The Demise of Higher Education

Unknown-3A friend asked for my opinion on an article on AlterNet, How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps, by Debra Leigh Scott.

The article strikes me as somewhat paranoid, but more importantly, I think it thoroughly misses the real problem. I would call it How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in One Basic Step.

Allow me to digress for a moment.

My father was born in 1913, right around the time the first radio stations in the country started to transmit. Horses still delivered blocks of ice to “ice boxes” in the apartments in New York City, and he and his brothers would camp overnight in Central Park, and canoe up the Hudson river.

His father died while my father was in high school, and when the school presented him with some technical barrier to graduation (yes, even in 1920 they were doing that), despite his high marks, he dropped out without a diploma and went to work to help support the family. He worked at hard manual labor with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930′s, joined the Army toward the end of WWII, and eventually acquired his surveyor’s and professional engineer’s licenses studying on his own. He joined the US Geological Survey, and surveyed land throughout Arizona and other Western states; he rode horses, shot rattlesnakes, climbed mountains, and camped in the rough. He eventually joined the state Highway Department, and then moved to a desk job with the state after he married. He was 42, and without a high school diploma when I was born.

Although he was one of the first computer programmers in the state, and managed the computing department for a short period, he started to complain about all the “college kids” who were moving past him for promotions and raises through the 1960′s. Eventually, his job was put on the line, and so he finally acquired a General Equivalency Diploma to keep his employment. But his career was stalled. Without a college diploma in the 1960′s, he had no hope of advancement within the state bureaucracy.

Ms. Scott begins her analysis of the decline of higher education in 1971, as a conservative backlash against the “troublemakers” or “springboards of dissent” represented by the university system. I believe the decline started in 1944 with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, otherwise known as the “G.I. Bill” that offered funding for a college education to every honorably discharged soldier and officer who fought in WWII.

There’s a simple fact that no one wants to admit, but it remains a fact. It is this: not everyone is cut out for college. Not everyone is prepared to enter college, and not everyone benefits from it, and by no means should everyone who attends college, graduate with a college diploma. “Education” at the university level has always been a pursuit of the elites, financial and intellectual. That is what a university education has always been about, going back to the first universities in Italy and Portugal in the 1100′s. It’s how universities have ranked themselves.

Prior to the G.I Bill, college admission was a rigorous process, and most people did not make the cut, if they even attempted it — and most did not. In 1940, according to the US Census, a little over 20% of US citizens over 25 years of age had a high school diploma, and perhaps 5% had any kind of college degree; many of those were two-year “business” degrees. Four-year baccalaureate degrees were rare, and college graduates and their professors were generally viewed as “eggheads” (my father’s word for them) with little practical experience or usefulness in worldly pursuits.

I recall reading C.S. Lewis’ account of his entry into academia, which began with his father’s efforts to make something worthwhile of his son, and his final despair and decision to see if the professors could make a scholar of the boy, since he clearly wasn’t good for anything else. In those days, tenured professors were often “penured” professors as well, living in university housing, often two to a room (as in C.S. Lewis’ case) and eating in the common dining hall to save on expenses. It was common in the early 1900′s for men to put off marriage until they could afford to raise a family: many academics remained unmarried throughout their lives because they could never afford family life.

The G.I Bill changed academia, fundamentally. Universities now faced a straightforward conflict of interest. If they kept their standards as high as they had, geared to a steady flux of no more than the top 5% of the population, all that beautiful government money would go elsewhere.

That was what started the unravelling of higher education.

Beginning in the 1950′s, colleges and universities began to tacitly lower their standards, in order to admit, attempt to educate, and eventually graduate not the 5% elite of the nation, but the masses of common soldiers from every kind of background with government tuition checks in their hands.

It got worse in the 1960′s and into the 1970′s, as the Vietnam War groaned on and on, and “college deferment” became an alternative to running for the Canadian border to avoid conscription. College was now a sanctuary, and extended education — indefinitely extended education — became a goal in its own right. The veterans who returned from Vietnam had a college education waiting for them, as well.

I remember talking with teachers at a local community college in the early 1980′s, dealing with returned Vietnam veterans who would not bother to show up for class. The teachers were — according to my contacts — squeezed by their own administration to count the students present anyway, and to pass them, so that the school would not lose the students’ government-paid tuition.

Yes, that’s called institutional fraud. That is precisely what conflicts-of-interest promote.

So it’s really quite simple: the government bribed universities to lower their standards. The universities took the money and complied, and grew sleek and very, very fat. Now they  are addicted to the government and corporate money, and complain (as Ms. Scott does) about “funding cuts” and corruption of the curricula through threats to the money supply.

Well, you don’t get hooked on heroin if you don’t start using it. The entire university system in the US started shooting up the green stuff seventy years ago, and its current state of addiction is now considered “normal.” As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I think the investors are going to pull out before too much longer, and the entire system is going to go into withdrawal shock. We’ll see how much of it survives.


A second and far more serious factor is also in play. The United States has always had the Calvinist and Puritan ethic that, “Idle hands do the Devil’s work;” that work is virtue, and virtue is work; that if you don’t work, you don’t deserve to eat.

That plays out one way in a subsistence-level agrarian society, such as those of the early European settlers in North America, where “work” for nearly all of the population relates directly to food production. Someone who refuses to work makes the harvest smaller, and if people then have to go hungry, the slackers obviously belong on the very top of the list to be disinvited to dinner.

In a prosperous urban society, where nearly all “work” generates, not food, but economic trinkets that can be traded for food, this plays out very differently. As we discovered in the Great Depression, we could have bumper crops but no markets for economic trinkets — that is, plenty of food, but no work to “justify” feeding people.

