Looking at the last two-hundred years or so, one can see how the growth of capitalism, starting in a small way with industries perceiving a need or possible opportunity to create one, where some new invention had come along, often taking the willingness of people to believe in the value of what would turn out to be a bubble, has developed into what it is now. Greed and exploitation have driven most of the population off the land, where food was grown, into ever-larger urban concerns that made money for those clever enough to build and own them. Not only has this lead to many monopolies and then globalisation, but it has destroyed the skills of artisans and home industries and gradually built a consumer society built on spin, new persuasion techniques, ways of creating every kind of trivial fashion and has generally made society open to information, much of it false or dangerous and what might be called a Westernisation of what the Taliban represents in the East, namely the limitisation of education to a decreasing number of people in the interest of the profits of the few.
The decline of real education in Britain is now under discussion. It is not difficult to detect a conspiracy, first to restrict knowledge to a minority, secondly to control that knowledge in the interests of market forces and thirdly to feed the public an image of a society that will continue an illusionary affluence and consumerism based on shallow pleasure and fashion, always at the expense of the poorer parts of the world and of a sustainable future for ourselves.
Everything that encourages individual and investigative thinking has gradually disappeared from general education. Even essential literacy and numeracy is in decline. After the three Rs, the most important subjects are history and philosophy, with higher mathematics really a branch of the latter. The removal of history from the curriculum, except in elitist schools, is a national disaster. It is the basis of all knowledge: without knowing our past how can we possibly understand the present or think about the future? The reason that we are so badly governed is that our politicians, on the whole, know nothing of history, and are condemned to repeat every past mistake over and over again, bring about enormous waste of lives in stupid wars, making the same economic misjudgements and blunders in social organisation. Now that we have returned to a depression, that anyone who knows history must realise was inevitable and will continue and deepen for many years to come, the failure to know about our past among young people can only have catastrophic, perhaps revolutionary, results in violence, crime and resorts to excessive drinking and the use of drugs; whilst strikes, demonstrations and the casualties that go with them will become common-place. Putting history back into the middle of the educational curriculum is a priority.
I mentioned philosophy as the other subject that is not taught except in a few universities. We are the only major European country where it is not a key school subject. If you cannot understand the present without knowing the past, it is equally true that you cannot learn to think well about the meaning of everything without learning how investigation of the formation of matter, the brain, the processes of though, and the reason of everything that happens, has been explained by philosophers from Plato to Schopenhauer , Nietzsche and Russell and others still living. Philosophy is, in a sense, part of history. It trains the mind to question and to think things out in order to put them as right as far as possible. The failure to teach philosophy is responsible for the return of fundamentalist attitudes, not only in intolerant religions, but in the slavish following of stupid fashions and in racialist attitudes that poison us and the civilisation that makes life tolerable, not for a fortunate few, but for all.
It is not so difficult to see in all this the malign conspiracy of those seeking power without responsibility, riches without concern for others and the good of society, and media barons looking for mind-control and market forces generally. The massive public relations industry through spin and hidden persuasion is behind all this, a perpetual conflict between two opposing forces in our genetic structure: for many millennia it was portrayed as good against evil, and historically as giving birth to many forms of Manichaeism from early Greek and Hebrew times to the early Christian Gnostics, the Cathars, Calvinism and modern thinking. To understand ourselves we must know history and philosophy, not just as academic subjects, but as essential information that we must know and think about, and learn about all our lives, which become more interesting as a result. The conspiracy that is mentioned above has the opposite object: to make us stupider, easier to influence, control and exploit, passive and acquiescent. Let us resist and try to move towards a new enlightenment.
John Calder 10/8/09