“Culture of the mind must be subservient to the heart” – Mohandas Gandhi
Whether a policy made in Congress expanding the pentagon budget, embracing Gay marriage or changing the qualified age for Medicare, in a democratic society every issue ideally involves informed civic engagement in the decision making process. Each person’s knowledge becomes a critical ingredient that determines the quality of public engagement. Historian and activist Howard Zinn (1970) spoke of how knowledge “is a form of power … Everyday control is exercised by a set of rules, a fabric of values passed on from one generation to another by the priests and teachers of the society” (p.6).
Those in power have strong interest in controlling public knowledge and framing the public discourse in order to govern the nation for their own purposes. Zinn pointed to a tendency toward concentration of power, implemented by controlling public understanding and perspective, and that maintenance of this power structure is paramount to those that benefit from it. “There is the Establishment of political power and corporate wealth, whose interest is that the universities produce people who will fit into existing niches in the social structures rather than try to change the structure” (p. 9).
Educational systems, when interfered with by those in power can easily become a process of molding students’ thinking in a way that further perpetuates the existing hierarchy and social order. One might think the ideal of education is for each individual to learn to think independently and to act in a socially beneficial way. Yet in truth, critical thinking is often perceived as a threat to the establishment and so the cultivation of independent thinking is discouraged in many such institutionalized environments. Within this system there is a tendency to only institute a conditional freedom, where teachers and students are allowed to do anything as long as they refrain from questioning the primary complex of the structure itself or the unspoken motives it is built to serve. The foundation of and the motives behind the structure itself are rarely looked at. Howard Zinn (1982) revealed how education has always been encrusted with private interests in this country:
From the beginning of the United States, there was a partnership between business and government on behalf of a wealthy elite and the power of this elite depended on a compliant population, trained in the primary and secondary schools to become the underpaid work force of an immensely rich country. (p. 10)
This trend continued and escalated with the growing influence of corporations. Business interests increasingly interfere with the curriculum and tie the hands of teachers. From an early age the American education system shapes young minds to be commercially oriented in the framing of their choices, producing obedient corporate disciples in a kind of closed conceptual cage. As they move into adulthood, they are prevented from exploring outside of the box and questioning the sources from which their knowledge spring.
Corporate interests have gradually paved the way beyond the market place with growing influence in education and other aspects of society by means of the natural scientific method of attaining knowledge. This was the dominant logic based in a positivist and empiricist epistemology. This stance taken by researchers has been referred to as the creed of objectivity. David Scott and Robin Usher (1996) shed light on the prevailing value in this notion of objectivity:
One of the most important aspects of these epistemological “good ground” are that the researcher was “objective”, i.e. that he or she was unbiased, value neutral and took care to ensure that personal considerations did not intrude into the research process – in other words, that the researcher’s subjectivity has been eliminated as a factor in the knowledge claim. (p. 12)
There are some disciplines such as physical science where objectivity is absolutely essential and is successfully applied. Yet applying it to social realms can be problematic.The question arises. What is objectivity? Is it possible to truly attain such unbiased neutrality? If so, then what happens to the personal experience and perspectives of the researchers that are supposedly held in check by the wall of objectivity? One’s subjective biases, emotions and personal views informed by individual experience, do not magically disappear from the sphere of observation and analysis by simply claiming it to be so. In actuality, this claim of objectivity appears to simply suppress what remains in the domain of researcher’s subjectivity from consciousness. In many cases, unexamined motives find a way to work as unconscious drives and unquestioned presuppositions. By denying these presuppositions, researchers give them even more power over the whole process of research.
The creed of objectivity can be unconsciously used as a cover up for unexamined assumptions and agendas of the researchers. As a result, subjectivity is inflicted on others and this eliminates other people’s values and experience in the name of objectivity. It was primarily commercial interests that have taken advantage of this.
The objective basis of natural science became the prime framing of value for academia in general. This path of knowledge has an inherently oppressive nature, where some people are deprived of access to their own subjectivity, from which springs authentic knowledge. As a result, researchers are abstracted from their own experiences. Academia becomes a hierarchical system where knowledge is delivered from the top down and universal application of expert knowledge is used to justify hegemony of Western led globalization. Ethan Watters (2009) in his book, “The Globalization of the American Psyche: Crazy Like Us” showed a good example by documenting how the psychological lens was universally applied through Western empirical science to look at various cultural differences as pathology. Treatment of conditions invented by American psychology and categorized as illness shaped the way people look at behaviors that arise within a completely different context from the created western view of the healthy norm.
These same principles can also be found in journalism in American mainstream media. Chris Hedges (2010) described in his weekly column in Truthdig -The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News how “the creed of objectivity and balance, formulated at the beginning of the 19th century by newspaper owners to generate greater profits from advertisers, disarms and cripples the press.” Hedges challenged this value and the journalist’s blind obedience by voicing how “this has become a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits”.
