A Litany of American Myths
Table of Contents
The article by William Bennett, "Why Western Civilization", National Forum (published by The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, Box 16000, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70893), Summer 1989, reminds me of the remark attributed to Ghandi. When asked what he thought of Western civilization, he is supposed to have said, "I think it would be a good idea." Bennett, the new drug czar (a nice title for a professed believer in liberal democracy), tells us what the mission of our academies should be, repeats his minimal list of topics that must be taught, then makes his main point that Western tradition, Western culture, Western progress, Western thought, Western principles, even Western religions should be taught and defended because they are good, not only good but the best there is. He next identifies the West with the United States, being careful to exclude the nation that produced Tolstoy, Borodin, and Lyapunov. In numerous statements sprinkled throughout the text he implies that the best ideas in Western thought are reflected in our American institutions, not merely as they should be but as they actually are. With a slight digression to tell us how much better off women are here than elsewhere, he identifies Western ideas with his own politically conservative ideas by way of praise for Margaret Thatcher and Jeane Kirkpatrick, which seems to have been the purpose of the digression.
Certainly the best things from Western science, art, literature, and mathematics should be taught along with the story of the circumstances that produced them (or rather the circumstances in spite of which they were produced), but the oppressor in the war against drugs is asking the reader to believe much more in this short article. This is the old bait and switch gimmick. Please note that I am admitting that as I repudiate the bad reasoning and dubious statements of the author I am attacking The Man himself, or rather his ideas and his behavior, because he is one of the most dangerous and misguided men in the world today, but my attack on the man does not invalidate my refutation of his beliefs. I am not implying that his ideas are wrong because he is a badly behaved man. His ideas are wrong no matter who holds them. Also, I wish to acknowledge that most of my ideas, expressed here without attribution, are taken from the best thinking of the West.
In this paper Bennett's claims are refuted systematically while, at the same time the reader is enlightened as to the true state of affairs in America. Most Americans already know that my analysis is correct; but, miraculously, by means of the famous process of doublethink, they cling simultaneously to the old myths. Because of lack of space, I have piggybacked on the general discussion of academia as an institution a few new ideas for higher education in the context of Bennett's minimal list of topics.
Bennett concedes that the American system has some defects, but he would have us believe that these defects, upon which he does not dwell, are dominated overwhelmingly by a large number of attributes based on the best ideas of Western thought and, presumably, supported by the Republican Party.
He makes numerous claims, either directly or by implication, that are either false or, if true, cannot be construed in the way Bennett would have us construe them. It is important to debunk Bennett's portrait of America because it incorporates most of the delusions that prevent the American people, including college students, from seeing their country as it really is. Bennett's uncritical, religious "patriotism" is, at best, stupid, and, at worst, criminal. The next three paragraphs constitute the thrust of Bennett's claims.
The Western tradition of philosophy and literature, an unparalleled resource from which all can learn and profit in the way we lead our lives, is reflected in our institutions, which, in turn, inform (inspire) the day-to-day conduct of the American people, which, presumably, is exemplary. Our institutions, the brightest beacon of which is the Constitution itself, are worthy of imitation. The rest of the world looks to the U.S. for guidance, hope, and inspiration.
"America tells one story: the ineluctable [incapable of being evaded] progress of freedom and equality." [Alan Bloom] We have the most just and effective system of government, a liberal democracy with representative government. The American government and social system are based on precepts and ideals that bind us as a nation, among which are freedom, equality, the preservation of human rights and dignity, the inviolability of conscience, the exaltation of reason, and the protection and encouragement of dissent.
The American system has improved the standard of living and the quality and value of human life in America. Western progress, principles, and religions are worthy of defense, whereas the government of the Soviet Union is the world's foremost example of a system that flouts the highest ideals achieved in Western thought. Freedom and democracy is found only in capitalist societies; communism invariably leads to totalitarianism. The United States is not a totalitarian state. The alternative to Western civilization, as exemplified by American capitalism, is savagery.
First of all, Bennett confuses the best things in Western culture, the great works of art, literature, philosophy, mathematics, and science, which are glorious, with Western institutions, which are unworthy of savages. Rather than the nearly ideal picture painted by Bennett, we have a crass, materialistic, highly polarized society, fueled by greed, that suppresses nearly every spiritually worthwhile endeavor, among many other ways, by requiring both husband and wife to work long hours to support a modest existence. The savings resulting from technological advances are siphoned off by an insatiable, parasitic ruling (business) class. Every aspect of society is infiltrated by commerce. We have what amounts to a state religion, deviation from which is met with savage repression. Nearly a million Americans are in prison and still the streets are not safe, even in relatively small towns. The main function of the schools is to brainwash children, most of whom, in their resentment, refuse to learn. These statements, which are easy to prove, are not extreme. Between the Soviet Union and the United States there is not much to choose.
After a brief discussion of materialism and the job market, I discuss what the effect of materialism has been on the government, the Constitution, and the American legal system including lawyers, the courts, and the law. Next I show that the medical establishment, the church, and popular culture also have been perverted by materialism and, finally, I discredit business, industry, and academia. The many other institutions that have been destroyed by materialism are passed over here in the interest of brevity.
Materialism is the belief, or any social, political, and economic system based on the belief, that people should compete for material wealth, that material wealth can be used as a measure of success or as a reward for achievement, effort, or behavior. Many materialists believe that people should be free to gather as much wealth as they possibly can no matter what they have to do to get it and no matter what the cost to society and that it is good and proper that they should do so. In America materialism takes the form of quasi-lassez-faire, quasi-free-enterprise, quasi-free-market capitalism. Materialism seems to subsume other more humanistic goals wherever it is practiced, whether it be in the United States or the Soviet Union (where it is supposed to be disavowed but is not). I don't mean that people should not have abundant material wealth. I believe that materialism is preventing people from having abundant material wealth unless their particular talents and inclinations are disposed toward acquiring it, in which case the pursuit of wealth seems to possess them, just as the creation of music takes over the life of some musicians or mathematics, mathematicians. Wherever materialism reigns supreme there are vast differences in wealth, which leads to horrible problems, not the least of which is poverty itself.
