The Glorification of…?

Over the past few weeks, there have been two news stories whose juxtaposition has fascinated me, and I suspect they’re not the ones most readers would think of – the Wisconsin teachers’ protests [along with associated demonstrations across the country] and the hoopla surrounding the movie The Social Network, which claimed four Oscars at the recent Academy Awards ceremony.

What is so intriguing, horrifying to me, in fact, about this juxtaposition is the values behind each and the way they’re playing out in the press and politics.  The Social Network is “only” a movie, but it portrays how an egocentric and brilliant young man, with few ethics and less scruples forged a multi-billion dollar corporation by pandering to the need of Americans to essentially be recognized at any cost and by creating the social media structure that so many Americans, especially young Americans, seem unable to function without.  In practice, it’s about the glorification of self and the exaltation of emptiness within those who seem unable to function without continual affirmation by others.  What’s also disturbing about the film is the support it has received from the “younger” generation, who seem oblivious to the issues behind both Facebook and its creator.

The Wisconsin teachers’ protest is about a Republican governor who wants to remove rights and benefits from public school teachers because the state and the body politic cannot “afford” to continue to fund those benefits.  This is happening at a time when almost every public figure is talking about, or giving lip service to, the idea that the future of the United States depends on education. And yet, across the nation, as I’ve noted more than a few times, teachers get little recognition for what so many do right, and whenever budgets are tight, education gets cut.

So… on the one hand, our great media structure is suggesting even more rewards for the monument to self-promotion and inner emptiness represented by Facebook and other social networks and on the other a branch of our political structure is punishing those individuals who are supposed to be the ones on whom our future depends.

To me, this appears to be paradoxical and sends the message that Facebook is great, despite the fact that its social benefits are dubious and those who created it are even more so, and have made billions off such pandering, while a self-serving governor in Wisconsin and politicians, generally but not exclusively Republicans, across the nation are making political capital by castigating teachers for benefits and salaries they negotiated in legal and proper ways over generations… and firing thousands of them along the way.  Are all teachers and public employees perfect?  Heavens no!  But to glorify those who made money by capitalizing on vanity and by setting ethics aside while penalizing those who earn far, far less under far more onerous conditions certainly sends a message as to what we as a nation really think is important.

And yet, I haven’t seen anyone else point out this juxtaposition.  I wonder why not.

9 thoughts on “The Glorification of…?”

  1. Frank says:

    The issue with the movie (The Social Network) is sad, but not very unique. I would guess that this type of “acceptable spiritually shallow narcissism” is cyclical in nature; it’s been here before and will go, and then be here, again.

    The issue with the way we are treating teachers is much more troubling, at least to me. My father was born in 1914, and was in his teens during the Great Depression. I remember him explaining to me that, during the Depression, teaching jobs were considered “a real plum” because they were steady, not in jeopardy, and paid fairly well. This was during the “Great Depression” when people were actually starving and businessmen were jumping out of windows. Yet, today, as we grapple with fuel costs being too high, easy credit not being easy anymore and a jobless rate over 10%, the politicians (same ones that wanted to spend billions on invading foreign countries and building railway systems that will never pay for themselves) want to immediately vilify all government employees, and most particularly teachers.

    It is a sham and a shame that teachers are being portrayed as having some sort of “fat/sweet” deal because the same security, (small) income increases and benefits that they were enticed to work for as an offset to higher private sector salaries, are now paying off because the economy went bad. It’s about equivalent to an insurance company refusing to pay a claim because they only meant to provide insurance when it wasn’t really needed.

    This is true with most government employees, but with teachers we are talking, in a very real and serious sense, about our future as a nation and a culture.

    I agree that we need to weed out bad teachers, and government workers who cannot perform, but, this vilification of teachers is pandering to the worst part of the public’s fear reaction. I hope some politician sees that this is (should be) one time that standing up against the tide could do them some good. I know it would do our Country some good.

