By MICHAEL TAVOLIERO
Elon Musk’s remark, “What I see all over the place is people who care about looking good, while doing evil,” delves into the complex reality between outward appearances and moral conduct. “Caring about looking good,” he suggests, is an empty pursuit, a mere front devoid of intrinsic value.
However, the heart of the matter lies in the consequential descent into malevolence that often accompanies the contest for superficial righteousness.
Edmond Burke is credited with the phrase, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Burke’s wisdom is reflected in Musk’s observation, illuminating the inaction which allows injustice and immorality to endure. Burke implies that when we witness wrongdoing yet abstain from taking a stand or intervening, we become complicit in perpetuating objectionable actions. We all do it. It is part of human nature. Our silence and inaction, driven by a desire to “look good” or preserve a veneer of moral rectitude, or perhaps just to avoid trouble, set in motion a subtle cycle where personal image overrides the imperative to uphold what is right.
And what is right? Doesn’t it involve actions or interventions aligned with ethical principles, showcasing moral responsibility, and contributing to societal improvement?
Does it denote a commitment to values transcending mere appearances, prioritizing substantial, ethical behavior, even when confronted with the challenges of addressing wrongdoing or injustices?
This insidious cycle intricately links to the deceptive nature of our sins, as Burke eloquently posits. The enticing allure of vanity blinds us to the reality of our moral lapses. Cloaked in self-importance and the need to project an unsullied image, our sins deceive us into believing that our inaction or complicity is justified. Vanity becomes the smokescreen through which we rationalize moral shortcomings, perpetuating a cycle of self-deception.
Again, we all do this. However, in America, in Alaska, and in Anchorage, it has become a full-time vocation for many of our political and corporate classes.
In essence, Musk’s insight, entwined with Burke’s wisdom, cautions against the peril of prioritizing appearances over ethical responsibility. It serves as a reminder that the path to moral turpitude is often paved with the good intentions of maintaining a pristine image. To break free from this cycle, one must confront the uncomfortable truth that true virtue lies not in looking good but in actively striving to do good, even when faced with the unmasking of our own vanities.
Volunteers at the recent Financial Reality Fair in Anchorage observed that high school students in attendance could not do the simple mental math needed to decide whether a role-played financial transition would be good for them or not.
The Financial Reality Foundation has been involved in presenting these and other opportunities for students to discover the real world of personal finances since 2011. Coincidentally, the Alaska Children’s Trust, which has been around since 1997, reported on its website that 76% of Alaskan 4th graders are not proficient in reading and 77% of 8th graders are not proficient in math in 2023.
In contemplating the moral dilemma presented by these observations, a stark reality surfaces—one that transcends mere financial literacy. The dilemma lies not only in the students’ struggle with basic financial concepts but extends to the broader educational landscape and its profound implications for the future of Anchorage, Alaska, and the United States.
At the heart of this quandary is the juxtaposition of two organizations: the Financial Reality Foundation, diligently working to equip students with essential financial knowledge, and the Alaska Children’s Trust, grappling with alarming statistics about academic proficiency. The convergence of these entities highlights a disconcerting narrative that unfolds against the backdrop of education and its multifaceted challenges.
The Financial Reality Foundation, with its commendable efforts since 2011, seeks to bridge the gap between theoretical classroom learning and the practicalities of personal finance. Yet, the irony is palpable when, despite these initiatives, students find themselves unable to add or subtract simple numbers in their heads.
The students invariably reached for their phone calculator to figure the answer to 700 minus 10, or 680 plus 30.
And so arises the question of whether financial literacy programs alone can address the broader educational disparities that seem to plague Alaska’s youth.
The statistics reported by the Alaska Children’s Trust in 2023 deepen the moral quandary. A staggering 76% of 4th graders lacking proficiency in reading and 77% of 8th graders struggling with math show the systemic issues that extend beyond the scope of financial education. The very foundation of academic proficiency appears shaky, raising concerns about the overall effectiveness of the education system.
In navigating this moral labyrinth, we must confront the interconnected nature of these challenges. Financial literacy, while crucial, cannot exist in isolation. The proficiency deficits identified by the Alaska Children’s Trust suggest systemic shortcomings that demand a holistic approach to education reform. The moral imperative, therefore, extends beyond financial education to encompass a broader commitment to enhancing the overall quality of education, addressing disparities in foundational skills, and fostering a supportive environment for academic growth.
As we grapple with the moral dilemma laid bare by these educational deficiencies that have been obvious to the public for over a decade, the call to action becomes clear, yet unheard and it is a lot worse than just “looking good.” It is not merely about refining financial literacy programs but about advocating for comprehensive educational reform.
Is our state Legislature filled with “people who care about looking good while doing evil”?
Only through a concerted effort to bolster foundational skills in reading, math, and critical thinking can we pave the way for a generation capable of navigating not only financial realities but the complexities of the world they inherit.
Michael Tavoliero is a senior contributor at Must Read Alaska.