Exploration 1: Institutions

Alex Smith
Un-Education
Published in
5 min readSep 6, 2022

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I cannot stress enough how important it is that I write out what exactly I mean when I write institutions, and the reason I must do so is paradoxically, because of an institution (which also provides a great segway).

What is an Institution?

Language is self-referentially one of the largest and most deeply seeping institutions to exist and that is because an institution as I will reference it is defined as:

One could see how this not only applies to language, but encompasses essentially every societally relevant conceptual structure, and that is because our current “society” is in of itself, an institution, as when we use the word society we are referencing institutionalism (therefore why I was incredddddibly careful so as to not use the word society). Institutionalism being: “adherence to the idea that institutions are neccessary for relationships between human beings”

Meanwhile, Merriam Webster as I looked it up online (an enforcer of the language institution {more on that later}) defines an institution as:

1. a society or organization founded for a religious, educational, social, or similar purpose.
“a certificate from a professional institution”
a. an organization providing residential care for people with special needs.
“an institution for the mentally ill”
b. an established official organization having an important role in the life of a country, such as a bank, church, or legislature.
“the institutions of democratic government”
c. a large company or other organization involved in financial trading.
“the interest rate financial institutions charge one another”

2. an established law, practice, or custom.
“the institution of marriage”

All I’m saying is that Merriam Webster should hire me as I think I even more accurately nailed Definition 2 and 1 b. in one sentence definition which is definitely more streamlined(I mean sheeeeeeesh {and look at how similar those are!}), but I digress.

Ultimately it is Merriam-Webster who would be “correct” by any and every societal metric, as that is what is “societally accepted” (BOOM, major point), meaning that humans who live in said society have been taught and told that an institution is THEE correct way and that anything outside that institution that challenges it is THEE incorrect way.

As someone who was taught the above in school (although the young adult book “frindle” is a beautiful and notable exception) and as someone looking at a bunch of red underlines on this page from where I broke grammar and syntax intentionally (which red underline comes as a feature of all major writing software now……boof) I might consider myself a bit of an expert on societal institutions…….. and that is because………..: We. All. Are.

That is how we are able to establish when you should go to work, when the baseball game is, what day of the calendar it is, what you should eat when you wake up vs. when you are headed to bed, and when to sleep (I know, this one’s really surprising but look it up), where you go to the bathroom, who you need to report to, etc. etc.

That is the “societally useful” property and the most frightening property of institutions as a whole:

Not only are Institutions designed to enforce the status quo through consistency and conformity, but as a consequence of the role they play and their pseudo-biological nature, they operate as any organism does: To. Sustain. Themselves. Byyyyyyy Any. Means. Necessary.

This makes institutions not only incredibly difficult to change (without the consent of those enforcing it), it makes them impossible to dismantle or uproot from inside the institution itself.

Institutional Enforcers

The key to a successful institution (one that will sustain itself and resist external influence) is enforcers for that institution. These are people or even other institutions that are designed or trained (usually by other enforcers) to uphold the hegemonic influence of the institution through coercive methods.

A notable example is the U.S. education system. It is explicitly designed to teach children to blindly follow hegemonic influence, regurgitate information, export financially profitable workers for owner-class people, uphold institutional presence, and so much more. Now enforcers of the institution would use different wording (to enforce the institution ;), but essentially all of the above are told to children and they are held to its standard, with many coercive measures in place that have considerable influence.

Now, enforcers are largely not aware of their own enforcing activity (especially if institutionalism was taught to the enforcer from the very beginning of their lifetimes), and so holding individual enforcers accountable for their own enforcing activity is fundamentally hopeless as that does not address the root issue.

The root issue of societal resistance to change is always an institution, and that is because institutionalism is our current societal structure.

Institutionalism is the adherence to institutions, the enforcement of them (conscious/unconscious), and most importantly: the belief that they should be hegemonic in relation to an individual.

The idea that institutions should be above the individual is the institution (we are of course talking about institutionalism as the institution in this case) that makes it almost impossible to stop the promulgation of institutions and their almost unlimited influence over individuals.

Anti-institutionalism and Anti-institutions

Anti-institutions are the opposite of an institution in every way they can be while still providing the convenience of an institution (as goddamn there definitely are some convenient ones, language for example).

In order for something to be an anti-institution (as opposed to an institution or just not be one at all) it would follow that it must be a conceptual structure that is non-organismic(designed to die and not sustain itself), beholden to the individual (as opposed to enforced on the individual), and that is in practice un-enforceable (wow, that sounds hard) to serve an originally intended purpose as long as it was originally designed to do.

Now, as one can gauge, such a structure would be quite outside the bounds of our definition, and in fact, would be its own concept altogether.

The issue with anti-institutions though is their tendency to become institutions if the end date goes unenforced, and this is particularly why anti-institutions do best when they last only a short period of time as when they last longer than intended, they are institutionalized.

Conclusion:

Institutions are responsible for many of the structural issues seen throughout the world and are the base of Euro-American belief systems. Within American culture there lies ironically, with all of its talk of independence and freedom, lies an adherence and loyalty to institutions that defies logic. Whether it be ideas of fairness, hegemony, dependence, or freedom from “tyranny” there exists very few beliefs held stronger than the idea that all of these beliefs exist solely above the individual.

The tyranny of institutionalism is the single largest barrier to true democracy that lies completely in the minds of the American people. And with it in place the individual can never be truly free.

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Alex Smith
Un-Education

Your not-so-average early twenties cishet white male activist with a huge heart and a penchant for dismantling societal institutions :)