It is no longer true that a person who perseveres at any worthwhile activity is guaranteed materialistic success. The exceptions are legend. How many artists commit suicide let alone die in poverty! If people devote their lives to making money even though their talents and inclinations lie elsewhere, their lives are wasted by definition. If their inclinations and talents do not correspond to making money or preserving their inheritance, if they are inclined toward music or poetry or even science or engineering or any other useful endeavor, even agriculture, their futures are in doubt, because the people who devote themselves to making money have discovered new, advanced methods (arbitrage, programmed trading, corporate takeovers, exploitative entertainment, marketing schemes, religious scams, etc.) for acquiring obscene quantities of loot, so that they can bid up the price of land, housing and other goods to the point where others will be deprived. People who do not pursue wealth have become the slaves of, or at least dependent on, bankers, businessmen, and bosses. Prudent, far-sighted, non-self-destructive people who are not blessed with a great spiritual vision must plan their lives around the "necessity" of having money and will abandon their natural callings. Civilization is in danger of dying out. No one has suffered more than the farmers from the concept of a free market. In some years they must sell their crops below cost. The only time they can hope to get decent prices is when their crops fail! But, all wage earners suffer from the endless cycles of boom and bust.
Without attracting much attention, the status of human beings in America has slipped from "personnel" to "human resources", as though recognition of the importance of labor in the commercial equation somehow increased the value of people rather than devalued them. Now people are lumped together with other resources such as coal or iron. The concept of a job market practically guarantees that, if someone quits one job, he will have to accept another one that is essentially the same as the one he quit. This is what is meant by wage slavery. People have become commodities. The job market is not even a free market, because employers enjoy greater power than do workers despite collective bargaining. The capitalist can always retire on his accumulated wealth, an option usually not available to the worker, who may be living from hand to mouth.
The government is dominated by powerful businessmen and lobbyists; politicians employ ludicrous campaign practices; the administration consists of totalitarian institutions such as the FBI, which spies on American citizens, the CIA, which meddles in the affairs of sovereign states, and the infamous IRS, accountable to no one. The police, courts, and jails, with their ever-increasing population of people who cannot cope with a corrupt system, are a national disgrace. The schools brainwash the children who, in their resentment, refuse to learn. I hesitate to discuss the military.
The U.S. Constitution may be our brightest beacon, but that does not prevent it from being abused, moreover the Constitution is not perfect. The Constitution is not an all-inclusive (addressing every possible circumstance) collection of independent and consistent social axioms employing the most refined principles of logic. In fact it begins with a logical inconsistency by suggesting that something that is perfect can be made "more perfect". However, there is no possibility of replacing it with something better at the present time because there is no reasonable consensus of rational persons to construct a new constitution. Everyone has his or her own private agenda. Moreover, the Constitution is reinterpreted every few years as conservative or liberal judges sit on the court. Since we can't depend on its meaning, the Constitution has become nearly meaningless. Government officials or other powerful people ignore the Constitution whenever it is convenient. A perfect example of this is drug prohibition, which can be shown to be unconstitutional by starting with the unalienability of freedom and the pursuit of happiness and then applying the Ninth Amendment.
George Bernard Shaw said that every profession is a conspiracy against the laity. This applies in spades to the legal profession and its extensions, the laws and the courts. The laws are twisted and turned as the prevailing winds change so that ignorance of the law is not just an excuse it is the guaranteed condition of every single person including the lawyers who made the laws. Access to the law in cases of tort is restricted to the wealthy, the powerful, and, of course, to the lawyers themselves. Tom Wolfe says, essentially, that a conservative is a liberal who has never been arrested. Judges are a law unto themselves unless they are under the direct light of the media, cf., setting arbitrary clothing standards, modes of address, and codes of behavior in their courtrooms, as well as imposing private extralegal beliefs ("pro-life") on defendants. The American legal system is a cesspool as we all know, but, as people stupidly say, it "works", provided one has a strong stomach for injustice.
The medical establishment, driven by greed, bars entry by inhuman practices (30+ hour shifts for interns), holds onto its monopoly on the distribution of medicine and the treatment of nonstandard behavior by vicious lobbying, maintains an unfair wage structure, and delivers health care in a discriminatory fashion based on wealth and social status.
The church, both the regular clergy and the reprehensible televangelists, support a corrupt and materialistic society. The function of the Jewish and Christian churches in America, especially the Protestant church, is to justify Capitalism. (Recall that the missionaries were the first wave of the capitalist invasion of Africa. It was Christianity that justified the domination of the "inferior" heathen races by the "superior" "Christian" races.) The businessman and his toadies commit reprehensible acts all week long, but after attending the church service they feel redeemed, if not by Christ having died for their sins, at least by virtue of having done their duty by their "god". The propitiation of deities is a feature of all primitive religions. The minister has condemned the day-to-day activities of most of his parishioners but in such an abstract way that they will always feel that his remarks apply to everyone but themselves. Notice that the preacher never says that, if you work for a company that tells lies on TV, you are a sinner, if you work for a company that pollutes the air, you are a sinner. As for the victims of materialism, they face another week of toil confident of their inevitable reward in heaven and thus are able to endure the unendurable.
Unfortunately the "great" Western tradition of free enterprise is sweeping away art before the tide of popular culture. Art cannot exist under the heel of commerce. It is difficult to produce great art when the motive is to produce great art. When the motive is profit, it is impossible. (Even Shakespeare, or his surrogates, produced inferior plays when the motive was to make money.) The well-known music teacher and composer, Ben Boretz, said that, if popular music continues on its present course, in a few years no one will be able to tell one Haydn quartet from another. We all know that the situation is much worse than that. Commerce is infiltrating every aspect of our lives. Television is destroying the intellectual and artistic standards of the nation. People don't even blink at commercials that are obscene beyond the wildest dreams of the most perverse and imaginative pornographers. No wonder the communist bloc countries and the nations of Islam are worried about the proliferation of American (and American-style) movies and TV that display lavish wealth and glorify the worst aspects of materialism. These are influences that can subvert even strong minds with promises of empty pleasures that have only the slightest chance of ever being fulfilled.
