Throughout most of the modern period, beginning with the era known as the Enlightenment, education was widely regarded as the most important asset for the building of a decent society. However, this value seems to have fallen out of favor in the contemporary period, perhaps as a reflection of the dominance of the neoliberal ideology, creating in the process a context where education has been increasingly reduced to the attainment of professional, specialized skills that cater to the needs of the business world.
What is the actual role of education and its link to democracy, to decent human relations and to a decent society? What defines a cultured and decent society? World-renowned linguist, social critic and activist Noam Chomsky shares his views on education and culture in this exclusive interview for Truthout.
C. J. Polychroniou: At least since the Enlightenment, education has been seen as one of the few opportunities for humanity to lift the veil of ignorance and create a better world. What are the actual connections between democracy and education, or are those links based mainly on a myth, as Neil Postman argued in The End of Education?
Noam Chomsky: I don’t think there is a simple answer. The actual state of education has both positive and negative elements, in this regard. An educated public is surely a prerequisite for a functioning democracy — where “educated” means not just informed but enabled to inquire freely and productively, the primary end of education. That goal is sometimes advanced, sometimes impeded, in actual practice, and to shift the balance in the right direction is a major task — a task of unusual importance in the United States, in part because of its unique power, in part because of ways in which it differs from other developed societies.
It is important to remember that although the richest country in the world for a long time, until World War II, the US was something of a cultural backwater. If one wanted to study advanced science or math, or to become a writer and artist, one would often be attracted to Europe. That changed with World War II for obvious reasons, but only for part of the population. To take what is arguably the most important question in human history, how to deal with climate change, one impediment is that in the US, 40 percent of the population sees it as no problem because Christ will return within the next few decades — symptomatic of many other pre-modern features of the society and culture.
Much of what prevails in today’s world is market-driven education, which is actually destroying public values and undermining the culture of democracy with its emphasis on competition, privatization and profit-making. As such, what model of education do you think holds the best promise for a better and peaceful world?
In the early days of the modern educational system, two models were sometimes counterposed. Education could be conceived as a vessel into which one pours water — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. Or it could be thought of as a thread, laid out by the instructor along which students proceed in their own ways, developing their capacities to “inquire and create” — the model advocated by Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the modern university system. Read more
Hannah Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1949, by which time the world had been confronted with evidence of the Nazi apparatus of terror and destruction. The revelations of the atrocities were met with a high degree of incredulous probing despite a considerable body of evidence and a vast caché of recorded images. The individual capacity for comprehension was overwhelmed, and the nature and extent of these programmes added to the surreal nature of the revelations. In the case of the dedicated death camps of the so-called Aktion Reinhard, comparatively sparse documentation and very low survival rates obscured their significance in the immediate post-war years. The remaining death camps, Majdanek and Auschwitz, were both captured virtually intact. They were thus widely reported, whereas public knowledge of Auschwitz was already widespread in Germany and the Allied countries during the war.[i] In the case of Auschwitz, the evidence was lodged in still largely intact and meticulous archives. Nonetheless it had the effect of throwing into relief the machinery of destruction rather than its anonymous victims, for the extermination system had not only eliminated human biological life but had also systematically expunged cumulative life histories and any trace of prior existence whatsoever, ending with the destruction of almost all traces of the dedicated extermination camps themselves, just prior to the Soviet invasion.
Ideology and terror: The experiment in total domination
In chapter two of Hannah Arendt’s Response to the Crisis of her Time it was argued that Arendt’s typology of government rests on the twin criteria of organisational form and a corresponding ‘principle of action’. In the post-Origins essay On the Nature of Totalitarianism, Arendt argues that Western political thought has customarily distinguished between ‘lawful’ and ‘lawless’, or ‘constitutional’ and ‘tyrannical’ forms of government (Arendt 1954a: 340). Throughout Occidental history, lawless forms of government, such as tyranny, have been regarded as perverted by definition. Hence, if
… the essence of government is defined as lawfulness, and if it is understood that laws are the stabilizing forces in the public affairs of men (as indeed it always has been since Plato invoked Zeus, the god of the boundaries, in his Laws), then the problem of movement of the body politic and the actions of its citizens arises. (Arendt 1979: 466-7)
‘Lawfulness’ as a corollary of constitutional forms of government is a negative criterion inasmuch as it prescribes the limits to but cannot explain the motive force of human actions: ‘the greatness, but also the perplexity of laws in free societies is that they only tell what one should not, but never what one should do’ (ibid.: 467). Arendt, accordingly, lays great store by Montesquieu’s discovery of the ‘principle of action’ ruling the actions of both government and governed: ‘virtue’ in a republic, ‘honour’ in monarchy, and ‘fear’ in tyrannical forms of government (Arendt 1954a: 330; Arendt 1979: 467-8).
