The Modernity Mindset – Part 6: Identity

One of the most important quotes – at least in my opinion – to come from all of the Hermitix interviews, is one by Dmitry Orlov about identity, to paraphrase, ‘Most people these days are simply a collection of their vices, if you took them away, what exactly would you have left?’. Now, I don’t want to fill out the meaning of Orlov’s quote and try articulate exactly what he means by this, but I will use it as a springboard for my own thoughts on identity, especially as I think the quote is the perfect encapsulation of where we’ve gone wrong with respect to how we ‘identify’ ourselves.

A vice is generally considered to be a weakness in someone’s character, excessive drinking, over eating, a hot temper, sassyness etc. I guess it could be fairly subjective as to what one considers a vice, but I would add a consumer purchases and empty virtues to the list of things which help build an identity. The definition of identity isn’t exactly helpful either:

  1. the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.

  2. the characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.

Maybe it’s this rather loose signifier, which is reliant on increasingly looser signifiers, which is the reason our-selves have become a bit unstuck. When someone first meets someone, after saying the general pleasantries such as ‘Nice to meet you’ and ‘How are you’ the next question is generally ‘So, what do you do?’ or (though more rarely) ‘What do you do for a living?’. It’s of no surprise that this is our go-to question really, we all work, and our day-to-day jobs take up the majority of our existence, often taking up far more time than that which we spend with our families of friends. So to a certain extent, one can see why one might make work and identity synonymous. The problem is of course, we have mistaken the way in which we earn money with out very being. Our work-life has become our existence, outside of this we have a few addons, but these are seen as quirks and additions as opposed to actual characteristics.

Let’s push Orlov’s idea to its limit. Remove your consumptive habits, your quirks, outgoings, vices, social virtues, brands, aesthetics and material likes, an what do you have left? Where is your self beneath all of these things? Of course, one could argue that these things do culminate in what we generally consider to be a self or identity, and yet, many of them are so empty at their heart, that our very identities are riding on nothingness. I’m going to sound a tad romantic or soppy here, but I don’t particularly care, and I think it’s telling that these are often used as accusations as opposed to thought positions, anyway… When you ask someone what they’re into they’ll usually state they’re into a certain genre of film, like a certain cuisine, enjoy certain brands or makes etc. and outline their very existence via various material and consumptive habits. When one is asked this question, of ‘what it is they are into…’ what happened to stating pastimes and functions outside of material, consumptive patterns. Sure, walking could be given as a rather cliché example, but what about sitting in front of a lake, or drawing trees, or reading old French texts, anything really, our identities have become constrained by the limitations of what is considered normal within Western consumerist society. Maybe there’s little more to this piece than that, do not allow your-self and who you consider yourself to be to be constrained via material limits, especially material limits of consumerism.

This isn’t anything new of course, people have always held to certain idea of normality or social etiquette, it’s nice to be accepted and it would a lie to say otherwise. But it’s not a question of acceptance, it’s a question of submission. Most, if not all modern identities are submission to a big-Other, or a they, or an elusive herd mentality which haunts everything, but it’s only our own acceptance that this haunt actually exists which keeps us from exploring possible alternatives within life. An unconscious attachment to an abstract fluxing ideal which supposedly resides in all social functions, events, processes and happenings. As if at all moments in life we’re collectively trying to impress the Other collective, which always eludes and outflanks us, and as such, our journey towards some form of coherent identity never ends, we’re always reliant on the next item or purchase to bolster our belief in our self, one which we deep down understand to have very little supporting it.

Ultimately we live in a highly atomized society. Everyone and everything is at atomized as possible, fragmented and splintered into the smallest controllable lumps, the smallest morsel which capital can latch onto and control. It’s difficult to outline what modern identity is because it’s so utterly dispersed, it has deconstructed any overarching value into a useless pulp; God, family, nation, state or nature are good examples of values which people used to put before themselves, but now nothing is put before the self and everything comes after our individual purchases, wants, needs and desires, the modern identity is one of an a priori selfishness. We are reluctant to give into the idea of something greater than us precisely because it is greater, and thus proves our notion of individuality is rather superfluous and is something we’re not as in control of as we’d like to think. I could blither on and on here, but I think the premise is so clear, once we begin to look, what exactly is it which our identities are built on? And if it is as I argue, that there’s very little there of substance, then I have little more to write about here, so actually, I think a practice would be of more worth here…

Think on what exactly it is that makes you you. This is one of the biggest questions one could ask themselves, so it might take some time. But I would begin with you recent purchases and why it was you bought them, what compelled you? What do they actually say about you? In what way do they inform your identity? Keep going until you reach a block, is there anything there that can’t be moved? That hasn’t been built or created by some Other force?

