- Capitalism and Alternatives -

On 'self-reliance'

Posted by: bill ( United Subversives ) on September 02, 1999 at 11:30:41:

There has been much talk about "self-reliance" lately. It is everywhere but is used primarily in terms of power relationships. Thus the "disadvantaged" or those groupings that have found themselves disempowered speak of self-reliance as a tool to achieve independence from structural dependencies. Libertarians will shade this interpretation to satisfy their conviction that self-reliance implies freedom of the individual from the chains of an imaginary social Obligation.

The word "social obligation" has always had an "aww, do I really have to…" ring to it. It is painful to those who regard the word "social" as something contrary and in opposition to the Individual, and particularly when "obligation" is attached which seems to sanction a constraint of personal freedom. Proponents will stress aspects of need for the greater common good - "responsible citizenship", while opponents are regarded as "irresponsible". The personal freedom crowd, on the other hand, will express "self-reliance" as a way out of social obligation. Naturally those who have managed to entrench themselves in some more or less comfortable niche of the social hierarchy will support the notion of personal freedom and self-reliance - So Long as it doesn't threaten their "hard won" personal privilege.

But I would like to question the use of such terms as "personal freedom" and "self-reliance".

Self-reliance is a myth. To the degree that anything approaches self-reliance, to that degree does it become devoid of meaning. A single electron may be self-reliant. Anything placed outside context and in isolation is not simply meaningless, it is impossible to comprehend. So it is not about self-reliance - it is about control.

For example it is not simply that the "First Peoples" of Canada seek self-reliance, it is rather that they have been placed out of the loop of potential collective benefit. An example comes from a discussion paper on the subject of higher education: "The Nature of Education in Two Worlds". (SDF might be interested)


"To my mind, if education is worse today it is because the corporate agenda is not about education: it is about obedience to corporate world order"

"These institutions have been interested in and responsive to Aboriginal concerns to the extent to which they have been paid to have such interests. The nature of these concerns has been determined by the funder, not Aboriginal organizations."

"Grant-driven and tuition-driven institutions also reflect the class disparities of Canadian society, university "education" being seen as superior to college "training." The disparity is illustrated by looking at the word training : one "trains" nurses, not doctors; "literary critics" are not "trained," but secretaries are; physicists "design" and "conceptualize" nuclear power stations, but the "technicians" who run them are "trained;" or, suggest to the next lawyer you meet that he/she has been "trained" in law. To put is simply, one doesn't "educate" animals in the Western world: one "trains" them."

"What is the upshot of these trends? Fundamentally, universities and colleges will become part of a new "two-tiered" educational system, 41 with most existing institutions becoming "harmonized" with their new role as suppliers to the machines of industry, and a few institutions (some spruced-up old ones, or new private universities created once public money can again be put to work for private interests) assuming the task of "broadening intellectual horizons." 42 These private educational clubs, with their curricula not aimed at imparting a "good trade" to their students, will, of course, be reserved for the children and families of the 5% upper income bracket, as these will be the only
people who do not have to become obsessed with their future in the new economic order. These people will learn literature, history, and political science (or at least self-serving versions of these
disciplines), and, most fundamentally, that they are better than the rest of us."

"Education (at all levels) has tended to represent itself as a benign and egalitarian information system, one driven by "higher" goals, like the quest for truth and knowledge. Yet when we consider its fundamental business orientation, we should be suspicious: the structure of the classroom is likely to reflect the society of which it is a part. Thus, while the institutions of post-secondary education have functioned as one of the devices for pumping public money into private pockets, the content of education has always served ideological ends: the "socializing" function (indoctrination of new generations of individuals into Western modes of thought), the "meritocracy" function (legitimation of class inequities by reference to educational attainment), and the "victim- blaming" function (promotion of internal, personal explanations for systemic bias). This list is not complete, and these functions not independent of one another. Collectively, however, they constitute an educational system that has to explain how, in a land where everyone is free and equal to one another, some are more free and equal than others."

The Site

[What we see in development before us is a variant of the totalitarian dream of Plato's Republic]

Incidentally, the paper contains a nice description of capitalism which is posted below.

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