Monday, May 24, 2010

The Great Con Job - Selling Perverted Views of American Values and History

The other day I said on FaceBook that the Texas State Board of Eduction's (SBOE) new Social Studies and History standards is a sure path to Hell because of the textbooks are skewed to the specific fanatical political and religious beliefs of the nine board members who approved the texts in a nine to five vote. My comment was challenged. "If you're going to criticize it, you need to quote it," my challenger said. Not really. From all of the information available on the Board of Education members, I already know that they come to the table with extreme ideological views and beliefs, which they claim will reclaim America's founding values. That, too, is a mythological America. It never existed. Those that are pushing the standards have openly admitted to being Christian Fundamentalist and ultra right-wing conservatives, so I know their beliefs will be woven into the texts and education standards that follow the views and beliefs of what I call The Great Con Job on America. That Great Con Job has convinced many in America on ideas and beliefs that are, in fact, skewed and perverted for the benefit of a few. Never the less, I went looking through the Texas SBOE standards for proof of my claim.

Before I go there, however, I need to say that my problem is with inflexible ideology that is subtly infused into our lives, presumably to attain a Utopian ideal. There is no such thing as Utopia. I'm more in favor of Benjamin Franklin's "moderation in all things" than I am in values touted by the extreme left or right and through a lot of reading I've found that we, as a nation, have been sold on ideas that have brought us much of the grief we now experience. Most of the selling has been done through public relations firms that have influenced us in so many ways that it is difficult to know right from wrong in any aspect of life, from our religious beliefs to the acceptability of congressional earmarks and lobbyists to "small government" or no government, anti-tax movements, privatization, and laissez-fare markets. And, in all public relations efforts to change what we do and how we live and what we believe you'll find one underlying means of obtaining the end goal; a perversion of language.

For example, Conservatism doesn't mean conservatism anymore. The basic idea of conservatism to Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford World's Classics), was to conserve government institutions that are necessary for the function of society and survival of the country, a higher patriotic ideal, but in America today the conservative movement agrees more with the unruly mobs that destroyed the French Government's institutions in its Revolution. France suffered more because necessary institutions were destroyed. Today's moderns conservatives claim, like President Reagan did, allegiance to Abraham Lincoln's general conservative ideals, but Lincoln lived in the time of and agreed with Benjamin Disraeli, a great English conservative who followed Burke's philosophy, and Lincoln's Administration would be starkly liberal compared to today's conservative views. The modern conservative appears to see no value in any government function - the whole thing, according to conservative leaders, should be turned over to private industry. Lincoln went to war to preserve the union and its institutions, a stark difference to turning it over to private industry and to many ideas expressed in the Tea Party movement. It is a perversion of language, mostly very subtle, that is leading the way to convincing us of changed ideals; such as the idea that freedom, patriotism and democracy are synonymous with free enterprise, laissez-faire, unleashed capitalism or that Reagan, Lincoln, George Bush and the Tea Party movement are philosophically aligned. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

One of my favorite examples of the power of public relations is the advent of America's favorite, and so-called "traditional" breakfast, bacon and eggs or ham and eggs. Ask Benjamin Franklin what his favorite breakfast was and he would likely say tea, crumpets and perhaps porridge, a traditional English breakfast. But, ask any modern day American and they'll likely say "bacon (or ham) and eggs." So, how did we come by our traditional breakfast? It happened because the pork and poultry industry asked Edward Bernays, the father of American Public Relations, to help them sell more bacon, ham and eggs. Bernays surveyed 5,000 physicians in the 1920s and all physicians recommended a hearty breakfast, but they did not specify what constituted a "hearty" breakfast. Bernays publicized the survey results in newspapers nation-wide, but he added a small perversion to the results by equating "hearty" with bacon, ham and eggs. Sales of bacon, ham and eggs skyrocketed. America had its traditional breakfast, ironically, less than a hundred years ago.

