09 September 2021

Political Education


Political Education

Topic by Alberto

Essay by Lawrence


The genius of Descartes has nothing to do with the mind body problem. And although his rational scepticism is very useful he is not the only philosopher to suggest such a philosophy. Indeed his scepticism did not focus on finding the truth but rather at finding the evidence for his existence. But the genius of Descartes is that, as far as I know, was the first to question the integrity of god.


Descartes did not say god does not exist, or that there is no god or that god is dead. He simply asked can god be an evil deceiver or an evil demon. This is important for us because in the twenty first century we should also be questioning the integrity of governments. Integrity of governments should be demonstrated and not assumed.


Political education should help us ask the right questions about governments understand and identify the manipulation and lies of governments and of course, know how to protect our rights. Political Education also helps us understand the mechanics of the state and why governments act in some ways and not others. This is not about wanting to know the secrets of the nation but rather to hold governments accountable.


We must also distinguish between Political Education as a subject at school and Political Education as general knowledge we ought to know about. Teaching Political education at school might be a start to educate citizens about the political system and government power. The only question is what to teach: one necessary condition would be to avoid turning Political Education into a nationalistic fest the way history has become.


Still in the education environment we also need to distinguish education from ideology. We know what education is, we just follow the Cartesian style of looking for evidence and seeking of facts. Ideology is about dictating what the truth is and anyone who does not regurgitate the truth they are considered as failures or even enemies of the state.


Of course, we know about what could happen to Political Education in schools from real life such as the National Socialists (NAZI) in Germany, the Communists parties in the Soviet Union and China, not to mention North Korea. Some might object to comparing these cases with modern European democracies. I have already mentioned the nationalistic manipulation of history subjects at school, furthermore the fact that there is no standard Political Education syllabus (compare with maths) in countries including EU countries is itself a telling observation. And if this wasn’t enough teaching religion in school is still a hot issue if not a taboo.


However, the Council of Europe have established a network of Schools of Political Studies to engage with young people about politics, economic and leadership throughout Europe (https://www.coe.int/en/web/schools-political-studies/home). While the initiative is interesting, Political Education should first and foremost be about human rights and how to protect our rights balanced with our duties. And Political Education should not be limited by age or groups.


The lack of Political Education as a standard subject at school suggests that governments are not too keen on the subject, although many countries do have subjects such as Citizenship, social responsibility and so on.


Descartes did not set out to show that god did not exist, or for that matter that god exists, but rather he set out to find irrefutable evidence that at least he, Descartes, is not a fiction of some evil deceiver’s imagination. Likewise Political Education should not be interpreted as demonstrating the maliciousness and oppression of governments. The scope of political education is to give us the means and the mind set to go beyond propaganda.


In the real world it is difficult for us to go beyond the propaganda: in English propaganda means manipulation and deception rather than just to give out information. There are many reasons why people accept propaganda as fact and as truth. One of the most serious reasons is that most of our childhood and teenage years we are indoctrinated with the imperative to conform. If people conform and repeat the doctrine of the state, religion, our ethnic background, they are praised for their efforts in the same way that a circus dog is praised for performing a pirouette.


But of course, conformity with the prevailing paradigm is important in many aspects of life: least of all the sciences, driving, using a mobile phone and so on. But political conformity, especially in the form of nationalism, can be dangerous to individuals and the country. Nationalism flourishes when the politicians persuade citizen to accept the mantra: my country right or wrong. Sometimes our country might be wrong and pointing this out should be part of the democratic process.


One of the ways governments neuter citizens is by giving the impression that as individuals we cannot change or alter the course of political events. For example health care services are sold to foreign companies so they can make a profit out of the ailments of people. The utilities are sold out and the new owners are given a free hand in managing these monopolies. A simple majority in parliament is enough to destroy the life and security of people, and then we accept it as a given.


If people are not educated in the matters of the state they won’t be able to recognise the failures of the state. It seems that everyone is happy with the idea of being victims of political events. There is nothing we can do; politicians are all liars; our vote does not count or is valid for anything. Unfortunately these attitudes are the product of people not educated in politics.


But are we the victims of the political state? We are victims of the political state as much as we can get wet in a heavy down pour without an umbrella. In other words, just because the state and government are bigger than us it does not mean that we do not have a duty to be informed and to inform ourselves when we cast our vote.


Even that modern bastion of democracy, the European Union, fails at the most crucial stage of democracy: we are all familiar with the American slogan from the American Revolution, no taxation without representation. Sure EU citizens can vote for Members of the European Parliament, or the community or local council we happen to live away from our country of birth, but what we are not allowed to do as non nationals is vote for the national government. The very same national government with the only power to impose taxes.


If this isn’t an abuse of human rights we need to rethink human rights: today we have the hindsight of knowing that EU citizens in the UK before 2016 were the only group of citizens who contributed the most in taxes and national insurance to the British state than any other social group. EU citizens paid more in social security than they took out, unlike say British citizens. Of course, EU citizens did not have a vote in the 2016 British referendum to leave the EU, and it comes as no surprise that EU citizen were the first victims of the UK leaving the EU.


To conclude, objective Political Education can be very helpful if taught in school, but it is an imperative that adults of voting age must inform and educate themselves about politics.


Best and take care



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