The Modernity Mindset – Part 5: Food

There’s something very revealing to be found in the way we interact with food which can tell us a lot about our relationship with modernity. Alongside water and shelter, food too is an immediate and necessary need for all men and women, unlike water we don’t take it for granted, at least not to the extent we do with water, we do however have a rather peculiar relationship with food…

Firstly let’s look at what food even is. At its most basic level food is sustenance, it’s the fuel that keeps us going. We are biological ‘machines’ which need fuel to keep us performing whatever actions we wish to perform. On a certain level of communication this is our basic reality, one in which we are an engine which performs functions and needs fuel to do. Now, if you wish to lose weight this is actually the most practical way to think about food, as fuel. However, there are of course long traditions of food as a cultural object or pastime, certain places have certain cuisines which usually represent the temperament of their culture quite exactly. There is also the largely ignored history and philosophy of senses other than sight and hearing, so to simply understand food as some additional extra would be silly, however, our relationship with it isn’t a healthy one, its a quintessentially modern one, in which food becomes entertainment. This isn’t exactly a new idea, but food was perhaps the first example of where the substance of something began to mutate into a different conception altogether.

What I mean when I say that our relationship with food has altered into one of entertainment, is that the very purpose of food has been lost, but I don’t think a return to this very basic purpose has to exclude the beauty of food itself and its historical origins. The attitude towards food within modernity is one which allows it to become a sideshow of existence, one which allows the empire of signs to overtake all faculties and demote food to some kind of existence-filler, something to pass the time. Whereas, in reality, food is something that should be kept at the forefront of one’s mind, especially when you’re consuming it. The phrase ‘You are what you eat.’ is thrown around rather callously as some pithy bureaucratic message regarding personal health, however, when you really begin to think about that saying, there’s more to it than meets the eye – as there usually is with those old, wise sayings.

Because you quite literally are what you eat, in both a physical and metaphorical sense. What you consume is the fuel used to create you and allow you to continue, if you intake bad food, or junk fuel, then your body and you are going to feel like junk. And, metaphorically speaking, if you intake cheap, quick and easy food, you will become cheap, quick and easy, developing an impatience with respect to existence itself. The contemporary attitude towards food is one in which is relegated in favor of an act deemed worthy of one’s attention. There is even a culture with regard to finding good videos to watch whilst one is eating, as if literally fueling one’s body and enjoying the flavors of various foods wasn’t enough. People will obviously state that I’m some reactionary – ‘Oh, you think it’s ridiculous that people might want to watch TV or listen to something whilst eating?’ – well, yes and no. No, I don’t think it’s ridiculous per se, however, I do think it’s done so from a position of privilege. And so also, yes, yes I do think it’s ridiculous, it’s ridiculous that we’ve got to a state of affairs where if one is eating that isn’t the act which is actually primary in their thought. Such a thought process, wherein the food itself is no longer the primary part of the meal, is a great outline for the way in which modernity tends to strangle and control your most basic functions, turning them into something which changes your existence into a fairground attraction.

Everything in modernity must be entertainment, or, must at least be able to be entertainment. Your morning commute to work is filled with radio, podcasts or music, a short walk anywhere is done with headphones in as to cancel our the world, eating dinner is done in front of the TV or with something on in the background, each item of consumption has an addition which makes it in some ways ‘fun’, your work break is filled with biscuits and tea, your most basic functions have been gamified into empty habits for the sake of a dopamine rush, everything is logged, everything is projected and everything is beaconed to the crowds for approval. At all times, one must be entertained, for if they are not being entertained they are having a bad time, and that – within modernity – is a fate worse than death. You’ll notice that all those things I listed, commuting/walking to work, going on a walk, eating meals, taking some time our/having a break etc. these are all the simple pleasures of life which can be enacted for free, and not only that, are actually both free and enjoyable. Modernity, of course, tends to hate this. The idea that one could go out and be fulfilled and content without purchase, or without purchasing something which they then attend to as if it was part of them.

Food is the greatest example of this, this compulsion of modernity to make you believe you never have enough, that nothing is enough until every sense is absolutely overflowing with data and information that you can hardly think. Modernity adores noise, for without noise one might actually be able to anchor themselves, think for themselves and finally attend to that which they actually need/want. We have been removed from everything vital to us, everything which maintains the simplicity is stripped away, for the purpose of trying to prove to us that we don’t want simplicity, but we want complexity, with all its trinkets, additions and extras. And this is what modernity wishes to prove to you with the overarching idea of entertainment, it is not enough to live a simple, quiet and calm life, one must be entertained all the time; one must in constant states of emotional pull and tug, as if to exist contently was a sin in itself, whereas the opposite is the truth. Modernity loves complexity because it’s easy to get lost in it, it’s easy to lose what exactly it was you originally wanted, if anything, and search endlessly for a desired object, other or ism, that accursed thing which will finally satisfy the perpetual itch put upon you by modernity.