Hannah Arendt in the Rozenberg Quarterly
Anthony Court – Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism. Part One: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=3099
Anthony Court – Hannah Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism. Part Two: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=3115
Nima Emami – Hannah Arendt and The Green Movement: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/?p=563
Is Malfunctioning US Democracy Responsible For Climate Change? An Interview With Graciela Chichilnisky And Heikki Patomaki
As the climate change crisis continues unabated, it is becoming increasingly clear that the absence of global governance is a major factor in our failure to take necessary action for protecting the future of the planet. But an equally significant factor behind this failure is the dysfunctional state of the American political system as the global superpower’s elected officials continue to deny the global warming phenomenon and to insist on a business as usual approach vis a vis the environment in general and climate change in particular — in spite of the fact that the majority of the American people have a different view on the matter.
To what extent is the absence of global governance and the malfunctioning US democracy responsible for climate change? What will it take to turn things around and rescue humanity from an unmitigated disaster of its own making? Can technology provide a way out? These issues are debated below in a joined interview with two leading scholars: Graciela Chichilnisky, a world renowned economist and mathematician, Professor of Economics and of Statistics at Columbia University and Visiting Professor of Economics at Stanford University), and a leading force in the climate change battle (architect and author of the Kyoto Protocol Carbon Market, CEO and cofounder of Global Thermostat), and Heikki Patomaki, Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and a leading authority in the field of global governance.
J. Polychroniou and Marcus Rolle: Climate change has emerged in early 21st century as the most critical global problem, although there still continues to be plenty of denial and inexcusable political inertia across the globe. In this context, to what extent is the difficulty of addressing climate change a problem related to the absence of global governance?
Heikki Patomaki: Global governance in this field is not entirely absent, as witnessed by the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, but it is seriously lacking in many important ways. A key reason for why proper global governance – or government – is needed is that individual state-actions and world markets are often poor in preventing unnecessary, unneeded and unwanted worldwide developments from happening. World markets and separate states may generate economic crises and downturns or global warming or other unsustainable developments. Without legitimate and well-functioning common institutions it is also difficult to take action against underdevelopment, uneven industrialization or growth, or global accumulation of privileges and power – all of which may also be self-reinforcing processes in the absence of proper countervailing responses. Moreover, these processes can also trigger and strengthen conflicts among states, which may lead to securitization, even to arms-race and wars.
We can talk about reflexive self-regulation when knowledge about the way the social systems – including the world system as a whole – function is applied recursively in interventions that aim at avoiding unwanted or achieving desired outcomes. But what is unwanted or desirable is always an ethico-political question. Not only are different anticipations about the possible and likely futures involved in the politics of climate change, but so are assumptions concerning justice or the extent to which either actual or administratively created simulated markets can regulate themselves.
