Monday, March 23, 2009

Our current moral condition

I want to beg you to go read the latest piece by Chris Hedges. It is entitled "America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout" and, long as I have been reading Hedges and have admired him, I'm still astonished by the insight expressed. Here is a sample of what he says:

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.
Frank Donoghue, the author of "
The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities," details how liberal arts education has been dismantled. Any form of learning that is not strictly vocational has at best been marginalized and in many schools has been abolished. Students are steered away from asking the broad, disturbing questions that challenge the assumptions of the power elite or an economic system that serves the corporate state.
The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. Moral autonomy, as Immanuel Kant wrote, is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate.

Moral autonomy is what the corporate state, with all its attacks on liberal institutions and "leftist" professors, has really set out to destroy.

I truly believe this is an important essay. It was originally published on Truthdig and has been reprinted today over on Common Dreams. As I write, there are already eighty-six comments to the piece on the Common Dreams site.

I will tell you something else that disturbs me greatly. Tenure is disappearing in our universities. Not only that, the number of full time professorships is diminishing so that many higher education classes are taught by part time adjuncts who receive no benefits, have to work other jobs and (needless to say) have no time to do research and to write.


  1. I haven't read Hedges before, but I just read this article and agree with everything. As an undergrad during 9/11 I definitely saw the rise of the right in the university. It continues, too. For example, TU has a conservative student newspaper (funding, I assume comes from an outside conservative group). This is what happened where I was an undergrad--the conservative student group received funding from outsiders to publish their newspaper. Which in and of itself is fine, except for, as Hedges as noted, these little things tear away at the integrity of the university system.

    And I no longer believe, as some have argued, that this conservative bend is a failing on the liberals' parts. I don't have any big thoughts, but it seems like lately morality has been framed as a liberal issue, when, really, morality can be assessed outside of political beliefs.

    All of this is to say thank you for drawing attention to this article!

  2. Anonymous11:04 AM

    What an articulate writer! Marilyn


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