Even more troubling are the changes in Christian beliefs in America. Somehow, Jesus has become a new conservative under the movement influenced by people like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others. My Dad would have called these people fanatics and fruitcakes. But, they and their ideas are mainstream today through establishing movements such as the Moral Majority and colleges and book publishing companies and heavy use of public relations firms. Even ideas for recruiting youths to churches is bizarre as you can read here about churches using the most violent video game available, Halo 3, to attract youths to their churches. And, for adults, the attraction has moved from worship to praying the prayer of Jabez for more wealth and using the Parable of the Tenet for life investing advice. And, suddenly, Jesus is purported to support war against Arabs through Tim Lehaye's best "Left Behind" sellers and his and others' ministries and it's okay for Israel to take other people's land, Arab land, for their settlements. In fact, many so-called Christian emails passed around advocate insurrection in Israel against its neighboring countries to fulfill the "promise land" prophecy when in fact in Jesus' time there were a mixture of ethnicities and races no different than today. Sort of like prodding God to fulfill his promise. I suspect that we shouldn't prod Him. It seems to me that He keeps his promises when we keep ours by living in peace with our fellow man. Otherwise, all bets are off.

The pervasiveness of wrong-headed teachings, myths and magic and ideas are so prevalent that I get a kick out of people who tell me "that doesn't happen in my church." My answer is "wanna bet?" Or, when I'm told that I don't believe in God because I don't buy what a person is telling me. My answer is, "It isn't God that I don't believe, it's you." The religious right has done an extraordinary job at public relations; it's converted nearly an entire nation to paganism and they don't even know it. God is now a fertility god for women who can't get pregnant, or a Realtor for house buyers or a protector for NASCAR drivers. How bizarre can we get? All that while we fly the American flag in glorious pride and fly Air Force war planes above our Christian Blessed celebrations. We truly don't know what we do. We are Rome.

So, with that lead where is the perversion of language, the slight nuance in the use of words, in the SBOE standards that I have a problem with? It doesn't take long to find an example. In fact, I was surprised to find without the slightest effort on the first page wording that follows exactly what I talked about above; equating freedom, patriotism and democracy to our capitalistic system. I found it here, on page one of the Text of Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC; Chapter 118. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits; Subchapter A. High School. The words in the title, "...with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System..." should be warning enough to know that we're going to study a libertarian view of economics, with "Emphasis." Free Enterprise is the libertarians' favorite word, that is their jargon, shouted from the highest mountain as gospel. But, here's the disturbing quote on page one:

"Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits builds upon the foundation in economics and social studies laid by the social studies essential knowledge and skills in Kindergarten-Grade 12. The course will apply these skills to current economic situations. The content enables students to understand the importance of patriotism, function in a free enterprise society, and appreciate the basic democratic values of our state and nation as referenced in the Texas Education Code (TEC), §28.002(h)."

Since when is a free enterprise economic system implicit or explicit to patriotism and basic democratic values? Or when did we become a free enterprise society? These are just more libertarian jargon and influence that have surfaced in the last forty or so years. There is nothing democratic about capitalism nor is capitalism necessary for democracy. I know countries that are just as patriotic and democratic as we are yet do not rely entirely on a free enterprise system nor do they allow capitalism to rule over their societies. In fact, neither do we. It is, after all, just an economic system that we use for livelihood, and nothing more. Our economic system should not influence our justice system, for example, even though it does, mostly with unfortunate results. We can, if we want, choose not to participate in free enterprise and make a living by other means. We have controls and regulations for most enterprises to protect consumers and the environment. We pay taxes for necessary government services to oversee enterprises and that's what we should do. And, in the face of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, mostly caused by negligence and egregious lack of controls and oversight, is there anyone now who would begrudge government controls over the oil industry? Yet the libertarians, such as Rand Paul and CNBC hosts such as Larry Kudlow still believe in self-regulation and that's what they preach. Paul even suggested that the free enterprise system could more effectively govern civil rights, such as minority access to businesses, better than the government or law can. Are you kidding me? The irony and the underlying ignorance regarding the BP oil spill is that I hear blame placed on President Obama for the so-called lack of government response, yet the deregulation and laxity over oil companies started a long time ago by convincing Americans that businesses could self-regulate. Past Administrations were more negligent in developing plans to handle the magnitude of the Gulf oil spill just as they were negligent in investing in America's infrastructure, which, by the way, would have gone a lot farther in helping free enterprise than favoring and subsidizing oil companies ever could. But, I'm sure the lessons taught in Texas schools will follow the general ideology of patriotic self-reliance and self-regulation, the libertarian philosophy. And, if some students are less fortunate, whether it's their fault or not, and are not quite lucky enough to make it out of poverty, or they are victims of legal credit card usury or Wall Street gambling or an unfortunate medical tragedy - well, that's tough. Those things that make us victims are, after all, free enterprise. Caveat emptor, "buyer beware," is a term we've learned to accept as well, a fate we expect in the market. One wonders why we must beware when we buy in good faith products we expect to be usable and reliable. Why isn't the opposite our standard? Caveat venditor, seller beware? Sell us good products, or else.

