Sympathy Deformed

Sympathy Deformed

Theodore Dalrymple

Misguided compassion hurts the poor.

To sympathize with those who are less fortunate is honorable and decent. A man able to commiserate only with himself would surely be neither admirable nor attractive. But every virtue can become deformed by excess, insincerity, or loose thinking into an opposing vice. Sympathy, when excessive, moves toward sentimental condescension and eventually disdain; when insincere, it becomes unctuously hypocritical; and when associated with loose thinking, it is a bad guide to policy and frequently has disastrous results. It is possible, of course, to combine all three errors.

No subject provokes the deformations of sympathy more than poverty. I recalled this recently when asked to speak on a panel about child poverty in Britain in the wake of the economic and financial crisis. I said that the crisis had not affected the problem of child poverty in any fundamental way. Britain remained what it had long been—one of the worst countries in the Western world in which to grow up. This was not the consequence of poverty in any raw economic sense; it resulted from the various kinds of squalor—moral, familial, psychological, social, educational, and cultural—that were particularly prevalent in the country (see “Childhood’s End,” Summer 2008).

My remarks were poorly received by the audience, which consisted of professional alleviators of the effects of social pathology, such as social workers and child psychologists. One fellow panelist was the chief of a charity devoted to the abolition of child poverty (whose largest source of funds, like that of most important charities in Britain’s increasingly corporatist society, was the government). She dismissed my comments as nonsense. For her, poverty was simply the “maldistribution of resources”; we could thus distribute it away. And in her own terms, she was right, for her charity stipulated that one was poor if one had an income of less than 60 percent of the median national income.

This definition, of course, has odd logical consequences: for example, that in a society of billionaires, multimillionaires would be poor. A society in which every single person grew richer could also be one in which poverty became more widespread than before; and one in which everybody grew poorer might be one in which there was less poverty than before. More important, however, is that the redistributionist way of thinking denies agency to the poor. By destroying people’s self-reliance, it encourages dependency and corruption—not only in Britain, but everywhere in the world where it is held.

I first started thinking about poverty when I worked as a doctor during the early eighties in the Gilbert Islands, a group of low coral atolls in an immensity of the Central Pacific. Much of the population still lived outside the money economy, and the per-capita GDP was therefore extremely low. It did not seem to me, however, that the people were very poor. Their traditional way of life afforded them what anthropologists call a generous subsistence; their coconuts, fish, and taros gave them an adequate—and, in some respects, elegant—living. They lived in an almost invariant climate, with the temperature rarely departing more than a few degrees from 85. Their problems were illness and boredom, which left them avid for new possibilities when they came into contact with the outside world.

Life in the islands taught me a lively disrespect for per-capita GDP as an accurate measure of poverty. I read recently in a prominent liberal newspaper that “the majority of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.” This statement is clearly designed less to convey an economic truth than to provoke sympathy, evoke guilt, and drum up support for foreign aid in the West, where an income of less than $1 a day would not keep body and soul together for long; whereas it is frequently said that one of Nigeria’s problems is the rapid increase in its population.

As it happens, an island next door (in Pacific terms) to the Gilbert Islands was home to an experiment in the sudden, unearned attainment of wealth. Nauru, a speck in the ocean just ten miles around, for a time became the richest place on earth. The source of its sudden riches was phosphate rock. Australia had long administered the island, and the British Phosphate Commission had mined the phosphate on behalf of Australia, Britain, and New Zealand; but when Nauru became independent in 1968, the 4,000 or so Nauruans gained control of the phosphate, which made them wealthy. The money came as a gift. Most Nauruans made no contribution to the extraction of the rock, beyond selling their land. The expertise, the management, the labor, and the transportation arrived from outside. Within just a few years, the Nauruans went from active subsistence to being rentiers.

The outcome was instructive. The Nauruans became bored and listless. One of their chief joys became eating to excess. On average, they consumed 7,000 calories per day, mainly rice and canned beef, and they drank Fanta and Château d’Yquem by the caseload. They became the fattest people on earth, and, genetically predisposed already to the illness, 50 percent of them became diabetic. It was my experience of Nauru that first suggested to me the possibility that abruptly distributing wealth has psychological effects as well as economic ones.

I next spent a few years (1983 to 1986) in Tanzania, a country that presented another experiment in treating poverty as a matter of maldistribution. Julius Nyerere, the first—and, until then, the only—president, had been in charge for more than 20 years. His honorific, Mwalimu—Teacher—symbolized his relation to his country and his people. He had become a Fabian socialist at the University of Edinburgh, and a more red-blooded one (according to his former ally and foreign minister, Oscar Kambona, who fell out with him over the imposition of a one-party socialist state) after receiving a delirious, orchestrated reception in Mao’s China.

