I would like to commend B.K. Eakman for her superb piece, “Bushwacking Johnny” (Vital Signs, September). It is the first thing of hers I have read, and I am most impressed by the way she has captured the essence of the moral and spiritual crisis in education today.
I am a college professor, a baby boomer, and in an esoteric field (Chinese literature). Yet I am also a warrior, like Mrs. Eakman, fighting when and where I can the trends self-designated as “postmodernism” in “higher” education.
Bad as it is on this level, it is even worse when “educators” do what Mrs. Eakman describes with ten-year-olds. (My granddaughter is ten; we are raising her as best we can.)
I wish to draw Mrs. Eakman’s attention to one error in her otherwise excellent article. Karl Marx’s theory of alienation has nothing to do with avoiding social ostracism and ridicule. Marx’s theory is an economic one; he argues that the exploited factory worker undergoes dissociation from the product of his labor. In the previous handicraft tradition, a worker created an entire object from start to finish and, therefore, had a personal investment in it as an expression of his own being, which also brought him economic gain. The factory worker, by contrast, monotonously performs a single routine task repeatedly (think of Charlie Chaplin tightening an identical set of bolts on each item coming down the assembly line in Modern Times), a small, impersonal and unidentifiable contribution to the overall product, and he is robbed of the usufruct of his labor by the economic exploitation of the capitalist manager/producer. Consequently, he becomes alienated not only from the product itself but from the entire economic and social order of capitalism that produces it. Alienation indirectly contributes to the development of “class consciousness” insofar as workers become mutually aware of their state of alienation and exploitation. Perhaps Eakman mistakenly jumped from this to a supposition that alienation refers to formation of class consciousness because members of a Marx-ian socioeconomic class fear being seen as not belonging to their class, leading to ostracism and ridicule.
I would also raise a question about Mrs. Eakman’s use of the dilemma facing the woman considering abortion of a deformed child. I am not sure that the woman always receives the second message (about being a bad person if she kills her baby) and experiences the resulting cognitive dissonance (of being a bad person whether or not she aborts). In today’s pro-abortion culture, she seems far more likely to receive a second message of positive reinforcement: “If I abort my baby to prevent horrific suffering for it, I am being kind and merciful. Therefore aborting my child makes me a good person, and allowing him to be born and suffer so terribly would make me a bad person.”
Mrs. Eakman Replies:
Let me address Mr. Altena’s second concern first: It is true that many women never receive the message “you are a bad person if you kill your baby”; women who do receive both, however, definitely risk a state of cognitive dissonance, because both messages are very strong and contradict each other. So, without going into the moral or ethical ramifications of either message, I merely observed that unless such a woman can default to one set of beliefs, she is a candidate for suicide. Thus the importance of having a firm set of beliefs, established usually in adolescence or before. The lack of one is the source of what many refer to as “mental health” issues.
Regarding Mr. Altena’s observation concerning Marx’s theory of alienation: Basically, he is correct regarding Marx’s economic theories, which were his initial contribution to what became known as communism. Once Marx’s theories started being applied to psych-war attack strategies against the West in the post-Stalin era, however, Marx’s economic theory of the alienated worker morphed into a political theory of the alienated citizen. This is where my comment came from. One book in which this theory is applied is Social Psychology and Propaganda (1984), translated and printed in English by the Moscow Institute for Social Research and confiscated by our troops in Grenada during the Reagan era.
On Commie Education
Congratulations to Srdja Trifkovic for his excellent article in your September issue (“A Communist Education Remembered,” Views). It is not only courageous in the present circumstances but completely accurate, both in the details and, of course, in its underlying philosophy of education.
Let me reassure Dr. Trifkovic: This underlying vision has survived in Budapest, where I have been teaching philosophy and philosophy of religion for the past 12 years, every fall semester. At the two universities where I teach, both state institutions, the students are well prepared by the gymnasium; Dr. Trifkovic would recognize in classroom and corridor the same spirit and the same preparation that he remembers so well and with gratitude—not only the curriculum but the moral conviction so indispensable for learning. I am speaking of an elite; but is that not what we mean by students when we speak of serious education?