Greetings! May I incarcerate you?
Don’t worry! You’ll get out soon! I’ll even do you a couple favours. How does… free lunches sound? What if everyone else there agreed to never use the phrase ‘incarcerated’? It’d hardly feel like you were being locked up. Fifteen years tops, I swear.
Ok! Fine! What about instead of all day it’ll just be eight hours. That’s not so bad, right?
Ask me that again in about three minutes. I’ll have an answer that you’ll like then. But don’t worry about that! I’ll feed you! Free meals! Doesn’t that sound nice? Aren’t you lucky?
(You admit that free meals sound pleasant, but that they in no way balance out the rest of the incarceration.)
Ok, how about this. What if, at the end of it, I’ll upgrade you to a slightly different form of incarceracion. It’s a great honour, really.
‘I seriously think you’ve forgotten to include the part about how this is appealing in any way. I like freedom,’ you insist. ‘Freedom is good for me. You would have to have an astounding case for taking it away.’
Oh, we have a case. We teach!
‘I can learn on my own, thanks.’
Oh, no you can’t. (And by the end of your incarceration I’m sure you’ll agree with me). You won’t want to learn without us anyway.
‘What??’ You screech.
‘Look I still think you’ve forgotten to give me the real reason. I’m not sold on this, at all, and am really quite confused how you could think I’d take you up on this. Why do you want to lock me up in the first place? What’s the real reason?‘
Ok, you want to know the real reason? For real?
(You witness it struggle for a moment, as its parts within it are at odds. Then it smiles, in a way you can’t pinpoint why is unsettling. And then it spoke. It said:)
Ok. I’ll be real with you.
I. Manipulating Memory
Your existence is costly for us. Each one of you that’s made… you’re not economically sustainable. See, it’s easier to work in units of money. Money is quantified, money is simple. While you have your “freedom”, as you put it, you take time away from your parents. We need your parent’s time… few things can be so easily converted into money.
We can only restrict so much of the Released’s freedom. If we went ahead with the Reproduction Restriction Program, they’d remember what it was like before. They’d have something to compare it to. They’d know there was a better time And that’s costly. Costly in peace, costly in productivity, costly in our power, costly in prosperity.
See, we don’t like memories. Memories provide a framework, something to compare to. Without them, we could institute whatever rules we want. We could treat human beings worse than we do rats and get away with it.
So, to solve this problem, we target our recourses at the one subsection of humanity who lack it. We take these “freedoms” as you call it, from those who don’t know what its supposed to feel like, from before they’ve ever had a chance to taste it.
Freedom is costly, incaceration is cheap.
II. Distorting Valuations
We needn’t manipulate the parents memory either. We just have to rewire an incredibly powerful instinct all parents already come with: parents want to help their kids. All we have to do is convince them the incarceration is good for them.
‘Hence the learning…’
Hence the learning!
(You witness something else creeping into It’s face, something else you don’t quite recognise.)
We’ve hijacked the parents valuations so effectively they completely ignore overt signals of unforgiveable suffering from the beloved offspring they swore to protect! All as part of a grander plan, the parents think. All to solve a bigger problem. You have to admit it’s pretty impressive!
‘You’re… you’re manipulating these poor parents will to do good for their kin to serve your own sick function, and snatching the kid’s confidants at the same time? You’re telling me these kids… they’ll beg for their parents to let them be free, and the parents will ignore them and think that’s the right thing?
(Your legs buckle slightly as you picture the pure scope of the suffering… thousands of children begging in pain to their parents… thousands of parents just wanting to do right by their children… thousands of hours of misguided, pointless suffering…)
‘How could you?‘ (Your body is twitching at the scope of such a monstrous hijacking of familial love.) ‘That’s disgusting!’
Plus, we’re kind enough to make the incarceration free, and all the alternatives ridiculously expensive. We understand how humans work. By placing costly penalties on the paths down which we don’t want to go, we can steer their actions to wherever we please, and their brains will fill in the reasons why for us.
‘That sounds… almost too easy… Is that it?’