People were well aware of the trend toward less work in the 1950′s. If you recall, George Jetson’s job was to commute to work in his flying car so that he could press the big button that started all the machines, then put his feet on his desk until his boss came in to yell at him. Numerous “futurists” talked about the “end of work,” and science fiction stories dealt with the question of what becomes of a society after the work ethic passes, particularly in the many, many stories about sophisticated “thinking” robots.

This hasn’t proceeded quite as quickly as people thought it would in the 1950′s, but one of the reasons we continue to extend childhood into an ever-extending adolescence — now up to a child’s mid-30′s, for some adult-children these days — is that we have run out of “work.”

Approximately 5% of the population in the US produces enough food for the other 95%, plus trade exports. I’d have to guess at how many secondary jobs are associated with enabling that 5% — fossil fuel production, mining, farm machinery, trucking — but I can’t believe it comes anywhere near 50%. Let’s say 30%. The remaining 70% of the population produces economic trinkets purely to justify their right to eat that food. Software and iPads. Movies and Fox News. Marketing schemes. Financial speculation. Reports. More reports. Paper clips for the reports. Magnets to collect paper clips.

It doesn’t take much of an economic hiccup for that majority to lose their right to eat. A trinket becomes unpopular, a plant closes, and all those trinket experts are out of work. Maybe a new plant opens halfway across the country, and they can pull up roots and move — or perhaps no new plant opens, no new jobs are available, and so they beg, or they starve.

Indeed, so Byzantine is our economic machinery that even those who produce the food are barred from eating it. When I was on Long Island in the 1980′s, there was a huge issue with the migrant labor that dug up potatoes, one of the crops grown on the island. Prices were bad that year — it wasn’t “profitable” for the farm owners to sell the potatoes, and they decided to let the potatoes rot in the fields. The migrant labor was, of course, not paid for work they didn’t do, but they were also prevented from digging up the potatoes for their own sustenance. They started to starve, right there, 50 miles from Manhattan, a stone’s throw from food that no one else wanted, that they were willing to dig up for themselves, while the county sheriff and deputies stood by with guns to prevent “looting.”

Work is not virtue in our society. Work is permission.

The problem is, we’re running out of permission. So we’re starting to ration it — not the food, but the permission to eat the food — and one way we do this by means of educational credentials.

It isn’t that a typical undergraduate education in any way prepares or qualifies someone for a job. It’s simply that when a single job opens, and the human resources agent has over two thousand applicants, one quick (and legal) way to reduce the pile is to sort it by educational credentials and grade-point average, then throw out the bottom one thousand, nine hundred eighty applications.

I suspect that this was the rationale for forcing my father to get his GED. If he worked as a senior employee with no high school diploma, the hiring staff could not get away with culling high-school dropouts from the application lists. It’s only a guess on my part, but it would be consistent with other things I’ve seen in the work world.

So higher educational institutions now have yet another conflict-of-interest. They have become the means of rationing permission to eat. Which means that, ethically, they have an implicit obligation to accept, educate, and graduate every last person in the country, regardless of preparation or ability. Furthermore, they must do so in such a way as to guarantee future work for each of their graduates. They must somehow do this in a society that does not have enough work to begin with.

This problem has nothing whatsoever to do with education. You can’t fix it with a curriculum change. You can’t fix it with Pell grants or scholarships. You can’t fix it with reduced interest on student loans, or even legislation that absolves all students of their debts. You can’t fix it with graduation quotas.

The problem is that the moral foundation of the country is no longer remotely congruent with our practical reality. Work is no longer virtue, and hasn’t been for a long time: work has become an entirely arbitrary permission to live, and education has become an equally arbitrary throttle used to ration that permission.

So where is this going to lead? It’s useful, I think, to go back (again) to our three possible futures.

In future 1, where EROEI is substantially lower than at present and we go back to herding goats, this entire first-world problem vanishes. No one will have a university education. Few will have any education at all, or their letters, or their maths. Life will return to a subsistence agrarian level, and our Puritan morality may actually do us some good.

In future 2, where EROEI is about the same as ours and sustainable, or future 3, where EROEI is much higher than ours, we will need to solve this problem. Only a small fraction of the population will be doing survival-useful work. The rest will not.

In both cases, it seems pretty obvious to me that we need to recapture a robust concept of “commonwealth,” and in doing so, recognize that there are certain things that are the common (and shared) birthright of every person born — things that cannot be bought or sold, but are maintained as fundamental rights by tradition, custom, law, and common effort.

Those must – in our reality, not that of the seventeenth century Puritans — include air, water, food, and education. Only the most extreme of free-market fanatics want to capture, own, and sell air. The very thought is obnoxious. In our society — not seventeenth century Puritan society — the same can be said of food, and of education.

Though self-evident, I think it’s equally self-evident that our dysfunctional society is not going to turn in that direction any time soon.

So my advice to young people facing this issue first-hand right now is to focus on finding your own permission to live. Stop asking. If you can’t find a job, figure out how to make one. If you can’t make one, get together with some unemployed friends and figure it out together.

A distant relation of mine lost his job in an impacted area back East, and had no prospects at all. Having nothing to do, and no money, he started meeting with other people in exactly the same situation, and they eventually formed a non-profit that collects money from donors and uses it to help laid-off workers stay fed, clothed, healthy, and sane. It’s been a fast-growing enterprise, and he’s found it to be very satisfying — and useful — work.

