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The Closing of the American Mind

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In 1987, Dr. Bloom wrote a scathing critique of how society has failed democracy in the perennial book, The Closing of the American Mind. Dr. Bloom concluded society was more “impoverished” due to the character development being fostered by America’s universities. His central thesis focused on how concepts of openness and moral relativism have ironically led to the closing of the American mind.

He argued that openness has led to the deprivation and eradication of critical thinking. Today, decades later, the society he once critiqued, finds itself at a similar crossroads. Society seems to be at a precipice where the culmination of tensions related to race, economic disparity, and other issues appear to be fracturing the very foundation and social consciousness that has prolonged the existence of American society. Today’s downturn can be traced back to one of the most important pillars of society, education.

Education

The primary contributor to this phenomenon has been the education system especially America’s colleges. Starting with the primary and secondary education system, the country is witnessing a large disparity in the quality of education being provided to its youth relative to other countries. The US has been on steady decline in terms of how her student’s fare. Despite concerted efforts, the graduation rate for high school still lingers around 70% but even worse, 80% of those who graduate high school is not remotely prepared for their first year of college. The governing paradigm behind the US’s current approach to both its primary and secondary system requires a dramatic change, it is archaic at best. While American Universities have historically been second to none in terms of research as well as academics it is slipping more and more. A pedagogical shift is needed.

The most perilous issue at hand is critical thinking or lack thereof. The intent behind the American education system as well as the four-year American degree is that it certifies that the graduate is an individual that not only has demonstrated commitment in achieving and successfully passing a rigorous course of study but also acquired skills and knowledge into the fundamentals of a certain subject. However, more importantly, it demonstrated that whomever the degree was bestowed upon developed certain intellectual faculties that would allow them to employ logic as well as critical reasoning abilities to solve any problem. This skill, in particular, is what has allowed American society to flourish and innovate. The universities use to produce educated individuals who were able to debate what is right and wrong in a civil manner. Unfortunately, colleges are beginning to fail more and more in this respect. They are not creating the renaissance-like student as was initially intended with the premise of a 4-year degree. Such a well-rounded individual would help alleviate society’s burden, instead, today’s students are contributing to its decline due to a sense of false bravado that has been granted to them with their college education. Today’s students due to the relative peace, economic prosperity and false bluster have developed a sense of entitlement. Whereas in reality, they are perhaps more close minded due to the false veneer that has been created by their own inflated sense of worth. The university, which was supposed to be the Socratic utopia of creating the enlightened masses, has become an assembly line that churns out heavily indebted zombies and parrots. The sheer number of colleges and conferred degrees has exponentially skyrocketed to the point that bachelor degrees are becoming futile in almost every subject aside from engineering and the sciences. Society has created a false belief that everyone should go to college and it is a right rather than a privilege for those who were academically successful. Today, students of all calibers are entering college rather than those who performed well academically. While American colleges are still notable due to the massive endowment and research money poured into them, many are devolving from being renowned for centers of innovation to infamous for its campus parties. The price of colleges has continued to unabatedly rise exorbitantly for what appears to be a more worthless piece of paper as each day goes by. With the higher influx of students with all sorts of academic ability, standards have lowered and lowered in order to help better accommodate such students. The transformation of colleges into for-profit centers coupled with the unlimited loans from the government to support this fruitless endeavor has created a major government initiative that has failed. This failure, in particular, has one of the largest consequences to society as a whole. This slow regression of society is witnessed in all aspects and professions today as intellectual capacity is producing diminishing returns.

Politics

According to a recent Pew study, Americans have at no time been as partisan and divided as they are today. While the trend has been observed dating back to the 1960s, unfortunately, data has only been consistently recorded since 1992. While the American political system was created to be a forum for a variety of political ideologies in which the voters can view and subscribe to, today it has downgraded from being a congregation of beliefs to more of a vitriol battlefield of who can further their corporate and big money interest rather than fulfill the desire of their constituents. Unfortunately, many Americans find it hard to believe but on a national scale, the two major parties are not so much different than each other.

