The Modernity Mindset – Part 2: Schooling

I’ve written about education and what it is ‘to learn’ a lot lately, I believe – like many others – that what happens to you, or is forced upon you, in your early days is largely the lens through which you’re going to view the rest of your life. It seems like a very bleak state of affairs for mankind, that once something is taught, consciously or unconsciously, from a young age, there’s no going back. There are genetic and heritable factors of course, but it seems to me that the apparatus I’ll be talking about is primarily placed on top of these. That is, the educational apparatus seeks to root-out any anomaly which doesn’t neatly fit into its system of control. Once again, as I like to make clear, I’m not writing of anything new here, and it seems that no one ever really can write anything new, everything happens again and again, over and over, cyclically throughout time.

When you’re young, once you begin to meet your friend’s parents everything begins to fall into place. The alternative kid has ex-hippie parents, the straight-A student has conservative parents etc. Life isn’t all that full of surprises when it comes to things like this, and I’m not sure entire fields of scientists are needed to prove that this is the reality we live in. If you can’t literally notice that most traits are being inherited, I’m not really sure where you’re looking. However, those things are unavoidable and so utterly personal that very little outside of personal work will ever help you with them.

This piece is called ‘schooling’ because in its definition schooling is far different to education. When we think of education, nowadays we think of getting an education. Learning various lessons which culminate in an understanding of the subject to the point where one can either teach it or utilize it. To get an education as an engineer is to be eventually be able effectively engineer things so that they work and don’t break. To get an education in woodwork is to be able to create doors and windows etc.  To get an education in philosophy is to eventually be able to teach philosophy or…become a podcaster. Anyway, the point is, as Ivan Illich immediately points out in Deschooling Society, that education systems have made process and substance synonymous. The process of learning (schooling) has culturally become to be understood as the knowledge gained from learning itself. As if, just because someone goes to school or gets schooled that would make them smart/learned, I think we can all agree this isn’t the case, in fact, the very opposite is true.

The problem is of course that schooling contains so much other baggage that isn’t related to knowledge it’s actually difficult to find where the actual knowledge resides. Most non-specific office-monkey jobs could be understood in an hour or so and refined just by doing the job. Most education that happens both inside and outside of traditional ‘schools’ is primarily to make that workplace look serious. No company wants to admit that anyone can do their job, a long process of ‘learning’ is an illusory form of legitimization and makes anywhere that does it look serious, at least by a social standards. The same applies to various credentials companies and schools acquire, we have X, Y and Z award for outstanding achievement in A, B or C. Usually all these awards amount to is the company or school getting a high percentage of ‘high grades’ within a certain year, basically a massive bureaucratic circle-jerk. A school/company abides by the socially created system of credentials, they attain high marks within that system and by doing so get a further credential, and on and on it goes. I’d like to note, that I’m not entirely against some form of ‘credential’ for say a medical doctor (MD) or surgeon etc. But when you actually look at the system of credentials for an MD, it differs from the usual one. MDs can’t achieve firsts, seconds or thirds etc. They either get honours or no honours, and when you look at this for a couple of seconds, you realise a distinct way you can begin to see actual knowledge. When there’s trust involved. MDs can’t get a wide array of worse-better credentials because no one wants to go see a ‘bad’ MD, you’re either capable of being an MD or you’re not. That’s a minor digression, but it’s important to make clear that the age-old reality of why knowledge is deemed important still stands. Is this person ‘knowledgeable’ is another way of saying ‘Can I trust this person within area/genre X?’ Credentials sought to replace this notion of trust with a system of marking, if person A had grade Y then they can be trusted, it’s proof that they have enough knowledge to do what’s needed of them without too much hand-holding.

