Everyone you meet these days comments somewhere in the conversation, if it extends beyond thirty seconds, that the world seems to be heading in a very dangerous direction....just waiting for a spark to ignite a very big explosion, the dimensions and the implications of which are too brutal even to contemplate.
And there is a trainload of evidence from many quarters that, taken together, bodes ill for a peaceful future. And there is another fleet of ships, all of them industries, schools, churches, corporations, armies, navies and airforces and most professions, all dedicated to the manipulation of the extrinsic symbols.
Pictures too are symbolic of our addiction to the world of evidence that can be manipulated, distorted, and deployed by those in the seats of power, for their own primary advantage.
We have lost our openness to our intrinsic, internal, often unmanageable selves, so busy are we, individually and collectively chasing whatever extrinsic symbols that are our fixations.
From a very early age, we learn how to perform, in order to "please" our caregivers; and we learn that pleasing trend through both rewards and punishments. We are "conditioned" to seek, to earn and to receive, and thereby to become dependent on the smile, the treat, the hug and the many other rewards depending on the range of both external resources and human imagination of the caregiver.
Then in schools, the process of our conditioning truly takes on monster proportions. We are herded into a sense of chasing after marks, the extrinsic symbols of those hugs and touches of endearment that we were introduced to in our families of origin. Of course, those whose first years were deprived of those "touches" of endearment will be less familiar with the power structure that seeks to maintain control through a balanced diet of both rewards and punishments and will seek and find activities and vocabulary and attitudes that evoke more negative responses than positive.
Whether through athletics, or technological skills, writing or scientific or math expertise, or just the exemplary capacity and talent to get along with others, we seek and develop paths that express our individual paths to the accumulation of "trophies"...scholarships, bursaries, expressions of applause, and the avoidance of those other kinds of neophyte infamy....frowns, scowls, reprimands, detentions, suspensions, and outright expulsions.
And there are multiple examples of how the "parents" actually interject their neurosis into the educational process, through such interventions as becoming active partners in the conduct of science fair experiments, even to the point of writing the "presentation" for the judges in order to achieve the "best" results for their child. Compete, win, achieve, keep the order of the tradition so that those with power, both legitimately within the family, and then within the social structures and later within the corporate, political, ecclesial and even artistic establishments can and do establish "standards" of behaviour that are uniquely suited to the achievement of their maintenance of that power.
Undergraduates learn the ideological leaning of their professors, including their "interpretation" of the literature under study, the political and historical figures and themes under the microscope, the passions of their science, economics, technological and arts professors, and regurgitate those leanings through their essays, their reports, their examinations and their attitudes, including the display of incipient passions that reflect, and thereby burnish and polish the public images of their role models.
We rate the teachers, the professors, and even the administrators, through that ubiquitous public survey, a most blunt instrument, just like most of the other blunt instruments that seek to group attitudes, as if the average of the group was a full expression of the complexities of any situation, so that those in charge of "evaluation" can and will be better able to make their decisions.
For example, after attempting to instruct a group of aspiring police officers in a "private career college" on the ethics of police work, and failing miserably to inculcate the notion of withholding judgement while entering any scene of potential violation of the law, I included a optional question on an examination that touched on the issue, hoping that at least one of those students would have grasped the nuances of seeking, if not fully achieving objectivity, as a means of keeping one's attention open wide to the full spectrum of the evidence. When the owner of the "college" questioned those students, in an informal opinion poll, the very fact of the inclusion of that question was overturned into an act of irresponsibility because the "subject" was not covered in the classroom.
On another occasion, while teaching high school English, I constructed a marking scheme that included 5 marks for spelling, grammar and the issues of sentence structure, based on a deduction of one-half mark for each error. (This was obviously back in the dark ages of the 1970's and 80's when such issues mattered.) One student, with a bright mind, had written some very sloppy prose, from the perspective of spelling and grammar and had achieved a C grade when on content alone, the paper would have been an A. The parents, one a school psychologist, the other a professional social worker, petitioned the school in complaint of the marking scheme used for the examination, based on their belief that the classroom had not dedicated adequate time and attention to those issues of spelling and grammar for which their daughter received a low grade. They demanded a meeting of the head of department and myself, and removed their child from the school in order to avoid such poor grades.
