Since there no longer exists an audio copy of most of the broadcast from last week, and I did put a lot of work into it, I’m going to post it up here. I know everyone from AKA still reads my site, so maybe they’ll read what I put here and it’ll still have the same desired effect… somewhat of an education. Perhaps they’ll just read this paragraph and skip to the comment area and post some stuff about how dumb I am or something. I don’t really care at this point .. I put some effort into the production, so I’m going memorialize it one way or another, so this being my site, I’m going to memorialize it here.
About half of the piece was based off an article called “Teaching baboons to wipe their own asses: the Sham of Education.” It’s a very inspirational piece of alarmist writing. It inspired the show I did, it inspired a very thought provoking song by an old band I used to manage called the “John Garvin Fan Club,” and it inspired the title for the program AKA broadcast over me called “Baboons Wiping Their Own Asses.”
Training the Baboons to Wipe Their Own Asses: The Sham of Education by Jeff Somers
Listen to my audio rendition of this piece
“Unfortunately, large numbers of people all over the world have been specifically taught in childhood not to think, because thinking would lead to questioning the certainties of the elders, and this has not been allowed in most cultures.” – Brock Chisholm
MY friend and confidant Jeof Vita was born in the jungles of the far east and raised by maternally-inclined Wildebeasts until the age of twenty-three, when he was captured in the wild by scientists investigating the legend of the Spiky-Haired Demon that the locals feared so much. At this point in his life he knew no spoken or written language, had never tasted beer, and had experienced sexual relations with only himself and the rather rough and tumble female Wildebeasts of his herd. He had let his hair grow long and the concentration of dirt and sweat over the years had acted as a natural hairspray, “spiking” his hair up straight. He had also pasted clumps of animal hair to the rest of his lithe body in an attempt to look more like a Wildebeast. In short, he was a brutal, dumb animal with no concept of civilized society or modern beer-brewing techniques. There was some talk of touring him in a cage as some sort of Freak Attraction, but his torrid bathroom habits and violent temper convinced wiser heads As a result, less than seven years later Jeof is an urbane, witty, beer-guzzling American citizen who exhibits a talent for art and graphic design and whose only intellectual failure is an inability to truly appreciate the sport of baseball. While he still displays many a “throwback” to his beastly ways (the sound of the phone ringing or the doorbell often sends him into chest-beating hysterics) he easily debates complex philosophies (If Batman were to battle Superman in the vacuum of space, who would win?), charms the local women right out from under the nose of your Editor here, and writes eloquently (he coined the comeback phrase of 1992: I don’t know, your Mom?). In fact, Jeof is now the very model of a modern metro denizen.
And how was this transformation effected? Education, of course. Because, contrary to popular belief, the American Education System’s charter is not to create independent, creative individuals who make their own destinies, but rather to brainwash the teeming masses into happy workers and compliant tax payers. Every one of us, including yours truly, has been brainwashed to some extent to accept society’s rules and conventions without comment or rebellion. Except, of course, that term usually used is not brainwashed, but rather graduated.
I do not, however, contend that this is a BAD THING. We are all just shaved monkeys, after all, and I for one am a big supporter of anything that keeps the bigger monkeys from beating the living shit out of me on a daily basis. A little brainwashing doesn’t harm anybody, in my opinion, and since anarchy isn’t true freedom we all need some rules embedded in our subconscious. School is basically a training ground for the workers of tomorrow: we’re taught to a) respect authority, b) obey the rules, c) tolerate bureaucracy, d) perform dull and repetitive tasks without complaint, e) to take pride in artificial accomplishments, and f) respect and desire empty titles. All these skills prepare us for our bland little lives sitting in cubicals pushing papers.
Well, someone’s got to push the fucking papers, baby, and it might as well be me or you. If writing my spelling words 15 times when I was in third grade is keeping me from going insane as I sit at work for 8 hours a day, then where’s the harm. Since it is usually the lesser lights or the criminally philanthropic who become teachers, setting an example of crushed hopes and low pay for generation after generation, we have a virtually foolproof system in this country which will guarentee a large supply of custodians, low-level office workers, fast-food attendants, and Production Editors for thousands of years to come.