Social beliefs are used as a veneer to help create this illusion of differentiation between the two parties making it easier for voters to choose what candidates they can select. While a nation’s social direction is important and should not be neglected, the reality lies in the fact that Americans, for the most part, do not want to be dictated to in how they live their lives. Politicians in their natural finesse are able to contour the discussion of social issues as a topic of fear and imposition on people’s everyday lives. Most people tend to be more emotionally responsive rather than logical about their decision. Equipped with such psychological depth, politicians and consultants have transformed the elections from matters of substance into a popularity contest. Sophistry has become a most sought after trait by those seeking office.

The question goes back to how has this state of affairs come into being? How did statesmen transform into dreaded and corrupt politicians? While the government, in its best form, is a necessary evil, as Thomas Paine had put it, a democratic government only denigrates in complicity with its citizenry. A true democratic nation such as the US can only move away from its roots as a republic under the auspices of the same citizenry it serves. Whether it is the influence of corporate lobbying in legislation or big money in the elective process, all this has occurred thanks to the acquiescence of the voters. While not every American needs to be a full-blown political affairs guru, it is a civic duty to know what or whom they are voting for. Yet, too many times by too many people, Americans despite arguing for change, reduction of political corruption and favoritism, vote into power those who continue the bickering, stalemate, and impotence that is government today. The power of the ballot box has been ignored for too long and the voter, not the system, has created the leviathan that everyone bemoans today. Even to this day, as Americans continue to complain about all these plaguing issues of the electoral system, they do not take responsibility for their choices. Despite the continuous grievances and Congress’ historically low approval rating, the same officials are reelected almost every election. Politico reported that 90% of incumbent Congressman and 91% of incumbent Senators were reelected in recent elections. Political scientists are quick to point to the amount of money raised, television ad, etc. that was employed by the incumbent to secure his/her seat. In reality, the source of the blame is being ignored, the voters.

Many are quick to label politicians stupid, ignorant, etc. and while these labels may be true for certain politicians they are not applicable to all. There are many savvy and intelligent officials who have to simplify their speeches, points, or goals to catch the attention of the voter. This is the nature of politics in America, the oversimplification or “dumbing” down of information into slogans, so it can catch the attention of the potential voter. To further induce potential voters, certain words are intermittently interjected into conversations, rallies, etc. to help increase a candidate’s popularity. Such a demotion of ideas by politicians reflects once again the society they partake in. Voters as people are subconsciously biased and do not like to feel inferior around others as well as disliking what they perceive as negative. Self-worth is measured by social status, thus when an intelligent politician discusses intricate subjects with the level of complexity needed, voters are turned off whereas the politician seeking office rather than serving the public sings the necessary ode to the delight and content of the voter is elected.

As society regresses more so towards emotions and becomes largely devoid of logic and facts, the emergence of a dystopia resembling what the fictional movie Idiocracy was attempting to resemble takes hold. In such a society there is a lack of any sense of social responsibility, an inconsistent set of principles pertaining to human rights of its citizens and those abroad, and a continual hindrance to the pursuit of intellectual curiosity sometimes for the sake of inclusiveness or political correctness.

Society has been demonstrating a tendency to become “dumber.” A study carried out by a team of researchers concluded that there has been a markedly exponential growth in technological advancement since the Victorian age, but a shrinking in human intelligence over the same time period. It is estimated the average individual is approximately 13.4 IQ points less intelligent than their Victorian Era counterpart. This is somewhat noticeable with the untenable understanding of geography, science, and history demonstrated by most people in the US and around the world. When one looks to society, its role models and those who are held in high esteem today, it seems to have drastically altered than several decades or a century ago. Today, reality stars, movies stars, and athletes are bequeathed extreme adoration and epitomize the majority of society’s highest aspirations, unfortunately to its own detriment. This in itself resembles a society with a sense of void and lack of worthiness that should be better inculcated. The lifestyle that is portrayed by these “role models” appeals to the most inner compartments of people’s wants and desires. It is that lifestyle they appreciate and believe that would be most gratifying. Those lifestyles are almost always glitzy, flashy, and vapid. While education is not solely to blame, it is a major contributor to the development of character and critical thinking faculties. These members of society are doomed to never escape the most minimal echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Erosion of Ideals

