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The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff

Posted on Dec 8, 2008
AP photo / Douglas Healey

By Chris Hedges

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and halls in places like Cambridge, Princeton and New Haven to the financial and political centers of power. 

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The nation’s elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive. They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers and rigid structures that are designed to produce certain answers. The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service—economic, political and social—come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the “specialist” and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions. It destroys the search for the common good. It dices disciplines, faculty, students and finally experts into tiny, specialized fragments. It allows students and faculty to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing moral, political and cultural questions. Those who defy the system—people like Ralph Nader—are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter. 

“Political silence, total silence,” said Chris Hebdon, a Berkeley undergraduate. He went on to describe how various student groups gather at Sproul Plaza, the center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students, a practice know as “tabling.”

“Students table for Darfur, no one tables for Iraq. Tables on Sproul Plaza are ethnically fragmented, explicitly pre-professional (The Asian American Pre-Law or Business or Pre-Medicine Association). Never have I seen a table on globalization or corporatization. Students are as distracted and specialized and atomized as most of their professors. It’s vertical integration gone cultural. And never, never is it cutting-edge. Berkeley loves the slogan ‘excellence through diversity,’ which is a farce of course if one checks our admissions stats (most years we have only one or two entering Native Americans), but few recognize multiculturalism’s silent partner—fragmentation into little markets. Our Sproul Plaza shows that so well—the same place Mario Savio once stood on top a police car is filled with tens of tables for the pre-corporate, the ethnic, the useless cynics, the recreational groups, etc.”

I sat a few months ago with a former classmate from Harvard Divinity School who is now a theology professor. When I asked her what she was teaching, she unleashed a torrent of obscure academic code words. I did not understand, even with three years of seminary, what she was talking about. You can see this absurd retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every graduate department across the country. The more these universities churn out these stunted men and women, the more we are flooded with a peculiar breed of specialist. This specialist blindly services tiny parts of a corporate power structure he or she has never been taught to question and looks down on the rest of us with thinly veiled contempt.


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I was sent to boarding school on a scholarship at the age of 10. By the time I had finished eight years in New England prep schools and another eight at Colgate and Harvard, I had a pretty good understanding of the game. I have also taught at Columbia, New York University and Princeton. These institutions, no matter how mediocre you are, feed students with the comforting self-delusion that they are there because they are not only the best but they deserve the best. You can see this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here is a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. He, along with “Scooter” Libby, who attended my boarding school and went on to Yale, is an example of the legions of self-centered mediocrities churned out by places like Andover, Yale and Harvard. Bush was, like the rest of his caste, propelled forward by his money and his connections. That is the real purpose of these well-endowed schools—to perpetuate their own. 

“There’s a certain kind of student at these schools who falls in love with the mystique and prestige of his own education,” said Elyse Graham, whom I taught at Princeton and who is now doing graduate work at Yale. “This is the guy who treats his time at Princeton as a scavenger hunt for Princetoniana and Princeton nostalgia: How many famous professors can I collect? And so on. And he comes away not only with all these props for his sense of being elect, but also with the smoothness that seems to indicate wide learning; college socializes you, so you learn to present even trite ideas well.”

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By bill payne, June 16, 2009 at 5:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Focus on current problems.

Bomb Iran nuclear electric generation facilities?

American bombing in the Gulf War knocked out 60 % of Iraq’s generation capacity, Mustafa said. Iraqi workers, overseen by Mustafa, quickly rebuilt the downed stack and painted it with the Iraqi flag. But the plant—and Iraq’s ability to generate electricity—never fully recovered.

U.S. bombing of Iraq electric power generation facilities has been largely wiped off the web.

Except for: - and the above

Case in point. Article 54 of the Geneva Conventions clearly states that destroying or rendering useless items essential to the survival of civilian populations is illegal under international law and a war crime. Hard then to explain the 1991 US bombing of electrical grids that powered 1,410 water-treatment plants for Iraq’s 22 million people. An excerpt from a 1998 US Air Force document, entitled “Strategic Attack,” chillingly explains: “The electrical attacks proved extremely effective ... The loss of electricity shut down the capital’s water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River.” A second US Defense Intelligence Agency document, 1991’s “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” predicted how sanctions would then be used to prevent Iraq from getting the equipment and chemicals necessary for water purification, which would result in “a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population” leading to “increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease

It’s not true: there was no substantial lack of power in Saddam’s Iraq. Nowadays production is around 3,100MW, which covers less than half of the country’s needs. It may be argued whether American bombing spared Iraq’s infrastructure this time, but the fact is that high-tension lines south of Baghdad were hit by bombing. At the end of April, the lucrative contract for reconstruction and renovation of Iraq’s electricity grid was awarded to the Bush-connected Bechtel Corporation. But nothing has happened so far.

Baghdad South’s power plant was conceived to generate 350MW. Slightly before Saddam’s fall it hardly generated 200. Today it generates not more than 165MW. Some high-tension lines have been attacked by the so-called Ali Baba - who can be regarded as anything between authentic Iraqi resistance or Kalashnikov-equipped bandits in search of copper to be resold in the black market. The fact remains that the Americans simply cannot patrol all of Iraq’s 17,000 kilometers of high-tension lines. US estimates are that three years are necessary to restore the electricity grid. Kharabba, not jihad, may be the US’s nemesis in Iraq.

Al-Shimari said the electricity shortages now were the worst since the summer of 2003, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam.

To combat a forecast net shortage of electricity, Turkey has decided to integrate a region close to Iran into the Iranian national electric grid and buy electricity directly from the neighboring country.

According to Ministry of Energy of Iran, Mr. Fattah, in the meeting with his visiting Qatari Energy Minister, referred to country’s electrical connection to its all land border neighbors and said The electrical grid of Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Armenia are currently connected.

Parviz Fattah pointed that the electrical connection between Iran, Russia, Syria, and Emirate is on the way.

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By lasprawl, June 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

Wow Chris, you’ve managed to articulate what I and others have been feeling for years, except in your case, it’s a well thought out piece, not a rant at a coffee shop.  Thank you so much for feeling pissed off enough to write this.

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By cyrena, April 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

Gawd, cyrena, you DO remember things related to HIM dont you! YOu must not be looking very hard, but, I am sure you can find neo-lib stories to conflict with it…stay blind.


Ah, at the risk of showing my overwhelming ignorance, would you be willing to tell me who HIM is? The HIM that you say I remember so much about? I’m clueless…sincerely clueless to what you’re talking about.

But I admit that I don’t understand much of anything that you write KDel, even when you try to fake your way out of a direct question.

This post is another example. I actually took the time to read the whole thing, but you never answered the questions. All you can talk about is ‘cuts’ v ‘increases’ but you can never site what the funds in the budget are for.

I think I asked you if you could come up with that, but alas, you haven’t. Maybe you could work on that, since you apparently have nothing better to do with your time than search for labels - left, right, center, duoploy, neo-liberal, (it’s clear that you don’t have a clue to what that even means) and then increase, decrease, blah, blah, blah.

Where’s the beef KDel? Since you know so much about the defense budget, SURELY you can at least tell us what the defense budget money is supposed to be spent on.

It’s a pretty simple concept KDel. Just look up ‘budget’ in the dictionary, or pretend like you might have paid attention at some point in time, to what is involved in putting together a ‘budget’. A household budget would be a simple exercise to start with.

At the top of the page, you’ll write Household Budget. Then, you’ll break it down based on rent/mortgage, food, transportation, utilities, insurance, medical, school expenses,dope, entertainment, clothing, (or dry cleaning) and of course you’ll find others that may be more applicable to your household than someone elses.

Once you’ve done that, you assign a dollar amount to each one of those categories, and voila, there you have a budget, and you know exactly how much you’re spending on each thing.

Now go back and do that for Obama’s Defense Budget, and maybe we can talk. Otherwise, all you’re sprouting is lies, damn lies, and statistics that mean little or nothing to anybody.

Meantime, don’t forget that President Obama will be sending you $250.00 next month. Since you hate him, you probably won’t accept it. So you can always send it to me. I’ll damn sure do my part at stimulating the economy.

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By KDelphi, April 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment

BigGuy—Good point about W—its the best trick he ever pulled on the Dems. Neo-liberals still ilke to insist that he’s stupid.

He is not the one who walked away with no retirement.

Gawd, cyrena, you DO remember things related to HIM dont you! YOu must not be looking very hard, but, I am sure you can find neo-lib stories to conflict with it…stay blind. (Glenn Greenwald) I am just posting the Update. The article is at the link…

“UPDATE III:  The author of the above-cited CQ story regarding Obama’s budget request, Josh Rogin, just emailed me, advising that he has corrected his story to reflect that last year’s defense spending total was $513 billion, not $487.7 billion as he originally reported (and as I quoted).  Thus, the increase sought by Obama in total defense spending is $14 billion rather than $40 billion.  Obviously, that doesn’t change any of the points made here—Obama is still seeking a sizable increase in the “defense” budget, not a “cut”—but I did want to note CQ’s revision to its story.”
(On the question of whether Pres. Obama is truly “cutting” defense spending…)

“Really? Cindy Williams, a defense scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former assistant director of the Congressional Budget Office, points out that Obama wants to spend 2 percent more in the next fiscal year than President Bush allocated for this year and 9 percent more than we spent last year.

Bush also planned for the defense budget (apart from Iraq and Afghanistan) to shrink slightly each year starting in 2010. Obama’s blueprint calls for the defense budget to remain about the same. “Spending will actually be higher under Obama’s plan than under Bush’s,” says Williams.

...Last year, the Defense Department asked for an increase of nearly $60 billion in the 2010 budget over what had been planned. The Obama administration declined but agreed to a smaller increase.

So conservatives should be pleased, right? Wrong. Since the increase the Pentagon got is less than it wanted, they claim Obama is “cutting” defense spending. By that logic, if you ask for a 50 percent raise and get only 10 percent, you’ve suffered a pay cut.”

So, the amounts vary, and, may even still be in the works (there’s always ‘emergency spending” which Pres. Obama has thankfully, avoided so far), but, there is no article I can see where there is a decrease. Of course, he didnt campaign on a decrease, either. I merely stated what I saw, posted a link and quoted.

Here is how an article says, that several minority coalitions feel about it:

“League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Gary Flowers, of the Black Leadership Forum, in a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) late Wednesday.

“Billions of dollars are being squandered on costly, faulty defense aircraft that may be outdated before they are ever flown, money that would be better spent in classrooms, emergency rooms and veterans hospitals.”

The left’s demands pose a looming problem for the president, who traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to build support for his budget, which has already drawn criticism from centrist Democrats for a 12 percent increase in domestic discretionary spending. This further fractures the party, with liberals focused on Obama’s call to hike defense spending by 4 percent.

Other national liberal groups including the Hispanic Federation, the League of Rural Voters, the National Congress of Black Women and the National Council of Negro Women also signed the letter.”


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By BigGuy, April 2, 2009 at 11:02 pm Link to this comment
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I graduated Wharton undergrad at Penn in 1977 with lousy grades and have had a lousy career, mostly because I was severely depressed at the start, morbidly obese most of the time, and always chose to go to a sumptuous free lunch aimed at money managers, instead of staying at my desk cold calling when I was a stockbroker.  That said, I never worked as hard in college or in my career as I did at the wealthy suburban high school where I was in many honors classes. 

