In my last post I outlined the formation of and consequences of the western economic system, specifically how work that people are coerced into doing produces within them the desire to spend their free time in mindless activity. It doesn’t matter what type of coercion is used, whether it’s a Soviet system of the supreme authority of the state, or the western system of rewards. In both systems people are not motivated by their own personal choice, but rather by societal forces. “Work how we tell you to, or you are a traitor!” Our society is similar to such Soviet dogma. Our school system tells children that the only way to be a good member of society is to do what you are told. Sure we don’t tell this to them directly, but the grades they receive and the subsequent praise or criticism they receive is all they need to hear to get the idea. Either way, the motivation is coming from an external source.
Any type of outside coercion will create a barrier in an individual between their natural drives and their ability to act. Once our required work is done, we will not pursue our natural drives because we feel “we have exerted ourselves enough for the day”. “I deserve a break after all that work.” Such an attitude is in no way “bad” or lazy. It is a necessary consequence of acting on an external motivation. Without such a break from activity one would not be able to return to doing an activity that is motivated externally. Externally motivated activity requires the reward of mindless activity (or a break from real activity). Otherwise, no one would be willing to put up with coercion.
So what can we do to reverse the trend of increasing amount of time spent on mindless activity? I believe the best answer lies in Education. The purpose of education should be to allow an individual to find a place in society. Modern education has lost sight of its purpose and strayed from its chief use to man. It has been a wonderful achievement of the past century that every individual has been given the opportunity to fill whatever role they prove themselves capable of. However, because of the coercive measures schools use to teach students, this benefit is by far outweighed by the harm that this system causes. This coercion creates students who spend their free in mindless activity. It follows that they will see their job only as a means for continuing this existence; the better the job, the more time they have to pursue whatever mindless activity draws their interest. Thus, to them whether their work contributes to society or not is insignificant. Their motivation for work is the external desire for mindless activity; a desire which was conditioned into them due to the coercion of the classroom.
The new system of education must be one which excludes the use of any type of external motivation or coercion. It should allow students to be motivated solely by their own interest in a subject without any fear of punishment or criticism, while still providing them with the opportunity to learn about every sphere of society. I believe this vision would best be accomplished if public schools (at least K-12) were to stop recording grades. Without any threat of consequence for poor work, all outside compulsion would be eliminated from the classroom. Students would still have the opportunity to learn the skills needed for whatever job the wished to have, but they would no longer be coerced into gaining these skills. The result would be that people would work in the sphere in which they thought they could contribute the most to society rather than in order to fill their desire for mindless activity. Not only this, but students will be able to learn at the right pace and will be able to gain a more complete understanding of the subjects they choose to study.
There are, of course, many issues that I still must address. What is the best way to insure people are properly qualified to do their job? Would not being forced to learn affect people’s ability to be able to pass certification tests? What about students who aren’t interested in learning anything in school? My quick responses would be that people may have more to learn going into a field, but would be better able to become good workers in that field, since they approach the work in the right way. And I would also claim that forcing students who aren’t interested to learn probably does more harm than just allowing them to be not interested, even though this may result in some people who don’t learn basic arithmetic, reading skills, etc.
I believe the elimination of recorded grades as means to evaluate an individual’s economic worth is a desperately needed reform in our society. Such a reform would destroy the root of much of our society’s anxiety related problems and allow individuals the freedom to develop a productive orientation in their lives. In order for such a change to happen, a large number people first need to become aware of the need for and the potential benefits of the change. Change occurs when individuals understand and react to the social forces which face them. The sooner that individuals react properly to the social forces of coercion, the sooner our society will be able to recover from the decay that is being caused.
For further reading on issues similar to the one I discussed here, I highly recommend To Have or To Be and The Art of Being both by Erich Fromm which sparked many my ideas for this essay.