Schooling overstepped its bounds and now it’s arguably not until after all traditional forms of education are finished that you begin to learn something of practical use. The irony is of course is that most practical jobs are reverting – whether consciously or not – back to a system of practice over courses – How long have you actually been doing this? As opposed to, how long have you been studying this? – Within this is the root of the contemporary schooling problem, why is this reversion taking place? Well, it’s because employers, tradesmen, programmers, institutions (which are serious about themselves) all understand that schooling doesn’t teach the subject itself, it only uses the teaching of the subject to impart its own beliefs, etiquettes and aims. If you ask the average person (in the West) what they learnt from school they would probably draw a blank. Nothing clear comes to mind, there was some stuff about simultaneous equations, and point-evidence-explain, I vaguely remember something about mitochondria, but the problem was that there was no use for this information. One’s education from the years of 5-16 is the equivalent of an 11 year general knowledge course, one which is so lacking in coherence that you never really find your feet.

The question then is, well what the hell was school teaching me? How was I being schooled? It’s something I’ve mentioned in interviews before and written of on occasion, but when you really think about what school taught you, what school taught you is bad and what is good, what was an ok way to be…things start to look quite bleak. The example I tend to give is ‘sitting’. That’s right, school taught you that it’s good to sit and listen. But not just sit and listen, but sit for 6 hours at a young age under horrendous fluorescent lighting, within beige walls, and listen to someone usually uninspiring drone on and on about something that has – and will never have – any effect on your life. School utilizes the grand idea that you’re being taught knowledge to enforce a form of social etiquette on you from a young age. You’re taught that when someone with lots of credentials stands in front of you and gives a speech, you sit, listen and don’t make a sound until explicitly asked to. Doesn’t exactly sound like the non-prison we were told school was. Lunchtime is at…lunchtime, that is when you’re hungry and that is when you have to eat. You’re taught that proof of knowledge is in relation to grades and not practical application, you’re taught to keep in-line, form a presentation of yourself contrary to your actual self, repress all vitalist desires to run around, build and create etc.

But the most heinous lesson – and arguably one which may now actually be true – you’re taught is that the only way to achieve anything in life is via some third-party system. Don’t go it alone, you need a support structure, you need backing, you need an institution, company or grant, you need to implement yourself within a system of credentials, otherwise how will anyone ever know that you’re serious, that you really know your stuff? Well the answer to that is easy, someone who knows what they’re on about can prove it by creating something that people want/need and that works very well. The reason this lesson might now actually be true is because society in general has made it extremely difficult to get taken seriously within any field off experience alone, even if you were to show a working-model X to a company that needs working-model X, I’d imagine they’d still be hesitant to take you on-board, because without credentials, well, why would anyone take you seriously? Found within this reluctance to take someone on who doesn’t have the credentials is the implicit aims of schooling. Companies and institutions etc. aren’t reluctant to take on someone without credentials because they think their work won’t be good, no. They’re reluctant to do so because inherent within credentials is the proof that you’ve been pushed through the system and come out the other side, you must have obeyed and accepted a lot to get here, which means you’ll do it again. The higher the credential, the higher the sunk cost, the higher the complacency. When you hire someone who is jam packed with awards and grades etc. you’re not just (potentially) hiring someone knowledgeable, but more importantly, you’re hiring someone who is ready and willing to be moulded.

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The Modernity Mindset – Part 1: The Problem of Definitions

I use the word ‘modernity’ a lot, anyone who’s listened to me for even a short while will know this. I’m self-aware enough to know that I use in a fairly loose and often callous way, taking it as a signifier for everything I don’t really like about the way things are. I would argue, as quite a few have (such as Greer, Zerzan, Orlov, Yarvin) from their respective standpoints, that we all, deep-down, understand that this really isn’t even close to a good way of being. Something feels off at the very kernel of our being, as if we’ve moved away from a mode of being which is holistically healthy towards a means of being which is productively unhealthy. Of course, I dislike subsuming the idea of health into the realm of the universal as it ends up doing far more harm than good (as Foucault made clear). So, what I’d like to try do is outlined many of the problems modernity ‘creates’ or ‘births’ and tackle what exactly it is that’s wrong with them and how they’ve altered our perception of the world. One of the most important underlying arguments here is that I don’t think you can detach the way in which you perceive the socius, with the way in which you actually are. Both influence each other, meaning that if one submits to a phenomenal or sociological system of control, they are, by proxy, ontologically submitting themselves to a far graver fate with respect to their very being.

