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An American Affidavit

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

200. Disinherited Men And Women: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

200. Disinherited Men And Women: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Disinherited Men And Women

       In the chapter "Schism in the Body Social" from his monumental Study of History,  Toynbee calls our attention to some dynamics of Western imperial success over the past  four centuries which have important implications for the
way state schooling is  conducted. As major victories were registered, he tells us, "many diverse contingents of  disinherited men and women" were subjected to "the ordeal of being enrolled in the  Western internal proletariat." Between 1850 and 1950 "the manpower of no less than ten  disintegrating civilizations [was] conscripted into the Western body social" and  underwent "a process of standardization" which blurred or wiped out "the characteristic  features by which these heterogeneous masses were once distinguished from one  another."  

     Under his mannerly academic diction runs a river of insight explaining the paradox of  forced schooling. It can allow no pilgrim way because it aims at leveling the turbulent  singularity of youth, by a process of standardization, into featureless components of a  universal mass mind and character. Nor, says Toynbee, has the victorious Western  political state been content to prey upon its own kind:  

     It has also rounded up almost all the surviving primitive societies; and while some of  these, like the Tasmanians and most of the North American Indian tribes have died of  shock, others, like the Negroes of Tropical Africa, have managed to survive and set the  Niger flowing into the Hudson and the Congo into the Mississippi — just as other  activities of the same Western monster have set the Yangtse flowing into the Straits of  Malaca.   

     Not only have Darwin's "disfavored" races been so manhandled, but the free domestic  populations of these countries have also been "uprooted from the countryside and chevied  into the towns" in preparation for a strategic replacement of small-scale mixed farming  by mass production specialized agriculture whose crops are produced by the modern  analogue of "plantation slavery." 

      England was first to commodify agricultural products so intensely, "uprooting its own  free peasantry for the economic profit of an oligarchy by turning plowland into pasture  and common land into enclosures." This state-driven push away from the independent     farms of yeomen reduced that class to "white trash" (in Toynbee's colorful idiom), and  this disquieting social initiative was powerfully augmented by a pull from the urban  industrial revolution also being engineered at the same time. Handicrafts were replaced  by output from coal-driven machines. During the agonizing transition, owners of the new  mechanical technology created another new technology of social control through  abundant use of police, spies, sabotage, propaganda, and legislation to hasten the passing  of the old ways of moral relationship.  

     Try hard to visualize through all this milling grief of "beaten peoples" and "disinherited  men and women," not their agony but the perplexity of the corporate state. What is a  modern scientific state, having transcended the principles of Christian life, to do with its  masses once they have been "degraded to the ranks of a proletariat," like so much  detritus, and then further rendered superfluous by a stream of inventions? Even more  today than yesterday, this is America's problem.  

     The question is all too real. It raises the grim spectre of revolution which public policy  seeks to push away through schooling. What can anyone do with human flotsam in a  crowded world that scorns their labor and scorns their companionship? Set them to  watching television? From a scientific perspective, people management isn't all that  different from dealing with industrial waste. At bottom, moral principle has little to do  with it. Dispositions are mainly matters of possibility and technique. Here is the secret of  scientific life which refuses to stay hidden amidst the hollow moral rhetoric of scientific  schooling.  

     Toynbee's observation that most inhabitants of a modern state are in a condition of  disinheritance, and hence dangerous, calls for what he terms "creative solutions." One  creative solution is to establish work for some of the dangerous classes by setting them to  guard the rest. This guardian class is then privileged a little to compensate it for playing  the dirty kapo role against the others. 

     Toynbee is eloquent about the function of bureaucrats in serving the creative minorities  which manage society. Creative minorities always manage complex societies, according  to Toynbee, but the dominant minorities which comprise modern social leadership are the  degenerate descendants of this originally creative group. Dominant minorities manage the  rest by conscription of all into a massive two-tier proletariat. The guiding protection is a  mechanism to ensure these proletariats don't learn much lest they become "demoniac."  This is the unsuspected function which school tolerance of bad behavior serves — in both  school and society. The great majority of proles are kept away from what history refers to  as education. This can be done inexpensively by leading children from ambitious  exercises in reading, writing, declamation, self-discipline, and from significant practical  experience in making things work. It really is that simple, and it needn't be done forever.  Even a few years of control at the beginning of childhood will often suffice to set a  lifetime stamp. 

      Toynbee, and by extension the entire cultivated leadership class he represented, was  unable to see any other alternative to this stupefaction course because, as he hastened to     assure us, "the religion of the masses" is violence. There is no other choice possible to  responsible governors who accept the melancholy conclusion that peasants are indeed  revolting. The only proles Toynbee could find in the historical record who managed to  extricate themselves from a fatal coarseness did so by escaping their proletarian  circumstances first. But if this were allowed for all, who would clean toilets? 

      You might expect such an observation would lead inevitably to some profound  consideration of the astounding crimes of conquest and domination which create  uprooted, landless classes in the first place — England's crimes against Ireland, India,  China, and any number of other places being good examples. But a greater principle  intervenes. According to certain sophisticated theory, you can't operate a modern  economy without an underclass to control wage inflation; in spite of bell- curve theory, a  mass doesn't subordinate itself without some judicious assistance. 

      In his glorious Republic, which may have started it all, Plato causes Socrates to inform  Glaucon and Adeimantus, twenty-four hundred years ago, that they can't loll on couches  eating grapes while others sweat to provide those grapes without first creating a fearsome  security state to protect themselves from the commonality. It would appear that long ago  some people realized that a substantial moral trade-off would be required to create ease  for a fraction of the whole, while the balance of the whole, served that ease. Once that  kind of privilege became the goal of Toynbee's creative minority, once high culture was  defined as a sanctuary against evolutionary reversion, certain horrors institutionalized  themselves. 

      The clearest escape route from tidal recurrence of caste madness is a society bred to  argue, one trained to challenge. A mentally active people might be expected to recognize  that the prizes of massification — freedom from labors like toilet cleaning, a life of endless  consumption (and reflection upon future consumption) — aren't really worth very much.  The fashioning of mass society isn't any chemical precondition of human progress. It's  just as likely to be a signal that the last act of history is underway. 

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