Then and now, students in the Ivies who went to prep schools and/or wealthy suburban high school districts who are majoring in social sciences or history are coasting before they go on to law school or earn an MBA.  They go to college to party and make contacts and get married; they’ll earn at least a 3.00 average without much effort and will be assured admission to most any of the MBA schools but the top 5 and most any law school but the top 10.

One major demographic change since the 70’s in the Ivies is that working class Whites are underrepresented, just like Hedges wrote.  A second major change that effects our society for the worse is that the whole upper class does not feel any noblesse oblige at all.  Very few Ivy graduates born into wealth go into OCS or ROTC.  In the 1950’s, everyone who was so well-advantaged would do so because otherwise, not only would the young man not get a job, but he would also be shunned when he showed up at dad’s club.  Operation Yellow Elephant is true to life.

Some of the posts assert that George W. Bush is stupid.  That’s not true.  He remembers names and faces better than most any politician around, but he consciously chooses to ignore things.  He chose to be ignorant and to hire incompetents.

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By cyrena, April 2, 2009 at 6:28 pm Link to this comment

By hb, April 1 at 10:25 pm #

I went to and Ivy League graduate school and my advisor told me, “Question everything.”  Another professor in my former department writes for left-wing blogs.  This was in Computer Science - you are definitely taught to think and question in Computer Science.
By KDelphi, April 2 at 5:10 pm #
“was in Computer Science - you are definitely taught to think and question in Computer Science.”
What do you “question” in computer science? I’m just asking…do you meant from your CS classes?


I’ve attended NON-Ivy League schools for most of my life. (discounting the private K-12 era) Now some folks might ‘question’ that definition of non-Ivy League, (Univ of Calif folks are sometimes snobby and think that we’re as Ivy League as any of the others, and in a few cases, depending on the field, that may hold a grain of truth.)

Be that as it may, it doesn’t matter whether the school is an ‘Ivy League’ or even what the particular major field of study is, because ANY decent academic program teaches CRITICAL THINKING!! And CRITICAL THINKING involves QUESTIONING EVERYTHING!!!

In fact, it is a MANTRA in the UC system for professors and students alike. At this point, I can’t even fathom the number of professors that I’ve had who have told their classes from day one, Don’t believe everything you hear, even from me/us.

QUESTION EVERYTHING. Having been educated in that same ideology, I now do the same thing with every class I teach. I insist that they QUESTION me and everything else. Critical thinking is part of every field of study, because if you don’t ask questions you can’t learn. In fact, it’s a CORE fundamental in every field across the spectrum. I got the real meaning of this in a statistics course, where the primary text for the course was

“Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists” by Joel Best. In fact, I still use this text to teach a core/required course for the social sciences.

The whole point is not to simply ‘believe’ these so-called facts and statistics, but to QUESTION how they came to these conclusions. In other words, a good teacher or academic institution wants to know what the students think, but more importantly, WHY THEY THINK IT! Because when we begin to ‘question’ why we believe something or another thing, it leads us to some conclusions, and frequently we discover that what we always ‘believed’ was a lie.,_damned_lies,_and_statistics

So yes Kdel, we DO question everything, even in computer science, because that’s what science is about. And we are encouraged to question everything, so we don’t wind up with assholes like GW Bush, who is about as incurious a so-called President as we’ve ever had. In other words, outright STUPID!!

Another example of how stupidity evolves from those who question nothing, is your constant example of how Obama has supposedly “increased the defense budget” and you even provided a link. Nowhere in that ‘figure’ did you provide the more important details, like WHAT IS THE MONEY FOR? Is this ‘increased defense budget’ intended to purchase trillion dollar weapons systems, or might that money be to support the hundreds of thousands of now homeless vets walking the streets with all sorts of mental health issues? Might some of that money be used to repair facilities so that our vets don’t wind up in broom closets at Walter Reed? Might some of that ‘defense budget’ be used to PREVENT the food lines that we see on military bases across the country? How pathetic is it that with all of the money that Dick Cheney used to run two wars ‘off the books’ we have our troops and their defendants waiting on food lines and food stamps to survive?

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By cyrena, April 2, 2009 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment

2 of 2
Or might some of that money be intended for the training of professionals that all societies need in order to have a population with some brain power? Let’s use the example of the ARMY Corps of Engineers who do things like evaluate and prepare recommendations for our infrastructure. That would be the SAME ARMY Corp of Engineers who provided everything we needed to know about the condition of the levee system in New Orleans. Their report made it quite clear that the system would NEVER withstand a hurricane of a 4 or 5 magnitude, and even described exactly what would happen if such a hurricane occurred, and what was needed to repair or replace that levee system with something more substantial.
It was an excellent report, seeing as how everything they predicted is exactly what happened. Needless to say, it might have saved many, many, lives and property if our then thuggish Cabal in the White House had followed those recommendations. But of course they didn’t, because they weren’t about to spend any money on that. They had two wars to fight with expensive weapons. Who cared about what the Army Corps of Engineers came up with. After all, it was just black folks who would be wiped off of the map and into the gulf, so all they had to do was sit back and let it happen.
But a real statesman/leader would have paid attention to that, and now a real statesman/leader is determined to spend money to bring us into the 21st Century.
But you don’t ask those kinds of questions Kdel, and one’s intelligence/education can be at least partially assessed by the questions they ask, as well as the ones they don’t.  That’s why Max Shields and a few other here always go ape shit when I question the bullshit they try to push off. Since they can never answer any of those questions from the perspective of reality and truth, they just accuse me of somehow being wrong for questioning it. I ask for ‘proof’ and to them, (because they have none) I become the bad girl or the agitator, just because I refuse to believe what they’re selling without some verification. It’s that questioning that really drives them nuts.
And that’s where the lie of Ivy League v NON-Ivy League becomes obviously political and superficial. There is no way in hell that GW Bush would ever have made it to Yale or Harvard if he hadn’t been GW Bush, and he sure as hell wouldn’t have graduated, on account of how STUPID he is. I’d bet dollars to donuts that he never questioned a single solitary thing.
It would appear that you don’t either.
I would also add that people like you and Anarcissie are so stuck in your bitterness and envy of the supposed ‘elite’ that you can’t even discern the difference between a so-called Ivy League school or any other one, nor to you ‘get’ the point that it’s as much up to the student as it is the ‘system’ to learn or not to learn.
Example: one of my current advisors for my doctoral work is Richard Falk. He is a retired Professor of International Law at Princeton, and now teaches here on our own campus as a visiting scholar in our Global Studies Department. (which happens to be one of the best in the nation for a public institution.) He once relayed an interesting piece of information to us during a class on the illegalities of the War on Iraq. He revealed that Richard Perle had once been his student. I was flabbergasted, and blurted out loud, “Prof. Falk, you should have FLUNKED his ass!!” He responded, (with a wry tone) “well, at least I didn’t ‘indoctrinate’ him…or at least not the right way” (Accusations of ‘indoctrination’ by academics are quite routine normal from the radical right)

So yeah, unless one questions, one fails to learn, and therefore remains ignorant, or…in the case of some Ivy Leaguers, they become what we call ‘educated fools’.

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By KDelphi, April 2, 2009 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment

“was in Computer Science - you are definitely taught to think and question in Computer Science.”

What do you “question” in computer science? I’m just asking…do you meant from your CS classes?

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By hb, April 1, 2009 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I went to and Ivy League graduate school and my advisor told me, “Question everything.”  Another professor in my former department writes for left-wing blogs.  This was in Computer Science - you are definitely taught to think and question in Computer Science.

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By Akonitum, April 1, 2009 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yeah, right. Give me the worst and most consistently dumb.

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By Not from an Elite School, March 4, 2009 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Stupid people can also graduate from elite universities. The best example is George W. Bush. He led five companies to bankruptcy including the US Economy. Those who graduate with C’s and D’s from Harvard, Yale and the likes are not the brightest and the smartest. George Bush still does not what he has done.

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By Anarcissie, February 7, 2009 at 9:59 pm Link to this comment

‘Anarcissie—I dont disagree with the second part, but, do you really think that, at an Ivy League, the point of view of the poor is given equal time with the pov of the ruling classes? I dont know. I didnt go Ivy League.’

So how would you revaamp the traditional Anglo/Euro university system that the US system is based on?’

I don’t know about equal time, but the universities certainly study the views of the poor and the marginal.  You can’t control people unless you know what they think.

As I see it, the university system is the brain of the beast and when the beast dies they won’t be needed any more.  The desirable functions they perform, if any, will be performed elsewhere and otherwise.  But the context you’re thinking of may be something more or less like the present.  In that case I would suggest trying to turn the universities into democratic consumer cooperatives—that is, they’d be governed by the customers (students).  I’d suggest replacing degrees with certifications for certain sets of skills or training regardless of how they were obtained.  I’d suggest abolishing the four-year undergraduate framework/crib and integrate learning and research with “real life” where appropriate.

However, universities are so critical to maintaining a class system I am pretty sure such proposals will get nowhere and I don’t think about them very much.  If you founded a school with the attributes I’ve described I don’t think it would succeed because so many people are trained to believe that the function of the academic system is to sell tickets to get into a good economic and political class position.  If you actually need to learn anything, you learn it on the job.

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By KDelphi, February 7, 2009 at 1:54 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie—I dont disagree with the second part, but, do you really think that, at an Ivy League, the point of view of the poor is given equal time with the pov of the ruling classes? I dont know. I didnt go Ivy League.

So how would you revaamp the traditional Anglo/Euro university system that the US system is based on?

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By Anarcissie, February 7, 2009 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

KDelphi—all sorts of points of view are heard in the universities.  That’s not the problem.  It is the idea of the university which is suspect, which is attached to the class system as a way of filtering people and ideas in service to a ruling class.

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By KDelphi, February 6, 2009 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

With public funidng they could be more open and better. It would allow in points of view seldom heard in the hallowed Ivy League halls.

State universities should CERTAINLY be free—we already subsidize them. (As well as the privates, to a lesser extent)

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By Anarcissie, February 6, 2009 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

shinseiji: ’... Just to demand that the universities be opened up for workers free of charge.’

Why?  We just decided they were bad.

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By shinseiji, February 5, 2009 at 11:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Err…Its capitalism, class society.

The postwar, when the public university system was vastly expanded and the children of workers were let in, was an anomaly.  When the result was the radicalization of students in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s, the bourgeoisie reversed course pretty quick as part and parcel of the general assault of the working class from the ‘70’s until now.

So nothing new here.  Same as before WW2.

What is new and different is the degeneracy and general incapacity for rule of this generation - from the Baby Boomers on - of the American bourgeoisie, compared to its predecessors.  The phenomena observed by Hedges - the growing dogmatism of the educational process for our would-be rulers - is the outward appearance of this historical decadence, the sign of a frightened and insecure ruling class fearful for its future.

That’s a good thing in my book.  No need for any hand wringing.  No need to “fix” anything for the ruling class.  Just to demand that the universities be opened up for workers free of charge.

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By ecw, December 30, 2008 at 11:43 am Link to this comment

There is an opportunity for Yale and Harvard and probably others) to become truly meritocratic.  With such enormous endowments, the interest alone would probably be enough to provide free tuition to students who would be chosen based solely on merit.  That would eliminate any class and economic bias. But I doubt if that’s really what they want.