Americans should not be too jubilant over the insurgence in China and Eastern Europe. Resistance to repression is always good, but many of the rebels in communist countries are not resisting repression per se. They are hoping to have the opportunity to exploit their fellow man just as materialistic Americans do. They think they have a chance to become rich and they are motivated by greed. America and other countries in the West have subverted their socialist educations, such as they were, with movies and television as discussed above. While it is true that anyone can become rich under the so-called free-enterprise system, it is not true that everyone can become rich. Many of the rebels against quasi-socialism are bound to be bitterly disappointed if (in China) or when (in Eastern Europe) they become the exploitee rather than the exploiter. Moreover, if the communist countries embrace capitalism, the world will soon be in the hands of the heads of the giant multi-national corporations, the greatest threat to freedom and human rights and to the earth itself in historical times. These companies have no conscience and are beholden to no one but themselves. They are not regulated by any sovereign state. Just look at what they have done already.
I feel that it is safe to say that business is crime, but crime committed by cowards. A businessman wouldn't have the guts to stick a gun in your ribs and say, "Hand over your money," but his mission in life is to transfer wealth from those who produce it to himself and his chief henchmen, while producing nothing himself. The developer says, "I built that shopping center," when the shopping center was actually built by dozens of honest workmen with their own hands and brains. The businessman protects his turf ruthlessly just as the robber barons robbed and killed to build empires and ultimately become "respectable". Question: If X's fortune came from bootlegging, why doesn't the government seize his wealth? Answer: Because X is the government. In addition to the intrinsic criminal nature of business, probably a day doesn't pass without the businessman breaking at least one written law of the land. I will not even go into the lies the businessman tells his associates and the public, cf., TV ads, sales talks, and promises, but I must at least mention the disgusting institution of the corporate ladder.
Clearly industry shares all the evils of business because industry has become business. General Motors no longer makes cars; it makes money. But, in addition, industry is responsible for a callous attitude toward the environment and human welfare. It is dangerous not to regulate industry. There is no reason to believe that industrialists are any more ethical now than they were in the past. On the contrary, the early industrialists exposed themselves to the same dangers their workers braved because many of them, like Edison and Firestone and, in recent times, Edwin Land, were inventors not salesmen, accountants, and lawyers. Even the engineers and scientists seem to become corrupt as soon as they become managers. William Morris said that no one was good enough to be someone else's boss. Certainly industry is much the worse for bosses.
Since Bennett's paper is about higher education maybe we should examine the thoughts on that subject of the man who would behead drug dealers (contrast people who sell drugs to people who want to ingest drugs with industrialists who purvey pollutants to people who don't want to ingest them). We see that he believes the moral and intellectual mission (fundamental role) of the academy is to convey [to impart] our common culture (as though we were a monolithic culture). I have a slightly different idea of what the mission of our colleges and universities should be. I wonder if the chief pharmacological inquisitor would tolerate dissent sufficiently that my viewpoint could be considered for a moment.
It seems to me that the content of a college education should consist of two parts: the vocational part, which teaches the skills and knowledge required to make a useful contribution to society and the avocational or cultural part, which teaches the knowledge and skills useful to enrich our leisure hours with joy and spiritual fulfillment. Both of these categories of study (which may overlap) should teach scruples, ethics, integrity, honor, and the ability to think critically. Let us look at the vocational part of a college education as it is presently constituted. It can be divided into the useful disciplines, such as mathematics, science, medicine, and engineering, which should be taught at our universities, and the useless or harmful disciplines, such as advertising, marketing, business, finance, and law, which should not be taught, although it is difficult to see how the study of finance and law can be dispensed with before the world is very much changed. Unfortunately, many of our institutions are turning out incompetents (as well as many brilliant practitioners) in the useful disciplines and parasites in the useless ones. Moreover, we are teaching that it is valid for science, mathematics, and engineering to serve the interests of businessmen rather than the interests of society. This cannot be justified. Many students learn more about how to cheat than they do about ethics.
Inasmuch as business divides up what is left over after the people who actually produce wealth have been paid enough to keep themselves alive and perhaps just this side of open rebellion, it is fair to say that the Harvard Business School is a school for crime no less than the state penitentiary, except that the graduates of Harvard will steal a great deal more. The university is aiding and abetting commerce, which is infiltrating every aspect of our lives. Universities are teaching their students how to get jobs in television, which is destroying the intellectual and artistic standards of the nation. Universities have courses in advertising and marketing as well as in business as business.
Our business schools are supposed to be training managers. The owners of businesses do not need to be trained, as they are, for the most part, natural-born pirates. The traditional function of managers, unfortunately, combines two entirely different activities, namely, the planning of enterprises, which is a worthwhile branch of engineering and can be done in a democratic setting, and the ordering about of human beings, which attracts the worst element in society. If Bennett intends to teach young people how to participate in and serve American-style, quasi-lassez-faire capitalism as part of the study of our Western tradition and, on the basis of his praise of Margaret Thatcher and on the basis of his words and deeds outside of the paper currently under attack, I think he does, then he is destroying the best of the West not defending it.
Let us now turn to the avocational or cultural element in the educational process. I agree, with Bennett, that we should be teaching our children the best ideas and thoughts of the past in the original writings of the best thinkers of the past or at least in literal translations and I agree that we should acquaint our students with the best in art, music, and literature and the most important discoveries or theories of mathematics and science, but I also agree, with Bloom, that, except for science and mathematics, there is no one left to do it. (Of course, students who expect to pursue the scientific disciplines will need to know a great deal more than just the "important" discoveries and theories, although if they understood the most important things deeply enough it might be sufficient.)
Alan Bloom's claim that there is not a university in America that is capable of imparting a liberal education because there is no one left to teach it is corroborated by Czar William himself, who, though he claims to have taught ethics, one of the primary facets of a liberal education, does not see anything wrong with prohibiting people who seek spiritual refreshment outside the religious establishment from celebrating the rituals they prefer with the drug(s) of their choice (other than alcohol and caffeine). Nor does he see anything wrong with beheading those who disagree with him.