One can say a number of things in Nyerere’s favor, at least by the standards of postindependence African leaders. He was not a tribalist who awarded all the plum jobs to his own kind. He was not a particularly sanguinary dictator, though he did not hesitate to imprison his opponents. Nor was he spectacularly corrupt in the manner of, say, Bongo of Gabon or Moi of Kenya. He was outwardly charming and modest and must have been one of the only people to have had good personal relations with both Queen Elizabeth II and Kim Il-sung.

Nyerere wished the poor well; he was full of sympathy and good intentions. He thought that, being so uneducated, ignorant, and lacking in resources, the poor could not spare the time and energy—and were, in any case, unqualified—to make decisions for themselves. They were also lazy: Nyerere at one point complained about the millions of his fellow countrymen who spent half their time drinking, gossiping, and dancing (which suggested to me that their lives were not altogether intolerable).

But Nyerere knew what to do for them. In 1967, he issued his famous Arusha Declaration, named for the town where he made it, committing Tanzania to socialism and vowing to end the exploitation of man by man that made some people rich and others poor. On this view of things, the greater accumulation of wealth, either by some individuals or by some nations, could be explained only by exploitation, a morally illicit process. The explanation for poverty was simple: some people or nations appropriated the natural wealth of mankind for themselves. It was therefore a necessary condition of improvement, as well as a form of restitution, that they no longer be allowed to do so and that their wealth be redistributed. So Tanzania nationalized the banks, appropriated commercial farms, took over all major industry, controlled prices, and put all export trade under the control of paragovernmental organizations.

There followed the forced collectivization of the rural population—which is to say, the majority of the population—into Ujamaa villages. Ujamaa is Swahili for “extended family”; as Nyerere insisted, all men were brothers. By herding the people into collectivized villages, Nyerere thought, the government could provide services, such as schools and clinics. After all, rich countries had educated and healthy populations; was it not evident that if the Tanzanian people were educated and healthy, wealth would result? Besides, collectively the villagers could buy fertilizer, perhaps even tractors, which they never could have done as individuals (assuming, as Nyerere did, that without government action there would be no economic growth). Unfortunately, the people did not want to herd fraternally into villages; they wanted to stay put on their scattered ancestral lands. Several thousand were arrested and imprisoned.

The predictable result of these efforts at preventing the exploitation of man by man was the collapse of production, pauperizing an already poor country. Tanzania went from being a significant exporter of agricultural produce to being utterly dependent on food imports, even for subsistence, in just a few years. Peasants who had once grown coffee and sold it to Indian merchants for soap, salt, and other goods uprooted their bushes and started growing meager amounts of corn for their own consumption. No reason existed for doing anything else because growers now had to sell their produce to paragovernmental procurement agencies, which paid them later, if at all, at derisory prices in a worthless currency that peasants called “pictures of Nyerere.”

Nyerere blamed shortages of such commonplaces as soap and salt on speculators and exploiters, rather than on his own economic policies. He made the shortages the pretext for so-called crackdowns, often directed at Indian traders, which eventually drove them from the country. Nyerere’s policies were no more soundly based than those of Idi Amin, who drove out the Indians more brutally. Anti-Semitism, it has often been said, is the socialism of fools. I would put things another way: socialism is the anti-Semitism of intellectuals.

With foreign exchange exhausted, only the funds that the honey-tongued Nyerere continued to obtain from the World Bank and foreign donors enabled the country to avoid mass starvation. By the time I reached Tanzania, the country had become completely dependent on handouts. Aid represented two-thirds of Tanzania’s foreign-exchange earnings; one might say that its largest export was requests for such aid. In the rural area where I lived, the people dressed in hand-me-downs sent by European charities. A single egg was a luxury. One of the goals that had induced Nyerere to move to socialism, ironically, was national “self-reliance.”

The foreign aid that allowed Nyerere’s policies to continue well after the economic disaster was evident had precisely the baleful effects that Peter Bauer, the development economist who contradicted the professional orthodoxies of his time, predicted. The aid immensely increased the power of the sole political party by giving its officials control over scarce goods. When I was in Tanzania, you needed political connections to buy even a bottle of beer—the famous local monopoly brand, Safari, which, the saying went, caused you to pass directly from sobriety to hangover without passing through drunkenness. The regime provided ample opportunities for corruption. Most Tanzanians were slender; you could recognize a party man by his girth.

Thanks to foreign aid, a large bureaucracy grew up in Tanzania whose power, influence, and relative prosperity depended on its keeping the economy a genuine zero-sum game. A vicious circle had been created: the more impoverished the country, the greater the need for foreign aid; the greater the foreign aid, the more privileged the elite; the more privileged the elite, the greater the adherence to policies that resulted in poverty. Nyerere himself made the connection between privilege and ruinous policies perfectly clear after the International Monetary Fund suggested that Tanzania float its currency, the Tanzanian shilling, rather than maintain it at a ridiculously overvalued rate. “There would be rioting in the streets, and I would lose everything I have,” Nyerere said.