Schools, and churches are merely complementary extensions of the families, given their deepening of the process of inculcating potential rewards and punishments for actions that both parents and churches consider "good and evil"....depending on their unique world view.
Only, with the churches, and the legal system, based as it is on a religious origin, there is the added power of God, or the criminal justice system with its many instruments to curb "deviant" behaviour...as those institutions have conceived that behaviour to be. And once again, it is the behaviour, as demonstrated by the evidence, that magnets their attention, and the motive is a much more difficult animal to tame. It is over motive and the history of the "accused" that the system is so weak, given the complexity and the time-consuming nature of any investigation into those two areas, especially the biography, given how the individual was oriented to the system of social and family controls that were taught, both by deed and by attitude.
Doctors too, in their pursuit of a professional career of "helping" are trained to examine the extrinsic evidence of a patient's "signs" through the use of various testing instruments, all of them conceived and developed in the culture of micro-extrinsic examinations, most of which either ignore completely or disdain sometimes monstrous stories that would clearly have shaped the mental, biological and attitudinal aspects of the patient's life.
And then, in one of the most negligent of applications of the "classical conditioning" manipulation of the culture, we have both consumer "education" and political pursuit of democracy, both dependent on the manipulation of evidence for the benefit of those "running" the systems, either the corporations or the political parties, for their own best results....while all the time expressing the benefits of their unique offering for their consumers, their electorate....and we, like sheep, seductively manipulated by the sheer bravado of their manipulations of their presentations, are herded into their various camps, crowned by their various "brands"....
And with the development of instruments of digital measurement of our attitudes, through the tracking of our internet searches, our internet comments and perceptions, all of them now available to the world, dangerously positioning the individual under the power of those whose power to gather such information has exceeded even their capacity to market their "wares"....and we have, on the one hand, the capacity of individuals with cell phones to collect instant mobs, but more importantly also the capacity of those who own the systems to manipulate the evidence, just as Facebook is now accused of doing, in order to socially engineer the responses of their "clients".....
And all the while, we are disdaining the kind of education, the liberal education, dedicated as it is to the discernment of bullshit, the discernment of manipulation through seduction, the discernment of underlying truths from the sizzle of the salesmanship in order to better understand our universe and our place in it. We have now turned our universities into job factories, concentrating on the pursuit of individual "extrinsic" trophies, like the BMW, the mansion, the exotic vacations and the power to command armies of drones, both human and technological, as if the culture needed only more people pursuing the same kind of sick live controlled by the conventions of our institutions and the people whose careers and reputations depend on the maintenance of those patterns...and our heart and cancer wards are filled with hordes of sick people, all of them having submitted to the rigours of following the "lead" of those in charge and refusing to challenge that "lead" as a matter of self-defence.
And we wonder why our health care budgets are straining to bankruptcy, and our armies and navies can no longer achieve the kind of submission of the enemy that once were their trophies, and their justification of their very existence, and the universities are incubators of binge drinking, destructive competitions and career ambitions that trump, in the main, the pursuit of larger truths, more penetrating and more incisive insights that would, if permitted the light of day, transform this stampede of the cretins toward our own demise.
We have become so addicted to the pursuit of belonging, of fitting in, of achieving those extrinsic trophies that have now come to define our existence, when once they were considered means of motivation in a direction that could prove helpful for those less motivated but nevertheless capable of achieving breakthroughs in the complexities of all of our intellectual and ethical and industrial/economic theatres.
We have, in short, substituted the trophies and their acquisition for the intrinsic and much more significant activities of the mind, the spirit and the heart and in the process, we have reduced human beings to little more than transactional pawns in an overt series of exchanges of "what have you done for me lately" or "how can I manipulate you into my camp" on the part of establishments too proud and too fragile and too arrogant to acknowledge their complicity, indeed their addiction to their own powerlessness....hence their myopia in continuing the charade.
And this thesis has now been exported as the "success" of the western way of life into corners of the globe so innocent and untrained that they too will gulp our koolaid, without knowing the pits of despair to which they will be sentencing themselves and their offspring.