Empire of Illusion (5.The moral nihilism of academics or education after Auschwitz )

No one who has a taste for literature has the right  to be happy because the only men entitled to happiness are those who are useful (industrialist Richard Teller Crane)

The actual economical crisis was indirectly caused by the institutions that produce and sustain the educated elite of our times. The greed of the bankers is covered in the specialized language as “opportunity cost”, “profit”, etc; the manipulation and hypocrisy of politicians is well painted as “political marketing”, “branding strategy”, etc.

Theodor Adorno wrote Education after Auschwitz in 1967, an essay that analyses the danger of the moral corruption that made the Holocaust. Schools had to teach more than skills, they had to teach values! Unfortunately, the corporatist society in which we live now does not encourage the critical reflection. I can see here, in North America, the obvious neglect of the humanities that produce students who have been trained only to find solutions that will maintain the system, to think predetermined answers to predetermined questions. Analytical wisdom is not a wisdom, it is a skill. Handling devices does not make wiser, maybe powerful. But would you know how to use that power? Here pragmatism reigns! Most of them are not capable of asking the broad, universal questions. They are trained  to make the system work, not to examine it. They think that education is about training and success rather than to think critically and to challenge. All of those are caused by over-fragmentation of knowledge, disconnection between the core of academical subjects and programs and literature and philosophy.

When I speak of education after Auschwitz, then, I mean two areas: first children’s education, especially in early childhood; then general enlightenment that provides an intellectual, cultural, and social climate in which a recurrence would no longer be possible, a climate, therefore, in which the motives that led to the horror would become relatively conscious. (Th. Adorno. Education after Auschwitz, p. 3)

All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again. This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms. One must submit to critical treatment—to provide just one model—such a respectable concept as that of “reason of state”; in placing the right of the state over that of its members, the horror is potentially already posited. (Th. Adorno. Education after Auschwitz, p. 10)

The moral nihilism embraced by elite universities would have terrified Adorno. He knew that radical evil was possible only with the collaboration of a timid, cowed, and confused population, a system of propaganda and mass-media that offered little more than spectacles and entertainment, and and educational system that did not transmit transcendent values or nurture the capacity for individual conscience. He feared a culture that banished the anxieties and complexities of moral choice and embraced a childish hyper-masculinity (Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion. The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009, p. 91)

Image: Amoral by Violens (2010)

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