July 18, 2007

Good Consumers, Little Culture, A New Direction Needed in Education

I just spent two hours talking to my best friend in China who has built a school where children are taught Chinese culture,  and just completed their first summer camp with excellent results. Children came from Taiwan, Japan and Mainland China for summer camp and to learn all sorts of things about Chinese culture. They were so successful with these skeptical kids that most of them cried at the end when it came time to leave. We discussed many things on the phone, including the facts that Westerners have lost sight of what culture is.

As one individual put it, "Most Westerners have simply been trained to be good consumers; to focus on money, sports cars, beauty, consumer goods."  With that as an emphasis, it’s just another reason that the American culture has become  shallow. It’s not just the youngness of American culture that causes this, but the emphasis.

I’m not saying the US culture is materialistic, I’m saying it’s shallow. Even the majority of people pursuing self-improvement do so only with the objective of making more money in mind. Few will attempt to improve themselves, like Benjamin Franklin, simply for the ideal of self-improvement. A simple thing such as buying tapes on some topic from a company like the Teaching Company (www.teach12.com) is simply foreign to most Americans. That’s one of the things that now hurts American culture.

With consumerism as its focus, backed by an emphasis on debt for financing consumption, we have over the last two or three decades built a house on extremely precarious ground. We have ratcheted up the economy, but not built a strong economic base beneath because the goods we purchase are no longer manufactured HERE. So now the model we once depended upon for development purposes is now outdated, and statesmen need to recognize this to think about the new path to be blazed. Once consumption fostered the growth of our own industries, but now it benefits the growth of other economies. In Taoism this represents a leakage rather than a circular flow of return, and leakage leads to eventual death.

Furthermore, and most importantly, we are not creating a society that will be HEALTHY in the future because of what we are emphasizing today. We aspire, we work, we live to be happy but we are not creating present or future states of  mental peace, happiness,  and contented living either through our workplaces, through our entertainments, or even in our houses of worship. We are creating the seeds for mental illness  and endless, meaningless "distracting distractions" to keep the mind occupied as a form of silencing thoughts and zoning out what’s around us.

The focus on materialism is not laying the groundwork for a happy society either, only monetary returns for some unknown party. The byproduct? Ever increasing stress levels and pressure  in the call for more " national productivity." Since the baton of  accelerating economic  progress has now been passed to other developed economies rather than our own,  we are even now financing our own decay. As things speed up even further, the destructive ABSENCE of these factors becomes more apparent. 

Forecast? Our quality of life will go down as the years go on. If you already have more demands on your time and more mental stress, if you are working more hours or two of you need to work to finance a single household, it’s already happened. Your income security will become even more precarious in the future as more and more outsourcing occurs, and as the costs of goods and services produced elsewhere plummets  yet becomes deliverable through the internet or because of cheap shipping. And we haven’t even entered an economic downturn yet!

As I always tell people, free trade is a very good idea as long as people are employed and have the money to be able to afford those items; if  because of free trade unemployment skyrockets and no replacement jobs are in sight, you must rethink the system as it only functions within certain bands or limits. I’ll repeat — free trade is not as important as high employment for a nation; without employment there is no money to buy whatever free trade has to offer. This is  what the economic models always miss because they only operate within non-extreme bands and we’ve entered the extreme zones. Just look at the countless countries with impoverished citizens throughout the world to see the truth of what I’m talking about. Or, read  Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests, by Ralph Gomory and William Baumol, to see the math behind  what I’ve mentioned in words, but which will become apparent to the economists only years AFTER a disaster has happened.

With one good economic downturn, even consumerism and the debt pyramid will finally be hit …especially with jobs having been outsourced and manufacturing seemingly no longer existent in the country. This is the real THREAT to the US, not "terrorism." Ten billion dollars a MONTH is spent on some country over THERE rather than the government focusing on THIS? My head shakes. This is the real risk.

A quick reading of John Taylor Gatto reveals that the US education system is designed to  encourage consumerism and produce unquestioning, conforming  workers for the government and corporate conglomerates. Naysayers, objectors, are ridiculed and persecuted, just as they have always been under religious regimes.  You’re supposed to agree with everything said by the establishment, which is often wrong.

This is not a good path for creating the future. Applauding diversity and different thinking, and encouraging every flower to blossom is a better path. The education system has been successfully designed to produce standardized citizenry, not leaders and great men who can take us forward to the next century with independent thinking and innovative solutions. This approach has to be rethought now, because we cannot afford to produce a nation of conformists for the coming challenges ahead.