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It’s OK to Not Care About Politics

During recent research into the life of Machiavelli something began to become quite clear to me. We weren’t always, universally, socially, communally or even personally, political. That is to say, it’s only recently that it’s become commonplace to declare oneself as left, right, Republican, Democrat, Labour, Conservative, Centrist, Reactionary, Socialist, Red, Blue, x-pilled, y-pilled etc. In terms of human history this way of being – as a political-being, or even as homo-politicus – is extremely new. The very idea of a left/right split/spectrum comes from where people sat during the French Revolution, when members of the National Assembly divided themselves into those in support of the king (right) and supporters of the Revolution (left). Arguably this is one and only time that the idea of a left/right spectrum has ever made sense. Since then both ‘directions’ signal virtue to various camps and striate one into relatively specific ways of thinking. The year we’re roughly talking about here is 1789, that’s round that all up and say – for clarity’s sake – we’ve been political ‘beings’ for just over 200 years. Once again, humans in their current evolutionary iteration have been around for 200,000 years. So we’ve had this political chip on our shoulders for roughly 0.1% of our entire lifetime. Of course, you could argue that for a large amount of that time we haven’t exactly had the infrastructure to allow for what we now commonly understand as politics or political economy, but we have had that for a few thousand years at least, so even going by that metric, the notion of a political-being or of a political-human is still quite new.

It seems to me the reason for the original (non) position, wherein man wasn’t apolitical, nor anti-political, but simply detached from the political, wasn’t due to some oppression (though some would argue otherwise)[1], nor was it really to do with any ignorance; it was largely because in relation to man’s daily life, the specific political on-goings didn’t matter to him. I would argue that this is still true, we’re just all caught up in status and popularity games.

The very idea that within contemporary (Western) society one could be ‘detached’ from politics seems absurd, that’s how tight of a grasp it has on our lives. A grasp which is ever-tightened by the popular rhetoric surrounding politics. Society in general seems to unconsciously believe that they now have some kind of duty to be political, they must be in a certain camp, they must have certain opinions on various matters, and most of all, they must care in a specifically political way. I’m here to say that this way of thinking and being is complete bullshit, and it slowly leads one to misery and submission. There are a lot of factors as to why someone might feel compelled to constantly be political, largely emanating from one’s perpetual attachment to media. The two most heinous forms of media are – of course – social and mainstream. Primarily because, once you actually begin to think about what these terms actually mean, like most things in modernity, they no longer make any sense whatsoever. Let’s begin with ‘social media’.

We all apparently ‘know’ what social media is, which is another way of saying we understand it. I’ll admit, I don’t really understand social media, and I never have. The basic reasons as to why it’s so popular are of course clear, on average humans quite like attention, they quite like having a say and they quite like boasting about their lives. However, I would ask this? If it wasn’t for social media, and its invasive societally pressuring structures, would you actually want to express certain opinions? Would you even have them? Would you have even thought about them? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t, be honest with yourself. If no one was looking, and you had no proof anyone had looked, would you expend energy on the various political and social tasks you do? Ok, so this then begs the question, why the hell do we want to express these opinions? Well, for that you need a mainstream current which tells you the correct, conventional and confirmative way to be. Enter the mainstream media. Such an idea of a ‘mainstream’ is already idiotic. There can’t be such a thing because we all live in different areas of the world, within different cultures, within different families, with different values, within different contexts, and so, the job the mainstream media then is to subsume all of these alternative ways of being and differing value systems into one relatively homogenous lump, which is then there’s to mold as they wish. I’d insert here Ted Kaczynski’s ‘critique’ of ‘multiculturalism’, though it’s less a critique and more of a deconstruction. Kaczynski’s point is that there isn’t really any such thing as ‘multiculturalism’ as it’s sold to us. The overt idea is that multiple diverse cultures live amongst one another, learn from each other and share their cultures for the betterment of all. Kaczynski makes it clear that this is not what happens within contemporary multiculturalism, all that really happens is that every culture is subsumed into the exact same culture of middle-class consumerist aspiration, and perhaps allowed to retain any cultural aesthetic which might be deemed profitable by their new culture of consumerist aspiration. The exact same thing happens with mainstream media. One begins with a variety of views, opinions, values, outlooks, perspectives and contexts which have been grown organically, from their local surroundings and upbringing, these are then pushed through the conformity thresher of mainstream media, cherry-picked for their applicability for submission, and what’s left are deemed dangerous, archaic, bad, fascist, radical, silly, absurd, weird, not-normal, odd or perhaps just too common-sensical for them to remain.

Now, the exact same process happens with the idea of a ‘political-human’ with a few minor alterations. Much like homo-criminalis, or homo-economicus, once the suffix is assumed a priori as a way of being – man can be a criminal, or man can be economical. There’s no longer such a thing as a man detached entirely from criminality or the economy, there is only a man who is not a criminal, or a man who acts within the economy in a different way than what is preferred. The exact same thing happens with political man. Once a political-outlook, a political-perspective or a political-reality is assumed as the given reality, everything is then filtered through politics in some manner. Then there is no longer such a thing as a entirely unpolitical man, only a man who is deemed ignorant of politics, someone who is seen as turning a blind eye or as simply too lazy to investigate that which they should be. The language here is the problem. Foucault makes this point clear with homo-criminalis and homo-economicus, once the ontology is taken as a given, no one is not of it, but simply seen as not part of a certain section of it. Men are not men, they are either criminals or not-criminals, we are not ourselves we are either economizing or not-economizing, either way, we’re still tethered to a way of being we had no say in.

