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How We Can Empower Ourselves!

Noam Chomsky

     I got the idea for this essay as I was reading some of the comments I have been receiving on my blog site. First of all I want to be clear that I, in no way, claim to have all the answers or a corner on “the truth.” No, my friends, I too have been fumbling in the darkness for most of my life. I have learned what I have probably mostly due to my love of learning & my Irish stubborness. I attended public school in L.A. from fourth grade through college and most of it was a sad joke in terms of quality. My teenage years were in a little, industrialized town called Paramount, right across the riverbed from Compton. I didn’t realize how pathetic my public education was until I started college. I wanted to be a forest ranger but learned that I should have had calculus, physics, trigonometry, etc. in high school. My school didn’t even offer these subjects because we were mostly poor people in this community and they trained us to be factory workers basically. And even though I had scored in reading at the 11th grade, sixth month level when I was in the sixth grade, no counselor ever called me in to their office to encourage me or guide me. No, I have learned everything I have learned despite our horrendous public education system. My true political education began when I started flying to Europe and hitch-hiking around. I met many people far more intelligent than I was and one person in particular, Ruedi Trefzer, from Arlesheim, Switzerland, knew far more about American history, literature, politics, philosophy, etc. than I did and I started picking his brain for clues as to books and authors I should read. Ruedi was not arrogant whatsoever and his humble, gentle way of guiding me gave me great confidence in my ability to learn and to grow. So, in honor of Ruedi, Dora Polk, and a handful of other great teachers who inspired me, I simply want to share a bit with you of what I’ve learned over the years and hopefully help empower you a bit. I have great hopes for the Occupy Wall St. protests here in America and the general protests rising up around the globe. Naturally, the corporate media is doing all they can to discredit us by spreading lies and propaganda. But the more we empower ourselves and those around us to see through the lies, indoctrination, & propaganda, the stronger we become and we can point out their hidden agenda of control over us.


     Some may write me off as just another conspiracy nut, but it is very remarkable how a dumbed-down public suits the interests of the corporate elite here and around the world. Personally, I don’t think the powers that be are actually that clever. No, they can only usually think in terms of the next financial quarter’s profits but they are just shooting themselves in the foot with their preoccupation with short-term profits because as we can clearly see, their house of cards is clearly crumbling. If they saw the big picture they would realize how it is in their best interests to treat all of humanity with respect because we all live together or we perish together.


John Taylor Gatto

     First of all, let me recommend a book titled The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. I have basically dissected this book & read it twice because I used a lot of it in the major writing project I am working on. I don’t agree with absolutely everything Gatto says & I have a sneaking suspicion that he may be a closet, Christian fundamentalist, so-to-speak, but nonetheless, he taught me a lot of very valuable information regarding America’s public education system. For example, Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, & J.P. Morgan had considerable influence on our public education system.


     Next in my list of authors/books I recommend, I suggest that you check out Anti-intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter. Professor Hofstadter’s book gave me a wealth of insights into why I have so often been mocked/ridiculed by family, friends, & strangers over the years. And this isn’t meant to be a pity-party but rather, self-empowering. By the way, one of the main reasons I finally got into this “blogging” was because I wanted to be able to speak my mind and not be told to be silent. I have noticed over the years, and quite recently, that whenever a really heated political debate/discussion starts up in a bar, pub, or tavern, most of the time we’re told to shut up or get out. I have long wondered about this social taboo here in America. I have been to Europe several times and have enjoyed many passionate political discussions and have never seen anyone told to stop talking about politics. Could it be a social taboo that was instigated by the status quo under the guise of keeping the peace in taverns but actually meant to stifle our awareness when we start comparing notes via such discussions? Where else are people likely to get into such discussions and of course, after a few beers, people are more likely to let their guard down & speak to their neighbor on the barstool next to them?


Michael Parenti

     Michael Parenti, another brilliant American scholar, noted that “not all conspiracy theories are theories.” And speaking of Michael Parenti, I want to point out that like others have said, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, & Michael Parenti are the triumvirate of scholars on the American Left. Sadly, Howard Zinn passed away not too long ago but his work still inspires millions around the globe. In case some of you may not have heard of Noam Chomsky, I am going to share a little background about him with you. I can’t tell you how many times I have mentioned his name to people here in America and they’ve never heard of him, even some so-called liberals & progressives. In my opinion, Professor Chomsky is a one-man revolution & an intellectual tour de force. Chomsky is reviled by the preachers & pundits of fear, hatred, & intolerance. But what really blew my mind is the fact that he is often dismissed by many so-called liberals, progressives, & Democrats. I think this is due to the fact that he doesn’t pull his punches in terms of his criticism of power, politics, etc. Whenever I have been browsing in bookstores in Europe, looking for books written in English, there was usually a very small section & the overwhelming majority of books in that section were written by Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is a world renown scholar of the first rank who quotes & lists his sources & references religiously and I’ve never seen him lose or back down in a debate. And one of the things that I love most about this man is his truly humble, self effacing demeanor. Speaking of which, Chomsky will often point out what’s left out when he’s introduced with the usual, “…According to the New York Times, Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive,” “so then, why is he so often wrong?” Moreover, on a list of the top ten most quoted people throughout history which includes Jesus, Socrates, Buddha, Freud, etc., Chomsky is included. Yes indeed my friends, if you read nothing else other than Chomsky, you would be very empowered to do battle with the mental midgets trying to keep us in the dark.