Even schooling today fails in its classical three functions or objectives to:

1) To make good people.
2) To make good citizens.
3) To make each person his or her personal best.

Check into John Taylor Gatto if you can to learn more about this, and the tie in to cultivation. Many of his writings are on the internet for free and readily available.  As Gatto points out, our schools produce "pretty near-perfect customers and employees, people without an inner life, dependent upon purchases and stranger approval in order to feel OK." The antithesis of the results of spiritual cultivation, we produce people "without any real projects of their own, without principles" who must watch TV to occupy themselves.

I like one of Gatto’s quotes where he says:

"Maturity has by now been banished from nearly every aspect of our lives. Easy divorce laws have removed the need to work at relationships; easy credit has removed the need for fiscal self-control; easy entertainment has removed the need to learn to entertain oneself; easy answers have removed the need to ask questions. We have become a nation of children, happy to surrender our judgments and our wills to political exhortations and commercial blandishments that would insult actual adults. We buy televisions, and then we buy the things we see on the television. We buy computers, and then we buy the things we see on the computer. We buy $150 sneakers whether we need them or not, and when they fall apart too soon we buy another pair. We drive SUVs and believe the lie that they constitute a kind of life insurance, even when we’re upside-down in them. And, worst of all, we don’t bat an eye when Ari Fleischer tells us to "be careful what you say," even if we remember having been told somewhere back in school that America is the land of the free. We simply buy that one too. Our schooling, as intended, has seen to it."
[Source:
http://www.wesjones.com/gatto1.htm]

Obviously, this must now change because the world has changed. Consumerism to power the economy is not even affordable anymore in the coming future. We need a new economic paradigm and educational system  so that the US maintains world preeminence and its own economic robustness. The focus of education must be on the individual to make a difference, to make a contribution as was emphasized in ancient Rome and in ancient Greece. The economic paradigm must encourage the creative destruction cycles of Shumpeter, including an attack on old capital bases for the new activity required to push the economy forwad.

If the focus is on producing fodder for business, even then the educational system is no longer designed to produce the two functions Peter Drucker identified as most necessary for business: innovation (invention) creation and marketing inventiveness. So just from the economics standpoint, the old design, the old paradigm no longer is appropriate.

The importing of cheap workers for service based industries is no solution either for buttressing an economy, as that has failed again and again in many countries once a minor or major recession hits down the road. Unification with poorer economies only dilutes the strength of the stronger, particularly when the cultures cannot be assimilated in a way which promotes the highest ideals and ethics of the two rather than the lowest common denominator of the two. The immigration of highly educated individuals who can serve our need for inventiveness and innovation has been cut in years in preference for I don’t know what… certainly not something that will catapult the country forward despite what intellectuals, academics and Eurocrats may think.

A big problem is that the US educational system, Gatto points out, was designed based on the Prussian system, which in turn was designed with the following objectives in mind — to produce:

1. Obedient soldiers to the army 
2. Obedient workers to the mines 
3. Well subordinated civil servants to government 
4. Well subordinated clerks to industry
5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

What we need are not more people who are of this mold. That paradigm is outdated, and immigration or education based on that paradigm will fail over the next decades. We need to teach different skills or behavioral patterns for the coming challenges ahead, especially the following skills identified by Harvard as necessary for the new world of men:

1) The ability to define problems without a guide.
2) The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
3) The ability to work in teams without guidance.
4) The ability to work absolutely alone.
5) The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
6) The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy.
7) The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
8) The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
9) The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically.
10) The ability to attack problems heuristically.

If you are sick or in a health crises no one can solve, you need a doctor whose independent thinking can help you get well. When companies are in financial difficulty and need a turn around, the current type of programmed education will not produce leaders who can do much other than cut costs by firing more people, contributing to the  problem. When the country gets into political difficulties, the current type of programmed education will not produce leaders who can solve the problems. If we are in a crisis and need scientists to help us, this type of education will not produce the next generation of leaders who will think outside the box to come up with the solution that conformists could never dream of. This type of education system would not even accept the breakthrough thinking that would solve the problems either. We also need less lawyers, who are typically trained to take any side of an affair and thus abandon their moral center as to what is right or wrong  in the idea that all complaints are valid and worth restitution.  On and on I could go….culture is slipping.

Independent thinking, the hallmark of  America, is where the breakthroughs are made, and yet we teach less and less independent thinking and more and more conformity. We actually need to train people to be heroes, not robots that do not think or challenge or agree with everything the leader says. In American colonial times, each man was supposed to THINK and have his own opinion. Actually, literacy rates back then were much higher than they are now! How far we’ve veered from these circumstances today, and I see the developing nations recognizing this and taking the steps NOW to remedy the situation and become the next supercycle stars. When I read the story of Richard Feynman’s father, and how he instilled in his son the love of science and inquisitiveness, I can understand why he later became a Nobel Prize Winner and fear we will see less and less of this.