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By jeanne, December 26, 2008 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not only has the same crowd messed up public and private sector, they have also messed up the non profit sector.  Look at the names of the boards of directors for the large non profits and charities in this country.

Most all of them are under scrutiny for the bonus’ they are receiving while there companies go bankrupt or they are being indicted or are under investigation.

Investigate the non profits next.

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By KDelphi, December 17, 2008 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

grril—I agree, except about the “money” part. As you say, you didnt figure it out until graduate school. People who are raised in homes where finance is a problem (ie hand to mouth) usually have no economic skills—and, some of us , just are not good at it.

I am not sure that you meant it that way, anyway.

I got a Pell Grant to get an Associate Degree (I had dropped out of high school to get married, so I wanted to see if I could even do it), and my BA, and then a Full Fellowship for graduate school.

It amazed me. I had a 0.0 GPA in high mean, seriously, I just did not go to class at all..I was not even at either preants’ home for most of high school—I was sleeping on beaches!

My graduate school was a State Univ. I dont think I couldve gotten a full fellowship anywhere else. The Liberal Arts school where I got my BA didnt offer grad school.

A family member went to Yale, when Duyba was there! (Can you just imagine!). They came to the same conslusion =that the brightest are not there. And I dont think it was based only on Bush!

I dont believe that it is “anti-intellectualism”-as some have said-it is not the same…I am certainly not “anti education”. I am just against the type of education that alot of people seem to be getting, and, the lack of access for people who dont have the money, or, maybe even , the school skills.

I also think that the US “meritocracy” is largely a myth. If yur family has connections, and, money, you can buy yourself about any positon you want. Education is great—but it doesnt guarantee anything. In the uS, it is only a tool of advancement.

I probably would not have been able to go if college financing had been what it is today. My father might have been willing—but I felt very strongly that 1)he had paid for my stupid, huge wedding, and the marriage lasted 6 mos and 2)I wanted to “do it myself”. I hadnt have alot of “success” up to that point.

Hillar Clinton as your commencement speaker—what was THAT like??

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By grrgirl, December 17, 2008 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment

I went to Wellesley. I know how to play the admissions game.
I was not of the upper class that most students are, but I was from the next town over.

Students there also know its games. There is one game right there in the grading process. It is called “pass/fail”. If you ever think you are not going to do well in a class you switch it to that category, and it will have no impact on your GPA.

In my required writing class I edited a paper from a student that could not write a complete sentence.

What I learned is that the best and the brightest were simply not there. When I did find solid people they invariably were out of the mainstream. There are stars in the undergrads, but they are often ill-served by the company around them.
I watched undergrads leave the school and return repeatedly, with a heavy psych/drug problems but extremely wealthy donor parents to make sure they stuck around. I saw this at other colleges as well.

I learned that college is not about learning, exploration, all the idealistic stuff they mail you.
That stuff is marketing. Because college is, above all, a business. You pay ridiculous prices for it, and very very few students comparison shop a college based on price.

I remember upon graduating there was a big pile of handwaving about the serious process by which we selected a commencement speaker. All that got tossed out the window when they got someone who was not even nominated, Hillary Clinton. Hey, its good publicity, key to marketing and business.

I decided to go to graduate school at MIT. By then I’d learned how the money game is played by the intelligent. I didn’t have any prior funding to go there, but I didn’t pay for school anymore, I knew how to get the money. If you are smart, you don’t pay. Its that simple, smart = figure out how to get other people to pay for your stuff. Pretty much everyone heading to college is therefore dumb as a rock. They were not taught that it is a cutthroat business that just wants your money, but they’ll probably learn by the end!

In *graduate* school I met some of the brightest people this country has.

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By KDelphi, December 15, 2008 at 2:07 am Link to this comment

My grandfather never finished high school….but my father, having come here with his father, went to college afer WW II, like so many others. He ended up a Doctor of Human Factors Engineering, and, believed most of his life that “education was the key to a happy life”.

Well, maybe not in his personal life, but, my parents’ marriage is another story…

He was also a professor at two local universities, (Wright State and Univ of Dayton) , Wayne State Univ in Detroit, and, now my sister is a professor at SUNY/Purhcase (married to another professor at Fordham Law)

His greatest joy in life was teaching—but, things have changed alot. When he was very sick, towards the end, he kept asking for students he remembered, and , they, for the most part, came…he loved them and they loved him.

Now, it does seem to be, mostly,about how much money can you make. There does not seem to be the intention to “question”, just for the sake of questioning, either. I was taught that that was how one learned.

I know next to nothing about Human Factors Engineering—-but he did teach me how our lives are all intertwined. That , if we are to remain human, we must care about one another. If not, we are no better than “cows”.

“Our fates rise and fall together” “The stones of justice grind slowly, but, oh, they grind so fine”

THAT seems to be hugely missing in US “society”!

“Question everything—especially conventionally accepted wisdom—-alot of it is bullshit”

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By Leisure Suit Larry, December 14, 2008 at 7:44 am Link to this comment
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By JNagarya, December 11 at 9:02 am #

“The problem begins at home where the parents want their children to “do better than they” ECONOMICALLY.

You must have grown up in a more capitalist home than I…. All my parents every wanted from me and my brothers is that we be happy and worthwhile.

I make FAR fewer dollars than did my parents, but I do think I am happier than they were!

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By Inherit The Wind, December 11, 2008 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

The idea that public primary and secondary schools in this country can’t give a fine education was given a serious challenge when one of this year’s Noble Laureates in Chemistry was noted as a graduate of a PUBLIC high school here in New Jersey.  Not a prep school, but a public school.

I don’t doubt the Harvard Business School is teaching its MBAs that actually PRODUCING something is meaningless—all you have to do is shift around resources till somebody’s fooled into thinking there’s more value there than there is.  Nor do I doubt that Harvard Law is teaching that the Law is a weapon you can bend to get whatever you want if you are just clever enough, and that the “right” side is the one that wins, nothing more.  But not every grad buys into that crap.  And I don’t think Barack or Michelle Obama bought into that crap either.  Maybe Joe Biden did, but he’s only gonna be VP, not Pres.

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By maryjvan, December 11, 2008 at 7:29 pm Link to this comment

Yes, it is about money. What isn’t? Since WW11 education has changed from learning to profit. We can"t find a job unless we have a degree. Now it is two or three and we still aren’t educated.There is So much ignorance that is hard to understand. Language has also changed and so have parents who are wasting hard earned money so little Johnny can be as rich as the Rockefellers.I see no solution unless the people give up there denial and learn they have been taken in by the experts who are the new elite class. We are all to blame.If we are really unterested in learning we can educate ourelves by reading books that is unheard of in the age of cyberspace and ego worship. We are like Humpty Dumpty who sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty Bumpty back together again.

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By Mark Lee Krangle, December 11, 2008 at 6:30 pm Link to this comment
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Straightforward observations in line with De Tocqueville. As a teacher with 11 years of university studies, I have made complimentary observations in anecdotal form that continue Chris Hedge’s thesis, and may stun you at

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By delvecc44, December 11, 2008 at 6:14 pm Link to this comment

This was an interesting article that helped me make sense of some things. Its scary though, the evilness that’s embedded in the system governing our lives today. The most twisted thing I’m slowly starting to accept is how long we’ve allowed it to go on for. I mean…are there people somewhere in a room just thinking shit up on ways to brainwash us? Because we live in a world of informal slavery starting the day we borrow our first student loan.

What’s the Value we receive in exchange for our inflated college tuition, assuming we work hard and take initiative? determined by market forces and not what we’re passionate about, a lifetime of interest payments we can’t afford, corrupt and distrustful leadership, a world that’ll easily replace us if we question or judge it, etc. How the hell did we let it get to this point?

I thought any system used to sustain our way of life had to have us believe in it. But it’s like some sick asshole a long time ago figured out how our brains worked and exchanged our choice to believe in something with legal tender. These elite schools I just read about built god damn clubhouses around a bunch of stupid secrets and brainwashed its own kids into thinking they were part of a group that identified who they were….which, come to find, are nothing more than a bunch of soulless, narcistic dumbasses that believe they’re better qualified than everyone else, not because of actual skill or ability, but because their frat brothers let them in on a little secret one night after using their faces as toilet seats. That:

      4.0 GPA + Diversity = $$$ (if minority)


1.0 <GPA< 4.0 + SKULL&BONES;= MORE $$$ (if Caucasian)
                  - $ Endowment Donations

I mean….Holy Shit, it’s been a project 200 years in the making, and this is the group of assholes that found a way to own almost all the wealth, physical assets and control over the entire country. I can’t believe they were kind enough to let the better qualified, harder working, and morally sound college graduates have control over is their denial and hope. This Sucks!

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By Virginia777, December 11, 2008 at 4:54 pm Link to this comment

This elitism starts in Elementary school, as Private Education, which segregates children along racial and economic lines.

Standardized testing is far less of a problem, than children growing up who do not learn tolerance and color blindness in school.

The Right have been busy hammering away at Public Education. Meanwhile,the elites have “elitized” themselves into a corner.

I say, more the better for us!

How about a “new” elite, based on Intelligence?

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By prosefights, December 11, 2008 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment

As a former college prof at washington state university [computer science and psychology]and a retored Sandia National Laboratories member of the techinical staff, and old-time graduate student, I have observed lots of BS in college and university. 

I consult in business and telecommunication software to keep current.  Also, I did full time consulting from 1992 until retirement in 2002 writing Windows device drivers interfacing Windows application software to hardware. 

University or college profs study under university profs who studied under university profs,... for generations back.

Book learning mostly.  Most of my university prof colleagues never worked in industry. And, quite frankly, would be useless in an industrial setting.

I got turned off after directing two PhD degrees in computer science and two in experimental psychology.

I got so turned off I wrote “Graduate education: The Ph.D. glut” on return from sabbatical leave at the computer science department at the university of illinois - urbana-champaign

My liberal arts BA gave me some insight into the way liberal arts students think.  Mostly memorizers.

I share this:

One of my fellow Whitman College classmates called our education “limited arts.”

I plan to attend our 50th in may 2009, however.

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By gairabad, December 11, 2008 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment

rich kurth:

>A little research will show that profit today is commonly based less on real value efficiently delivered and more on cutting costs: cheap labor, low grade materials, mediocre innovation, subpar service, etc.

Cutting costs means doing the same thing with fewer resources.  That’s pretty much the definition of efficiency.  People generally know whether they are getting a quality product, so if a company is cutting costs in a way that degrades their product, that probably means that their product is not one that is valued for its quality.  Do you think it’s efficient to make a high-quality product if a low-quality product is all that’s required?

People also know what service and wage levels they are paying for, so same argument there.

>Big profit, bad food for society.

People who value good food don’t go to fast food chains.  The structure of the food industry is a reflection of everyone’s tastes and preferences, not just yours.  It’s rather democratic in that way.  If you want people to eat healthier food, talk to the people and the corporations will change as soon as selling healthy food becomes a better way to make money.

I agree that lying, stealing, cartels, and advertising are bad.  Monopolies are also difficult.

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By Stuart Hartger, December 11, 2008 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment
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This article is a mixed bag: the first paragraph is simply untrue, as is the first sentence of the second. Much of the rest is very good but not supportive of the main theme.

