The evolving system of domination—some thoughts on the national security form for students and faculty

Glen T. Martin


Let’s look at the larger picture regarding the technology and thinking beyond the national security form for students.

               A number of thinkers have written pioneering scholarly books on the “technological imperative” or the “bureaucratic imperative” and its encroaching system of domination in the service of these imperatives as this has developed over the past several centuries of the modern period.  In the early part of the 20th century, perceptive thinkers analyzed the growing loss of freedom and pattern of increasing domination due to the imperatives inherent in both capitalism, bureaucratization, and technology.

Max Weber, for example, traced the dominance of “instrumental reasoning” over the several centuries in which the traditional nature of reasoning (recognizing that it could identify the good life and seek to actualize it in practical terms) was replaced by state bureaucratic imperatives and the imperatives of instrumentalized capitalism (which resulted, he said, in a “loss of freedom” and a “loss of meaning” for the masses of modern persons).

         P.S. Sorokin, in his well-known 1941 book, The Crisis of Our Age, contrasts the “Ideational” system of truth with the “Sensate” (empiricist) system that dominates the thought of the modern world. In the Sensate system, all knowledge, truth, and value are reducible only to what is confirmed by sensation, through empirical methods (1941:30-36). The crisis of the modern age is due to the fragmentation engendered by the Sensate system that attempts to reduce all truth and value to materialist and empiricist assumptions.

Similarly, in his 1931 book Man in the Modern Age, philosopher world renowned philosopher Karl Jaspers reflects on the facts of the degradation and diminishment of individual human beings by mass culture:

In the rationalization and universalization of the life-order there has grown contemporaneously with its fantastic success an awareness of imminent ruin tantamount to a dread of the approaching end of all that makes life worth living…. Man seems to be undergoing absorption into that which is nothing more than a means to an end, into that which is devoid of purpose or significance. But therein he can find no satisfaction. It does not provide him with the things which give him value and dignity.  (62 & 83).

Again, for Jaspers, the inherently valuable ends and depths of human life are buried by the modern process of rationalization. Within a civilization which is effectively organized to deny the value and dignity of the individual, persons seeking the restoration of meaning and freedom in life will need to be in rebellion:

If man is to be himself, he needs a positively fulfilled world. When his world has fallen into decay, when his ideas seem to be dying, man remains hidden from himself as long as he is not able to discover on his own initiative the ideas that come to meet him in the world…. The mental situation today compels man, compels every individual, to fight wittingly on behalf of his true essence…. The first sign of awakening circumspection in the individual is that he will show a new way of holding himself towards the world.  Selfhood or self-existence arises out of his being against the world in the world. (194-195)

Authentic selfhood, Jaspers asserts, requires rebellion against the dominant “norm” of modern society. Similarly Jacques Ellul in his 1965 book, The Technological Society observes that what was the means to the realization of human interests (following Bacon’s maxim that “knowledge is power”) has taken on its own imperative—the technological imperative—and now dominates civilization regardless of human wishes. It operates not only throughout the mega-corporations of capitalism but through those technological power-systems called sovereign nation-states. Ellul writes:

The interplay of the technical censorship with the pretended “anarchic” spiritual initiatives of the individual automatically produces the situation desired by Dr. Goebbels in his formulation of the great law of the technical society: “You are at liberty to seek your salvation as you understand it, provided you do nothing to change the social order.”· All technicians without exception are agreed on this dictum. It is understood, of course, that the social order is everywhere essentially identical: the variation from democracy to Communism to Fascism represents a merely superficial phenomenon….

Dr. Goebbels slogan could be the motto of Radford University: students seek your own salvation but do not challenge the social order. When the “Occupy RU” student club first was forming a couple of years ago (asking me to be their faculty advisor), the Vice-President for Student Affairs actually came (uninvited) to our organizational meetings.  An RU Vice-President coming to a group of 10 students who are starting a little student club!  This shows the principle that Goebbels expressed: you are allowed to have a student club provided you do nothing to change the social order. 

In their 1992 book The Universe Story, Swimme and Barry call our era the “Technozoic Era.” This general framework and orientation, they assert, is “pathological.”  This diagnosis is similar to what psychologist Eric Fromm and others called the era of “the Organization Man” whose first duty is to “obedience” to the system. Fromm speaks of this as a “social pathology,” building into human beings a “pathological social character.” Herbert Marcuse called persons of our era “One Dimensional Man,” (in his book by this title) describing the domination of bureaucracy, positivism, and capitalist ideology in the US. People are being educated, he said, to be psychologically unable to critique or challenge the system.

Jūrgen Habermas, the great philosopher of modernity, wrote that the “life-world” (the healthy world of human communication and shared values) has been “colonized” by the “system-imperatives” of both the bureaucratic and the capitalist systems to the point where we cannot distinguish what really contributes to living from what deadens and destroys it. Contemporary education scholar and thinker Henry A. Giroux writes a great deal about these themes: the liberating purpose of education has been entirely compromised, he says, by the “system” of education.

In the US, the encroachment of this goes back many years.  But recently, the NSA has begun systematically spying on the communications of all US citizens.   The Federal Government has instituted “No Child Left Behind” which systematizes all education within the ideology of domination and exploitation. Corporations, which have colonized the life-world in so many other dimensions, have seen the system of higher education in the US as the last frontier that still had some features that were not in the service of the techniques of private profit maximization and exploitation. 

At RU, corporations have given money to colonize the curriculum and compliant administrators have opened up the students to even more capitalist propaganda than they currently get in many of their courses.  RU has a contract with Coca Cola to use only Coke products on campus, and with innumerable other private contractors who have turned a supposedly educational setting into a commercial marketplace.

