Answer: I tend to disregard any possible connection between career, economic situation and education. I believe this connection to be a very dangerous aspect of the political ideology of our time. The arbitrary connection between education, career and personal economic situation has created, nowadays, a long series of issues that have led our society to disregard the real value and content of knowledge, turning education into some sort of business and not into the most important goal that a society can set. When education serves only the meager purpose of getting a “better job” it is not real education anymore, but a mere professional training. Nowadays there is the extremely dangerous tendency to quantify how much more money a person with a degree will make compared to someone that has none – there are TV commercials about that and some US universities are even listed on the Stock Exchange! This approach of considering education as a mere introduction to the professional world, making knowledge a maidservant of the industry, is so fundamentally wrong from the ethical and social side and has led to some sort of “blind society” where real resources such as knowledge, cooperation, understanding, and social cohesion are neglected in exchange for egotistic and narcissistic ideologies pushing forward only one side of the multifaceted nature of human life. In such a climate only brutal and unscrupulous individuals are promoted to the higher levels of control of the society, driving our world to lower and lower levels of humanity and, consequently, to a very dangerous brutality for all. This situation of decline is variously described and the author Paul Auster, in “The Brooklyn Follies”, wrote: “Con men and tricksters run the world. Rascals rule. And do you know why? (…) Because they’re hungrier than we are. Because they know what they want. Because they believe in life more than we do”. In reality it’s just the opposite of what this book character utters: the ruling class of tricksters and con men do not believe in life or, in Socratic terms, they do not really know what they are doing. Personally I tried to depict this situation and the need to act against it in “La società del contrario” (“The Upside down-society”), a book published in Italian in 2005. Similar books can be found in the US, in particular Richard Weaver’s, “Ideas Have Consequences” (1949), Ferdinand Lundberg’s, :” The Rich and the Super-Rich” (1969) or “The Natural Depravity of Mankind” (1994) and Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” (1997).
Question: How is the economic system in America different from those in other countries you've lived in?
Answer: The main difference I can see is that in the US the economic system is more pervasive and this is mainly the product of a specific political ideology that insist on turning all aspects of life into the monocratic aspect of “the economy” – real culture, real education should be capable to produce resistance to ideology, because reading real books makes people have real thoughts and if someone thinks, he or she cannot be easily tricked by sophistries or brutal quantifications, that’s why it has been necessary to reduce education to mere training (Reading Alexis De Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” - especially Chapter XV, 2nd edition, could eventually help to better clarify this point).
It is noticeable how the ideology of the “economy über alles” changes the way through which people look at reality, pushing them into the delusion of considering every aspect of existence as an “economical factor” and not as a human factor. The ideology of competition can be a good example of this ideological twisting of reality: one of the main elements of social life is cooperation and not competition and history proves that successful societies are those where people cooperates, but in our time we are constantly bombarded by a propaganda that expect people to compete on every aspect of life instead of cooperating – there is also a tendency to twist Darwinism into an ideology to justify this kind of social competition. In itself, social competition (which is basically a merchant concept, i.e. if my merchandise cost less than yours than I am going to sell more than you), is applied to the generals of social life also with the scope to avoid people to become conscious of the social issues surrounding us and unite against it: when people are constantly struggling in a man made competition they don’t have the time and opportunity to get together and start analyzing the common issues, enemies and problems affecting their lives. The contemporary man, what I call “homo novus”, “the new man”, actually lives in the paradoxical situation where people cannot even tolerate to talk about their chains for fear of being reminded of their slavery that they are trying to forget in all possible ways using amusements and trivia (see Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” (1985)). Unavoidably, this mentality produces many damages on the social and the individual level that are too vast to be discussed in short (I would suggest as further reading “The Eclipse of Reason” by Max Horkheimer and most of Erich Fromm’s works).
I would also like to add, although the common opinion believes America to be somehow different from other countries, that this “difference” is, in fact, almost non-existent, being the contemporary crisis a global crisis rooted in a specific mentality that, since millennia, sees the world and other people as objects and subjects or mere means to an end (see Kant’s Ethics). This mentality of dominance and brutality is the most radical issue faced by our time and the only cure to this destructive mentality is a shift to real knowledge – as Plato already pointed out at the beginnings of Western philosophical thinking.