Our current political problems are not primarily the product of incompetence, as Mr. Hedges suggests. Instead, they are caused primarily by the fact that short term interests held by a wealthy and ideological minority are not properly constrained by broad public interests, as would be the case if our political system functioned in a more egalitarian way.

The failure of our system of government to correlate public policy with public interests has systemic origins: our political structures and processes do not effectively meet the needs of citizens or of their elected representatives. For example, citizens often have difficulty obtaining trustworthy information about candidates, and they are challenged by the long lists of offices and candidates on their ballots.

The failure of our political system, in turn, has roots in the nonexistence of an adequate theory of political structure and, at a deeper level, in the misplaced confidence among political scientists (and social scientists in general) that scholars in their discipline should use the principles of scientific inquiry employed in the natural sciences without adjustment. So, I would say that the failure is rooted, ultimately, in current problems in political theory and philosophy. Blaming such failures on the inadequacies of government actors will not help guide our society to a solution.

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By Hawley, December 11, 2008 at 11:14 am Link to this comment

I’m a graduate of Wellesley, one of the colleges you indict, and like many graduates of such colleges, I am an activist/humanist, not a politician. I agree that our major educational institutions largely fail miserably in preparing graduates to contribute to a humane and fair society.

When Jean Baker-Miller studied the way upper-class men train their sons, she and her researchers were surprised by the cruelty and lack of empathy. If a boy said he felt sorry for the boys his own team had just defeated, the father said something like, “It’s just a game, and the point is to win. Don’t worry about the losers.”

For democracy to work, the ruling class has to have a sense of noblesse oblige. Ours doesn’t. Instead, as Barry Switzer, former football coach at Oklahoma University, has been quoted as saying: “Some people are born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple.” Those people are not thinking about the other team, the ones struggling to stay in the game.

Our political system is mostly too rough a game for humanists; too greedy for anyone who empathizes. Mostly the worst and the brightest sign up. We’ll see how far Obama’s leadership can soften the current violent class war in our country - a war that in ways shadows the war in Iraq.

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By rich kurth, December 11, 2008 at 10:38 am Link to this comment
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“It occurred to me that colleges might be one of the few institutions that actually do society harm when they maximize their profit.”

gairabad: I’d say that’s more hypothesis than theory. A little research will show that profit today is commonly based less on real value efficiently delivered and more on cutting costs: cheap labor, low grade materials, mediocre innovation, subpar service, etc. Corporate factory farm food products are a great example, and so are their outlets like fast food chains. Big profit, bad food for society. How about big pharma, automobiles, credit cards, insurance, health care. It’s everywhere, and that’s just cost-cutting. Outright cheating, lying, stealing are other prevalent profit boosters, for a while anyway.

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By JNagarya, December 11, 2008 at 10:02 am Link to this comment
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NO ONE can prevent a student learning to think IF THE STUDENT WANTS TO LEARN TO THINK.

The problem begins at home where the parents want their children to “do better than they” ECONOMICALLY.  Thus education is made a commodity, the aim of which being greater income, greater accumulation of assets and goods.  Thus education is about MAKING MORE MONEY.  Genuine educators in the universities complain about those facts; but that is what the students are when they ARRIVE, and they resist learning different than their parents prescribe/d.

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By Suzie Kidder, December 11, 2008 at 7:29 am Link to this comment
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An incredible piece that should be read by every educator, every voter, and every human being in this country.  Our attachment to celebrity and the shallow criteria by which we collectively decide and annoint “what’s special” extends effortlessly into academia.

And there may be exceptions to your justifiably negative analysis.  I suspect, and please believe that I am not a subscriber to the theory that Barack Obama is our Savior, that there are those who emerge from elite universities and secondary schools with their values uncorrupted. 

Of course I would prefer to believe this is true because I am a product of this “educational track.”  But the secondary school in which I was educated supported the ability to think logically, synthetically, and creatively - without demonstrating an overwhelming preference for any of these.  And of course it’s true that my tendency to move fluidly back and forth among these modes of thinking has gotten me in more trouble in the corporate world than perhaps any other quality I possess - with the possible exception of my “resistance to authority.” 

And while George Bush is a superb example of just how hollow an elite education can be, you might want to consider what King Abdullah of Jordan has chosen to do with what he learned at Deerfield.  He’s created “Deerfield in the Desert,” in which he’s bringing together kids from across the Middle East - from the rich families and from the poor villages.  The intention is to educate the future leadership of the region, and to create an experience in which they could learn to trust each other.  Sometime in the future, when an Israeli Prime Minister and a Syrian Denfense Minister sit across a table in negotiations, they just might be the adult versions of the two “kids who took Geometry together back in 9th grade.”  I understand that’s not “The Answer” to creating stability in the region, but it’s a very evolved use of a tool that just might help.

There are those - and I suspect Barack Obama is one - who have passed through these institutions with their moral compass intact. They may have learned to play the game, but that doesn’t mean that they believe the game is real - or even remotely Right.  Do not damn us all - some of us are emphatically on your side.  And thank you again for a really profound - and courageous - piece of divinely subversive journalism.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 11, 2008 at 6:40 am Link to this comment

...and we musn’t forget the “intellectual” bullies, and those whose main purpose in life it is to simmply “contribute to the dialogue.”  Oh, the dialogue, the sacred dialogue!  How could the world ever exist w/o their sacred dialogue? 

“My dialogue’s better than your dialogue.”

“Oh yeah!?  Prove it!!”

“So and so says this and so and so says that.  So there!”

Too much dialogue, too little work. It ain’t rocket science, no matter what the brains say.

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By Anarcissie, December 11, 2008 at 6:34 am Link to this comment

gairabad—medical care, science, the arts are other fields where maximizing profit does not appear to maximize the aggregate or public good.  It’s not just education.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, December 11, 2008 at 5:42 am Link to this comment

The greatest problem with schooled “intelligence” is that “learned” people also acquire the ability to continually victimize stupid people with their “knowledge” and further, to convince them that they’re doing it in the name of “intelligence” or “for their own good.” 

It is my considered and humble opinion that “intelligence” is way overrated, mostly by “intelligent” people and especially those who are “well-read” and have the gift for speaking in tongues, double talk and jargon.

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By gairabad, December 10, 2008 at 9:21 pm Link to this comment

It occurred to me that colleges might be one of the few institutions that actually do society harm when they maximize their profit.

In many market situations, the most efficient output is the most profitable one, assuming no externalities.

In other market situations, society trades efficiency for variety.  People would rather be served by a wide variety of small restaurants than a few big and efficient ones.

But it sounds as though the maximum profit => maximum societal benefit relationship breaks down when it comes to a university.  The entire thing sort of degenerates into a popularity contest, and the college’s quality becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: All of its students are wealthy members of the upper class, whose socioeconomic background ensures that they’re reasonably intelligent.  They are also fairly docile, having jumped through all the necessary hoops.  This intelligence and docility makes them excellent workers, allowing the university’s reputation to propagate.  The university begins acting as a filter that allows companies to find wealthy and hard-working members of the upper classes, and it no longer has very much pressure to actually teach the students.  (I’m sure they still do a good job, but there’s probably not much *pressure*.)

Just a theory.

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By Fadel Abdallah, December 10, 2008 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment

By duglarri, December 10 at 6:14 pm #

I wonder if Mr. Hedges is missing a fundamental point in assuming that these schools are teaching the best and brightest.  I would suggest that they are not, because the brightest can’t afford to go.

You did hit the nail on the head, and that’s why I suggested in a post that the title of the piece should have been “The Presumed best and brightest led America off a cliff.”

Since the so-called ivy league schools are about money and who can afford them, and since these schools can afford to market themselves as the best for the brightest, the logical propaganda result is that these schools’ graduates are grabbed by corporate America to hold the best and highest paid jobs.

The most stupid (and evil) world leader in recent times is George Bush, who is a graduate of one such schools along with some of his most evil cohorts who brought humanity so much misery! Those stand as a classical examples of the truth of what you said about these money-driven, so-called ivy league schools.

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By maryjvan, December 10, 2008 at 7:27 pm Link to this comment

Our educational system as been replaced by technology.Real learning and scholastisism has disapeared into antiquity along with artisans and craftsman.The new magic has done away with critical thinking and computers have taken the place of our brain. The   result is ‘future Shock”. Common sense is unheard of and our homeland has been turned into an asylum run by elites or so called intellectuals who don’t know what they are doing.

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By duglarri, December 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment

I wonder if Mr. Hedges is missing a fundamental point in assuming that these schools are teaching the best and brightest.  I would suggest that they are not, because the brightest can’t afford to go.

There are a few token exceptions made, but is their prominence not remarkable?  Did Obama rise to the top at Harvard precisely because he was one of the very few admitted on merit?

I’m a graduate of McGill University, which is sometimes Canada’s Harvard.  At the time I did my graduate degree in business there, tuition was $1000.00 a year.  There were thousands of applicants for a class of around 100.

As a result the average test scores of the successful applicants were astronomical, and my classmates were an enormously gifted group of students.

Since then Canadian schools have all moved to the American model of school financing.  Tuition which was once nominal is now prohibitive.  The University of British Columbia, for example, my other alma mater, now charges $40,000 a year for its MBA program.

Anyone with even the most cursory exposure to economics would recognize the supply and demand implications of this.  Instead of thousands of applicants, there are hundreds; instead of the best and the brightest, the pool of applicants is restricted to only those who can afford it.

My guess would be that of my 100 classmates in my year, at most five would have been able to afford the program at current rates.  The places of those of us who graduated then would be taken by candidates with vastly lower capability.

A UBC professor I know has given up teaching, because he found that the students were now too stupid to understand the material.

I would agree with Mr. Hedges that the education system was failing if the best and brightest were failing to receive an education.  But under the American system, they’re not even there.

And therefore, it’s not the best and brightest who run your country at all: it’s the ones who could afford these absurdly expensive schools.

I don’t think it’s far from the mark to say that the explanation for the current crisis may be this: since the schools have pre-selected for ability to pay rather than intelligence, your system guarantees that you now have stupid people who cannot understand the material in charge of your most important institutions.

Vancouver, Canada

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By Mike Walsh, December 10, 2008 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment
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There are a few writers who remind me from time to time what actual journalism is, and Chris Hedges is at or near the top of that short list.

We’re fed mostly pablum by the mainstream media, perhaps partly because it’s run by exactly the type of people Chris writes about in this piece.

If it weren’t for websites like truthdig,, etc., I feel like I’d be much more in the dark about the world than I am.

Thanks, Chris, and keep up the good (in both senses) work.

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By el jefe MS, December 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment
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re: Ahrend @12:14

Sorry, I grew up on a farm, poor mostly, and have gone to state schools.  I am going further in my education than anyone in family ever has, am working on my PhD, and have no desire at all to ever end up at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc…  Personally, I think you get out of school what you put into it, no matter where you are.

I’m not concerned with people questioning some of the practices at universities.  It always needs it.  There are plenty of failures in higher education.  I am concerned with the “let’s jump on the blame the ‘elite’ bandwagon” me too attitude of many of the posters in this thread.  I guess the Republicans selling this line for the last 30 years has suckered a bunch of so-called progressives.  Yeah, it’s those damned elites that ruined this country.  Bullshit. 

