Friday, January 30, 2009

The Role of American Fundamentalism in the Decline of the West

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

As fundamentalism grows stronger, education declines and vice versa. The gulag 'state' of Texas, last among all states in high school graduations, is a prime example. The deterioration of public education in 'fundamentalist' dominated states is no coincidence. As they were in the middle ages, education, enlightenment, science and logic are considered to be enemies of 'the Church'. Fundie allies inside the GOP consider them to be enemies of the state as well.

The back to back idiocies of George W. Bush and that of the 'hair club for men' representative, Rick Perry, sabotaged one's chances of getting a passable education in the gulag state of Texas. Texas recently beat out Mississippi for dead last in those graduating high school. Even Mississippi ranks higher! Think about it and tremble -- for our futures!

Nevertheless, for many throughout the ranks of the Christian right notable failure is: 1) cause for celebration that a 'secular' system has failed; 2) evidence that either 'faith-based' programs or the financing of Church schools with public monies is a better alternative. The Lone Star State's educational failure is, for them, motivation to peddle 'faith-based' initiatives. Never fans of the Constitution and the First Amendment, it does not matter to them that their proposals violate the separation of church and state.

In any case, I will never believe that the deterioration of public education in 'fundamentalist' dominated states is a coincidence. Education, enlightenment, science, logic have always been branded enemies of 'the Church' by the church at least since Catholics burned Giordano Bruno and persecuted Galileo. In England, Protestants were persecuted by Catholics under Mary; vice versa under Elizabeth.

The life of William Shakespeare is a guide, one of the lessons of history. Bill's was a time of great divisions throughout English society. Because he would not renounce his 'old faith', Shakespeare's own cousin was drawn and quartered at Tyburn --now called 'Marble Arch'. He was a 'terrorist' because he opposed Elizabeth. Earlier, however, it was protestants who were burned by Mary who considered them to be 'terrorists'. A thoughtful, intelligent young writer might have been inspired to write: "A plague o' both your houses' as two feuding families became the allegory for religious warfare.

If people understood the ramifications of their attempts to bring down what Jefferson called the 'wall of separation', they would be outraged. Most will chose to ignore it but may pay the price when they become the targets of hot dog cops with tasers, when they become the targets of latter day Torquemadas with water boards, racks, and widow makers.

The recent elections could not possibly have changed deep seated, long ingrained attitudes. The GOP has leaned toward theocracy, perhaps since its founding. Learned folk are alarmed and should be. It is no accident or quirk of fate that, in the US, the level of education in science is well below that of other countries, India most notably. What passes for 'entertainment' often dumbs-down the populace by making 'heroes' of idiots, and 'enemies' or 'nerds' of intelligent people.

That many American 'heroes' are dumbasses is cause to suspect American values. The great series of Speilberg films are a notable exception. Indiana Jones was much more than a mere 'action hero'. He was as smart as the whip he wielded to great effect in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. I was sure the film would fail. How many folk would sit through a film about an archaeologist in search of an artifact that less than 10 percent of the American people had ever heard of? [that's excluding the Jewish community, of course]

Mass media has deteriorated dramatically in my life time. I recall watching --on a grainy black and white TV set --folk like Eric Severeid and Ed Murrow discussing real issues intelligently. Neither man was afraid to use the 'right' word, that is, a big or obscure but precise word, a word no longer taught to graduating seniors and perhaps unknown even to their inadequately paid instructors. Much later, I met and talked with Richard C. Hottelet, a famous CBS correspondent. An original member of 'Murrow's boys', Hottelet is still remembered for his arrest by Germans when he was suspected of being a spy and released in 1941 during a U.S.-German prisoner exchange.

A series called "You Are There" re-enacted historical events with CBS news folk covering them. I will never forget a CBS News Correspondent doing a 'stand up' at the burning of Jeanne d'Arc. On Sunday afternoons, I was tutored in music theory by Leonard Bernstein who played the Golliwogg's Cakewalk on the Piano. [Here's a link to Tommy Emmanuels' version; and here is a link to the piano version by Rachmaninoff] On the same episode, Bernstein conducted Debussy's 'La Mer' [Tenan Conducts Debussy]. He brought to his lectures on Jazz and Gershwin, the same intellect and talent that he brought to his discussions of Hindemith and John Cage. Incredible stuff!

It was on the hit series 'Route 66' that I first heard the word 'Existentialism' discussed against a very hip jazz background. Everyone's favorite --Star Trek --never equaled 'Twilight Zone' in terms of its enlightened treatment of issues like 'race' and 'equality' but may have prepared the American public for its first steps into space, the final frontier. Several generations owe a lot to Rod Serling and Gene" Roddenberry. I would trade ten million George W. Bushs for one of them. Even the Beverly Hillbillies turned out to be a brilliant satire not of the 'hillbillies' but the pretense that surrounded them in Beverly Hills.

I grew up at a time when new technologies --like TV, micro-electronics, space exploration, and computer technology --held out the promise of a new Renaissance. Thanks to bigotry, hate and ignorance, we are, instead, perched upon a cliff edge, the brink of a new dark age.

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