Soft Power

Featured image: Painting by Kaipo, age 4

    by Boris Forkel / Deep Green Resistance Germany

Since the beginning of history, attempts have been made to develop power techniques with which our moral sensitivities can be undermined, so to speak, which activate less resistance in the people. These power techniques are now often referred to as soft power. Soft power is the full range of techniques to manipulate public opinion. Intermediaries for these forms of exercising power are supported   by foundations, think tanks, elite networks and lobby groups — in particular private and public media, schools and the entire education and training sector as well as the cultural industry. The effects of soft power techniques are largely invisible to the public, so protests against these forms of indoctrination are unlikely. Economic reasons speak in favor of primarily using soft power and refining and optimizing these technologies for manipulation purposes on the basis of scientific research of our cognitive and affective characteristics. This has happened over the past hundred years in a very systematic and consequential manner.

 —Rainer Mausfeld

Along with destroying livelihoods and community, one of the most important things our “culture” needs to do to function is the destruction of the self. Because if our very selfs wouldn’t have been destroyed, we wouldn’t put up with any of this shit. We wouldn’t go to work to sell eight hours or even more of our lifetime each day. We wouldn’t let our world be destroyed by rich, pathological, insane men. We wouldn’t inflict daily violence, even if oftentimes in a quite “soft” form, on our own children.

Of course, the destruction of the self is a very long and painful process, and therefore has to start at an early age. Rainer Mausfeld, professor of psychology and cognition research at the Kiel University, stated that the term competence (or skill) is one of the most ideological inflicted terms of our time. “The question those in power have been asking,” Mausfeld says, “is ‘how do we disassemble the self of the individual into a bundle of skills.’” He also states that “School is the most important soft-power instrument of the state.”

After all, what children learn in school are skills and competences; at the very best   they would learn some form of social competence. What they don’t learn is to be a human being, to evolve, to think, to feel, to just be.

This concerns me a lot, because I’m the father of a little loving sunshine named Leonard, who will start attending school this summer.

When Leo started going to kindergarten, for me that started a process of remembering my own early childhood. I remembered how much I hated kindergarten as well as school,  and it got me thinking about these forms of soft power.

Leo’s kindergarten is indeed a very good one. It is one of the famous German “forest kindergartens,” which means that the kids will be outside in the forest all day. Still, we had to go through what they call acclimatization phase, because a child of three has to be accustomed to being left alone by its parents. During the two weeks of this phase, one of us had to stay with our son at the kindergarten, leaving now and then for a while to get him used to being without us.

So often I have seen little children cry, when his or her mother would hand him or her over to one of the preschool teachers and leave. “Don’t go mom, don’t leave me!” the little ones would scream in sheer panic. “I’m so sorry my little darling, I have to go to work” was the usual answer.

I live in a pretty decent social environment. Most of the middle-class people here are kind and gentle; they love their kids and care for them. Some of them even told me that it breaks their heart to leave them. But they have been conditioned–like all of us–to believe that this is the way things are.

One time a child, whose mom had just left with the usual explanation, cried and just wouldn’t stop.  Ian, who was at that time the oldest boy in kindergarten because he hasn’t been considered “ready” for school (seriously, who is?), commented with one of the smartest lines I’ve ever heard:

“We have to go to kindergarten because they have to go to work; If they don’t work, they won’t earn money; without money, they can’t buy groceries, and we’ll have to starve; starvation is worse than kindergarten.”

That morning I went home and cried. Seven year old Ian had just covered most of the internal violence of our culture in one sentence with a few semicolons.

Today, I had to wake Leo early at 6:00 in the morning, because I needed to bring him to his mom who would drive him to kindergarten. He hates to be woken up, as much as I did as a kid and still do. He was crying and resisting a lot. I hate it when I have to do this, because I know I’m inflicting a “soft” form of violence on him.

I love the quote by Smohalla, the Wanapum dreamer-prophet: “My young men shall never work, men who work cannot dream; and wisdom comes to us in dreams.”

