Stalin's Dream

The Generalist Tradition - The Loss of Innovation - And The problem with state education
As the government rushes to get children back into full time education it may be a good time to reflect on what that education so desperately needed to get back to actually consists of. For instance, an education system today that teaches business studies and fails to teach union studies is a failed model in a society that should be preparing students, not for the corporate treadmill but for finding their place in the world, particularly with the shape the world is in at present moment.

We have a system of education where learning to form a union would be frowned upon, but learning to set up a business model or being educated to accept the basic principals of profiteering and exploitation is accepted, as a kind of normal outcome of our education system.

The question is. What would be more useful to the majority of students. Learning to run a business, or learning to protect themselves from business through a union?
Our present education system has become tired and outmoded. Most of our students are still taught finance through the  lens of neoclassic economics. Many are taught by professors at the end of their tenure in many subjects, who are not going to change at this stage of the game in their career of teaching anything different. And many students follow suit in the learning and the absorption of debunked economic analyses, because for many, the name of the game is only to acquire a degree and suitable employment. The history of economics is not encouraged in many US colleges and probably less in the UK to, the way things are going in our toadying to the American neoliberal project, as this kind of study readily expose the failures of what has partly gotten us into the situation we are in today. The financial melt downs can be forgotten. Much easier to teach the gospel of “Keeping the faith”, than to understand how the present system of economics is unfit for purpose in serving ordinary people and always has been.

The same process of keeping the faith, tends to run through the understanding of history and politics. We are generally educated to believe that politics is some kind of upper region that floats above us that we know little of and are too stupid to understand. So we go along with it, or without it. Unless we have had the fortune of more enlightened teachers that seems to be the general outcome of many of todays students and overburdened educators.

Yet the idea of people getting together to discuss things that have a general interest to then. And through discussion coming to some consensual agreement and taking action on these agreements in these general interests, is just as good a description of politics than any other. Yet thanks to our formal education when the word politics is mentioned, most will usually default understanding to the party political model, or the myth making of nobles, kings and rulers. Rather than what is going on in the world.

So therefor in the defined structure of what some call banking education, any alternative models to the status quo, no matter how beneficial they could be to the student, unions etc or freedom of expression, can be fobbed off. Or will be seen by the authorities as inculcating a certain shape of politics into our children. Yet at the same time, inculcating the teachings of capitalist and predatory business models in state education is accepted as normal and all that is required to take our place in society. I am paraphrasing Alex Carey, whose book Taking the risk out of democracy shows how corporate propaganda protects corporate power (the few) against democracy (the many). Where skilled manipulation conceals the real human nature and the needs of the common person in the interest of corporate efficiency and profit. In other words, in the interest of the privileged segments of society that our education system continually serves

Our young, for too long, have been educated by state education to take their place not in the world, but to take their place in conforming to the world of business. This processed education lies at the root of many of the problems we face today. Where we continually attempt to solve problems using the same redundant models that continually creates them. As our banking education is normalised, we become ineffective, and ill equipped politically to be able to operate and innovate outside of the capitalist bubble.

It would be worth while at this juncture to reflect on why this country Scotland gave up on our own common practice of what education means.

The replacement of educating students for the world to funnelling them towards the specialties of business interests was not always the case in Scotland anyway until we became subordinate to the all British (empire) system of learning. Where our Scottish education system was transferred from a generalist tradition to that of the specialist. As philosopher and teacher George Davie explains in: “The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect”

I quote.

“Undoing, in a couple of decades, an independent tradition built up over centuries, the Scottish Education Department altered the pattern of Scottish education so as to prepare it for the new role of being a subordinate though distinctive part of what was to be an all-British system, controlled from the centre. In a burst of bureaucratic planning which the sister-nation watched interestedly with a view to imitating what was good in it, the Scottish Education Department, had, by 1908, completed its renewal of the basic structures. Secondary education had been separated from primary education and a whole series of new schools set up. The age of entry to the university had been upped by two years and a stiffish matriculation examination introduced where there had been no examination before, and finally remodelling of the degree courses had been set in motion which would make the universities centres of specialisation and end their generalist tradition.”