In addition to the best in "Western art and literature" and "major achievements of the scientific disciplines", Bennett wants to teach "our own Western tradition of learning". What does he mean by this? Does he mean what has been learned, how we learn, or our systematic persecution of learned men? Perhaps he means the great thoughts and ideas of the past.
Also Bennett thinks we should teach "the classical and Jewish-Christian heritage." I hope he intends to teach Christianity as mythology on the same basis as other primitive mythology. Is he willing to accommodate the teaching (i) that the main function of religion in history has been to manipulate society and to enrich and empower the priesthood and that it probably isn't any different now, (ii) that most religious doctrine is superstitious claptrap, and (iii) that Christianity has been used to justify the enslavement of the so-called inferior races so that capitalists can extend their markets and sources for raw materials abroad and consolidate their system of wage slavery at home? I hope the man who wants to send American troops abroad to regulate what crops sovereign nations may produce or not produce will tolerate the teaching that The Resurrection and The First Law of Thermodynamics are incompatible, along with the odd fact that many people accept The Resurrection as literal truth. I'm sure he will since the accommodation of widely differing viewpoints is part of the Western tradition as exemplified by American culture. But what I want to know is: Why is no one teaching it?
Finally, Bennett wants to teach the "facts" of American and European history and the political organization of Western societies. Surely the former education secretary will teach different versions and interpretations of the facts, lay emphasis on different collections of facts in different courses, and point out that some "facts" are errors or even lies. I hope he is not going to teach children that America is a liberal democracy. On the other hand, will he tolerate the teaching of the virtues of socialism or libertarianism or, for that matter, democratic, privatized, libertarian wealth-sharing as well as the teaching of the virtues of the American system? Will he allow us to explain that the only reason wealth-sharing might not work is that people aren't good enough and then let our students decide that perhaps they are good enough!
It is clear that the content of what we teach needs to be altered, that the emphasis must be on genuine morals and ethics (not sexual or pharmacological prudery), and that we must begin to teach the truth and the whole truth even though we will need to teach different versions of the truth for awhile to satisfy people who know nothing but lies. We must forget about teaching those skills the sole aim of which is to make money for the practitioner and begin to put some real pith and marrow into the study of the useful disciplines. But the difficulties with the universities and colleges go much deeper than content and the lack of qualified teachers of the liberal arts.
Because it was originally conceived to be above the corruption of the everyday world, academia, as an institution, deserves our deepest contempt. Far from being interested mainly in the education of our youth, which, according to Bloom, it is no longer able to attend to, the university is interested in two things: money and prestige, which turn out to be different aspects of the same thing. (You can turn money into prestige and prestige into money, but not on quite the same basis.) In its lust for tuition it permits cheating, even encourages it, and tolerates all sorts of bad behavior (beer drinking, vandalism, disturbing the peace, rape). It puts undue pressure on professors to obtain funding, of which it takes an inordinate share as overhead in proportions totally unrelated to the cost to itself of having research done. This leads to dishonesty in research. The university still forces scholars to "publish or perish", which leads to a large volume of inferior work, the counting of scholarly pieces like pairs of shoes, and some very unhappy scholars. Unfair employment practices, including part-time and temporary work without benefits, are the rule rather than the exception, not to mention the medieval institution of tenure, which is used as a whip for scholars who are not tenured and a ball and chain for the undistinguished scholar who is tenured and is afraid to give up the security.
This is just the beginning of the indictment against academia. I choose not to discuss fraudulent recruiting practices, the star system, college sports, campus politics, unnecessarily high tuitions, and the low esteem in which teachers are held. But all of these as well as the important points in the previous paragraph are not even discussed by Bennett and Bloom and, as far as I know, by Adler. Colleges and universities are failing because they are morally bankrupt.
It appears then that the few important institutions examined are not informed by the best ideas in Western culture but by runaway materialism. Our highly exportable, national popular music is disposable, one-dimensional twaddle. No one is influenced by the people who remember Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. Our movies glorify mindless sex and violence. Shallow people, who are dazzled by lavish displays of material wealth and hedonism, admire America in a perverse way. Some are completely blinded by their own greed. But, thoughtful people, even the citizens of our closest allies, have very little respect for Americans as a people and even less for our government, which is recognized not only as an international bully but as a coward as well. Our ignominious and ill-conceived "police action" in Vietnam and our precipitous and shameful pull-out go a long way to explain this state of affairs. Our international image is not helped much by hiring thugs to do our dirty work in Nicaragua, our invasion of tiny Grenada, and our interference in the internal affairs of Panama. I'm afraid we are still the "ugly American" overseas, except we are no longer viewed as an invincible world power. If that is what our friends think of us, can you image with what contempt we are viewed in the Muslim world and in Cuba?
Freedom is the exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc. It is the power of determining one's own actions or making one's own decisions. These are dictionary definitions, but, for political purposes, there must be a temporal component to the definition. The exemption from external control, for instance, must be in perpetuity. Political freedom must include freedom from fear that the freedom can ever be abridged. Political freedom should be interpreted as freedom to do as one pleases up to the point where the freedom of another person is violated. Equality should be interpreted as equality of wealth, income, power, and prestige.
Obviously complete equality is possible only as an ideal that can be attained after a very long, perhaps infinite, length of time, i.e., asymptotically. There would be no need for a closer approach to equality of wealth if wealth were so abundant that no one would ever want as much as he or she could have. We shall require technology more advanced and education more spiritual than what is available at present for that state of affairs to be achieved. On the other hand, with today's technology, we could achieve a condition of equality of wealth, except for slight differences to account for age and physical handicaps, at a level of great abundance in one or two generations. No nation, however, has ever attempted to do so. Not Russia, not China, not even Cuba. Why, then, do opponents of wealth-sharing point to Russia, China, and Cuba as examples of the failure of sharing wealth?