Long years of living under this perverse regime encouraged economically destructive attitudes among the general population. While I was impressed by the sacrifices that Tanzanian parents were willing to make to educate their children (for a child to attain a certain stage of education, for example, a party official had to certify the parents’ political reliability), it alarmed me to discover that the only goal of education was a government job, from which a child could then extort a living from people like his parents—though not actually from his parents, for he would share his good fortune with them. In Tanzania, producing anything, despite the prevailing scarcity of almost everything, became foolish, for it brought no reward.

When I returned to practice among the poor in England, I found my Tanzanian experiences illuminating. The situation was not so extreme in England, of course, where the poor enjoyed luxuries that in Tanzania were available only to the elite. But the arguments for the expansive British welfare state had much in common with those that Nyerere had used to bring about his economic disaster. The poor, helpless victims of economic and social forces, were, like Ophelia in the river, “incapable of their own distress.” Therefore, they needed outside assistance in the form of subsidies and state-directed organizations, paid for with the income of the rich. One could not expect them to make serious decisions for themselves.

This attitude has worked destruction in Britain as surely as it has in Tanzania. The British state is today as much a monopoly provider of education to the population as it is of health care. The monopoly is maintained because the government and the bureaucratic caste believe, first, that parents would otherwise be too feckless or impoverished to educate their children from their own means; and second, that public education equalizes the chances of children in an otherwise unequal society and is thus a means of engineering social justice.

The state started to take over education in 1870, largely because the government saw a national competitor, Prussia, employing state power to educate its children. But practically all British children went to school already: according to the calculations of economist and historian E. G. West, 93 percent of the population was by then literate. It is true that the British state had started providing support to schools long before, but in 1870, 67 percent of school income still came from the fees that parents paid.

Not all British children received a good education before the state intervened: that was as vanishingly unlikely then as it is today. But it is clear that poor people—incomparably poorer than anyone in Britain today—were nonetheless capable of making sacrifices to carry out their highly responsible decisions. They did not need the state to tell them that their children should learn to read, write, and reckon. There is no reason to suppose that, left alone, the astonishing progress in the education of the population during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century would not have continued. The “problem” that the state was solving in its destruction of the voluntary system was its own lack of power over the population.

As in Tanzania, the state-dominated system became self-reinforcing. Because of the high taxation necessary to run it, it reduced the capacity and inclination of people to pay for their own choices—and eventually the habit of making such choices. The British state now decides the important things for British citizens when it comes to education and much else. It is no coincidence that British advocates of the cradle-to-grave welfare state were great admirers of Julius Nyerere—who, incidentally, has been proposed for Roman Catholic canonization, thus bringing close to reality Bauer’s ironic reference to him as Saint Julius.

The only time I ever saw Nyerere in person was in Dodoma, the dusty town designated to become Tanzania’s new capital. He was expected to drive by, and by the side of the road sat a praise singer—a woman employed to sing the praises of important people. She was singing songs in praise of Nyerere, of which there were many, with words such as: “Father Nyerere, build and spread socialism throughout the country and eliminate all parasites.”

The great man drove past in a yellow Mercedes. The praise singer was covered in dust and started to cough.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book is The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Six Essential School Lessons

The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher

by John Taylor Gatto

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn’t what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.

Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to schoolteaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:

The first lesson I teach is: “Stay in the class where you belong.” I don’t know who decides that my kids belong there but that’s not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being under the burden of the numbers each carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the business is designed to accomplish is elusive.

In any case, again, that’s not my business. My job is to make the kids like it – being locked in together, I mean – or at the minimum, endure it. If things go well, the kids can’t imagine themselves anywhere else; they envy and fear the better classes and have contempt for the dumber classes. So the class mostly keeps itself in good marching order. That’s the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

Nevertheless, in spite of the overall blueprint, I make an effort to urge children to higher levels of test success, promising eventual transfer from the lower-level class as a reward. I insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores, even though my own experience is that employers are (rightly) indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I’ve come to see that truth and [school]teaching are incompatible.

The lesson of numbered classes is that there is no way out of your class except by magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.

The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch. I demand that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. But when the bell rings I insist that they drop the work at once and proceed quickly to the next work station. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of.

The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable; bells destroy past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. My judgments come thick and fast, because individuality is trying constantly to assert itself in my classroom. Individuality is a curse to all systems of classification, a contradiction of class theory.

Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need water. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry, depressed or exhilarated by things outside my ken. Rights in such things cannot exist for schoolteachers; only privileges, which can be withdrawn, exist.

The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me.) This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.

Bad kids fight against this, of course, trying openly or covertly to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn. How can we allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break the will of those who resist.

