Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Neural pathways, Power and Society

Beliefs and Behaviour Patterns are Neural Pathways that have Become Hardened.

As the brain is growing and forming in the young child, with each new experience a new neural pathway is created, and as those experiences are repeated that pathway or sets of pathways get used repeatedly. Thus certain pathways will become ‘well-worn’ or ‘hardened’.

This is necessary, and is how, for example, learning to ride a bike gets to a point where one does not need to think about it. The thinking during repeated training has formed enough of a pathway series to carry out all the various task required to maintain balance, note direction, read the ground and so on. Without having to think about it, whilst retaining the ability to respond to subtle changes.


In this way the child learns and stores vital skills, such as control of her/his limbs, balance, co-ordination and so on.

We know that it takes about 10,000 hours of training to become competently fluent on say a given musical instrument so that one is a 'virtuoso', (indeed any particular skill/talent) that is then viewed, in our culture, as ‘pretty damn good’.

This applies to physical action as much as thought processes.

We know that children learn much quicker when their learning is self-directed, and that the enthusiasm of the child is a major factor in driving what they will learn.

We know that infants and very young children learn at rapid rate, way beyond what is learned in later life, at university and as ones ‘career’ develops.

It stands to reason that this learning ability is a biological imperative. The child in nature has much to learn, much that is essential for self-reliance and thus survival or as I like to say ‘thrivival’, and not a huge amount of time to do it in. Can it be that natures learning driver is pleasure, or ease or an aura of empathy?

What is obvious to me, and to many others, is this : this mode of learning cannot be improved in any way by any artifice!

Typically indigenous peoples children are fully competent by age 6.

That is to say they are no longer utterly dependent and are considered an asset to their community. It is common for older children to care for the younger children, and there is much learning that is passed from child to child, rather than from adult to child. That adult to child sharing comes later, as the child approaches young adulthood.

To give you an idea of just how much a typical indigenous person will learn, I have seen estimates of a comparison of the botanical knowledge of a rain forest dweller compared to that of a European university trained botanist. The estimate suggests that the indigenous forest dweller contains the equivalent of 35 botanists with 15 years experience each!

That goes way beyond anything we in the West now consider an ‘expert’ or’ virtuoso’. Who is learning what? What is being taught?

Given this amazing learning ability and the imaginal intentional capacity of the natural human being, what are the implications for the natural child in a typical industrial society school environment?

Immediately arises the question of how much time does a child spend in a school environment as opposed to the real world (which is where the natural child’s learning is logically based)?

What does the loss of that real-world learning mean for the natural child being westernised, industrialised?

Given the general tendency within indigenous peoples to respect the unique personal entity, to embrace diversity and independence along side interdependence, what does the current practice of the 'teaching' of ‘belief systems’ imply for the natural child? And what does that imply for society?

The Roots of Modern Compulsory State Education

To answer these questions, in the context of a western styled education, one has to go to the roots of that system and seek out the inspiration for it. John Taylor Gatto has done that in great detail in his phenomenal work, “The Underground History of American Education”. I will give a brief description here, culled from his book.

The initial inspiration for Western Mass Schooling, or Compulsory State Education, came from observations ,by the British Empire in India, of the Hindi Rote System of education devised for the lower classes within the Hindi system. It was an Anglican Military Chaplain who first observed and understood how this system worked. His name was Andrew Bell.

What he saw and understood was that by gathering the children into large groups, where they had to learn drills by rote, where corporal punishment was widely used, where there was a number of powerful external imperatives to show that one had learned, (could repeat the scriptures, perform the rituals, read the texts, understood one's place in Hindi Society, embodied the concepts of class and so on) the Hindi Caste system had created a psychologically solid state and class structure that had endured for thousands of years, and had resisted the British in spite of the British technological superiority in sea faring and in warfare.

Indeed there was meeting of minds in that the elites of both cultures recognised each other, and thus the British Raj, an accommodation of equals, both ruling their respective masses. The older was to refine the younger. And this was driven largely by commercial interests.

