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An American Affidavit

Friday, October 28, 2016

85. Three Most Significant Books: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archve.org

Three Most Significant Books 

The three most influential books ever published in North America, setting aside the Bible 
and The New England Primer, were all published in the years of the Utopian 
transformation of America which gave us government schooling: Uncle Tom 's Cabin, or 
Life Among the Lowly (1852), a book which testifies to the ancient obsession of English- 
speaking elites with the salvation of the under- classes; Ben-Hur (1880), a book 
illustrating the Christian belief that Jews can eventually be made to see the light of reason 
and converted; and the last a pure Utopia, Looking Backwards (1888), still in print more 
than one hundred years later, translated into thirty languages.' 

In 1944, three American intellectuals, Charles Beard, John Dewey, and Edward Weeks, 
interviewed separately, proclaimed Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards second only 
to Marx's Das Kapital as the most influential book of modern times. Within three years 
of its publication, 165 "Bellamy Clubs" sprouted up. In the next twelve years, no less 
than forty-six other Utopian novels became best sellers. 

Was it Civil War, chaos, decades of mass immigration, or a frightening series of bloody 
national labor strikes shattering our class-free myths that made the public ready for 
stories of a better tomorrow? Whatever the cause or causes, the flowering communities of 
actual American utopianism took on real shape in the nineteenth century, from famous 
ones like Owenite communities and Fourienan phalansteres or Perfectionist sexual stews 
like Oneida, right down to little-known oddities, like Mordecai Noah's "Ararat," city of 
refuge for Jews. First they happened, then they were echoed in print, not the reverse. 
Nothing in the human social record matches the outburst of purely American longing for 
something better in community life, the account recorded in deeds and words in the first 
full century of our nationhood. 

What Bellamy's book uncovered in middle-class/upper-middle-class consciousness was 
revealing — the society he describes is a totally organized society, all means of production 
are in the hands of State parent-surrogates. The conditions of well-behaved, middle-class 
childhood are recreated on a corporate scale in these early Utopias. Society in Bellamy's 
ideal future has eliminated the reality of democracy, citizens are answerable to 
commands of industrial officers, little room remains for self-initiative. The State 
regulates all public activities, owns the means of production, individuals are transformed 
into a unit directed by bureaucrats. 

Erich Fromm thought Bellamy had missed the strong similarities between corporate 
socialism and corporate capitalism — that both converge eventually in goals of 
industrialization, that both are societies run by a managerial class and professional 
politicians, both thoroughly materialistic in outlook; both organize human masses into a 
centralized system; into large, hierarchically arranged employment-pods, into mass 
political parties. In both, alienated corporate man — well-fed, well-clothed, well- 
entertained — is governed by bureaucrats. Governing has no goals beyond this. At the end 
of history men are not slaves, but robots. This is the vision of Utopia seen complete. 

Economist Donald Hodges' book, America's New Economic Order, traces the intellectual history of 
professionalism in management (John Kenneth Galbraith's corporate "Technostructure" in The New Industrial State) to Looking Backwards 
which described an emerging public economy similar to what actually happened. Hodges shows how various theorists of the Utopian transition 
like John Dewey and Frederick Taylor shaped the regime of professional managers we live under. 

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