An interlocution between teacher and student about what it means to teach social justice within the context of the study of history, government, and ethics.
By Brett I. Kier | Friday, 26 June 2015
Student: What is teaching?
Teacher: It is the act of deconstruction and transgression between teacher and student.
Student: What is its purpose?
Teacher: Knowledge that leads to growth, expansion of awareness, and action, i.e., wisdom.
Student: What does teaching social justice mean?
Teacher: Teaching social justice means teaching and speaking to the historical moment, it means exploring the “mechanisms of power which establish inequality, through the systematic analysis of political discourse,” and contextualizing that moment within the arc if history.1 Teaching social justice begins with throwing oneself, and later your students, into an epistemological and existential crisis where everything you think you know about who and what you are needs to be deconstructed then reconstructed from the ground up, which requires us to relentlessly interrogate our systems of belief. What are my assumptions and presuppositions? “Social justice” describes the act of taking control of the levers of power of society through either co-opting the institutional apparatus of government, or through the creation of parallel structures that directly threaten and undermine the power structure’s ability to control the population by coercion and violence; the ultimate result of which is to strip away one’s false consciousness.
Student: Why do you teach us about social justice?
Teacher: The a priori position of those of us who teach social justice is that the social, cultural, economic, and political realities that we live in are fundamentally dysfunctional and systemically designed to primarily benefit plutocrats, and have for the most part failed to deliver on the promises that origin myths of this country espouse and that elected leaders speak nostalgically about “returning to.” This points to a truth that few are aware of and still fewer have the will or knowledge to struggle against, but struggle we must because our ultimate goal is spiritual, political, economic, and social liberation.
You see, in this world, there are the Big Lie, and the Big Joke. If you are not aware of the existence of these truths, then you will be unwittingly used as an agent of the State, acting to subvert and undermine the expression and practice of freedom and equality. Remember, agents of the State are actively working to undermine your awareness of the reality that the true practice of freedom in this country has been curtailed or outright stolen through coercion and violence; as it is especially vital that people within democratic societies hold the view that they are free. Bernays explains: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”2 And Goebbels (a protégé of Bernays) goes on to point out that: “Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident that they are acting on their own free will.”
Student: What is the Big Lie?
Teacher: It has, over the centuries, been described in various ways. It is what Plato’s Republic referred to as the Noble Lie. It creates what Freire calls one’s “limit situation;” and Marcuse describes the effect of the Noble Lie on society as “repressive desumblimation,” where all oppositional forces levied against the status quo are co-opted into the “free” market system through commodification.3,4 Quite simply, it is the belief by a people within a given culture and society that there exists a coherent structure and organization to the inner workings of that society, and that while injustices may exist, the foundational and governing principles of the society are based on justice and fairness, and that any phenomenon which present itself as somehow divorced from these founding principles is understood as being anathema to “who we are.”5 They are outliers, bad apples, or narratives that run contrary to the narratives of the State. This entire process takes place through complex forms of social engineering and propaganda, the end result of which is your committed belief in the lack of their existence, and the belief in the national myth. As Jose Ortega y Gasset said of the nature of truth and State propaganda, “Create a concept and reality leaves the room.”
Student: How does the Big Lie affect me?
Teacher: The French philosopher Jacques Ellul put it this way:
“The individual has no chance to exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under [the best of] conditions…Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda is suppressed…years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another, this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis a vis some event without a ready-made opinion.”6,7
Student: How do I know when I am being lied to and what should I do about it?
Teacher: The Big Lie is generally presented in a Manichaean fashion, using what Reinhold Niebuhr referred to as “emotionally potent oversimplifications.” The purpose of this strategy is to limit critical analysis, control opposing viewpoints, and elicit nationalist sentiments. Therefore, when you hear or see pieces of information that are framed in such a way as to require you to assume a particular set of presuppositions which seem to reiterate the “Us versus Them” paradigm, it is important to look closely and critically at all of the underlying questions that are taken for granted in any given narrative, such as: “Who is giving me this information?”, “Where did they get the information?”, “What is the agenda of the person giving me the information?”, “Are there other questions that are not being asked here because they are assumed as being the case?”
