by McKenzie Wark
Education is slavery. Education enchains the mind and makes it a resource for class power. The nature of the enslavement will reﬂect the current state of the class struggle for knowledge, within the apparatus of education.
The pastoralist class resists education, other than as indoctrination in obedience. It’s interest in education stops short at the pastors who police the sheep like moralsit would instill in the human ﬂock that tends its grain—and sheep.
When capital requires “hands” to do its dirty work, education merely trains useful hands to tend machines, and docile bodies meant to accept as natural the social order in which they ﬁnd themselves. When capital requires brains, both to run its increasingly complex operations and to apply themselves to the work of consuming its products, more time spent in the prison house of education is required for admission to the ranks of the paid working class. When capital discovers that many tasks can be performed by casual employees with little training, education splits into a minimal system meant to teach servility to the poorest workers and a competitive system offering the brighter workers a way up the slippery slope to security and consumption. When the ruling class preaches the necessity of an education it invariably means an education in necessity .
The so-called middle class achieve their privileged access to consumption and security through education, in which they are obliged to invest a substantial part of their income, acquiring as their property a degree which represents the sorry fact that “the candidate can tolerate boredom and knows how to follow rules.” But most remain workers, even though they grep information rather than pick cotton or bend metal. They work in factories, but are trained to think of them as offices. They take home wages, but are trained to think of it as a salary. They wear a uniform, but a retrained to think of it as a suit. The only difference is that education has taught them to give different names to the instruments of exploitation, and to despise those of their own class who name them differently.
Education is organised as a prestige market, in which a few scarce qualiﬁcations provide entree to the highest paid work, and everything else arranges itself in a pyramid of prestige and price below . Scarcity infects the subject with desire for education as a thing, and a thing that confers a magic ability to gain a “salary” with which to acquire still more things. Through the instrument of scarcity and the hierarchical rationing of education, workers are persuaded to see education much as the ruling class would have them see it— as a privilege.
Workers have a genuine interest in education that secures employment. They desire an education that contain at least some knowledge, but often conceived of in terms of opportunity for work. Capitalist scan also be heard demanding education for work. But where workers have an interest in education that gives them some capacity to move between jobs and industries, thus preserving some autonomy , capitalists demand a paring down of education to its most functional vocational elements, to the bare necessity compatible with a particular function.
The information proletariat—infoproles—stand outside this demand for education as unpaid slavery that anticipates the wage slave’s life. They embody a residual, antagonistic class awareness, and resist the slavery of education. They know only too well that capital has little use for them other than as the lowest paid wage slaves. They know only too well that scholars and the media treat them like objects for their idle curiosity. The infoproles resent education and live by the knowledge of the streets. They are soon known to the police.
The hacker class has an ambivalent relation to education. Hackers desire knowledge, not education. The hacker comes into being though the pure liberty of knowledge in and of itself. This puts the hacker into an antagonistic relationship to the struggle on the part of the capitalist class to make education an induction into wage slavery .
Hackers may lack an understanding of the different relationship workers have to education, and may fall for the elitist and hierarchical culture of education, which merely reinforces its scarcity and its economic value. The hacker may be duped by the blandishments of prestige and put virtuality in the service of conformity , professional elitism in place of collective experience, and depart from the emergent culture of the hacker class. This happens when hackers make a fetish of what their education represents, rather than expressing themselves through knowledge.
Education is not the same as knowledge. Nor is it the necessary means to acquire knowledge. Knowledge may arise just as readily from everyday life. Education is the organisation of knowledge within the constraints of scarcity , under the sign of property .Education turns the subjects who enter into its portals into objects of class power, functional elements who have internalised its discipline. Education turns those who resist its objectiﬁcation into known and monitored objects of other regimes of objectiﬁcation—the police and the soft cops of the disciplinary state. Education produces the subjectivity that meshes with the objectivity of commodified production.One may acquire an education, as if it was a thing, but one becomes knowledgeable through a process of transformation. Knowledge, as such, is only ever partially captured by education. Knowledge as a practice always eludes and exceeds it. "There is no property in thought, no proper identity , no subjective ownership".
The hack expresses knowledge in its virtuality, by producing new abstractions that do not necessarily fit the disciplinary regime that is managing and commodifying education. Knowledge at its most abstract and productive may be rare, but this rarity has nothing to do with the scarcity imposed upon it by the commodification and hierarchy of education. The rarity of knowledge expresses the elusive multiplicity of nature itself, which refuses to be disciplined. Nature unfolds in its own time.