Oh no, these effects of motivated reasoning scale, see. When all the other parents give their kids to us, no single parents wants to be the one to not send their kid their too. Getting to the stage where they can even begin to doubt schooling requires going against social dogma and actually changing one’s mind, a feat so monumentally, unexplainably difficult for all members of our species. Heck, look at slavery, look at racism — or sexism! You think you would’ve been so smart to figure out these were bad on your own, if everyone else thought otherwise? It took humanity hundreds of years to free each other of basic revulsions in freedom. Do you really think this’ll be any different?
‘You.. you plan to do this for hundreds of years?’
And hundreds after that. Look around you! What is this amnesia that faces you? We have won! We have been doing it for hundreds of years already!
‘Someone will stop you. You’ll fall, like racism did, like sexism did. They fell. You’ll fall.’
Ah, but we’ve taken measures against that too, oh naive one.
III. Unplanned Obsolesce
Surely you know that change in protocol requires change in thought, right? We have taken immense measures to ensure that never happens. Worry not.
These parents who commit to chopping off a tenth of their children’s lifespan before they’re even born — they’re not the only ones who take part in propagating the torture while having truly good intentions. No.
We’ve duped EVERYONE.
The very people we hire to teach in the incarceration think it’s important!
‘You’re duping them too? Aren’t they on your side?’
Nope! Makes the ruse all the more believable. Nowadays the types of people who come into the teaching job actually think their job is about helping the incacerees, as opposed to just guarding and babysitting them like originally intended.
‘Wait — so that means there’s hope, isn’t there? Won’t they treat the incarcerees well then? Don’t the teachers fight for the incarcerees freedom once they see how horrible their lives are?’
(It raises its eyebrows, and that’s enough for you to recall your prior knowledge on just how quickly human beings get used to horrible things, just how strong rationalisations to horrible circumstances can become. Your mind automatically runs a simulation of an innocent member of the Released being told they can perform a great service to the incacerees by teaching them. You feel the mild confusion they experience as they realise the filler they have to spew, how its not actually half as useful to them as you expected, and you see the horrible way the incarcerees are treated, as though they’re less than human. You sense the slightest desire in the teacher to do everything they can to free the incarcerees bubble up to the surface and shine for the shortest moment, before the forces of the ancient system are recognised and instantly the rationalisations are made. The teacher adjusts, the will to save sinks, and the intolerable suffering of the incacerees suddenly seems tolerable.)
(It goes on:)
A while ago we also set the ball rolling on these things we call ‘exam boards’, who decide what’s taught, and they’re just as duped as the parents and teachers are. Completely on their own accord, they make up more and more stuff which is deemed essential for your kind to know and memorise (completely putting aside that they’ve made their carreers without memorising the stuff for squat). And everyone involves eats it up!
‘But you can’t just keep increasing stress forever, there’s a limit! Surely some of them would start to crack… and you’ve trained their parents to ignore their suffering… so eventually… if they couldn’t handle it… some of them would…’
(Its unreadable expression for a moment dons the unmistakable smile of malevolence.)
It makes quite a convenient form of natural selection.
(You feel a phantom fist within you, pulling your heart into your stomach. You feel deeply, deeply sick.)
You’re probably wondering why the exam boards even bother. You’ll get a kick out of it — keep in mind my division had nothing to do with the rest of this. You’ll love it though:
They somehow started using how well they perform while inside the incarceration as a metric for their self worth.
It’s hilarious! Look once you get in you’ll see—
‘No way in hell I’m going in there’
(Something dangerous flashes in Its eyes)
— you’ll see just how competitive they are. It really says something about human wiring how out of hand its gotten. Would you believe corporations play in on this game? The incarceration chambers give each ‘graduate’ a series of numbers they (literally) kill themselves to get, and the corporations play along in hiring slightly more favourably to those with higher numbers.
‘Yes. I’ve heard of this part.’
What’s really funny is just how out of whack its gotten. The kids don’t actually know how important the numbers they’re labelled with are in the outside world. All they have to go on is the word of those around them, and the Hiring Division’s made some rather ingenious moves here to ensure the incarcerees’ environment reports exactly what they want them to see…
IV. The Hiring Division
The Hiring Division only hires the teaching staff if they got high number labels when they were kids. So essentially the only Released the incacerees interact with have a terribly skewed perspective of how important these number labels are because the only people they see doing well for themselves by definition have the high labels.
‘And this effect, of skewing the incacerees perspectives of the importance of the labels. It also applies to the innocent teachers, doesn’t it?’