Well I’m here to say that this is complete and utter crap. If you want to go get involved in politics, then be my guest, but do NOT assume that just because I don’t care about a certain topic, opinion or perspective that I am immediately the antagonist of that position. There is a difference between a hostile apathy, in which one truly doesn’t care about the plight of others and a detachment within one simply is not involved. Of course, any involved are going to disagree. ‘It’s your duty!’ they will cry. ‘Do you not care about the world!’ they will shriek. ‘How can you just do nothing?’ they will plead. Actually, I am doing something, I’m not expending my energy on a status game which largely exists to inflate various egos and create jobs. Lest we forget that politicians are workers, to be a politician is a job, and by the looks of it, quite a cushy one at that.

Being detached from politics isn’t not caring about those things you left behind, in fact, it’s arguably the opposite. As soon as a charitable organization, a communal effort or a group event becomes politicized, I am instantly skeptical of its agenda, why? Well, because since when did helping others, loving thy neighbor or creating something helpful have to be seen through a political lens. Call me a soppy-sod, but buying a homeless person some food, donating to a local charity or helping out in a local event isn’t – and doesn’t have to be – a specifically political move or motivation, and if it is, you’re doing so to cater to your own narcissism. What are these acts then? Well, they are what they are. You help someone because they need help, you do something because it needs doing, you create because something needs creating; once sincere acts are filtered through the malicious gauze of politics they are usually lost entirely, abused into a self-congratulatory mutation.

Ok, maybe you’re with me, but you’re starting to think…’Ok, so what do I…do?‘ Isn’t that the point? Up until now, for many people, each and every act they undertook was done primarily from a political position as opposed to the multitude of other (healthier) perspectives that exist. What do you do? Do what you’d like and what you understand to be right.

“Ah yes Meta, but if we ‘do nothing’ as you propose, wont we be simply bolstering support for whichever party is in the running to win?” You’re still thinking politically, why does it actually matter to you? If I support X I’ve entered into a system which is so unfathomably corrupt, confused and rife with personality that I will never truly know what it is my vote is doing. It is NOT an apathy, an ignorance or a superiority. It is a detachment. It is one unclipping themselves from a perspective they never asked for in the first place. The years upon years spent drooling over the latest news reports, the latest facts and figures, and for what? What has it brought you but further misery? Has the world truly changed, or has is trundled along as you thought it most likely would from your specific global context? I’m no longer interested in politics in the same way I am no longer interested in shipping reports…I never was, they are in absolutely no way connected to the way in which my life will turn out, that power and that energy resides in exactly one place, my flesh. If you wish to hand over all responsibility for your life to some vague entity called ‘politics’ go ahead, but whilst that’s going on I’ll be trying to find my way throughout the labyrinth of Leviathan.

“AH! So you DO exist within politics!” Yep. I’m not an idiot, politics will and does effect my life. Certain decisions certain people make will enact changes which will effect my life. How I go on to interact with those changes is down to me. But those changes happen in much the same way a tree falling into my garden ‘happens’, I deal with it when it arrives. I WILL NOT expend my finite energy on various status games and virtuous hiccups for the sake of retaining the idea of a self whose sole purpose is to please others.

There is a great hall within a forest. There are parties in the hall 24/7, the noise never stops, the commotion never dwindles. Many people enter, very few leave. I was born in the hall and assumed its reality as the only reality. One day my eye caught the sunlight beaming in from outside, it was beautiful, sublime. I caught it only for a moment, before an elder lurched and dragged me from the hole in the wall. As I grew all I did was stand by the hole in the wall, looking out into a vague green and light space, a space which was hostile yet inviting. One day I tried to leave. I walked a few meters from the hall, retreating quickly to its comforts our of terror. The elders smirked and welcomed me back. The brief moments I had spent outside the hall stayed with me. It’s all I thought of. Many days I would try to create my own wilderness within the hall, to some degree of success but never exact. One day I left for good, out of boredom. The elders forgot of me. I resided just a few miles from the hall. Dithering here and there, doing as I wished. Some days I thought of burning the hall down, setting others free. But I quickly realised that many had their homes there, and it would be wrong for me to force my opinion on them. And so I moved further away, as far as I could, but every time I looked over my shoulder the hall was always there. I came to adjust to its noise, to work with my thoughts and understand the hall for what it was. Eventually I ventured back, realizing there were some positives to the hall, but it was simply not for me. I said hello to the elders and they were suspicious. I left once more, residing in a camp of my own making just a few miles from the hall, learning to live with its hegemony of comfort. Most days I did as I wished, the hall in the back of my mind as that which I never wanted to become. I lived outside of it, detached from its way of being.

It is not a question of not caring about politics, because to actively not care is to care. It is a question of entrance and exit. You were made to enter a perspective and you have the right to exit it also. To criticize the crowd is to be of the crowd, to criticize consumption is to consume such a criticism, to be apolitical is to be more political than all.

One day I went back to the hall, delved deep into its basement. There sat a lonely old man, spewing bitter vitriol, submissive demands and revolutionary appeals, he never stopped yapping, sordid and cruel. I sat for some days and listened, I took in much data and retained no substance of use. I knew he was there, and I knew through the floor his words echoed throughout the hall, with differing parts protruding into different sections. I left him alone and left the hall once more. I occasionally think of that old man, unchanging, bitter and alone.

