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Disinherited Men And Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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