  2. hob says:

    Playing devil’s advocate, could one not also see the situations, not as opposites but part of the same issue?
    Class structure in America is being drastically polarized by those who have money and those who earn money. In the past, because the nobility/hereditary classes in Europe refused to allow those without proper blood to enter their social circles and partake of the privileges they received, the whole place went through the Renascence/protestant movements. Movements which shaped the beginnings of what I feel is the split between science and church we see today. On the one side is the argument that society should be shaped on facts/truths clearly observable by many. On the other side is the weight of history which endorses the privileges of nobility in the shape of the catholic church.
    Now, one can clearly see that an educated man in a protestant controlled environment was valued–as much as a rebuke to history as a declaration that reason alone would govern. In current times the privileges of the Nobility in the past have largely sifted to those who are very wealthy. As Europe is no longer very powerful in caparison to America, the ruling classes haven’t got the same incentive to promote education. Education is part of the business model now, a commodity that is sold and traded in complex licensing models involving bank loans.
    Is it very surprising that as a reaction to this, people would in the shape of social networks etc try to wrestle control of their social standing from wealth to peer approval? After all, those who are wealthy are few, and those who are not are many. Peer approval as a currency would be in short supply to those with smaller numbers.

    Perhaps the bigger problem is that even in a place based on reason–social privileges outweigh problems that can clearly be seen on the horizon.

  3. Griffin says:

    Deep thought, based on the very fact that it requires sustained attention and focus, has not, since the Roman Republic, been much sought after or glorified in the common man’s life. Even when it was vogue for Romans to hire Greek scholars and philosophers, it was a rich man’s game, and more about status than learning.

    One’s status, whether the perceived ranking of one’s place in society, or the actual place one holds, is always going to be of great importance to those that have nothing else to think on.

    So. Let us say I am a person of authority (or at least a soapbox from which to spread my word), if I tell you, as a listener, that your position will be eroded by say, ‘letting teachers earn so much for so little,’ or ‘letting these immigrants have the same rights we deserve’ the thought that ‘That’s not right!’ is born in the shallow thinker, closely followed by an intense and unreasoning emotional response.

    It works in advertising. It works in politics. Because it works, it is considered ‘real’ and ‘necessary’ to politics, where one must win in order to exert one’s will and affect change. As our politicians have long since failed to be anything but politicians, they must worship at that altar, and have their political messages are reduced to emotional pleas and shouted rhetoric, rather than reasoned, thoughtful solutions.

    It is not all that new. With cheap printing came revolution, as more opinions were heard, and some thoughts caught fire with the common people.

    With cheap newspapers came more revolutions.

    We are watching the first of the social media revolutions take place.

    More and more young people here are saying, “I don’t need to know that you walked your dog. What’s more, I don’t care,” and shutting off those aspects of social media that pertain to the nattering on about unimportant things.

    It remains to be seen where this cycle will end, and what it will mean for our society.

  4. Richard Hamilton says:

    Unions are fundamentally corrupt in this country – an incestuous relationship where those who receive government money buy votes with campaign contributions.

    Moreover, they corrupt educational institutions by attempting to encourage the introduction of their (the union’s, not necessarily the individual teacher’s) socialist ideology into the classroom.

    They reward tenure and oppose objective measures of effectiveness.

    Except where workplace safety or egregious employer abuses remain serious concerns, unions in most developed countries are obsolete, and should have all special protections, bargaining rights, recognition, or other accommodation to them withdrawn. They should have absolutely no more protection than the right to peaceably assemble. Everyone has the right to speak, but _nobody_ has a right to be heard.

    Good teachers are certainly worthy of respect. Given that wealth is not a reason to pursue teaching, perhaps more teachers are dedicated than is typical of most career fields. I’ve had both relatives and friends that were teachers, and I’m a government employee in another capacity. But the taxpayer comes first, and the taxpayer is not well served by the promotion of equal outcomes for incompetents that unions and similar socialist bodies demand. _All_ government employees, me included, should probably take a 10% pay cut, and then some system that rewards objectively measurable effectiveness should give half the savings to the best, and the worst should be shown the door.

    _All_ states should be “right-to-work” states, that is, nowhere should one be required to belong to a union as a condition of any employment (except employment as a union official, presumably). If the unions could demonstrate that they were still relevant without any special protections, then they wouldn’t need them. If not, good riddance!

    As for some juxtaposition between this issue and the narcissism of social media, I just don’t see it, except that neither social media nor unions encourage excellence, or for the most part show respect for it when it exists in spite of them.

  5. Richard… you need to study history more. Granted… many unions are corrupt, but unions were necessary to fight the management corruption and abuses of the “gilded age.” As someone who has been a teacher, married to teachers, and with children who are teachers, I can assure you that none of us are socialists. As for the right to be heard, in theory, I’d agree. In practice, it doesn’t work that way. The only ones who are heard are those with power, either financial power or political power. Workers, like it or not, have no power, either political or financial, without unions. Management does. I don’t have a problem with “right-to-work” laws. I do have a problem with what lies behind The Social Network, the idea that the only values of worth are those that can be monetized.

    1. Richard Hamilton says:

      I acknowledge(d) that under some circumstances, unions may have a useful role, esp. in the absence of effective workplace safety regulation or the concept of overtime. And since I didn’t say it before, I certainly acknowledge that historically (and still, elsewhere), unions were much more valuable as a balance to other interests. Nevertheless, the history of unions has also included not only collective bargaining and strikes, but also militancy, violence, and yes, definitely some association with socialism, past and present.

      But I think that where safety is not an issue, unions are on balance not an asset in developed countries today. Worker power and freedom consists of quitting and working for someone else (or better, for oneself); always improving oneself to be able to offer those services the market values more. The employer is under no obligation to listen, be responsive, just, kind, or anything else except abide by written commitments (and those oral commitments that could be held to be comparable to written ones). Having said that, such an employer would be a fool, since effective employees are an employer’s greatest asset.

      But were closed shops eliminated and unions barred from bargaining for salary and benefits, but only for improved working conditions (which should really be a matter of mutual interest, since improved working conditions within reason should improve productivity to the benefit of all concerned), and their officials all volunteers with “real” jobs (and therefore dues much lower), I wouldn’t have a problem with that. However, I prefer the model of something like employee ownership (with the added safeguard of diversified retirement investment). The latter doesn’t apply to public employees, but their situation is very different, and I’m not sure that I want any protection for a public employee that is inconsistent with taxpayer interests.

      So…do I want unions destroyed? No, people have the right of assembly. But I want union powers and protections limited except in cases where abuses exist sufficient to justify retaining those. I simply think there aren’t that many such cases anymore.

      (BTW, I certainly notice that you’re not a socialist, and didn’t mean to suggest that. If I were to attempt to label you, it’d be more like anti-label, or anti-ideologist, or something like that, insofar as I get the impression that you think that all ideologies tend to get irrational rather quickly (although I get the impression your “Rationalists” were, while not the bad guys that a simplistic view might make them, perhaps less prone to be the good guys, if only because their methods lent themselves more readily to abuse). I might agree with anti-ideology if I could think of a clear and concise distinction between ideology and principle; anyway, I can never quite make up my mind whether I want to be libertarian or fire-breathing neocon. 🙂

      I’m with you on the social networks in a sense. Problem is, they give people something they desire (a forum, and one they don’t have to pay for, at least not in money). They have to make money to operate their servers and hire their programmers, as do search engines and everyone else on the web that’s not actually selling products or services to those that consume them.

      There might be possible models involving volunteers and voluntary donations. But I suspect those would come to be dominated by causes and ideologies that could mobilize that level of commitment. So perhaps the monetized social network, as repulsive as it can be, isn’t the worst outcome, or at any rate, perhaps its vices might well become a balance to the virtues of other arrangements.

      The question “what do they gain from doing what they do” applies even (more) when no money changes hands.

