Building Education for the Commons
By Creston Davis, Founder & Director of the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS)
We’re all familiar with one of the founding stories of western literature about the decade long siege on the city of Troy by the Greeks. This story is penned in Homor’s Odyssey and later in the Aenied of Virgil and tells the tale of ultimate subterfuge. The plan was based on the deception of a false gift, the Wooden Horse given to Troy as a Victory Trophy. The Trojans were immediately taken, and as the Greeks sailed away from their abandoned positions, they celebrated even as they moved Greek troops into their secure city unawares. Once everyone relaxed and got intoxicated from celebrating, the Greek troops popped out of the horse and took the city down.
When the 1960s revolution directly threatened to take over the modes of production, the capitalist elites teamed up with economic professors (many from the University of Chicago) and devised a plan. For this plan to work it would take a generation or more, but with sustained resources and micro tactics deployed in strategic ways, they would succeed.
Their plan was to secure the power of the corporate elite once and for all by undermining any way to hold the corporations and financial industries (banks, Wall Street etc.) in check through a democratic, public processes. In other words, they needed to limit government (cutting taxes for the rich; radically deregulate business practices especially those designed to protect citizens and the environment; and heavily invest in police and military assets to secure their position of power against oppositional democratic movements). To accomplish this crucial task, they needed to win by aiding and promoting those who are willing to support them. This wasn’t difficult as they had the financial resources to ensure this. This too meant that both the Republicans & Democrats could be used as a means to unfold their long-term goals. Money is no security for democracy.
This plan unfolded strategically and tactically. On a strategic level, they move to control policy through the politicians and legislation. Once policy was geared in their favor (which would take several decades to accomplish), they only needed to use police forces to execute their policy plans that sided with the corporate and financial ideology of the 1%.
On a tactical level they would, over time, control any counter-movements that emerged from the workplace (strikes) and from the intellectual side (education). This two-fold attack plan was premised on a military maxim first attributed to Philip II of Macedon: Divide et impera (Divide & Rule).
But with the Nixon debacle in the 1970s and the rise of the Carter administration, their time to move into the political side had to wait until the Reagan/Bush administration took and maintained power throughout the 1980s. In the meantime, they deployed a cultural and religious side of their plan by establishing many new think tanks such as Free Congress Foundation, and facilitated the rise of hard-right Christian hegemony that eventually formulated in Patrick Robertson’s Christian Coalition. In addition they began to organize the takeover of media organizations (Fox News).
Prof. Daniel Stedman Jones, the author of Masters of the Universe, describes how this marginal idea became mainstream.
“How did these ideas become mainstream? Mr Stedman Jones, a London barrister, lays it out like a rugby match. The think-tanks pass to the journalists, who pass to the politicians, who with aid from the think-tanks run with it and score. The think-tanks were the most important. With lectures and publications, they propagated ideas frowned upon at universities and converted the most powerful players in this revolution. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan counted themselves as inspired visitors.”
Just how did this plan turn out? Let’s evaluate it on the level of workers’ unions and education.
From this chart we can clearly identify the facts, that the workers’ ability to contribute to society as a valuable member was systematically undermined. So this front was destroyed by the Neoliberal agenda.
The attack on public education took off with the Reagan administration where education was radically reinterpreted not to be a good for the public but rather to be a personal investment. Now a citizen was treated as if they were their own business which they could invest in by going to university in order to enhance their profile and increase their earnings power. It was with this new privatized (anti-democratic) ideology that gave birth to the massive student loan industry, backed by banks and the US Government.
Once university education could be funded by the citizen, and no longer by the public (via taxation of the wealthy), universities got the green light to begin radically raising tuition, which since the late 1970s has risen over 1000%. Universities where now in an arms race for high-tech amenities, (e.g., luxury swimming pools etc.) in an effort to keep up on the market to attract customers, (i.e., students). Students were turned into customers looking to get an edge on how to secure employment which became even more urgent now that they were strapped with student loans. The Student loan debt has now exceeded 1.2 Trillion dollars.
This in turn exerts pressure to conform university curricula to the demands of the job-market so the individual subject (who is now a customer looking to sell herself as a business in the “real world”). And here you introduce a crisis into the heart of the Humanities and the Social Sciences from philosophy, to literature, to political science and history. Now subjects which traditionally empowered and enlightened students to the perils of power, the threats posed to democracy (such as Fascism etc), by arming them with critical thinking and the confidence to speak out against these threats (i.e., anti-democratic ideologies like the 1%) are systematically and ideologically undermined.
And this undermining of the Humanities and social sciences is the Trojan Horse of Neoliberalism’s strategy.
In the meanwhile the 1% continue to grow wealthier by the year and by next year will own more wealth than the rest of the entire world. This is not healthy and poses a direct threat to democracy world-wide. And now that they have “limited government” which is code for them controlling the government, they can easily keep society under control via the “Divide and Rule” maxim by keeping the populous under constant threats of terrorism, spying on citizens via Google and Facebook and other social media, and neutralize freedoms that voice democratic policies by using military-police forces.
Finally, on the psychological level, we are divided from each other because we have been trained to think that we are individual “businesses” that must compete with our fellow citizens (other businesses) for an increasingly scarce market share (that the 1% owns). In other words, Neoliberalism as an ideology has systematically unlearned ways to form communities that stand for democracy, the public good (education, health-care, inexpensive transportation, job security, the environment etc). We have lost communication with each other.
We now have no communal platform on which to stand up for justice, peace, equality, job security and health. Are ability to unite ourselves as human beings, for our protections and desires that account for all of us collectively has been undermined by the Trojan Horse of Neoliberalism. It is time to take measures to fight for democracy for all.