When most of us look at the matrix, we see that if we are selfish, we are guaranteed of getting at least 50% of what we want from a particular situation, and we may get as much as 100% of what we want. On the other hand, if we cooperate, the matrix states we only have a 50% chance of getting 90% of what we want, and a 50% chance of getting nothing. This seems like a perfectly sane rationale, and as Marx pointed out, it is, in a purely materialistic sense.
In a purely human and societal sense, it is insane.
In order for it to work, it requires us to treat both ourselves and other people as "things," not human beings. We must alienate ourselves from our own humanity, and that of our fellow humans, in order for this system to succeed. It is a system which makes perfect sense to a criminal or a paranoid-schizophrenic, or anyone who is fearful that they won't get what they believe is their "rightful" share; which, given human nature, is generally more than they are justly entitled to. It is not a workable system in the long term for any society, because without cooperation, there can be no society.
The matrix for the "Prisoner's Dilemma" says that honest cooperation will always get both sides most of what they want, while experience has shown us that selfishness will potentially get us an unexpected and undesired result, such as global thermonuclear war. If the long-term interaction of large groups of humans is viewed as an indeterminate, non-zero sum game (even though parts of the interaction between individuals may be determinate or zero-sum games), then logically, for the group as a whole, honest cooperation is the best choice for group interaction.
This brings us to the recent teacher's strike in Chicago.
We have Mayor Rahm Emanuel, acting like the crypto-corporatist swine that I believe he is, doing everything for the wealthiest One Percent and their corporate surrogates, and nothing for the other citizens of Chicago. His purpose is obvious to anyone who sees what is happening: break the teacher's union, and reduce most of Chicago's public schools to the lowest common denominator, except a small number of corporate run charter schools that are able to cherry pick their students in order to maximize their probability of success.
If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he would have been alternating filing legal motions in state and Federal courts against the City Of Chicago and its School Board, marching on the picket lines, and looking for the opportunity to horse whip Rahm Emanuel, for: 1) acting like a member of the pseudo-aristocracy; 2) proving himself a friend of the One Percent, and an enemy of the majority of the American People; 3) being a horse's ass. To use one of my favorite quotes by Marx (Groucho, not Karl) concerning men like Rahm Emanuel, "I'd horse whip you sir, if I owned a horse!"
Okay, perhaps Jefferson wouldn't horse whip Chicago's Mayor. He was a great believer that living well was the best revenge, as evidenced by this quote from a letter to John Dickinson in 1801, just after he and the Democratic-Republicans (predecessors of today's Democratic Party) had driven John Adams and the pseudo-aristocrats of the Federalist Party from power in the election (or as Jefferson called it "the Revolution") of 1800, "What a satisfaction have we in the contemplation of the benevolent effects of our efforts, compared with those of the leaders on the other side, who have discountenanced all advances in science as dangerous innovations, have endeavored to render philosophy and republicanism terms of reproach, to persuade us that man cannot be governed but by the rod, etc." (The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 10, p. 217; 1904.)
Thomas Jefferson was the foremost proponent of educating the American people en masse, by a system of public education, of all of the Founding Fathers. As Jefferson wrote to David Harding in 1824, "In a republican nation whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance." (The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 16, p. 30; 1904.) As anyone who has tried to argue with a member of the "Tea Party" will tell you, you cannot reason with the truly ignorant, no matter how good your information might be.
Jefferson realized that a system of compulsory education, teaching children to read, write, do simple arithmetic, plus an introduction to the history of the World as well as that of the United States, together with the critical thinking skills that such a system would engender, was the best guarantee for our nascent nation to maintain its values as a democratic republic, as the following two paragraphs demonstrate:
"Is it a right or a duty in society to take care of their infant members in opposition to the will of the parent? How far does this right and duty extend? --to guard the life of the infant, his property, his instruction, his morals? The Roman father was supreme in all these: we draw a line, but where? --public sentiment does not seem to have traced it precisely... It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation [removal, author's note] and education of the infant against the will of the father... What is proposed... is to remove the objection of expense, by offering education gratis, and to strengthen parental excitement by the disfranchisement of his child while uneducated. Society has certainly a right to disavow him whom they offer, and are permitted to qualify for the duties of a citizen. If we do not force instruction, let us at least strengthen the motives to receive it when offered." (Thomas Jefferson: Note to Elementary School Act, 1817; The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 17, p. 423; 1904.)
"The reading in the first stage, where [the people] will receive their whole education, is proposed... to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views." (The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782; volume 2, p. 106; 1904.)
Once again, the greatest fault that exists within our current educational and economic system is a psychological one: that there must be winners and losers. This is bad for our nation in the long-term, because it creates the idea in the minds of many Americans that second place is nothing more than first loser, and if you are not Number One, you are worthless, or at least somehow worth less than someone else. This is nothing but an attempt at social engineering, creating a system that insures a small elite class of winners, and a much larger class of losers. Edmund Burke would be so proud. (See Burke's 1756 monograph, A Vindication of Natural Society.)
George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind education program is the most disastrous sham visited on the American People in our nation's history since the privatization of prisons in the 1980's. In attempting to quantify the American educational system objectively without providing the monetary assistance that is required to do the job properly, it dooms our nation's poorer school systems, who do not have a strong financial foundation--due to the local residents' poverty--to invariably fail, permitting their takeover by private entities who will promise the world and deliver...nothing. In fact, the two programs together do more to promote a permanent underclass in this country than any American political or legal enactment since Plessy v. Ferguson established Jim Crow. Thomas Jefferson understood the difficulty faced by the poorer members of American society, and that a general equality of education among the American people was vital for the nation and its survival: "The less wealthy people,... by the bill for a general education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government; and all this would be effected without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen." (The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, (1821); Memorial Edition; volume 1, p. 73; 1904) All that No Child Left Behind has done is forced teachers to teach to the test, rather than what their students will need to succeed in the real world, and foster wide spread cheating by both our students and our schools .
The reactionary oligarchs who have dominated the Republican party since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, plutocrats including the Walton family (who together have more wealth than the bottom 40% of the rest of the American people combined), the Koch Brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Joe and Peter Coors, are following a carefully orchestrated plan, whose outlines were put forward in a memorandum by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell in 1971 , which Powell designed to overcome what he saw as the dominance of the "liberal" viewpoint in American society and the media. Justice Powell wrote better than he ever thought he had: later hard core reactionary political movers and shakers like Karl Rove and Grover Norquist have taken Powell's memorandum and turned it into a blueprint for a crypto-fascist overthrow of our Constitution and way of life, not simply "equalizing" things between liberal and conservative, but very nearly destroying the liberal tradition of our country that goes back to Jefferson and Madison.
For far too long, we on the left have been playing Old Maid, while the reactionaries have been playing contract bridge. It is time for us to change the game: five-card stud poker, table stakes. On the table is the future our country, our Constitution, and our democratic republic. And the stakes for the opening hand is the American education system.