What I have a problem with (and you knew I had a problem with something, right?) is the simple fact that no one seems to acknowledge the fact that the American Education system is designed to train us all to play within the invisible and complex rules of society, not to empower us to make our own paths. It’s this hooey we have to endure every election year that annoys me: we do not send our kids to grammar school so they will emerge free-thinkers. Free-thinkers are the people that we fear and make fun of, the hippies and slackers and the oh-so-popular intellectual elite. We do not force Timmy to go to high school so that he will emerge to the beat of his own drum. Rather, High school is where we beat that drum out of Timmy’s and all the other delinquents’ hands, and outline the sad fates of those who do not conform. And we certainly don’t send the brat off to college so that they’ll return a rebel. By that point the selfish idiots are supposed to go out and get jobs.
And there it is, the overall purpose of all this rote memorization and random punishment: employment, otherwise known as being a constructive member of society.
It doesn’t matter what your goals were when attending any level of education; what you wanted to get out of it probably wasn’t what you got and if you did manage to absorb some wisdom and fashion sense from the experience you probably ended up right where you were supposed to anyway. Human beings aren’t robots, and even the best system of brainwashing leaves some room for creativity and original thought. You can’t help it. And, after all, you need some imagination to get you through the long boring periods after your job ends and before prime-time begins.
Let’s look at what gets acco
mplished at each level of schooling, want to?
1. Grammar school (ages 5-13): Maybe this includes Junior High for you, it doesn’t really matter. My school system didn’t have a Junior High, so we’ll ignore it for now. At these tender ages the kids are taught the basics of behaving themselves properly. This is where they learn the basic rules of life: a) if you break the rules you will be punished, b) obey authority, c) believe everything we tell you. Kids in Kindergarten or the First Grade tend to be rambunctious: they cry, carry on, disrupt class, run around, piss on everything like bitter dogs, and eat things. By the time these same kids are in second or third grade, they’ve learned to sit quietly and raise their hands to be recognized. Is this maturity, or training? One wonders. The concept of behaving yourself is probably the most foreign to a wild living being like us, it goes against our natural inclination to express our state of mind, and must be taught.
Think back to your own tender school days: how much energy is put into discipline? You write punishments, you have to clean the blackboards, they sit you in a corner or send you to the Principal’s office. They might sandwich some actual learning in-between punishments, but the main goal of Grammar School is to teach you to behave yourself. If you stood in the graduation ceremony with some goofy cloak on, sang The Greatest Love of All as instructed, and remained quiet until your name was called, they obviously succeeded.
2. High School (ages 14-17): High School is often painted as the first tender shoots of rebellion and independent thought, and while a lot of us do suffer a flashback or two to our less-disciplined years, let’s face it: most of us are well in hand by the time we hit homeroom. High School ceratinly reinforces and completes our conformity training (is there any environment harsher towards individual expression than High School?
Hell, I went to a private Jesuit-run High School where you weren’t even allowed to wear blue jeans, for christ’s sake -don’t tell me they weren’t trying to break my spirit) but it also has higher goals. High School is when they start to actively prepare you to work for a living.
Now, it is true that as this world gets more advanced and more complex the value of a High School education decreases, but a High School diploma is still the minimum required to get most of the really sucky jobs in this world, because it shows you have the basics. What’s taught to you in High School: they make sure you have the basic tools to perform tasks (reading, math) that you have enough background info to understand your culture (history, literature), and they make sure you’re in good enough shape to handle the physical aspects of jobs (gym). Oh, there’s more, of course; depending on the budget your High School enjoys there are all sorts of other classes, but the main thrust of it is to make sure that you could get a job after graduation. You’re taught to manage a tight schedule handed to you by People in Authority (thus your packed class schedule, with three minutes to move from class to class), to manage your workload, and to bring work home with you, pounding in the concept of nobility in work, a mouthful of horseshit we’ve been getting for thousands of years. If we take a day off without a good excuse we’re punished, we’re taught the concept of the sick day early on, and we’re actively invited to take part in leadership roles, to advance and gain noteriety within our little fishbowl.
