Chapter 6 (Part 1)
PART TWO – UNDERMINING
Chapter Six – Removing The Veil (Part 1)
At birth we are connected to the real world and then, subtly, without our nascent consciousness even being aware of it happening, a veil is slipped over our minds. As we proceed through our lives layer after layer is wrapped around us to suppress any inquisitiveness we may have. It’s impossible to know exactly when the first ragged holes start to appear in the Veil of Ignorance1, but by the time they do, for most people, that wild spirit of curiosity that would have troubled our young minds had they not been veiled is gone. We are enmeshed in lives that leave little room for inquiry, and so set in our ways by the constant forces that have governed our thoughts that we do not seek out truth – we only seek out what the system has taught us are worthy goals: money, material possessions, career progression, synthetic happiness and whatever “dream” our adoptive country is driven to aspire to.
This chapter is about undermining the Veil of Ignorance in its many forms, so that we will be able to at least recognise what is going on around us and, even with no further help, allow us and those we care about, and those we feel should be aware, to make our own decisions. In order to undermine this, The Most Powerful Tool of All, we must first learn what makes it tick and thus what can make it stop.
Back to the Shadows
You have to imagine being at the back of the cave again: sitting shackled upon the bedrock, only able to peer into the gloom at the flickering lights and oh, so familiar shapes that describe your every external experience and thus create your internal perception of what is real and what is fake. The whisper in your ear says, “This is just a puppet show, the real world is just over your shoulder.” The shout in your mind says, “What you see is all that is!” And the shout drowns out the whisper.
There lie the difficulties: it is not enough simply to stop the puppet show that projects the world that the puppeteers need us all to think is the real world. The audience, rapt in their attention deficit, can continue the show in their minds until it starts up once again; just as the tiger pacing cagewise in a new, larger enclosure still perceives her previous constrictions as all the space there is. This is how the Veil of Ignorance operates: it is both without us and within us. Just as we are The System, we also become The Veil.
Exercise: Your Cave
Put yourself at the back of the cave. You have been shackled there your entire life. Don’t just picture yourself, but occupy that body – unable to move except to follow the shadows on the cave wall; unable to feel the physical discomfort of your situation; unable to sense anything other than what you are meant to sense. What would it take for you to realise that the world being presented to you in the form of a puppet show to which there is no alternative reality is not reality at all? What would it take for you to feel confident enough to walk away from the only thing you have ever thought was real?
You have to be honest here, for although you may feel – possibly in a smug way – that you are not part of that charade, you are still very much living within the confines of a system designed to create wealth for the few, give power to the unworthy, and enslave everyone who benefits that system in any way at all. To be fair, it is nigh-on impossible not to be a slave of the system in some way, even if you just use money from time to time, have a part time paid job or listen to a mainstream radio station for an hour a day (and wear a watch to signify when that hour has passed). Nevertheless, you are still – to all intents-and-purposes – shackled in some way at the back of the cave looking, if not straight on, slantwise at the images; if not enraptured by the sounds of the machine, taking some pleasure from their presence; feeling that tug of, if not complete addiction to, the smells, tastes and other pleasures that entwine your senses.
Now go back to the exercise and stop feeling superior. This is serious, for this is the most difficult undermining task there is – if you fail here then you won’t be helping anyone but a very few people who don’t even need your help. Sorry to be so harsh: I hate this as much as you do.
There are a few pointers I can give here, but don’t mistake me for a guru or a fully-fledged escapee. Ignore the next few paragraphs if you already have ideas forming in your head, for they are just my own musings that might interrupt your far more potent thoughts.