Student: How exactly do you teach social justice?
Teacher: We teach it by exposing state crimes against democracy, and approaching all phenomenon with a radical critique, meaning speaking directly to the core and fundamental epistemological realities of a given limit situation in order to reawaken the repressed and oppressed elements of the Self. This awareness in turn will inspire a sense of purpose that will spark the desire to act on behalf of oneself and one’s community; in other words, the exercise of authentic agency. An apt metaphor comes from a man named Frederick Matthias Alexander, who was a bodyworker and a Shakespearean orator. He developed something called the Alexander technique. His theory of mind-body awareness explained that because of repeated misuse of the body, people must unlearn the inefficient way in which they have been using their bodies by reeducating the mind and body through conscious awareness and practice of proper body mechanics, thus returning a person back to a state of dynamic physical equilibrium and neuropsychological balance. This is akin to the awakening of the political consciousness of a person through conscious intention and practice in order to move towards a natural balance of the mind and body in order to fully embrace one’s humanity.
Student: What does that look like in practice? Can you give me an example?
Teacher: The power structure invades and co-opts all sides of a debate using various techniques such as framing the debate through controlled opposition, limited hangout, and subliminal programming. I will give you a few semantic, socio-political, and historical examples of how debates are framed, thus controlling the opposition.
First, take the word “tolerance,” a much bandied-about word in progressive circles, as well as the mainstream media. Everyone generally agrees that it is a social good to teach tolerance. The dictionary definition of tolerance is as follows: noun, it means to hold a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. Let us set aside the definition for a moment and examine the Subject-Object relationship of this word. It implies that there is a “tolerator,” in this case the Subject; and one who is “tolerated,” the Object. According to this Subject-Object formulation, who is in the position of power here? Going back to the definition of tolerance, the operative words of the definition are “a permissive attitude” towards others. Again, who has the power to give permission, the one who tolerates or the one who is tolerated? This language is hierarchical, oppressive, and is reminiscent of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, so aptly articulated by Albert Memmi.8
Next, let us look at the socio-politics of the LGBT community; in particular, the concept of choosing to engage in a homosexual lifestyle versus being “born that way.” Again, a false dichotomy with insidious implications is being framed by this formulation, which as you will see is not only oppressive, but creates a very specific and intentionally engineered attitude towards the issue. The question: “Is a person gay because they choose to be or are they born that way?” is code for “Under what conditions is homosexuality forgivable or permissible?” As a society, public opinion as of late has swayed significantly to the side of “tolerance” towards the LGBT community, evidenced by the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage that was referred to as a “judicial Putsch” by Antonin Scalia, but it has done so because it is a widely accepted idea that being gay is not a choice, and that people are born that way, and therefore deserve forgiveness and toleration. Packed within this entire argument is the assertion, “homosexuality is wrong.” However, because our society has decided it is a biological phenomenon, it is a forgivable wrong. Nowhere in today’s public discourse is the argument being promulgated that a free human being has the right to engage in any lifestyle they wish with another consenting adult so long as no harm comes to either person as a result of this choice. That would be untenable, because asserting that homosexuality is a choice gives it the sinful distinction of being both wrong and unforgivable.
Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that this very idea has been used by missionaries (colonizers) the world over. Indigenous people (savages) with no knowledge of God are innocent and ignorant of notions of right and wrong, and therefore forgivable; however, if the indigenous people refuse the teachings of the knowledge of God, they become Satan’s handmaidens and can be yoked and slaughtered with impunity, being tamed in the same way the land must be tamed in service of all God-fearing men.
