A Vicious Circle: United States, Democracy & Education

4 mins read

By Oscar Jablon

A recent report released by U.S. congresswoman Katie Porter showed that big pharmaceutical companies create monopolies to drive out competition and price gouge essential drugs prioritizing profit over lives. This comes as no surprise as a 2019 Gallup poll revealed that at least 50 million Americans have not been able to purchase needed drugs because of heightened prices. It is therefore not uncommon to hear grotesque stories of students dying because they cannot afford their insulin shots. A recent article published by the Mayo Clinic clearly stated the reason being “the manufacturers of insulin know that patients who need it will spend whatever it takes to acquire it,  regardless of price. It is a matter of life and death.” A conclusion that can be drawn from these examples is that the United States democracy has failed to protect its citizens from the greed of certain groups.

But who is to blame?  

Articles like these make it seem that there is a puppeteer behind the stage making the ragdoll dance. A lack of direction and the distortion of facts through the media make pinning the blame on anyone impossible, leaving the impression that the average citizen has been forgotten. It is not just a small group of people that feel this way. The aforementioned Gallup poll also revealed that a majority of citizens feel that their representatives do not represent them at all, leading voters to question the point of participation. The proof of this can be demonstrated in rallies attempting to restore faith in the electoral process, backed by slogans such as ‘your vote matters,’ an odd phenomenon in any democratic state. Regardless of these rallies, the fact remains, the interests of at least some of these representatives are not for the people who voted them into office. Faced with these realizations an intelligent citizen may either become apathetic to political issues or despair in meaninglessness. 

Nearly fifty years ago, author and philosopher Aldous Huxley foreshadowed these events and spent the last half of his life travelling the world in search of solutions to the pressing problems of our time. His investigation resulted in his final novel Island written in 1962. Huxley saw how industrialism gripped the world and how this system produced human beings driven by an uncontrollable urge to consume, and who were willing to kill millions of lives in the process. His response to the ocean of industrialism was a little island known as Pala, an oasis without a military, and education strikingly different from what is found in the current world. The main responsibility of the government in Pala is to maximize the satisfaction of its citizens and prevent any single group from gaining too much control. 

Huxley believed that two-thirds of the suffering in this world came from power and greed and that this could be prevented through the proper education of a nation’s people. This education was to be based on a combination of Western and Eastern traditions, focusing on both the emotional and intellectual aspects of a human being. The reason for this can be summarized in Martin Luther King Jr.’s  speech given in 1948 at Morehouse College: 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. … We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”  

Intelligence, in the way Dr. King used the word, allows big pharmaceutical companies to prioritize profit over lives, and the lack of moral education in the US school system seems to have led to disgusting results. Huxley knew that education was more than just finding a job, it was meant to prepare you for the world on both an intellectual and moral level. In Pala, to prevent greed and power-seekers, students are evaluated psychologically under the assumption that dispositions towards power could be detected at a young age. Subsequently, students were given special treatment to put their potential towards better use and prevent the accumulation of wealth and property in the hands of a few individuals. Regardless of its initial controversy, the point Huxley makes is that by catching certain trends towards a specific behavior early on in a child’s life, we can prevent certain catastrophes from occurring, for example, the rise of a genocidal despot like Hitler.  

Another aspect of Pala’s education incorporates the issue of life and death. Unlike schools in the United States, schools in Pala teach students the significance of living and dying and the challenges that they may encounter in life. They are given a variety of challenges where danger is imminent if they fail. These situations teach the students that fear, sorrow, and pain exist in the world and that with courage you can overcome them. The majority of the world’s education does not prepare students for this subtler aspect of life. In the United States, education completely diverges from this topic and instead focuses on preparing students for jobs in some currently flourishing field. So much so that schools have cut programs that foster creativity such as music and art classes. This is evident by the recent policies from the U.S. Department of Education, which pushes for more funding to programs like Career and Technical Education which encourage students to take technical classes to prepare them for the job market.

To me this makes it seem like the United States government is not interested in nourishing and protecting well-educated citizens, but in creating machines that lack the capacity to think critically. A government that fosters an environment inimical to growth,  innovation, and creativity and does not hesitate to support programs contrary to the benefits of its citizens. Does this mean we should despair and accept meaninglessness? Huxley thinks the contrary: the only way to end a vicious circle is by breaking the weakest link, the weakest link being our education system.

By Oscar Jablon

Illustration: Anton Wärdig

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