I am shackled, but how shackled am I? If I really try to move in the physical world then maybe I can turn around, stand up, walk away. The chains that bind my arms, legs and body, the collar around my neck, the head brace that limits where I can see are maybe no more than mental confines I have built for myself, partly as a protection against the painful position I have been in all my life, partly as a result of being conditioned to what is “normal”. At first I think I was shackled: as a baby and then a toddler I was told where to go, and pulled back, corrected, kept within walls of brick and steel, because that’s what parents are taught to do – conditioned to do. But the real conditioning came from the institutions my peers and I learned to embrace so early on: television, shops, school, the police, politicians and other authority figures (my superiors). I had freedoms. I could cycle away, climb trees and swim in the sea, and take risks beyond the ken of my observers, but always learned to be safe, to return on time, to spend most of my life in the thrall of the institutions that eventually controlled how I thought. As I sat still and correct in the classroom I gained comfort from what I excelled in, and so learned to associate school with reward, not forced compliance. But I always was an oddity, seeing the accepted world as something to challenge…within the confines of my narrow moral sphere (the police visit was enough to ensure compliance with the legal system very early on). Eventually we all slipped into a sort of trance, always carried on the shoulders of future promises and necessities: a career, a nice house, a marriage, some children, holidays when work allowed, television at the end of the day, shopping for nice things and guilty treats at the weekend, and maybe a happy retirement and a trip round the world if we were really ambitious. I was bound to stay in the cave; bound by the limits of my experience, and bound by the expectations of the rest of the civilized world. I could walk away if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.
What would it take for me to see the world I occupy for what it is? What would it take for me to lose confidence in the made-up world and embrace the reality denied to me? Many things: first the removal, from birth, of the confines and rules that were there solely to ensure I learned the “right way” to live. Second, the shutting off of the streamed information that kept me, and still keeps me, turned away from and unaware of the real world. Third, the idea that compliance is normal and non-compliance is abnormal. Finally, for now, deprogramming my mind in order to shut off the internal dialogue of compliance – the virtual cage that I would continue to pace even if I were set free.
This is hard, damn hard! And beyond anything I have tried to scale up to now. And for goodness sake! I have to be time traveller to achieve some of it.
If you skipped that bit in order to develop your own ideas then the undermining tasks immediately ahead may not tally with the ideas you had. I am in no position to judge your ideas, I trust they are worthy of you and an honest reflection of where you feel yourself as being at present. There is the chance that some of the following will tally with the problems you have set yourself (if they don’t feel like problems then you are either in an enviable position or maybe you need to go back and have another go, with real anger in your heart) so at least play along for a bit. To the four challenges above: freeing up of developmental limitations, shutting off information streams, changing attitudes to compliance and removing the internal cage, we need to add a fifth challenge, that of creating an environment in which important information is freely available, for without information we operate in a vacuum.
When I refer to “task” in the text, I am usually referring to something that is multi-faceted, requiring all sorts of individual undermining actions that will appeal to different people at different times, across a range of risk levels and with varying degrees of difficulty. That’s especially the case in this chapter given the number and range of institutions that need to be undermined in their effectiveness. As with all these actions described you should only take them as examples. I am aware of more that I could include in here, and there are far more that you are bound to think of or come across in your undermining travels. For all of the tasks ahead you must remember the rules in Chapter 5 – they are there for a reason, but I won’t reiterate them for time is short and space is shrinking with each word I write.
A Curriculum for Disruption
What we are trying to achieve here is the ability for individual humans to pass through their developmental years without having the Veil of Ignorance placed upon them and within them; more specifically without being subject to the draconian set of rules and ideals that civilized society imposes through the efforts of the various institutions that are “responsible” for childhood development. In non-civilized societies no such institutions exist: the functions of practical and moral education, the setting down of rules (or norms of society to be more accurate) and less serious things such as how free time is spent, are just part of the normal process of bringing a child up to become a fully-fledged member of that tribe or community. In civilized society there are schools and education offices, religious institutions, all sorts of establishments related to the application of law and statute, and the whole apparatus of retail and entertainment to ensure citizens learn the correct way to enjoy themselves.