[1] What can one say of the man who simply wishes to go about his day, tend to his crops and family, create art, read great literature, fish for his supper, arise to the rhythms of nature and quite frankly go about his day, thinking not of himself, but of his immediate life, of that which effects him, moment to moment. If you view such a man as oppressed, ignorant or apathetic, then I would say that the parasite of the political is deep within you.

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The Modernity Mindset – Part 4: Water

I know what you’re thinking, ‘How the hell is Meta going to pull this off? A full length piece on water, he’s gone too far!’ Well actually, I haven’t. Water, specifically tap water is one the greatest tools in my toolbox to show you just how far modernity has come, how much it has mutated your mind. The way in which we think about water lays much of the groundwork for how we think about food, which will be an even bigger essay due to the various connotations in connected to it. Water, in comparison, seems relatively simple, but it can actually be used as a cornerstone for the presumptions regarding the life of the average modern man.

The more I think about writing this essay, the more I think it might be the one where I finally step into the realms of ‘Well yeah, no shit Meta!’, but that hasn’t happened yet, even though I believe I’ve been writing about some really clear stuff. This is why it’s always best to write by the way, your view may actually be more original than you think. With that said, a word of warning, this essay could de downright obvious.

The problem with water is that outside of shelter – which in most Western countries isn’t truly top priority – is that we absolutely need it to be able to exist. It’s not something which is negotiable, it can’t be replaced in any form and is always, perpetually needed, until the day you die. And yet, we take it for granted to such an extent that we generally forget we have supposedly unlimited access to it. You realize how utterly insane that is? There is something out there which, if we don’t have it for just 3 days, we will die. And what do we do? We forget that we access to that thing, we abuse our relationship to that thing and arguably, we even neglect that thing. Precious, precious water.

Though I’ve already written the short piece on schooling, I did miss something out, the fact that school does actually teach you some lessons, but there always the lessons they didn’t realize they had taught you. We had an assembly one day about being grateful etc. and one of the examples they gave to us was to understand that water coming out of the tap, day-in day-out, isn’t something that necessarily always happens, but is something which has been developed and engineered to do so. Yes, I learnt the lesson of being grateful for resources and lifelines, but I also learnt another lesson, the one they didn’t really want to teach me. ‘What the HELL are we all doing?’. This is the most important thing is all of our lives, and none of us are learning how it works, or why it happens, or who’s in control, or who to contact if it goes to pot, or how we find and develop a new fresh supply of water if the taps stop running. Maybe I’ve always had the collapse mindset, maybe my years of survival and woodland camping made me respect warmth, water and fresh food a lot more, I don’t know, what I did know is that we all had a serious chip on our shoulders.

So this is the point of this essay. Not water in itself, as some nourishing good. Though of course it would be easy to begin mentioning carbon water filters, privatization of water supplies and the health benefits of hydration, I’m not going to, because there’s a more important message at play. Once again, the one of presumptions. We all presume that water flows from the tap when we turn the tap on/off, we all presume that the water will continue to do so for as long as we live, we also presume that if the water stopped running from the tap that something is up, this would be not normal. Well, I have a cold message for you all, water not running from the tap is actually normal. Not having a mass network of filtered and sterilized pipes connected to each and every house is normal. Not having instant access to clean drinking water is normal. If you have running water, you’re privileged and disconnected from reality.

Arguably we’ve had ‘modern plumbing’ since the mid-1800’s, but in terms of the standards we’d expect today, the 1930s is the earliest era one could argue comes close to modern expectations. So, we’ve had modern plumbing and running water for just under 100 years. Let’s say humans have been around in their current evolutionary iteration for 200,000 years, that would mean we’ve had running water for 0.05% of our life time, and yet, it’s accepted as absolutely, 100% normal. It is and always will be the way things are. Anyone who says otherwise is a quack, doomsayer, madman, weird blogger who needs help, right? If it was any other resource it might not seem so mad, but the one and only (in many parts of the world, where climate is less formidable) resource we need to exist is taken for granted? And no one is being taught on a societal level how it’s processed? How to start it running again if it stops? Where to get it if it doesn’t come out of the tap? How to process it when drawn from an exterior source?

But here’s what modernity does in this situation. It creates something which is technically amazing, our contemporary plumbing systems, for instance. It disperses it in such a way that it becomes hegemonic, and anyone not abiding by it is seen as weird and odd. From its generalized societal acceptance as the absolute norm (and anyone who thinks otherwise is weird), it is accepted (along with progress) as absolutely always and forever, and there was never not a time we didn’t have it, and if there was the people of that time were weird.