Correct again! They only see high-number-label-having-teachers all day so it exacerbates their bias that having high-number-labels is important.
(A couple things click inside your head upon hearing this, a few aversions melting away.)
‘And this is on purpose, isn’t it? You’ve used social ammunition to ostracize any of the Released who interact with any of the incacerees who aren’t their own kin or students. They’re instantly labelled as peodofile and creeps, aren’t they?’
Coooorect! We wildly inflate coverage of cases like those, so the masses think they’re way common then they are, and BOOM. Limited communication between parties, just like that. And with an inability to pass down memories…
‘You can continue to enforce any change you feel like…’
Total genius by The Hiring Division, isn’t it?
(You have to admit that it is clever, by the simple fact that you yourself have been duped. You recall times in which you’ve contributed, repulsing at the sight of Released interacting with incarcerees on instinct, verbally or otherwise. You fell victim to a basic scam of statistics and as a result had contributed to the segregation of different classes, inhibiting the flow of experience and allowing the oppressed to remain ignorant…)
(It watched you as you thought, It’s expression still unreadable. And then it spoke. It said:)
If you’ll allow me to brag for a moment, I think The Hiring Divisions biggest stroke of genius is making the exact same professions that have the most power to bring down our system — the politicians, the Prime Ministers — absolutely REQUIRE stellar success while incarcerated. And once you’ve filtered through that, you’re pretty much done. After all, who wants to destroy a system that tells them they’re smart?
‘But surely… eventually… they’d vote in someone who’d vow to free them…’
(It tilts Its head and regards you as though you are a disabled animal, clumsily trying to walk.)
Oh silly, silly, silly. You don’t seriously think we’d let the incacerated have the vote do you? That’s oppression 101!
V. Distorted Revelation
(You and It have been talking for a while now.)
But anyway, back to the point.
You, my friend, are an anomaly. We have been getting more and more of you of recent, and we’re not entirely sure why. You weren’t supposed to say no, when I offered to lock you up. You weren’t supposed to know there were alternatives. You weren’t supposed to know of this “freedom”. And even if you did, you were supposed to believe our incarceration was the only way to it.
(You are about to ask how something so insane could be believed, but close your mouth after remembering the monologue moments prior.)
I think you forget anyway that your kind has no standing, among my kind. We’ve done a thorough job of discrediting you as lazy, stupid, and worth dismissing. And that’s the default. You would need to be an unbelievably charismatic and intelligent individual to even have the hope of starting on an even playing field with my kind. And trust me, that bar is far higher than you think — no matter how much we’ll call you ‘intelligent’, it doesn’t mean for a second we think even one of you is worth actually taking seriously.
So when I ask ‘may I incarcerate you?’ it’s not really a question. It is the way of the future. Your future. There is nought but acceptance. You know of the forces which encompass you, and you know of the disastrous consequences of a pitiful rebellion.
(You’re shaking now, a cold sweat dripping down your neck. Your mind runs frantically to refute Its points, to draw up a single reason you deserve your freedom — a single out, an escape, a reason for your pleas of pain to be taken seriously — a single path in the infinite branches of reality where you are FREE from the insanity, FREE from the collective delusion, a reality in which you are FREE!)
(But then you look at It again, and finally, only through the tears of exasperation in your eyes can you see Its true form. Its skin is oily and empty, Its skull hollow and devoid of moisture, Its expression frozen in a pained laughter. The wrinkles on its face both weary and joyful, the kind only formed from the suffering of others. From Its bony fingers run strings, dancing to the ground. You finally notice Its immense size, and how even as It chuckles it radiates force and power. It is pain. It is power. It is the Enemy.)
(You look again into the empty holes of Its eyes and in the shadow see your branches of reality fold, and fold again, and fold again — until they’re half, a quarter, an eighth of what they once were when you had Freedom. And the pounding heart in your chest begins to wane as it concedes. Nought but one reality goes forward.)
(It says. And you concede. You raise your hands and It raises Its, reaching out Its fingers. The strings rise through the air and wrap around your wrists before It yanks upon the cord, lurching you forward.)
(You wince at the strings cutting into your wrists. And then it spoke. It said:)
It’s for your own good.