At the outset of the undermining process, simply sweeping away these formal institutions is not going to happen; instead they need to be directly countered in some way to, at least initially, soften the blow. This is enormously difficult to achieve at any scale without first having a vast legion of Underminers in place – but in order to have a legion then there need to be vast numbers of people who haven’t been subjected to the Veil of Ignorance. You see the problem. This problem doesn’t seem so difficult when you approach it from two different sides.
Task 1: Challenging the Engines of Compliance
Schools: that’s where we need to start, I think. Remember me saying that teachers are some of the most enlightened people in society but the environment and context in which they operate is what causes them to “school” people rather than “educate” them. The distinction is critical if we are to develop a way of undermining this problem. So, we need to change the language. It’s a subtle thing but potentially has tremendous impact. Think of everywhere you see or hear the root word “education” (as in “educate”, “educational”, “educating” etc.) and write down every example you can think of. The vast majority will be found in relation to institutions like schools and colleges, with a sizeable other relating to industry and religion. Very rarely is the word “education” used when referring to what I call Real Education, in other words what has to be done to prepare a person for a specific and vital activity such as gathering, growing or catching food, or caring for another human being.
Now, I want you to use the correct word(s) in relation to its misuse, for instance:
Department for Education = Department for Schooling
Physical Education = Forced Exercise
Religious Education = Religious Indoctrination
Educator (a.k.a. teacher in a school) = Teacher of Approved Information
Fill up a page with similar examples; get it clear in your head what is being challenged here. Try and do the same with two other key root words, “Work” and “Do” (meaning paid labour in a formal setting a.k.a. wage slavery) substituting all examples where it does not imply some genuinely useful or important task being done. Now we need to put those changes into the public realm, which gives the opportunity to cover all sorts of bases here that will be relevant elsewhere.
One simple but highly effective undermining action is expressing yourself appropriately in conversation and writing. The way you talk and write will affect how others think because humans, as we have discovered, are very keen to follow others’ leads. Talking in a contrary way to how others do feels wrong, even offensive: like pronouncing someone’s name incorrectly, or saying their baby is ugly! But you are not being rude; you are just using words in an uncivilized way (bearing in mind what civilization actually stands for). You will feel the need to follow how others speak which you must resist – this is about changing your own attitudes as much as those of others – instead just use what you feel are correct terms in place of the terms that have been imposed upon people. Here’s an example:
Friend A: What does your Jack do now?
You: He has ups and downs like everyone but generally has a good life.
Friend A (confused): I don’t understand, does he have a job?
You: Yeah, all sorts of jobs: fixing things around the house, cooking occasionally, tidying up, looking after the kids, gardening…
Friend B: I think she meant “What does he do for money?”
You: Oh, you mean “wage slavery” (laughs)?
Friend A: If you want to call it that, then yes.
You: He’s still at the building depot. Nice bunch of people, boring job. He’d love to do something else.
Friend B: There are all sorts of Adult Education courses out there if he wants to learn something new.
You: He doesn’t want to go back to school; we’re trying to cut our expenses, so maybe he won’t need to do it for long.
Friend B: What about the kids? Is Aaron still in junior school?
You: Yes, but we’re making sure he gets a good education as well…
It’s a bit stilted, I know, but illustrates a few points, not least the need to be polite and subtle most of the time. You can always slip in the odd challenging phrase like “wage slavery” or “indoctrination” but be careful – you are trying to encourage people to think about the terms they use, not alienating them. Have a go next time you are involved in a conversation. Try it on a phone-in radio show: be subtle but get your changes across quickly; if you get the host to change their language then you get a bonus point!