This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren’t trained in the dependency lesson: The social-service businesses could hardly survive, including the fast-growing counseling industry; commercial entertainment of all sorts, along with television, would wither if people remembered how to make their own fun; the food services, restaurants and prepared-food warehouses would shrink if people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on strangers to cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering would go too – the clothing business as well – unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of our schools each year. We’ve built a way of life that depends on people doing what they are told because they don’t know any other way. For God’s sake, let’s not rock that boat!

In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer’s measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students’ homes to spread approval or to mark exactly – down to a single percentage point – how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective-seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers.

Self-evaluation – the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet – is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.

In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child’s waywardness, too.

I assign “homework” so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood.

The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain influential thinkers; it was a central prescription set down by Calvin in the Institutes, by Plato in the Republic, by Hobbes, by Comte, by Francis Bacon. All these childless men discovered the same thing: Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control.

It is the great triumph of schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best parents, there is only a small number who can imagine a different way to do things. Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals.

It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for “basic skills” practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I’ve just taught you.

We’ve had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central control imposes.

Without a fully active role in community life you cannot develop into a complete human being. Aristotle taught that. Surely he was right; look around you or look in the mirror: that is the demonstration.

“School” is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows to a control point as it ascends. “School” is an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable (although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution). In colonial days and through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to speak of. And yet the promise of democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt: compulsory training in subordination for everybody. Compulsory schooling was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in the Republic when he laid down the plans for total state control of human life.

The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony; we already have one, locked up in the six lessons I’ve told you about and a few more I’ve spared you. This curriculum produces moral and intellectual paralysis, and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its bad effects. What is under discussion is a great irrelevancy.

None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there is no right way. There is no “international competition” that compels our existence, difficult as it is to even think about in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is genuinely located – in families, friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy – then we would be truly self-sufficient.

How did these awful places, these “schools,” come about? As we know them, they are a product of the two “Red Scares” of 1848 and 1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our industrial poor, and partly they are the result of the revulsion with which old-line families regarded the waves of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigration – and the Catholic religion – after 1845. And certainly a third contributing cause can be found in the revulsion with which these same families regarded the free movement of Africans through the society after the Civil War.

Look again at the six lessons of school. This is training for permanent underclasses, people who are to be deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And it is training shaken loose from its original logic: to regulate the poor. Since the 1920s the growth of the well-articulated school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, have enlarged schooling’s original grasp to seize the sons and daughters of the middle class.

Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, pre-empting the teaching function that belongs to all in a healthy community; belongs, indeed, most clearly to yourself, since nobody else cares as much about your destiny. Professional teaching tends to another serious error. It makes things that are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, difficult – by insisting they be taught by pedagogical procedures.

With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher.

“Critical thinking” is a term we hear frequently these days as a form of training which will herald a new day in mass schooling. It certainly will, if it ever happens. No common school that actually dared teach the use of dialectic, heuristic, and other tools of free minds could last a year without being torn to pieces.

Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children’s development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, not even to help children.

At the pass we’ve come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de- institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system for public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.

After an adult lifetime spent in teaching school I believe the method of schooling is the only real content it has. Don’t be fooled into thinking that good curricula or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son and daughter’s schooltime. All the pathologies we’ve considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love – and, of course, lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.

Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.

A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.

This originally appeared in the Fall 1991 issue of Whole Earth Review.

June 22, 2010

Taylor Gatto is the author of Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. He was 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year.

Copyright © 2010 John Taylor Gatto

Obamacare and the politics of revenge.

Obamacare and the Politics of Revenge

by Gary North
by Gary North
Recently by Gary North: Why Did Jim Wallis Viciously Attack Glenn Beck, When Beck Has All Those Video Clips of Him? Hasn’t He Heard of YouTube?

President Obama got his training with ACORN. Where the ACORN falls, so grows the tree.

ACORN has fallen.

ACORN got caught by a pair of creative actors, both conservatives. They went to ACORN posing as a pimp and his woman. How could they get government aid? ACORN had suggestions. They videotaped the exchange. Then they took a modified video – yes, faked – to Andrew Breitbart, the Web site master. The fake was this: in the video, the young man appears in a pimp’s outfit. In fact, he did not wear it in the room. This is being made into a big deal by the liberal media. "Why, it’s all a fake!" Look, the whole stunt was fake. What was not fake was the response from ACORN’s employees: the offer to help them get the money and break the law.

Breitbart tried to get the networks to run the video. He was turned down. So, he took it to Mr. Video Clip, Glenn Beck. Beck ran it. That was how ACORN got on the Web. The story is here.

The publicity has ruined ACORN. It lost a fortune in contracts from the Federal government. It is close to bankruptcy, laments this Leftist site.

It has local chapters. Its agenda will survive. But the tree got knocked down.


