In my last article I outlined some of the ways that statist ideology represents an obstacle to the agorist project- specifically in the realm of education. I argued that cultural obstacles obstruct heterodox action just as fully as the threat of state violence. Imprisonment, isolation from loved ones, solitary confinement, torture, gang rape, contraction of disease, etc.- all these are the expected and approved circumstances of state “punishment.” No one need be taught that these are disincentives. But the resources of the state are scarce and the pretense of liberal government demands that the vast majority of circumscribed behavior be discouraged in less overt ways. This is the role of statism-an ideological construct distinct from the material reality of the state itself, but no less important for the continued hegemony of the ruling class. Rather than imposing “punishments,” statism seeks to pervert the subject’s worldview, twisting his sense of self-interest to match the prerogatives of the state and its owners. By offering an ersatz reality, statism anesthetizes the subject against the proddings of his own conscience, allows him to neglect his health and his family, and to waste his energies in worthless pursuits.
A bevy of studies by state, local, and non-govermental agencies since the late nineties have argued for the academic superiority of children taught outside of the public schools. They are not without their critics. Two ambitious studies on the subject- Brian Ray’s 1997 Strengths of Their Own: Homeschoolers Across America and Lawrence Ruding’s 1998 Home Schooling Works: The Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998 – have justly been criticized for sampling bias. Nonetheless, their findings- at the very least- would suggest that concerns about the quality of home school education are more attributable to teachers’ unions’ propaganda than any real deficiency.
When the dollars-and-cents costs of both approaches are compared, continued support for the public option can only be described as moronic. However unrepresentative his sample, Brian Ray’s subjects managed superior academic achievement at a fraction of the cost of the publicly educated, spending an average of $546 a year against the state’s expenditure of $5325. While this figure certainly neglects the opportunity cost of a parent foregoing remunerative labor, one can also safely assume that the majority of the discrepancy can be attributed to inefficiency, bureaucratic waste, union-backed teachers’ wages, unnecessary infrastructure and plant, etc. etc. But keep in mind that these are average costs. For more affluent families (who are often already foregoing one income,) the cost of public education can be many times greater than the figure above, thanks to the wonders of progressive taxation.
These taxpayers have everything to gain by a general move toward home schooling. Since adopting home-based education does not reduce ones compulsory investment in public education, however, we are fighting primarily on the grounds of culture and- only in a more roundabout way- on the grounds of economic self-interest.
Agorist theory holds that black market activity –counter-economics- can be used to erode the usual channels of revenue from which the state takes its sustenance. This post seeks to extend the logic of Samuel Konkin’s economic model into the realm of culture and to argue that the epistemological foundations of government are just as vulnerable as its economic foundations and both must be undermined before progress can be made toward a voluntary society. The epistemological-cultural corollary to counter-economics we call “counter-education.”
The state harnesses the natural flow of revenue within a market society sluicing off wealth in order to provide a stream of cash for state operations. These funds provide for the maintenance of diverse bureaucratic leeches and hangers-on, but it also purchases the guns, tanks, tear gas, and prisons with which they bolster their position and ensure their access to others’ earnings. Samuel Konkin’s stroke of genius was to realize the escalatory nature of any interruption in this circular flow. Less revenue purchases less weaponry and provides for fewer agents, which in turn damages the state’s ability to collect funds. In a system the size of ours, the marginal value of a dollar is infinitesimal. So while each unit of lost tax revenue is exponentially more valuable than the last, a great many goddamn dollars have to be lost before the damage is appreciable. This would seem to suggest strongly that a “tipping point” exists, up to which lost revenue would not significantly damage the state’s capacity for self-perpetuation, but beyond which nothing can save it.
Public education serves a role within the state’s cultural-epistemological foundations that is analogous to the IRS’s position within it’s material-economic foundations. We’ll employ the metaphor of a river to illustrate the nature of this relationship. The assumptions, hopes, prejudices, drives, ambitions, values, etc. of human beings constitute the meaningful fabric of institutions- the river’s water. This flow of thoughts is channeled by material circumstances akin to a river bed, and where the river (the stream of thought) touches the riverbed (the physical world) lies human action. Action is largely determined by thought and material possibility, but in turn, it affects it’s material surroundings and informs the actor’s thought process. Our metaphor demonstrates, however, precisely why this is problematic for revolutionary change. Under normal circumstances, the river scrapes the river bottom, digging the riverbed deeper and entrenching it more firmly in the landscape.
