November 26, 1984
MSU State News
This is my response to students who criticized a column
I wrote for the student newspaper at Michigan State University after
Ronald Reagan's 1984 presidential reelection.
When I first read the State News Viewpoint by Ben Hoxey, D. J.
Hazebrook, and seven unnamed others ("Fox viewpoint: lefty dogmatism"--11/20/84),
I admit that my first reaction was one of undisguised satisfaction that
I had managed to stir up a little debate ("Need to re-evaluate ideologies"--11/14/84).
The comments I had received personally about my article had all been positive,
but I knew that somewhere on campus there must be at least a few people
who disagreed. I do hope that issues such as these continue to be discussed
in these pages, as well as in the classroom.
As I re-read the Hoxey-Hazebrook article, my general reaction turned
from satisfaction to sadness. That students at an institution of higher
education could actually defend such a distorted view of human nature
by referring to what they have supposedly learned in their courses does
not say much for the education process; nor does it bode well for
their personal interactions with friends, families, and future co-workers.
As a student and teacher of psychology, I doubt very much that the Hoxey-Hazebrook
perspective on human motivation is one they learned in psychology classes
here at MSU; in economics or business perhaps, but not in psychology,
and certainly not in anthropology, where there is less confusion about
how representative our own culture is of all human nature.
Hoxey and Hazebrook identify "the most essential drive in human nature"
as "motivation," a tautological statement that approaches meaninglessness.
More troubling, their equating the concept of motivation with "the prospect
of accumulation of capital goods and comforts," without which "there would
be no advancement, no reward and no one . . . with any sense of self-worth"
is such a corruption of psychological thinking that it's difficult to
imagine what it is they think they're referring to. What's most troubling
about their views is the inescapable conclusion that unless one can be
a successful materialist, selfishly amassing manufactured goods at an
ever-increasing rate, one cannot think positively of him or herself. Such
a mindset may some day come back to haunt Hoxey and Hazebrook themselves
if they do not attain the level of material comfort they are apparently
seeking. Their willingness to link their self-esteem to the number
of automobiles or ski vacations they can afford is a sad example of the
psychologically perverted thinking foisted upon us by the capitalist system,
as I discussed in my first article.
A second major aspect of their Viewpoint represents a clear corruption
of what an education should be about. Hoxey and Hazebrook state that "the
overwhelming majority of Mondale's votes came from the uneducated and
unskilled workers," and that the people "who really understand economics
and basic human life" voted for Reagan. To assume that uneducated and
unskilled workers are not the equal of the supposedly educated elite in
their skills at political analysis is insulting to a segment of society
that has historically provided much of the pressure toward progressive
change that has allowed so many current MSU students to be at MSU in the
first place. Before we rush to dismiss the views of the uncultured masses,
let's remember where we would all be today if those masses hadn't been
so politically aware in the past. And before we congratulate ourselves
on our sophisticated educations, let's consider the possibility that an
education that trains us in the skills needed to climb the corporate ladder
at the expense of empathy and broad understanding is an education in name
only. Perhaps we'd all be better off remaining uneducated and unskilled
if the alternative is to become pseudointellectual elitists who have learned
only how to misapply our educations in order to justify our superior positions
My next point may be a little picky, but I just can't let the ludicrous
lumping together of Einstein with DuPont and Alexander Bell as "industrial
greats" go unremarked upon. A little research would demonstrate that Einstein
himself would not share Hoxey and Hazebrook's enthusiasm for industrialization
and materialistic capitalism. Similarly picky is my bringing up the fact
that the jingoistic description of the United States as the country that
has obtained "the greatest output of democracy, genius and human advancement
of any country on the face of the Earth at any time in recorded history"
is not a statement that is immediately self-evident to all. "Advancement"
is in the eye of the beholder.
That the writers of the recent Viewpoint apparently managed to see my
own views as "liberal" illustrates a point I thought I was making in the
first place: that the time has come to go beyond old definitions and labels
and re-evaluate our ideological commitments in the light of multidisciplinary
attempts at knowledge. Certainly there is room for disagreement about
all this. But to state that "It is troublesome Fox is at this University"
is not an attitude that reflects much willingness to consider new perspectives.
A more reasonable response might be to sign up for one of my courses to
see what kind of evidence I have for my views.
Students who do want to receive the benefits of a liberal arts education
that exposes them to more than just the narrow "bottom line" may be few
and far between these days. They, however, are the ones who will have
the satisfaction of knowing that their time here has been used for something
other than preparing for a solitary, competitive, alienating climb to
the top. Even in a state-controlled institution within a capitalist
society, it's possible to learn how to analyze that society, and even
how to try to change it. That kind of education is far more important
in the long run than the career training we've all been told is so essential.