Language used in the standards on §113.35. United States Government (One-Half Credit) are troubling too:

"(8)  Government. The student understands the American beliefs and principles reflected in the U.S. Constitution. The student is expected to:
  • (A)  explain the importance of a written constitution;
  • (B)  evaluate how the federal government serves the purposes set forth in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution;
  • (C)  analyze how the Federalist Papers explain the principles of the American constitutional system of government;
  • (D)  evaluate constitutional provisions for limiting the role of government, including republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, and individual rights;
  • (E)  analyze the processes by which the U.S. Constitution can be changed and evaluate their effectiveness; and
  • (F)  analyze how the American beliefs and principles reflected in the U.S. Constitution contribute to our national identity."
On the surface, these standards appear innocent and something everyone hopes our children learn. But, I would like to see the underlying text that supports the standard (8)(D), specifically what is being taught regarding "...limiting the role of government..., popular sovereignty, and individual rights." I hope the students read the Federalist Papers and that they get the parts about both government and citizen responsibility. But, in a state whose governor touts seceding from the union, apparently with popular support, and whose Tea Parties are openly anti-government while shouting "freedom," and with a Board of Education that openly admits to similar radical beliefs, I'm very suspicious of the intent of the standard. In fact, I would bet that Texas schools are growing just more fanatical and ignorant Tea Partiers parading around with misspelled signs. That's a sure path to anarchy. Texas has a problem. Of course, Texans will stay ignorant, but that's what most public relations is all about; to convince people of the beliefs of a few and keeping them ignorant of truths. Do the majority of Texans really want to secede from the union? What do they think they'll gain by that?

But, my view is go ahead - do it. Our taxes will be lower back in the USA if we don't have to pay for Texas. Texas can then deal with its own international treaties, pay for its own armies, its own passports to go to Louisiana or New Mexico, its own border guard, its own Coast Guard to clean up oil off its own coast and, by the way, figure out how to keep all those corporations that have moved to Texas in recent years. It's likely they will want to move back to the USA. But, if Govna' Perry can pull Texas out of that mess, more power to him. But, alas, he is only wind and nothing more. Why, in God's name, is he Texas' Governor? Why is he anything in Texas Government?

There are more slight, subtle words in the standards that indicate to me that there is an ulterior, libertarian, free market and capitalistic motive behind the standards and it wouldn't surprise me to find Christian fundamentalist ideals and beliefs in the standards. The term "free market" is used a lot, sometimes in places where "capitalism" would seem more appropriate. Free markets is another libertarian term and I suspect it is linked to freedom and democracy and that will be the message that most students will carry for the rest of their lives. The "Free Market" philosophy is also the major influence behind bank deregulation that ultimately caused the housing market bubble and crash and the Great Recession we are in. It's truly sad, though, that those few who do sort out the truth some years later will be powerless to change ingrained ideas. And, that's what is happening today. We have a chance to do something good for our country, to move to the more moderate center, but we have a movement that's turning its back on American society and government for the sake of corporations and Wall Street and hypocritical Christian values and it can't be convinced otherwise. It's like trying to convince America that bacon and eggs isn't, really, its traditional breakfast. Good luck with that.


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