Howard Zinn

     Above all else, there is no simple, one way or method for us to empower ourselves. And we must all pay our dues in terms of self-education. This means a life devoted to reading, writing, discussing, searching, etc. It took me 14 years to earn what normally takes four years to earn i.e. a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, kept dropping out, changing majors, etc. until I stumbled upon philosophy. And philosophy blew my mind and I must admit that sometimes it gives me mental cramps so-to-speak but what a wonderful experience it is when you’re wrestling with ideas from the greatest minds of all time & every encounter leaves you a bit stronger mentally & spiritually. Every now & then, someone will ask me to sum up what I think is the most important thing about a college education and this is what I tell them; I believe the two most valuable skills we should learn or acquire are critical thinking skills & analytical thinking skills. With these skills you are far less likely to be swayed by the appeals to emotion so often employed by the corporate pundits & demagogues such as Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, Coulter, etc.


Plato & Aristotle

     Summing-up, becoming familiar with the informal fallacies of logic also goes a long way in terms of arming yourself for intellectual battle. Perhaps the single, most pragmatic tool I can point you towards is the book Problem Solving & Comprehension written by Arthur Whimbey & Jack Lochhead. Many years ago when I first started attending California State University at Long Beach, I was taking an introductory course in World History and although I studied perhaps 40 hours for the test, I, and the majority of the class, did terribly on the test. I had very little experience writing essay tests and went to what was called the remedial learning center in the campus library. In a conversation with the director of the learning center, I learned that he had a Jesuit college education and when I told him why I was studying philosophy, he recommended this book. In brief, find yourself a partner interested in developing their thinking skills as well, and work the problems in the book together and you’ll be amazed at the progress you make in terms of developing your analytical & critical thinking skills. The other thing this brilliant Jesuit scholar taught me was how to make memory slips. We were allowed to retake the history test so many of us did poorly on and with the use of memory slips, I aced the test and the rest of my college career was a lot easier & less stressful thanks to this simple technique.


     Lastly, I want to be clear that while I am a harsh critic of our public education system, I am in no way arguing for charter schools. I believe charter schools are basically a device that the wealthy are using to hide their agenda of privatizing schools so they can get their talons on the hundreds of millions of dollars in public education & not be held accountable and also perpetuate the poverty & ignorance of the working class. It dawned on me a long time ago that perhaps the simplest game plan one could follow if they wanted to break out of their inferior status or position was to study what the rich study. Why do you think the wealthy send their kids to private schools & what do they study there? They study the classics of literature, politics, economics, history, philosophy, etc. Why? Because by studying the best, you become the best in terms of intellectual abilities. And you don’t need to be rich, all you need is a public library card. Maybe you’ve heard of the term a Rhodes scholar, I had long been intrigued by this term and after a good amount of research I found out that it boils down to studying the Classics and a don (professor) assigns you a topic to write on & you report back to his office to present your paper & he critiques it for you.


     Pursuing this further, we must look to ourselves and not to any leaders. Chomsky has pointed this out as well, in several of his books, articles, & interviews as well as lectures over the years. And this self-reliance and self-empowerment is the wisdom & power of the Occupy Wall St. movement. If we had leaders the corporate cockroaches could identify, they would set about destroying their character & their credibility. I hope & pray that this inspiring movement will continue to grow & gain ever more power but even if it doesn’t & the corporatocracy smothers it in its cradle, as long as we, as individuals, keep arming ourselves intellectually, we will eventually become powerful enough to unite in a world-wide movement so great that they, the greedy bastards, have no choice but to get out of our way. We are the 99% and not only do we vastly outnumber the craven cowards, we have righteousness, justice, & compassion for all of humanity on our side. I love that sparkle I see in people’s eyes when I’ve been in passionate debates with them in pubs, bars, & taverns. And I sense a deep hunger because people do want to debate these matters that affect all our lives so significantly. So hang in there my friends and I hope my feeble words have been of some benefit to you.



P.S.  Shame on me, I almost forgot to mention the best teacher I’ve ever had the pleasure of studying under, Dora Polk. She is/was a little lady from Wales who taught 20th century British literature at Cal State Long Beach. Another, humble soul who gently guided us & showed me that I’d have to re-read every book I’d ever read because there are so many layers to every great book, especially by authors such as Shakespeare, D.H. Lawrence, etc. By the way, we can empower ourselves in a very powerful & simple way by talking to one another so please let me know what you think about any of the issues I’ve brought up, whether you agree with me or disagree with me. If we keep on seeking answers together and sharing our thoughts with one another, we can build our strength and spread the word i.e. open up the minds of our family & friends and gradually take back our power!

Dora Polk, greatest teacher ever!

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