3D printed skull

Rage against the machine

programming the human mind

I sometimes like to refer to the school system as a glorified youth detention center where society warehouses young people until they reach an age where their wants and desires are finally respected. And as offensive as this characterization may already be to some people, reality is even worse. Because unlike the prison system, the school system is also actively trying to influence and shape the minds of its inmates.

I know what you’re thinking. One paragraph in, and it already sounds like I am some tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy nut, right? Don’t worry, though, I am not trying to sell you on some sort of conspiracy theory. I am actually not a big fan of such theories (other than for entertainment value).

“Mass indoctrination orchestrated by the lizard people!!!111!” — not me

Besides, a conspiracy requires an element of secrecy, and none of what goes on in the school system can be called a secret, seeing that pretty much the entire nation has personally been subject to it at some point in their lives.

That being said, even if you are very skeptical of conspiracy theories, like I am, you have to admit that a centrally coordinated system that provides direct access to a captive audience of young and malleable minds is a hell of a tool for social engineering.

And there is no denying that this is by design.

For better or for worse, the goal of the school system has always been the mass production of model citizens. When the school system was first invented during the (first phase of) the industrial revolution in the early 19th century, schools as a concept were modeled after the newly invented factory system. Batch-driven, standardized, top-down instruction was the model of school and continues to be its model to this day.

We may be inclined to forgive the people of the 19th century for thinking that the standardization that had increased productivity so much in production processes, would yield similar gains in human development.

The goal of the school system has always been the mass production of model citizens

But in the mean time, two centuries have passed, and we’re still making the same mistake. In the 21st century too, people are taking current day technologies that are used to automate production processes and try to apply them on the human mind, through the school system. Artificial intelligence based on big data is the new trendy tech that is supposed to bring salvation.

Of course, these technologies are pretty impressive and they surely will have their uses, even in education. But if you leave the implementation of these technologies to the school system, you can always be sure that one simple yet essential element will be missing: choice.

Because what the application of the newest technologies in the school system will look like is very predictable: personalized instruction based on all kinds of metrics collected about you, so that the system can optimally instruct you and form you to its liking. That last part is the crux of my point: the school system forms you to its liking. It doesn’t help you achieve your goals, but it optimizes for its own ends. (What those ends are depends on who’s in charge of the Education Department at any given point in time.)

This is the fundamental flaw of the school system: it is based on the belief that society has to force learning on young people. As a society, we have such disdain, such disrespect for young people. We really seem to think they’re so stupid that they won’t learn to read, write or do math unless they’re literally forced to. And this is fundamentally why we have a system in place that treats human beings like they are as predictable as dead objects and as programmable as machines.

It’s funny how well this ties into a new meme format the recently became popular, namely the NPC meme. NPC stands for non-playable character, and refers to characters in video games that cannot be controlled by the player, but behave according to the game’s programming.

The meme is very popular in certain subcultures, because people that advocate for unconventional or unpopular ideas (such as the ones articulated here) often find that “normal” people all seem to behave in an eerily similar manner. They have the same objections, ask the same questions, articulate the same counterarguments and/or ridicule the ideas using the same jokes, all as if they were programmed to.

Being called an NPC implies that you cannot think for yourself, but that you’re merely repeating the ideas you were fed by the powers that be. If you call somebody an NPC, you’re not simply questioning that person’s intelligence, but you’re actually denying their ability to even be intelligent, because you’re comparing them to a machine that just does what it’s been programmed to do.

And this is exactly what makes the meme so deeply offensive: to imply that someone is unable to think for themselves is a direct attack against that person’s individuality, and thereby their humanity. This is why some people have described the NPC-meme as ‘dehumanizing’.

And I agree: dehumanizing is the right word. After all, your individuality, that is: your ability to follow your own desires, make your own decisions and pursue your own definition of happiness; is fundamentally what it means to be human. It separates us as humans from dead and soulless machines, that don’t have any desires of their own, and can only be programmed by somebody else. Individuality is the core of what it means to be alive!

But if the NPC-meme can already be described as dehumanizing, what to think of how the school system treats its inmates? We’re not merely talking about a harsh joke anymore, like the NPC-meme. Not merely an image on the internet making fun of your viewpoints.

No, it’s an entire system that treats you like you are a subhuman, a savage that needs to be tamed for years and years on end. It is a system that doesn’t care about what you want to learn or what you don’t want to learn, or whether you even want to be subject to it at all. No matter who you are, the system will treat you the same way, namely it will teach you to sit down, shut up and do as you’re told. Fifteen thousand hours of mandatory top-down instruction is what you’re subjected to until you’re finally released.

And all because of that ridiculous, baseless belief that learning has to be forced on young people. Anybody who’s ever spent more than 5 minutes with a kid should know just how absurd this idea is. Yet we’re all forced to spend the better part of the first two decades of our lives subjected to this system, getting used to the idea that we can’t be trusted and that the system knows best. Don’t worry, though, it’s for our own good.

Like C.S. Lewis once said: “of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive”.

You would think that after a century of seeing tyrannical regimes and centrally planned totalitarian states in action, we would be a little more skeptical of authoritarian systems. You would think that the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment would have taught us something about the effects of authoritarian systems on the human psyche. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like we have learned anything.

This is why I’m writing this article. It’s incredibly important for society to start realizing the dangers posed by the straitjacket that is the school system, especially in the 21st century, where those dangers are even more potent. The exponentially growing capabilities of technology in the information age are only lending more power to this oppressive system. Weapons of mass instruction, John Taylor Gatto once aptly called it.

The fundamentally wrong assumption that learning would have to be forced on people, has led us to accept a system that is incredibly dangerous. Not only because it’s an ideal vehicle for indoctrination for those in power, but also because it normalizes systems of authority that have proven to be the most destructive forces the world has ever seen.

You are a unique individual with you own wants and desires. You are not a machine and neither are your kids. So don’t subject yourself or them to a system that takes away people’s individuality and treats them like physical objects. Stay alive as a human being: vacate the school system.