Hedges does a terrible job at distinguishing whether he is impugning just ivy league schools, or all universities.  He bounces back and forth.  He repeatedly casts aspersions on the entire higher educational system, only narrowing it to “elite” institutions when it suits him.

He fails to recognize that the failure in education starts in grade school, and that the kids who make it to the “elite” schools have been trained how to behave since childhood.  Over-protective parents who want to blame local school districts (yet don’t feel that any more of their money should go to actually fund schools).  Schools which can’t fail children for fear of hurting their darling little psyche.  An educational system which teaches test taking instead of thinking.  That all happens before they get to college.  The people who read this blog who have kids should think about it.  Who do you blame first?  The school, the teacher, or your snot-nosed hellion of a child.  Talk to any teacher about the changes in the last 15 years.  Take some damned responsibility for your children.  Suck it up.  I grade in red.

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By Henry Pelifian, December 10, 2008 at 6:07 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Hedges has pointed out the most salient critical features of our most prestigious educational institutions.  Emerson once boasted that Harvard taught most of the branches of learning and Thoreau replied, “Yes, indeed, all the branches and none of the roots!” 

In his journal Thoreau wrote what might be applied to our renowned colleges and universities:  “It is strange that men are in such haste to get fame as teachers rather than knowledge as learners.”

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By jr., December 10, 2008 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment
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The ideology that “knowledge is gained through the recognition of error” is probably one of the leading mistakes of all history.  Under that notion it would in essence behoove one to create as many errors as possible simply to gain the knowledge.  A seemingly great george bush tactic perhaps, but nothing nice.

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By rich kurth, December 10, 2008 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment
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Another beautiful, if again dire and uncomfortable, report, Chris.

J. Krishnamurti pointed out for decades that cleverness is not intelligence. Intelligence is integrative, not divisive. It is of the whole heart, beyond the knife-edge of intellect. When heart dominates, the intellect is its servant. Without the heart – the essence of pure feeling or awareness, the very flame of compassion – intellect, in its disguise as ego, rules very badly indeed. Hence, human life today.

We need education based on knowing first what we are. We are awareness, without which there is no learning, no knowledge, no experience. As awareness, we are all one and the same.

“There is nothing stronger than gentleness.” - John Wooden

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By a_hole79, December 10, 2008 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

Tycho wrote:

“Knowledge is gained through the recognition of error. The educational system described in this article produces people who are conditioned to believe they know everything; unfortunately they don’t know everything else. They have power but regularly demonstrate lack of knowledge. What we are experiencing is the end stage of corporate democracy. Belief in unregulated capitalism has poisoned our political system, our environment, our food supply and the quality of our lives. Karl Marx’s statement that capitalism ultimately results in the destruction of the middle class is, in fact, a reality.”

The “socialism” that seems to be the recommended on this website is based on the idea that we can democratically elect people who “know everything”.  You people are quasi-religious in a way. You think you just make a law that says, “there will be plenty”, and then suddenly there is (“Let there be light!”).  Even Amy Goodman pointed out that the poster-child of social-democracy, Sweden, is a defense industry parasite.  It’s a small country that plays a winning strategy in the global “capitalist” market and distributes its winnings to its citizens.

The complex problems that arise as a result of human needs and desires in a modern economy can only be solved by a free-markets (free enterprise) and capitalism (property rights).  The only unexplored solution is radical free-market capitalism (for instance, no government central banks).  Let the market supply us with money, then we wouldn’t have these issues. rules!

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By brutus, December 10, 2008 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment
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These assertions about universities teaching “the primacy of the unfettered free market” are nonsense, and typical of the economically illiterate on the left. I also object to the indoctrination that students undergo, in universities as well as K-12. If only Chris Hedges understood that students are having the alleged primacy of the Keynesian paradigm foisted onto them, and held up as though it were the only viable premise for economic analysis and policy formulation, and that this is why we keep getting the same failing policies recommended by economists trained in the same bankrupt ideology, I wonder if they would protest in favor of having Austrian-school and actual free-market oriented professors given a chance in our colleges?
The Austrian-school economists have been correctly analyzing and diagnosing the flaws in our essentially centrally-planned, state command-and-controlled economy for decades, and correctly predicting the disasterous results years in advance before every time one of the phony, inflationary “booms” went bust, during the time that the conventional Keynesian economists were proclaiming that “this time is different” (like they always do) and that permanent prosperity was upon us (thanks to them).
Maybe its time we started listening to the real economists for a change?

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By Greg S., December 10, 2008 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment
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Where in the constitution do you see universal health care?

I ask because in the same sentence you mention “shredded constitutional rights” as one of the problems we face.

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By BobZ, December 10, 2008 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges - You have put into a brilliant essay what I have been wondering for the last eight years - we have the best and the brightest leading all of our major public and private entities and yet we are in the worst mess since the 1930’s. My gut feeling was that our university system is failing us for all of the reasons you have exposed. We who went to lesser colleges learned the same lessons but did not have the same aspirations. We knew our place in the societal pecking order, and could only envy those who had the money, brains, and connections to go to the elite universities. We didn’t realize that too many students were getting in based on money and connections, and not brains. Seriously, would George W. Bush have had any chance of getting into either Yale or Harvard were it not for his father’s connections and money. As we have seen with General Shinseki, the risk manager at Fannie Mae, or the lead internal auditor at Enron, it doesn’t pay to raise troubling questions at our major centers of power. Many times I have mentioned to friends that we may be better off in our society by promoting people to positions of leadership from our local community colleges. They might bring a fresh perspective on how to get our country moving again. Barack Obama although a product of these descredited universities at least recognized the higher calling of serving society as a community organizer rather than a hedge fund manager on Wall Street. Chris, you have raised questions worthy of debate across the country. I am glad to finally have someone raise the issues you have raised about how our elite universities are serving us.

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By Arend, December 10, 2008 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment
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I think you miss the point of Hedges here. What he is attacking is anti-intellectualism POSING as intellectualism. The reason there is no glory in intellectualism is because what is respresented as intellectualism in this country is no more than a fancy charade of academic titles within a circle of an elitist caste, no better than those elitists/aristocrats in the feudal period. Obama is the most ultimate example specimen of this new aristocrat class which resides between corporations and government.

Maybe that analysis just comes too close too your own upbringing, causing some cognitive dissonance. No biggy, we’re all human after all aren’t we?

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By Dan, December 10, 2008 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
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I went to the same prep school as Chris (with the new $26M gym) and came away with the same sense of class division and reinforced exceptionalism.  The education in these places is exceptionally broad, but not designed to give you a life long love of inquiry.  In fact, the clearest learning you get is how to know your place in the hierarchy. 

Those who summer in the Hamptons and Southwest Harbor know who each other are.  They adopt the brightest for their lawyers, their politicians and their hagiographers but one is always reminded that they are the ones who run things. 

Chris is right, now, thanks to their inbred myopia, we have reached the point where their entire control system is imploding.  I might add, that part of the current panic is because in the still far distance some of them already hear the distant rolling of the tumbrils

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By joemillerjd, December 10, 2008 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment

I hope that we will not shift from the hegemonists who conduct unjust wars to the intellectual hegemonists who either exclude others entirely or create a perception of inclusion while maintaining the grade-inflated, unmeritorious posture of the educational elite.

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By joemillerjd, December 10, 2008 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

I hope that we will not make a complete shift from the hegemonists who conduct unjust wars to the intellectual hegemonists who either exclude others entirely or create a perception of inclusion while maintaining the grade-inflated, unmeritorious posture of the educational elite.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 10, 2008 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment

Systems (particularly the non-linear ones) are so complex that their behavior ultimately eludes the understanding of mere humans.  Thus, when trying to draw upon the results of systems analysis, accepting the applicability (let alone validity) of those results is as much an article of faith as accepting the validity of the words of the New Testament.  Among those “best and brightest” who “led America off a cliff,” many were well-trained systems analysts.  (That is even part of Hedges’ argument.)  If you don’t believe me, ask Robert McNamara!

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By Bostonian at Heart, December 10, 2008 at 11:53 am Link to this comment
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Huzzah, Chris Hedges! I lived for years right across from The Quad of Harvard U in Cambridge ... and I did love the environment.

There were rumblings among us “townies”—perfectly well-educated people who lived and worked in the shadow of Ivy League genius—about “emotional eunuchs” at Harvard Law. Or, automatons at The B School across the Charles River ... as Harvard’s Business // Academic Machine was called.

Best of all, there was still solidly working class ethnic control of the Cambridge City Council. And those folks didn’t budge one fracking micron when the Ivy League Geniuses started building recombinant DNA labs near Harvard Sq—without telling anyone and without the finally IMPOSED negative air-pressure safety systems these buggy labs required in a populated area!!

The Ivy League tried to tell us “townies” what rubes we were to imposed any safety standards on their brilliant biologists. Mon Dieu! The entire Cambridge City Council was declared “anti-science” and medieval.

That was the first time I understood the rant of someone from off-ivy Boston U—“I trust the opinions of the first 25 a$$holes randomly selected from the Cambridge Telephone Book more than a 100% census of all the Ph.D.s knocking around Harvard’s elite quads.”

And, yes, we were called anti-intellectual boobs.

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By Dick Hudson, December 10, 2008 at 11:41 am Link to this comment
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Right wing conservatives, regardless their education, have always failed to engage in “systems thinking” and, frankly they religiously avoid it.  It doesn’t suit their rapaciously flawed world view.  Systems thinking relies on the interrelatedness of virtually everything.  “If I sink this ship in the middles of this canal, what the hell, it’s my ship isn’t it?”  Then they become very confused when the canal is no longer navigable.  This is the cause of the condition the world is in today: financially, environmentally, medically, etc., etc., etc.

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By Bushfatigue, December 10, 2008 at 11:02 am Link to this comment

I’ve had the same thoughts about the Ivy League geniuses who brought us Iraq—Wolfowitz, Libby, and many others, arrogantly lecturing us (when not lying to us) about the Middle East, and the need for an invasion of Iraq.  A farce, become tragedy.

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By Anarcissie, December 10, 2008 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

cyrena: ’... anti-intellectual mentality….’

No doubt Harvard and Yale would like you to believe that criticism of them or the educational system in general is anti-intellectual, if not blasphemous, but it ain’t necessarily so.

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By Tycho, December 10, 2008 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
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Knowledge is gained through the recognition of error. The educational system described in this article produces people who are conditioned to believe they know everything; unfortunately they don’t know everything else. They have power but regularly demonstrate lack of knowledge. What we are experiencing is the end stage of corporate democracy. Belief in unregulated capitalism has poisoned our political system, our environment, our food supply and the quality of our lives. Karl Marx’s statement that capitalism ultimately results in the destruction of the middle class is, in fact, a reality. The current so called elites are the children of Mammon and are leading our nation to it’s ultimate disaster. The leaders of the French Revolution knew what to do with such people.

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By Carolyn, December 10, 2008 at 7:28 am Link to this comment
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I’ve found Chris Hedges fascinating since I read “War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning,” and I just finished “I Don’t Believe in Atheists,” which resonates with me as a spiritual progressive. He has an awesome intellect, but I think he got seduced by Ralph Nader.