This hegemonic coverup of course isn’t something modernity ever wants you to think about. To think about the fact that one needs and always will need water, to exist, to live…to not die, is not what modernity wants. Remember, under modernity you’re going to live forever (until you don’t), you’re going to having everything you want (it wont satisfy you) and there’s nothing to worry about (except all the old risks are still there). Modernity wants you to forget that you’re human, and you need very little so that it can maintain its productive control over you. If you’re reminded that you need water, you might also be reminded that you could live without other drinks, you could even go get your water from elsewhere. ‘Hmm, perhaps I don’t need all that stuff.’ Once water is turned into an a priori resource it is no longer revered for what it is, and is simply accepted, making it boring, almost untrustworthy. You drink water? How dull!

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The Modernity Mindset – Part 3: Shelter

Modernity has mutated our thoughts regarding what’s normal and what isn’t, so much so that the very basics needed for our survival have become lost in a world of assumption, privilege and acceptance. I plan to tackle the 4 ‘basic needs’: food, water, shelter and clothing. I’m tackling shelter first, because as many of you may know, in certain places of the world shelter is the primary need. That is to say, you will often die quickest to exposure (without shelter). I’ll be looking at our considerations of these basics and how our current modern state of affairs has altered our perception in rather malicious ways.

What is shelter then? Well, it keeps you dry, it keeps you away from the cold and it keeps you safe at night. We’ve basically forgotten about these and turned ‘homes’ and ‘home-ownership’ into an odd fetish. Note: I’m not against private property rights, in fact, I think they’re smarter than most presumed ‘rights’. Anyway, I’m also starting with shelter because it’s one of the more peculiar alterations of modernity, in that, the way we’ve been taught to modify our understanding of shelter has lead us towards more stress, misery and pressure than ever before.

I’d like to reiterate something before I get into this. If people want to own X, Y or Z house, that’s fine, it’s up to you to make stupid decisions like believing houses are ‘investments’, or getting in a life-long debt because you liked a building. Like I said, I’m not against private property, I am against a generalized/normalized idea of what a private home should be. So what should it be? As stated, it should keep you warm by having good insulation, keep you dry by having good walls and a roof and also keep you safe from potential intruders or threats. Modernity has put such a thick layer of chemical and bureaucratic existence on top of everything, that the bare-bones reasons for many of our undertakings are hidden. But it’s good to remind yourself why we do things. It’s cold our there.

Now, onto the main crux of this piece, what is a home anyway? I don’t want to get too ‘millennial’ about this, but a home can really be whatever you want it to be. And anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you their own will, or their own past mistake. The preconceived notion of what a home is largely sculpted by accepting the idea of a home given to you by society. Sounds like a dumb statement, because this is how our understanding of basically anything grows. Except, within modernity, you’re living within an anomaly of existence to the notion of a home that’s given to you wont exactly fit in with your immediate reality.

The general idea of a home/house that’s given to those looking to buy/acquire one is of a 2-4 bedroom house with a garden, all the amenities and possibly the potential for extension if needed. It’s the absolute ideal of what a lovely Western (Simpson-esque) home should be. Before I get into why this idea in general is complete rubbish, let me tell you some things about contemporary home-ownership, the multiple elephants in the room which every estate agent and nagging authority figure wont tell you about. (UK stats)

“In 1995–96, 65% of those aged 25–34 with incomes in the middle 20% for their age owned their own home. Twenty years later, that figure was just 27%.”

“Mean house prices were 152% higher in 2015–16 than in 1995–96 after adjusting for inflation. By contrast, the real net family incomes of those aged 25–34 grew by only 22% over the same twenty years. As a result, the average (median) ratio between the average house price in the region where a young adult lives and their annual net family income doubled from 4 to 8, with all of the increase occurring by 2007–08”

“Over the last two decades, there has been a 46% increase in the number of young people aged 20-34 living with their parents. Over the same period, average house prices have tripled from about £97,000 to £288,000.”

In 1997 the average house cost £64604. Twenty years later the average house now costs £223807. Houses now cost 3.5 times what they did back then.

CPI inflation over that period is only 1.48 times.

Wage growth is only 1.8 times.

I can hear you, don’t worry. “Stop, stop! Please make it stop!” Sorry to say, it’s not stopping anytime soon, it’s something you’ll just have to get used to. Now, this ‘getting used to part’ is really what this series – on a practical level – is about. The desires, material fetishes and consumption habits of the 1960s-2008 are considered the norm. They’re not, they are absolutely NOT normal. They are an anomaly of history. If you buy into them you will cripple yourself! Now I’ve said that, let me explain what it is I actually mean. As you can see from the statistics, none of this really adds up. In short, you used to be able to buy X with Y, and Y would equate to enough to buy X and live relatively comfortably (anyone telling you otherwise doesn’t understand the difference between inflation and purchasing power). Nowadays, we still believe that we should all be able to buy X (a lovely 3 bed house) and that our Y (wages) are still up to scratch. They’re not. It’s over. 2008 came along and gave us all a harsh reality check, one which pretty everyone seems to have not admitted to. I mean, when you start seeing every other bank, building society and monetary institution handing out grants, loans and ISAs to every young schmuck that comes along, you should be smart enough to see that something’s up. Nothing is free in modernity, you either pay with money, data or time, and guess what, all these loans people are signing up for is just more time they wont get to use as they want to, all because they fell for some dated desire of oh-so-mighty home-ownership.