The huge technical apparatus and the ideological propaganda that our oligarchies controls, have made possible to manipulate societies to a point at which the standardization and homogenisation of human beings makes them incapable to follow an argument that has not already been made familiar to them in one form or another i.e. the impossibility to follow an argumentation only on the basis of the logical elements or consequences of it – major and more vulgar examples in the US are the absurd debates between “creationism and evolutionism” or, more recently, the “climate change debate”. This is, by the way, similar to what happened already in other historical periods from the time when Kepler or Galilei were offering a different view from the official version of the universe and many creators of new ideas ended paying with incarceration, torture and in some cases with their lives for the dissonance between their ideas and the common opinion – see, for example, the case of Giordano Bruno. Nevertheless, the huge difference between our time and other epochs is that new ideas, even when rejected and opposed, in the past still managed to create some resonance and effect in those societies, because culture was alive and not in the firm hands of the powerful, while in our age standardization seems to be the norm and there are no new ideas that create a reaction in society (except for the products of the technical apparatus). Socrates was killed because of the dissonance of his ideas with the society of his time, but also because those ideas where capable to represent some danger for the establishment, while nowadays ideas have no more space to emerge and become challenging to the status quo (see also “The Dialectic of Enlightenment” by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer). One more example of the power of ideas in the past, among the many, could be the story of the great poet and writer Osip Mandelstam: in 1933 Mandelstam wrote a poem against Joseph Stalin, one of the cruelest and most horrible individuals of the last century, and read his critical poem only to very few people, but for that he was arrested and sent to a Gulag where he died after five long years of imprisonment. Those people under the Soviet dictator had no “freedom of speech” and yet their speech, even a solitary poem read to selected people, was so powerful that a terrible dictator like Stalin was worried about those few lines recited in a private home! The enormous efforts that tyrannies made in the past to make publication impossible were a clear indication of how much they feared real knowledge. This was the power of culture in the past.
Today we apparently have “freedom of speech” (but this “freedom”, apparently guaranteed by the First Amendment, does not apply in large parts of the life of Americans: for example, in a Corporation or any other commercial endeavor the First Amendment is suspended “by law”) and you can certainly stand on Central Park or on some street intersection and talk out loud (considering that we do have our unspeakable taboo’s as well), but your speech would not produce any result apart for looking silly among the crowd of passerby’s. If instead your “discourse” is preaching to the choir, in that case you won’t need to talk in isolation and you might be rewarded with University tenure and enter the official circle of some well known literati. All of this to point out the fact that ours is a very dangerous moment in history and when people have no influence over the society they live in, they also have no real control over their lives (as further reading I would suggest two novels: Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”).
Question: What are some of the US economy’s biggest problems today, in your opinion?
Answer: First of all the real problem in the US is the view of economy as a dominant category of life, an ideology that wants to turn every aspect of social existence into a matter of give and take. This brutal reduction of existence to arbitrary quantifications has also facilitated the shift to the dominance of finance over economy.
Another of the many issues is the lack of vision by the small oligarchies in control, which is, by the way, something that oligarchies always lacked since the beginning of history. The peculiarity of the Founding Fathers was to be cultivated individuals with a precise vision for the country they were going to create and this vision is still visible in the language of the Declaration of Independence and in the conceptual structure of the US Constitution. Unfortunately, many things have happen since July 4th 1776 and the contemporary ruling class have no commonality whatsoever to that of the XVIII century.
President J. F. Kennedy, a statesman still inspired by the ideals at the core of the foundation of the United States – and therefore brutally killed (see above) – during a Dinner at the White House Honoring Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere, on April 29, 1962, in his speech remarked “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” In some ways, this remark, that at first might seem just a funny opening for a speech, contains a deep message of what our time has been turned into.
Question: What reforms/ policies could the U.S. implement to fix these problems?
Answer: Real knowledge could be the only basis to steer society away from future catastrophes, but real culture cannot be created so easily, especially after the last 50 years of constant destruction of real knowledge. It would be necessary to build a new approach to knowledge and understanding, but this is not an easy task, nor is a task requested by the oligarchies or the people controlled by them – it’s like a sick patient that doesn’t know to be sick because he feels so great and a villainous doctor reinforce his belief telling him that he’s absolutely fine and well and not to believe anyone who tells him otherwise. Real knowledge is based on a disinterested approach to learning and in the current situation of our society this disinterested approach is a desperate need felt only by very few.
In every civilization the crossroad is always at the point when technical development goes alone without any philosophical/epistemological understanding and this is exactly the point where we are currently. We need a way of thinking the world and us in it that is not anymore the brutal materialistic way of power and domination, but a way to cooperation between people and a better understanding of the real realities of life. Life is infinitely more than what the villainous doctor wants us to trick into believe.