There are needs out there. Every need is an opportunity. Every opportunity is your permission to live, if you see it and act on it.

Start there. And then, if going to college makes sense in that context, go to college.


Addendum

Reading this through after coffee this morning, it sounds like I revere the old “elites-only” educational system. Sorry about that. I don’t.

My point is merely that if you’re going to compare the old with the new, as in “how higher education was destroyed in five easy steps,” you need to recognize that the universities of 1940 were catering to less than five percent of the population: that five percent were either rich (and therefore, had adequate opportunity to prepare for university), or were the very brightest and most academically driven students in the country. In 2000, the universities were catering to over twenty percent of the population, who were in general more poorly-prepared within a declining public educational system.

There is no possible way for universities to exhibit these numbers without lowering their standards. The question is, why did they do so? The answer is, I think, obvious: they did it for the money.

It might also sound like I think the G.I. Bill was a bad idea. I do, but only because I think higher education should be available to everyone in the country, not just military veterans. But along with that, universities need to pitch themselves back to the 5% — or 10%, or 20% — of the population that can actually benefit from a university education. And that cannot happen unless higher education is not the only gateway into a decent living wage.

A recent headline blared the following: “Back to College — The Only Gateway to the Middle Class“. Interestingly, it’s an article by Robert Reich, and he’s making pretty much the same point that I am.

Higher education has become merely one more way to discriminate against people under a moral system that says, “work is virtue,” but has too little work to offer full employment (and very shady reasons for that). It’s really no different from racism, or sexism, or religious discrimination. You aren’t white, so you don’t get a job. You don’t have a penis, so you don’t get a job. You aren’t Christian, so you don’t get a job. You don’t have a college diploma, so you don’t get a job.

But you have to have a job to have permission to eat, and to look anyone in the eye.

The big difference is, we don’t have a loan-sharking industry lining up black people and offering them an opportunity to indenture themselves in return for a “white certificate” that will (supposedly) let them past the discriminatory gate. Or offering women a “penis certificate.”

Now, there’s an opportunity….

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New Music: Autumn Reverie

This came to me shortly before our Lughnasadh celebration this Fall, the celebration of the sun god Lugh in the Old Calendar, the celebration of Lammas or Loaf Mass in the Middle Calendar, the celebration of high summer and first harvest in the New Calendar.

It’s a simple but powerful melody. I hope I’ve done it justice.

http://www.themonthebard.org/music

Enjoy!

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On Dismissing the Right

Some months ago, we took our grandson, Luca, to the Museum of Natural History in Denver, and when we brought him back to his house, it had begun to drizzle. His house has the garage and automobile access in the rear, so we faced the question of how to get in. The conversation went something like this:

Grandma: So how are we going to get into your house?
Luca: Open the garage door.
Grandma: But we don’t have a garage door opener.
Luca: (thinking) Walk around and go in the front door.
Me: I have a better idea. Let’s jump up on the roof and dig a hole in the ceiling.
Luca: NOOOOO! (amused and slightly outraged)
Me: Okay, how about if we dig a big hole in the ground and go in through the basement?
Luca: NOOOOO! (outraged and slightly amused)
Me: (pouting) How come no one likes my ideas?
Luca: (exasperated) Because your ideas are no good!

I’ve frequently heard the claim that “right-wing ideas” are dismissed out-of-hand by people on the left. There are, I think, three basic reasons for this.

One is the following, as a reader responded to one of my recent posts:

I am constantly shaking my head at those who dismiss anyone who has a viewpoint other than their own as evil, stupid, ignorant, racist, or what have you, anything that means that their arguments don’t have to be addressed.

That certainly happens. J.M. Greer calls these labels and phrases “thoughtstoppers” — a shorthand notation that cuts off discussion and rational thought alike. One of his favorites is the phrase, “They’ll think of something.” One of my favorites is, “I’m not a scientist.” Both translate roughly as, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m not about to change my opinion. So stop arguing with me.”

A second reason for dismissing right-wing thought, is that a lot of it isn’t to be taken seriously in the first place. As that same reader noted:

When phrases like “Disaster Capitalism” and “media agitprop that passes itself off as ‘conservative’” are used, it appears very similar to me to the mode of thinking of conservatives as cartoon villains cackling to themselves about how they will destroy the world and get away with it while their brainwashed minions dutifully cheer their own demise.

The problem, of course, is that there are cartoon villains out there, specifically paid to be cartoon villains. They each have various internal rationalizations for playing the role, but the most common excuse is, “I’m just doing my job.”

For instance, I’ve heard, from a friend who knows Anne Coulter, that she thinks it’s fun and funny to bait liberals (whom she considers stupid) and watch them foam at the mouth in response to her outlandish statements. It’s certainly plausible; she gets paid well enough for that kind of coarse entertainment. Rush Limbaugh makes his living by raising blood pressures all around the country, and I doubt he believes even half of what he says on the air. Fox “News” has always had direct ties to tabloid journalism, and a lot of its reports belong in exactly the same category as Bigfoot and Bat-Boy.

A lot of “right-wing thought” in the media sphere isn’t thought at all — it’s entertainment. It’s a coarse joke in poor taste.

On the more sinister side, there are recurring reports of CIA and NSA involvement in both mass media and social media: not merely passively spying, but also feeding all kinds of warped opinion and falsehoods into the data streams, designed to shift public opinion as part of an ongoing social-control study and strategy. Facebook has publicly apologized for its own social research and experimentation along these lines. It’s easy and cheap; there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t do this, especially if they thought they were countering the efforts of foreign governments trying to do exactly the same thing. And there is no reason to believe foreign governments aren’t doing this.

