During my usual morning-coffee scan of the press today my eyes alighted upon an article in Le Figaro
by French philosopher and secular humanist Luc Ferry in which he suggested a few possible reasons for the decline
in French education standards I recently discussed on Digital Journal.
Ferry argues – and I agree with him - that it has become unduly and vulgarly fashionable to blame the education system and our rotten-to-the-core societal values for the poor performances of “disadvantaged” children and that rare are those who have the courage and good sense to criticize certain behavioral traits being displayed by parents and the children themselves. The trait he had uppermost in his mind was the use of the term “collaborator”, which is now commonly used in France by “a new species of classroom dunce to describe the other children in the class who actually work.”
Those not familiar with France may like to know that the epithet “collaborator” is particularly serious and revealing here because unlike expressions like “teacher’s pet”, which restrict their criticism to the child-teacher relationship, “collaborator” automatically evokes memories of the refusal to fight and slavish acceptance of Nazism in WWII by the French government. In other words, the word collaborator is synonymous with someone who accepts domination by the enemy in France, that is precisely why it is used, and the enemy is society itself.
Under-performers at school used not to be proud of obtaining poor results but now they actually shout it from the rooftops it and wear it insolently on their chests like a medal. They insult anyone who doesn’t think like them from “high up on the pedestal of their mediocrity.” It is as if anyone who wants to function as a willing member of society is “collaborating” with the enemy.
He decries what he calls a hateful and violent counter-culture amongst schoolchildren which is aimed at society and education in general and teachers in particular, before going on to reprimand the unspoken and cowardly approach that has been adopted by many adults to this phenomenon. And he is absolutely right to do so, because those smug and cocky young know-it-alls we are seeing today shall inevitably be tomorrow's losers.
We are infecting our children with our own pessimism and “anti” attitude.
This does not mean of course that governments and the education system should not be looking at what they may be doing wrong with their education systems and putting things right – on the contrary, we elect them to do just that - but they are not the only culprits. When I consider the extent to which a kind of lazy pessimism has permeated Western society – in other words ourselves – it’s not surprising that kids are so skeptical about, and contemptuous of, the world they live in.
Take the recent example of French trades unionists and politicians who exhorted schoolchildren to protest and riot
in France to protest a new pension reform bill that will not even exist 10 years from now, never mind in the 45 years those schoolchildren will live before retiring. They were oblivious to the appalling cynicism which led them to encourage children to revolt against a society they are still too young to understand, and I won’t bother with going into detail about how utterly selfish protecting your pension rights whilst not wanting to contribute to your children’s pension is. But those children turned up as ordered by their elders complete with eye-drops they thought would protect them from the effects of the tear gas that rained down all around them.
Or consider Anonymous, the group of mostly schoolkid hackers who mounted DDoS attacks against the websites of companies who stopped channeling funds to WikiLeaks. Those kids were hardly aware of the implication of their actions, never mind the issues, but their spokesperson at the time said
that they were being given moral and technical support by their parents and other adults. Is that normal?
And how about the complaints after the recent student demonstrations in London by associations and certain papers about the methods used in police investigations which were launched to catch a vicious young thug who threw a fire extinguisher down from the roof of a multi-story building (see video here or above)
and which would have killed a policeman or anyone else who may have been hit by it (it missed a policeman by inches)? That was a premeditated attempt to murder someone yet it’s author is being defended. Is that normal too?
No it isn’t, but isn’t surprising either because ‘as we all know’ we are being exploited by a corrupt ruling political class which is protected by a fascist police force and does nothing but line its own pockets and the press which is supposed to denounce this state of affairs cannot do so because journalists are - of course - also part of the conspiracy (pun intended.)
And it’s because politicians and others are to blame for everything that goes wrong and we "deserve" “accountable” government that every day sees yet more self-righteous demands for inquiries and commissions and tribunals that will hopefully make them pay for their heinous deeds.
When something goes wrong with society these days it's never our fault and we no longer content ourseves by saying it’s “wrong” or “a mistaken policy” or “questionable”, we fulminate loudly to say that it is “shameful” or “inadmissible” or “scandalous” and I am just as guilty of that as anyone else.
But is that really how life is? Are things really that bad? After all, no period in history has seen so relatively few people killed in wars and social violence, we have never worked less or in better conditions, and our comfortable lifestyles – yes, even those of our poor – would be the envy of the pre-WWII generation, never mind those of centuries ago. We live longer and in better health, human rights as we know them didn’t exist before, and nor did the relative freedom of the press we enjoy.
Yet we still think things are intolerable. We have become suspicious of just about anything and everything, and we reject it. All of it.
But shouldn’t we consider our own role in this phenomenon? Are we “accountable” for nothing? Are we model and irreproachable beings whose sanctified and only role in life is to expose the faults of others? After all, we aren’t obliged to feel that way, we choose to, and if you are someone who is weak-minded enough to think that the state or “capitalism” obliges you to capitulate to the “money god”, or, worse and infinitely condescending, if you think that “the masses/sheeple” (but not you) are taken in by “them” maybe it’s time you did some serious self-evaluation.
We freely choose as adult individuals to overload ourselves with TV and the Internet, we choose to get angry, and we choose to point fingers. And we freely choose not to spend time with ourselves and not to ask ourselves if we are contributing to society in a positive way. This is because we now live in a world which is so comfortable that unhappiness is becoming valorized. Why? Because anger and dissatisfaction are strong emotions, any emotion is better than none, and let’s face it, there isn’t much to get emotional about in the easy existence we lead, an existence which dulls our senses.
Could it be that we are aiming at the wrong scapegoat? We are flailing out at our values but maybe we have created such a cushy world for ourselves that we feel guilty about it. In other words, maybe we and our society have become decadent and are doomed to failure.
But even if that were true, we would be better advised to try and find ways out of this mess instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and deliberately infecting our children with negativity and pessimism in order to expiate our own guilt for our own failures.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I have my Christmas present wish to write up and send.
I would like a fine bottle of whisky for Christmas, as well as a better camera, a box of marzipan, a year’s supply of Weetabix and a new pump for my bike. Oh, and this isn’t just for me, it’s also for my friends and the human race in general, so is there any chance of a little optimism trickling down the chimney and speading out warmly to settle gently beneath our Christmas trees?
Not too Hopeful (OK, Pessimist if you prefer.)