The Golden Gulag


There is a brilliant article in “Quillette” [here] on “The Demoralization of the American Teacher” by Shane Trotter recounting  stories from the Apocalypse of what is commonly referred to as education. As in many such cases, the comments section contains even better material.  This example, from C.D. Eastmannagle, I include in its entirety for your edification as it cannot be improved on… 


What is refreshing about this dismal story is that it is not couched in traditional categories of political positioning, but merely recounting the processes and practices that over two to three generations have compound degraded educational outcomes across the system.

In my own life, I am old enough to remember that school classrooms were regularly inspected by state educational regulators to ensure that the set curriculum was being taught at an adequate standard that would guarantee that a child would have the skills to proceed to the next year level. Further, just as teachers were held to account, they in their turn did not hesitate to keep children down a year if it was felt they would not meet that standard, and they would have to endure the humiliation of being left in ‘the remove’ class. And the classroom discipline could be tough on anyone not doing what was expected of them.
I watched all that being rapidly delegitimized as the baby boomer generation moved into the education system and started to ‘challenge’ notions of traditional social authority and treating students more like ‘equals’. The ‘conservative old farts’ who objected to this were just shouted down and shunted aside…ho hum.

I watched classroom governance, curriculum and performance supervision steadily disintegrate, and teacher so called ‘training’. turned into ideological rhetoric and posturing. I watched the bureaucratic compliance, ‘community engagement’ and curriculum re-invention industries blossom with ‘progressive’ ideas that always seemed so promising up front, but disappeared like desert wadis into meaningless educational dead ending. And the stress levels for classroom teachers climbed to the point that they started snapping from the exhaustion and battery of it.

I got out in the mid ’80s and felt physically lighter when at last it was really over and enjoyed over a decade as a real estate agent instead. I went back in the early noughties just to check out the educational milieu as emergency teacher. Things had deteriorated.

When confronted with an out-of-control kid who kept disrupting my classes, I got the principal involved. He told me that I needed to ‘give myself an escape route’ with unruly children. I replied that it used to be the case that it was the recalcitrant child who needed one…I went back to limousine driving for the local casino…

So why did this terrible transformation happen? I have watched a whole cultural tradition literally disintegrate in front of me and being replaced with half assed schlock. Why?

Even while I was at university during the mid sixties to early seventies I knew something big and terrible was going on, but just could not put my finger on it, and spent the rest of my life trying to figure it out, which I finally started to do while waiting for jobs in a limousine driver’s room, starting in the mid nineties, and began to write ‘The Secular Fundamentalist’.

What I had not realized at university in the early seventies when we started to hear about Friedmanite Chicago school corporate social responsibility denial, that would drive the multi national company push for the deregulation and privatization of the nation state and a world without ‘trade inhibiting’ rules and borders, exactly the same thing was going on inside the emerging bureaucracies, pedagogy and media outlets of social administration, as the disciplines arising from a rational hierarchy of needs and wants gave way to fantasies of desire and immediate satiation at any price, as freedom and the civil responsibility of citizens that underpinned it gave way to unconditional rights and entitlement of customers.

What I was witnessing was the roll out of Indulgence Capitalism that would eviscerate fundamental axioms of belief in favor of marketed perception, the disintegration of other regarding rules based behavior in favor of spontaneous narcissism, and the removal of moral and intellectual boundaries/objective referencing that would lead to the hegemony of postmodernism and the rule of emotion and feeling over reason, evidence and overview…that would eventually destroy personal autonomy software in favor of the persistent voices in people’s heads
I enclose below part of the introduction to that book…

In 1517, an obscure academic monk called Martin Luther did what seemed impossible. He unwittingly started a massive two hundred-year political-religious upheaval whose echoes can still be felt today.

The trigger for this maelstrom was his objection to the sale of ‘Indulgences’. These religious instruments enabled sinners to buy their way out of the consequences of their negative behavior in this life, in the next. The Church Establishment of his day profited immensely from this sales practice. However, he felt it defeated the quest for salvation. For him, this institutionalized attempt to buy off God meant that the redemptive value of all well intended Good Works and Worthy Behavior had been hopelessly compromised. Only blind faith in His mercy, grace and forgiveness gave any hope for the deeply faulted character that is inherent in every one of us.