I am of course both amused and delighted. Mostly amused. This was the perfect response to ACORN. That is because ACORN had long employed the tactics of a master organizer, Saul Alinsky. He wrote a book on his tactics, Rules for Radicals. It was published in 1971, the year before he died.

Alinsky was a radical, not a revolutionary. His strategy was to study an organization carefully. Understand how it works, he said. Then identify a weakness that is inherent in its rules or practices. He was amazingly successful at challenging organizations and forcing them to change their policies.

The two actors may not have understood that they were using a tactic devised by Alinsky. They spotted a weakness in ACORN’s practices: its commitment to getting government money for small businesses. They staged a charade. ACORN’s employees fell for it. It did not seem remarkable to them that a white teenage hooker and her white pimp wanted money from the government to set up a prostitution house for teenage girls who were in the clutches of a "bad" pimp. Government-subsidized entrepreneurship was right up ACORN’s alley. That was the end of ACORN. The charade was legal. There is no law against impersonating a hooker and her pimp.

Let me describe a classic Alinsky tactic. I wrote about it in 1983. A Christian college’s administration had allowed the students to invite Alinsky to speak. This was stupid. They soon learned just how stupid it was. Students came up to him after the lecture. They complained that nothing was allowed on campus. "What is allowed?" he asked. "We can chew gum." "That’s it," he said. He told them to buy lots of gum. "Keep chewing it. Spit it out the school sidewalks. Keep doing it, day after day. Tell the administration you will quit when it relaxes the other rules." It took one week. You can read my column on Alinsky here.

ACORN got gummed by a pair of actors.

Now it is Obama’s turn to get gummed.


National health care is the second most important of all government welfare programs. The first is funding education and making it compulsory. But this is generally enforced at the state level in the United States.

Why is government-funded medical care so important? Because it is the symbol of a state that has the power to extend life. It is the supreme agency of healing. Any government that does not pass laws funding and controlling the health care delivery system is seen by the apologists of state power as being inconsistent. A state that cannot heal is not a true god. The modern humanist state presents itself as the final court of appeal. It supposedly possesses final sovereignty.

Four centuries ago, this was called the divine right of kings. That meant that the king was the final court of appeal. There was no one or nothing higher, other than God. Today, the government’s position is that there is no God. Therefore, the state is the final sovereign. It is God by default.

A final sovereign must possess the power of life and death. So, we live under the jurisdiction of a welfare-warfare state.

The United States has had Medicare ever since 1965. The state has proclaimed itself as a healer of the old. This expense will bankrupt the Federal government unless the law is modified to allow cost-cutting. Politically, this is not yet possible. The oldsters want the money: over to $11,000 a year in subsidies.

This was not enough, according to Democrats. Another 30 million Americans need health insurance coverage. Now they are going to get it. Voters are going to pay.

Why isn’t this good politics? Because the Federal government waited too long. It is now running annual deficits over $1.5 trillion. This does not count the extra two trillion or so that accrue to the unfunded Medicare program each year. That is part of the off-budget budget.

At some point, all those oldsters who are dependent on the off-budget budget will be placed on the off-life support system. They will have their life support unplugged, at least figuratively and in some cases literally.

The motivation to get those 30 million people inside the health insurance system is a deeply religious motivation. The Democrats were upset that the United States government was not doing enough. What kind of healer is that?

The total expenditure for health care in the United States is about 15% of gross domestic product – higher than any other nation. This was not enough. There had to be more, the Democrats said. So, there will be. Costs will rise. Politicians are now on the hook. Who will pay these costs? It’s a government program now. There is no escape for the politicians. They must make some voting bloc angry. But which? What a dilemma!

The anger is enormous. It will increase. As of March 20, 59% of voters were opposed.

They see themselves as being ignored, which is in fact the case. This has created an opportunity for Republicans. They voted no unanimously.

This is pure politics. How often does a party vote 100% opposed? Almost never. They smell blood, and they reacted as sharks do. They voted for Bush’s bankrupting prescription drug subsidy program. Now they are all opposed. It’s politics.

Fifty years ago, I was talking with my liberal Democrat friend Joel Blain. Both of us knew how the subsidy ratchet works. It just keeps going up. So, he said to me, knowing full well I understood the game, "Just let us pass a health care bill. We’ll try it for a couple of years. If it doesn’t work, you can repeal it." That was Eisenhower’s last year in office. There was no way that the Federal government would pass a socialized medicine program. We both knew that. But if it ever did, it would be forever. It would create voting constituents.

Half a century later, the Democrats have gotten their way. The leadership recognizes that it will not be repealed. The leadership is serious about this law. These people know that the fall elections will result in Democrat losses. Harry Reid is way behind in Nevada. Yet they voted for the bill. They understand the religious implications of such sacrifice. They did it for the cause. The Federal government has extended its authority as a healer. With this authority will come lots of additional power.