For that matter, why has socialism (with its vitally important component of equally shared wealth) not been achieved in those countries despite the fact that (i) more than two generations of children could have been provided with a socialist education and (ii) there is nothing to stop a government with the will to do it from establishing socialism? The answer is man's will to power, a natural appetite, like other natural appetites arising from man's animal aspect, which will have to be subdued by man's spiritual aspect if man is to achieve paradise here on earth or even survive as a species. Those with the power have not learned the simple lesson that, if they do not surrender their margin of power, they are going to lose everything, either from atrocities committed in the course of class warfare, from the violence accompanying revolution, by the death penalty exacted at the end of a successful revolution, or by the collapse of civilization. Equality of prestige is an entirely different matter. For that we need to see genuine evolution, which, of course, takes place after periods of time on an evolutionary scale.
Freedom and equality are very much related if not inseparable. Wealth can buy freedom. When one person has greater freedom than another person, the margin of freedom is always at the expense of the other person. I do not know as yet how to prove this deductively, i.e., without using examples, but I invite the reader to verify it by any number of thought experiments. I shall give a few examples:
A wealthy man buys lakeshore property; thereafter people who cannot afford lakeshore property have less freedom to enjoy the lakeshore or, in some cases, even to view the lake.
A rich man sponsors the political campaign of a poor man, who gets accustomed to public office. Thereafter, the freedom of the dependent politician is abridged or is in danger of being abridged, which amounts to the same thing. Also, the democratic process is subverted as the poor politician maneuvers to avoid losing his funding and the political freedom of everyone else is diminished.
A poor man has to work to live. A rich man is in a position to offer him work, but he is not faced with the necessity of hiring someone until lack of help diminishes his own fortunes considerably, during which time the poor man will starve. Thus, the rich man is in a much stronger position to negotiate a salary. The desperation of the poor man forces him to accept low wages and, in addition, to make a number of concessions that severely curtail his freedom.
A poor man lives next door to a rich man, whose dog keeps him up all night by barking whenever the rich man takes one of his frequent weekend excursions. The poor man cannot afford to seek legal redress and, even if he could, he cannot take a day off work to go to court. One day the poor man's car breaks down and the poor man parks it on his lawn to make the necessary repairs, which he never seems to have the time to get around to. The rich man gets tired of looking at the poor man's wreck of a car so he calls a friend in city government (he doesn't even have to bother to go to court even though he could afford to) and in a day or two the poor man is forced to junk his car. Meanwhile the rich man's dog continues to keep the poor man awake at night.
These examples illustrate the normal condition of mankind when wealth is unequal. No one would dare to advance the thesis that people with vastly different wealth are equally free. Everyone knows that below a certain poverty level the freedom of the poor man virtually disappears. In certain instances, rich people seem to have less freedom than poor people, cf., the obligation to attend social functions or keep up appearances, but closer examination reveals that these abridgements of freedom are mostly fictitious, cf., Malcolm Forbes. It is true that the access of middle-class and rich people to many parts of our cities is restricted, but poor people aren't really safe there either.
I do not know much about the progress of freedom and equality in America before 1934, as I was not alive and I mistrust history books, but since that time it is true that great progress has been made, not the least of which was the triumph of the labor unions over incredibly cruel and greedy capitalist bosses who are known to have said, "If you don't come in on Sunday, don't come in on Monday." But just before 1980 when Reagan was elected I began to detect a change of mood in the country. I think I know what caused it, but the matter is too serious to assign the blame without proof. Since that time, especially during the Reagan years, the progress toward freedom and equality began to be "evaded". Reagan himself legitimized racism and young people in college began to concern themselves solely with the pursuit of wealth thus exacerbating the differences between the rich and the poor. Statistics to support this claim are published everywhere so I needn't dwell on the inappropriateness of Bloom's remark and Bennett's quote of it.
In the next few paragraphs I will show that America is not a democracy and then give counterexamples for each of the precepts and ideals that are suppose to bind us as a nation. Actually, as everyone knows, the nation is so polarized that serious people better start wondering if the nation is not on the brink of civil war. The "Christians" are trying to impose their contrived sense of morality on all of us and the streets are not safe even in the small towns. Does that sound like a nation bound together by precepts or, for that matter, by anything else?
Recently The Nashville Network began to bill itself as the network of "the music that binds us as a people." Apparently the devotees of so-called country music feel that they are the entire nation, whereas huge chunks of the population, on Wall Street, on welfare, and elsewhere, can't stand the twang of guitars and the yodel of folks who miss their "bayabee". I find it impossible, however, to prevent the abuse of my hearing by popular music if I find it necessary to call my dentist, the government, or nearly any other institution and have the misfortune to be "put on hold". I consider this an outrageous abuse of my liberty, my conscience, and my spiritual health.
It is certainly true that, whereas Russia has only one political party, the United States has only two. That's only one more than one. And both parties are the parties of the ruling class. Our leaders of both parties, when they are in Washington, attend the same parties (social functions). Only the rich and powerful can afford to conduct political campaigns. Under American capitalism a rich man can buy a senator, perhaps a president. The PACs and lobbies are the shadow government anyway. The people simply don't have any power. By the way, democracy is the system of government wherein political power is shared by all citizens equally. Do you personally have any political power? If the answer is yes, pay strict attention to what I have to say.
Nearly everyone believes in the existence of a ruling class. If you use the expression "ruling class" as in "One way to get into the ruling class is to get high grades at Harvard", everyone knows what you mean. And yet nearly everyone thinks that the U.S. is a democracy. Well it cannot be a democracy if it has a ruling class. This proves the existence of doublethink, the simultaneous belief in two inconsistent notions. The United States is a plutocracy.
Americans are free to do what everyone else does, but that's about it. We don't need a constitution to protect people's rights to do what everyone else does. The guarantees of liberty in the Constitution are there to protect behavior that deviates from the norm; but, unfortunately, government, business, and other powerful forces, not the least dangerous of which are the various fundamental "Christian" churches and their political lobbies, disregard the Constitution whenever they wish.