Over tremendous odds, we have just elected a president who intellectually and morally towers over anyone in the current administration. The Obama campaign brought together Ivy grads and the working class and state university-educated folk like me into an almost seamless operation. Having worked on a number of campaigns, I found this one savvy about race and ethnicity and willing to engage more issues than any I can remember since the sixties.

Perfect? Of course not, but if the Obama Administration is doomed,then we are not capable of electing someone who can lead us. Certainly, Nader was incapable of conducting a successful campaign, and I think it’s wrong to blame the electorate for rejecting him. Hedges gives Obama too little credit for the ability to be his own man. If Hedges thinks the Ivies are so bad, why did he hire that tutor?

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By billp37, December 10, 2008 at 7:06 am Link to this comment
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We’re working at terminating the employment of National Credit Union Administration employees Kelly Lay and Jean Dixon of Region 5 in Phoenix for writing fiction rather than investigating fraud.

$22,036 was stolen from our Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union retirement-protected savinging account by SLFCU CEO Chrisophter Jillson.

We will make every effort to send Mr Jillson to prison.

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By thebeerdoctor, December 10, 2008 at 4:31 am Link to this comment

re: Stephen Smoliar and FENWICK

Stephen Smoliar: “Music has to do with a lot of areas which are mystical rather than logical; the great artists, rather than just getting involved with discipline get to understand love and allow the love to take shape.”
              CECIL TAYLOR

FENWICK: “Love is the key if you want to be free.”

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By j_in_az, December 10, 2008 at 3:42 am Link to this comment
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Yeah, right.  It’s not the college, it’s what you study that matters.  I told my high school students to go to a community college if they were going to attend to their higher education.  Additionally, and most importantly, learn a trade - learn to drive a backhoe, learn to plasma weld, etc.  Yale and Harvard are nice places to visit (I really like the architecture) but that’s about it.  It would interesting to see our journalists, news commentators, psychologists, lawyers, politicians sit for a standard math or chem high school test.  Euler’s formula, anyone?

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By tinman1, December 10, 2008 at 3:35 am Link to this comment

True learning can only happen with a humble attitude. It is something that a competive world often forgets.

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By cyrena, December 10, 2008 at 2:34 am Link to this comment

Re: By el jefe MS, December 9 at 8:46 pm
el Jefe MS,

Thanks so much for the post. I’d say you were reading my mind, at least in terms of the anti-intellectual mentality that seems to have become so pervasive with the those following the teachings of Ralph Nader via his disciple Chris Hedges.

This has become a constant refrain with Hedges, and I’m not sure why, but the irony of it all never fails to escape me. It’s a neurotic state he’s in, to be sure.

So yep, you’re on the bulls eye here:

•  “..To finally turn the article into an attack on Obama, who isn’t even president yet, shows Hedges for the bitter and petty person he is.  I used to think people at this site could see through this type of thing.  I am sorely disappointed in the critical thinking abilities of the posters in this thread.  The article is full of over generalizations and hyperbole.  Did Hedges not get tenure?”

I have no idea if Hedges has experienced some sort of tenure issues.  In fact, prior to now, I was unaware that he’d even taught, since I know that he spent a considerable amount of time as a mainstream journalist.

As for the critical thinking skills of the posters in this thread, I can only agree that it’s sad, but not reflective of all people posting here.  The fact of the matter is that there’s been a change-over in the crowd here, and I suppose that’s to be expected, for more reasons than I care to cite at this point. I think it’s interesting to note though, that this lack of critical thinking is most evident in the pieces that Chris and a few others write.

So no, they don’t see though this stuff, but only because they don’t want to. It’s the bandwagon they wanna be on,  and in the larger instances of that bandwagon crowd, it’s probably because they’re just as bitter and petty as he has become.

They too consistently spew the same generalizations and hyperbole. I swear I hate hyperbole, but most specifically the hypocritical kind. The generalizations are typical of anyone who tries to baffle with bullshit when they can’t dazzle with brilliance. But, it’s what many in this crowd like to hear.

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By T from Calgary, December 10, 2008 at 12:57 am Link to this comment
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This is a great article.  Just a couple of comments.  Credit to the elite (and non-elite) universities for their work in the pure sciences.  In this area (at least) they progress.

I agree Ralph Nader is also a great activist and intellectual and much (though not all) of what he says i agree with.

As for Obama et al; just because people are a product of a faulty system (Nader himself is a lawyer who i believe graduated from Harvard) doesn’t mean that they can’t pull back and recognize the system for what it is, and then look to redress it.  Hopefully Obama and his team will at least in some measure look to do this.

once again - great article.

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By el jefe MS, December 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm Link to this comment
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It’s sad to see so many people on this so called “progressive” web site join in the elite bashing of educational institutions.  One would think they were reading Jim-Bobs Anti-smarts and stuff web-log.  Listen to yourselves.  Hedges column is 2.5 pages of hypocritical tripe, with two paragraphs near the end actually worth reading.  He’s not impugning elite colleges, he’s attacking all of them.  He answers his own question.  The failure in the educational system occurs long before college.  Students learn to be afraid to take risks in early education.  They learn it from their over-protective parents.  The socialization of being “right” over actually learning things starts in grade school.

“Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul,” he went on. “These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don’t think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus.”

Do you think that this small minority gets any support in society in general?  So many people here are attacking those same people.  The anti-intellectualism has pervaded even here.  There is no glory in intellectualism.  We’re more concerned with which sports team is winning than reading something enriching.

To finally turn the article into an attack on Obama, who isn’t even president yet, shows Hedges for the bitter and petty person he is.  I used to think people at this site could see through this type of thing.  I am sorely disappointed in the critical thinking abilities of the posters in this thread.  The article is full of over generalizations and hyperbole.  Did Hedges not get tenure?

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By maryjvan, December 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm Link to this comment

It is possible we Americans put too much emphesis on whatis meant by education and tend to glamorize the institution rather than learning.In the past many successful individuals were self educated. Harry Truman never went to college but was a voracious reader, especially of history.Many athletes get to go to college, who are too dumb to qualify. An elitist is a modern term for what we used to call snobbish, and is used by the lower classes to define the intellectuals. Education like everything else has changed to go with the consequences of modernization and technology,known as the American dream.

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By Folktruther, December 9, 2008 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

The reason the West conquered the world, Inherit, is because it had better military weapons, including the sailing ship, as Huntington pointed out.  As the archiologist Marija Guilitus argued, the major rreason the nomadic societies conquered the agricultural societies was not better knives and bows, but better horses.  Better transportation allowed the West to get their firstest with the mostest.

This was due primarily to the LACK of ideological education, relative to Asia.  The murchants were not held down by ideological power and advanced trade and the development of techniques.  In America the lack of Education was so great that the US became the world’s leading power.  Unfortunately the introductiono of perverted economic valaes eventually started its decline.

Educated specialists, Inherit, are MORE conservative than the ruling class, since their power is bound up in their Education.  That’s why Galileo wrote in the venaculor Italian rather than the learned Latin to reach a more uneducated audience that could entertain uneducated and ideological deviant views.

What do you mean I didn’t finish.  Finish what?

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By Nannie, December 9, 2008 at 7:09 pm Link to this comment

~~“When up to your ass in aligators, sometimes you forget your main objective was to drain the swamp”~~

Can’t remember who the author was, but I always think of his poetry about the lowly employee.

There were others…

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By mahboob K., December 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment
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It is wonderful to see your publication.
Throughout human history, truth and human values have been the foundation for change and human development. Realizing how America and some of its allies in the man-made “war on terrorism” have lied and misinformed and misled the global human society to unthinkable disasters, it appears to be the need of the time that new America should assess its role in global affairs, and concerned Americans should think and evolve moral leadership to define the true and sustainable America unless it is too late.


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By Arius, December 9, 2008 at 5:52 pm Link to this comment

Article is an interesting take but I think it’s more complex, though I understand this is simply a point of view. 

I agree with much of it but the problem is wider and deeper. “Darfur” is the in concern of the moment. Those who look at one nation that needs help and ignore another, don’t look at the depth of every problem in every nation and the complications of fixing it, if it should be fixed, or draw the involvment of other countries who show concern on a superficial level.

The problems of African nations will NEVER be solved unless they educate themselves and come out of the stone ages and live their lives doing nothing but breeding.  This may sound cold but it’s a simple fact.

People also can’t (shouldn’t) spout the fairytale wonderfulness of democratic societies and consumerism, unless they face up to the consequences of such consumerism (the bad that comes with the good)... like children who work long hours making our crap for $1 a week.

We turn a blind eye to areas around the world where children spend their days digging through garbage dumps for food for their families.  Darfur is the cool topic to care about at the moment.. not all the other world problems.

We are not a tolerant nation.  The religious think they own the stronghold on this nation and agnostic or atheists (or others) are unacceptable and seen as immoral or outright devil worshipers.  God forbid (pun intended) we should have an outright atheist to hold office in this country.  God forbid (pun intended again) we should seek honesty, reality and competence over the main stream feel good of the moment.

The young think they have all the answers and as we all know they are dreamers who haven’t experienced life yet and don’t know much about it.. and college can’t help you there.

We also need to hold a broken news media accountable for their un-news tactics.  I realized recently the reason we can’t talk to young people and explain how biased the news is, to make them understand, is because they’ve never lived in anything but this comedic news world we now live in. They have no clue what it was like back when Walter Cronkite gave us news on our black and white tv’s.

Without integrity in journalism and news outlets, this country can’t have a realistic view of anything, to base their decisions, judgement and votes on.

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By Jim C, December 9, 2008 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie , you pretty much nailed it . After WW11 higher education was available to the middle class . The would be upper classes hated the idea that commoners could now compete with their offspring , the battle has been rageing ever since . The well to do know education levels the playing field so their always trying to throw a wrench in the gears , school vouchers , pricing the middle class out etc etc etc . Most 1st world countries have free education , but somehow we’re still battling would be aristocrats .

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By TAO Walker, December 9, 2008 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment

Shift is likely correct, about many domesticated people, when suggesting “They don’t get it.”  Maybe the real “good news,” though, is all without exception are gong to get it in THE END….which, so far as the “virtual world” as they’ve known it is concerned, actually IS NEAR.

Meantime, the damned (and doomed) contraption pretending to be a “global civilization” will go on grinding-out masses of the mutilated and crippled “individuals” upon whom its now-much-less-than-half-lifed owner/operators feed.  Look carefully, though, and you may notice us whole healthy Human Persons popping-up all over.

It is inherent in our Human Nature that we “learn,” so long as we pay attention.  Does this explain the hugely expensive effort our tormentors’ve mounted to try and distract us from the actual effects of their stupidly self-centered “project”?

Hang-on, tame Sisters and Brothers.  Help is on The Way….the Tiyoshpaye Way, for those of you caught here on Turtle Island.