In writing it’s a lot easier to be deliberately contrary, but in most cases people are writing to make a point rather than just conversing, so the opportunities for influencing how others use words related to indoctrinating institutions are limited. Nevertheless there are various channels through which your words can be read by those that would otherwise accept the popular usage of terms (forget blogs or internet forums, the people who read them are likely to be the people who agree with you already or who are too opinionated to be influenced in such a subtle way). For example: community newsletters or websites (always on the look-out for contributors); letters, emails and text messages to local newspapers or radio and television shows (text messages especially, are rarely edited so you don’t have to be so subtle) and, if you are any position to do so, official documentation such as press releases, brochures, newsletters and promotional materials from “educational” establishments and businesses. Although this is initially just about changing wording to prevent the indoctrination of young people and future and current wage slaves, it will be obvious what potential lies in these and other outlets.
Another way to correct meaning is through what you might call Signage Realignment. We will go into the details of this both practically and legally, in relation to Subvertising, later on, but suppose every instance of the word “School” (the term has lost most of its negative connotations – we tend to treat it in the sense of a protective school of fish rather than a place of enforced learning) on signs, painted on roadways, attached to buildings was replaced with the words “Mind Prison” or simply “Prison”. It might just be confusing – albeit funny – if there were a prison nearby, but excepting this, can you imagine a big yellow School Bus instead relabelled “Prison Bus”, and every signpost indicating the direction of a school instead indicating the location of the “Mind Prison”?
Now, this might all seem like an attack on the people who I have leant considerable (and some might say unwarranted) support to, but remember it is not the teachers we are attacking so much as the institutions themselves. In fact teachers are potentially some of the most powerful Underminers of all, being in a position of influence right near the beginning of the human indoctrination process. It would be tempting to implore all teachers who aspire to be genuine educators to leave their place of indoctrination, but remember: this chapter is just the start of the undermining process. The Students of State Approved Learning are not going to be leaving in droves (yet), and neither is there going to be a dearth of willing indoctrinators. In fact the leaders of the school system will be delighted to see the backs of those most likely to rebel, to be replaced by inspiration-free Teacherbots. No, at this stage it’s the teachers themselves that need to take matters into their own hands.
Hello teachers! Essentially, you are going to impart as little of the system-approved information as you can possibly get away with while getting across a great wad of real-life factual information, at the same time inspiring your new students of undermining to become their own people, rather than subjects of an oppressive system. That’s a lot to ask, I know. Then again, who better to ask than those people who have a unique gift – within civilized society – for imparting knowledge? Your training may have included a large slice of state-sponsored brainwashing as to the merits of the school system in creating well-rounded individuals, but it also included all sorts of techniques for ensuring you are able to keep the attention of a room full of young people, ideally absorbing everything you convey2. Add to this, as a teacher, that you are likely to be something of a role model, and you have a ready-made undermining opportunity. Obviously you need to be careful: at this point, if you are not well-versed in the Rules of Undermining, I recommend you go over the relevant sections again. Risk levels vary tremendously depending on the amount by which you deviate from the official curriculum, the subjects you are teaching, the actual information you are aiming to get across and your position both professionally and legally – it’s probably not a good idea to be sharing The Anarchist Cookbook with Year 4 children, or anyone else for that matter. That said, there is a hell of a lot you can subtly and not-so-subtly slip into your lessons (for goodness sake, don’t write anything in your lesson plans) to create the first inklings of undermining that will echo in the minds of receptive students.
This is beginning to sound like religious indoctrination, but as the trickster Derren Brown takes every opportunity to point out, I am completely open in my motivations here, and the intention is not to brainwash but to prevent brainwashing. As an example, suppose you are a Teacher of History in one of very many nations whose governments (and increasingly corporations) are keen to ensure the activities of various groups of people were seen as acceptable, indeed the best course that could have been taken. This has been encapsulated perfectly in Australia with reference to the Stolen Generations – Aboriginal children taken away from their homelands and families especially during the first half of the 20th century. There are so many critical points to make in the teaching of Australian history3 that could undermine the civilized view still existing that such actions were justified. For instance, the real nature and motivations behind colonialism (predominantly economic); religious fear and doctrinal opposition to non-Christian beliefs; a conscious lack of understanding of any culture that isn’t the Dominant Culture; a complete disregard for the feelings of those who do not conform to the norms of civilized society, and so on. These are serious points that would have fundamentally challenged the status quo so much that prior to formal government apologies this century to teach them could be a breach of contract, resulting in formal action. All the more reason to do it.
