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Quill-Driving Babus

A servant to the imperial virus! Here is a whole new take on what I was hired to do with my adult life. It helps to explain why I encountered such violent reactions from administrators as I innocently deviated further and further from my function in an effort to be useful to kids. While straining to find ways to be helpful, I constantly ran afoul of this hidden directive forced schooling was created to serve, about which I had previously not the tiniest clue except that gleaned through intuition.

Professional associations of proles expand or contract according to the schedule of the political state for absorbing fringe groups and outsiders for retraining in new habits and attitudes. If a great social project is underway, bureaucracy grows. When no compelling agenda is afoot it shrinks. As populations learn to discipline themselves, the need for expensive professional assistance to do it for them diminishes.

For instance, if the managerial promise of computer workstations is realized—hooking children into automatized learning systems which have been centrally engineered—then great numbers of schoolteachers and school administrators who were hired for a computerless moment now passed will melt away like ice in spring to be reabsorbed into the leveled and featureless common proletariat. My guess is that this process is already well underway. Low-level school administrators are a class facing imminent extinction if I read entrails correctly.

Indeed, the bureaucratic giantism we have endured since the end of WWII has clearly lost momentum. Whether or not we should consider that a cause for celebration is dubious. A retreating bureaucracy is a sign the dominant minority considers the proletariat tamed, its own danger past; the bureaucratic buffer becomes superfluous. It marks a time when people can be trusted to control themselves. Woe to us all if that is so.

There is a catch, however, to the wonderful elasticity of bureaucracy. It is found in the degree of violent backlash occasioned by bureaucratic shrinkage, or downsizing as it has come to be known. This dangerous reaction Toynbee refers to as "the bitterness of the intelligentsia."

Indeed, grounds for bitterness are formed in the very scheme for training civil servants. They surrender any prospect of developing full humanity in order to remain employed. Private judgment, for example, is an inevitable early casualty, personal courage is totally out of order. Bureaucrats often regard themselves privately as less than whole men and women, not totally insensitive to the devil’s bargain aspect in what they do. For Toynbee:

This liaison-class suffers from the congenital unhappiness of the hybrid who is an outcast from both the families that have combined to beget him. An intelligentsia is hated and despised by its own people.

He continues:

And while the intelligentsia thus has no love lost on it at home, it also has no honor paid to it in the [workplace] whose manners and tricks it has so laboriously and ingeniously mastered. In the earlier days of the historic association between India and England, the Hindu intelligentsia, which the British Raj had fostered for its own administrative convenience, was a common subject of English ridicule.

Servants of state and corporation, like schoolteachers, lawyers, and social workers, are inherently untrustworthy because of the stress and insult they constantly endure living and working suspended between two worlds. They must be carefully watched during training and subjected to spiritually deficient education to measure their dependability for the work ahead. If they swallow it, they get hired.

This hothouse situation creates fault lines deep in the breed which begin to crack open when employment is cut back. Because what these men and women do can, in fact, be done by almost anyone, they live in constant peril of being excessed even when a shrinkage isn’t underway. Toynbee again:

A Peter the Great wants so many Russian chinovniks or an East India Company so many clerks, or a Mehmed Ali so many Egyptian shipwrights.... Potters in human clay set about to produce them, but the process of manufacturing an intelligentsia is more difficult to stop than to start; for the contempt in which the liaison class is held by those who profit by its services is offset by its prestige in the eyes of those eligible for enrollment in it. (emphasis added)

The applicability of this principle to your own boy or girl in school, embedded painfully in one of the many bogus gifted and talented classes of recent years, or graduating from a watered-down college program set up to accommodate more than half of all young men and women, is this:

Candidates increase out of all proportion to the opportunities for employing them and the original nucleus of the employed intelligentsia becomes swamped by an intellectual proletariat which is idle and destitute as well as outcast.

Now you have a proper frame in which to fit the armies of graduate students enduring a long extended childhood in prospect of a sinecure not likely to be there for most. In Toynbee’s eye-opening language, this "handful of chinovniks is reenforced by a legion of nihilists, the handful of quill-driving babus by a legion of failed B.A.s." Be careful not to smirk; that quill-driving babu you see every morning in the mirror is likely to be you.

Nor have you heard the worst: an intelligentsia’s unhappiness builds geometrically—an underemployed chinovnik or babu becomes angrier and more cynical with the passage of years. Sometimes this rage discharges itself quickly, as when postal employees shoot up the joint; sometimes it takes centuries. For an example of the latter, Toynbee offers us:

  1. The Russian intelligentsia, dating from the close of the seventeenth century, which "discharged its accumulated spite in the shattering Bolshevik Revolution of 1917"

  2. The Bengali intelligentsia, dating from the latter part of the eighteenth century, which began in 1946 to display "a vein of revolutionary violence which is not yet seen in other parts of British India where local intelligentsia did not come into existence till fifty or a hundred years later." [Shortly after those lines were written, the intelligentsias brought British India down.]

I hope this helps you understand why, from a policymaker’s standpoint, the decision to muzzle intellectual development through schooling has been in a bull market since the end of WWII despite the anomaly of the G.I. Bill. The larger the pool of educated but underemployed men and women, the louder the time-bomb ticks. It ought to be clear by now that the promises of schooling cannot be kept for a majority of Americans in an economy structured this way; only by plundering the planet can they be kept even temporarily for the critical majority that is necessary to keep the lid on things.

In the society just ahead, one profession has astonishingly good prospects. I’m referring to the various specialties associated with policing the angry, the disaffected, and the embittered. Because school promises are mathematically impossible to keep, they were, from the beginning, a Ponzi scheme like Social Security. The creative minority who unleashed this well-schooled whirlwind a hundred years ago seems to have finally exhausted its imaginative power as it transmuted slowly into a dominant minority without much creative energy. Dr. Toynbee points to such a transition as an unmistakable sign of society in decline. Another ominous sign for Toynbee: the increasing use of police and armies to protect private interests.

In 1939, on the eve of war, the defense budget of the United States was $11 billion (translated into a constant dollar, year-2000 equivalent). We were at peace. Today, at peace again, without a visible enemy on the horizon, the defense budget is twenty-four times higher. The appearance of a permanent military force in peacetime, which claims a huge share of society’s total expenditure, can’t be explained by saying we live in a dangerous time. When wasn’t that true? It is our own leadership which lives dangerously, dwelling in a Darwinian world in which its own people are suspect, their danger so far contained by ensnaring the managed population through schooling into a conspiracy against itself.

We meet every day in school a reflection of the national leadership class displaying every indication it has abandoned its fundamental American obligation to raise ordinary people up, becoming instead an overseas transmitter of the original mother ideas of England.

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