How easy is it? One of the simplest methods is the paid Internet troll, which is someone who is paid to post to the comments section of different (targeted) websites to disrupt discussion or move it in a particular direction. It doesn’t take much: a racist comment written in capital letters, a little name-calling, a few bogus factoids, a slogan, a catchphrase, a cluster of similar opinions posted by the same person with different Internet personas. The cruder forms of this are actually automated, like e-mail spam.

My site doesn’t get enough total hits to merit that kind of attention; I know others with more popular sites, who have to moderate their sites relentlessly to weed out the trolls. One author occasionally lets a troll’s message through and then dissects it so that the rest of his readers can see the anatomy of a paid trolling.

Of course, it isn’t just foreign governments and spooks doing this. We also have all of the deliberate lies and misrepresentations put out by politicians, corporate advertising departments, public-relations firms, and “think tanks.” Any popular site that criticizes fracking, for instance, will instantly attract a horde of industry-paid trolls decrying the idiocy of any anti-fracking sentiment. There’s a long tradition of “science deniers” who are specifically paid to publish contrary opinions — and it goes back a lot further than the tobacco lobby.

I remember a purple mimeographed newsletter in the main physics office when I was an undergraduate, placed there by an organization called DOTGU — Defenders Of The Geocentric Universe — and they were proposing a cash award for anyone who could come up with a mathematical justification for their geocentric beliefs. I found myself momentarily tempted by both the cash (I think it was $100, which was a lot of beer in those days) and a mean-spirited Coulteresque contempt for these DOTGU true believers.

I’m glad now that I didn’t sink to the challenge. Starting down that road is one way to lose your soul.

The people who do this kind of paid propaganda work are like paid assassins: though an assassin commits premeditated murder, there is almost always some internal justification based on a “higher calling,” typically some form of laser-focused patriotism or religious conviction. That may be needed to sleep at night after killing people; “I’m just doing my job” is sufficient for lying about the features of a product, or convincing some fool to pay for the extended warranty, or disrupting a discussion about alternatives to fracking. The banality of evil is one of the more horrifying ideas Joss Whedon played with in his brilliant black-comedy horror film, Cabin In The Woods.

Regardless of internal rationalizations about a “higher calling,” paid assassins are still committing premeditated murder. And paid Internet trolls are still warping public discourse with the intent to warp said discourse. From the outside, they look very much like cartoon villains.

The people who fall for their deceptions look, from the outside, a lot like brainwashed minions, cheering their own demise.

For the record, I’ve fallen more than once into the brainwashed minion category myself. These people are very good at what they do, and they make it a bloody, tiring nuisance to stay ahead of them. Some days, you blink.

But there is a third reason right-wing ideas get discarded. It’s because the ideas themselves, as my grandson so aptly pointed out regarding my suggestions for entering his house, are simply no good.

A lot of conservatives seem to think their ideas are new. They aren’t. Most of them are coming around for the second or even third time during my lifetime. A lot of the better ideas have been field-tested, multiple times, and have failed spectacularly in exactly the same way each time they’ve been tried. For instance, Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of economic theory is nothing but a new coat of paint on the laissez faire capitalism of the late 1800′s, and since Uncle Milt’s ideas gained predominance in the 1980′s, we’ve found ourselves playing out the Gilded Age all over again. Big, feathery surprise.

The point being this: a lot of us are already thoroughly familiar with right-wing ideas, and we’ve already concluded — often after considerable thought and research — that the ideas are simply no good.

As a specific example, I’ve personally done due diligence on Social Security, and what I’ve found is that every single right-wing complaint about Social Security, going all the way back to Alf Landon in the 1930′s, is completely bogus: as in, “factually false and logically deceptive.” I’ve yet to meet anyone from the right who understands what the real problem with Social Security is, and yes, there is one. Worse, as with Obamacare, the right wing has absolutely nothing to replace it with, even if their arguments against Social Security held merit, which they don’t.

It’s like someone who says that we need to get rid of water treatment plants, because they make our drinking water purple and sticky. They don’t make the water purple and sticky — furthermore, if we got rid of water treatment plants, what would we do with sewage?

Silence.

So any time someone trots out one of the right-wing Social-Security-is-Evil tropes, demanding that “right-wing ideas be given a fair hearing,” I just sigh and feel tired inside. No, I don’t listen attentively to each rant about Ponzi scams. Yes, it’s rude of me. I’m sorry for that. But the “discussion” has lost all its charm.

I’d frankly prefer to have a discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness at my door.

There’s another simple fact that needs to be pointed out. Liberal social democracy has held the public imagination since at least the 1930′s. The four competing (modern) Republican ideals of plutocracy, theocracy, empire, and free-market anarchy, are extreme minority opinions at this time.

Part of the right/left split is, in itself, propaganda that declares a false “balance” between right and left. It seeks to erase our public awareness of the overwhelming majority of opinion favoring liberal democratic socialism over the political structures promoted by the right wing.

As a result of this propaganda, most people on the right seem to think that plutocracy merely means a liberal social democracy where anyone can get rich. Or that empire-building involves preaching liberal social democracy until everyone in the world worships the US for its liberal democratic freedoms and decides on their own to emulate us. Or that a theocracy is just an enlightened liberal social democracy where none of that “gay” stuff is going on. Or that free-market anarchy is a liberal social democracy where taxes are low.

If these ideas were anything but fiction, then certainly, we could have a friendly discussion about what flavor of liberal social democracy we wanted. Would we rather be rich or popular? Ooo… tough question.