In true continental fashion, this first part is titled ‘The Problem of Definitions’. Now, for those of you that don’t know, this is arguably what makes ‘continental philosophy’ stand out. It refused (well, Kant refused) to begin from definitions. Descartes states ‘I think therefore I am’, and Hume states that one can be skeptical, Kant points out that both these thinkers are beginning their investigations of the world from a standpoint which is of the world, one that’s already been formed. If you begin from a definition, you’re already entering a confused and constrained argument. This is why Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’ is so important, because he begins from the very conditions of experience as opposed to the experience itself.

Am I going to try and outline all the conditions of modernity in this essay? No, I think they’ll arise organically within the following parts, making them far easier to follow, because we can actually assess where and when we take our drastic turns of being. To be cantankerous however, I’m actually going to note the definition, see where that takes us, and then work backwards and see what we find…

Modernity: the quality or condition of being modern. – “an aura of technological modernity”

As you can see, this definition is extremely unhelpful. I would once again refer back to my Free Floating Power essay and note that signification of this sentence is reliant on what we collectively understand as being ‘modern’, and within this definition is where I come unstuck. If you research what it is to be ‘modern’, or what it is to historically be within the ‘modern’ period, the breadth of historical, cultural and sociological experience is so far reaching that the term ‘modern’ becomes largely meaningless. Some would state that modernity roughly begins in the 1500s and runs through to the present day, others might say the same but argue that modernity is split into noticeably different eras (Early: 1500-1789, Classical 1789-1900 and Late 1900-1989) and some would argue that modernity is a virtual offshoot of the Enlightenment which influences our current behavior. Whatever way I define modernity will never really cut it, because each definition has its own personal take on what modernity is, inclusive of its own personal conclusions. If you’re wondering where I historically think modernity began, I believe somewhere in the 1600s, when the Roman Numeral for 0 became commonly used in Europe (I may get to this much later).

We can already see however that attempting to articulate modernity from these preconceived definitions wont really lead us anywhere, what lead to and what’s underlying what we now consider to be modernity is such a cluttered assemblage of parts that vectoring from the definition alone ignores the fuel for modernity’s fire. This is why I believe that targeting specific controlling facets of modernity (as we contemporarily experience it) and working backwards to their root, stripping and cutting away what baggage we can in the process, will lead to a far more rewarding definition.

If, at current, I was to take a shot at defining modernity I would argue that it’s a gargantuan socio-cultural psychological operation which has no original helmsman (no one conceived it, it grew organically), an operation which is reliant on an understanding of socio-economic & techonomic production which equates cultural and familial virtue with productive capacity and output; the symptoms of such a state of being include, but are not limited to: Understanding happiness, contentment and fulfilment in relation to production, reducing familial and interpersonal relationships to metrics of status and social-value, adhering to controlled and suffocating conceptualizations of structure, food, survival, worth and education, perpetual and compounding self-policing in relation to the latest trend, immanentization of the self into a hypocritical and fragmented system of market-value, the reduction of authenticity and phenomena to trinkets, brands and objects, the compression of spirituality, religion and belief into an aesthetic of socio-cultural proof, a predominantly techonomic perspective of nature, terminal hostility towards death and suffering, the outsourcing of subjective health/mental concerns/problems onto striated institutions and bodies via a credentialist mentality and finally, a subsumption of one’s very being into the framework of production, status, popularity, market-value, libidino-value and normality.

These are some of the symptoms I seek to look into and work backwards from as a means to investigate what it is I consider to be ‘modernity’.

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On Solitude


I’ve recently been reading David Vincent’s A History of Solitude, which is a must read for any budding young hermits out there, you need to know who paved the way for you to be able to do what you do. Now, you might be thinking ‘Wait, isn’t solitude a personal decision which isn’t really tied to what others think?’ This is partly true, but there are some complexities here with respect to how we understand solitude and the way in which we perceive it.

