The Limitations of Education in the Capitalist Paradigm: Is anger and depression the embryo of the free thinker?

Having studied Sociology and Psychology since starting university back in 2009 I have learnt an awful lot about the world, myself and two disciplines which would often position themselves as diametric opposites. I deliberately chose both subjects as I wanted to understand people, and indeed myself, more clearly. As I became familiar with the two disciplines I could not help but notice the rivalry between the practitioners of both disciplines. I often joke that Sociology is Psychology’s child and it grew into a rebellious teenager and went off in a stereotypical huff because Psychology “just doesn’t get me.”

I sometimes find myself imagining two accomplished academics sat in a room together arguing over which is the better discipline. The Sociologist, keen to outwit its outdated parent discipline loudly announces “You never think outside the box!” To this, the Psychologist cracks a condescending smile and with all its worldly experience calmly but just as pointedly responds “Well, you never get to the point!” To an extent, I can see what both are trying to get at but the two disciplines have developed so differently over the course of their histories that they have taken very different shapes.

I have always enjoyed the methodical, considered and scientific approach of psychology. As a discipline, I think its pioneers struggled to justify it as scientific when held up against the “natural” sciences such as Physics and Mathematics in its early days. This is why I think it has become so rigidly scientific in trying to prove that human behaviour is based on materialistic scientifically provable factors. Hence, so much time is given over to neuroscience, child development and ensuring that all that is proven bases itself on the theories and paradigms that have come before it. So desperate are psychologists to unlock all the secrets of our machinations that it seems they sometimes forget that we are still beings which are shaped by our exterior conditions as much as our own internal equipment. This doesn’t wholly do Psychology justice as I have thoroughly enjoyed studying the more philosophical questions posed by our studies of human consciousness as well as the developments of Social Neuroscience for example.

Sociology comes as a breath of fresh air after finishing a dusty old tome on the ghost in the machine. Having studied the concept of what C. W. Mills (1959) entitled The Sociological Imagination, it exposes a completely different approach to understanding humans and the world around them. In short, the sociological imagination is about understanding how an individual’s biography, history and the structural features of a society interpenetrate (to borrow from Marx’s dialectical lexicon) and thus define the individual. Therefore, the origins of Sociology, much like Psychology, seem to have started with a creative spark whereby individuals were curious about society and individuals respectively, but were not rigidly confined by centuries of dogmatic scientific methodology.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mills’s highlighting of the fact that using the sociological imagination can open up new fields of study and with those fields of study, new methodologies as old methodologies become unfit for purpose. I have no doubt that if this article were to be peer reviewed it wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny very well by someone with a PhD in this, that or the other, as they remain true to the established order and demand to know where are your references! However, I would reject that and kindly ask them to refer to feminist epistemology. Pioneering women, still shackled by our patriarchal society have nevertheless made huge breakthroughs. Firstly women but now even male feminist researchers have challenged theory and history, saying that history (his story) is all well and good but that doesn’t fit with the past and experience of the world from a woman’s perspective. What about herstory?

One other thing which feminism has successfully challenged when undertaking research is by asking what about my story? In a desperate attempt to strive for “objectivity”, male researchers traditionally studied history and past theoreticians to form the foundations and justifications of their work which unconsciously (though the more cynically minded would say otherwise) put these figures on pedestals as speakers of truth. It’s easy to see how patriarchy is reinforced when generations upon generations of thinkers have based their explorations on a perspective atop “the shoulders of giants”.

More modern techniques of interviewing and questioning individuals were developed to ensure that theory and contemporary experience formed a more holistic framework of “objectivity” but feminist thinkers would not have the wool pulled over their eyes. They highlighted the strengths of research methods such as interviews and focus groups which were not based rigidly on empiricism and the very masculine notion of positivism. However, more recent feminist criticism has highlighted that understanding history (“ourstory”?) and the views of other contemporaries has left out one important puzzle piece. Without acknowledging the subjective perspective, experience and reporting of findings by the researcher, studies try to make objective something which is distorted by the fact that an individual with their own biography, history and structural position within society is explaining “what is” from their subjective perspective.

This would explain why the history of mankind has been just that. As women were only recently accepted into educational institutions (and even then not without fierce resistance from the established order of dominant men) we are only now beginning to catch up on the way the world “is” as 50% of the population has been vehemently ignored. As women have penetrated deeper into higher levels of education, becoming PhDs and professors and such forth, they have scrutinised and exposed so much about the Old White Boys club we often think about when considering archetypal villains. Yet, as women have broken through layer upon layer of the glass ceiling they get closer to one question which has certainly been asked before albeit in a different context. Who keeps putting these ceilings there in the first place?

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It is at this point that we turn to Marx. Marx? You say, what has he got to do with feminism? Well by today’s standards his writings certainly wouldn’t last a round or two with even the most fledgling contemporary feminist. I would argue that if he were alive today and could see how far our feminist thinking has come, he would have welcomed the broadening of his mind. Using the sociological imagination I would argue that Marx was actually quite a progressive feminist for his day and age. My basis for that is not limited to, but will be summed up by, this quote from The Manifesto of the Communist Party:

“But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the bourgeoisie in chorus.