There’s a series of stories by Jack Chalker from the 1980′s, one of which involves a naughty wizard who escapes from his magical world and ends up in our world, where he uses magic and television to become a televangelist/political demagogue intent on taking over the world for truly depraved purposes. He is thwarted in the end when his opponents slip a Djinn’s bottle into his podium, and tweak his live-broadcast teleprompted speech slightly to read something like, “I wish you could all truly see the future I have planned for you.” The Djinn grants his wish, and a crippling wave of horror and nausea sweeps around the world, ending his political career.

A real plutocracy is a class-driven society. Imperial growth involves relentlessly killing anyone who gets in the way. Theocracy involves enforced religious observance. Free market anarchy is made up of price-fixing cartels and getting cheated regularly in trade with no recourse.

These are all very far removed from a liberal social democracy where people get together for lunch after church on Sunday, work only five days a week, send their kids to school in the fall. If people had a clear idea of how these right-wing ideas work out, there would be no modern Republican Party.


I don’t want to end on that note, because while the right wing has bad ideas, I think their instincts are more or less sound. The government we have is not the government we need, nor the government we want.

Those who support the plutocrats want upward mobility in society. They want the prospect of inventing a better mousetrap and getting rich themselves. It’s a good instinct.

Those who support the empire builders want the nation to be respected internationally. That’s also a good instinct.

Those who support theocracy want a strong ethical core to the nation. I have no quarrel with that.

Those who support the Tea Party believe the government is too big and far too intrusive in our private lives. I fully agree.

These are all sound instincts, worthy of respect. But when it comes to how to address these concerns … holy cow!

Let me pick just one final example to make plain this mismatch of ideals and methods. There’s the Grover Norquist/Tea Party idea of “starving the beast,” which means to shrink the overreach of government by squeezing off its sources of revenue, through lowering taxes.

Why do we want to shrink the government in the first place? It’s because we don’t trust the government to do the right thing with the money they’re collecting. So we cut off tax money, and now we magically expect this untrustworthy government to cut the right things?

Really.

Of course, this also ignores the fact that Congress no longer depends on taxes at all. It authorizes the budget, the Fed prints T-Bills to cover the expenses, and taxes simply pay back the T-Bill investors. If there aren’t enough taxes collected, Congress raises the debt ceiling, rolls last year’s debt into this year’s run of T-Bills, and the federal deficit rises. Low taxes simply means a growing federal deficit. Congress doesn’t care: they get to spend the money either way.

Cutting taxes as a way to force an untrustworthy government to clean up its act is like slashing a drug-addicted counterfeiter’s welfare check to “force” him to get clean and take a productive job. It’s every bit as bad an idea as cutting a hole in the roof during a rainstorm to get into the house.

So I’m personally not interested in hearing any more “ideas” from the right wing. They’re terrible at it.

But I’m not opposed to their instincts, which are not so bad.

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Police Brutality

The events swirling through Ferguson, Missouri, are still leading news items. People are decrying the “militarization” of the police, but that isn’t the real issue: the issue is plain, old-fashioned brutality.

Brute na savagely violent person or animal; adj. unreasoning and animal-like.

This issue is the inappropriate instigation and escalation of violence by the police. It doesn’t matter whether they do it with a military-grade carbine, or a night-stick, or bare fists and boots.

Let me be up-front about race. I’m white. I’m male. I live in a town that’s white enough to press and use as a wedding dress. I’m upper-middle-class, and I’m pushing 60.

I’ve had only a handful of direct encounters with police, and the cops have always been respectful and professional.

I’m very aware that my treatment at the hands of the police is a function of privilege, and that privilege that is almost entirely the result of accidents of birth.

So I’m fully aware that there is a racial component to this, and that racial issue is tied to five centuries of anti-black bigotry on this continent.

But this issue isn’t about race. It’s about the growing brutality of our law enforcement.

To the police chiefs and county sheriffs and other top-level administrators who enable and whitewash and hide this kind of brutality, I have a simple message: you are idiots. You are cutting your own throats, endangering your men for decades to come, and in the process, you are not even doing your job.

Let me explain in simple words why this is the case.

I’ve personally witnessed only one act of police brutality, and as such things go, it was pretty mild: no one was crippled or died.

I was in City Park on July 4 of 2005, and watched a short, white cop frogmarch a tall, shirtless, young white man in handcuffs across the grass for who-knows-what. The young man was mouthing off fiercely, but was marching in front of the cop with no resistance other than his foul mouth. The cop decided to face-plant the kid in the grass by tripping him (with his hands tied behind his back), a maneuver which could have cracked the kid’s kneecaps, smashed his face, or broken his neck. Comically, the cop was too short and the kid was too tall, and the kid just stepped over the cop’s leg, not even pausing in his stride or verbal tirade. It wasn’t until the cop tried to trip him the second time that the kid realized what was happening and stopped walking. After the third failure to bring the kid down by tripping him while pushing in the middle of his back, the cop switched to a pain-hold, locking the kid’s elbows and lifting his bound arms: but the kid was young and flexible, bent over to relieve the pain, and the cop was too short to lift any higher. So they danced around, the kid screaming, until a half-dozen other cops “rushed to the rescue,” tackled the kid, and formed a cordon so no one could see what was happening on the ground inside, though we could all hear the screaming and cursing — some of it from the cop, whose face was flaming, blotchy red as he vanished inside the cordon.