In its day this message had enormous resonance.

Today, Indulgence has become embedded into the foundations of our economy and culture in ways that Luther could have hardly imagined. As much as it did in Luther’s time, self indulgence and the indulgence of others equally subverts and damages us. We no longer try to buy off God. Instead, we try it on ourselves, family and friends, and the wider community. We try to buy salvation through goods and services satisfactions, but the more we fail, the harder we try to make them give what they cannot deliver.

Self-deception, lies and false hopes however are only the beginning. Systematically giving in to every desire and whim gives rise to an economic system that ravishes everything it touches in its efforts to feed a bottomless pool of demand and entitlement. We no longer end up in an afterlife purgatory. We have a self-designing and dynamically evolving form of hell that colonizes us in the here and now. It is a Golden Gulag (a reference to the Soviet political prison system). It is so overwhelming it absorbs everything, including our best intentions and Good Works.

Salvation and redemption can therefore still only be achieved by blind faith that one can do what seems to be impossible, which is to somehow escape its power.

The Golden Gulag (a reference to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s stories about the Soviet prison camp system) is a concentration camp for the prisoners of desire. Unlike its predecessors, the facilities are very comfortable and copiously supplied, but its processes are exactly the same. It is a feedlot that takes many multiples of the value extracted from the victims of the Nazi SS or Soviet NKVD. Its victims are destroyed by their labor and starved of existential nourishment until all that is left are ghosts. Despite the pretty facades of the buildings, the well kept roads and gardens, the orderly administration and quality entertainments, it is a charnel house. It feasts on the living world for its fuel, debouches an acrid odor of burning flesh and leaves behind mountains of the charred remains of our needs and wants.

Inside the Gulag, people enslave themselves and each other to intensely engineered passions, unbridled egoism and pathological levels of overproductivity and consumption. They are persuaded to abandon the domesticity and community sociability that not only existentially secures them and their intimates, but also constructs them as adult characters. Adolescence breaks out of its age niche to become a toxic mainstream force that paralyzes adult consciousness and critical thinking.

Within the Gulag, freedom, human rights and indulgence seamlessly merge to benignly disempower the inmates in ways repression never could, thus binding them all the more tightly to their voluntary destruction. Liberalism has been elevated into a powerful orthodoxy, but at the price of denuding it of the discipline that made it work as an independent social ideology. It has been reduced to a cruel parody of itself in return for its role in masking the more negative aspects of the Gulag’s operations. Its control of our social welfare, educational and legal establishments has become as corrupted as it is incompetent.

Humanist libertarchs hang around the civil gateways of indulgence capital, delegitimize what is left of a social commons, its discipline and the authority vested in it, and provide unconditional, excuse rich and all inclusive absolution for the lumpen proletariat, the sexual underworlders, the picaresque edge dwellers in the valley of the shadow of marginalisation and those still in denial about responsible moral agency. At least in the sixteenth century unreconstructed sinners had to pay up front to avoid damnation. Not anymore, with the special all-you-can-eat-don’t-have-to-pay-til-next-year offers you just cannot refuse.

All that freebie get-out-of-jail-pass-go inclusivity is now absorbed and co-opted into a giant theatre of fantasies posing as wants, evolving into needs and apotheosing into rights, because the customer is always right, ready for the masters of business administration to orchestrate the real business of uncontrolled spending and inconsequential behavior on the never never…whether international banker or humbleton credit card hound…indefinitely, as if the future will never come, because we can put it off.

This Gulag is not an autocracy. It is self-regulating. There are no guards or fences. The prisoners cannot bring themselves to leave. They have not been arrested or deported there. They have been driven in by proudly sponsored visions of paradise.

The Gulag is a revolutionary and totalitarian organism in all the worst and grossest senses of those words. No goal it ever sets itself is ever enough for long. No amount of force or institutionalized violence could possibly accomplish the extent of those goals. However, selling and marketing can. Thus even the most pathologically insane values, aspirations and ideological assertion can be readily turned into middle-of-the-road, state of the art and reasonable. And while the organism assiduously purveys an image of concern for the value of life and property, like all its revolutionary predecessors, it too eats its children.