Gatto also says,

"It’s high time we looked backwards to regain an educational philosophy that works. One I like particularly well has been a favorite of the ruling classes of Europe for thousands of years. I use as much of it as I can manage in my own teaching, as much, that is, as I can get away with given the present institution of compulsory schooling. I think it works just as well for poor children as for rich ones.

"At the core of this elite system of education is the belief that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge. Everywhere in this system, at every age, you will find arrangements to place the child alone in an unguided setting with a problem to solve. Sometimes the problem is fraught with great risks, such as the problem of galloping a horse or making it jump, but that, of course, is a problem successfully solved by thousands of elite children before the age of ten. Can you imagine anyone who had mastered such a challenge ever lacking confidence in his ability to do anything? Sometimes the problem is the problem of mastering solitude, as Thoreau did at Walden Pond, or Einstein did in the Swiss customs house."
{Source:
http://www.naturalchild.com/guest/john_gatto.html]


This type of training is what enables a Ben Franklin (one of my heroes) to become apprenticed to a printer at age 9, and
Edison to publish a broadsheet at age 12. Yes, at a young age people ARE capable of responsibility. In ancient times, including China, IndiaGreece and Rome,  women married in their teens and were able to take care of a household. Today with "advanced education," we  think even less of people’s capabilities.

It is not conformity, but inquisitiveness we need. It is training on how to become friendly  with failure, how to make decisions that stay authentic to the self, choices not based on receiving another’s approval (conformity), and so forth. We need to teach children not to chase money, power or status, but contribution…and a contribution that focuses on meaning rather than money. I could go into this a lot because I’m often invited to speak on educational matters. Actually, this type of training is based on self-introspection, or cultivation of cessation-observation practice. In my book on Socrates, I detail how this is of primary benefit to a nation. It produces better citizens, and more breakthroughs. One need only read about the observational methods of Viktor Schauberger, or Goethe, to see how cultivating this presence of mind creates genius.

One obvious thing that’s missing in our educational system  … people  have not been trained to look for character in people. They don’t read Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Romans, as I always recommend. For some reason, liberals seem to hate the idea of teaching character and virtue and thus hate Plutarch’s Lives. So now the common folk doesn’t even recognize such a simple truth that if a politician has earned a nickname before running for national office, that nickname, in all likelihood, will explain some of the major   characteristics of their time  in office.

Examples?

"Tricky Dicky" – Richard Nixon  
"Teflon Ron" – Ronald Reagan
"Slick Willie" – Bill Clinton (get out of anything)
George Bush – he wasn’t known for being a genius before he entered office

These nicknames carried through and expressed themselves when these men attained power, so with that in mind, think of the next batch of Presidential candidates and you’ll know what is in store. Just understanding this is so simple, and yet Americans are ignorant. How much more so we are ignorant about history, innovative thinking, and strategic moves for the future. Most don’t know that Zbignew Brzezinski wrote (The Grand Chessboard) that to be the leader of the world, America needed to control the thin strip of land in the Mideast that contained 70% of the world’s oil (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and that controlling that region would require a reason for our presence there, along with the establishment of permanent military bases.

In my Kuan Tzu book, I mentioned that politicians need to understand real politick and world strategy, but they also need a form of training that instills in them a higher sense of ethics rather than simply service to money, and doing things for more wealth. That will make the world a better place, not the schemes currently in play. Access to oil, for instance, can be made via David Neeleman’s (JetBlue CEO) coal to oil plans which would not only provide jobs, but solve an entire host of other problems including unemployment AND financial profits for the banks and financial institutions. It’s a perfect Monetarist-Keynesian approach as I’ve lined out in my book on Kuan Tzu. 

I have a draft of a book I’ve been writing on How to Guide a Country to Prosperity, and in it I reference the sages and their advice on such matters and how to really lead a country to prosperity. As I visit the countries of the world and view the abundance of economic poverty, I realize that the solutions championed by the international Banks and Institutions, Think Tanks and "establishment" are not the ones that work. Groupthink once again — PhDs employed galore to promote an idealistic, imaginary solution  that never even touches reality. This is why for years I have promoted micro banking, and organizations such as www.kiva.org  well before Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank  won the Nobel Prize for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. Imagine that…it took a Nobel Prize, rather than the obviousness of the effectiveness of the approach, to make it fashionable or permissible to talk about his solution which touches the real BEHAVIORAL aspect of the matter. Prior to this, PhDs would not even touch this supremely EFFECTIVE approach to ending poverty. Such is the approach of the academic institutions, think tanks, foundations and other groups that are stuck in the conformist, establishment mindset.

