Education and Power I: Machine Minds


Illustration by Harry Frostick (
“Machine Minds”

Capitalism is, without question, the dominant economic model of the globalised world. It is praised for its many successes and it is scorned for its many failures, but its level of dominance is never questioned. A dominance that comes not only from the obvious established global order, but in its ability to make the inherently unnatural seem natural; such as working 9-5, excess consumption and consumerism.

In the process of normalisation the origins are often forgotten, capitalism didn’t emerge as the fully-grown power we have today, in the same way a child is not born fully developed. In fact capitalism was born out of the feudal and mercantilist era, reaching maturity by the enlightenment and it was taught and informed by the industrial revolution, basing itself on ideas best summarised in Adam Smith’s book, The Wealth of Nations.

The industrial revolution created machines that optimised production far beyond anything that had been seen before, these machines showed how effective the coming together of many small components, each doing a small job, could be. The Wealth of Nations dissects this notion and transfers the concept from the machine to the human worker. Where once one worker would produce the whole product now several workers would each produce an single component of the final product.

A workforce being split into component parts, like a machine, has the positive effect mentioned above of optimising production, but it also has a rather negative effect; being treated as a component in the machine. Being treated as a mere component creates issues that range from dehumanisation of the worker as well as no one worker being able to do anything other than the menial task they have been assigned which leads to the mind becoming obsessed with making your approach to monotonous tasks more efficient; further leading to a loss of original and creative thought.

However, the question must be asked as to why a person becomes a cog at the sacrifice of time and thought? Is it down to necessity or is it down to normativity?

The simple answer is that there was, and still is, very little choice; get a job or you and your families will starve.

Starvation, freezing to death or debt peonage all create the necessity of working for a wage. However to keep employees working under the constant threat of famine and death is a costly process with large risks as coercing the labour pool perpetuates a constant resentment amongst workers. Constant resentment creates a constant threat of revolution, requiring constant supervision and counter-revolutionary measures that are both costly and counter-productive.

As capitalism is built upon the optimisation of production and an understanding that relying on an unhappy and angry labour pool is deeply inefficient, capitalism had to optimise and adapt. To avoid revolution the anger had to be neutralised, to do this normativity had to be established. When something is normalised no questions are asked, workers will simply work harder for their money because needing a job is inevitable and no other possibility is seriously considered.

The first machines constantly required an operator, to do anything from switch valves to keep it under control. As we learnt to program machines the need for constant operation decreased, instead of requiring constant attention the machine could be left to do its job.It would seem that the same happened with humans.

Where the threat of starvation was once needed for constant and correct operation, now only a director was required to tell the labourer what to do. The threat of starvation was still there, but it became the secondary tool of management. This can be demonstrated almost everywhere today, where having a job and obeying your boss both seem like perfectly natural things to do; when in fact they are not.

For this to have happened it means the human worker must have been programmed to accept their place as a cog. How does this programming happen?

A machine is built for an objective, as the objective changes constituent parts of the machine are changed to accommodate. The same can be said for capitalist workers, the person is needed to fill the job and not the other way around. This means there has to be a labour pool of workers that are normalised into obeying but also have a common set of skills, so if one cog is not preforming, its easily dispensable, it may be replaced.

This requires a labour pool of similarly programmed minds, minds that are programmed through education.

When you attend a British mainstream school you get told how to live absolutely every aspect of your life, within the school walls. You enter the school system as a creative and openminded 4-year-old child and leave it as a sceptical, work normalised 16 year old component ready to be thrust into the outside world; a world that has been ideologically programmed to represent the utmost goal in life.

The mainstream educational system implements a glass ceiling, it provides you with goals, it tells you how to achieve your goals and ultimately it trains you to work. It teaches what and when instead of why and how. It teaches what the goals should be and how to work towards them. It teaches that creativity is of a lower order than productivity. It teaches you to obey and not to negotiate. Regimented mainstream education produces a cog for the ever hungry machine that we call capitalism.

To programme a human is to make them a machine, we are not machines, we are human.