Perhaps dated is the wrong word, because my qualms about home-ownership aren’t about what people want to buy, but why they want to buy it. It’s one of those cases once again where people seemed to want something, or want to do something, just because everyone else is doing it (abstractly called ‘mimesis’). There are of course varying reasons as to why people would want – or even need – a 2-4 bedroom house: kids, hobbies, pets, relatives etc. However, rarely anyone ever asks themselves (though more people are increasingly starting to do so) whether or not they really need or even want their supposedly self-desired home. What compelled them to want the suburban dream? What compelled them to want a 2-3 bedroom house that needs lots of upkeep and takes away a large portion of one’s time? What ever compelled them to buy into the Western suburbanite aesthetic of pseudo-virtue via owning meaningless, trite nic-nacs? I can’t imagine there was ever some compelling argument to this. When I was younger I distinctly remember having an almost nauseous reaction to ‘homes’ which were full of random useless shit and didn’t seemed to be lived in (a reaction I still get). This is one of the major symptoms of contemporary home ownership, the idea of a home as an extension of yourself. Well, now I come to think of it, perhaps it’s apt then that most modern homes are Ikea-esque multi-builds with no character, no daring and no originality. The reason I feel averse to this way of living is that it always seemed people spent more time tweaking their home than actually living in it. As if one’s favourite hobby was Chess but they spent so much time cleaning the board they never got around to actually playing, and in fact, it’s suspect as to whether or not they actually played chess in the first place. In a world where the majority of people spent as much time at work as they do at home, and then go out on the weekends, why it assumed to be normal to spend the majority if your money on something you don’t really use? Most of the rooms in your average home rarely get used anyway, most time is split between the kitchen, living room and bedroom, with anything else becoming a ornament which you’re paying for over time.

People will often ask at this point “Well, what are the other options? I don’t really want to rent because you’re just wasting money.” Before I get to the other options, I want to address the ‘rent is wasted money’ argument. This argument is based off the prior assumption that I’ve been writing about, that one should – if one can – get a mortgage and purchase a house outright. This is done then for 2 reasons. Firstly, because ‘It’s what you do.’ (as they say) and secondly, because it makes more financial sense. If you’re making your decision in relation to the second decision, you’re already making a few mistakes. Renting seems like a waste because you wont own anything at the end of it, this is true. But, what if you don’t want to own anything? What if you can’t afford the maintenance costs? What if you don’t want to put your time into maintaining a house? What if you have better things to be doing? What if you just want shelter and aren’t too bothered about ownership? What if you don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of unforeseen bills such as various taxes, duties and leasehold fees? When you rent, you aren’t wasting your money, because you get what you pay for. You also get the (potential) freedom to move around far quicker than you’d be able to if you owned a property. It’s all down to personal priorities, and most people have assumed the priorities of the banks and the financial system. ‘Do what’s most financially safe!’ they say, a statement which brings me back to my earlier point about the dumb idea that property is investment. Here’s my take on this: Unless there’s water on the land, the property is not an investment, it’s a punt. People ‘get into’ property because it’s supposedly this ‘safe bet’ with respect to gaining money, 2008 has of course shown this to be untrue. Guess what perpetual peace, perpetual energy, perpetual growth and perpetual progress have in common? They all believe in the idea that something can get better, bigger and greater forever. This is socially, physically and cosmically impossible. If all your housing investments gave you a greater return you happened to invest during a historical anomaly (boomer generation).

Back to the first point, ‘Well, what are the other options?’. The other options are the ones you actually think about, the ones you decide are your own, the ones you create for yourself. People will often turn their nose up at these other options, but that’s only because they believe in a pre-conditioned and presumed notion of what a house should be. Renting, tiny houses, building a house, a condo, van-dwelling, exiting to a more affordable country, rent-as-work (farmhand), living on a boat and digital nomadism are just a few options. I’m sure whilst reading those many of you thought ‘Those don’t seem all that nice.’, once again you’re attending to these ideas from a preconceived notion of what you’re life should be like, you’re trapped in the desire of the other. You believe you should live a certain way out of fear of societal rejection or alienation, you believe you should live this way out of no real conviction but because of an abstract pressure to impress others. Shelter doesn’t have to mean a kitsch suburban 4-bed with boring neighbors and thousands of useless trinkets strewn about the place. Shelter can mean whatever you want it to mean.

Perhaps you don’t really stay in your house much anyway and prefer to travel, what would be wrong with living on a boat? Perhaps you’ve actually never really been fussed about owning a house, because you want to spend your free time doing your hobbies as opposed to repairing a property, well maybe renting is for you? Maybe your job affords you the luxury of working from anywhere (programming), why not travel around affordable countries whilst working from a laptop? Perhaps you just want your house to a base of operation but aren’t too fussed about aesthetics, look into tiny houses? Perhaps you have very few ties in your home country and could live cheaper elsewhere, well, what’s holding you back? The point however, isn’t towards some drastic physical move, but towards a drastic mental move, one in which your very perspective of what is considered a ‘shelter’ or ‘home’ is changed and you no longer abide by the unconscious stress and pressure of ‘becoming a home-owner’.