I indeed believe that it is very unhealthy to be woken up early on a regular basis, because natural cycles  of sleeping and dreaming are disturbed. That most of us have to get up early from an early age on, for kindergarten, school, work, is very bad for our mental health and therefore must be considered as part of the destruction of the self our “culture” is inflicting on us.

Usually, I wake him for kindergarten as late as possible. With everybody busy working, there is no community and no kids to play with in the neighborhood. This is the reason I want him to attend, because kindergarten is the only chance for him to regularly get in contact with other kids and gain some social competence.

We’ve had some meetings at the elementary school he’ll attend. I went there with him, and we stood with a bunch of kids from different kindergartens waiting for the teacher, with school kids playing around us. “Class 2b, to the classroom!” a teacher shouted. Immediately, about 25 children would run after her. It is amazing, I thought, how they are conditioned at a very young age to follow military-style orders.

Our teacher came and called us to follow her to the gym. At the door, she took Leo’s hand, smiled at me and said: “Daddy is going to wait outside.” While everybody else went in, I was the only one who had to stay in the cold schoolyard. After a short startling moment I understood. I’d been the only parent, while all others where preschool teachers.

The system needs to separate us very early, to destroy the strongest bonds of relationships, to make us weak and compliant. Of course, most of the teachers are nice and well-meaning people, at least at the elementary school near where I live.  But they’ve gone through the very same process of conditioning. They learned that the most important thing is to follow orders. And that is what they do. Especially here in Germany, we should know that this in itself is very, very dangerous.

It terrifies me.

“Indian children are never alone. They are always surrounded by grandparents, uncles, cousins, relatives of all kinds, who fondle the kids, sing to them, tell them stories. If the parents go someplace, the kids go along,” said John (Fire) Lame Deer. Schools have been used in the US in a systematic and fierce way to destroy the kind of community Lame Deer describes. Of course, school has been much harder for them then it is for us civilized people. One reason for this is racism, another the systematic destruction of their native languages, that was largely done through school. But it is also because they just weren’t used to it. That time, they still knew how freedom and genuine community feels like. They still had something that we’ve lost long ago.

I’ve been asking myself why school is taking so long. I attended school for 12 painful years, and seriously, most of the time was wasted. Learning to read and write is not that hard; neither is learning some basic math. There are thousands of great books out there that cover much more than the things they teach you in school. Any average intelligent person could prepare for graduation in one or two years.

So, why all the wasted time?

Because the function of the school system is, first and foremost, to condition us with the experience that our lifetime doesn’t belong to us, but to a system. We have to be conditioned to sell eight hours or even more of our lifetime each day. We have to be conditioned, and broken, to identify with the company we work for instead of identifying with a community of family and friends, or even the land.

This is why they destroy all of it. The community, the land, and even the self.

Otherwise, we’d never put up with any of that shit. We’d resist, just like the American Indians did, until death.


4 thoughts on “Soft Power”

  1. Thanks for this article, I know how you feel. What I remember best about school are the moments when I was sitting in the class room, looking out of the window and wishing I could turn into a bird and just fly away.
    I’m terrified of the day when I have to sent my child to school.

  2. Good piece.

    We indeed waste our lives in trivialities, and do so because we believe its expected of us, or we are coerced into it. Endless hoop jumping in educational institutions that teaches very little, and even less that we are really interested in, for this we only have to sacrifice our childhoods.

    And sacrifice for what? Of course to prepare to move on to stage two, being owned a job. Where for 8 hours or more a day you’ll toil away in stress and it still won’t be enough for a living wage in many cases. Most of your life will be working and you’ll likely still be in debt to capitalist masters. Not only is this soft coercive power of employment a form of indentured servitude, if not soft slavery, but it’s usually destructive to our environment as well.

    Jobs and educational institutions that don’t fulfill us, separate us from people we love, and wreck our habitable environment. What a deal. The global population should consider revolting against the capitalist notion of jobs sometime in the near future or managing the collapse will be the only jobs we have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *