Education for Life, not Empire

Boyce Brown I Education I Commentary I December 19th, 2014

Nowhere more so than in America does the "objective of all human arrangements" strive to distract "one's thoughts to cease to be aware of life" (Nietzsche, 1983, p. 154) and to use technology to arrange "the world so that we need not experience it" (Frisch, 1957, p. 178). This seriously mitigates against America waking up soon enough to make a mid-course correction to survive.

The structural problems of the world capitalist system in general, and America in particular, have reached critical mass and are likely to precipitate a crisis of epic magnitude in the very near future. "The ideological celebration of so-called globalization is in reality the swan song of our historical system" (Wallerstein, 1998, pp. 32-33). Until this scenario is played out - or education for once decides to abandon the status quo in favor of the progress of humankind - any talk of educational reform or improvement is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

America's last hope for survival is to (1) create a cadre of people with transformed ways of being in the world who could create the liberated territory of the new society, embryonic islands of alternative culture that may grow into each other, like a reef displacing the sea, (2) speak truth to power and isolate how the evil is done, and (3) walk a long march through the primary institutions of society, emplacing righteous people in strategic positions of responsibility in the courts, media, think tanks and elsewhere - most especially - the schools

There we must facilitate the immediate emergence and implementation of a philosophy of education for peace, social justice and sustainability, with domain content areas rectified accordingly to make visible the repression of the hidden curriculum. We must also reimagine the social relation of the education encounter in a way that escapes reiterating the existing social relations of domination, subordination, extrinsic motivation and credentialing.

Considering how long the odds of these things actually happening are, the future looks grim indeed for America's two hundred year plus experiment with democracy. By waiving their obligation to provide informed consent as the governed in exchange for overconsumption and "protection" from manufactured fears, the people have grown accustomed to using material goods to satisfy non-material needs. In this sense, it could be argued that America itself has become mired in a suspended state of preadolescence.

As developmental psychologist Melanie Klein put it:

The small child becomes dominated by the fear of suffering unimaginable cruel attacks, both from real objects and its super-ego...The vicious circle that is set up, in which the child's anxiety impels it to destroy its object, results in an increase of its own anxiety, and this once again urges it on against its objects, and constitutes a psychological mechanism which, in my view, is at the bottom of asocial and criminal tendencies in the individual (Klein, 1975, pp. 249, 251).

The same diagnosis goes for America and its "leaders." Education will have to play a central role in returning the First World to mental health. Then, the world may stop tolerating an economic and political system that robs us of our natural joy, freedom, dignity, curiosity, and the full development of our faculties. Only then will we stop profaning the miracle of our ability to think, imagine, and use tools.

To regain our natural propensity to love, be creative, and live in harmonious connection with the earth will require a major shift in character and a wholesale healing of perception. As Edward Dowling has said, "The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first the widespread delusion among the poor that we have it, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it" (cited in Pilger, 2008, para. 1). Until that cherished illusion is shattered, the people, like little children idolizing their infallible parents, will continue to ignore the fact that their leaders are actually willing to lie, murder, rape, swindle, harass, beat, imprison, and monitor in the name of the people on a truly epic scale while cynically manipulating religious and political symbols in an attempt to sell them a bill of goods in the service of a select group of commercial dynasties, their lackeys and trans-national corporations (especially Wall Street, Big Oil and the military-intelligence-industrial complex).

Ultimately, this transition to sanity may prove too difficult a task. Nevertheless, it must be essayed, not merely for its potential social and environmental utility but because those given the unique ability to rise to the challenge must respect the miracle entrusted to their care.

"Even if the future gave us no cause for hope - the fact of our existing at all in this here-and-now must be the strongest incentive to us to live according to our own laws and standards" (Nietzsche, 1983, p. 128).


Frisch, M. (1957). Homo faber. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Klein, M. (1975). Development of conscience in a small child. In M. Klein, Love, guilt and reparation and other works 1921-1945. London: Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Nietzsche, F. (1983). Schopenhauer as educator. In F. Nietzsche, Untimely meditations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pilger, J. (2008, June 16). In the Democratic tradition of war-making, Like all serious presidential candidates, past and present, Barack Obama is a hawk and an expansionist. Socialist Worker. Retrieved from

Wallerstein, I. (1998). Utopistics, or, historical choices of the twenty-first century. New York: The New Press.