Every culture has myths. For instance, I grew up in a culture where I knew (not thought, mind you, knew) that if you took more than one aspirin at once, you’d die.
Proven? You don’t need proven. Everyone knew this. Why would you test something that could kill you?
So my first week in the states, when I told my host mother I had a headache and she said “just take a couple of aspirin” I thought she was trying to kill me. She had to show me the instructions on the bottle.
This trivial incident was my first exposure to the idea that “what everybody knows” can be wrong.
Progressive culture in the US, having been the dominant culture in media/entertainment and the news for the last 100 years at least (not the dominant culture in the country, necessarily, but the dominant culture in the classes that controlled these intellectual products and which were consolidated/made uniform by the “mass” aspects of communication since at least the end of the nineteenth century) has lacked challenges to its internal myths, which means it ended up with as many unfounded “everybody knows” as a small village in Portugal where aspirin was still a miracle drug and a little scary.
I normally don’t pay attention to what Bernie Sanders says, and pay Hillary only the attention necessary to roll my eyes at the things that come flying out of her mouth. (Like, for instance, that Republicans don’t know that terrorists use guns to kill people. Oh, lady, we know, that’s why we want guns of our own to defend ourselves, because the terrorists, you know, aren’t likely to obey gun regulations.)
But yesterday Mike Rowe went after Bernie Sanders.
At first I just read it wishing that popcorn didn’t have so many carbs. Then I went back and read the tweet that inspired Mike’s take down. Here it is in its full glory:
“At the end of the day, providing a path to go to college is a helluva lot cheaper than putting people on a path to jail.”
Mike got seriously upset — as he should — at the notion that not going to college is the same as being condemned to becoming a criminal, and he went after it, as well as after the fact that absent a few professions (and the only reason my kids are in college is because they’re aiming for two of those professions) college really doesn’t help. (Make an informal count in your head. How many of your friends with degrees work at anything even vaguely related to their degree? And don’t tell me “but they learned to learn” because this is another thing altogether and you might have confused cause and effect.)
But there’s more than that in that tweet, there are at least three warring myths, all of them so central to what liberalism once was that the current progressives aren’t even aware most of them have been disproven by the real world tm. These are things “everyone knows” and why would you question something everyone knows?
The thing is outside their world, where no one gives a good goddamn about their myths, these things are disproven, and most people only don’t realize it because of the entertainment news industrial complex repeating them so often and acting like they’re proven.
The first and most basic myth, and one of which, once upon a time, I was an ardent proponent, is that education is transformative. This goes along with the myth that man is infinitely perfectible.
The liberal — back when liberal meant classical liberal — as undertaken by our ancestors, hinged on the idea that education would transform everyone into individual thinkers and philosophers like themselves. It would make them more moral too and improve them to be onto like angels.
They had a point of sorts, in their time. Most of the people who weren’t learning weren’t learning because they were underfed, too busy making a living, sick with a million little illnesses that made them not function well intellectually.
I saw this in action in the village, which is why I was an ardent believer in this myth. Giving people education truly uplifts them if the people giving the education also provide a meal and clothes.
The thing is, it’s one of those things that has huge gains up front. “Teach everyone to read.” And yes, can make for a more moral society, if the education has a moral component. This is important as “education” is not a neutral value. It can be adaptive or maladaptive to reality.
However just about every country in the world that isn’t in dire crisis or doesn’t belong to a religion that forbids secular education has free education — yes, even where I came from, though often the kids were taken out of fourth grade to work in factories. This was strictly speaking illegal, but you could always find a doctor to sign a paper saying your kid was educable mentally retarded and couldn’t learn any more “abstract stuff” but could learn to be a factory worker) — at least through 9th grade and often through 12th.
I’ll pause here to point out that when I was little, someone with a 9th grade education was accorded the respect here given to people with Masters Degrees. They were learned and performed work of the mind, and didn’t dirty their hands. This I’d guess is true for most of history. The level of a 9th degree education allows you enough to explore and learn just about everything that doesn’t require hands on training or specialized tutoring only administrated by professionals. (I’ll not specify which trades because it varies per learner. I can’t learn languages outside a classroom, at least a virtual one. I also have trouble with art by myself. I’d guess there’s the same problem with most things requiring labs to learn.)
So, are people made more moral? Snort giggle. Hardly. The causes for this are complex and a lot of it has to do with how wealthy our society is. Wealthy people have always had more time to get funny on morality. Other parts include a morally neutral or worse education (when the purpose of education is to deconstruct the culture that made more people wealthy and healthy than any other culture in history, while praising cultures that mutilate women, kill gays and enslave children, it is worse.)
Are people individual little philosopher kings, for all these years of education thrown at them?
I read something in a book I can no longer remember the title of, when I was researching Shakespeare. The number of people who are fluent enough readers to read for pleasure in our day is the same as in Shakespeare’s day. When they didn’t have free education, much less 12 years of it.
The idea that if you gave everyone enough food and time and free schooling they’d all become erudite and thinkers can be disproved by a stroll through your local Welfare hub. Go on, I dare you, go down and start a little discussion on Kantian philosophy.
But it’s an idea that remains a myth on the left which has lost all other classical liberal ideals (like, you know, individual freedom) but holds fast onto this idea that education will somehow make a progressive out of everyone. (Patently ridiculous as they’ve been indoctrinating several generations now, and it still won’t take the way they want. That cold slap of reality counteracts it. Which is why they advocate more cowbell.)