Every subject has its equivalents: Science teachers could challenge the idea that technology is neutral or that it is ever acceptable for a school to receive funding from a corporation; Food Technology / Domestic Science teachers could challenge the whole concept of processed food, agriculture, food monopolies by supermarkets and extol the virtues of going back to basics; Language and Mathematics teachers could use all sorts of “inappropriate” scenarios as a basis for learning; Geography and Social Studies teachers could challenge the whole basis of civilization, capitalist ideology and the free market, with particular reference to environmental and cultural destruction. Citizenship teachers should probably not teach the subject at all, or at least encourage students to challenge every single aspect being taught – Citizenship is an aberration and one that is in danger of creating a whole generation of disconnected individuals.
Quick Win: Uniform Subversion
School uniform has two purposes: one of them is to imbue a sense of belonging or, to put it another way, to show that the wearer belongs to the school; the other is to remove any opportunity for unwanted expression. Both of these act as psychological shackles with which the wearer is in a better position to soak up the message that they are part of the system. A simple way of subverting this is simply by refusing to wear uniform, thus removing the sense of being owned and providing an opportunity for self-expression. Of course, schools being what they are, this is a notifiable offence punishable by detention, suspension and possibly even expulsion. And for what? Refusing to conform to a sartorial ideal that exists only to oppress young people into a standardised way of thinking and behaving.
This has gone to court on numerous occasions, one such case in the USA concluding, “that parents’ rights to control their children’s upbringing, including their education, cannot override school rules that are considered ‘reasonable’ to maintain an appropriate educational [sic] environment. In this case, the court concluded that the uniform policy was ‘rationally related’ to the interests of the school board in ‘promoting education, improving student safety, increasing attendance, decreasing dropout rates, and reducing socioeconomic tensions among students.’”4
Clearly this is a circular argument, i.e. schools have the right to impose rules because schools have the right to impose rules, but if parents fancy a nice public row about the oppression of school uniform and schools in general then go for it!
If you’re not feeling so brave then as a student why not see how far you can push the uniform policy, and encourage your friends to do the same in the name of creative and personal freedom. It’s a very liberating thing, breaking rules.
Task 2: Creating Resilient Individuals
Even a concerted undermining effort by every teacher that currently feels the need for change isn’t going to create a rapid sea-change in attitudes. These things take time: time that we haven’t really got if we want to ensure another generation isn’t lost to the Machine. If you remember, the power of undermining lies in the feedback effects that can be generated by its application in the right places at the right times; in the case of trying to cast off the Veil of Ignorance, if young people aren’t equipped with the ability to counter brainwashing then any rebellion is likely to fizzle out before it starts. Therefore, the second element needed alongside direct challenges to brainwashing has to be resilience.
If you have ever been caught in a terrific downpour then you will understand the power of natural forces to change the way you feel. For a few people, being drenched by a sudden shower is an uplifting experience, but for most it is pretty miserable: you feel cold, soggy, drained of energy and desperate to get under cover. A good raincoat and a wide-brimmed hat can do wonders for your outlook on the weather conditions, as can being regularly soaked. Just ask someone who works outdoors in all weathers. Anyone who delivers mail will tell you that after a while the combination of suitable clothing and constant exposure to the elements makes that sudden downpour just a routine thing. In order to face up to the storms of being exposed to the school system and, for good measure, any number of other commercial, political, religious and otherwise doctrinal mind-traps, we need to be equipped with the correct protection.