End f quote

And in the same chapter, Davie quoting SS Laurie from the same period.

 “According to Laurie, it was obvious that the proper preparation for science is a humanist grounding in great literature, because the technical language of science is parasitic on, that is to say, presupposes a grasp of, the ordinary language of everyday life which study of literature enables us to master.”

This is speaking of an education that gives the student the opportunity to explore the critical connections between things, to help encompass a world view and our place within it. Whether it be, social, political, economics, that would engender a creative and humanistic approach to life than being shackled to the Protestant work ethic and the economic methods of capitalism.

It may also remind us today as a good lesson during Covid, for children to receive some education in the generalist tradition, through their community outside of formal education and to become for a period absorbed in place based learning which would be of real benefit to their education. We could ask. Where do we get the kind of learning that puts us on our course for life if not through our parents, aunties, uncles, friends, acquaintances, mentors and those we love and respect. This learning may not get us the coveted degree, but it may create some perspective in why we need it in the first place. Or how to use it in helping to shape a decent future for people and not just for entry into subservient employment working for the profits of banks.

The same lessons should be acknowledged today that were learned one hundred years ago and before. You can not separate important knowledge from everyday life in a democracy. Such as has been happening in a gradual process over the last century accumulating in the dislocation of the public conscience and depoliticalisation, that renders all contestations to a zero sum game of money and who happens to have it.

Marx nailed it for the situation we are in today, when he says. “Money thereby directly and simultaneously becomes the real community, since it is the general substance of survival for all, and at the same time the social product of all.” Older generations should recognise it, while for the young, it is all they know.

This can be connected to the beginning of specialisation in education, and is reflected today in the sciences, the work place, in Information Technology, where many were denied the benefits (which they once had the possibilities ) of open knowledge and then were barred entry to elite institutions of education. An education approach of specialisation that is now unraveling before our eyes, that has shown both the incompetence of its proponents and the unpreparedness of its recipients of the understanding needed to challenge their incompetence.

We are now bearing the bitter fruit of specialisation and the lack of innovation particularly in working class communities where the repetition and blandisation of the service industries have rendered many educationally and socially disempowered. At an important point in our history where we will need to be called upon to rebuild a socio economic system to draw us back from the edge of extinction brought on by specialisation and the rationalisation of rampant industrialised growth and greed.

And just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse the technological revolution which promised so much in democracising knowledge. Rather IT in the hands of the corporate elite makes the industrial revolution look like an underachievement in exploitation and capitalist domination.

 The Technological Revolution far from its possibilities of alleviating the devastation brought on the world by the Industrial Revolution, we see the new technology that may have some of the answers to social and worldly problems being used not to alleviate but to deepen the problems of industrialisation. If life was cheap as was labour during the Industrial Revolution. The Technological Revolution has almost rendered it worthless.

Useful on-line tools of self improvement and knowledge can only be accessed through a persistent barrage of un-intelligible un-processed data, pay-walls and adverts by something else that was hopeful, but consumed by profiteering. The internet, once perceived as the information superhighway, like our generalist education system, undone in only a few decades. The World Wide Web, built on the principal of free and open knowledge was given over to business interests and the development of the surveillance state for free with no public consultation whatsoever.

As Robert McChesney explains How The Socialist Roots Of The Internet Were Betrayed and completely transformed by capitalism. The digital revolution was entirely a testimony to socialism, funded by public money, there was no profit in the internet for decades developed by research universities, the military, San Francisco hippies that paid for this work. Without this the WWW wouldn’t exist today.

Quoting McChesney he says: “In the 1990s we had the ubiquitous world wide web. The beauty of the internet then was it was non hierarchical, non commercial, and everyone was anonymous. The internet was structured to make capitalism almost impossible. In the 1990s the www was re-structured to make capitalism possible with ubiquitous surveillance of everything you do on-line. And once they can track you they can sell to you and sell you to advertisers. The transformation of the www to eCommerce all took place with no debate with the builders of the web or anyone else. The autonomy of the super highway was taken and given away behind closed doors. This allowed the big five to kick in. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook and they have dominated monopolised and have been fleecing us ever since.”

To look at it in a historical sense. If we look at the work of Stalin as the pinnacle of dictatorship, in the techniques of surveillance and manipulation. Stalin couldn’t even dream of what is being perpetuated against the public of all nations by the all encompassing giants of surveillance that looms over us today. Not only that, much of it is carried out in front of our very eyes and we still fail to see as we are dragged down the next Pavlovian worm hole with each click of the mouse and each new tempting, prying, product, oblivious of the dangers.

In the Covid 19 pandemic, where we should be using the tools of technology at our disposal to present the best preparation and the best human outcome. Instead we see again the commodification of a crisis into profits. Bailouts to the biggest, sink or swim for the rest. This by governments who we employ to have our best interests at hand, who continually present legislation that feeds us to the corporate sharks and the further expansion of the surveillance state. such as:

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 Introduced by: Theresa May, as Home Secretary. The act to be extend through England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Described by Edward Snowdon as The most extreme surveillance bill in the history of western democracy. Is beyond what we have seen in the worst police states in history and what they have within their authorities to go after people. An Act to make provision about the interception of communications, equipment interference and the acquisition and retention of communications data, bulk personal datasets and other information. Yet the government can’t prepare or source equipment for the worst planetary pandemic in one hundred years with the same technology?

To understand how vulnerable these acts makes us not withstanding their implications of social control, but through information exploitation in our personal data. From insurance, health, product placement is the least of it. How many times you have been to the doctors. How much alcohol you consume. Where you go and how often you go. Who your friends are, who you associate with, who you communicate with. Who you work for, who you vote for, what are your weaknesses that can be exploited, what is all revealed in our on line history?

Ironically many parents scrambled through fake research to ensure their children were not left behind in the I.T. revolution by presenting their children, in their tender years, to the jaws of the beast through their own personal computer. What they didn’t or couldn’t support them with where the tools and knowledge in how to use it. Add to that at the stage of a child’s life when their need is to explore the sensitivity of the world around them the physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive environment. Too many times the need for this important development has been pacified by the substitution of a computer.

We have generations of children who spend half their lives on computers that have not grasped even the most basic knowledge of how they work apart from how to turn on the constant feed of advertised laced content. We have an education system that educates as if we were still in the Industrial Revolution and does little to protect our students from the vagaries of hyper capitalism that is armed with the technology we have paid for that is used against ourselves and therefor our children's interests.

The internet is an important tool in our lives but is treated by most in the same casual manor as many other aspects in our lives that have been transformed and bastardised to fit in line with the greed and profits of psychopathic billionaires.

What would have been the effect of that generalist tradition of education we gave up, had it been taught today, particularly around the all encompassing technology where we have learned to become not players but spectators. Within a hundred years we have been reduced form a country of innovators to a country of passive consumers. From Generalists and inventors to specialists serving economic strategies that are killing us.

The hippies in San Francisco saw the potential of the new technology in the advancement of wonderful things and did much to create the community of software developers and the information highway of knowledge. Until some hippies that went bad decided to steal the information commons fully with the permission of governments. The knowledge commons was once again plagued by the same kind of people who destroyed through greed and commercialisation our generalist education system and now proceed to exploit Information technology for its most destructive qualities.

As they say in the computer world We need to defrag this hundred year old hard drive. We need a new anti-viral approach to neoliberal politics in science and technology and a complete re-boot of the system. The software we need we already have, it sits between our ears and is capable of calculations the computer world can only dream of accomplishing. The biggest fear of the Stalinist's who rule us is that we start to exercise its innovative potential. But progress is not something granted to us never has been, never will be. Progress will come in our ability to recapture the essence and traditions of the enlightenment and a learning system that is aimed at living in and enjoying the wonders of the world and taking back control of the same technology some are hell bent on destroying the world with.

It is not a myth that Scotland once had a great education system built on the fundamental principals of a common intellectual background of reasonable people trying to understand the world. The sooner we get back to implementing and reclaiming this approach to learning, as Chomsky says. The sooner we can look deeply enough to see in humankind the potential for hope and for some further good.

What do we desire
Above are the desire lines of traffic drawn up for a highway plan of Glasgow 1990.
Click here to edit.