The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.”

Marx’s idea of a woman being a mere instrument of production in the eyes of a capitalist man relates back to my point about who is creating the glass ceiling in the first place. Feminist thought in sociology has now begun to question the very mechanics of the research process itself. Not just the subjectivity of the researcher but something far more insidious which lies beneath. 

As women have been able to emancipate themselves more and more there remains one thick glass ceiling which we’ve all been told will rain shards down upon us all if it is ever broken. The glass ceiling I refer to is best summed up by Marx (1848): 

“whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.”

Women have been able to rise to the level of men up to a point but one barrier holds them and indeed all of humankind back and that is the glass ceiling of class, or if one were to throw in a pun, a class ceiling. Feminist thinkers have one closed door which will only be opened for them by men (how patronising some might say) if they agree to uphold the class nature of society. Feminism has, in recent years, shown that it’s all well and good to talk about the equal opportunities that men and women have in academia but one bell remains unrung. This bell is that of the gatekeepers and fundraisers of academic research. This is the one place where the archetype of the old boys club still lurks.

It shows that as women have chipped away at their exploitation they have inevitably chipped and chiseled away to find a Marxist shaped question looming over them best summed up by Lenin: “What is to be done?” I hope I do not incur the wrath of the feminists by trying to suggest that a question posed by a man long before is what the feminists have been trying so long to unearth. If I was to defend this analogy I would do so by completely agreeing that there is no better demonstration of the problems within our society in relation to the gender imbalance both historically and in contemporary society. A man was documented as asking this question first precisely because the exploitation of women in the nuclear model of the family has meant that men had a better opportunity to be documented. This is because women were historically kept out of the public sphere to maintain the private sphere of the household.

So when one returns to the old spectre that haunts Europe, and indeed the world, added to the fact that Capitalism hasn’t been completely possessed by this most proletariat of spectres, is depression the natural response of the free thinker. When you think that hundreds of years of struggle and enrichment have still not resulted in Communism, you might think to yourself in a very depressed manner, what is the point of it all? After years of study to finally come back to a problem posed briefly by Marx in 1848 and much more fully in his 3 volumes of Das Kapital is it not enough to get you down? I know it has certainly been the case with me.

Having spent so much time in education with the niggling feeling in the back of my mind that there is something being unsaid which lurks right beneath the surface of every alumni plaque and ornate podium it can be enough to drive you mad if you are unable to pinpoint what it is! Like an itch that cannot be scratched, you wonder if you just don’t fit into all the ceremonies, the seminars and lectures when it seems that everybody else can just get down to work and ignore that constant humming that you’re sure you aren’t alone in hearing.

Anger can sometimes surface as you feel like there is something you and others around you could be doing about the situation but you are not doing it. If you become cynical, it suggests that you’re projecting anger at your own failings onto others who you can recognise your own inaction from. Depression stems from this anger turning inwards as you feel like you ought to be doing something but you become paralysed by your own anger.

When you attain the ability to question the established authority, a subtle theme I have woven into this essay a number of times, you have to take the opportunity to raise those questions. If you do not like the answers then you need to act to change things. We’re not here just to interpret the world like philosophers, we are here to change it (Marx, 1845). It would seem that anger and depression could be interpreted as the embryonic stages of somebody becoming subconsciously aware of the reality of the unfairness of their material conditions.

Being unable to pinpoint the cause of this anger would be because of the limits of the education system. It would appear then, that those who do not simply accept the rigidly defined Capitalist moulded education system would thus have a problem with it which quantitatively builds up until a qualitative moment is brought about. This qualititative moment could be through introspection and contemplation or by the reading of a book by Marx, often arrogantly put on core text lists by lecturers who assume that no student in today’s fast paced world would ever undertake such a task. But to those who have that qualitative moment the question then becomes do I sit idly by or do I do something about this? This is precisely why I have struggled to complete my studies and yet why I have so quickly taken to the Marxist method and risen through the ranks of the Socialist Party I hold so dear.

So to end where I started I come back to the squabbling psychologist and sociologist who are essentially approaching the question of does man or woman make society or does society make the man or woman. They are just approaching the question from different perspectives. The psychologist that sees a person suffering from depression immediately makes the judgement that that individual cannot appraise their surroundings and cope with them in a healthy manner. The sociologist looks at the prevalence of depression in society and says that it is less to do with the individual and much more to do with the horrendous conditions faced by the majority of the proletariat.

The answer is, that to some extent they are both right. What they have not yet done is come together and demand to know why their separate strains of research are both being funded by the same elite group of people who have access to both their research and are comfortably sitting back as the quantity of depression builds up. The hopelessness felt by many needs lancing by a qualitative shift which would show that we are not all isolated individuals who should be angry at ourselves for not fitting into society. Society is unfit for purpose and needs to be fit around our needs. That is why we need are in desperate need of a fundamental shift in society and that is why I am involved with a Party that has every faith that all working-class people will come together to make that shift in society happen.

Onwards to socialism!

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