They have sent a message to voters: "We have sacrificed the principle of majority rule for the sake of a higher cause." In principle, this is correct. If the voters want something evil, politicians should not vote for it. In early America, this was understood. Democracy meant the right of a majority to vote out of office anyone who opposed its will. It did not mean that a politician had a moral obligation to do what the majority wanted done every time. He was allowed to commit political suicide.

The Democrats face this problem: this view of democracy has not been widely preached or believed since 1913: the direct election of Senators. The push toward mass democracy has been constant. The older view has been abandoned. But now the Democrats have reverted to the older view. They will pay for this next November.


There is nothing morally wrong with the politics of revenge. Getting back at a politician for voting the wrong way was basic to early American politics. The Jeffersonians in 1800 got back at John Adams and the Federalists for the Alien and Sedition Acts. That ended Federalism as a national force. No one mourns their passing today. Few did in1801.

This time, there is enormous anger among hard-core Republicans and independents. They will not forget. Usually, voters do forget, but not this time. The law back-loads the financing. The burden will hit in full force in 2014. This is standard politics, but this time, it will backfire. Why? Because of the size of the Federal deficit.

The welfare states of Western Europe swallowed the pill of socialized medicine after World War II. The voters have gotten used to the cost. It is part of the social background. To single out medical costs as uniquely bankrupting is unthinkable, even though true.

Here, it is different. The law will go into effect at a time when the deficit has become unthinkably high. It finally is getting through to voters that it threatens their lifestyles in the future. They are beginning to get afraid. They should be afraid.

The Democrats waited too long. The deficits are now Obama’s. They must be dealt with on his watch. He refuses to deal with them. In this setting, the Democrats rammed through the bill.

The voters will be reminded, year by year, that this was done against their will. The Democrats will not be able to blame Bush. The burden will aggravate people, because they did not want the program.

Democrats assume that voters will forget. Voters at the margin will not forget. They will be reminded.

To get blamed, the Republicans must have the White House, the House, and 60 votes in the Senate. Until this happens, they can play the role of helpless babes in the woods. That means the Democrats will get blamed. This issue will not go away, because costs will rise.

The tea party movement is at present amateurish. Time will take care of that. If Republicans do not deal with it, they will lose elections. The revolt against waffling is real. These people are dangerous to Republicans who waffle on spending. They will not be able to be elected.

Usually, negative voting blocs get marginalized. The beneficiaries of boondoggles are concentrated. They want the subsidy. The opponents are not well organized. The costs of the boondoggle are shared by too many taxpayers. Resistance is minimal compared to the promotion.

This time it will be different. The politics of vengeance is now in play. The voters will be reminded, year after year, that the program was shoved down their throats.


Alinsky always searched for the weak spot in the opposition’s system. Then he exploited it.

Obama now has a weak point: ObamaCare. This time, the taxpayers and insurance premium payers and patients sitting endlessly in filled doctors’ offices will be reminded about who did it to them. It was Obama and the banshee with the huge Medicare gavel, Nancy Pelosi. They pride themselves on having thwarted the voters. They believe they will get away with it. They think voters will forget. But medical care costs are close to people’s hearts. They will pay attention to their bills, including their tax bills.

The tea party types will make it hot for Republicans who think they can keep spending. The climate of opinion has changed. The deficit has changed it.

The costs of this program will not be ignored. This is not Europe. This is a new program. It was passed by a defiant majority in Congress. That majority will be depleted.

The very phrase, "ObamaCare," will become a liability. It ought to be called PelosiCare, but it isn’t. Obama has defined his administration by this one law. He got it passed. He owns it.

The tea parties have only just begun. The Democrats are not afraid yet. What will make a difference will be Republicans who lose because they refuse to give the tea party voters what they want.

The Christian Right got bought off easily in Reagan’s first year. All they demanded was rhetoric. Reagan was good at this. So, they were eased out by the Bush faction, which ran the White House under Reagan. They were in the Bush family’s hip pocket, so the Bushes sat on them.

The tea party will not get bought off so easily. Their anger is too great.

March 27, 2010

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2010 Gary North



by Tim Case

"In brief, a part of these colonies now feel, and all of them are sure of feeling, as far as the vengeance of administration can inflict them, the complicated calamities of fire, sword and famine. We are reduced to the alternative of chusing (sic) an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. The latter is our choice."

~Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, July 1775

I usually don’t read too many antigun articles for the simple reason that rarely are they anything but illogical emotional ramblings. The commentary, "Haven’t we had enough?" is another such criticism but two items in this editorial struck me as interesting.

First, the author actually admitted she was completely ignorant concerning firearms. "I don’t like guns. I’ve never handled a gun. I was not raised in a family that hunted." Okay, so this is another hysterical plea for weapon confiscation predicated on fear; at least Ms. Larsen acquiesces to the obvious.