I remember that in my High School our last class usually ended at 2:18pm. School officials were constantly remarking sarcastically on those of us who chose to book for the bus at that point and get on with our lives, suggesting that we shouldn’t waste our High School experience by going home so early, that we ought to take part in more activities -they derisively termed us the 2:18 Club. I did not understand then why anyone would be moved by this appeal. I mean, if you have an interest and you join a club or something, that’s all well and fine. But why would I want to spend any more time in my High School than was absolutely necessary? I got the hell out of there and I’m glad I did -but I hear echoes of these grumblings in my job today: they always want me to join commitees and to work overtime, and the seeds of that are embedded in the Theater Club and homework, back in high school.
3. College/Higher Ed (ages 18-??): Your standard undergraduate program is the most relaxed of the three stages of education, and some people interpret this as the most free and the most rebellious of all your educational experiences. In one sense this is true: you are pretty much free to drink, screw, and generally enjoy yourself. People who had adhered strictly to dress codes loosen up. You get to make your own schedule, choose your career path, or, in some cases, just have the best seven or eight years of your life.
College is, however, merely a refinement of everything you’ve been force-fed so far. Since it’s usually assumed that people going off to college are pursuing professional and more complex careers, the crude disciplines imposed upon us in the first thirteen years or so of our education have to be refined and made more flexible. You no longer have to adhere to a strict schedule created for you by authority figures, you have to prove that you can create and maintain your own schedule to the satisfaction of these authorities. You no longer face instant reprisal if you break the rules or fail to observe the proprieties, you’re expected to discipline yourself. This is the ultimate in monkey training: moving us past the point where we obey the rules because we fear punishment to the point where we impose the rules upon ourselves. And that is what college teaches us. George Orwell called this Self-Policing. Corporate America does not want robots, after all.
Oh, there’s more, I know. Nothing is quite the Orwellian nightmare we alarmist writers would like. You certainly can learn a lot of non-brainwashing stuff in school, and I would like to repeat, for the record, that I am in no way proposing that education in this country is evil or should be discontinued for some paranoid reason. I fully support brainwashing my cow-like fellow humans. I just wish we would all admit that that’s exactly what we’re doing: training ourselves to be well-behaved monkeys, who clean up our own cage.
Yah yah yah, you’ve heard it all before. By the time my cold, stiff fingers are pried away from this keyboard and the last issue of the greatest magazine in America that nobody reads has been junkmailed to the universe, I will probably have deconstructed everything down to its molecules. Can it all be true? Can life really be a meaningless existential hell filled with undeserved punishments and random rewards? Can I really ride my own melt?
Of course it can. Perhaps you are uncomfortable with this theory because it pretty much means that we’re all zombies, including: you. None of us like to think that we goose-stepped in time to the beat back in our wonder years. Revisionist Histories always include a smattering of rebellion, but I’m telling you that it really doesn’t matter how wild and crazy you were in school, if you’re applying those skills and social rules to
your everyday life (in other words, if you work for a living or in any way interact politely with your fellow human beings) you were housebroken in school, and very professionally, too. If you live in the town dump and shoot all other living things, if you speak a private language and run naked and free, then…..maybe you escaped the meat-grinder. If you’re reading this, probably not.
Ah, but there certainly are free-thinkers and rebels who are products of our supposedly conforming school system, right? For every Yuppie spat out of some suburban high school and state college there is an artist who, if he accepts some social rules in order to accomplish what he wishes (realizing that anarchy is self-defeating), consciously chooses which ones to obey and which to flaunt, right? Well: yes and no. As I previously stated, the human mind is tricky and complex and far from perfect, and thus it’s hard to predict it with 100% accuracy. People slip through the cracks. The artists in our world very often reflect upon troubled and painful childhoods, and I suspect a great deal of that trouble and pain can be directly traced to their inability to “get with the program”. By lucky chance, the freaks who do not fit into the carefully constructed brainwashing of school become our most original thinkers, simply because they have to find their own way. The way everyone else is being taught to embrace in High School just doesn’t fit them.