The Hindi Class System

An ancient civilisation, one which had propsered peacefully for millenia, The Political Structure of the Hindi Caste system, at the time of the English invasion of India, looked a bit like this :

Top 5% of three groups : in Order of Power : Brahmin's (priests and the professions), Warriors and Administrators, Merchants and Land Cultivators

Lower 95% of two groups : Menials, and Untouchables.

The Brahmin's ensured that the warriors, administrators and the bulk of the leaderships received a diluted insight into the drivers of this system, so that they alone retained overall control.

The lower 95% received the mass schooling, administered by teachers, who drilled student leaders, who then drilled hundreds of students, in groups of ten or so, all of this in large single rooms. The entire operation of each school was directed by a single Brahmin.

And all this because the belief systems were so entrenched by the time the child was 7 or so, ‘hardwired’ if you will, the overall system of the Hindi centralised power was secure.

“The entire purpose of the Hindu (Western Compulsion) Schooling was to preserve the class system.”

At the time there was no formalised education in the British Empire, apart from the few elite schools and colleges. The peasant yeomanry were to a large degree self educated. Home schooled. The recent move from peasant yeomanry to factory and mine worker had transformed the British Empire, though there was stiff resistance to this move, as the yeomanry/peasant came from a background of liberty and dignity. The Luddites were literate and clearly understood the what the coming factory system implied. The loss of their lands via The Enclosure Acts was a coercive move, designed to drive them into factories. Read E E Thompson's fine work "The Making of The English Working Class" for a detailed look at who, how and why this process developed. One of the most striking aspects of this was the way Methodism dove-tailed with the interests of the factory owners in conditioning compliant factory workers to acceptance of their lot as good!

The first expression of this kind of schooling arose from a complete mis-understanding , and can be found in the Lancaster Schools of England. Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, was inspired by an account written by Bell in 1797 of the Hindi system. Bell had made it clear that such a system was an effective impediment to learning, and created in it’s subjects a docility perfectly suited to mass production labour. Lancaster missed this, and concluded that it would be cheap way to awaken intellect in the lower classes. A classic case of a genuine do-gooder who missed the point completely.

Sparta : The Legend of the 300

The rest as they say is History. The History of Compulsory State Education Systems, … Do not confuse the system with the people on the ground, and their varying motivations. Like all centrally managed industrial processes the Education System depends utterly upon predictability. Predictable processes, predictable results, predictable products. And management ignore the effluent, the waste, they hide it from view, they dump it or they recycle it. They get state subsidies to deal with the waste?

Business psychology. Bullying. Quite not the exciting feel of the 'illuminati' etc etc.... Banal truth.

I would add here that the inspiration for Western Military Training came from the legendary Spartan Culture, and within that the concept of the militarisation of an entire culture was perfected. This was what drove the tiny Prussian State from near collapse, to become one of Europe's most feared fighting machines and thus a mighty Empire. That was where the first 'kindergartens' were crafted. The logic was impeccable. And it was the Prussian system that refined Compulsory State Education as we know it. It was American, French, German and English Coal and Steel Barons, and their paid Educators who were most inspired by the Prussian Military success at Waterloo.

I highly recommend J T Gatto’s work. He unveils much about the history of the project for a world wide state sponsored system of compulsory education for the masses, and it has ever since defined the nature of our society and it’s ills. Gatto's work will both shock and reward the reader many, many times.


So now that we have looked to the core inspiration, we can ask what are the implications for a natural child in a typical western school environment? Lets take a look at what happens to that child.

1. They are cut off from the real world experience, from the wider community and segregated from their parents.

2. They are forced into un-natural groupings, according to age and ‘ability’ to conform.

3. They are required to ‘learn’ what they are told to learn, which really means to memorise texts provided by the teachers, who have been given these texts by other unseen administrators of the system.