The sad part of this whole incident is that the cop initially had the situation completely under control. He then lost control because he chose to escalate the situation with a take-down move that the department assured me isn’t even allowed, and then executing it so incompetently that he could easily have recovered control by simply pretending it hadn’t happened: the kid hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t until the second gratuitous provocation that the kid realized he was being provoked.

Anyone want to try to tell me the cop was “just doing his job?”

I reported this incident, formally and in writing, as did numerous other witnesses, and the police mounted an investigation — we know that much, because we were interviewed by Internal Affairs. But then, the whole case vanished into the secrecy of the police bureaucracy, and we — the public — never heard another word. Nor will we ever, per police policy.

This is, of course, a far cry from shooting an unarmed kid with his hands in the air, or beating someone to death, or suffocating them with a chokehold, or sodomizing them with a nightstick. I certainly do realize that. But what I witnessed is merely a somewhat cleaner corner of the same filthy rag that has been wiped over Ferguson, MO.

Police brutality: senseless escalation of violence, through gratuitous police bullying and abuse.

Here’s my point to the police: I’m now scared of them. I’m scared of them. I’m scared of them. I don’t really trust even my age and white privilege to keep them from knocking me to the ground, kicking me in the gut, or prying my eyes open after I’m cuffed to dose me with pepper spray, all because they were amped up on testosterone and adrenaline, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t move fast enough to suit their mood. Or maybe just for the pure, cruel hell of it.

Now, I’m a mild-mannered guy, someone who is more likely to freeze like a rabbit in the face of a threat, than resort to violent action. If that weren’t the case — if I were a man prone to violence with a hair-trigger temper — the bullying incident I witnessed nine years ago could easily have created a potential human bomb, primed to be unleashed on some future cop over a jay-walking incident. I wasn’t the only person who witnessed this incident: maybe one of the other witnesses was a guy with a short fuse.

That short, ill-trained, red-faced rookie with a little dick and a big compensation issue, has put other cops’ lives at risk for at least a decade.

So just what do you suppose the situation in Ferguson has done?

Amidst all the media noise in this, one of the clearest moments for me was the police officer who was broadcast by CNN on national television while shouting at an enraged crowd, “Bring it, all you fucking animals! Bring it!”

Those are the words of a goddamned fool. He is begging an angry mob to rip into his men. He is asking them to tear the limbs off his fellow officers, and then hang his broken body from a lamppost and set fire to it. That’s what mobs do, and he’s inciting that kind of violence. Against himself, and his own comrades.

His fellow officers should have shut down and arrested this out-of-control cop on the spot, and disciplinary measures should include at a minimum being dismissed from the force and blacklisted for life, throughout the country, for any possible kind of police or military job whatsoever. In days past, he’d also have been horsewhipped in the public square: and I note that horsewhipping leaves painful, lifelong scars.

But we all know that isn’t going to happen. The officer who tried to incite the crowd to unconstrained violence will face – if anything at all — a nice father-son chat with his superiors, maybe a little administrative leave, and he might see his promotion schedule derailed by a few months. But he’ll stay on the force, and will be “supported” by his comrades, and he will remain exactly the same unrepentant, incompetent threat to himself, his companions, and the community.

We all know that this is how the police bureaucracy plays out – even if it isn’t true, it’s how we all know it works, because the “code of silence” ensures we never learn otherwise. As a result, the police forces in Ferguson will remain in dire jeopardy for generations.

I note that this is precisely why they didn’t dare release the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown until he had a chance to skip town. It was because of all the damage that has been done over the course of generations by bullying, racist cops with little dicks and big compensation issues; the Ferguson community is scared of them, and every member of that community is a potential bomb waiting to go off. The cops know this, which is why they feel they need tanks to control the community.

So I’ll say it again: you police chiefs and county sheriffs and top level police administrators in the Ferguson area are idiots, and you’ve put, and continue to put, your men, your communities, and law itself at risk.

The solution is simple, if unpalatable. It’s called truth and reconciliation, followed by transparency.

We’ve seen what happened in Ferguson when the highway patrol stepped in, put their guns away, and walked with the protesters. The shift was immediate, and dramatic. Ferguson has no beef with the State Highway Patrol. The State Highway Patrol has no beef with Ferguson.

The problem is not this community of black people. The problem is the local police, and the code of silence they hide behind.

The name of the officer who shot Michael Brown has been released. That’s a good step. Whether that officer ultimately goes to prison depends on a trial. Whether that officer remains on the force does not depend on a trial, and the community needs to know — and the police officers themselves need to know — that if you shoot an unarmed black kid, you lose your job. It’s one of the risks of the profession, right along with getting shot and killed by real criminals.

The police chief who thinks it’s the citizens’ fault for getting tear-gassed needs to resign, and needs to be replaced by someone who has some vague concept of how to actually de-escalate violence and keep protesters from rioting.

The “fucking animals” guy? He does need to be horsewhipped. His unit, which stood by and let him incite the crowd, needs to be disbanded for incompetence and being “unclear on the concept” of what police work is about. Their commanders need to be demoted or fired for letting such a testosterone pustule fester in the first place. And this all needs to be public and visible, because the community needs to know that this kind of thing will not be tolerated.

Just as, here, it would relieve my mind to know that the short white guy with a badge who thought it would be fun to face-plant a handcuffed prisoner nine years ago, is no longer doing police work.

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World View and A**holes

Some years ago, I took a series of courses in Boulder called Higher Alignment, put together by a man named Larry Byram. It’s a fascinating course, and a lot of the insights I gained in the course form some of the bedrock under my relationship with Marta, my wife.

