thinking through school

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance”

-Will Durant (1885 – 1981)

Much of the radical community compares our schools to jails and places where children are kept to slave away hard hours for nothing but a grade that doesn’t mean much in the long run. After attending the March 18th Anarchist Book Fair in San Francisco, I realized this message seems to be one that is heavily preached from pamphlets, posters, t shirts, and patches. This anti education sentiment does not only hold it’s ground in high school, but college as well. I find that many of my radical friends look down on me for going to college yet preach the word of Noam Chomsky or Ward Churchill. Why is this? Why in this community has education been turned in to this evil dragon just trying to make you bow down to its wishes?

In the CrimethInc essay “No Masters” it states “If you liked school, you’ll love work. The cruel, absurd abuses of power, the self-satisfied authority that the teachers and principals lorded over you, the intimidation and ridicule of your classmates don’t end at graduation.” In some ways I agree with this statement. I admit I hated high school but it wasn’t because of the work I did but it was because of the idiots who couldn’t sit down and let the teacher discuss a book with us or the silly pep rallies I was forced to go to because of school spirit. I also am forced to admit I did not come on to the scene of my freshmen year of high school getting straight A’s; I had to learn how to learn. This is a concept that many radicals refuse to admit is that school is never going to be something that comes easy to you, one has to work at it (oh no I used the “w” word!). A common area that, not only radicals hate, but most high school student’s dislike, is math. Even mentioning the word makes some people curl up in the fetal position, but the concept of learning math is not because teachers are mean and like to force us too learn the quadratic formula or cosigns, the reason math is required is that scientifically, math stimulates our brains more than any other subject. It’s like biking for the brain! If you want to think about it in more logical terms, math makes as much since as anarchism, both concepts attempt to attach concrete solutions too abstract ideas. This essay is not about math, even though I could fill a whole newspaper with info about it so I will come to another point of education, and that is ignorance.

Most people of heard the phrase “ignorance is bliss” but if ignorance is bliss then so is a bullet to the head. The radical community has this idea that the schooling system is so fucked up that we should just drop out. What good does dropping out do anyway? Yes, you are no longer being oppressed by the forces of homework and grades but what do you miss from it? In an ideal setting the radical community would be able to self educate everyone and not worry about oppression and what not. One thing I respect more than anything is self education. All of the great scholars like Plato, Socrates, Isaac Newton and even Einstein were able to do this, but the plain fact is most people do not have the will power to diversify themselves like a college education would. When most people ask me what I’m going to be when I get out of college I simply tell them “I don’t know, I just here to learn.” to most people that drops their jaw. “Blasphemous! You don’t want to hurry out of here to get a good paying job at a firm or company.” I treasure my education greatly. Everyday I sit in a class where teachers have spent at least 8 years teaching the same subject, so you know they love it and even if it’s a class I dislike, I can still get a kick out of how passionate a teacher can get talking about his or her subject. It’s truly beautiful. What I’m getting at is that for 99% of the population, dropping out will solve no problems. What dropping out allows one to do is to not get a well rounded experience on an academic level which is one full of critical thought.

This leads in to my final point of why the radical community needs education and schooling. I mentioned before that my friends regard Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill as people who know what they’re talking about. Yet who are these people to the radicals? They are the leaders. They are telling us, the actors, what’s going on and if we are left with just the ideas of a select few this will cause more problems then it already has. Dropping out, as I mentioned before will not help most people, but if one finds that this system is too oppressive for them, an easy and effective solution is skill shares. This allows people from different backgrounds to share their knowledge and learn something more. The large point I am trying to express is the radical community needs to strive for higher education because it would better us off. It would prevent what is currently happening which is the bureaucratic protests and lack of informing not only the radical community of the big picture problems, such as mistakes of the past, but informing society as well. The issue of education is a sticky one and with this article I have barely skimmed the surface but now the match has been lit. This article is done. The ball is in your court (or the book for that matter).

Active Youth: a new world in our hearts

Radical activism hits most of us at around the ages of 16-18 and pretty much changes how we think for the rest of our lives. Being an 18 year old activist I can tell you it’s not a very easy life calling, but I am not here to talk about me per say. Lately the youth of this country have been more silent then they have been in former years in the mainstream anyway. It seems like overall youth activism is declining, but that activism is instead getting more concentrated.

In Palo Alto a group of youthful activists (most no older that 18) have started an Anarchist Action group there. On May 20, 2005 the group was able to disable the downtown area of Palo Alto with a Reclaim the Streets rally. Anarchist Action is a group of activists focused on direct action in their own communities, but the name is much like Food Not Bombs — anyone with the desire can start one. Right now known anarchist action groups are in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Seattle and Kansas City.