Finally, although the following example requires a much deeper level of deconstruction than can be offered here, a general overview will illustrate how the power structure controls the framing, flow, and accuracy of information. This historical example gets to the heart of our national identity because it strengthens the mythology of “Us versus Them”, in particular the epic battle between Good and Evil, otherwise known as the War on Terrorism. This war reached a fever pitch with the announcement by President Obama that on 2 May 2010 Osama Bin Laden (aka Tim Osman, when he was on the CIA’s payroll9) was assassinated by U.S. Special Forces, whereupon the nation engaged in a collective patriotic orgasm. Details of the military operation were canonized in the CIA-sponsored propaganda film Zero Dark Thirty.
As time went on more and more details of the raid began to get called into question. Perhaps most famously was the assertion by the Administration that the raid was broadcasted live in the Situation Room in Washington, hence the iconic photograph of key military brass and political leaders including the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State looking pensively at a screen allegedly depicting the military operation in real time. This assertion was later retracted, although not widely reported, which left the elephant in the room, “What was the photograph depicting?” The perfectly manicured photo has since been widely reported by the alternative press to have been staged; meant to be a clever piece of propaganda much like Stalin’s penchant for removing people from photos after they were killed, or the orthodox Israeli newspaper HaMevaser removing the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel from photos because she is a woman.10 Although many subsequent revelations called into question the official narrative of what happened before, during and after the raid, because they ran contrary to our shared mythology, they disappeared from the mainstream press and into the memory hole. Recently however, a bombshell appeared in the London Review of Books on 21 May 2015.11
According to Seymour Hersh, inside sources from Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency stated that the CIA had nothing to do with locating Bin Laden contrary to the official narrative, and that “a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer” told the CIA where he was hiding in exchange for “the $25 million reward offered by the US.”12 Hersh later explained that the White House decided to release the news of Bin Laden’s assassination against the wishes of the Pentagon in order to strengthen Obama’s presidential reelection bid, which required them to make up the story of Bin Laden’s death on the fly, explaining why so many of the details had to be retracted. Hersh goes on to further dismantle the official narrative of the Bin Laden assassination by the U.S. Government for a few more pages.
Why do I bring this whole thing up? Hersh’s story got all of the mainstream U.S. press and much of the world press to start debating how Bin Laden was actually killed on 2 May 2010. The answer is that the whole debate was a shell game, a controlled opposition designed to remove from the minds of the average citizen a simple fact. Namely, that Osama Bin Laden was already dead, and had been dead for over a decade. Bin Laden was likely killed in Tora Bora years earlier, which has been confirmed by many military insiders in the Pentagon, including FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, who testified on record that the top secret intelligence documents she translated proved that Bin Laden was dead at least 10 years prior to the raid in Abbottabad.13 The entire narrative of the alleged death of Bin Laden is being used to obfuscate and hide the truth: The 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by members of the U.S. Government. The parameters of this discussion prevent us from delving more deeply into this topic, but suffice it to say that dozens of books in many languages have been written about this topic over the years, and countless more have yet to be written. A good place to start examining this topic is the research being done by Barbara Honegger, who is widely known to be an authority in this area.14
Student: That’s a lot to process. How do we cope with all of this? What can we do?
Teacher: This is where the Big Joke comes in. The Big Joke is perhaps the most important part of teaching social justice. It is the resistance one must have to drifting into apathy and depression at the sheer enormity of what we all face when we commit ourselves to a life guided by radical truth. It is the commitment one must have to being a spiritual warrior. Spiritual warriors have a deep sense of compassion and empathy for the suffering of others. We all express this in different ways, but following these 5 simple rules is a good place to start:
1. Have a sense of humor.
4. Spend time with those you love.
5. Repeat steps 1 – 4.
1. Wodak, Ruth. Editor. Language, Power and Ideology: Studies in political discourse (Critical Theory). John Benjamins Publishing, 1989
2. Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. Brooklyn, NY: IG Publishing, 2005
3. Freire, Pablo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum Press, 2012
4. Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1991.
5. Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
6. Gatto, John Taylor. The Underground History of American Education. Oxford Village Press, 2003.
7. Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda. New York, NY: Random House, 1973.
8. Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and Colonized. New York, NY: Orion Press, 1991.