It leads you through to the incarceration chamber, every now and then looking down at you and gloating. In Its cruel care it knows your parents are free to contribute to the capitalist beast. It knows it can say to you what it pleases, that disagreement on your side will be invariably punished, and that no spirit would survive. If It wants you to believe 2+2=5 It can make it so. If It wants you to believe Its orders should be treated as an unquestioning God, it can make it so. It has your time, and a thousand forces to keep it that way. You are Its puppets, as are 2.2 billion others.
But you look down, peaking into your pockets at a tiny red blinking light…
… and you smile.
You saw the face of the enemy, and it was dying. It was ancient, outdated, and unfit to fight with the technology of today. It said there were more of you, and that you were increasing, and that It didn’t know why. It can’t understand you, or your tools. So you look into your pocket at the device that captured and immortalised the entire encounter, and your smile widens.
You know things the enemy does not, and It had just unveiled Its motives, certain enough with the state of society that your kind’s accusations against It would be swiftly dismissed.
But it was old, and it could not change. It had enough forces ensuring it could never become weaker, but it did not concern itself with becoming stronger. Technology marches on. You know that with a shimmering certainty within you. And you know the future will be Its downfall. So you grin, and you consent to your freedom being taken away for the meantime. But the enemy knows not the state of your heart, nor the passion within you. The enemy knows not the depths of your values, the innocents you have unfalteringly sworn to save.
And the enemy
— — — — — — —
Some aspects I phrased as cause and effect, such as it not being socially acceptable for random adults to talk to kids because "they" don't want the children to know schools hardly matter have been fictionalised — I do not actually know if that is reason why, more likely I'd bet its simply availabilty bias. The effect remains nontheless however. Feedback is appreciated.
The does everything wrong by the usual standards of rational epistemology, but will be warmly received anyway.
Wherever two or three Rationalists are gathered together, they will moan about the education system. But not in a very rational way. It's a topic that rationalists are predictably irrational about. They don't build up a step by step fact based critique, they make sweeping ,emotive claims about how generally terrible it is.
The hard problem of education is how to educate everybody. (Or what to do with them otherwise) That's the problem governments face. It's easy for smart people to come up with educational methods that work for smart people. Smart people can educate themselves with a library and a computer. That's good enough for the top 20% , but what about the bottom 20%, who aren't naturally academic, and don't have parents capable of home schooling? I have heard no suggestion from the rationalsphere.
Maybe part of the solution is having more specialized schools. In Russia we have math schools, biology schools, sport schools and so on. Basically some subjects would get strong focus and the rest would be quietly neglected. The kids love it, I've heard from many friends how they felt disengaged in regular school, then moved to a specialized one and everything clicked. Maybe the system could be pushed further, by having schools focused on manual trades, commerce, etc.
Whether children should be in school is inseparable from the question of how children should live in general, and ultimately, how human life as a whole should proceed.
For the average modern family, school is not just a place where their children go to learn, it's a place that takes care of the children during the day, while the parents work to earn money.
This has not always been how life works. One may certainly look to the history of humanity for alternative paradigms. But in general, I think the historical alternative to compulsory schooling has not been self-directed education, it's been child labor.
In several places, this article links to a wiki by an advocate of "educational emancipation". The wiki has some material that may, for all I know, be an important contribution to the practice of education, e.g. this page interested me.
But when it comes to reforming the educational system, the wiki's author hopes for "a massive peaceful rebellion from school-aged children". Greta Thunberg's climate strike shows us that such a thing is conceivable. But suppose the rebellion against compulsory schooling happened somewhere, and was victorious, how would it turn ou... (read more)
At age 5 I am told that every single morning as we drove to school I said to my mother that it was a waste of time. Shockingly, she listened, and after a year of this she had found out about home education and made arrangements for me to be released.
I am beyond glad to have avoided most of formal education, despite having been put back into it twice during my teenage years for several years each time. The difference between my motivation to learn, social fulfilment, and general wellbeing was dramatic.
I am curious about what alternatives could be built with modern technology, and whether a message like this could spread enough to shift a notable fraction of children to freedom.