The work youths are doing in Palo Alto and in many cities around the country is a growing phenomena. Instead of idolizing a political leader or some one else’s ideology, more youths are realizing that they hold a new world in their hearts and they can make revolution happen in any place they want to. This country is reaching another threshold of crisis and it is the youth that have the most to lose and in some cases are the most persecuted. Now I’m not talking about your yuppie scum youth that think they are being oppressed just because they can’t have fat free frozen yogurt in the cafeteria. Lower middle class to working class youth are losing their anchor to any cultural background. I feel people need history and culture to hold on to and when what exists loses its relevance, we need to make our own. And that is exactly what is happening — the shunned youth of this country are creating our own history to tell our grandchildren.

Now if you are a youth reading this, or a youth in a grown-up’s body, I’ve found that the key to liberation is realizing that you can make history — and not being afraid. Pretty profound aint it? Think about how you feel about your life. Do you like that you have a job you hate? Do you like that you drive a car that kills the environment everywhere? Do you like the clothes you buy come from people making 3 cents an hour? If you answered no to any of these questions, then welcome to the club! People feel the same way you do, but most people are too afraid to do anything about it. Most would rather let things go they way they are than risk abuse by speaking up. But you, YES YOU, can change that. The minute you decide to stand up for your beliefs and hand out pamphlets and hold up signs, people will join you. So come on, stop reading this paper and get outside, enjoy the sun or the rain and get active. Don’t want for the revolution to come, because the revolution in now in our hands — we just need to start building our new lives before they are taken from us!

Book Review: Jeff Ott Writes Again

Immanuel Wallerstein’s “The Decline of American Power” (New Press, 2003) is an insightful analysis of today’s global crises, their origins and their long-term trajectories. Wallerstein situates the 2003 US war on Iraq, global terrorism and the US “War on Terrorism” in a “capitalist world-economy that is in crisis as a historical system” (121). Though this crisis endangers the global economy as a whole, Wallerstein submits, it particularly imperils the US’s leading position within that system.

While suggestions of US decline have been made and defied for decades, Wallerstein argues a compelling case by employing a long-term view that examines several growing structural pressures that have halted global capitalist growth. For example, nearly total global urbanization of traditional rural populations, signifying the historic exhaustion of cheaper first-generation city workforces, is slowing the downward pressure on wages that has hitherto subsidized declining profits. Similarly, growing environmental ruination has led to increasingly higher taxes, raising costs of investment in an already strained economy.

Contrary to popular assumptions that wages and taxes are in overall decline, Wallerstein argues that the recent relative drop in those costs attempts to but fails at redressing their broader, long-term, increase. This long-term increase in the cost of investment had mattered less during unprecedented post-war economic growth. But with the eventual slowdown of profits in 1973-4, these contradictions have increasingly affected economic, political and social policies.

Thereafter, Wallerstein writes, rightist free-marketers, who had been abandoned to the fringes for their inability to predict and respond to the Great Depression, reentered mainstream discourse. Proven partially right by Keynesian capitalism’s unmanageable long-term costs, they were newly accepted for their insistence that the elimination of social spending would lower taxes and free up capital while simultaneously establishing new areas for investment through privatization. Artificially creating investment opportunities, however, did not resolve the underlying crisis in investment resulting from excess productive capacities, but merely extended capitalism’s shelf life at the expense of most people’s living standards.

Wallerstein writes that the failure of the so-called Old Left (the Communist Party, union-oriented Leftist organizations prominent from the 1930s-1960s) to create an alternative to the dominant world system is cause and effect of capitalism’s surprising resilience and is responsible for much of today’s Left defeatism.

For Wallerstein, however, the Old Left’s optimistic view, “this sense of deep hope in the future, this sense of certainty that there would be more equality and democracy… was paradoxically the most depoliticizing worldview possible” (111). Counseling patience based on inevitable improvement, the Old Left “served paradoxically as the most important guarantor of political stability of the world-system in the long run, despite their frequent calls for political turbulence” (111). The growing chasm separating actual Left achievements from its rhetoric led to the social outbursts of 1968 that rejected both the dominant ruling system and its self-professed opposition. We are living, Wallerstein argues, in that aftermath.

While viewing the defeat of the Old Left as a positive and essential prerequisite for reformulating critiques of the world system, Wallerstein also holds that the Left’s decline is responsible for the emergence of Islamic extremism. Noting that the retrogressive Islamist movement is but one expression of what has been occurring all over the “peripheral zones of the world system” (116), Wallerstein explains its rise as, in particular, the outcome of the collapse of Arab Nationalism.

Writing that Arab Nationalism’s inability to achieve promised social transformation led many Arabs to turn to alternative strategies, however, constitutes a rare example of Wallerstein using a simplified and monocausal analysis to explain a complex sociopolitical phenomenon. While Arab Nationalism indeed did not achieve its main objectives, its decline is still inseparable from concerted Western attempts at undermining it, culminating in Israel’s destruction of the Arab Nationalists’ militaries and prestige in 1967. Simultaneously, the United States and Israel played a pivotal role in funding Islamist movements as a counterweight to the secular, relatively progressive, Nationalists.