I want to talk about just one of these concepts, which Larry calls World View. Larry likes sevens — nearly all of his categories have seven distinct types or stages, and world view is no exception. Unlike most of his categories, world view is a progression — that is, it isn’t a “type,” like the Myers-Briggs INTP or ESFJ “personality type.” Each person can potentially pass through all seven World View stages in the course of a lifetime. While the age for any transition is highly variable, the progression itself is not; that is, it would be rare for anyone to skip a stage entirely, or to run through them in a different order, for reasons that will become obvious. However, it’s very possible for a person to become stuck at any stage and stop progressing, which results in certain consequences.

Let’s run through these briefly.

Stage one is Survival. Most people pass through this stage by the age of two or three. Survival stage does not really recognize people as “people,” but instead sees them as functions: food source, diaper changer, tear-wiper, bedtime-story-teller.

A person who remains stuck in Survival into adulthood typically ends up living on the street, begging for sustenance from people who aren’t really people at all, in their view, but vending machines or dangerous beasts. Remaining stuck in Survival could be viewed as a failure to thrive.

Stage two is Safety/Security. Most people pass out of this stage by age five to twelve. People are now viewed in terms of safe/not-safe, us/them, good/bad. A typical image of this is the four-year-old hiding behind Mommy’s skirts.

A person who remains stuck in Safety/Security into adulthood tends to view the world in black-and-white terms, as good guys and bad guys, with simple right/wrong solutions. They respect authority absolutely, and view relationships hierarchically. Life is about avoiding threats, or overcoming them with force.

Stage three is Outer Success. Most people pass out of this stage in the late teens or early adulthood. People are now viewed as an audience. A typical image of this is the boastful sixteen-year-old “faking it” or “showing off.”

A person who remains stuck in Outer Success can be easily recognized in the obnoxiously shallow “successful” person, who measures worth by the speed of his car, the size of her house, the bustline of his trophy wife, the size of her wedding ring. These are, of course, stereotypes, but this is a stage obsessed with stereotypes: distinguishing between the “cool” and the “not cool” is at the very heart of Outer Success.

Stage four is Relationship. Quite a few people never leave this stage, but when they do, it’s generally in the mid to late forties. People are now viewed as individuals, and as potential romantic partners. A typical image of this is a young parent in a child-rearing family, or young metrosexuals hooking up; but it also applies to any kind of one-on-one relationship, such as child-parent, or close adult friendships.

A person who remains stuck in Relationship, if they have stumbled into a really supportive and stable couplehood, can live out a happy life – at least until the relationship ends, either because the other person dies, or decides to move on. At that point, a person stuck in the Relationship stage may simply crumble, or they may be driven to find another partner, often younger, perpetually trying to recapture that sense of young love. Or they may become bitter, and simultaneously desperate and reluctant to trust.

Stage five is Inner Success. Most people who make it to this stage never leave it; if they do, it may be in their sixties or seventies. This is the point at which “I” become clearly visible to myself: “people” includes oneself. A typical response to this stage is what my wife says about her fiftieth birthday, when she told herself, “I have arrived.”

This is the point Carl Jung referred to as “shadow integration,” recognizing and accepting all the things in yourself that you pushed away in order to “grow up.” These can be dark things, like a temper or childhood abuse memories, but they can also be bright things, like an artistic talent or an interest in mathematics – the shadow is anything suppressed for the sake of whatever was expected of you as an adult.

Inner Success brings a kind of balanced self-sufficiency, without the driving need for that Magic Someone in your life. Many people who reach this point give up on “relationships” entirely and buy a dog. If they do later engage with another person, it’s generally not based on needs being met, but on full lives being shared. The term “self-actualized” is sometimes used for this stage. Because most people who make it this far stop here, it’s not really appropriate to talk about getting “stuck.”

Stage six is Personality Integration. Not a lot of people move into this stage, and even fewer leave it. This is the point at which community becomes visible as an extension of oneself. People in this stage can be clearly seen as community elders and supporters, whether the “community” is an extended family, a church, a club, or an entire city.

Note that this is very different from community leaders who are in the game because it makes them feel safe, or because it is a mark of success and opportunity, or because it’s expected of them. These are instead the people who are willing to give to the community, because as they see it, giving to the community is giving to themselves. When you see this in anyone under sixty — and it happens — it is something extraordinary.

This is the point at which contrasexual integration is generally necessary, because if you are man, you need to be able to see the women in your community as reflections of yourself, and vice versa for the woman. Every man has an “inner woman” — every woman has an “inner man” — every other kind of sexual being has an “inner other.” To see others in the community as oneself requires that you transcend that sexual model, as well as any other fixed roles that exist mixed-up within the community, such as class, race, or religion: hence, the term Personality Integration.

Again, getting “stuck” in this stage is a misnomer, since most people who get here at all, stay here.

Stage seven is World Service. Very few people move into this stage, and usually have extraordinary character, or are shaped by extraordinary events. This is the point at which one’s community becomes the entire world, and the world is a reflection of oneself. It is the point where “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes “do unto others as if they were you, because they are.” We generally recognize people who work consistently in this stage as saints of one sort or another.

It’s worth looking at some of the transitions that mark the passage from one stage to another, because they tend to be more abrupt and identifiable than the stages themselves.

Moving from Survival to Safety/Security generally coincides with a child learning abstract boundaries: don’t touch, don’t put that in your mouth, don’t go outside at night, don’t talk to strangers. A child in the Survival stage doesn’t understand boundaries — a child in Safety/Security does, and while they’ll test the boundaries to make sure they are still there, they do this because it is terrifying to be on the wrong side of the boundary.

