Apparently the very concept of loss of meaning seems to be becoming one of falling dominos. Having just written about the loss of meaning of “work,” I found myself confronted with the possibility that “education” is the next domino to fall. The possibility arose in conjunction with “The Wrong Way to Lower College Costs,” a recent post to NYRBlog by Anthony Grafton and James Grossman.
The “wrong way” discussed in the blog post is a report by economist Richard Vedder. Setting aside any jokes about economists as sources of invalid information, Vedder’s credentials should be enough to raise a red flag. He is Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Note the strategic avoidance of anything having to do with education in this name. This is basically an institution committed to that cult of efficiency that, as I observed in another recent blog post, has been responsible for the undoing of our public library system and all values associated with it.
The primary impact of loss of meaning on so many fronts is the dismantling of just about any system of values that have not only made our country a source of citizen pride but also served as an ideal for those suffering oppressive governments on their own soil. This is not to suggest that our actions have always lived up to those values. Indeed, our actions failed our values even when our Continental Congress was debating the language of the Declaration of Independence. However, those values marked us as a country that believed in the power of ideals, in spite of the all-too-human frailties of every citizen. Max Weber warned that excessive attention to market-based thinking would lead to loss of meaning; but what has happened to our respect for such ideals may be an even greater loss.