A good example of the repression of freedom is the so-called war on drugs led by none other than our champion of precepts himself. Many people take drugs for spiritual, ritual, or recreational purposes and do absolutely no harm to any other person than themselves and the harm they do to themselves is either negligible compared to the other effects of taking drugs or no greater than the harm one does to oneself by eating the standard American diet, sitting at a desk all day, or participating in violent physical exercise. In addition, there are many people who take drugs so that they can excel at an important task such as playing a musical instrument. If they obeyed the laws against drugs, they would not be able to play. The Constitution was intended to protect the freedom of these people, but it doesn't.
People who are unwilling to tolerate any religious tradition but their own want to persecute other people who do not subscribe to the standard Judeo-Christian tradition of abstinence from all drugs save alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. As it happens, taking drugs is not only permitted but, under special circumstances, encouraged by my religion. I do not take illegal drugs however. Thus, the law prevents me from practicing my religion as I would in a rational society and both the First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion, and the Ninth Amendment, which protects the rights to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness, are violated.
People who support drug prohibition should not imagine that they are freedom-loving, law-abiding Americans. It is no virtue to respect the freedom of people to do things of which one approves. True lovers of freedom might say to a drug user, following Thomas Szasz's paraphrase of Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you take, but I'll defend to the death your right to take it."
Ask any nonconformist if America is a free country. (I don't mean a man who wears an old-fashioned necktie; I mean someone who is really different.) There are heavy penalties for any deviation from the standard prescribed path.
I would like to retell the fable of the grasshopper and the ant to illustrate my point about freedom. The ant is a person who graduates from high-school and college with high grades having completed every homework assignment, having never missed a single class, etc. He goes on to a top-ranked professional school and completes his doctorate in three years, putting in the required 60 hours per week on courses and research. He (I say "he" because it is assumed that he has not made the mistake of acquiring the wrong gender) then joins a large production company and gradually works himself up to senior whatever, manager of whatsis, vice-president, and, just to make the scenario more plausible, let's say that's as far as he gets before they throw him on the scrap heap with a good pension plan at age 65. He now can look forward to a happy old age with plenty of money and many laurels to rest on for the remainder of his life. There is only one problem. Our ant has never been free. Moreover, his contribution to society is as small as it could possibly be and still result in the aforementioned promotions. He has done what he has been asked and he hasn't made waves.
Now I want to tell the story of the grasshopper. The grasshopper has done well in the courses that interested him and not so well in the courses that didn't. He has been interested in engineering, say, but not enough to work at engineering for more than four years running without a long break. He has traveled around the world twice, once as an ordinary sailor. He wrote a book of verses, but they were never published before they were finally lost when an angry landlord took possession of a small apartment on the Lower East Side after two monthly payments of rent had been missed. The grasshopper worked as a freelance editor for a year until he got another job at engineering where he started over at the bottom. At that job he devised a system for organizing engineering data that is used by nearly the entire profession nowadays. He quit, though, to study mathematics, which he did until he got an opportunity to play piano with one of the best jazz quintets in New York. After many years of hopping around from work to school to play, as grasshoppers are wont to do, he found that the best he could manage for himself was a poorly paid job at the bottom of the totem pole despite the fact that his discoveries had launched the careers of nearly a dozen younger men and advanced the careers of those who stood on higher rungs of corporate and academic ladders. The grasshopper has not really been free because the economic system forced him to dodge and twist to avoid the hobnailed boots that would like to have destroyed him, but he enjoyed much greater freedom than the ant and, as a consequence, made much greater contributions to society, even though society has caused him to suffer and, probably, has even greater suffering in store for him in the future. A truly free society doesn't punish freedom.
Some people might admire the ant because he has exerted his willpower to overcome sloth, but, in my opinion, their admiration is misplaced. More than likely the ant has done what he had to do given his circumstances and it would have taken an open act of rebellion for him to do otherwise. Moreover, his natural inclinations, the dictates of his heart, have been suppressed by discipline imposed by others or by himself, probably to fulfill the expectations of others, even if self-imposed. The grasshopper is the one who has had to exert the force of his will to overcome all of the obstacles that the ant found insurmountable; moreover, he has allowed himself to be moved by the spirit. Deontological arguments (arguments that we are partly driven by a sense of duty) notwithstanding, most of us know that this is true. There is a little bit of ant and a little bit of grasshopper in all of us.
Socialists and others who believe in wealth-sharing aside, Americans seem to be dedicated to maintaining and increasing the differences in wealth, power, fame, importance, and opportunity between people and classes of people despite the lip service they render to equal opportunity. As Citicorp says in its recent ad, "Americans want to succeed, not just survive," by which they mean, presumably, business success. Now the function of business is to transfer wealth from the producers of wealth to the ruling class, which produces nothing. This is plainly true, as the bulk of all business earnings and salaries must be paid for, eventually, by the lower levels of wage earners, who are not in business. On the other hand, the portion of the pie siphoned off by business (as large a portion as it can get away with, as any businessman will freely admit) is divided unequally among competing businessmen, but not usually in a way that increases the size of the pie. The gains of one businessman are usually at the expense of another businessman, thus business is a zero-sum game and as such represents an overhead on the economy whose main effect is to make people as unequal as possible.
In arenas outside business, the poker chips are prestige, fame, and importance. It is easy to show that the efforts of nearly everyone are directed toward increasing one's own share at the expense of others. After all, there is just so much limelight. We may conclude, without fear of ever being proved wrong, that the effect of materialism is to make people as unequal as possible.
We live in a nation where we are not free, where we have no share in the making of laws, where the Constitution cannot be depended upon, and where we are in danger of being forced to live according to the contradictory precepts of a primitive, superstitious religion, devised by people with a hidden agenda who thought the earth was flat and didn't understand the cause of rain, a religion that condones, even encourages, the lowest possible morals in the form of capitalism. The average man must work long hours at a useless job or in a production process over which he has no power, sometimes at the peril of his life, taking orders, whether he wants to or not, from a "superior" who might be a moron or a sadist for all we know, but, in any case, is a man (or woman) who has sacrificed systematically his (or her) dignity to acquire the little bit of power he (or she) has. "What is the murder of a man compared to the employment of a man," and nearly everyone is employed. How dignified is trading the time of one's life for money! But, those who are unemployed are treated as pariahs even if they are women of child-bearing age. It wouldn't be hard to make a case that the only ones left with any dignity are the criminals. But, woe unto those who fall into the jaws of the American legal system, despite the best efforts of liberals to make certain that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
But, Bennett, a meddler into the affairs of people over whom he has no jurisdiction, is the last person to talk about the dignity of man. He wants to treat us like little children who are incapable of deciding which drugs are good for us, or, at least, proportionally more fun to take than they are risky, and which drugs are not. He dares to patronize a people who are struggling for every shred of dignity they can grasp.