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By yellowbird2525, December 9, 2008 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Common sense isn’t so common anymore; what is going on now is a long range planned goal by the political parties, the wealthy, & Corps: who work with the Gov & the rest of us are just cannon fodder with 1 purpose only: to make them richer. NOTHING is done for social need or good; technologys are denied to the people; they are deliberately poisoned & that has progessed to the point it is quite simply chemical warfare on the people of their country for 1 purpose only: for the Pharmas who get 600,000 xs the cost of meds; THIS is the mentality THE PEOPLE MUST PAY! THEY RULE, not govern, there is no justice to be found: cuz they will never be prosecuted in reality: they toss one now & then out to the people to hide the fact of their total corruption. TRUTH is: our “lawmakers” are lawbreakers; and are quite adapt at deceiving the masses into believing that they are “a force for good” & something other than a united front with their own agenda; which of course is to rule the world; foods are mainly all chemically treated to bring heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, on & on & on: & excused with the “this is the way democracy works”; it is the WAY of CRIMINALS & CROOKS! Premeditated, deliberate killing & harming of infants, children, & adults; with no one ever getting caught & THIS so claimed “Christian” society claiming “we are blessed” instead of rising up & condeming them! google 62 toxins in your home; ASK why when hydrogen peroxide 3% is used in businesses & NOT clorine which is known to cause harm & learning disorders in children just by the lid being removed: is on the shelves at stores; ask WHY deoderants sold here contain harmful chemicals & is the very 1st thing told to STOP immediate use when have breast cancer; ask how FORMALDEHYDE one of the most deadly to humans & animals on the planet is agressively used in everything: when it is NOT anywhere else; Don Rumsfeld even got into the food supply here, courtesy of FDA who works with chemical companies etc to FOOL the public into “thinking” that they are doing the job; they are not; neither are the AG’s; FBI, all under directions of Congress.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 9, 2008 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment

It would be ussful to start with American schoolbook history, civics and social theory, which generates an American ideology that is a tapestry of bullshit from beginning to end.  But of course no power structure would teach the young to critize the authorized truths that legitimate their power.

FT, for once you are truly insightful.  I have long held that we are taught mythology from k-12, and sometimes beyond in lieu of history.  By the time I was in 8th grade I was beginning to tease a better understanding of History out of the facts they presented by stripping away all the BS.  Sometimes, when you drop the assumptions and look at the facts they’ve given you, they tell a very, very different story.  I remember a class as a 9th or 10th grader where the teacher got us a book of original documents (translated to modern English) and we had to draw our own inferences. It was the most exciting history class I had in HS.  Then the kids objected because it wasn’t the usual history story book. The teacher was forced to return to the tradition text. But for a few weeks I had a glimpse into what history REALLY is.

Education throughout history has been a systematic exercise in child abuse.  This intellectual, emotional and physcial abuse is intended to get the young to do what they are told.  And they are taught skills and truths to do so, these specialist truths, which are largely true, being intermixed with ideological truths, which largely aren’t.

Then you gotta follow it up with something this stupid and moronic.  Societies’ success or failure in their education is directly reflected by their success or failure as societies.  It’s Darwinian—bad schools or no schools and the society fails or succumbs to a stronger one where the schooling is better.  There is a reason Europe rose to dominate the world starting around 1500.  Education was good enough in KEY areas for a technology sector to grow and strengthen the society.  I’m not saying it was MORAL to go out and conquer the world, but the quality of a society’s education is crucial to that society’s success.

Consequently, a major function of Education is to prevent the young from thinking ideologically illegitmate thoughts. Discussion is permitted within ideologially restricted limits so long at the end of the course one gives the Correct Answers on the examination.

That’s a totally unsupported assertion based on your own, stated inability to finish.  You didn’t finish because YOU didn’t finish. Period.

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By Pathman, December 9, 2008 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment
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so far. How many Harvard people? This should make for an interesting ride, no?

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By prole, December 9, 2008 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment

Another incisive installment in Hedges’ continuing jeremiad series chronicling the decline and fall of America. Would make a wonderful Sodom and Gomorrah sermon if it weren’t so discomfitingly close to the literal truth. Still, it’s perhaps a little over-optimistic. The self-styled ‘best and brightest’, even with the benefit of all their “standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority”  may still not be able to serve the “common good” and finally “lead America off a cliff”. They’ll probably screw that up, too. So the world will probably have to wait a little longer for that glorious day, when America will no longer pose a lethal threat to every living creature in its path. The resistance movements around the planet can’t put up their ‘Mission Accomplished’ banners, just yet.  All the same, this perceptive plaint might better have been composed as a kind of Open Letter to My Teenage Son sort of essay. And then it could conclude a little more poetically,  Something along the lines of:  ‘And so dear boy, after much reflection we’ve decided it’s really in your best interest, not to succumb to the same hypocrisy, the same pretense, the endless greed and social climbing of those elite families who seek ever to place themselves and their heirs above others and maintain those ingrained destructive class divisions and artificial social hierarchy that we really do so detest.  Oh sure, we could spend thousands of dollars on special private tutoring for you – I mean it’s not like we don’t have the money or anything, we’re worth something you know! – but somehow, it just doesn’t seem right or fair or well, you know …serve “the common good” to pursue your crass self-interest in such a preferential way. Besides will you “be smarter” or “a better reader” or “more intelligent”?  “Is reading and answering multiple-choice questions while someone holds a stopwatch over you even an effective measure of intelligence?” And most of all, is it fair? After all, “What about those families that do not have a few thousand dollars to hire a tutor? What chance do they have?” So, all in all, we think it’s in your best interest – and eases our conscience – not to conform to the same hurtful and divisive practices we so sincerely rail against. In fact son, we would fully respect your decision to return to idyllic Maine and take up a decent working class existence as a postal clerk or mill worker or such and disdain the venal ambitions of our elite peers. We’ll love you even more for it, and we’ll be sure and visit you every summer. It’s really nice there then and the Rockefellers and Bush’s vacation in Maine in the summer, so it won’t hurt our social standing to be seen there then. So good luck kid – we’re glad you’re living up to our ideals! Sincerely – very sincerely, Dad.’

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By Shift, December 9, 2008 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

TAO Walker, lol…they don’t get it!!!

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By P. T., December 9, 2008 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment

Make that “moneyed.”

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By P. T., December 9, 2008 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

I wonder about some of the rich shipping their children off at a relatively young age to board at prep schools—if that doesn’t result in kids who become emotionally distant.

The monied folks seem to find it difficult to see things from the point of view of ordinary people.  Sometimes the rich seem like sociopaths.

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By ZombieNation, December 9, 2008 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How smart do you have to be to mislead a population of selfish ignorant zombies, who are too busy trying to buy sneekers with lights, over a cliff?

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By Folktruther, December 9, 2008 at 11:41 am Link to this comment

It is conceivable, Inherit, that in a future society critical thinking CAN be taught.  Suppose for example a school were set up to teach the students that the powerful were going to lie them them when they graduated, and are already doing so in sponsoring and subsidizing the texts and curriculum being taught.  The power structure would impose their inherited misconceptions on the population to legitmate their power and promote their policies.

The instruction could then focus on the evasions of the learned media, misconceptions, deceits, fabrications of the mass media, irrational presuppositions of the Entertainment industy, etc and teach the young how to combat this deceit.

It would be ussful to start with American schoolbook history, civics and social theory, which generates an American ideology that is a tapestry of bullshit from beginning to end.  But of course no power structure would teach the young to critize the authorized truths that legitimate their power.

Education throughout history has been a systematic exercise in child abuse.  This intellectual, emotional and physcial abuse is intended to get the young to do what they are told.  And they are taught skills and truths to do so, these specialist truths, which are largely true, being intermixed with ideological truths, which largely aren’t.

Consequently, a major function of Education is to prevent the young from thinking ideologically illegitmate thoughts. Discussion is permitted within ideologially restricted limits so long at the end of the course one gives the Correct Answers on the examination.

I went to a school where a common question was: why should such a brilliant man (they were all men) make such an apparently stupid comment.  Imagine if someone raised their hand and said: well, he wanted to get a good job in the adminstration so he was sucking op to the opinions of his sponsors.

Or-he was as crazy as a loon, caught in the grip of a conceptual system that legitimated unreality. 

These are not Educated answers.  And so they are told by dirty truthers such as myself who subvert Edcuated restictions on truth because we are so ignornat that we just don’t know no better.

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By godistwaddle, December 9, 2008 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

I may have graduated from an Ivy, but I never thought I was educated because of that.

ALL education is self-education, and a degree indicates that you stuck around long enough to learn, perhaps, how to learn a little in your life.

Too, education is not to get a good job, it’s to have a good life.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 9, 2008 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

As a passionate admirer of Cecil Taylor (who regrets having had but one opportunity to hear him perform “live”), I have a slightly less mystical reading of his proposition than thebeerdoctor does.  The entire educational institution has developed around the study of ARTIFACTS, be they “Great Books,” “Masterpieces of Music,” “high art,” or the lives of “great men.”  Indeed, one of the things we learn by studying what those like Isaiah Berlin called “the history of ideas” is that, within the academic framework, the ideas themselves become enshrined as artifacts.  (Think about General Relativity, which has become a focal point on the Comments for another Hedges Column.)

The anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu liked to call each of these artifacts an OPUS OPERATUM.  He argued that exclusive attention to the OPUS OPERATUM neglected the MODUS OPERANDI that led to the creation of that artifact:

Taylor’s criticism of “the university system” is best understood in the light of Bourdieu’s distinction.  Learning “how to do” cannot be reduced to the study of “what has been done;”  but the academic framework of the university system (as opposed to, say, the old apprenticeship model) cannot accommodate the former anywhere near as well as it accommodates the latter.  It is not a question of any “element of the mysterious;”  just one of misplaced pedagogic priorities.

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By Manuel, December 9, 2008 at 10:15 am Link to this comment

Página 12, an Argentinian newspaper, today reported Noam Chomsky opinion of Obama’s future Cabinet. Here is my translation and the link:

The prestigious American linguist and political theoretician Noam Chomsky warned yesterday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that “many will be disappointed” with Barack Obama,  (..) policies after being surprised by the conformation of the future cabinet. “Those that chose to delude themselves without doubt are going to be disappointed”, said Chomsky in an interview that he gave to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo the same day of his 80th birthday.

(He was) surprised by the conformation of the future administration cabinet, and emphasized that “although I did not wait too much” he was “surprised” by the designation of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the permanence in the Department of Defense of Robert Gates. Both designations, … are so indicative of the “no change” and the “no hope” that Obama felt forced to explain that his government will be based in experience and vision. “That must comfort the incredulous ones”, said the professor.

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By JimBob, December 9, 2008 at 10:10 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedge’s subject line implies that the Best and the Brightest went over the cliff with the rest of us—leading the way over, in fact.  But all too often, they ushered us over the cliff while they remained behind, high and dry, and richer than before by precisely the same amount the rest of us lost along the way.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 9, 2008 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

FENWICK, December 9 at 8:19 am #
One last thing:  I worked summers, second shift, in a factory to pay for school. One summer, this foreman was giving me a lot of grief, saying things like, “Did you know that one of these parts is worth more than you.” Then, one summer night, he sidled up to me and said, “I didn’t know you were in college.” I confirmed that I was and he walked away.  What was strange to me was he never bothered me again the rest of the summer.


Sometimes it works that way.  Two guys (one was the boss) were trying to strike an arc: An 8’length of fascia board and they wanted it to go from 0 to 4” on a 16’ radius.  They went nuts trying to find the circle’s center by trial and error for two hours.  I walked over and said “Why not just use 2 tape measures at 16’, one down the center, the other at the end of the arc?”  They stared at each other, grabbed the tapes and found the center.  Then the boss mumbled “guess we had the wrong men on the job…”

Sometimes it works the other way and they give you a TON of $#it about being a “college boy”.  I’d say “Hey, I’m out here earning a living just like you.”  The sensible ones would back off but the macho @$$holes wouldn’t.  Mostly I kept my mouth shut, my opinions to myself, and got along.  Sometimes you need to do that if you want to eat and you don’t want charity.