The culture of the Gulag is characterized by the language of ‘Doublethink’ (conceptual conflation), ‘Hollowthink’ (vacuous aphorisms, stereotypes and clichés) and ‘Childthink’ (adolescent consciousness), revolutionary enthusiasm, institutionalized veneration of icons, personality cults, privatized, massively budgeted and science driven propaganda ministries, ever intensifying productivity and compliance requirements, systematic white anteing of pre-Revolutionary values and institutions and an agenda of nothing less than the complete reconstruction of the individual and society for the maximizing of production and consumption outcomes.

The Gulag blunts the inmates’ critical capacity to tell the difference between ‘discrimination’ and discernment, ‘humanity’ and species narcissism, ‘dignity’ and caricature, ‘rights’ and consumer entitlement, ‘inclusion’ and opportunistic colonization, ‘humanistic compassion’ and an indiscriminate soft touch, ‘freedom’ and disinhibited life without boundaries, ‘authoritarianism’ and firmness, ‘justice’ and sectional interest, ‘fairness’, special pleading and excuse making, ‘tolerance’ and indulgence, ‘respect’ and unjustified regard, ‘compromise’ and being compromised, ‘flexibility’ and weakness, ‘concern for ‘the value of human life’ and cowardice, ‘dissent’ and treason, ‘repression’ and discipline, ‘assault’ and chastisement, ‘abuse’ and toughness, and ‘violence’ and the legitimate use of force.

Distinguishing ‘disadvantage’ and dysfunctional willfulness, ‘personality’ and moral character, ‘individualism’ and egoism, ‘helpless disempowerment’ and passive fecklessness, ‘impoverishment’ and a frugal life, ‘misfortune’ and inconsequential thinking, ‘judgmentally’ and and the ordinary exercise of judgement became all but impossible.

‘Love’ conflates with lust and eroticism, biological sex with sexual political gender, ‘sexuality’ with identity (sexistentialism), vilificatory hate/phobia with principled reproductive consciousness, and sexual ‘alternativism’ with sexual error/corruption, parody, infantilism and/or cruelty.

‘Equality’ conflates into creative equivalencing that legitimizes reward for the incompetent, promotion of the unqualified, penalizing the industrious, and in the name of equality, exploiting the unequal (especially the young) by getting them to compete as ‘equals’ out of their league against stronger players who control the rules of the game against them.

In the Gulag, failure, poor behavior and dysfunctional values are denied, smoothed away and no one’s fault because better judgement was discombobulated by larger social forces. If it were their fault, they didn’t mean it. If they did, they couldn’t help it. If they could, it seemed like a good idea at the time, because everyone else was doing it. Even if it weren’t, it was just ill luck that it turned out badly; shit happens. And they have to be cut a bit of slack, because hell, they are ‘disadvantaged’ and/or ‘misunderstood’ poor things who need uncritical empathy rather than be held to account.

The Gulag production system originated from the initially temporary expedients of total war. These have now been adopted and re-engineered by industrial ‘war machines’ for marketing assaults on civil shop troops. They have turned episodic war production into permanently institutionalized ‘production warfare’ by systematically overproducing and then ‘wasting’ goods and services onto market ‘battlefields’. At a profound level, it no longer makes any difference what sort of battlefield is being fought over or whether the munitions are poison gas or air freshener.

The damage inflicted by traditional warfare and modern productivity is gradually becoming indistinguishable. The costs of this damage, both tangible and intangible, are externalized out of the accounting system. Even the most merciless and rapacious looting of off balance sheet capital accounts are never disclosed. Thus this system now conceals vast accumulated ‘invisible’ losses that will eventually bankrupt a great part of our institutionally organized, existential, cultural and ecological capital bases.

Obesity and cancer are not just medical blights, but metaphors for our age. Damage to healthy tissue through excessive feeding and developmental bloating, over-replication, and aggressive metastasizing are pictured as fabulous success stories, even as they kill their hosts. The Gulag is death, not just for us, but the life force itself.’

Rebel Yell

Ken Moore

To smoothly aged insight: Are you interested in cross-posting to a website, shades of days? I’m looking for ideas to give it reach and suggestions for other people to contact. We exchanged a couple emails a dozen years ago. Ken Moore (skeleton of the proposed site) (my usual stomping grounds).