It is my contention that this cloak of objectivity is also used in higher education and other professions, albeit mostly unconsciously. It seems to have become a tool used to keep the venues of journalism and academia controlled. No one can question the source of knowledge or the framing of discourse. This often carries hidden private agendas. The one-sided source of knowledge reaches the point that it is accepted as the only source of empirical truth. When validated by a closed self-referential circle of officials or experts, this source is treated as a ground from which all knowledge springs. In the interview with Amy Goodman titled the “Total Failure of the Human Spirit”, British independent journalist Robert Fisk (2005) spoke about a closed loop of information for mainstream journalists: “Look at The New York Times‘s first paragraphs. Over and over again, ‘According to American intelligence officials.’ ‘American officials say.’ I think sometimes The New York Times should be called ‘American Officials Say’”.
The false foundation of knowledge closes a door to true investigation, keeping both reporters and audience in a narrow range of discourse. Hedges (2010) cautioned against this blind loyalty to the status quo and pretense of objectivity:
This creed transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices. They function as “professionals” and see themselves as dispassionate and disinterested social scientists. This vaunted lack of bias, enforced by bloodless hierarchies of bureaucrats, is the disease of American journalism.
The shield of objectivity used by the spokespersons of the elite guards the unexamined official lines of thought, and lays claim to universal application. This seems to have successfully tamed the passion of many scholars and intellectuals. This too becomes a career, like journalism and after all, their livelihood depends on it. Many scholars are trained that to bring passion to their work could be seen as unprofessional; that personal emotions would cloud their lens of objectivity. Many are held back in the role of the safely detached observer. Through their schooling, journalists and intellectuals lose touch with their own thought processes. By quoting authorities delivering top down knowledge, they lose the ground or even any sense of reality coming from direct experience or independent analysis and begin to impose self-censorship.
The most important task of academics and journalists in a democratic society is to inform and engage the public debate, bringing diverse voices to stimulate discussion on important social issues. In many ways, the Ivory Tower has become a symbol of elites, the gatekeeper of the dominant view that maintains the insular experience of the few. They keep a distance from general human experience with this elevated status. Much of academia is disconnected from the moral reality of real social issues. They seem to have become obedient suppliers of filtered intellectualization, keeping a seemingly innocent public in the dark about the full story, while busy securing their positions with tenure, publication, and lectures. This has devolved into a corporate infiltrated system whereby livelihood depends on serving private sponsors for funding. Some have become providers of ‘expert analysis’, gaining special social privileges in exchange for access to power. A prime example is the news reports and selective university research supporting Genetically Modified agriculture. This turns the genuine pursuit of knowledge into a process of manufacturing knowledge to benefit the few, degrading higher education to a mass production factory of a vocational training and white-collar servants of industry and exploitation.
It is my contention that journalists and researchers should confront their blind faith and compliance to this false creed of objectivity. It is urgent for researchers and journalists to examine their roles in the context of a democratic society, and ask whom they are working for and who benefits from their research.
Is it possible to have a pursuit of knowledge where one can consciously participate in it? For this one must first declare independence from the foundation of knowledge that prevents one from freely speaking what one is passionate about and questioning what is taken for granted. It is helpful to note that throughout history, what eventually has become the most momentous changes in society started with challenging the existing power structure and its accompanying assumptions. For example, it was the anti-colonial rebellion that led to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. These changes always came from movements to throw off the existing order, like those to end slavery, win the women’s right to vote, etc. Dissent is necessary to claim value for ones own subjective experience and passion. One may find a new foundation for understanding in what was indicated by Joseph Chilton Pearce (1992) as a higher human intelligence, one that goes beyond rational thought:
My teacher said “You must develop your intellect to its highest possible extent, in order that it be a proper instrument of the intelligence of the heart. But only the heart can develop the intellect to its highest extent”. (p. 211)
Through examining the sources of fear that keep people from dissenting, one can become aware of the place where one’s unconscious consent has been given. Something calls from within to break out of the daily routine of sitting safely and indulging in hypotheses about social change and speculating about outcomes from a distance. Only a sense of knowing from the heart awakens moral conscience that arises independently of any outer force. Martin Luther King JR. once stated:
Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?”. Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right. (as cited in ThinkExist.com, 1999)
After perceiving unconscious compliance, one is called to consciously break out of complicity and follow a new, subtle form of knowing from the heart that can check and balance hidden assumptions. When faced with the adversity of others, there comes a time that one is impelled to let go of the objective distance and reach out. It is instinct in mothers to care for their own children, and even those of her neighbor’s. When a boy is on the street crying, almost any mother universally across lines of class, race and nationalities would hold and comfort him. She would not dismiss his feelings of sadness or loneliness as unimportant or irrelevant. This instinct is guided by the intelligence of the heart. It involves some risk in getting close to others, on the edge where one’s individuality or identity may dissolve. It is at the same time not simply sentiment or emotion that sweeps one into the experience of the others, but a state also occurs where one can enter into the reality of others without losing their own ground.
