Emancipate Yourselves from Mental Slavery

by Kevin Carson

A reader of one of my previous columns (“Another Stupid Remark from Mitt — But Who’s Counting,” C4SS Sept. 10, 2011 ) published in a local newspaper complained that the Center for a Stateless Society is “a far-left organization that promotes worker radicalism and anarchy.” But characterizing a position as “far-left” or “promoting worker radicalism and anarchy” isn’t the same as answering it on grounds of logic and evidence.

By definition, any characterization of where arguments fall on the political spectrum takes for granted a tacit assumption of the reference point considered “mainstream” or “centrist.” And by definition, whatever is classified as “mainstream” or “centrist” in any system of power falls within the range of positions that are compatible with preserving that system of power. Any “reform” that involves tinkering around the edges of a power structure without fundamentally changing it, and can be implemented by the same classes of people who are running the present system, will be classified as “moderate.” Any proposal that involves changing the fundamental structure of power and disempowering the groups that run it will be called “radical.”

Any system includes a cultural reproduction apparatus that tends to create the kinds of “human resources” who accept as normal and given the structure of power under which they live.

But bear in mind that the corporate-state power structure didn’t come about naturally or spontaneously. It came about through the conscious, massive application of political power over the past 150 years. From the Gilded Age on, the state intervened massively in the market to create a society dominated by giant, centralized organizations like government agencies and corporations, and later by centralized state education, large universities, and nonprofit foundations. When this state-created and state-subsidized centralized industrial economy became plagued with chronic excess capacity and underconsumption, the state turned toward policies to keep it going. This included a domestic economy centered on federal spending to absorb surplus capital through such massive state spending projects as the Interstate Highway System, a military-industrial complex that ate up huge amounts of surplus industrial output, and a foreign policy aimed at forcibly incorporating the markets and resources of the entire planet as a sink for surplus capital and output.

At the time the system was being imposed by the state, there was large-scale resistance by a general population that didn’t accept it as normal. From the 1870s through WWI, a major part of the population refused to accept as normal a situation in which they worked as wage labors for large authoritarian hierarchies. Movements such as the farm populist movement and the Knights of Labor amounted to a near-insurrection, and such measures as the post-Haymarket repression and Cleveland’s suppression of the Pullman Strike constituted a counter-revolution.

After the insurrection was defeated, the white-collar bureaucrats controlling corporate and state hierarchies adopted an educational system aimed at processing people who accepted the structure of power as normal. The official public education movement, advocates of “100% Americanism,” and the like, aimed at creating “human resources” who were “adjusted” to accept authoritarianism and hierarchy as normal, and to “comply” with any orders coming from an apparatchik behind a desk — whether in a classroom, factory, or government office.

And they succeeded quite well, as exemplified by this reader.

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

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One response to “Emancipate Yourselves from Mental Slavery

  1. It is true that the left/right wing dichotomy is the fallacy of ad hominem. So are moderate, extreme and the like.
    It is not clear that the state did not come about naturally, or even what “naturally means here. We are told that the current system involved a use of political power over the last 150 years but it is not clear why that rules out nature. Violence looks natural enough. The state itself is way older that 150 years so many people might think the use of it natural over the last 150 years.
    It is true that we have never had a completely free market so far.
    It is not easy to see that workers who worked for giant firms did not thereby endorse what they did. Did they think it unnatural? Maybe. Cities are not a state of nature but, again, it is not clear what natural means here.
    The author moans that market uses all parts of the earth as if he imagines that would not be the case after we have got rid of the state. It is not clear what he means by surplus capital. The market is a global system. .
    The author uses null set terms like the crass Romantic term “revolution”. Presumably he means some riot or other. Yet the author suggests that it is his readers that might clear their minds a bit.
    What sort of activity can we expect to find from the Knights of labour? I presume it will be some sort of Romantic violence. Do I err when I think that?
    We are told that they attempted a revolution but were put down by a counter-revolution that needed to get the state accepted in schools in the aftermath.
    The state is not accepted owing to the schools. Most seem to over rate the schools but why do they not go on their own experience & recall how backward the schools are? I went to five of them [three in a short time owing to a road accident at 11 but long enough to see they taught little].
    That the state exists, and has existed for a long time, is the major thing that gets it accepted by the people not what was taught or not taught in the state schools.
    In any case, they did not need to be told that the state gives orders in its schools and in government offices was normal, as it could be seen as a norm by anyone who looked. They also got orders at the factory they worked at, but they were paid to obey them.
    It is not clear what the author means by the slogan: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.” It is clear that he thinks in unrealistic terms over the Knights of labour.. I would say that our minds are free enough but most people do think that the current set-up is basically normal, if not natural. They know a bit about the “crisis” of 2007, which is still in the news, but not much, and they are bored by it anyway. Most things are ticking over roughly right, it seems to them. The main problem for liberal is just this apathy or boredom on the part of most people. But in the post state society they may still work for big business. In any case this apathy is not owing to an unfree mind. If anything, I’d say the average person has a clearer mind than our author.