Another big problem in education today is educating people towards careers. Because of our sickness, children are selecting career paths solely on the basis of the imaginary (projected) money streams they will bring. What a remedy for disaster. The sage Confucius, in particular, once said this relevant quote,

"Wealth and high position are what men desire but unless they can be obtained in the correct way, I will not dwell in them. Poverty and low position are what men dislike but if they are obtained by following the correct way, do not avoid them. If the True Gentlemen abandons benevolence, how will he be able to make a name for himself? The True Gentleman does not act contrary to benevolence even for the short time it takes to eat a meal. He must hold to this when in favorable circumstances as well as in times of difficulty. …
The True Gentleman thinks of virtue, the inferior man thinks of land [wealth]. The True Gentleman thinks of the law [acting contrary to ethics], the inferior man thinks of profit."

In Mencius, there is an even more relevant passage on profit, which applies to the focus of corporations, banks, aid institutions and governments,  which starts out with a conversation between Mencius and the King Hui of Liang, who said,

‘Sir, … You have come all this distance, thinking nothing of a thousand li. You must surely have some way of profiting my state?’
 ‘Your majesty,’ answered Mencius, ‘What is the point of mentioning the word "profit"? All that matters is that there should be benevolence and rightness. If Your Majesty says, "How can I profit my state?" and the Counselors say, "How can I profit my family?" and the Gentlemen and Commoners say, "How can I profit my person?" then those above and those below will be trying to profit at the expense of one another and the state will be imperiled. When regicide is committed in a state of ten thousand chariots, it is certain to be by a vassal with a thousand chariots, and when it is committed in a state of a thousand chariots, it is certain to be by a vassal with a hundred chariots. A share of a thousand in ten thousand or a hundred in a thousand is by no means insignificant, yet if profit is put before rightness, there is no satisfaction short of total usurpation. No benevolent man ever abandons his parents, and no dutiful man ever puts his prince last. Perhaps you will now endorse what I have said, "All that matters is that there should be benevolence and rightness. What is the point of mentioning the word ‘profit’?"’ 
[Mencius, Volume One, transl. by D. C. Lau, (The Chinese University Press, Hong Kong, 1984), p. 3. ]

There is also a famous history book from China, Records of the Grand Historian, by Szuma Chien (to be matched with the Western histories of Thucydicles and Herodotus, and The Muqaddimah for Arab history by Ibn Khaldun) which summarizes the real crux of the matter.

"As the Grand Historian was reading Mencius, he unconsciously put the book down and sighed when he came to the place where King Hui of Liang asked Mencius, ‘How will you profit my country?’ The historian said, ‘Ah, profit is truly the beginning of disorder. That is why Confucius seldom spoke of profit, always shoring up the source.’ The source is the beginning. Whether it is found among the upper classes or the lower classes, the degeneracy of lust for profit is basically the same. When those in public office profit unfairly, then the law is disordered. When those in the private sector profit by deception, then business is disordered. When business is disorderly, people are contentious and dissatisfied; when law is disorderly, the citizenry is resentful and disobedient. This is how people get to be so rebellious and belligerent that they don’t care if they die. Is this not a demonstration of how, ‘Profit is truly the beginning of disorder’? The sages and saints were deeply cautious and aloof from profit, giving honor and precedence to humanity and justice. But in later times there were still those who deceived each other in hopes of profit; what limit is there to those who destroy morality and ruin education? How much the more serious is the problem when the path of adventurous profiteering is publicly espoused and pursued; under these conditions, how could we hope for the world’s morals and customs to be upright, and not be thin and weak?"
[The Story of Chinese Zen, by
Nan Huai-Chin, (Charles E. Tuttle Company, Vermont, 1985), p. 205-206. ]

Today the world is run predominantly according to a profit focus (except in a few countries such as Bhutan), but this will in time produce more and more moral deterioration if education is not altered in the ways that create more  independent thinkers who can economically survive and free more people from becoming slaves of this system. The early Taoists repeatedly warned of this, and the fact that fulfilling desires leads to more desires. World leaders, as I point out in Kuan Tzu, have a responsibility  to realize this and start promoting trends that benefit all mankind rather than just blindly pursuing destructive paths, such as the profit motive, that by themselves will destroy a nation after time takes them to an extreme.

 

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