A particularly valuable aspect of the work is its rejection of the postwar notion that armed conflict between the major capitalist powers is a thing of the past. The underlying political-economic causes of imperialist warfare have not been eradicated with World War II, but rather have only laid dormant due to the US’s uncontested supremacy at the war’s end – resulting from the capital it had extracted from allies and its assumption of world political leadership, made possible with the destruction of its major competitors. Though Europe’s gradual return to power was partially obscured by its acceptance of US political leadership during the Cold War, the demise of the USSR has brought the latent imperialist rivalry out into the open.

This view informs Wallerstein’s interpretation of the US war on Iraq. For the first time in the history of the United Nations, Wallerstein writes, the US was unable to win Security Council support for a measure it badly wanted. Wallerstein goes beyond merely stating that the US’s failure in the UN indicates a political break between the US and Europe, but that the war itself constituted a US war on Germany and France – to the surprise of Iraqis, to be sure. Indeed, in Resurrecting Empire, Rashid Khalidi notes a Bush Administration official speaking of “containing” France and Germany after the fall of Baghdad. That foreign rivals were ignoring the US-led embargo by trading with Iraq while the latter was encouraging the switch of oil purchases from Dollar to Euro, further threatening the US’s economic position, further supports this line.

The historian Paul Kennedy anticipated this scenario in his 1987 work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Kennedy saw that US dominance in the post-war era was unsustainable since the intrinsic character of the world system insured the relative rise of new (or old) powers at the expense of the relative decline of the top power. For Kennedy, the question was how the US would respond to this change, whether it would graciously acquiesce, sharing power with other nations, or forcefully resist. Ironically, as Kennedy observed, US resistance to its inevitable movement toward equilibrium could lead to military overextension and economic exhaustion, hastening what was being fended off.

While George W. Bush’s aggressive unilateralism in Iraq suggests that the US has taken the latter route, Wallerstein understands that the political-economic equilibrium that Kennedy suggests the US embrace is itself unsustainable. Indeed, it was the unyielding desire to maintain the equilibrium characterizing Europe from 1815-1914 that led France and England to war to suppress German ascension. Here Wallerstein stresses that we no longer have the luxury of repeating past mistakes, arguing that there can be no returning to the policies that have led to today’s crises in the first place. Underlining the limitations of rightwing analyses, while noting the failures of historic leftwing alternatives, Wallerstein asserts that the cycle can only be broken with the establishment of a new world system. Restating that the capitalist world system has reached its breaking point, Wallerstein emphasizes that it is impossible to predict the character of its inevitable replacement.

Based on this fast-approaching future where anything is possible, Wallerstein optimistically suggests that deteriorating material conditions can further, paradoxically, elimin
ate conceptual limitations imbedded in obsolete Leftist presuppositions, unbridling vigorous popular movements creating change. However, because of the adaptability of ruling powers, as well as the dangers inherent in retrogressive movements from Fascists to Islamists, Wallerstein insists that those committed to change pursue lucidity over mobilization as its own end. The Decline of American Power is a good contribution to that end.

Big Wigs At G8 The Object of Our Hate

Once again the time has come for the spectacular meeting of the 8 major capitalist countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, England and the US

(And the European Union) to talk about how to screw over the people in more inventive ways! Hooray! The G8 is a yearly meeting of the developed counties in the world to decide on policy that will increase their wealth and decrease quality of life. The issues at hand this year are the current situation with Africa, climate change, countering terrorism, and supporting reform in the Middle East. The meetings always happen in the summer and this meeting is taking place on June 5-8 in Gleneagles, Scotland, and by pictures on the web site is seems to be in the middle of nowhere, perfect for capitalists, bad for protesters.

A group from the UK called “dissent network” has been calling on people to come to Scotland and protest these meetings. The protest starts at 10 am June 5 th. at Scottish carnival arts centre. But that is a lot to ask given that most of the people I know who would be willing to break some windows, have to hitchhike or jump trains just to get around. But we do live in the largest economic country in the world so we do have a bit of responsibility when events go on like this. So basically go to the protest if you can and tear shit up. And if you can’t go, do some work at home to fight the power. I’m planning an event at the pacific stock exchange involving pennies, super glue and messages. But in all seriousness, it’s meetings like these which really define where we are in the spectrum of how much are we going to take. Capitalists have been perfecting this representational system of government for a long time and it has only benefited them. All this is doing is destroying our lives and our environment.

You HAVE to be the change you want to see in the world. You can not rely on someone else to do it for you because nothing will get done then. Every change that has happened in this world has been because people have stood up and said “Screw that, I am taking this into my own hands.” And that’s the real point to all this, it’s not just to show countries how much stuff we can break but its to tell them their systems are archaic and people have found a new way of life, One that puts people, animals, and earth first and not these abstract concepts of corporations and ownership. Change will come someday, do not be discouraged. It may take years, even centuries maybe even billions of people will have to die to have this change come. But change is happening. So just ask yourself, where do you want to go today? (Damn Microsoft).

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Gregg is a writer for YEDO! zine and loves dumpstered