Good parenting is absolutely key to this. You wouldn’t send your child walking the streets without the ability to cross roads and look out for other hazards, so why would you send your child to school5 without the ability to process the information they have been given in an objective and suitably critical manner? One big problem is that as a society we tend to bring children up not to question the words of adults. This is formalised in the legal system where the evidence of a “minor” is not considered as reliable as that of someone who has passed some arbitrary measure of longevity, and something we tacitly support every time we accuse a child of lying simply for the reason that they are a child. The first hurdle to get across therefore, is to listen to young people – not just give the impression that you are listening, but actually give them your time and your attention. This will be rewarded many fold for not only will they listen to you in return, but they will also start to feel like they matter. Self esteem is often banded about as a pseudo-therapeutic term, but it really is important: a person with self-esteem can take things on the chin, and then some. A person with self-esteem will challenge what they have been told, especially if they suspect the motives of the person doing the telling. This is the first, and probably most useful part of a person’s armoury against a system that wants to break down any resistance a person might offer in their formative years.
Another form of mental resilience is to provide genuinely useful knowledge. The assumption that schools equip students with all the knowledge they will need for the outside world may be true if that “outside world” is just the world that encompasses offices, factories, supermarkets, home entertainment systems and sports bars; but in the real world we understand with some horror that that is exactly what is lined up for them if we do not do something about it. As John Taylor Gatto writes:
The products of schooling are…irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal, but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.6
The skills required for real life, the kind of life that can be experienced only when the synthetic trappings of civilization are stripped away, are not the kinds of skills that are taught in schools for the most part. My children adore cooking both at school and at home, this also being one of the three critical practical skills that I reckon all people should acquire immediately (the other two are food gathering and growing, and the ability to build simple structures). It is no surprise that the few really useful things taught in schools such as cookery, needlework and woodwork are under constant threat from the “need” to teach the kinds of things that will prepare young people for the world of economic slavery. Essentially we need to make sure all children have the really important skills and knowledge from as early an age as possible. If you know how to knit then teach them how to knit; if you are a dab-hand in the kitchen then show them what you (and they) can do; if you grow vegetables then get them to help you – give them a patch themselves; if you have long forgotten how to craft a dovetail joint then have fun making mistakes together. Whatever you do that’s of genuine use in the real world, share it. And if you can’t do it, then learn how to do it together.
This may not seem like undermining, but with each genuine skill you learn, the other things that the system would like you to prioritise somehow become less important. What’s the big deal about knowing a list of US presidents or how to maximise profit? I can build a shed from scrap wood! Being able to put knowledge into perspective is a fantastic thing, especially when someone tells you that you have to do something because “you’ll need to know it in later life.” As a parent or carer, you can easily become an inspirational Underminer.
For every genuinely useful piece of knowledge that may be imparted at school, or any other outlet that may provide useful information (magazines, documentaries, news broadcasts, information booklets etc.), there are likely to be dozens, maybe hundreds of pieces of crap that are either irrelevant or serve to promote the industrial agenda. Finding out what is useful and what is not is vital not so much as a learning tool, but as a way of insulating yourself from rubbish. You may not be an expert in physics or history, but there is no reason why you (as a parent with a child, or a student) can’t work to build up certain skills that will be sufficient to identify when bullshitting and brainwashing is taking place. Some schoolteachers are actually encouraging the set of skills known as Critical Thinking, possibly to the dismay of the school authorities, and this should be encouraged. In fact children should be taught to think critically as soon as they are able to think. There are lots of guides around as to what critical thinking entails, but in a nutshell it is the process of taking a piece of supplied information and gleaning the real meaning from it. So, for instance, if there is an article in a newspaper today (I bet there is) about the state of the economy, you are superficially likely to glean the following information from it:
1) Economic growth is a good thing;
2) Recession or “stagnation” is a bad thing;
3) We need to spend more money to make sure the economy keeps growing;
4) It is very important that people have jobs;
And so on.