Bennett himself has no respect for the people who fight tyranny by defying the laws against drugs, but, in truth, these are not very great in number. Most people who take drugs do so because they want to and most people who sell drugs do so to make money. I have no taste for cocaine, thus I do not picture myself in the gallery of the U.S. Senate snorting cocaine in plain sight of the legislature as a point of conscience, although the drug czar would have no problem arresting me if I did.
But, plying my trade as a PhD chemical engineer is a far cry from snorting cocaine and the United States has arranged matters so that I cannot do that in good conscience as we shall presently see. In what sense do we believe in the inviolability of conscience if a man can't make a living without violating it? As I see it, there are three possibilities for employment for PhD chemical engineers if we rule out starting one's own business, which for most is an impractical alternative and not without its ethical problems. One can work in academia, but I have already explained why a man of conscience could not do that. One can work in a government lab, but that practically guarantees that one's work will end up in weapons, and that is disallowed on grounds of conscience. If the government work is as a program director, say, for the National Science Foundation, say, then one is participating in an unconscionably unfair system for distributing funding, as can easily be proved . Finally, one can work as a chemical engineer in industry, but that practically guarantees that one will be destroying the environment. If by some quirk of fate one finds a company that respects the environment, as do all of its clients, one still has to contend with wage slavery and so it goes.
Permit me to propose a set of four priorities for all economic enterprises: The first priority should be to do no harm. What avails it to produce better things for good living if you wipe out a city like Bhopal every hundred years or so or, for that matter, if you poison the air in a city like Houston every day. Once the operation of the company is rendered harmless, the next priority should be to ensure the job satisfaction of the workers. That's what human endeavor is all about, put simply, to have fun and to grow. At last, we come to the social good provided by the enterprise. The third priority should be to produce as high a quality product (or service) as possible. This should serve Priority 2, as no decent person can be happy producing an inferior product unless the conditions of his employment are so intolerable that he be motivated primarily by revenge. Finally, if all the above priorities are satisfied, one may consider making a profit for the owners of the enterprise, who, in my system, would be the workers themselves. But, it would be preferable if profit were unnecessary, as the love of money is the root of all evil.
What's that you say? Without profit there would be no company? My reply is that, if any of the first three priorities are unsatisfied, the nonexistence of the company is the desirable state of affairs. In any case, no decent person could in good conscience work for such a company. Necessity is not a good excuse. In an earlier paper  I have shown that technology has already been developed to such an extent that need must be created artificially by a defective economic system in order for it to exist.
There is one more point of conscience that must trouble many scientists, who are pledged to discover and promulgate truth: Nearly every form of scientific employment requires secrecy at some level. Even in academia one must be secret about proposed research or about privileged information one has acquired while reviewing a paper or proposal, because there is always someone out there who will steal it, if not the reviewer himself. My difficulty with keeping secrets excludes me from most jobs on grounds of conscience.
But, I dwell too much on why I cannot find employment that does not violate my conscience. I claim that no person of conscience can find suitable employment in the United States, since, as far as I know, there are no democratic, privatized, libertarian, wealth-sharing enterprises here. It is unethical to work where unfair distribution of wages is practiced. It is dishonorable to work for a company that advertises on television. It is immoral to work for a company that engages in foreign trade except under very special circumstances, which are almost never fulfilled ... and so it goes. Inviolability of conscience, indeed!
The laws against drugs are unreasonable, but no one bats an eyelash, not even the drug users or dealers. I don't hear a single person offer the defense of unconstitutionality. People say "with liberty and justice for all", but they are thinking "as long as they obey my Bible". This is doublethink, the exact opposite of reason. All experimental evidence points to the following fundamental law of society, namely, the greater the repression, the greater the social disorder. Is it reasonable to ignore this evidence? Please don't think that I'm claiming reason is exalted somewhere else on this earth.
Everyone plays the coupon game. Let me explain why that is unreasonable. The cost to the consumer is the cost to the retailer plus profits plus the cost of running the coupon (or sweepstakes) game and any other marketing expense. A little grade-school algebra shows that the average cost to the consumer must rise due to the coupon game, since the retailer takes out profit first! Instead of insisting that coupons and sweepstakes be banned, we continue to imagine that we are getting something for nothing. Is that reasonable?
Actually, every aspect of society shows how unreasonable we are: our election practices, our entertainment, our economy, our caste system, etc. The reason that we have so many problems that we find too subtle for us, the reason that so many of our moral choices end up in the grey area is that our morals themselves are unreasonable. Our religions defy reason. In fact, there is nothing much reasonable about us at all.
Here is a point on which I would like to be proved wrong. It will be extremely difficult to get this paper published. But, even if you do see this somewhere, dear reader, you are probably reading a journal with a small circulation or a pamphlet published at my own expense (or I have been dead 100 years); moreover, you probably have figured this all out on your own before you read it, i.e., I'm reaching believers not unbelievers. There is nearly no chance that this will be published in The New York Times, Newsweek, or even in Penthouse (maybe I'll send it there). I certainly hope I'm wrong. But, there is also the possibility that, if this is made available to people who don't already believe it, some fundamentalist Christian Nazi will blow me away to teach me a lesson about God being love.
Critics will claim that divergent views are expressed on TV and in the press; moreover, some dissident books are written. The spectrum of views represented in the media go from yellow to chartreuse, from M to N and the masses do not read serious books. Case closed.