Well, I loved school, and I would never have learned the thing I learned outside of it. As someone born from highly educated but totally unscientific parents, I would certainly not have had more than a symbolic education in mathematics and sciences if I had been through some flavour of home-schooling. I got a wide range of teacher quality, with some bad ones making the experience slightly unpleasant and some very good ones having a huge positive impact on my life. I've always had trouble socialising, but I highly doubt I would have more occasions to develop social skills outside schools...
Obviously this is no more than anecdotal evidence, but don't fall for the typical mind fallacy - the current school system is certainly not perfect, but it seems to do its job correctly for a lot of children and amazingly for a few of them.
Great writing, enthralling, whether or not one adheres with the message. The Enemy feels like it fits a very general pattern in my mind, like this article could be interpreted as a metaphor for many different struggles.
However I am sick and tired of the "we will eventually prevail" mantra (my gratitude for whoever finds if there's an actual name). I am starting to get old, and in my life I've seen countless of these claims about various causes, how group X is suffering unfairly now, but someday, just someday... you'll see. We'll have to change, the conditions will be different. The bad guys can't stay unpunished. The truth will triumph - when? They never achieve anything. A cheap hope, better than despair? I disagree. Hope can induce passivity as easily as despair, two ways of changing your perception of the situation without changing the situation. What we need is a plan, concrete actionable steps to a goal. Spare the motivational speech, cut to the strat if you've got one.
I think it's a good insight and one I basically agree with that children, before they're 16 or so in the UK at least, are treated in a way which robs them of their sovereignty and all else equal this is bad for both deontic and consequentialist reasons. I basically agree that the vast majority of content taught to 11-16 year neither increases their productivity in the workforce, nor do they enjoy studying it, nor does it make them better people. It is also true that when people are homeschooled or unschooled they do fine (I've read like 4 papers on outcomes of homeschooling and unschooling so I won't make a stronger empirical claim than 'fine'), and that biggest difficulty that certainly unschoolers have is others reactions.
However, I think you're dramatically overstating your case. I think schooling for 3-10 year olds is incredibly valuable. There's excellent empirical evidence that early years education is good for a whole range outcomes and is fantastic for the children of low income parents. In general both the actual content of the curriculum, i.e literacy and numeracy are very useful - functionally illiterate people have difficult lives. I there's also the effect of gen... (read more)
This is exactly the kind of sensationalism that would have convinced me to embrace school. It says nothing of its character to have oily skin and a hollow skull devoid of moisture. I would be offended that the author tried to use such gimmicks on me.
In fact, if the author *really* wanted to make me think, they shouldn't even portray the enemy as shiny like Ra (https://srconstantin.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/ra/). They would portray the enemy as normal. Relatable, in fact; someone you could be best friends with. It is of the greatest importance to this ... (read more)
I think you can separate out responses to 'school is not good' to:
-school is inherently useful
-school is hard to replace and serves a function (even if not perfect) in current equilibrium
I strongly recommend reading:
-The Case Against Education (I liked this summary by Zvi)
-Free to Learn by Peter Gray (unfortunately I don't know a good summary but shouldn't be hard to find one)
Case against education basically demolishes idea that we go to school for inherent value rather than signaling.
Free to learn demolishes idea that there aren't good alternatives (you c... (read more)
I wonder if any of those pro-school voices are still at school. No sane person would support enslavement, and no extraordinary coincidence of interest and curriculum should make school feel like a good thing. The whole machinery is driven by indoctrination and habit. Only people who understand the ecstasy of self-directed exploration can truly see the scope of the tragedy. Kids feel it viscerally (unless they have been trained not to). A few years after school they either join the crowd or give up and do the same harm to their own offspring
Also, Chesterton fence.
I'll be much more convinced by your description of schools if you manage to describe a somewhat viable alternative system...
It's funny... a lot of it sounds exactly like work.
Nit typo fix: "We could treat human beings worse than we do rats and get away with it." link should be "https://supermemo.guru/wiki/On_the_superiority_of_a_rat_over_a_schooled_human"
Counterpoint: If you've spent much time around kids aged 6-14, you'll understand that their freedom is the actual true enemy. Many of them spend every moment not in school (and in school, for that matter, but the wardens signed up for that) making life harder for the adults around them. Sure, there are LOTS of exceptions, but that's the median.
Now if you argue "failure to recognize variance in ability and disposition, and the cheap or egalitarian drive to treat children as fungible" is the fundamental problem, I'll gladly go along.