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Thursday, July 13, 2017

77. Enlarging The Nervous System: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Enlarging The Nervous System 

There is a legend that in lost Atlantis once stood a great university in the form of an 
immense flat-topped pyramid from which star observations were made. In this university, 
most of the arts and sciences of the present world were contained. Putting aside that 
pleasant fancy which we can find clearly reflected on the obverse of our American Great 
Seal, almost any early Utopia holds a profusion of inside information about things to 
come. In 1641 Bishop John Wilkins, a founder of the Royal Society, wrote his own 
Utopia, Mercury: or the Secret and Swift Messenger. Every single invention Wilkins 
imagined has come about: "a flying chariot," "a trunk or hollow pipe that shall preserve 
the voice entirely," a code for communicating by means of noise-makers, etc. Giphantia, 
by de la Roche, unmistakably envisions the telephone, the radio, television, and 
dehydrated foods and drinks. Even the mechanisms suggested to make these things work 
are very like the actual ones eventually employed. 

Marshall McLuhan once called on us to notice that all machines are merely extensions of 
the human nervous system, artifices which improve on natural apparatus, each a 
utopianization of some physical function. Once you understand the trick, Utopian 
prophecy isn't so impressive. Equally important, says McLuhan, the use of machinery 
causes its natural flesh and blood counterpart to atrophy, hence the lifeless quality of the 
Utopias. Machines dehumanize, according to McLuhan, wherever they are used and 
however sensible their use appears. In a correctly conceived demonology, the Devil 
would be perceived as a machine, I think. Yet the powerful, pervasive influence of 
Utopian reform thinking on the design of modern states has brought Utopian 
mechanization of all human functions into the councils of statecraft and into the 
curriculum of state schooling. 

An important part of the virulent, sustained attack launched against family life in the 
United States, starting about 150 years ago, arose from the impulse to escape fleshly 
reality. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming number of prominent social reformers 
since Plato have been childless, usually childless men, in a dramatic illustration of 
escape-discipline employed in a living tableau. 

Producing Artificial Wants 

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