If Man can’t live by bread alone, how should he live? Huh… a difficult question, better ask a university! “Sorry, that’s an imprecise question; do you want the Department of International Affairs, or Sociology, Biology, Economics, Anthropology, Pedagogy, or perhaps Theology?” “Not really; I just want a summary of their conclusions”. A long pause… “We don’t know that, for there is no software powerful enough to make sense of all their different methodologies”.
Is the above Thesis just too far-fetched, too hypothetical, to seem real? Well, it’s not, and the question that it asks, and the response that it got, put a spotlight on both the tensions within the English national curriculum, and within Western society in general. Think of what has been, and is, happening in Russia. It took 70 years for the communist Revolution of 1917 to end with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The West hailed this as the triumph of capitalism over an economy based on social, economic and political equality. To the Americans, material acquisition became “portrayed as a basic human right, increasingly even as an obligation”1. The Russians, proclaimed Thatcher and Reagan, needed help to do the same thing. Under communism the Russian state had owned everything, so a first step was to redistribute this to the people in ways which could kick-start a reformed, privatised economy (like a speeded-up version of monopoly where all the properties and the bank’s assets were shared out beforehand, and where the ultimate winners were those whose first few throws enabled them to buy out everybody else). The advice the Russians were given was based almost exclusively on the World Bank and American logic of neo-classical economics, namely that all humans are rational maximisers of their own self-interest, and that unrestricted markets could best achieve this2.
Such shock treatment nearly killed the patient (in fact, it may still do so). Ten years later in 2001, two of the economists who had provided such advice, Lawrence and Nohria3, returned to Russia and were shocked with the chaos which they saw; the production of goods and services had declined 50%; more than half the population was living in poverty, as opposed to 2% only ten years before, and mortality rates had shot up. Now, in 2006, after a few more throws in the real-time monopoly game, much of Russia seems to be in the hands of the mafia, the rule of law shaped by those who pay most4. Moscow has 33 dollar billionaires, more than New York or London. Land prices in Moscow are the highest in the world, and 100 of the richest Russians own a quarter of the entire country’s GDP. Not finding enough oil companies to buy for their entertainment, they buy English football teams as their latest toys. Meanwhile the disenfranchised majority apparently drinks itself into an ever earlier grave5. How did it come about that our advice was so inappropriate, asked the two economists, who went on to spend a two years reading themselves into the latest literature in all those other disciplines that are concerned with why humans behave as they do — anthropology, cognitive science, evolutionary studies, psychology, philosophy, history, theology, yes and even economics. They sought, out of this vast literature, to identify the basic “drives” of human behaviour; those “hard-wired” mental modules which have evolved over aeons of time as successful survival strategies. They concluded that there were four6. We are driven to be acquisitive; the economists had got that right, for since the beginning of time to survive and prosper our ancestors had to do better than others. Secondly, we are driven to bond, because, in mammalian terms, we are a weak and fragile species whose survival is dependent on high levels of collaboration. Thirdly, we are driven to learn/ we are intensely curious, seeming driven always to ask more and more questions, because it is the knowledgeable one who survives. Finally: we are driven to defend; we are fiercely defensive of what we think is ours; if we weren’t we would have been walked over by others long ago.
It is important to understand how these four Drives work together, and don’t too often get out of control. The metaphor of the stagecoach with four powerful, if highly-strung, young horses applies. Together they are immensely powerful, but if one goes off on its own, it upsets the other horses and rapidly over-turns the carriage. Evolutionary biologists suggest that these four drives are reconciled within what is called “investment theory”. Women select males who seem good bread-winners (acquisition); they expect their partners to stick with them “in sickness and in health” (bond); they prefer men who are smart, think well, and are probably humorous (learn); and they look for a man who will defend their interests and property (defence). Over vast periods of time these drives have therefore become encased within the human genome7.
Society at large behaves just like the individuals of which it is made up. Just as human relationships collapse if the four drives don’t work in tandem, so societies fall apart if one drive out paces the other three. Better advice for the Russians should have been based on a much broader, more unified understanding of human behaviour than that which economists alone could have given. A one-dimensional view of what makes humans tick, such as that offered in Moscow in 1989/90, eventually destroys a society8. That is why what David Blunkett said in 2001 was so dangerous; “the work of the Department of Education Employment fits with the new economic imperative of supply-side investment for national prosperity”9.
What the Russians needed, the two men from Harvard concluded, “was a well-rounded, seasoned general practitioner for an entire human society, an expert, to use an old-fashioned term, in applied political economy. Such a person”, they noted, “did not exist”. That is now England’s challenge. “General practitioners” in education have to be developed, and developed very fast if we are to have a system of education that goes “with the grain of the brain”10. 79:27/8/6