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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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Who’s Walking Who?

 When I was a young lad I used to visit my Great Uncle a lot, and anyone who’s been following my work for a while knows that he is my greatest inspiration. I think this is in part because he had a direct connection to seemingly ‘distant’ history and often used to tell stories of the city of Norwich being on fire during WW2, and other memories relating to pulling dead pilots out of trees near his home. I’m sure these early encounters with both the brutality and nonchalance of history have influenced my writing, in fact, I’m certain of it. Anyway, one of my most vivid memories is – lucky for me – the moment I learnt one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn.

Me and my Great Uncle were driving down some rural country lanes to a small pigeon shooting spot he liked to check when he was bored and the weather was nice. The day was bright, quintessentially English, I believe it was spring time and early in the morning. We got to a junction and were about to turn right, but before we did, we had to wait for someone walking their dog. Now, what are often common sights can become lifetime lessons when seen through the eyes of someone wise, this is largely what Michel Serres’ work is.

The woman who was walking her dog wasn’t exactly walking her dog, as much as she was being dragged by it. When one thinks of people who are walking their pets this is actually an extremely common sight. The dog on its leash/lead being ‘walked’ by its owner, but when one looks closer, the leash is so tense that the owner is actually being pulled by the dog, the leash is only there to give the illusion of control. My Uncle, probably spotting a great moment to teach a moral lesson, held on the brakes before taking the turn. Watching as the woman was dragged at an uncomfortable pace by her dog past the front of the car, my Uncle turned to me and said ‘My boy, who’s walking who?’

Little did I know this would be the greatest lesson in power I would ever learn. In an instant my Uncle had taught me everything about power they don’t want you to know, that is, power is exactly where you can sense it, whether or not various institutions, structures or systems say otherwise. The great illusion here is that just because the dog was kept on a leash and the owner had ahold of the leash that the dog was under control, except, this isn’t true at all. But in reality, due to the creation of a structure of power which is entwined with various social entities it seems both easy and difficult to see exactly where the power lies.

The large majority of people would of course say that the owner (or person holding the leash) is the person who holds the power, for the mere fact that they hold the leash. In much the same manner, many would say it is the government which holds the power because they hold the societal leash via taxes etc. Some would say it was the leash itself which holds power, the structure which allows power to operate is power itself, the normalcy of the leash is power. A rare few would notice that the dog actually holds a fair bit of power because he is able to pull the leash and thus the owner via the strength of his will, however, dogs of a certain age rarely learn that if they keep pulling the leash that they will end up with either a shorter leash or simply be banned from going on walks altogether.

So there’s quite a few little oddities of information held in this one example. Firstly, the dog does in fact hold the power. He is able to control both the leash and thus the owner via exertion of his will, but he doesn’t think of the consequences with respect to what the owner might do due to such frustrations, he only thinks of the immediate goals he’d like to attain. In much the same way, one can currently say that within our contemporary form of pseudo-democratic government the people hold a certain amount of power, but it is constrained by the leash, there is a limit to their power and the owner is always in control of this limit. Shifts of the democratic herd towards X, Y or Z seem – from their perspective – to have accomplished something, but they never contemplate whether or not they’re still on the leash altogether, which of course they are. It’s the illusion of freedom within the same constraints. When we see people who exert their will over the government and cause it to bend or (in-part) break, it should be clear that it is they who – momentarily – hold the actual power, but they have changed nothing, and are simply exhausting themselves by pushing against the leash.

I think if any of my essays ever get misconstrued as defeatist, this will definitely be the one, but I’m hoping I can argue my corner. What happens to those faithful mutts who understand the system? Who understand that haphazardly putting their energies solely in direction of their own will only causes greater harm in the long-run? Dare I say, what happens to those loyal mutts who inherently understand limitation, etiquette and order? They get let off the leash, they get trusted. Am I saying sit back, do nothing and don’t exert your opinion? Absolutely not. Am I saying that more often than not multiple forms of energy exertion are performed within a closed loop which has illusory ends? Yes.

It sucks, you’re in a system which you’re not keen on. That no one is keen on, at least in its current form. So, what are your options? Tug on the leash and exhaust all your energy within the confines of disobedience, a place where one is always watched and suppressed…this sounds utterly useless. Or, accept certain limitations of life, accept the cyclicity of history and try to remove yourself from it. Practice understanding the grey-ness of history and truth, head towards a clarity of thought which is not tainted by various shades of blue and red. If you begin from a position of personal sovereignty which is created with an understanding of immediate governmental limitation, then your direction can only be one of personal self-improvement. From this position one can – internally – be let off the leash and head towards a position of sincerity and discipline. An understanding that you are your own person, and that your energies will not be targeted at deconstruction or demolition, not for lack of vitality, but for lack of care regarding that system, it is what it is, but it doesn’t have to infect you. And so you become the mutt without the leash, trusted to wander here and there, exploring and relaxing, being intrigued by what fascinates you and unconcerned with what doesn’t.

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