One less brick in the wall

Researchers in the field of Human Biodiversity inform us that Asian babies will remain placid when a cloth is placed over their faces, but European babies will not. Perhaps this explains why suffocating government is typical of the Far East but conspicuous by its absence here in the West. Further scientific experiments are no doubt required before we can say for certain. In the meantime though, assuming that statists are not born but made – or at least that nature can’t take all the credit – the question arises, “Made, how?

Being sceptical of government, let alone hostile towards it, is very much a minority pursuit, yet the average man comes into contact but rarely, if at all, with those traditionally recognized as ‘agents of the state’ (police officers, judges, military personnel, and, thank goodness, politicians). So how does he acquire his unconscious or ‘knee-jerk’ statism? Who is it that convinces him that he is, as Bob Black puts it, under an obligation “just because a few other people have printed up some stationery”?

A distinction might be useful here. The anthropologist, Pierre Clastres, had it that in free (or ‘state-of-nature’) societies relationships are characterized by “exchange,” but in unfree societies “lack of reciprocity” rears its ugly head. This is, give or take, the liberal view. In a free society interactions between men are voluntary and mutually advantageous; in a hierarchical society, you do things simply because I tell you to do them, you do what l tell you to do “or else.” In the former Pareto-superiority is the rule, in the latter “bettering by worsening” flourishes.

No society can survive for long without the acquiescence of its members. So if an at least passive acceptance of ‘a-reciprocity’ is the necessary condition of authoritarian societies – an acceptance that seems to run counter to man’s nature and his self-interest – how is such an acceptance developed and maintained?

I would suggest that the answer, at least in part, can be found in “the education system”. In the UK (and the West generally) homeschooling is practically non-existent, presumably because of its tremendous cost in terms of both time and money. There is also a stigma surrounding homeschooling. Not attending a proper school means a child won’t be properly socialized. (This is likely true in many cases. Although given that “socialization” means nothing more than “becoming a good subject,” this might not be such a bad thing.) As a result, just about everyone spends about six hours a day, five days a week between the ages of five and sixteen, becoming inured to authority.

During his school years a child learns, above all else, that he must follow orders or he will be punished. He has no say in whether he attends school – he must go, and that is that. (Should he refuse to turn up, the police will become involved, and his parents are liable to be fined.) He might like his school work, he might not – he must do it. He might like his teachers and fellow pupils, he might not – he must associate with them. His preferences are immaterial. His teachers, his form tutor, his head of year, the deputy head, the head master, even the dinner ladies – all must be obeyed without question. Reciprocity is not to be found here; each relationship, each interaction, rests on explicit “or elses”. Little wonder that upon leaving school, after having spent over two-thirds of a lifetime there, men are so comfortable with relationships where the “or elses” are unspoken. Authority – when it is recognized at all – has become simply “one of those things,” “a fact of life”.

The success of schooling in cementing the habits of mind that facilitate statism is most visible, a little ironically, in the common attitude towards schooling. As mentioned above homeschooling is thought of as ‘weird’, and quite possibly sinister. Faith schools are seen as oppressive, quite possibly sinister, places. Any move in the direction of “privatizing” education, no matter how small (or how dissimilar to actual privatization), is certainly sinister, and likely disastrous to boot. Yet sending a child to a building owned by the state, run by the state, staffed by employees of the state teaching the lessons the state wants taught, so that they can take exams approved by the state to show how much state-approved knowledge they have aquired is not sinister at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Tempting as it is for decent people to picture teachers as kind, gentle folk doing their best to educate future generations and make the world a better place, this is not the whole picture. Whether they know it or not, teachers are a vital cog in the machine of authoritarianism. The fact that a good number of teachers are indeed kind, gentle folk who have only the best of intentions, is, from this perspective, not a mitigating factor. Rather it only serves to improve their effectiveness as promoters of statism.

Twitter @StrictlyLiberal

Google+ Rocco Bogpaper


7 thoughts on “One less brick in the wall

  1. Home schooling is not much different in some respects than mainstream education. Does a home-schooled child not surrender to the authority of the parent?
    Even the home schooled child might not like its parent at times!
    Plenty of bolshie people have even survived education to university level; but still changed the world.


    1. You’re quite right that there are similarities between the two, StarDasher. I think the big difference though, is that homeschooling is an expansion of a previously existing relationship, whereas schooling involves thrusting a child into a world of, as it were, ‘brand new’ hierarchies. Regarding the similarities, I would suggest that they are exacerbated where some kind of education up to some particular standard is made compulsory by the state. For instance, if your daughter tells you she couldn’t care less about education (in part or in whole), the law compels you to force-feed her education, instead of simply throwing your hands up and saying “Fine!” You must – insofar as you are law-abiding – become authoritarian.

      As to people escaping the education unscathed, or at least making a full recovery, again I wouldn’t argue with you. Although the point I was addressing is why the majority of our fellows are statists. So while the success rate might not be 100%, I think it’s high enough to warrant concern.

      Thanks for leaving a comment, too, StarDasher. I appreciate it.

      Merry Christmas.


    2. But the point is most do not! Most accept collectivism ‘de facto’ and expect the ‘state’ to fix everything as per their conditioning. i hear little of people living and sorting out their own lives without their pockets being filled with someone else cash!


  2. I don’t see too many practical alternatives to state organisation of some functions like education. How to home school if you have to work?

    Anarchy certainly doesn’t appeal. I guess a balance is called for. Which is presumably why these endless discussions take place.

    The cliche: living in a compound in Wyoming, being ‘self-reliant’, and bleating about the Federal government seems to me utterly depressing.

    @ ker I certainly expect the ‘state’ to fix potholes in the road. It’s all about where to draw the line. By all means advocate for drawing a line differently. I just don’t see it as a WW3 type event.


    1. Yeah, I did say in the post that there are huge practical problems involved with homeschooling; for the majority of people today it’s probably all but impossible. Like I said, I am addressing why the majority of people are statists; nothing more.

      And, StarDasher, though you’re of course more than welcome here, if anarchy really doesn’t appeal to you, you might want to give this blog a miss. :)


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