Teaching Barbarism

Civics Is Not Enough: Teaching Barbarics in K-12,” by John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 29, No. 1. (Mar., 1996), pp. 57-62, http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1049-0965%28199603%2929%3A1%3C57%3ACINETB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U.

UN nation-building exercises drag on as atrophied imperial mandates. Parisian suburbs are “zones without law.” Influential members of the nation-security community praise posts that warn without resiliency, State-building is nothing more than the creation of an empty suit.”

A decade ago, two UNL professors warned that the moral legitimacy of democracy was under attack

But the striking finding to us was that, even setting aside [particular scandals and controversies], there was an undercurrent of intense disgust with intrinsic elements of democratic government, particularly democratic government in a technologically complex society of 270 million people, most of whom expect the government to do many things.

Although people, at least as represented by the individuals who participated in our survey and in our focus group, are effusive in praise for the concept of democracy as well as for the basic construction structure of the United States government, they recoil from what democracy looks like when seen in action and sometimes in inaction.. People love the rules of the game, but hate the game itself. Such a hatred of democratic procedures is obviously unhealthy and apparently springs from a patently unrealistic set of assumptions about the nature of democratic politics.

This is an important point. Democracy is safe from material attack. John Robb’s systempunkten aside, guerrilla movements would not succeed in undermining democracy by knocking a few (or even a lot) of points of gross domestic product.

A much greater threat is the horror of people who see politics up-close in our super-empowered information-rich society, and hate it.

For instance, I recently analyzed the blog remarks of House Speaker Dennis Hastert on oil companies. One commentator wrote

Does the interest in your politician’s manipulation of you as a people end in satisfaction that you think you have it figured? Or does it only end when you remove yourself from them and do something to negate their influence?

I think this reaction is pretty typical. People see political manipulation and the application of war theories to politics and want it to end. But barbarism never will end. Human struggle is universal. Politics is not civics — it is barbarics.

And the reason for this is obvious: yet another failure of America’s public schools

we have never been taught what democratic processes look like; we have only been taught antiseptic constitutional principals.

students are not receiving a balanced picture: they are taught the civics but not the barbarics of democratic process.

Current efforts to rectify the situation by getting people to participate more won’t work. It may even make the situation worse, as people become even more aware of the barbarism of civicism

Participation alone will do little to solve the problem

Hibbing and Theiss-Morse believe that the situation can be fixed by teaching “barbarics” to students from early ages

Would it not be preferable to let students know from an early age that preferences, whether based on racial groups or otherwise, will frequently lead members of society into conflict.

Making students aware of both civics and barbarics would not magically turn a negative public into a positive one, but it is an important step toward a public that appreciates the governing process

Despite the authors’ warning of no magic solution, the problems of our public school system are deeper than they suggest. As I earlier wrote, children wish to struggle from early on (boys especially through kinetics, girls especially through gossiping), but the school system retards and perverts this. Teaching barbarism in the current sit-down-shut-up framework is a band-aide.

Worse, the civics-barbarics dichotomy is misleading. All politics is war by other means — or more accurately, some other means. The friction of human struggle encompasses all attributes of life: counter-terrorism, literary criticism, humor, biology, aesthetics and pornographics, computer science, and others.

Human struggle is horizontal across all knowledge, because humans will eventually use any knowledge to win. Teaching that human struggle is something less than the hyper-internet we call reality just rearranges the blinders, and and adjusts our weak-point of democracy from one area to another.