Friday, June 10, 2005

When Myth and Education Become One 

As farmer points up in his earlier post, Lynne Cheney links the ideas of patriotism and right-thinking (“moral values”) with uncritical approval of the state and glossing over the more embarrassing aspects of our history. And she has the pull to make changes that impact the educational system and affect how our kids apprehend that history. Instead of growing up to understand the complex dynamics that collided over the centuries to create what the US has become, and maybe being able to correct problems where they find them, Lynne would rather they become good little mommies and daddies who mind their own business, maintain the economy with plenty of consumption, and stay the hell out of the business of governing the nation. Which makes her somewhat the philosophical sister of the man who helped engineer the current educational system, Alexander Inglis, discussed in my own post below.

There is nothing new about wanting to show your country or its deeds in the best possible light, but the whitewashing of one’s history usually runs in harness with the creation of an alternate image, founded in myth, spread by clichés and buzzwords, and buttressed against erosion by the demonization of those who may disagree. In his wonderful book, “Death Sentences (How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language)", Australian satirist and former speechwriter Don Watson took on this issue when he noted how the German government of the Nazi era crafted how the Germans were to see themselves, as a people (all italics are Watson's):
“To establish as fact the myth of German superiority, the Third Reich’s propagandists pursued two mutually reinforcing themes: the inferiority of certain others, and the delightfulness of themselves.”
He goes on to highlight some of the common phrases they used to that end: peace loving, fun loving, young, with an irrepressible will in direct opposition to the elites. “The phrase as a people might not be a lie”, he says, “but it smells like one”. Here’s the good stuff, 2 pages later:
“Propaganda, as the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul says, is ‘the negation of language. It destroys memory and therefore removes any sense of reality.’ Abuse the language and you abuse the polity. If you construct a collective character and a mythic history and paint over them with invented virtues, you also abuse the people: you demean them and deny them their own history.
Myths are tempting to those who are in a position to manipulate their fellow human beings, because a myth is sacred, and what is sacred cannot be questioned. That’s where their power comes from. They simplify and provide meaning without the need for reason. They stifle doubt and provide relaxation and comfort. It is about here that they meet clichés, which are myths of language…
The Americans saying they lost their innocence on September 11, 2001, is a myth, and also a cliché. As Philip Roth said, the Al Qaeda attack produced an orgy of narcissism. Narcissism naturally spawns myths, myths of character and history, of good and evil. September 11 produced a torrent of American myths. The United States innocent? After slavery? After a Civil War? After the Puritans? After four hundred years, they’re still innocent?
It can only be fantasy, ignorance, or mischief—or a cliché that has lost its meaning through overuse and can be anything you want to make of it. It’s one of those clichés that might as well be called a lie. It contradicts what is known and what ought to be known; it does not help us understand a tragedy but rather diminishes it. It insults our intelligence. We may as well claim descent from Teutonic knights as claim to be innocent. As public language, it is the equivalent of airbrushing.”
It doesn't help us to rob our kids of their history, Lynne. But it does keep them docile and malleable, preventing them from serving their country by improving it while prepping them as cannon fodder.

And that's really what it's all about, isn't it?

corrente SBL - New Location
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The Washington Chestnut
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