Written by S. Wess Moss and published originally on High-right.com here.
“The fairest part of childhood passes without the necessity of coming to blows with reason. We care nothing at all about it, do not meddle with it, admit no reason. We are not to be persuaded to anything by ‘conviction,’ and are deaf to good arguments, principles, etc.; on the other hand, coaxing, punishment, and the like are hard for us to resist.”
– Max Stirner
After I was processed, I was taken to a small room where I was told to remove my clothes. I was given the, infamous, orange jumpsuit four sizes too large; a pair of bright orange sandals, plastic and cracked at the hollow of the foot. I was given the standard issue county jail clothing, the same as the thousands of others that came before, the thousands of others that came after. Shackled, I was escorted by my arm, in that way policemen tend to do, along a hallway to my cell. I was led towards the door, it’s always implied to go into the room when lead to the door, I obeyed the suggestion. The loud, and overemphasized, clank of the steel cell door, I was left looking out the parallelogram window at the white painted cinder block wall across the hall.
My cell was modest, and roomy, a concrete slab a few inches from the floor that was to be my bed, stainless steel sink and toilet not far from it, and a large illuminating light that never once went dark. I stayed here for thirty days. I had no books, or visitors, and soon a wool blanket was shoved through a small sliding window near the base of the cell door, where food came three times a day. I used my sandals as a pillow. There was a small intercom near the door, a small rectangle piece of steel with a speaker and a black button for activation. I never touched it, the guards were there against their will, and I pitied them seemingly more trapped than I was. I mostly slept, I meditated on Christ, I never really thought about what time it was or what was going on outside. This was my new life; it was time to settle in to the routine. In this cell is where I stayed, until the door opened and I was let out.
The prison system, we know of today, was one of the only institutions created by the Enlightenment. The penitentiary of the English speaking world was unique, drawing the attention of De Tocqueville himself who came to America originally to write about our prisons, and later about democracy (that governing form favored by the Enlightenment thinkers). We can see the values of the Enlightenment in the egalitarianism of the cells and uniforms. We can see the Protestant nature of the Enlightenment in the solitary confinement, where one reflects upon his sins and finds his own salvation, without the aid of priest or family. We can see it in the desired outcome, or the rationalism of rehabilitation and reintroduction into society. Then of course the primary reason to re-enter society, to make money. The materialism of the Enlightenment brought to the criminal offender forced labor, various trade classes, education, and moral instruction. These could make him a better man, a more wealthy man, more worthy of a society that shares those values.
Politicians and reformers alike applauded what was to be the saving of man, through the principals of rationalism, empiricism, and utilitarianism. The prison model was thought to be the progress that should be applied to schools, and even to the family. The enlightenment was being realized, the prison system was to be a success and its fame traveled fast spreading all over Europe and their colonies. Penitentiaries became a type of international business, set to dominate Europe. Even to this day we use similar models. Prisons then, as they are now, are funded by a public taxed, and told that they are necessary. Even to this day we use similar models. Hundreds of years later we still believe prisons to be as necessary and true as every man being created equal, or every man having inalienable rights.
Over the years prisons did little to stem the crime in the streets, which kept up its pace with the growing country. Then, after the Civil Rights Act, crime suddenly exploded In America. People began to be afraid of going into the streets; new laws brought new criminals, and prisons swelled. In 1968, a special commission to look into this problem. The commission came back with the answers to all of these problems, answers that are still in use to this day. The commission wanted more resources, training, and funding to existing government agencies, they recommended creating new government agencies to deal specifically with, specific, problems. They saw that the government needed to centralize its authority to maximize effectiveness and make the system fairer to all. All echoes of the values of the Enlightenment that spawned the system to begin with: materialism, education, egalitarianism, and fairness. They even stressed an idea popularized by Rousseau and Locke, the leading minds of the Enlightenment, to get to offenders at a younger age, and rehabilitate into good productive citizens earlier.
So, more prisons were built by contractors that specialized in building prisons. Agencies and government bureaucracies sprang up around a burgeoning industry dedicated to reforming the average criminal and making them productive members in societies. Prisons became an industry, the expenses rose with the expectations of their performance, expectations that never came. More expenses were justified, more money was made, and with the eighties came outsourcing of private interests and privatization in public holdings. The prisons followed suit, at first they hired recently outsourced workers, while no doubt imprisoning a few more. Then they began to privatize certain areas to help the financial strains the government was causing the tax payer. Private industries bid on contracts for food, clothing, and all the things prisons did themselves with prisoners. Then they privatized prisons themselves, and charged the government to house those who couldn’t function in the government’s society.
