Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mass Producing the Citizenry

One source of our great wealth is the capacity to mass-produce commodities. The computers, cars, cell-phones, and the like can sell cheaply because they are produced in very large numbers. More and more persons can buy these glittering toys and tools as they come off the assembly line, indistinguishable, one exactly like the other.
We would not want our children, and the next generation that is growing up, to be similarly indistinguishable from each other. Every human being is, in some way, unique. Each of us has capacities all our own that are different from those of our neighbor. If these capacities are developed, we all turn out to be unique. Each of us can make special contributions to our lives and the lives of those around us. Our lives will be enriched by the great variety of skills and knowledges each citizen contributes. Life will be more interesting, richer in possibilities.
But these differences must be fostered. We do not have them at birth. If we fail to encourage them, citizens grow up to be very much like each other. They turn into mass produced persons very similar to the commodities we buy.
Our society is rapidly developing into a huge machine to mass produce human beings, because it is not willing to allow and to encourage each child, each young person, to develop their differences from every one else, to be a person in his or her own right.
Yes, there are some private schools where classes are small and have enough teachers to address each child individually, to perceive the special ability of each and to help nourish those individual gifts. But the public schools most of our children attend are large, classes are large. Here crowd control, laying down clear rules of behavior and making sure that every child conforms are much more important. Moreover, thanks to supposed government education experts and masters of mass-production, like Bill Gates, children are constantly drilled to pass tests—the same tasks for every child. Our education ignores individual differences and trains children to be very much like each other.
These children are reared to become consumers of the identical commodities produced by our factories. They learn to judge each other by their consumption, by wearing the right jeans or sneakers. Capacities that set each child apart do not matter. Having the right clothes, the same clothes worn by many other children, does.
Often the parents of these children work for very large organizations. They are hired and evaluated by superficial criteria because in these large organizations there is no time to get to know employees and to appreciate them for their individual gifts. Instead they pass standard tests, they are judged by whether they dress like others, whether their conversation is familiar. Being different is not a recommendation. Conformity is.
It is Oscar night when we find out what are the most popular movies. The push is to see the movies watched by the greatest number of people. There are best seller lists of books and we are encouraged to read the books read by most other people. There are obvious economic interests in the background: publishers want to sell as many copies as they can of any book they have on their list. Oscars and similar prizes, best seller lists are ways of increasing sales. For the citizenry they are another push toward homogenization.
If you go to buy clothes, the sales person may well urge you to buy that shirt you seem to like by telling you that it has sold very well. Many people liked it. So you should like it and buy it too.
The pressure towards conformity is strong in politics too. Candidates for public office need to get large numbers of votes; more than their competitor. They cannot afford to offend anyone. You can best not be offensive to anyone's sensibilities by only saying whatever everyone else says on any given topic. The less distinct your statements are, the better. The more wishy-washy the candidates, the more likely that they get elected.
Accordingly, it is best to be in the middle of any disagreement. Any opinion or statement that someone labels as “extreme” is a problem. Extremists have no chance of being elected because they are not like everyone else.
With every year we more and more come to resemble those gadgets we buy. Differences between us disappear or are ignored and shoved aside instead of being developed and encouraged. The people you talk to are more and more like you. We become progressively more interchangeable. It matters less whether anyone of us is alive or dead because there are many persons still alive who are just like me. As we become more interchangeable and anonymous our lives lose in value.
Individual human life matters less and less as human beings are more and more like machine products, one just like the next one.