Guess the quote. Those infamous lines were uttered by actor Michael Douglas back in 1987, when he portrayed Wall Street villain Gorden Gekko in the Oliver Stone film Wall Street. Even as the film aims to show the pitbulls and spiral of the game that is capitalism, it does highlight a great American notion we still live by today, 34 years later- that greed is good. Capitalism as an economic system relies on both infinite resources and conspicuous consumption.
In order to continue consuming conspicuously, we – the American consumer – must pay for everything. In the United States, we pay for university, healthcare, parental leave, childcare, even vacation days. Americans pay for so much, that we often do not think about the one need we do not pay for, at least not directly: primary education.
If you live in the United States, you know that public education from kindergarten to senior high school comes at no direct costs to families, and is paid for through property taxes and state funding. Free primary and secondary education is somewhat a source of pride for many Americans. We are constantly told how fortunate we are to receive this education for free. These statements are usually juxtaposed by stories of those who have immigrated to the U.S. or have children who are first generation Americans, as many coming from “developing” nations often had to pay for primary and secondary education out of pocket. However, nothing in America is free (not even healthcare), so why don’t American citizens pay for primary care, arguably one of the most necessary institutions in any society? Is there an invaluable purpose to making primary education free for the most impressionable Americans?
America: The Imperial Core
Imperialism is defined as “a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force”. Spoken about by those living in the imperial periphery (non-Western, economically underdeveloped and often exploited nations) imperialism is a crime against humanity. Imperialist nations start wars that kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, overthrow democratically elected leaders in other countries, install puppet dictators, and economically ravage entire global regions. Yet, in the United States, a country guilty of all of these accusations, and a nation with nearly 800 military bases outside its own borders, citizens live in a blissful denial that borders on delusion, refusing to acknowledge what the rest of the world sees as self-evident: America is an imperialist nation. What the United States has tactfully done throughout its existence , is create a culture of hegemony. Cultural hegemony, a theoretical concept coined by Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, says that the rule of the dominant group or dominant social class is achieved by the spread of ideologies through social institutions such as churches, court, media, and lastly, education.
The need for Hegemony in Imperialism
Educational hegemony is necessary for imperialism because the state needs all citizens to believe in its political and military agendas. The most effective way to indoctrinate citizens to have unwavering allegiance to the State’s political ideals is to teach them from youth and constantly drill into each person that the State’s political and economic will is what is best for them, and for the world. Public education then becomes the State’s most effective propaganda tool: it reaches the masses, and marinates in the individual’s and, by extension, the public’s psyche. By the time a child reaches adulthood, they have had twelve years of accepting the most egregious assumptions. They internalize messages about the necessity of capitalism, the necessity of war, and the necessity of poverty.
The US knows it cannot justify its endless international wars, mass incarceration and mass unemployment rates to any reasonable demographic of citizens, so it uses public education to manufacture consent for its atrocities. Under this indoctrinating teaching, imperialism is taught as patriotic, and war criminals are called “Leaders of the Free World.” Free public education means the US is allowed to spread its imperial political agenda without fear of majority dissent- because the people have already been conditioned to see the State’s agenda as the norm, as ‘common sense policies.”
What is the Cost?
In short: the mind. The indoctrination of the American psyche through public education costs both bodies and souls. The current system prepares the majority of citizens to be laborers-an asset only to the corporations the nation itself is beholden to- and to accept political and economic inertia as immutable realities. The cost of an educated mass is too great, the US must use indoctrination to quell even the slightest dissatisfaction with the status quo. A true education is supposed to help lift citizens out of poverty, expand their knowledge of the world, and open their mind to the possibility of a new society.
The State’s imperialist agenda will always take priority over the well-being of its citizens; the state is not charging you money for education, because the taking of your mind is endlessly more valuable and necessary.
Republished with permission from Midwestern Marx