The nationwide craze for the “assessment” of the results of educational processes dominates here.  Marshall Mcluhan said “the medium is the message”—that is: the real meaning of educational evaluation, of NCAT rules, of bureaucratic supervision of the educational process is precisely in the medium: the hidden “message” is the control and domination of thought, creativity, and independence, since it is these qualities that could lead to rebellion and liberating change.

Bureaucrats instinctively know this, and that know that their jobs and high salaries depend on extending the bureaucratic control over those they manage—and evermore closely micro-manage.  To receive a grant at RU now means that one is  totally managed by the bureaucrats in Sponsored Programs.  The intention to ask for information or systematic response in a class or at a meeting elicits the control of the “human subjects experiment” bureaucrats. To have a disabled student in one’s classroom is to be controlled by the “disability management bureaucrats.” One must evaluate one’s courses under the supervision of the “assessment management bureaucrats.”  Hence, professional educators and scholars with advanced degrees in their fields are no longer considered competent to “evaluate” their students or manage their courses.  (A dean even told me last year: “You don’t evaluate your students. That is the job of the assessment team.”).

Every student or person hired at RU needs to fill out a Homeland Security Form, solidifying the system of domination and control over their lives.  Radford University, without asking any questions, offers educational training for people to learn war, invasion, and destruction of foreign victims and lets them walk around campus wearing the symbols of their lethal occupation and education. Last semester the campus-wide email came around that the CIA is recruiting on campus.  Apparently it is of no concern to RU that its graduates go into a life complicit with torture, murder, assassination, deception, and subversion of peoples the world over. It all fits together so well: RU’s mission is to enhance and  empower the system of domination.

The medium is the real message here. NCAT claims that it wants to save at-risk students and that courses that do not conform to their pattern must be abolished so that all students have the same format: with which they can understand how they can succeed and hence no longer have to deal with a variety of formats making sometimes extraordinary demands on them.  The ideological cover is the need to help students to succeed.

However, the real message and what NCAT really wants, the hidden agenda, is to extend the habit of sameness, conformity, and obedience to students and faculty in every venue.  The coming totalitarianism being promoted by the NSA and the inner circle of the Pentagon—with the militarization of the police in the US, the war on journalism, and the national-security regime—demands nothing less.  We cannot have people who emerge from college as creative, independent, resourceful, critical thinkers and actors.  This result would be disastrous for the system of domination. We cannot risk another rebellion against this pathological system as happened during the 60s and 70s. The older generation has not forgotten that massive rebellion, when large numbers saw through the system of domination and rose up against it.  It is imperative that we transform the educational system to prevent this at all costs.

When I was in college during the 1960s and 70s, the system of bureaucratic domination had encroached on many spheres of life in the US but not yet on higher education.  During my college career I attended 3 undergraduate colleges, 2 graduate colleges and taught as an adjunct at 3 different colleges.  With very few exceptions my professors were brilliant scholars in their fields and excellent teachers with a wide variety of teaching styles, means of assessment, and demands on their students.  It was a system that could be tough and very demanding.  My senior colleagues when I was an adjunct (these brilliant scholars and teachers) understood this system of variety with its rigorous demands as a crucial part of a quality education itself. 

A large part of the educational process is developing the maturity, self-discipline, and creativity to meet this extraordinary variety of demands, learning to think and act for oneself, and learning to critically evaluate mediocrity, conformity, and bureaucracy for what they are.  My professors and senior colleagues supported and encouraged rigorous higher education through a wide variety of educational styles and demands because this was essential to what a quality education was all about.  It produced top thinkers, scholars, active world citizens, and social critics.

No more.  This today is all gone, as the instrumental and technological imperative of purely instrumental reasoning drives all of civilization toward the system of total conformity, total obedience, and total domination. The new norm that we are heading toward may not be Orwell’s 1984 but rather Huxley’s Brave New World. In the brave new world under the domination of conformity, mass mediocrity, and habitual obedience to the authorities and the pervasive “system,” what is crucial is that students be rescued, taken care of, encouraged, and retained through ending the diversity and challenge of great teaching and learning.

Because if they feel taken care of and cared for, if they are helped to fit into the system, they may well fail to see the deep pathology of the overall system of domination, manipulation, deception, and exploitation. They will be willing to obey, to be complicit in the military domination of other peoples worldwide, to be complicit in the distribution of wealth in the world: with the bottom 50% living in the hell of absolute poverty, to be complicit as the global environment is destroyed by corporate greed, and as freedom everywhere is crushed by the Imperial government within and without. To accomplish this, we must eliminate all the great and challenging teachers and replace them with mediocre conformists, team players, persons of collegiality,” and educational bureaucrats who just accept the imposed system of manipulation and control as “normal,” letting themselves be managed just as they in turn manage the students.

If the bureaucrats succeed in this, the corporations will be happy with the production of mindless consumers, the government will be happy with the production of obedient mandarins conforming to its propaganda system, the imperialists will be happy to continue their foreign wars and mass-murder of people around the world without resistance at home, and the bureaucrats themselves will be happy with their immense salaries and “successful management” careers.  There will be no one left to resist the coming totalitarianism and the transition from freedom to a living death for the human spirit will be complete.  That is why the educational system is the last target of instrumental and technological rationality.  It may well be the last bastion of human freedom.  That is why the NCAT document says that teachers who resist must be fired or reassigned to other duties.  Totalitarianism brooks no exceptions, no deviation.  It requires absolute obedience and conformity to the system.