At the conclusion of her impassioned appeal I found a point on which Ms. Larsen and I would agree. "It’s a health issue, and it’s a safety issue." She claims. I completely concur; it is a health and a safety issue. Weapons have always been at the center of physical and mental wellness.

Sadly, modern society has become so affluent that it is taken for granted that others will supply the daily needs of food and clothing which once were supplied by the use of weapons including firearms. However, it is either cowardliness or sloth which drives one to demand that others put their wellbeing on the line for those too timid to protect their own lives or the lives of their family through the use of arms.

Ms. Larsen unwittingly reveals the wretchedness of her argument when she asks: "…[W]hat about my right to be safe?" Let me be as succinct as humanly possible. You have no right to be safe by requiring others to jeopardize their own lives, wealth, or safety! Frankly, there is nothing more disgusting than those who willfully put themselves and their loved ones in the position of being victims, whine about it, and then demand that others save them.

"One cannot legislate the maniacs off the street…" wrote Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper, "these maniacs can only be shut down by an armed citizenry. Indeed bad things can happen in nations where the citizenry is armed, but not as bad as those which seem to be threatening our disarmed citizenry in this country at this time."

Those that are infected with the utopian virus of a weapon free society are also the same people that will stand timidly by and with a clear conscience justify every heinous crime perpetuated by the state, which is an all too familiar result of this social attitude.

"Democracy," wrote Frederick Engels in 1847 "would be wholly valueless to the proletariat if it were not immediately used as a means for putting through measures directed against private property and ensuring the livelihood of the proletariat."

There are twelve "measures" Engels states as being necessary but we are concerned with his third point: "Confiscation of the possessions of all emigrants and rebels against the majority of the people."

Translation: We will force all insurgents (anyone who disagrees with us) to be equal victims, along with the rest of society, by the confiscation of all your property – especially your weapons. Shades of Ms. Larsen’s appeal but without the attached amoral sobbing?

There is nothing draconian in pointing out that amorality is the mark of a sociopath. I have even heard individuals who cannot tell right from wrong aptly called "moral imbeciles."

Let’s be frank, antisocial behavior is not something you catch from a public toilet seat. It is the natural result of a cold calculated decision to reject incontrovertible truth, fundamental purpose and productive principles and replace them with unspecified change, idealistic dreams, and historical myths.

Don’t believe me? Ruminate on this statement from Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope: "Implicit…in the very idea of ordered liberty,” [is] a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course….” (Emphasis mine)

Ordered liberty? Does he mean liberty that is arranged, controlled or well-organized? Isn’t that what Ms. Larsen was wishing for in her statements? Isn’t "ordered liberty" self-contradictory and a false proposition?

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but we have holding the reins of state one whose unspecified "change" is continuing to destroy a social, and economic order which has brought prosperity wherever it has been tried; only to reinstitute idealistic dreams and historical myths which benefit a few, leaving multitudes languishing in poverty.

Those who claim, L’État c’est Moi (the state, it is I) are always problematic but especially so when Americans ignore or haven’t learned the lessons of history. It is the age-old axiom: The doltish are always lead by the boorish in supporting the authoritarian.

The façade of "hope" which was recently perpetrated on Americans, resulting in the election of the present administration, was doomed to be revealed.

The sine qua non being that those who are enamored with power over others; feel secure in their prestige and status, think they are incapable of making mistakes; make no moral distinction between right and wrong, will eventually reveal their true nature.

In a blunt July 2009 post titled "I still hate you Sarah Palin" David Kahane satirically states, "If you just think of us – liberal Democrats – as Capone you’ll begin to understand what we’re up to."

Mr. Kahane continues, "…we men of the Left are perfectly comfortable lying, cheating, and stealing… in order to attain and keep political power. Not for nothing is one of our mottos, ‘By Any Means Necessary.’ You see, we’re the good guys, and for us the ends always justify the means. We are, literally, shameless…"

It would be easy to write Mr. Kahane off as some deluded crank if his words weren’t firmly grounded in historical fact and plucked from current headlines.

At the moment there is no reason to again recount the events surrounding the first year of the present administration’s term. What is important is to state the historical operational maxims of oligarchs – which of necessity include the present administration with its cohorts in or out of Congress: First, the people are stupid; second the people are evil and third when in doubt see the second principle.

So, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I read that the Obama administration was to continue Bush’s policy of "targeting selected American citizens for assassination if they are deemed (by the Executive Branch) to be Terrorists." Certainly this was generally in keeping with and a natural result of the paranoia and antisocial behavior exhibited by DHS in June of 2009.

I was tickled when Roland Martin, of CNN fame, recently made the point for me. "Obama’s critics keep blasting him for Chicago-style politics," Mr. Martin wrote. "So, fine. Channel your (speaking of Obama) inner Al Capone and go gangsta against your foes. Let ’em know that if they aren’t with you, they are against you, and will pay the price."