Graciela Chichilnisky: Globalization emerged after World War II fostered by the Bretton Woods Institutions that were created in 1945: The World Bank, the IMF, the WTO. They provided governance of the world economy for the first time in history. The United Nations and its various organizations emerged in that same period, and offered diplomatic and political governance. But by their own design, the Bretton Woods institutions shaped the world economy, and, also by design, they were dominated by the United States, which emerged as the sole economic power after the destruction caused by WWII. It is not surprising, therefore, that the main obstacle for the global governance of climate change originates in the USA — in particular in the US Congress, which seems to be out of step with the American people. Economics, indeed industrialization as fostered by the Bretton Woods institutions and the USA as the chief supporter, is deeply anchored at the source of climate change. The Bretton Woods organizations enforced an economic model based on industrialization with deep and extensive overuse of natural resources of all types and particularly of fossil fuels as a source of energy. The world’s resources were extracted by developing nations and exported at low prices and overconsumed in the industrial nations. Climate change is a physical fact, but its origins are economic. There is nothing that can be done about climate unless we change our prevailing economic models and institutions including the overuse of global resources such as water, air, biodiversity, and fossil fuels. These are the economic factors at the source of the problem: the governance of the world economy we have is forcefully imposing a pattern of economic growth – and defining economic progress – in a way that may have been possible a hundred years ago but is no longer feasible now. Economic progress as defined by the Bretton Woods institutions will in all likelihood lead to catastrophic climate change and even to the extinction of the human species, destroying globally the sources of clean air, drinkable water, biodiversity, and a stable climate that are our basic needs for survival. We need to change the global governance of the world economy for our species to survive. The United Nations governance is anchored on the concept of nation states –it uses a “one nation one vote” principle, while the Bretton Woods institutions use “one dollar one vote”, governance is determined by the dollar amount that a nation controls. Nation states are a relatively new concept in human history, and there is nothing that a single nation can do by itself to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change which is a global phenomenon, since CO2 concentration is the same everywhere in the planet, whether it is measured in New York, in Beijing, in Madrid or in Buenos Aires it is always the same. Each continent has enough fossil fuels to cause climate change by itself, affecting the entire world, Africa could cause trillions of dollars in losses to the USA, for example, just by burning its own coal. The issue is global and cannot be resolved by any single nation: it is truly a global issue and our global governing institutions are not appropriate for the challenge. Lord Nicholas Stern said that Climate Change is “the biggest externality in the history of humankind” and yet our economic governing institutions are based on markets for private goods that completely disregard externalities. We need new global governing institutions and a new economic discipline focused on internalizing externalities in order to face the climate challenge. This is the global carbon market I designed and wrote into the Kyoto Protocol achieves for the atmosphere. Traditional economics with private goods and private markets, with governing institutions based on nation states and private market values do not make the cut.
The wheel is come full circle. Shakespeare ~ King Lear
The Quarterly is doing well. The number of monthly visits to our website is steadily increasing, and we receive a lot of article submissions, as well as full text books. In the coming months we will reveal a few new sections of the website. What started as a pamphlet for the books we published, is well on the way to becoming a platform where science, journalism and debate meet.
In the past year, 2016, we have made some choices. The most visible of those is the diminished role of our publishing company, Rozenberg Publishers. Although we will still publish some books, there will not be many new titles annually. See also: http://rozenbergquarterly.com/publishers/
Because nothing is more fun than making a newspaper, our attention will mainly be focused on the RQ. In accordance with our mission statement, we want to develop it into a full-fledged platform for academics, scientists, journalists, authors and artists, in order to offer background information and scholarly reflections that contribute to mutual understanding and dialogue in a seemingly divided world. By offering this platform, the Quarterly wants to be part of the public debate because we believe mutual understanding and the acceptance of diversity are vital conditions for universal progress.
I have come full circle by choosing to focus on the Quarterly. The picture shows me on the Nieuwstad in Leeuwarden, selling monthly magazine Kaktus – a magazine we published with tremendous pleasure in 1971/72. We not only dissected and sometimes destroyed local politics, we also had a pretty good vision of how the world should and could be.
On Saturdays we took to the streets to try and sell our print run of 500 copies. After a year we had to quit. We were too successful, which led to ideological discussions that bring a smile to my face when I think about them.
Not much has changed. Making a newspaper is still the best thing there is. One thing that has changed, is that today we would like to get as many readers as possible. And we dream about those readers hitting the donate button at least once a year. So we might just reach a couple million readers in five years, who believe in the power of reading. To us that means the sharpening of the imagination. It makes the world a bigger place.
Finally, some practical information:
Telephone in the mobile age
Because we work remotely, and in different places most of the time, we no longer have a fixed office phone line.