The government began to use the prisons in whatever way they could to benefit themselves. They used prisons, ideologically, for votes, and to scared people. They used it as employment at a time when they were plundering the American landscape sending every job they could overseas. They used the prison population the same as the local population in the census, to get grants and subsidies. The partnership with the private prisons became profitable and helped mask the realities, and failures, the government was creating for the people it was plundering.
When none of this reduced the crime rates the Prison Industrial Complex developed lobbying firms, funded political campaigns, and academic studies. Public studies funded and nudged by private enterprise who said we need more funding, more people, and stricter laws. Politicians, academics, and those working in the prison system agreed on stricter laws to keep the worst type offenders in longer; the overwhelmingly young, poor, and black. Naturally if offenders never leave the prison the crime rates go down. Prisons became warehouses that stored the people created by the dysfunctions of the very system that was imprisoning them. It hid the public from the failures of the Enlightenment, and the liberalism that accompanied it. The devastation wreaked on a people when the spiritual is substituted by material, the organic hierarchy of the strong willed into egalitarian mass of mediocrity, when the contradiction of a pluralized country are hidden behind the chain link fences and razor wire that represents the real progress of modernity.
It’s not difficult to see the parallels of modern society and the prison system. Prisons have been around almost as long as the enlightenment and we’re plagued with the very same problems as it is. We’re even a type of prisoner as well, shackled by debt, isolated into atomized individualists, our roots and traditions taken away and replaced with hollow and crude entertainment. We’re forced into a constant cycle of rehabilitation; to make us more profitable, more complying with those in charge. Those in charge continue to find ways to subdue us, in these ways, further, and use it to make a profit. Our cruel and unusual punishment, to use an expression of the Enlightenment: living in isolation from our fellow man, in a constant quest of materialism and consumerism, rehabilitating our soul into believing in false moralities, training our mind to believe in false realities, far away from our family, culture, traditions and identity. We’re all the prisoners of the Enlightenment, and to this modern world it birthed.
Even if all these ridiculous fantasies came true, and we were hurled into this Utopia the men around us believe in with a religious fanaticism, this man made heaven on earth. If all the hopes and dreams of the Enlightenment, and further more liberalism, came to be it would be a very boring and soulless world. Everyone is equal; everyone is the same, a mass of individuals with no other connection than consuming and making money and consuming. There are no stories or legends in this world we’re trying to create, there is no Shakespeare; no great art. Because we need struggle, sacrifice, bravery and honor to make our lives interesting to give us a life, to give us a soul. Dramas need drama, tragedies need tragedy, and romance needs romance the modern world work diligently to deny us that. Men need all of this to live a life worth living. We are men because of the suffering, the tragedy, the moments of bravery. Money, comfort, isolation don’t inspire love in the human heart.
Inside the prison the pre-Enlightenment still rules the inmates themselves, where strength and masculinity is everything. Underneath the thumb of Progress the men gather in ethnic tribes and exercise their will to power. Groups ally themselves today with those that could very well be their enemy tomorrow. They fight wars in slow methodic battles with well-trained men in the yard, or one on one on stair cases and hallways. They live by a code of honor and loyalty uniquely their own; their gangs exercise hierarchy where bravery, self-discipline, and sacrifice are admired. Not unlike the great states of the aristocracy in the Middle Ages. Where weakness, cowardliness, and betrayal is punished, and not by rehabilitation or any other fantasy of the Enlightenment, but punishments that work: beatings, shame, exile, and death.
Exile, the knowledge that life outside your group was certain death was the worst punishment of our ancestors. Shame was accompanied with exile, but could be put to use, inside close knit communities where reputations meant everything, without having to physically exile the offender. Death is for those that threaten the survival of the group. Corporal punishment was a physical answer to a physical problem, in a very physical world. Our ancestors, like prison gangs, didn’t get caught up in rationalism and utopias. They were too busy living, where everyone had to do their part to ensure their survival and continuation in the future. This is our natural state, what our current nation state originates from. It’s no wonder that some people feel more comfortable inside prisons, where they can be their natural selves. Rather than live in the prison on the outside, with us who are told they are free.
This is why we’re at the final phase of the Enlightenment, why liberalism has failed, and progressivism just made it all fail faster. It’s made the West a prison and it’s made us all live in these individual cells, isolated, trying to ignore what’s going on outside, trying to ignore what’s going on inside ourselves. Trying to rehabilitate ourselves in this isolation to join a society obsessed with the material. These values have turned in on themselves, creating a greedy, self-centered people currently devouring themselves and making a mockery out of the values that created them. The end of the Enlightenment is the end of an era, not the end of us. Let us look at the end of the Enlightenment as where we stayed, until the door was opened and we were let out.