This new definition of objectivity emerges out of shared ground, an interactive field. The researcher can then develop the capacity to listen with resonance of the heart as a new form of validity. This brings insight, allowing one access to the root of knowledge that was lost behind the cloak of objectivity.
We the People:
Under the U.S Constitution the balance of power between the three branches of government is understood as playing an essential role in democracy. What is often not recognized is the central role that civic participation plays in the betterment of society. This civic arena is the heart of a society that would nourish and vitalize all governing bodies. For this reason the Constitution emphasized the freedom of speech.
Journalism is the only occupation that is protected under the first amendment. The freedom of press, and freedom of thought expressed in academic tenure is necessary for the healthy civic discourse of a free society. This ideal of the force of civic power is what distinguished early political structures in the U.S from the feudal social forms in Europe. Jacob Needleman (2003) described the shift from the old land to the new as breaking through a governance enforced by the King to rule of the commons and instituting laws that are framed by the right of ordinary people to govern themselves:
In Common Sense Thomas Paine ringingly articulated America’s Fundamental attitude toward the law. Attacking the principle of monarchy (what we would now call totalitarianism), he declares: “But where is the King of America, I will tell you, friend, he reigns above and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Brute Britain.” Let the world know, he continues, “that in America THE LAW IS KING”. (p. 22)
Here there was a shift to decentralization from the King’s rule to power of citizens. The highest law of the land in the United States was the Constitution, which replaced monarchy with the ideal of respecting the right to individual self-determination within a Republic. When elected officials and members of the armed services enter office, they are required to take an oath to the Constitution. The important thing to be recognized is that this oath is taken to uphold the spirit and letter of the Constitution, not to the leaders in government. The commitment is made to the internal law of a moral conscience within.
Our ability to love and feel the pain and joy of others lies in a place deeper than our skin made of different colors. It goes much deeper than the bones of defense, what makes it possible to hate and kill our brothers and sisters. The intelligence of the heart within each individual is the essence of the Constitution. I call this the Constitution of the Heart, the blood that circulates through our whole being. To connect and align with this inner activity is to truly take an oath to the inner Constitution as citizen of a free society. Whenever we meet forces that derail us from this place in the heart, it is our duty to defend it. In order to uphold the Constitution of the Heart one has to cultivate a kind of citizenship that would inspire a larger identity of “We the People” noted in the Preamble.
Cultivation of this citizenship is the true purpose of education. It is the task of everyone. Men and women of letters should simply be the guardians of the shared space that can foster a democratic dialogue and safeguard this educational process. Zinn (1970) urged scholars and future researchers alike to step up to responsibility, to fully perform the role of academia:
The university and its scholars (teachers, students, researchers) should unashamedly declare that their interest is in eliminating war, poverty, race and national hatred, governmental restrictions on individual freedom, and fostering a spirit of cooperation and concern in the generation growing up. (p. 10)
Through these courageous actions, intellectuals can initiate the process for others to become authors of their own lives. Whenever this educational process is hijacked and short-circuited by the impulsive urge to silence voices or turn their will to outer aims, it is everyone’s duty to perform as check and balance. Only through each person developing the thinking that springs from the heart can one serve the larger community. When this happens, the social fabric and legal framework is woven in a way that arises from who we really are.
BrainlyMedia.com. (2010). Mohandas Gandhi Quotes. Retrieved Feb, 2, 2010 from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/mohandasga150705.html
Fisk, R. (2005, October 20). Robert Fisk: “War is the Total Failure of the Human Spirit”. DemocracyNow! Retrieved April 13, 2010, from http://www.democracynow.org/2005/10/20/robert_fisk_war_is_the_total
Needleman, J. (2002). The American soul: Rediscovering the wisdom of the founders. New York: Penguin Group INC.
Pearce, J. (1992). Evolution’s end: Claiming the potential of our intelligence. San Fransisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Scott, D., & Usher, R. (Eds.). (1996). Understanding educational research. New York: Routeledge.
ThinkExist.com. (1999). Martin Luther King Jr, quotes. Retrieved Feb 2, 2010, from http://thinkexist.com/quotation/cowardice_asks_the_question–is_it_safe/339725.html
Hedges, C. (2010, Feb 1). Chris Hedges’ Columns: The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News. TruthDig. Retrieved Feb 1, 2010 from http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_creed_of_objectivity_killed_the_news_business_20100131/
Zinn, H. (1970). The politics of history. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Zinn, H. (1982). Academic freedom: Collaboration and resistance. Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town.
Zinn, H. (1990). Declarations of Independence: Cross-examining American ideology. NY: HarperPerennial.
Watters, E. (2009). The globalization of the American psyche: Crazy like us. NY: Simon & Schuster.