Mass education of populations, originally developed as a means of improving the military readiness of the population in an era of mass conscription, has developed into a tool for the preparation of mass bureaucratic labor forces. Because mass conscription has lost its military relevance and has lost the political support of Western elites, education has turned into a sort of vestigial bureaucracy mostly dedicated towards its own survival and expansion.
The modern education system developed as a response to the military and political innovations of Napoleon. In America, their character was also shaped by the desire of Protestant denominations to exercise social control over the burgeoning Catholic population.
Today, most mass education advocates downplay the original institutional motives. Instead, they talk about education being a combination of a way for children to become ‘fully-formed’ individuals, prepare them for the labor market, and make them into good citizens. On the left, it’s openly considered a means of inculcating right political thinking. The standards that educational institutions hold students to are bureaucratic standards rather than other standards. The chief expectation is that it will prepare people for a life of either paperwork or academia rather than manual or artisan work — especially as courses like home economics and shop class have fallen out of fashion and lost status.
Standard education is also a force for increasing labor fungibility — which is to say that one laborer of a certain academic class can be substituted for another, rather than different laborers being so specialized that it be reflected in their surname, as was the case before the era of mass mobilization.
What’s important about developing a bureaucrat is creating the correct emotional temperament. It doesn’t have much to do with cultivating excellence, because the presence of excellence tends to be disruptive to any bureaucratic setting, as excellence tends to be unpredictable and challenging to account for. Adult bureaucrats tend to complain a lot about ‘stress,’ in part because they have been trained from an early age to respond to distress resulting from verbal disapproval by authorities and peers. This takes a lot of repetitive operant conditioning, which is one of the top reasons why school curricula tend to be so repetitive and pointless on the surface. The purpose isn’t to create good calculators or a labor force aware of trigonometry, but to create a mass of people who are docile, predictable, and easily frightened into compliance.
The long term consequence of this has been an overproduction in clerk-like personalities. Because the state mandates that everyone go through clerk training, you wind up with a homogenous population marked by the character traits that have been historically associated with clerks — bad physical health, obedience to authority, intense respect for arbitrary rules, a weak aesthetic sensibility, an obsession with official approval, and androgyny.
Rather than a more diverse society in which people tend to judge one another based on their character or their ability to fulfill a given social role, everyone tends to be graded on how much of an ideal bureaucrat they are. This has become more pronounced as implicit pacifism has become the dominant way of life for most Western elites after World War II and especially after the antiwar eruption of the 1970s and 80s, which made mass military preparedness a low priority. As military pursuits have become more professionalized, the American republic has come to lean on first a ‘professional’ military, and now increasingly mercenary forces, which suggests that the popular republic is on the way out as a political form.
In a super-bureaucratic society, anyone who is not a bureaucrat tends to be regarded as a bad or unclean person without dignity and deserving of pity. This is one of the reasons why American thinkers tend to pathologize any mode of production or way of life that doesn’t involve a life of desk work. And even modes of life that don’t involve desk work need to be brought under the rule and regulation of desk-workers — physical space must be brought under ‘code,’ while mental work can be left relatively free — Peter Thiel says that this is the reason for the divergence in the rate of innovation between the ‘world of bits’ and the ‘world of atoms.’
The world of atoms is a dangerous, conflict-ridden world — it creates intolerable levels of anxiety for a hothouse bureaucrat-people who have been protected from physical discomfort and exertion from an early age. The physical world is dirty, unpredictable, and dangerous when compared to the climate-controlled office or classroom.
Everywhere that this mass education model has been in place for significant amounts of time, there is an oversupply in aimless bureaucrat-people without bureaucracies to stuff them into. Europe in particular suffers from ‘mass youth unemployment,’ especially among the educated, which is because they have been educated to fill slots in imaginary bureaucracies which both don’t exist and are uneconomical where they do exist. Because educational bureaucracies have watered down their own standards over the years to be able to accommodate the entire population, many of these aimless bureaucrats are also unsuited for any pursuit that requires much real expertise. Further, their mentalities have been shaped to expect a didactic, predictable, safe, office-existence in which people tell them what they need to ‘learn,’ and then they complete an assignment graded by a light hand.
In the third world and near-third-world, the problem is even more acute, as their economies aren’t even developed enough to support substantial bureaucracies, but their labor forces have been trained for an economy that doesn’t exist based on the faith that the supply of bureaucrats creates its own demand.