The philistines are running the asylum

This post was sparked off by a comment a teacher made about the British government’s education policy, but the point I want to make is that this is the result of a globally accepted change in values. There is a link between education policy, how prisoners are treated, arts policy and more.

The dominant value is that everything can be measured in terms of money, so governments fund what will make money for someone (very often, what will make money for big business).  A good example is the shift in Canada’s research priorities, that explicitly chose to shift away from basic science, to subsidising the development of products that will be commercially viable in the near future. This is mirrors what has been happening in every major economy; forget about expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and focus on making things we can sell.

The same thing is happening in education. There is a lot of emphasis on the skills needed for the workplace. While we may not be there yet, the logical end point of this is that we teach nothing other than what makes good citizens (in the eyes of the current government) and what is useful at work: there is no point studying drama unless you are going to be a professional actor.

The same logic applies to arts funding: it is all just entertainment. Playing a musical instrument or appreciating a poem has no special value over gambling or watching TV – the major difference is that gambling makes the government a lot of money, while theatres and orchestras are often non-profit (so pa no taxes) and (in the UK and most of Europe) keeping asking for money.

Given that it is just entertainment, it was perfectly logical for the British government to limit prisoner’s access to books and guitars.

Of course this is not entirely universal, or unopposed, or even entirely believed even by those who practice it. Hardly anyone educated wants their children to be educated as philistines. Governments still give occasional lip service to the importance of at least some of the humanities — but they are increasingly reluctant to put their money where their month is, and would far prefer a tax cut.

This is not a matter of party politics, or left versus right. A real socialist may have different attitudes, but they not longer exist in developed countries. A real traditional conservative may think differently, but they have long been replaced by non-conservatives. Both sides regard the arts, education, and fundamental research as unnecessary luxuries. Where they diverge is that the most left wing may deplore them as bourgeois indulgences, while the most right wing may simply be opposed to state funding of anything regardless of whether they matter of not.