One of the things Vincent makes clear is that historically solitude has been generally frowned upon, it was seen not so much as a noble pursuit of quiet and contemplation, but an activity of self-ostracization and unsociability. There are a few reasons for this, but the Enlightenment really put the final nail in the coffin with regard to our relationship with solitude. One of the covert components of Enlightenment thought is sociability and the idea that reason, logic and democracy happen through conversation, which they do, but when you don’t want to enter into those things altogether, the dominant system shivers you out like a bad fever, something that shouldn’t be. Modern society simply does not understand why you wouldn’t want to be a part of it.

This isn’t actually an overtly anti-modernity essay (but it is me writing it, so take that with a pinch of salt). One of the things that thinkers such Yarvin, Junger and Greer make clear is that just because you’re no longer red, doesn’t mean you have to become blue, or are blue simply because of your existence as someone not-red. In the very same way, just because I’m anti-modernity doesn’t mean I’m pro some random form of anarchism or primitivism, the point is – I believe – with solitude, that one doesn’t enter into that whole spectrum of existence. Where one’s very life and vitality is measured against various external machines and metrics. The crossover between modernity and solitude however is one of scorn. The modus operandi of modernity is control, and the idea that someone would be fine solely with their own thoughts is abhorrent to it. It’s very difficult to control someone who entirely content with their own company because you have nothing to offer them, and the substance of control is found within desired object. The thing, idea or habit which is taken on because one believes it good and then altered in relation to profit, constraint or production.

So one is in control of whether or not they go find solitude, but from the beginning one isn’t completely in control of how they understand solitude. There is a guilt created from taking time out and being consciously alone, one is often made to feel as if they owe society something, as if they should be pleasing X or Y, or the classic excuse, they feel like they’re being unproductive. Production is the enemy of solitude, at least production in the sense of partaking in some action of modernity’s construction. Modernity has subsumed the very idea of productivity into its own feedback loop of control; entertainment, binge-eating, social outings and various other consumerist exercises are given to us under the name of productivity and thus legitimized in their enaction, we no longer feel bad for doing them as we would say, laying around doing nothing, or reading quietly by a river.

I’m not saying these things are bad in-themselves, only that the way in which we understand them as either bad or good is given to us by a third-party, and so once again we hand over our responsibility and personal interest to an abstract ideal. We no longer admit or accept what actually interests us, because that may be too weird, strange or asocial for the atmosphere we’re within. No, we rely on an external apparatus of social justification to prove that our most internal interests are in fact ok to have.

Solitude is not an act of rebellion of unsociability, nor is it unproductive. And you most definitely should not feel guilty for wanting to find solitude or be alone. Solitude (in-part) is the complete denial of the idea that one needs social proof or vindication for the actions they undertake. That one is entirely ok with themselves, to the extent that they are actually rather happy to spend time with their own company.

Perhaps this is another piece about how modernity controls you, but once again there’s a minor difference. This form of control is about one’s understanding of what is accepted of them and the conditions of that acceptance. There is an inherited guilt within all of us with regard to not being social. Not being anti-social, but simply not engaging in the generally accepted notion that solitude is somehow alien, strange or bad. Just because one removes themselves from society it doesn’t mean they’re anti-social, and that they’d rather not engage in that whole structure of presumed accepted ideas.

What Did School Teach You Part 2: The Return of the Autodidact

In the last post about what school taught us, I used the argument put forth in Ivan Illich’s text Deschooling Society, to make some various claims. Once again, Illich’s overarching point was that contemporary modes of Western education conflate process with substance, or, this make the processes and credentialism of teaching synonymous with the actual knowledge that should be learned. Someone with a degree is viewed as someone who should understand that subject matter to a certain level, but rarely is this the case. What actually happens within degrees and school systems is a catastrophic feedback loop, which looks like this:

1. A system of credentialism or grading is introduced, people can achieve higher or lower grades respectively on a hierarchy of understanding

2. The higher grades are achieved by those who supposedly have a greater understanding of the subject, and the lower grades by those who supposedly have a lesser understanding of the subject