Moving from Safety/Security to Outer Success is marked by the beginnings of conscious risk-taking behavior outside the safe boundaries, as well as the onset of “peer pressure.” A child in Safety/Security looks to his parents for approval — a child in Outer Success looks to her audience of peers.

The move from Outer Success to Relationship is marked by the discovery of romance and deep friendship. I particularly remember watching a bunch of young folks in the airport, flying to Cancun for a wedding, all in their early 20′s. It was very easy to spot the one young woman in Relationship stage: she was very “into” her man, touching him, listening to him, wanting to be noticed by him. He, however, was still in Outer Success, sitting with his back to her, talking loudly and showing off for the audience of his peers, all of whom were just as busy trying to look good in front of everyone else.

The move from Relationship to Inner Success is pretty much the essence of the so-called mid-life crisis. From the outside, it looks terrible. And sometimes, irrecoverable blunders are made, and mid-life crisis is terrible. But more often, it is a time of true blooming, freedom, and expansion of the spirit, which is why it can be so devastating to Relationship stability. A common response of the person who is still in Relationship stage while their partner is transitioning to Inner Success is, “I don’t know you any more.” That’s an accurate perception.

The transition from Inner Success to Personality Integration is not something I’ve experienced (yet), but it’s marked by the appearance of passion for community service or social responsibility that is more than just joining a homeowner’s board or the PTA. We’ve all seen this: these are the people who pull a community together, because they see the community as something worth pulling together.


Now, the reason all this came up — apart from discussing it at Dragonfest in the context of many of our group feeling a growing internal push into Personality Integration — was a posting on Facebook that took me to Andrew W. K.’s blog, and the article “My Dad Is A Right-Wing Asshole.”

I liked Andrew’s answer, though it was too long (as if I have any right to complain about that, ever). But just scolding someone and telling them to “humanize” the assholes in their life is not actually very helpful. I find that I usually have to understand the assholes, first.

This is where this concept of World View comes in very handy, because it’s very easy to see that many, if not most assholes are just people who have gotten themselves wedged — they’re stuck in a World View that isn’t at all charming at their age. It’s especially painful when it’s your parents who are stuck, and you — as the child — outgrow them.

In this case, the young man is clearly well into the Relationship stage, since the core of his complaint is that he doesn’t have a satisfying relationship with his father, and wants one. If the young man were still in Outer Success, he’d be complaining that his father was “clipping his wings” or “oppressing” him. If he were still in Safety/Security, he wouldn’t be complaining at all.

The father, by contrast, is most likely stuck in Safety/Security, which is the case for most “right-wing assholes.”

What the young man is asking Andrew is, “How can I have a relationship with my father?” The answer is, unfortunately, “You can’t.”

What the young man views as a “relationship” is probably something his father can’t even imagine. For the father, there’s an established hierarchy: there is the father, and there is the son. Good sons listen to fathers, and follow their example — sons who don’t, are bad sons (and this represents failed fatherhood). Fathers, in turn, listen to their (insert recognized authority figure here, e.g. “minister” or “Rush Limbaugh”), and so it goes up through the chain of command to God. There is Right, and there is Wrong, and all of it is handed down through the hierarchy.

That’s how parents set boundaries for young children, to keep them safe. “Don’t touch the electric socket.” Or, “Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge.”

The father may have never considered taking a substantial risk of any sort in his life; if he did, the results were likely terrible and he retreated into a safe space with safe boundaries and never came back out. Both are common histories for people stuck in the Safety/Security stage past the age of twelve.

So the “growing up” that the son needs to do — and it is painful — is to accept his Dad’s efforts as the best he can manage, and hope that, someday, his Dad will become unstuck. There’s a lot of natural psychological pressure inside his Dad to do just that, but if the risk of becoming unstuck threatens his sense of security, he’ll fight to remain stuck.

One of the best things his son can do to help his father, is to be a “good son” in his father’s eyes. This will mean not sharing a lot of things that I’m sure he’d like to share. It will mean keeping his mouth shut when he wants to speak, and keeping his temper when he’d like to let it fly. It will mean having a “stunted” or even “fake” relationship with his father, though this should never, ever extend to any kind of deception: the absolute worst thing he can offer his father is betrayal. It will be a difficult road to walk.

But if his father can see him as a good son, he will be able to stop worrying about having failed as a father. That will give him a path to move into Outer Success — “Look at my fine son!” he can say to his audience of peers.

That may give him a path through Outer Success into Relationship. From there, the son’s father will be able to see his son, not as a potential threat to his adequacy as a father, nor even as a “success” to be paraded before the church or Rotary Club, but as a real human being. At that point, perhaps the son can have the relationship he so desperately wants.

Perhaps.

Nowhere is it written that a son is entitled to a good relationship with his father.

A word has to be said about the son’s sense that his father’s assholishness is destroying the world. I think Andrew is right about this. The boy’s father is not destroying the world. We are all destroying the world, at least to the extent that it is actually being destroyed.

However, I’m going to guess that Andrew is wrong in saying that the father “thinks for himself.” That is as unlikely as it is irrelevant. Most likely, the father receives all of his thinking from On High, probably through the Fox Entertainment Channel and his religious community. While that sounds contemptible to anyone who has transitioned to Outer Success or beyond — that is, to most people over the age of twelve — it is the natural order of things in the world of Safety/Security and those who are stuck there.

The son’s anger might be better channeled, not against his father, but against the more predatory assholes who manipulate men like his father for personal gain, and give him authority figures who set the bar for decency so low.

That is an entirely different post.

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