The culmination of all these issues is starting to manifest itself in a very grave threat to society through the erosion of ideals and principles that define American society. As each side rushes to blame the other for allowing such a decimation of the American character, in reality, both are to blame. While the left critiques the right, it ignores the fact that across American college campuses a new phenomenon of shutting down right-leaning speakers or even centrist liberal speakers is taking hold. In order to preserve certain ideals, they are partaking in an epidemic to limit free speech. Even if that speech is hate speech, it should not be stymied; it could be condemned and ignored but not impeded. Such a precedent only opens the floodgates for future limitation of speech based on emotions. While those on the left are ready to critique, justifiably so, former President George Bush for his actions (Iraq War and drone strikes) and legislations (Patriot Act, etc.) for some mysterious reason they are blind to their liberal leaders such as President Obama and Hilary Clinton, who have done similar, if not worse, in the same arena.

The same is applicable to those in the right, while they have employed labels such as regressive left or social justice warriors to project a negative connotation; they sometimes seem to have a short memory on the causation for certain failures that was created by Republican leaders such as President Bush and his predecessors. The failure to focus on Afghanistan has allowed for the Taliban to regain total power in that country, while presenting farcically based intelligence led to the war in Iraq that not only destabilized the region and world but gave birth to ISIS. They forget the deficit spending and corporate welfare that President Bush engaged in, which did not help the national debt.

Long gone are the days where a Socratic, intellectual and informative discourse can be held between people on opposite side of the political spectrum such as conservative commentator William Buckley Jr. and liberal linguistic and activist, Noam Chomsky. Such public debates helped inform both sides of the aisle on the opposing side’s opinion, train of thought and sometimes allowed for reconciliation through understanding or compromise.

This plaguing issue in today’s America is once again due to the character formation of the population through the education system. The art of learning how to learn is no longer instilled in students, but instead whether in primary, secondary, and even post-secondary, the focus is memorization of material and regurgitation. Without learning how to critically think and analyze, these students become parrots, mimicking what is fed to them based on those whom they align with ideologically. In addition, thanks to the inflationary practices of universities via reducing standards and graduating students as if they are an assembly line, an implicit enablement of such people in society is taking place on a mass level. In reality, what is being created are hollow individuals in society with a false sense of intelligence and knowledge that will end up further dividing this nation and bringing the eventual decline of America, if it has not already started.

Conclusion

The society that Dr. Bloom critiqued was vastly different than today’s society. While certain societal inequities have been remedied in the past few decades, others have begun to become a nuisance of its own. As the consequences of the cultural and sexual revolution were setting in, the changes were something of a perturbation to people from Dr. Bloom’s era. As those effects settled, one of the biggest impacts they have had has been the education system and the philosophical ways students are being taught. Nowhere more is this detrimental effect observed than America’s universities. Today students are being mass produced without the focus on their development into open-minded, inquisitive, informed, and critically thinking individuals. It is these college-educated individuals that are expected to run the future corporations, states, and country. Unlike, students of the past, today’s students are being produced by the groves at colleges who are more interested in profits than the actual quality of the graduate. As a result, colleges have become more of a rite of passage for most young Americans rather than a medium of knowledge. Undergraduate programs have become more widely known based on party rankings rather than academics. Instead of young graduates possessing knowledge and ability to think critically, colleges and society, in general, are producing more parrot-like citizens who are more interested in vitriol partisanship than actually debating and holding a conversation in which all points are discussed and analyzed. Humility and modesty, traits of most educated individuals, are evaporating and being replaced with hubris and arrogance. Due to social media, popular culture propagated by reality TV, and the lack of a properly educated population that can analyze and think judiciously not emotionally, a vicious future is being implanted for America. One of the most important functions of a college or university is to protect the concept of reason and logic. As Dr. Bloom said, “Education is the movement of darkness into light” but today it appears education is moving society back into darkness.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Americas

Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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