The other myth in that statement — and the only way to make sense out of that linkage between education and prison — is actually several linked myths:
1- that people turn to crime when they’re poor (an insult to every poor but honest person ever.)
2- that without a college education you’ll be poor (Mike Rowe ably disposed of this one in the linked article.)
3- that if the government won’t pay for something it’s unobtainable because there is no private charity and also people can’t lift themselves up by their bootstraps.
All of these are nonsense. Sometimes I think people like Bernie Sanders watch Les Miserables (a piece of propaganda even when it was written) and say “it’s true, it’s all true” and then see the world through that lens ever since.
Being poor doesn’t lead to crime. Wealthy people can and do commit crimes, not all of them white collar (in one of the stunning contradictions that would make their heads explode if they paused and thought about it, progressives also assume that all rich people are criminals, since economics is a fixed pie (giggle-snort) and to have more you have taken “more than your fair share.)
Lack of a college education doesn’t make you poor. I’ve yet to meet a poor, competent plumber. And I sometimes regret I didn’t learn more carpentry from grandad, instead of going to college. We knew someone who built cabinets by grandad’s method (think all manual tools) in reproduction of colonial furniture. One of those cabinets which he could build in 3 months, sold for what my husband was making at the time, as a computer programmer. I’m fairly sure anyone who knows one of those trades really well is raking it in. We’ve become a nation of do-it-yourselvers not because we enjoy it, or want to save money but because finding a competent tradesmen takes longer than just doing the best you can. (Been there, done that, have spackle on my t-shirt.)
People have managed to be educated beyond their relatives and parents without any government intervention (in fact until government stuck its nose and quotas in, there were a lot of merit scholarships. My husband did his college with them and a part-time job.)
Once you realize those myths ARE myths, Bernie’s prescription to end crime makes about as much sense as saying something like “Hit yourselves on the head with rubber mallets, increase the production of wheat.”
In fact, someone came trolling a share of this post trying desperately to keep the two things linked by yelling that it was a shame we spent more on jails than education.
Again, with the what? Nothing our government does makes much sense, but this makes as much sense as “Abolish the helium reserve. Subsidize canneries.”
What we’ve found since the classical liberal times when we thought education would uplift everyone is that education and proper nutrition and proper civic instruction does uplift some people. Yeah, there are a percentage of people out there who could/would do much better with a little help. I don’t know about you, but I make it a point, on my own, to identify such people and such situations and intervene and help when I can.
But you can lead a student to school; you can imprison him/her in it for 8 hours a day for 12 years: what you can’t do is make them learn.
The same person who was whining about that horrible discrepancy between jail spending and education spending said that you know, most criminals stop learning in grade school. I think he meant they dropped out. This is probably true, although I’d bet the reverse, that if you dropped out of grade school you’re likely to be a criminal isn’t true. It’s also insulting to claim so. For this he advised more cowbell… er I mean more free education.
The sad fact is that we’ve continuously not only dumbed down education, but tried to make it “fun” (listen, if you’re learning a language, there’s no way to make it fun. To be fluent, you need to start by memorizing vocabulary and studying grammatical structures. Neither of those is fun. Useful. Needed. Not fun.) to the point that a High School diploma means nothing, which is why the new push to put everyone to college, as if more of the same will fix the problems.
There are people who don’t learn because they have no interest in learning. Some of them might be very good at things — engines. Carpentry — that would baffle phds who are not put together that way. There are people who don’t learn because our educational system, barring active teaching at home after class, is put together NOT to teach but to keep the masses from rebelling in their pseudo-scholastic prisons.
Lack of book learning doesn’t make anyone a criminal. It doesn’t make them poor either. I think my dad’s dad had a third grade (might be fourth) education. Like younger son when he was younger, he had problems with verbal expression, and issues writing a legible hand. In those days this meant “stupid” or at least book stupid, so his caring parents apprenticed him as a carpenter. He supported his family in (for the village — grin) a more than middle class lifestyle, never that I know so much as stole a stamp, and raised sons and daughter who did better than him, and grandchildren who — weirdly — all have college educations, almost all of them (except me) in useful fields that actually make things or cure people.
The left is so wrapped up in their myths that they don’t understand “subsidize more education. You’ll need fewer prisons” makes about as much sense as “eat more fiber. Control garden pests.” Worse, they legislate based on these myths, without the slightest qualm. And then are shocked and posit bizarre theories (the GOP is holding back solar energy! The oil lobby! Eleventy!) for why it didn’t work.
And this is why our monoculture of progressivism hurts every field in which it is in fact a monoculture: education, the arts, entertainment, politics.
This is why diversity of thought is important. And why the progressives’ crazy attempts to shut down opinions they don’t agree with are … well… crazy.
In the safe space everyone believes as you do. And that’s the problem. Human beings aren’t built to be safe.
It is in the rubbing of thought against thought, in the contest of vision against vision that the truly ludicrous is eliminated and that, at least, we avoid the worst errors.
It is in not being locked up in a tiny intellectual village that real progress is made. Not the “progressive” of progressives, which fills mass graves with those humans who weren’t infinitely perfectible, but the progress that fills bellies, raises humans above poverty and makes it possible to aspire to the stars.
Real progress comes from strife and work.
Which is why they’re acting more and more like isolated, illiterate villagers in a land where myth is more important than evidence.
And why in the end we win, they lose.