Pop a Zantac and try to digest McMaster prof Henry Giroux's lament on the Disappearance of Public Intellectuals. Here are a few excerpts:
As a theater of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy,
economic Darwinism removes economics and markets from the discourse of
social obligations and social costs. The results are all around us
ranging from ecological devastation and widespread economic
impoverishment to the increasing incarceration of large segments of the
population marginalized by race and class. Economics now drives
politics, transforming citizens into consumers and compassion into an
object of scorn. The language of rabid individualism and harsh
competition now replaces the notion of the public and all forms of
solidarity not aligned with market values. As public considerations and
issues collapse into the morally vacant pit of private visions and
narrow self-interests, the bridges between private and public life are
dismantled making it almost impossible to determine how private troubles
are connected to broader public issues. Long term investments are now
replaced by short term profits while compassion and concern for others
are viewed as a weakness. As public visions fall into disrepair, the
concept of the public good is eradicated...
...As the language of privatization, deregulation, and
commodification replaces the discourse of the public good, all things
public, including public schools, libraries, transportation systems,
crucial infrastructures, and public services, are viewed either as a
drain on the market or as a pathology.
...Vulnerable populations once protected by the social
state are now considered a liability because they are viewed as either
flawed consumers or present a threat to a right-wing Christian view of
America as a white, protestant public sphere. The elderly, young
people, the unemployed, immigrants, and poor whites and minorities of
color now constitute a form of human waste and are considered
disposable, unworthy of sharing in the rights, benefits, and protections
of a substantive democracy. Clearly, this new politics of
disposability and culture of cruelty represents more than an economic
crisis, it is also speaks to a deeply rooted crisis of education,
agency, and social responsibility.
...Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market
fundamentalism strip education of its public values, critical content,
and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new
subjects wedded to consumerism, risk-free relationships, and the
destruction of the social state. Tied largely to instrumental purposes
and measurable paradigms, many institutions of higher education are now
committed almost exclusively to economic goals, such as preparing
students for the workforce. Universities have not only strayed from
their democratic mission, they seem immune to the plight of students who
have to face a harsh new world of high unemployment, the prospect of
downward mobility, debilitating debt, and a future that mimics the
failures of the past. The question of what kind of education is needed
for students to be informed and active citizens is rarely asked.
What Giroux writes is quite true. His article, linked above, deserves reading in its entirety.
Voices like Giroux's are helping us to start seeing ourselves for what we have become, what we have done to ourselves and our society. There's a movement building, for example, to fundamentally reform the study of economics, to strip the discipline of its intensely theocratic orthodoxy that is so at odds with reality, that predisposes our nations to cataclysmic events such as the collapse of 2008.
At the beginning of my law studies I was lucky to spend a couple of hours talking with a visiting professor from Trinity College, Dublin. He taught Equity, the ancient, unwritten law of fairness that is sometimes used to temper harsh outcomes from the strict common law. This fellow freely criticized law schools for turning out students prepared to convey real estate, draw contracts, shave taxes and prosecute petty thieves - essentially, legal trade schools. He pointed out how subjects such as Equity and Jurisprudence (the philosophy of law) had fallen out of the mainstream of law school teaching.
When I came to practice litigation I quickly discovered the professor's take was spot on. Counsel often made either far too much or far too little out of Equity and even judges routinely stumbled over its maxims, retreating headlong for the safety of neatly written statute law. Equity became anachronistic, unpredictable and hence unreliable. What had served us for so many centuries and had tempered law to keep it in some degree of harmony with the public interest waned.
As Giroux warns, we're too readily discarding knowledge of immense value and necessity to our societies and our future generations. We can keep going down this road but at what cost?