Within schools the material reality of buildings, teachers, and administrators exert on students a reigning-in influence, ensuring that their thoughts remain within the state’s desired flow of ideas. Every successfully controlled student (gallon of water) stays within this flow. He presumes to be racist or religiously extremist any who might disparage public education or forego its benefits. He presumes to understand social reality in its entirety, and for him, that reality includes a state-centric model of human agency and understanding. His actions (the effect of the river on its bed) ultimately follow his thoughts (the flow itself) contributing to the material reinforcement of public education’s place in society (the scouring deeper of the riverbed.) He grows up and serves on school boards and in parent-teacher organizations, volunteers his time, contributes to fund-raisers, and cheerfully sends his children off to be indoctrinated in like fashion. He accedes readily to the state’s calls for school funding, opening his wallet every time it is demanded in the name of “the children.” Most importantly he accepts and even condones as “good” every crime of the state, from compulsory taxation up to genocide.
Just as with its fiscal foundations, though, the state’s epistemic supports are vulnerable. The exponential damage of every dollar lost to the IRS, is mirrored by a similar effect produced by the withdrawal of minds from the state’s indoctrination apparatus. The well-indoctrinated mind can be relied on to help entrench the institutions in which he was indoctrinated- like a river digging it’s own bed. But under the right circumstances our river also erodes its banks and drags into its current bits and pieces of existential debris, enriching the flow of ideas and in turn increasing its ability to destroy its own banks and pour into new channels. When a child is shielded from state education he escapes the usual flow of institutionalized thought- a good in its own right- but he will also deprive the state and its institutions of the positive contributions on which they are acutely dependent. That child will not valorize the mechanisms of state control, will not accept state action as given or good; he will not support state education in word or deed and will steer his own progeny far from the drug- and gun-strewn corridors of the public schools. He will accede only reluctantly to the use of his money for public schools and will chafe indignantly at compulsion of any kind. He will condemn as criminal all depredations against human life, whether committed by criminals in the street or in the state house.
Next to Konkin’s “counter-economics,” then, we place “counter-education.” Counter-economics envisions a cascading effect as investment leaves taxable avenues. Counter-education envisions a cascading effect as minds escape the perversity of state education. While human enlightenment is an end in itself, the proponents of human liberty must recognize the complex ways in which state violence is intertwined with less overt forms of social control, and the role of schools in propping state epistemology. Counter-economics and counter-education are likewise inextricably entwined. Freeing Americans’ minds from its shackles will not, in itself, undermine the position of the political class. As long as wealth continues to flow into the pockets of the state’s beneficiaries, the structures of government oppression will persist. The drones will continue to fly and the lives and property of the governed will be insecure. But the money that funds these criminal activities is seldom collected at gunpoint. Even beyond the risk of physical reprisal, a range of ideological structures prevents the conscientious from withholding his financial support from the state. These ideological structures are installed by state-paid educators.
To that end we encourage an assault on the institution of state education. The increased visibility of home and private schooling is critically important in the project of normalizing non-public education. Those able should withdraw their children from state schools as soon as possible- and should make a fuss about it. Criticism of public education should be brought to bear at every possible juncture,emphasizing the public option’s mediocrity, its affinities with public assistance, and its associations with “low” mass culture (pro wrestling and NASCAR[?]) Home schooling should be presented as a natural corollary to responsible and engaged parenting, and our children’s state-educated friends should be welcomed to our dinner tables as neglected unfortunates. In the arts, every effort should be made to normativize non-public education and to heap disdain and condescension on the system’s apologists.
A general move toward home schooling would do a great amount of good by undermining in future generations the sense of state omnipotence. But we gain little more from the shift if most of these children take lessons from parents who are otherwise brainwashed into the cult of Moloch. That is why it is imperative that anarchists move now to situate themselves in places of influence within the growing number of co ops springing up to provide infrastructure for home schooling. As entrepreneurs and educators, anarchists are more than capable of providing children with those things of which they have been so sorely deprived by the overweight, unionized slobs teaching in public schools. True dignity rooted in individual achievement and personhood; disregard for arbitrary authority; love of kith and kin transcending all state-fabricated identities; respect for knowledge as ennobling in its own right- these are the means as well as the ends of our revolution.