"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chomsky: Education, Indoctrination, and Annihilating Independent Thought

"It's a big club. And, you aint in it."

From his book Understanding Power, this is Chomsky's response to the question, "Are you saying that the real purpose of the universities and the schools is just to indoctrinate people -- and really not much else?"

"The world does not reward honesty & independence. It rewards obedience and service."

Well, I'm not quite saying that. Like, I wouldn't say that no meaningful work takes place in the schools, or that they only exist to provide manpower for the corporate system or something like that -- these are very complex systems, after all. But the basic institutional role and function of the schools, and why they are supported, is to provide an ideological service: there's a real selection for obedience and conformity. And I think that process starts in kindergarten, actually. 

Let me just tell you a personal story. My oldest, closest friend is a guy who came to the United States from Latvia when he was 15, fleeing from Hitler. He escaped to New York with his parents and went to George Washington High School, which in those days at least was a school for bright Jewish kids in New York City. And he once told me that the first thing that struck him about American schools was the fact that if he got a "C" in a course, nobody cared, but if he came to school three minutes late he was sent to the principal's office -- and that generalized. He realized that what it meant is, what's valued here is the ability to work on an assembly line, even if it's an intellectual assembly line. The important thing is to be able to obey orders, and to do what you're told, and to be where you're supposed to be. The values are, you're going to be a factory worker somewhere -- maybe they'll call it a university -- but you're going to be following somebody else's orders, and just doing your work in some prescribed way. And what matters is discipline, not figuring things out for yourself, or understanding things that interest you -- those are kind of marginal: just make sure you meet the requirements of a factory.

Well that's pretty much what the schools are like, I think: they reward discipline and obedience, and they punish independence of mind. If you happen to be a little innovative, or maybe you forgot to come to school one day because you are reading a book or something, that's a tragedy, that's a crime -- because you are not supposed to think, you're supposed to obey, and just proceed to the material in whatever way they require.

... Some people go along with it because they figure, "Okay, I'll do any stupid thing that asshole says, because I want to get ahead"; others do it because they've just internalized the values -- it after a while, those two things tend to get sort of blurred. But you do it, or else you're out: you ask too many questions and you're going to get into trouble.

Now, there are also people who don't go along -- and they're called "behavior problems", or "unmotivated," or things like that. Well, you don't want to be too glib about it -- there are children with behavior problems -- but a lot of them are just independent-minded, or don't like to conform, or just want to go their own way. And they get into trouble, right from the very beginning, and are typically weeded out. I mean, I've taught young kids too, and the fact is, there are always some who just don't take your word for it. And the very unfortunate tendency is to try to beat them down, because they're a pain in the neck. But what they ought to be is encouraged. "Yeah, why take my word for it? Who the heck am I? Figure it out for yourself." That's what real education would be about, in fact.

... given the external power structure of the society in which they function now, the institutional role of the schools for the most part is just to train people for obedience and conformity, and to make them controllable and indoctrinated -- as long as the schools fulfill that role, they'll be supported.
 I mean, it's not very abstract: if you're, say, a young person in college, or in journalism, or for that matter a fourth grader, and you have too much of an independent mind, there's a whole variety of devices that will be used to deflect you from that error -- and if you can't be controlled, to marginalize or just eliminate you. In fourth grade, you're a "behavior problem." In college, you may be "irresponsible," or "erratic," or "not the right kind of student." If you make it to the faculty, you'll fail in what's sometimes called "collegiality," getting along with your colleagues. If you're a young journalist, and you're pursuing stories that the people at the managerial level above you understand, either intuitively or explicitly, are not to be pursued, you can be sent off to work at the police desk, advised that you don't have "proper standards of objectivity." There is a whole range of these techniques.

Now, we live in a free society, so you don't get sent to gas chambers and they don't send the death squads after you -- as is commonly done, and not far from here, say in Mexico. But there are nevertheless quite successful devices, both subtle and extreme, to ensure that doctrinal correctness is not seriously infringed upon.

Noam Chomsky
Understanding Power
pp 236-238