      1. Mayhem says:

        Unions are an interesting case study. My background is australasian, where the power of the biggest unions was broken many years back. The only unions that have survived are those that actually provide a valid service to their members. Teaching, dockworkers, forestry, and small manufacturing unions and so forth. Almost all our remaining large unions are collections of several smaller ones, even our teachers are separated by discipline – early childhood vs high school vs university. This means that they have a lot of authority at a local level – ideal for dealing with workplace issues, but reduced levels of authority at a national level as they do not dominate a particular industry.

        If I understand your right-to-work properly, we have the same – anyone can work anywhere, and union membership is in general not compulsory. On the other hand, we actually have decent labour laws on a national scale, and a government department quite willing to go up against companies that exploit their workers, so there is much less of a need for unions than in say the US or UK.

        Living in the UK, I can see the problems with large unions – the RMT for example is the public transport union for London, and has a disproportionate level of power in its disputes as a strike can paralyse buses tubes and some trains across the city, while back home, each transport company would have its own union, and a dispute with one wouldn’t affect the others, reducing the impact to the general populace, though not to the company involved. There also seems to be a big issue with corruption – being a union leader seems to be quite a rewarding career choice, and they are extremely reluctant to permit any form of change to their lifestyle, good or bad.

  6. Joe says:

    I know one is supposed to assume stupidity rather than malfaisance but this explanation is getting very worn… especially since in day to day life I see people acting in accord with their interest.

    One of the first investors in Facebook was InQTel (the venture capital branch of the CIA). The need to understand and control society in face of increasing inequality is clear to many and has been for quite some time. For instance, the “Vision 2020” document from the US Space command notes globalization results in haves and have-nots. Ideas are epidemics, communicated from colleague to colleague (, also IIRC an InQTel venture) and friend to friend ( Facebook is wonderful for precisely the reasons that the head of the UK’s MI6 told a closed meeting of the creme de la creme at Cambridge not to use it. The fascinating thing is that Big-Brother has become “opt-in” but since so many use it, opting-out leads to a poorer life.

    The attack on the unions is the other side of the same coin. It takes a large investment to become a teacher, and once you are a teacher your employment options are limited (working for the state you’re in, or moving). From a risk-benefit perspective choosing to become a teacher is a poor option. Since there are few managers and many employees, it is easier for management to present a united face. Thus the need for unions to reestablish the equilibrium. However by removing unions’ rights limit class size or influence the curriculum, Governor Walker is making them useless. Under his proposals they will be limited to fighting for wage increases which will be capped by inflation. By making them useless and requiring them to be renewed every year, he is guaranteeing their demise. The reason Governor Walker is doing this isn’t out of great concern for education (he failed his undergraduate degree) but because he wishes to change the electoral landscape, since public sector unions are the only large non-republican donors: a monetary form of jerry mandering. Nevertheless the consequences will be stark for the children of Wisconsin: fewer good teachers since the risk to one’s job (due to larger class sizes and a pay packet that is guaranteed to decrease in real terms over one’s life) means few bright people will follow their passion to teach.

    It is in individual journalists’ interest is to fit in to and espouse the views of higher society. Partly because that’s where the interesting stories come from. Partly because understanding that mentality helps predict important events. And partly because that’s where career advancement comes from. The result is however the distortion L.E. points out. Once you start looking, you’ll find it all over the place, from the inability of any journalist (other than perhaps the editor of the FT) to spot the on-coming economic crisis, to the lie that Afghanistan would be a short war, or that we really support democracy all over the world.

  7. Cubanero says:

    It’s pretty depressing right now. As a federal employee, I’m pretty disheartened of the anti-government rhetoric and the many recent and proposed reductions in our pay and benefits. On one hand, the troops get a whole lot of accolades (and justifiably so), but those of us in the background who ensure they have everything they need (or at least what we can get them), are a bunch of lazy ne’er-do-wells.

    When the economy was doing well, all my private sector peers laughed at why we schmucks wasted our talent on low-paying, low-respect jobs. Then the economy tanks due to the irresponsible actions of private sector interests. We (citizens) bail them out, and now somehow they’re able to convince the general public that government employees are the ones who are the wealthy leeches. Makes you wonder why the federal government has such a hard time attracting good talent.

    The fat cats are getting fatter every day.

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