The result is an unexpected treat: art. When we’re housebreaking the little kinders in school we’re not encouraging such weirdo behavior, we’re often oppressing it and encouraging the weird kid to clean up his act and get into more acceptable past-times. But like I said, this is not an evil conspiracy designed to make us all zombies, it’s a social necessity. The term “brainwash” should not be taken to mean “programmed”, it merely refers to an unconscious acceptance of society’s rules and traditions. The people who, for some reason, have trouble accepting this imprint on their young minds have trouble fading into the crowd, and so end up “finding their own way” -which is often unintentionally creative, sometimes breathtakingly so. Scratch an artist, pigs, and you will uncover a troubled youth. The rest of us were just too well-adjusted. We learned the rules too easily, and never had any reason to be different. Let’s face it, pigs: creativity and unconventionality are accidents.
Oh, well, no one cares much anyway. All this really proves is how successful this program of social conformity is, and thank god. If our school system weren’t so darn good at brainwashing all of us, who would be asking me if I wanted fries with that? Let’s face it, while those of us who managed to go through the advanced brainwashing course and get a cushy job in, oh, let’s say publishing wherein we do nothing, get paid a handsome pittance, and get nice medical coverage, most people still make it through high school and no further and end up working a really bad job that quickly snuffs out their hopes, dreams, and sense of humor. I assume their sense of humor is snuffed out, since the kids working at the McDonald’s across the street certainly are not amused by me, and I have certification that I am one hell of a funny guy. Ask yourself, though, who would want to spend their time working a job like that? I think that if slinging burgers were my best hope of an income on the light side of the law, I would much prefer to start mugging people.
You see, I know that real crime is beyond my tender sensibilities. I cry every time I watch Schindler’s List, so I know that I cannot abide true violence. But I think I might be capable of mugging people, especially little old ladies marching to the bank with their pension monies – and I think I could make quite a living off of their pension monies, at least as much as I would make earning minimum wage for some Burger Fascist. Now, if a tender soul such as myself considers petty crime a better alternative to minimum-wage hell, why wouldn’t anybody else? Maybe because they’re trained not to? Mabye because, by the time they make it through all those years of drudgery in school, the idea of standing in front of a register, wearing a goofy uniform, and asking thousands of people every day “Do you want fries with that?” is no longer such a bad idea? As I mentioned once before in this rag, maybe our Suck-o-Meters are so out of whack once we make it through school we no longer recognize Suck when we encounter it. And maybe, if our Suck-o-Meters take enough punishment by the time we’re 18 years old, we even start to like the Suck.
All right, enough. Education: we canonize its practitioners and gild its rough edges, telling ourselves and our kids that its the key to independence and free thought and all that happy horse hockey our hippie forefathers poured into the culture. I know that’s bullshit. Education is mass crowd control with some nice extras thrown in. No one, not even I, doubt the sincerity of those trying to educate our kids. They believe they are opening up the doors to independence, when in reality they are merely training us monkeys to behave. And I for one don’t mind so much, because the lab monkeys, at least, don’t have to tear ech other apart for food every day.
It’s a long article, but every word counts. I included it for effect… it softens the mind to the term brainwashing. We are truly being brainwashed when we go through standarized education. It’s exactly what it is, though, is brainwashing.
I contend we are brainwashed from a pleathora of sources. Our brainwashing from school, parents, church, peers, and media. We’ve already established how schools brainwash us. Our parents try for 18 years to endow us with the same beliefs they were taught. Church attempts to instill within us the doctrines it stands for.