This is a very rich land. Rich in raw materials, fertile soil, extensive timber lands, abundant wildlife, at least it used to be. All wealth comes from the earth, the sun, and human effort. (The bounty from outer space is negligible.) Any nation, regardless of the form of the government, could have prospered here. Finally, though, our shoddy institutions are beginning to catch up to us. The business class funnels off much more than its share without special loyalty to one nation or another. Ordinary middle-class people are less well off than their parents. The "lower" classes are beginning to show up on the streets - homeless.
Our government and business leaders find it to their advantage to perpetuate the myth that we must live in a global economy, which is clearly false. (We can separate our economy any time we find the will to do it.) Thus, our workers must compete with (i) people who live like stone-age men or (ii) with people, like the Japanese, who have no life outside work. Our trade deficit allows foreigners to buy up our country and collect rent from us. The business section of our local paper displayed a cartoon in which a man was asked, "Do you find it exciting to be working in a cubicle costing $1,200 a square foot?" Excitement is hardly the proper emotion. If he works in a cubicle (that's part of his standard of living you know), he is earning at most $25 per hour. His overhead might exceed his salary and that money might be leaving the country. He is not only a commodity, as explained earlier, he is a cheaper commodity than real estate.
We have already dismissed Bennett's claim that life is valued in America, the right-to-life movement notwithstanding. Life is treated as a business resource. The right-to-lifers are mostly, not all, control addicts. They, for the most part again, value unborn life, but not adult living persons. Materialism does not necessarily improve the quality of life, as we all know. We are caught up in the accumulation of material wealth and many of us are slaves to our toys. The one that has the most toys at the end not only doesn't win, he may have lost his entire life in meaningless toil.
I find it most amusing lately that people speak routinely about the change from communism to democracy as though they were opposites. A moment's reflection shows how absurd that is. There is absolutely nothing about communism that precludes democracy. (However, we expect communism, with the state owning the means of production, to be more repressive than privatized, libertarian wealth-sharing, with the means of production owned privately, but shared equally by the producers. All bureaucracies are repressive. Have you ever tried to deal with the IRS!) The Soviet Union could pass a law tomorrow that required the members of the politburo to be chosen from the population at large by random drawing. What could be more democratic? Of course, the people in power in Russia have no more desire to give up their power than do their counterparts in the United States. As I have already shown, the United States is not free or democratic and I see no reason why we should expect the Soviet Union to be, but the Soviet Union, or at least Russia standing alone, might be closer to freedom and democracy than we are. They have only to overthrow the bureaucracy, whereas we have to overthrow the bureaucracy and the capitalists. The main point, though, is that communism or socialism has never been tried in the U.S.S.R. The differences in wealth in the middle 60 of the population are as great there as they are here, I have been told. (For that matter, capitalism has never been tried here, as any libertarian will gladly tell you.)
So we have two "great" nations where power is concentrated in the hands of the few, wealth is not distributed equally, the state decides what the citizens can and cannot do as though they were little children, neighboring weaker nations are bullied and exploited, political change is difficult to achieve, although apparently easier there than here, and the citizens think they live in the greatest nation on earth, although they would all like to have more material wealth. There the national "religion" is Marxist-Leninism, which has not much to do with the reality of life; here the national "religion" is pseudo-Christian, Paulist salvationism, which has even less to do with the ordinary affairs of the people.
It is easy to show how a democratic, privatized, libertarian, wealth-sharing society might indeed embody the best ideas in Western culture, including, speaking very loosely now, the actual achievement of liberty, equality, justice, prosperity, and abundant leisure, and achieve it during the lifetime of some people alive today, but the lies of people like William Bennett stand directly in our path. We have shown that the United States is a de facto totalitarian state. Far from being the alternative to savagery, America has been and continues to be a jungle populated by predators that would make a "savage", such as the bushman in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, tremble.
Given more space I would have liked to comment on the condition of women in America and show that Bennett is missing some very important points. Also, Bennett claims that we can understand our culture by studying the liberal arts. This is partly true. But it is also true that a person visiting our planet from outer space could get a pretty good idea of what we are about if he could master our languages. Nearly everything one needs to know can be learned by observation and introspection, but this is the point of religion as it ought to be, is it not? I would have liked to discuss my ideas on higher education, as well as elementary and secondary education. Suffice it to say here that, with the exception of the “hard” sciences, we really don't teach the truth. Moreover, the students probably suspect vaguely that the education is not really for themselves, but rather to benefit those who wish to turn them into cogs in a giant machine.
America is a highly polarized, materialistic, nation where people have little choice save the service of Mammon (pursuit of money and worldly power). Far from independence and diversity of thought, we have ruthless repression of all but the state religion by dire spiritual threats as well as material acts. Virtually no value at all is placed on human life and most people are merely slaves in complicated forced-labor camps. Society is a game with secret rules. Unlike other totalitarian societies where people are controlled by police and armies alone (if there is any such place), most people in America think they are free and this makes the instruments of repression as insidious as they possibly can be, beyond the wildest dreams of George Orwell, whose imagined state propaganda apparatus was child's play compared to the machinery that keeps the American public mesmerized. In America, slavery, aided by the cheap trappings of material wealth, works without trying, although the disenfranchised, who seem to be nearly the only ones who know what's going on, may have something to say before the last chapter is written. This is not political rhetoric but a simple statement of verifiable facts.
Bennett, under the guise of advocating changes in the content of the liberal education (really a return to what it was), has made a number of false claims about America and her institutions that support the conservative position. Down through the ages there have been people who benefit from the status quo and who, therefore, propose that things are fine the way they are or need only a slight adjustment. These are the conservatives. The people who recognize the gross injustices, misery, and needless waste and suffering in society and the crimes against nature perpetuated by man in the name of civilization (as well as the danger that man may not survive as a species or that the world may not be worth living in) are termed variously heretics, radicals, revolutionaries, activists, etc. No worthwhile change has ever occurred on this planet without the efforts and actions of radicals. Moses was a radical; Jesus was a radical; Newton was a radical; Einstein was a radical; Russell was a radical, Ghandi was a radical.
April 12, 1990
Name changed June 26, 1996