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By thebeerdoctor, December 9, 2008 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges makes some very good points about the educated elite (or ownership class) and the system designed to further their continuance. But his point about Barack Obama being a product of that elite system, is way off the mark. After all, if that is the ultimate criteria, then his beloved Ralph Nader is a product of that same elite system.
Composer Cecil Taylor once said that the university system is not interested in creating artists. This is true, especially when you consider that creative music has much more to do with intuitive learning than systems acquired by rote. The same can be said about literature. The true meaning of great literary work will always be open to new interpretations, because art nearly always contains an element of the mysterious.
Nearly all educational systems in the United States are a form of social control. The pedestrian schools teach the vast numbers of the non-ownership class to accept their fate in life, through jingoistic patriotism and consumerist obsession. While those of the manor-born are taught very early their duty as overseers of those who simply do not know any better. The most benevolent view of this is, that the great unwashed should perform their civic duty and vote, but leave the business of running this world to those who really know.
President-elect Obama is being painted here with too broad of a brush. I suggest you look up his March 27, 2004 interview:

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By Anarcissie, December 9, 2008 at 8:42 am Link to this comment

Jim C:
‘What is described in the article is very similar to the college system that Woodrow Wilson despised when he was in charge of Princeton . Nothing but a clearing house where the wealthy and elite sent their offspring to meet and make ties with others of their class and persusion….

I doubt if it’s ever been much different.  The brighter members of the imperial ruling class (for example, Wilson) would probably like to filter the fresh replicants more stringently for intellectual capacity and character, but most of the r.c. want their progeny to be well taken care of, just like everyone else, and since they have power and money even prestigious institutions listen to them.  That’s how someone like George W. Bush could get into—and graduate—from Yale.

One exception might have been the period just after World War 2, when the U.S. was stepping up to its new role of world domination, and the state apparatus had to be expanded rapidly.  Providentially there were a lot of young men at loose ends because of the war, and so the G.I. Bill of Rights was enacted to help the supply meet the need.  At that time a talented person of lower-class background had a chance to get ahead rapidly.  Twenty years later, they were the Best and the Brightest and got us into the Vietnam war with their brilliance. 

Now, as the U.S. declines from power, so also its state apparatus is ossifying and no longer needs or wants such people.  But it hasn’t lost its talent for stepping into quagmires.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 9, 2008 at 8:33 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie, I seem to have appropriated the phrase “the sense of reality” from the title of an essay by Isaiah Berlin, which may be found in a book of his collected essays with that same title.  From Berlin’s point of view, the “sense of reality” is the ANTIDOTE to power, particularly when that power is abused.  One of the major themes of his work concerns the underlying speciousness of Utopian thinking, along with the general trend of passionate Utopianism to devolve into brutal fascism.  It is through that “sense of reality” that we detect the flaws in reason that, on the surface, appears to be soundly logical and scientific.  Given Pinckney’s reputation for speaking up for the disenfranchised in clear and direct language, I would say that he recognizes Berlin’s “corrective” view of reality, rather than the sort of “assertion of power” you seem to have in mind.

I suspect that you were thinking more along the lines of my criticism of how the media distort conceptions of adult life (a meme that I probably first picked up from Antonio Gramsci).  To repeat my point, the media can get away with doing this because educational institutions (at all levels) fail to do so.  David Simon took a more dramatistic approach to developing this theme in the fourth season of THE WIRE.

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By KDelphi, December 9, 2008 at 7:15 am Link to this comment

Hedges, a damn seminary student , is after my heart!

Cant really comment today—-byt he hits it out of the ballpark, once again, except for those that would rather hear than to not think about it…that is how I see it..

He may not have direct solutions , although he names people that he believes do have them. You can agree or disagree with whom he chooses, but, at least its not the flavor of the month.

He understand how attractive humility can be, how to speak intelilgently to people without bullying, and to criticize himself, as well as others.

We could use alot more of that in the uS, considering, especially, how many of our recent presidents and Congrses people have been Ivy League…

Thanks, Hedges, for brightening up the day

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By Jim C, December 9, 2008 at 7:00 am Link to this comment

What is described in the article is very similar to the college system that Woodrow Wilson despised when he was in charge of Princeton . Nothing but a clearing house where the wealthy and elite sent their offspring to meet and make ties with others of their class and persusion . Wilson spoke of a system that catered to the arrogant , spoiled , self important , mediocre sons of the well heeled and well born to make the social contacts so important to maintaining and perpetuating their insular class structure .  He loathed the ” lunch clubs ” that were the center of social hierarchy of college life of his era , where the boorish sons of the self annointed elite established a pecking order and future business contacts . Sounds like we’re heading back to that bigone age .

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By eggroll, December 9, 2008 at 6:00 am Link to this comment

1. A society’s overall well-being derives in part from the quality of its institutions (education, justice, health, pensions, etc.), and in part from how property is divided up among the members of society. The decline of US education over the last 30 years is nothing short of stunning. So is the rise in our Gini coefficient(now .47). This indicator of wealth-sharing is now worse than Russia, and on par with China. I think we all get the connection.

2. It’s the teachers who change your life, not the institution. The “take the teacher, not the class” rule still applies.

3. Before I did my master’s work in the Soviet Union, I worked as a welder in a factory. There were many illegal workers and no OSHA oversight. I got into the tricky art of inert-gas welding only because I was one of the few that could read and understand instructions and follow safety protocols. I wisely never mentioned that I had been to university; many of my workmates harbored a snarling contempt for school and literacy. There is a hint of that same contempt here in this article. Somehow, it isn’t much of a world where guys only discuss child-support; football; overtime work; scoring weed, meth, and pussy; last weekend’s DUI; and some cherry work on the Camaro’s suspension.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 9, 2008 at 5:30 am Link to this comment

Folktruther, December 9 at 1:40 am #

It may be, Ihherit, that it takes courage to think.
It is necessary to overcome our preconceptions and presuppositions that are indoctrinated into us from childhood, when we are most impressionable, credulous and powerless to resist authroity.

For most of us this courage can only be provided by obsession.  In order to think new thoughts, it is necessary to be at least a little insane.  One must be driven by forces that overcome what authority teaches us and with which we once identified.  Most Normal people not only don’t do this, they don’t want to do it.  They prefer survival to crreation, a reasonable choice.

Yes, it does take courage to think.  But I don’t think insanity is part of it.  After all, Einstein’s great definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result.

But I think critical thinking and even creative thinking CAN be taught starting with the very young. Instead of teaching them about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, teach them to solve problems, and not to be afraid to attack problems. Teach them logic is like a game, a puzzle and, dare I say it? FUN! Everyone says “think outside the box” but how many people can actually do it, even once in a while?

But to me it’s a teachable skill.  Thomas Edison saw failure as a challenge, not a criticism: “We’ve discovered 2000 ways NOT to make a light bulb!” (I don’t claim that’s the exact quote.) “I can’t do it!” is the time to say “Yes, you can.”  The BEST teachers don’t teach you stuff.  They teach you how to learn it yourself.  They teach you how to argue the OPPOSITE of what you think and believe, so you challenge assumptions.

But as someone said, this article is nothing but a collection of unproven assertions.  And I say it’s by someone just as elitist as all the people he condemns.  I’ve been a “working stiff”, living paycheck-to-paycheck swinging a hammer for a living, showering at the end of the day rather than the beginning, and wondering how long I can put one bill or another off.  I doubt Hedges EVER did anything like that. And I’ve been college and grad school educated, too.

Frankly, despite Hedges’ assertions, life is definitely better when you are educated. I work just as hard, even harder.  But, at least, for now, I can pay the bills and put something away.  What I learned was don’t overextend yourself.  Don’t take a loan or a mortgage without considering what will happen if the worst happens, and borrow accordingly.  Don’t believe bankers or, worse, mortgage brokers.

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By Gerry Lykins, December 9, 2008 at 5:02 am Link to this comment
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Deep thanks to Chris Hedges for his courage, for his indignation, for his clarity…and insistence on discerning truth, when possible.

Of all the things I have found too often lacking in the steep decline over the last 8 is the passion of righteaous indignation.  In my opinion, Chris Hedges comes by that because of all the horror he has witnessed during the years he spent reporting from places mired in hell.  Coming back from those places it is easier to see the steps a people take or don’t take on the way to a more uncivilized state.

Sometimes, of course, that hell has been forced on a people by outside forces…However, in the case of what we, as Americans, are doing to ourselves, that is not the case.  We need to begin to pay attention to our history and to the clarity expressed by some, like Chris, who refuse not to understand, and who refuse to be silenced.

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By Seeker, December 9, 2008 at 4:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a virtual re-posting as the unexpected formatting of the original posting one made it somewhat unreadable.

This article does not appear to be analytical in the least.  Neither does it address whatever it is attempting to address on any other rational basis.  It appears to be merely a collection of assertions that are motivated by a type of rabid negativity toward academia.  It appears to prejudge and condemn everyone with high levels of analytical aptitude, especially when they graduate from certain schools of higher learning, regardless of their life choices or political affiliations.

One cannot solve one’s problems by covering one’s eyes with the blindness of prejudice or any other blindness.  One must uncover one’s eyes and attempt to see reality for what it is using all of the proven tools available.  Education does not make the educated infallible or any more moral than the uneducated citizen.  Further, the lack of education does not make the uneducated citizen any more infallible or moral than the educated citizen.  However, I would assert that it takes an informed, i.e., educated, citizenry to preserve a strong democracy.

I thoroughly disagree with the assertions of this article and assert that better thinking skill is the primary benefit of a higher education.  That is not to say that every graduate has a high level of skill in this regard; just that they generally have a higher level of skill than they possessed when they started out.  This has been proven over and over again in the statistical observance of their lives as compared to those who have less education, although this comparison is not absolute.  For instance, the founder of Ford motor company had little formal education.

As to the source of the current problem, it is my humble opinion that it is the direct result of the political philosophy of a bunch of politicians elected to govern that did not believe in government (so-called conservatives).  How can you effectively govern if you disdain the job of governing.  In our system there must be checks and balances not just within the government but between the government and the people and between the government and business.  The philosophy of these conservatives left critical business activities with little or no oversight, business activities of entities whose only consuming passion is for profit.  This was equivalent to putting the fox in the hen house and bolting the door expecting the fox to be honorable and resist temptation.  Such philosophies, inevitably, lead to failure.

If we are looking for someone to blame, we need only look into a mirror.  I believe everyone, especially the intelligent person who wrote this article, could see this train wreck coming.  No sensible household could continue in the financial manner in which this country has been run in the past eight years.  Why did we re-elect this president?  Why weren’t we more vocal?  Why didn’t we make our voices heard to Congress more?  And if you couldn’t see it coming, well criticism of others for lack of prescience is hypo…

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By Libarchist, December 9, 2008 at 3:02 am Link to this comment

I noticed that as well…Obama, is not very bright,  or educated in the manner in which he communicates in writing, and spoken words.

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