However, it was Josh Sugarmann who took the cake. As the Executive director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, DC, Mr. Sugarmann thought to make a plea for gun control by exposing himself to the entire world. His appeal rested on black murder statistics but his intent was to suggest that all, starting with the Black people, should be disarmed.

Mr. Sugarmann is evidently historically challenged since America tried that once. It was called slavery and it still is! Irrespective of whom is being disarmed. I really wonder if the Black people of this nation would like to return to the collectivist utopia of beatings, forced labor, "cross burnings" and random lynching? Just how many times do we have to repeat history before all communities learn that disarmament benefits the masters and not the subjects? It would be fun to read Mr. Martin’s feelings on the matter. It is without doubt he supports moving the collectivist agenda forward by any means necessary.

With the Congress’ turning the National Guard into the Praetorian Guard in 2006, the United States entered, for all intents and purposes, a state of martial law. Now, serving at the president’s pleasure, the National Guard is attached to the US Northern command whose stated mission is "Defending the Homeland" and this includes working closely with domestic law enforcement.

This by itself may not seem objectionable but coupled with the more ominous December 2009 decision of the Supreme Court, that there are those who can be deemed and treated as "non-persons" one has to wonder just how far removed we are from those good ol’ days of public floggings and forced labor.

For those skeptics who would say that the recent Supreme Court ruling designates "non-persons" as only those "terrorists" who are captured on a foreign battlefield. Let me remind you that it is a very short step between the Court’s ruling and those deemed "terrorists" by DHS here in this country also being classified as "non-persons."

Communist, fascist, Nazi, socialist, progressive, etc., are complex ideologies which each, in its own way, produce only one thing – a police state. Anyone following the events that have been unfolding since 9-11-01 should be left with the inescapable conclusion that, indeed, we are living in a verging police state. Give it whatever title you like it is the most common condition of mankind in human history.

There are two reasons why we should view our present circumstance as approaching police state status. First, the apparatus needs to be established and given the cover of "law" which has been almost completed. Second, it needs a maniacal authoritarian to put it into operation.

Some would argue that the present administration meets the second criteria but I am not convinced that Obama’s criminal actions are any worse than George W’s, Woodrow Wilson’s, FDR’s, or Abraham Lincoln’s to name a few.

No, we are witnessing what in broad terms should rightfully be called a sub-revolutionary police state. This stage of social/political decay is not aimed at overtly overthrowing the present structure but rather at modifying or undermining the traditional sociopolitical apparatus.

It is precisely because we are in this state of sociopolitical atrophy that firearms are still tolerated in society. The state does not fear firearms, as such; it is well known that a firearm is nothing more than a tool. What the state fears more than anything is the public’s willingness to use firearms in the defense of their lives, property and traditional values.

This was evident when in 1942 the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) commissioned the production of the "Liberator Pistol" (official designation FP-45); a smooth bore 45 caliber single shot pistol that was intended to be disturbed in occupied Europe for use by Resistance groups. This cheaply produced stamped handgun (some might even say "Saturday Night Special") had one purpose and that was to enable the holder to kill a German soldier and acquire his weapons.

While there is no record of any mass distribution of the "Liberator" in France or the rest of Europe during WWII the idea had merit and shows that even statists are aware of the power inherent in the human will.

History is a witness that the present government cannot remain benevolent or even civil. Sooner or later someone is going to pull the dictator lever and government will turn ruthless. When it does woe unto the party that isn’t in power.

What are all the factors that cause a state to morph into state-sponsored terrorism, turning against its own citizens? Well, that is anyone’s guess but I have no doubt rising national debt and the failing economy will be major contributing issues.

Just as with the Roman Emperor Diocletian who, faced with a monetary crises in 301 AD, announced that, “It is our pleasure that anyone who resists the measures of this statute shall be subject to the capital penalty (death) for daring to do so…" It is not hard to imagine similar events occurring again but this time in the United States as the government, under the weight of its own ineptness, continues its hegemonic orgy, ultimately culminating in inexorable brutality (Waco on steroids).

Nor is Diocletian an isolated instance. "Shortly before the Soviet empire collapsed," William Grigg reminds us, "its ruling elite imposed the death penalty for violations of its currency exchange laws…"

It is time we come to grips with the fact that governments murder their subject strategically, after coming to a "rational" conclusion, that it is necessary to accomplish a presupposed "ordered liberty."

In the final analysis waving the Constitution, while sniveling "We have rights," is nothing more than the desperate act of the damned. What keeps the statists at bay is not solely the ownership of weapons but rather the certainty that many people, as a last resort, would be willing and able to effectively use them.

We have the same choices as did Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson in 1775.

February 19, 2010

Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: “Only the educated are free.”

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