That leaves us the two most influencial sources of brainwashing left to discuss. The roles of media in brainwashing us are briefly covered in my article about stereotypical roles that conservatives and liberals fall into earlier this week. This leaves the point I want to focus on — peers.
Peers are arguably the most prestigious (in terms of what we term as valuable input to our brain) form of influence, or as I like to say brainwashing, we as humans have. In an effective learning machine, the connections deep inside far outnumber the windows to the outside world. Take the cerebral cortex … roughly 80 percent of whose never connect with each other, not with input from the eyes and ears. The learning device called human society follows the same rules. Individuals spend most of their time communicating with each other, not exploring such ubiquitous elements of their “environment” as insects and weeds which could potentially make a nourishing dish. This cabling for the group’s internal operations has a far greater impact on what we see and hear than many psychological researchers suspect. For it puts us in the hands of a conformity enforcer whose power and subtlety are almost beyond belief.
The limbic systems are the memory’s gatekeeper and in a very real sense its creator. The limbic system is also an intense monitor of others, keeping track of what will earn their praises or their blame. By using cues from those around us to fashion our perceptions and the facts which we retain, our limbic system gives the group a say in most central of realities, the one presiding in our brain.
< p>Elizabeth Loftus, one of the world’s premier memory researcher’s is among the few who realize how powerfully the group remakes our deepest certainties. In the late 1970s, Loftus performed a series of key experiments. In a typical session, she showed college students a moving picture of a traffic accident, then asked them after the film, “How fast was the white sports car going when it passed the barn while traveling along the country road?” Several days later when witnesses to the film were quizzed about what they’d seen, 17 percent were sure they’d spied a barn, though there weren’t any buildings in the film at all. In a related experiment, subjects were shown a collision between a bicycle and an auto driven by a brunette, then afterwards were peppered with question about the “blond” at the steering wheel. Not only did they remember the nonexistent blond vividly, but when they were shown the video a second time, they had a hard time believing that it was the same incident they now recalled so graphically. One subject said, “It’s really strange because I still have the blond girl”s face in my mind and it doesn’t correspond to her [pointing to the woman in the video screen] “It was really weird.” In piecing together memory, Loftus concluded that hints leaked to us by fellow humans override the scene we’re sure we’ve seen with our own eyes.
It was 1956 when Solomon Asch published a classic series of experiments in which he and his colleagues showed cards with lines of different lengths to clusters of their students. Two lines were exactly the same size and two were clearly not — the dissimilar lines stuck out like a pair of basketball players at a Brotherhood of Munchkins brunch. During a typical experimental run, the researchers asked nine volunteers to claim that two badly mismatched lines were actually the same, and that the real twin was a misfit. Now came the nefarious part: the researchers ushered a naieve student into the room filled with the collaborators and gave him the impression that the crowd already there knew just as little as he did about what was going on. Then a white-coated psychologist passed the cards around. One by one he asked the pre-drilled shills to announce out loud which lines were alike. Each dutifully declared that two terribly unlike lines were duplicates. By the time the scientists prodded the unsuspecting newcomer to pronounce judgment; he usually went along with the bogus consensus of the crowd. In fact a full 75 percent of the clueless experimental subjects bleated in chorus with the herd. Asch ran the experiment over and over again. When he quizzed his victims of peer pressure after their ordeal was over, it turned out that many had done far more than simply going along to get along. They had actually seen the mismatched lines as equal. Their senses had been swayed more by the views of the multitude than by actuality.
To make matters worse, many of those whose vision hadn’t been deceived had still become inadvertent collaborators in the praise of the emperor’s new clothes. Some did it out of self-doubt. They were convinced that the facts their eyes reported were wrong, the herd was right, and that an optical illusion had tricked them into seeing things. Still others realized with total clarity which lines were identical, but lacked the nerve to utter an unpopular opinion. Conformity enforcers had tyrannized everything from visual processing to honest speech, revealing some of the mechanism which wrap and seal a crowd into a false belief.
