I really think life would be better for all of us if aspiring philosophers and current ed professors and everyone else planning on creating a new society and a different kind of human behavior used a word processing system that came with a Hubris warning. Beeping to alert that kind of presumption and conceit has always brought grief in the past. Maybe a squeaky voice could pipe up with a “Would you like to reconsider?” The overt goals laid out in the last several posts sent me back to rereading Bela Banathy’s Systems Design of Education: A Journey to Create the Future as well as what Donella and friends wrote in 1992: Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future. I wanted to see how closely these visions from the 90s aligned with what we saw being sought in those World System Models in the 70s and those recent Great Transition documents.
Sure enough there is Bela talking about the need to “attain global consciousness and forge a global system of the human community.” Insisting that education has a new role of “spearheading societal evolution by design” and making me wonder if he ever took a history course. See what I mean about a hubris key coming in handy? I also discovered that soon after publishing that book Groping in the Dark in 1982, Donella and Dennis Meadows formed the Balaton Group named for the lovely lake in Hungary where meetings on Sustainability could be held that would allow members from the Soviet bloc to easily attend. http://www.donellameadows.org/from-sustainability-science-to-real-world-action-a-short-history-of-the-balaton-group/ Those of you about my age may remember those Alka-Seltzer commercials that went Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh What a Relief This Is. Easy access of schemers from East and West throughout the 80s to make plans for all of us under the banner of Sustainability. This just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?
I wonder if Bela was ever invited? He was after all not just a Senior Research Director at the federally-funded Far West Ed Lab, he was also Chair of the Board of Trustees of the International Society of the Systems Sciences. I wrote about his deeply troubling vision here http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/who-granted-permission-to-spearhead-societal-evolution-to-a-global-cooperative-consciousness/ . Banathy’s sought global consciousness is certainly consistent with what Beyond the Limits was pushing hard in 1992:
“So what if the world’s people decide to moderate not only their demand for children, but also their economic demands? What if they set themselves a goal of a simple but adequate material standard of living and, when they reach that goal, they turn their attention to other nonmaterial, nonconsuming pursuits? [Doesn’t that sound just like Quality of Life from the Bariloche model in the last post?] This, too, is a hypothetical information change, a change not in the physical world, but in people’s heads (an enormous one, we realize). It means that people define their purposes, establish their status, challenge themselves with goals other than ever-increasing production and ever-accumulating material wealth.”
So for people who insist there are no universal Truths we have close to unanimous agreement that the key to getting to a political, social, and economic transformation for the 21st century lies in getting inside people’s heads and hearts and really into the essence of their souls. What drives them from a deep unconscious level? So now we know why we started hearing about the need for transformative education in the 90s. After all, Beyond the Limits goes on to quote visionary Lewis Mumford about the “re-establishment of the person as the ultimate term of all human effort. Cultivation, humanization, co-operation, symbiosis: these are the watchwords of the new world-enveloping culture. Every department of life will record the change: it will affect the task of education and the procedures of science no less than the organization of industrial enterprises, the planning of cities, the development of regions, the interchange of world resources.”
Fascinating, huh, that Mumford’s description of what was sought from 1944 could still be cited as current in 1992 and still sounds like the vision of the Great Transition and these city planning summits in 2013. The vision never really seems to change nor the vehicles. Only the descriptive language when the necessity for such transformation is pitched to the people. Like me and you and our children. Which is also why I can go back to economists writing in the 60s and 70s to find what’s wrong with these visions of justice and equality and central planning. One, Henry Hazlitt, in his 1964 The Foundations of Morality, even goes back to the Victorian Age for this jingle:
What is a Communist?
A man who has yearnings,
For equal division
Of unequal earnings.
To make his point that “a system under which the talented and the skilled and industrious received no more than the incompetent and shiftless and lazy, and which equalized material rewards irrespective of effort, would certainly be unproductive; and to most of us, I think, it would also be unjust.” Hazlitt nailed precisely what concerns me so. We are risking “splendidly realized destitution” precisely because the planners and professors take continued production at the same overall global levels for granted. And by drastically affecting both knowledge and incentives all of these transformational plans and models create a great likelihood, that foreseeably to us if not to these decision-makers, the output or product to be divided is likely to be substantially diminished. Maybe they have learned. Is that why we are supposed to learn to make do with the quality of our relationships with each other? Just the price of oligarchical power?
That leads us straight to the points of the other economist we are going to consult–PT Bauer from his 1981 Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion. Bauer reminds us that the term ‘differences’ is a more appropriate descriptive term in most instances than ‘inequality’ and he mentions the “accepted practice of referring to people’s physical characteristics, such as height, weight and strength, as differences rather than inequalities, and never as inequities.” Financial differences among people and countries “result from people’s widely differing aptitudes and motivations”, and to some extent luck. Bauer astutely looks at Africa and development policies in the third world generally and declares that “once the moral and political case for egalitarian policies is taken for granted, the movement for egalitarianism feeds on itself.” Something to remember as formulating social justice values becomes the Raison D’etre of both K-12 and higher ed.
When people begin to take for granted that people’s economic positions “are properly the concern of official policy,” a feeding frenzy develops for sterner and more drastic measures. Especially if results are not what was expected because diminished knowledge and poor incentives are decreasing the size of that ‘pie’ now being deliberately carved up. Hard to read any of the documents we have been examining in recent posts and not see that is precisely what is coming. Political power can adjust inequalities but it does so first by treating all of us as if we were subjects and then restricting the choices that will be open to us in the future. We can be Competent and that’s enough. To try to gain equality and justice we are turbocharging political power over us and our society and our economy in a way that “implies a relationship of command between rulers and subjects.”
Which means equality and justice can be the slogan justifying what is being done but only genuinely entrenched inequality between the ruled and the rulers can result.
Sustainability in action may seem more blissful than my references to Uncle Karl and that little c theory but the beggaring and self-perpetration of a malevolent process are likely to be the same in the end.
Who knew studying the Middle Ages and serfdom and feudalism would prove to be so relevant to combating the fallacies in 21st century political schemes and toxic social visions?
Foisted on us in the name of education.