4. Failure to learn leads to punishment.

Early schooling is about learning to respond appropriately to authority. Obedience is inculcated, and becomes hard-wired in the first three years of primary school, as a direct result of' schooling'. Irrespective of how kind the teacher, how colourful the class room, the responses to authority are learned and internalised, and remain throughout the child's 'education' and into adult life. (These days the State wants your children even earlier!)

Thus the child learns that his or her own interests do not matter unless they get approval from the teachers. Their parents, having been through the same process, continue the training at home, unaware of what they are doing, innocently drawn into this process, because they are for the most part unaware of these processes.

Under these circumstances, the child will therefore of course choose an interest to follow within the scope of what is offered, this in order for the psyche to survive, and will become ever more dependent upon external approvals.

The child will have to become devious, self-limiting and reactive to external cue driven stimuli because they are expected to NOT MAKE MISTAKES, (such is the nature of rote learning) and what we know from nature is that making a mistake, observing it and correcting it, (an internal feedback loop) is an essential part of the natural learning process. Once that is disabled, then self motivated learning is all but impossible.

Conditioning and Control

All of this conditions the child in ways that make them ‘ideal’ for working in factories and bureaucracy's. Both are situations that demand a certain 'inhumanity' of the worker or clerk. Boxes must be ticked, time cards stamped, targets met. The stick is the possible loss of one's job... the carrot is 'security'. An ability to shut down key feeling centres is the core ability sought by corporations, military and police forces and bureaucracies.

The childs teachers and the childs parents have all been through and accepted this system, and this further isolates the child, for there is no-one to talk to who understands what is happening.

Those that ‘do not fit in’ or give up are then channelled towards unskilled labour or roles such as the rank and file of the military and the police. The system has a use for all.

And then finally there’s those who rebel, or those who become severely damaged by this system and thus become ‘drop-outs’ , whose chances of getting a ‘good job’ are diminished … they are demonised, and held up as a frightening example to the others.

Of course this process has varying rates of success....

Not everyone is equally effected. Some escape. Officers and Political Leaders, those who do not escape, are most often drawn from the better schools and colleges, or from a carefully screened few who work their way up the ranks, each move up being dependent upon a demonstrable willingness to comply with the directives of the system.


In essence this is all about the control of meaning, of replacing inner meaning with received meaning, thus shutting the gate on the possibility of inner meaning arising as a threat to the established meaning. What this means is that the children develop belief systems about their abilities, about their place in society and indeed about their society itself (these beliefs are embedded in the texts of the subjects they are taught/forced to learn in school) by constant repetition. These beliefs become hard wired, neural pathways, and become a sort of ersatz identity, one that is defensive and quite resistant to alteration - held in place by fear.

And that is the nature of belief systems, state and commercial control, in a nut shell.

Protest as A Safety Valve

That is why 20 million taxpaying adults will allow a Government to rip them off, time and time again, to send their sons and daughters to war, to manufacture and then drop bombs on other peoples who have been demonised in media and statements by politicians who know the depth of the conditioning, given their role in that conditioning process, all this in spite of a nagging sense that somehow it’s not right!

This is why some people will read one newspaper and others another, and they will sit in a pub, or on a TV panel, or in a Legislative Assembly and debate the issues, repeating what they have read, thinking all the time that their debates are genuinely based upon their own unique understandings and particular viewpoints, rather than share experienced knowledge culled from the wider world and information they have gleaned for themselves so as to enlighten each other. In debates, the winner takes all!

This is why people with strong beliefs are often impervious to anything that counters the basis for or adherence to those beliefs. This is why so many people fail to engage their hearts and minds with the increasingly urgent issues we are all faced with.

This is why the ‘new age’ leads to ideologues, fantasists and sectarian divides, because of this mode of reading and repeating what one has read. Original thinking is all but obliterated, and where it exists, it is limited to ‘invention’, ‘fashion’, ‘art’ and literature and corralled into a world that is carefully structured by this whole process. Thus the majority of people become mere repositories of belief.