Listen very closely to this segment; it’s very important to follow this example. Another series of experiments indicate just how deeply social suggestion can penetrate the neural mesh through which we think we see a hard-and-fast reality. Students with normal color vision were shown blue slides. But one or two stooges in the room declared the slides were green. In a typical use of this procedure, only 32 percent of the students ended up going along with the vocal but totally phony proponents of green vision. Later, however, the subjects were taken aside, shown blue-green slides and asked to rate them for blueness or greenness. Even the students who had refused to see green where there was none a few minutes earlier showed that the insistent greenies in the room had colored their perceptions. They rated the news slides more green than pretests indicated they would have otherwise. More to the point, when asked to describe the color of the afterimage they saw, the subjects often reported it was red-purple — the hue of an afterimage left by the color green. Afterimages are not voluntary. They are manufactured by the visual system. The words of just one determined speaker had penetrated the most intimate sanctums of the eye and brain.
When it comes to herd perception, this is just the iceberg’s tip. Social experience literally shapes critical details of brain physiology, sculpting an infant’s brain to fit the culture into which the child is born. Six-month-olds can hear or make every sound in virtually every human language.
Half the brain cells we are born with rapidly die. The 50 percent of neurons which thrive are those which have shown they come in handy for coping with such cultural experiences as crawling on the polished mud floor of a straw hut or navigating on all fours across wall-to-wall carpeting of comprehending a mother’s words, her body language, stories, songs, and the concepts she’s imbibed from her community. Those nerve cells stay alive which demonstrate that they can cope with the quirks of strangers, friends, and family. The 50 percent of neurons which remain unused are literally forced to commit preprogrammed cell death/suicide.
Babies synchronize their feelings to the folks around them at a very early age. Emotional contagion and empathy — two of the ties which bind us — come to us when we are still in diapers. Children less than a year old who see another child hurt show all the signs of undergoing the same pain. The University of Zurich’s D. Bischof-Kohler concludes from one of his studies that when babies between one and two years old see another infant hurt they just don’t ape the emotions of distress, but share it empathetically.
As time proceeds, these unnoticed synchronies draw larger and larger groups together. Ag graduate student working under the direction of anthropologist Edward T. Hall hid in an abandoned car and filmed children romping in a school playground at lunch hour. Screaming, laughing, running, and jumping, each seemed superficially to be doing his or her own thing. But careful analysis revealed that the group was rocking to a unified beat. One little girl, far more active that the rest, covered the entire schoolyard in her play. Hall and his student realized that without knowing it, she was the director and the orchestarter. Eventually the researchers found a tune that fit the exact cadence. When they played it and rolled the film, it looked exactly as if each kid were dancing to the melody. But there had been no music playing in the schoolyard. Said hall, “Without knowing it, they were all moving to a beat they generated themselvesan unconscious undercurrent of synchronized movement tied the group together.” William Condon concluded that it doesn’t much make sense to view humans as “isolated entities.” They are, he said, bonded together by their involvement in “shared organizational forms.” In other words, without knowing it individuals form a team. Even in our most casual moments, we pulse in synchrony.
No wonder input from the herd so strongly c
olors the ways in which we see our world. Students at MIT were given a bio of a guest lecturer. One group’s background sheet described the speaker as cold; the other groups handout praised him for his warmth. Both groups sat together as they watched the lecturer give his presentation. But those who read the bio saying he was cold saw him as distant and aloof. Those who’d been tipped off that he was warm rated him as friendly and approachable. In judging a fellow human being, students replaced external fact with input they’d been given socially. Our judgements are widely swayed by something as inconsequential as gender. Two groups of experimental subjects were asked to grade the same paper. One was told the author was John McKay. The other was told the paper’s writer was Joan McKay. Even female students evaluating the paper gave it higher marks if they thought it was from a male.
Crowds of silent voices whisper in our ears, transforming the nature of what we see and hear. Some are those of childhood authorities and heroes, others come from family and peers. The crowds within us resculpt our verdicts over and over again.