But there is so much more to take from the report. Look at who wrote the article; what newspaper the article was published in; who was quoted in the article as saying the kinds of things above; who owns the newspaper that contained the article; what logical fallacies the writers and the interviewees used in the article; what assumptions were made about what is “good” and what is “bad”; what economic and political motivation might be behind the article being written.
And so on.
Critical thinking, or in this case critical reading, is not an intuitive skill for anyone brought up in the Culture of Maximum Harm. Sitting in the back of the Cave we have all learnt not to question what is presented to us. But what if you start to notice inconsistencies creeping into the movement and speech of the shadow puppets? Maybe they take different points of view for no obvious reason, or maybe they treat you like an idiot today when yesterday you were being told how important you are. The basic skills of critical thinking really are fundamental to being able to undermine the information that is meant for our unquestioning consumption. The sooner both you and the people you really care about are able to see through the noise – in effect see through the Veil of Ignorance – the sooner they will be in a position to question, and undermine, what they are being told.
Quick Win : Chants and Songs
“2-4-6-8, smash the system, smash the state!”
Catchy enough? Not very subtle, but the sentiment is good, and that kind of chant certainly has appeal for children of a certain age. Playground chants are as old as playgrounds, and they have a long and fascinating history of subversion. Here’s one I remember from my mind prison:
“We break up, we break up, we don’t care if the school blows up, no more English, no more French, no more sitting on the old school bench.”
I haven’t recited that for 30 years, probably, but it came back to me as easily as breathing, such is the power of a good chant. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd knew all about that when he brilliantly slipped an ironic double negative into Another Brick in The Wall. Can you think of any good chants? A friend of mine told me of one that I hadn’t heard before that’s a bit gross, but all the better for being something children will love reciting:
“Yum yum bubble gum, stick it up a policeman’s bum, when it’s brown pull it down, yum yum bubble gum.”
Whatever age you are you can start a chant and see how far it gets. It works especially well when sung to the tune of whatever is popular at the time – more memorable, you see. And if you do find your little darling coming home with a letter complaining that they have been saying “bad” things in the classroom / playground / corridor etc. then you can feel a glow of pride that they, and possibly their friends, have moved a little closer to freedom, and a little further away from permanent indoctrination.
Nature versus nurture is an argument that will rage for as long as civilization reigns, people keep having babies, and child psychologists keep feeling the need to justify their privileged position. I honestly have no idea whether there is such a thing as a Born Rebel; I suppose people can be genetically predisposed as being more or less susceptible to external influences, but I wouldn’t like to place any bets on how this affects their long-term outlook. We have to assume that, albeit with some variation, everyone can have their worldview changed and, particularly in the case of young people, built up from scratch through whatever nurturing process they are subject to. It’s no accident that the vast, vast majority of people brought up in the civilized world are fervent supporters of the civilized way of life. School, however early it is foisted upon children, is not the earliest powerful influence upon the way we think.
Call me a hopeless optimist, but I think there is a way out of this situation without even having to dismantle the industrial mind-control system (but don’t worry, we will get round to that soon enough). I still have in my possession a book by the British author Enid Blyton, her of Noddy fame as well as The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and lashings of ginger beer. Along with Roald Dahl’s beautifully subversive Danny, The Champion of The World, Blyton’s book The Children of Cherry Tree Farm has pride of place among my childhood influences. This rich tale of privileged children moving to a halcyon rural setting and then coming up against the counter-cultural teachings of a “wild man” known as Tammylan, strikes me as curiously out of place from an author so otherwise enamoured by an image of middle class colonial Britain, but there you are. The “wild man” may have been a metaphor for the need for urban-dwellers to learn more about the countryside, but Tammylan is also a model for anyone wishing to indulge in a bit of subversive Knowledge Sharing.
Here is how it might work. Let’s say you have a group of friends who, as these things tend to happen, are popping children out at more or less the same time (excuse the imagery but that’s how it felt to me just over a decade ago). The parents regularly gather to talk to each other about such things as toilet training, walking exploits, language development and the price of shoes, while the little so-and-sos bash each other over the head with plastic bricks and get themselves filthy digging around in whatever form of matter is closest. From the very earliest times these gatherings could so easily be spent sharing all sorts of skills not only between the parents but also with the children. What about a seed planting afternoon, where each child can be equipped with a pot of seeds and a watering can alongside a patch of earth? Demonstrate the basic principles and let them do their worst – or rather best, because they will do their best to copy something when it’s couched in an unapologetically positive manner. If it’s autumn rather than spring or summer, go seed-gathering, encouraging them to strip them from grass stems and flower heads, as well as making the most of any nuts and fruits that are available. In early winter you can look for signs of decomposition and hibernation, enjoying the shapes and colours of leaves and branches, and the last remnants of the beauteous fungi season. In late winter the first signs of rebirth emerge in the form of bulbs and buds which you can identify and talk about the cycles of life.
And that’s just one tiny aspect of knowledge sharing. Depending on the skills that abound and the age of the people involved (believe me, you can start far earlier than the “education” system would have us believe it’s possible to) then the horizons are pretty much limitless. At any time of year you can build a shelter; share the joys of playing and making melodic and percussion instruments; learn about local history from those who have actually experienced it; expressing yourself through drawing, painting, song, poetry and so on; and, very pertinent to this section, start on things like critical analysis of the news. We all have things we can share, yet we are often either too modest or too in awe of the school system to do so, thinking that someone else, someone who has been approved, can do it better than us. It’s nonsense, of course. I’m no expert at joinery as I think I’ve demonstrated but give me a pile of timber and a few tools and I’ll have a bloody good go at showing a group of kids how to make a raised bed to plant vegetables in; they will probably end up doing it better than me.
There’s no process behind this idea of knowledge sharing, as such, but there are a few pointers which will help ensure it fulfils the vital purpose of protecting people from an imposed ignorance of the real world. Most important, I think, is to get the commitment of a core group of people whether they be “teachers” or “learners” (the quotes imply that they are interchangeable depending on what is being shared) for without commitment then there isn’t likely to be the enthusiasm, nor the willingness to persist, that is necessary in developing important skills and building knowledge. Don’t be afraid of asking people you might not know very well, especially if they also have children; most of us don’t know who we will get along with until we spend some time with them. Be generous with your ideas, but also your attention – the quietest, most introverted people can also be the most talented, which applies to people of all ages. Don’t balk at things that might seem too difficult or “advanced” or even potentially dangerous. It’s all relative when you think about it: handling a saw or picking irritating plants is usually safer than crossing a road; though you might want to learn how to spot poison ivy or giant hogweed, always a valuable lesson. As with the potential things that can be shared, the ways they can be shared are also wide and varied; see what works for your group and if enthusiasm starts to flag, remember why you are doing it. You are giving someone something of immense value: the ability to remain free.
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1 I must credit John Rawls with being the first author I encountered to use this term. Although I use it in a profoundly different way – Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance was related to a philosophical analysis of prejudice, the Veil being a way of blocking out external influences in decision making – the term, I’m sure, would not have come to me so quickly had I not encountered the brilliant, if academically intense, Theory of Justice.
2 I just did a quick dictionary check on the word “convey” to see if there was something more appro-priate and there seems to be an Underminer operating in Thesaurus Central. The synonyms were: send, forward, impart, communicate, contaminate and infect. Spooky!
3 I use the term “Australian” simply because this is what it is referred to in Australian schools. The vast bulk of history in this region is, of course, prior to the Australian nation ever existing.
4 http://www.keepschoolssafe.org/school/codes-uniforms-6.htm (accessed August 2011).
5 I will come to Unschooling later. It is a vital thing to acknowledge, but not something that can be achieved on any scale without a powerful community in place to support it.
6 John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down. The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, New Society Publishers, 2005.
Version 1.01, published 24 October, 2012