3. The teacher’s modus operandi like most people working a non-passion job within a capitalist system is simply to keep it. The teachers understand that the greater the number of pupils who achieve a higher mark, the greater the reflection on their performance and ability as a teacher

4. The curriculum then becomes attuned not to a general mode of understanding regarding the subject, but to a constrained outlook relating to ‘What will be on the exam’

5. Students no longer study to actually study…for knowledge, but to get higher grades on an exam

6. Younger students begin to internalize this system and worry not about whether they understand a subject, but whether or not they’ll ‘get a good grade’ (and the system/loop begins its revolution)

This is a form of indoctrination. We can’t blame the teachers, most of whom got into the job for earnest and sincere reasons, and we can’t blame the students because they have no say in what goes on. Once again, who’s to blame is large abstract body of committee members, council workers and bureaucratic brown noses whose entire purpose is to create systems of social, cultural and intellectual vindication. Closed systems which create proofs that something is working, and when that system doesn’t work, they just move the goalposts…I mean, no one wants to lose their job, do they?

What’s the conclusion of this loop? Students and teachers end up learning very little. Teachers remain within the confines of ‘whatever will be on the exam’ and students remain in the same confines due to that being their only route to a future. But I bring good news, this is changing. Many of you may have seen that Harvard – the great helmsman Western education – has just announced that all its courses for 2020-2021 will be taught online, but the tuition fees for undergraduates will remain the same, precisely $49,653.

Unfortunately for Harvard most of their new undergraduates will be ‘extremely online’ people, who are all very knowledgeable with what can be acquired via Google. And what can be acquired? All manner of courses, across all subjects, for very low fees, if not entirely free. And these courses aren’t low quality either, they’re often created by working professionals to teach knowledge and know-how which will actually be used in the workplace one plans to go into.

Perhaps it’s my own personal bias, but I’m willing to make a prediction here. We can mark this decision by Harvard as the beginning of the end of traditional modes of schooling/learning. Harvard’s decision plus the recent increase and intrigue in online courses for the sake of learning, will strike a firm blow to the behemoth that is credentialism. As someone who is working within the online philososphere, I can tell you first hand that more and more potential undergraduates are opting for affordable online courses, largely because their primary reason for study isn’t a job, but it’s actually (shock horror) because they want to learn, they actually enjoy the subject. They would rather work with someone who’s teaching out of passion for the subject, than be sacrificed to the great system of credentialism.

The autodidact’s making a comeback, the experiences of 10-30 years of disgruntled undergraduates (combined with increasing debt) is finally making its way to the younger generation, and due to their existence, which is now primarily online, they can finally escape the indoctrination of their schools. Schools will of course tell you that you should go to university, you should continue your studies. Why do they tell you this? Because by-and-large a higher number of university placements looks better on the school’s and the teacher’s record. But now the left-behind grads are coming back to haunt them, making it clear that it might not be worth its (lifelong) purchase. And perhaps, if you really enjoy a subject and want to learn it, you should just go…learn it.

It’s one of the most tyrannous crimes of modernity, the idea that a credential is proof of understanding. The idea that to trust someone to do anything – even on their own – they need some form of certification or bureaucratic proof. No one is allowed to do anything anymore; it first has to proven that they could or can do it. The knock-on effect of this of course is that before doing anything you get indoctrinated into ways of doing it that you might not enjoy, or might not work for you, or are often completely wrong. When people state they’ve done something a little out of the ordinary, say, built a wooden planter, put up some guttering or fixed their washing machine, you’ll often hear the same old responses “Oh wow, you sure you know what you’re doing?” or “Where did you learn to do that?’

Become the person who learnt to do it themselves, get out of the mindset that you need a bureaucratic proof to learn, enjoy or partake. We used to tame the frontiers, and now we need a license to go fishing and permits to grow vegetables. It’s pathetic, and I beg you not to become part of it. Repair things that break, try with the knowledge of failure, believe that you can figure stuff out without a third party, tinker with life and all its parts and most importantly, be a sovereign individual, tend to your own actions!

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