TV and Advertising work because of this very fact.

Processed and less than optimum foods don’t help matters either.

A Violent System

What has to be understood is that this system was imposed, is still imposing itself and is inherently violent - as is the nature of the city state and industrialism as we know them. The natural child is robbed of his or her innate sensory acuity, and is practically blinded by this process, made emotionally blind because the child has to suppress his or her natural anger at this imposition in order to survive.

On top of this, parenting practices handed down over the years, from the elites, have made violence an acceptable mode of training. As Alice Miller points out a child who has been beaten or humiliated all the while being told by those they are dependent upon, those whose love they require for their own psychic development,’that this is for your own good’ must believe that admonishment, and will in turn do the same to their own children.

It was in 1998 that corporal punishment was outlawed in English Schools. At the same time, to counter that, increased testing was introduced - and we know that this increased testing has not led to an increased intellectual ability in our children. Schools were driven to meet targets in order to secure funding, and so the teachers role become that of a trainer for testing, rather than an educator. The system is designed so that tinkering with it appears to bring novel change, yet the core underlying dynamics remain in place and the power structures retain their over arching power.

This is what the various mainstream movements for peace, for liberty, for ecologically sound cultures have failed to grasp - that this conditioning permeates our society, creates a mass emotional blindness, and is the basis for all the violence of states, corporations, warlords, wifebeaters, thugs and bullies. and the tacit compliance of ordinary people. And unless unravelling this conditioning process is included in the work of these movements, up front and in yer face, it is unlikely that they will be successful.

The issues are all encapsulated in this : that the adult world manipulates the minds and hearts of children for their desires and wants, irrespective of the inherent, natural and essential psychic needs of the child.

End that condtioning, and much of the violence of states etc will vanish, as people grow up with their empathy intact, as people refuse to comply, refuse to accept the justifications and adverse behaviour of Governments, of the Military Industrial Complex, of the Establishment. End that conditioning, let the children learn as naturally as they can, and they will find the solutions - as Einstein noted "“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”" and "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”

Yes we can, and only we can do it!

If all this seems a bit too much or unlikely, than don't take my word for it. Explore the issues I have highlighted, do your own research, check in with your own experiences and inner sensing, and decide for yourself.

A spontaneous perfomance that attempts to frame some of these ideas for an audience

Kindest regards


Do what you love, it's your gift to universe

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Ruth Hogg said...

Nice eloquent piece of writing Cornelius.
(Just to let you know it says the video is no longer available)
I do agree with you and my answer is "integration, infiltration".
By that I mean that it is important that an alternative to these power structures exists and exists in the format that we collectively agree is as close as we can get to its ideal state. Ie set up systems of self education, group education, collective home schooling, all forms of alternative education, which are not restricted or controlled by the dominant political system.
However alongside this we need to infiltrate the current education system... to be good teachers in secondary schools, to inspire children to take charge of their own learning, to encourage children to observe and question.
I think of my A level Art teacher in school. He encouraged me to do just that, to follow the type of Art which made me excited. I got an E for my Art A level, but had the confidence to apply to Art College for Art Foundation. (Got further inspired by good teachers there and now passed art degree and opening an art gallery)
Other friends of mine got As for their Art A levels but were put off for life.
Anyway...thanks for a bit of education!
Ruth Hogg

corneilius said...

Cheers Ruth. I agree with your'infiltration' as a tactic, more to encourage the children, than change the system itself. Because the system is designed to resist fundamental change. Susch is the nature of the dysfunctional ego state. Defensive.

As long as we integrate what we are learning about how people can learn to converse, share info and make decisions at grass roots levels, and apply that, then we can create an alternative, one that emerges rather than is led.

corneilius said...

Ivan Illyich used the phrase 'conviviality' to express the kinds of self organised learning and community processes Ruth describes above.

He wrote a fine book, "Tools for Conviviality" outlining his ideas.

It's available on-line for free, as he would have wanted it to be: