmatic progressive.

I say the collective wisdom was correct to elect Trump given the alternative. You have to break eggs to make an omlette. Hillary, Obama etc ruined liberalism for generations. Trigger points, LGBT rights, snowflake life are not real. These are intellectual communism, nice in thought, disaster in practice.
IMHO Black lives matter is in many ways as racist as the KKK. I am white that does not make me a racist, I do not owe anything. I want the world to be better for everyone, but Hillary speak is total Orwell.
Its refreshing to hear Trump.

Owen Gray said...

Rather than offer my contrary opinion, Steve, I refer Ralph Nader. He recently told the Washington Post that Trump will be the fastest impeachment and conviction in history. Time will tell.