In their struggle for the heart and soul of the learning apparatus, hackers need allies. By embracing the class demands of the workers for knowledge that equips them with the cunning and skill to work in this world, hackers can break the link between the demands of the capitalist class for the shaping of tools for its own use, and that of the workers for practical knowledge useful to their lives. This can be combined with a knowledge based in the self-understanding of the worker as a member of a class with class interests.
The cultures of the working class, even in its commodiﬁed form, still contain a class sensibility useful as the basis for a collective self-knowledge. The hacker working within education has the potential to gather and propagate this experience by abstracting it as knowledge. The virtuality of everyday life is the joy of the producing classes. The virtuality of the experience of knowledge is the joy that the hacker expresses through the hack. The hacker class is only enriched by the discovery of the knowledge latent in the experience of everyday working life, which can be abstracted from its commodifed form and expressed in its virtuality.
Understanding and embracing the class culture and interests of the working class can advance the hacker interest in many ways. It provides a numerically strong body of allies for a much more minoritarian interest in knowledge. It provides a meeting point for potential class allies. It opens the possibility of discovering the tactics of everyday hacking of the worker and farmer classes.
Both workers and hackers have an interest in schooling in which resources are allocated on the socialised—and socialising—basis Marx identiﬁed: “To each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities.” No matter how divergent in their understanding of the purpose of knowledge, workers and hackers have in common an interest in resisting educational “content” that merely trains slaves for commodity production, but also in resisting the inroads the vectoralist class wishes to make into education as an industry.
Within the institutions of education, some struggle as workers against the exploitation of their labour. Others struggle to democratise the institution’s governance. Others struggle to make it answerable to the needs of the productive classes. Others struggle for the autonomy of knowledge. All of these sometimes competing and conﬂicting demands are elements of the same struggle for knowledge that is free production in itself and yet is not just free production for itself, but rather for the productive classes.
Forewarned is forearmed.In the underdeveloped world, in the south and the east, the pastoral class still turns peasants into farmers, expropriating their traditional rights and claiming land as property. Peasants still struggle to subsist in their new-found freedom from the means of survival. Capital still turns peasants into workers and exploits them to the maximum biologically possible. They produce the material goods that the vectoral class in the overdeveloped world stamps with its logos, according to designs it protects with its patents and trademarks. All of which calls for a new pedagogy of the oppressed, and one not just aimed at making the subaltern feel better about themselves as subjects in an emerging vectoral world of multicultural spectacle, but which provides the tools for struggling against this ongoing objectiﬁcation of the world’s producing classes.
The ruling classes desire an educational apparatus in which quality education can be purchased for even the most stupid heirs to the private fortune. While this may seem attractive to the better paid workers as securing a future for their children regardless of talent, in the end even they may not be able to afford the beneﬁts of this injustice. The interests of the producing classes as a whole are in a democratic knowledge based on free access to information, and the allocation of resources based on talent rather than wealth.
Where the capitalist class sees education as a means to an end, the vectoralist class sees it as an end in itself. It sees opportunities to make education a proﬁtable industry in its own right, based on the securing of intellectual property as a form of private property. It seeks to privatise knowledge as a resource, just as it privatises science and culture, in order to guarantee their scarcity and their value. To the vectoralists, education is just more “content” for commodiﬁcation as “communication.”
The vectoralist class seeks the commodiﬁcation of education on a global scale. The best and brightest are drawn from around the world to its factories of prestige higher learning in the overdeveloped world. The underdeveloped world rightly complains of a “brain drain,” a siphoning of its intellectual resources. Intellectual capacity is gathered and made over into the image of commodiﬁcation. Those offered the liberty of the pursuit of knowledge in itself still serve the commodiﬁcation of education, in that they become an advertisement for the institution that offers this freedom in exchange for the enhancement of its prestige and global marketing power.
Many of the conﬂicts within higher education are distractions from the class politics of knowledge. Education “disciplines” knowledge, segregating it into homogenous “ﬁelds,” presided over by suitably “qualiﬁed” guardians charged with policing its representations. The production of abstraction both within these ﬁelds and across their borders is managed in the interests of preserving hierarchy and prestige. Desires that might give rise to a robust testing and challenging of new abstractions is channelled into the hankering for recognition. The hacker comes to identify with his or her own commodiﬁcation. Recognition becomes formal rather than substantive. It heightens the subjective sense of worthatthe expense of objectifying the products of hacking as abstraction. From this containment of the desire for knowledge arises the circular parade of false problems of discipline and the discipline of false problems.
Only one intellectual conﬂict has any real bearing on the class issue for hackers: the property question. Whose property is knowledge? Is it the role of knowledge to authorise subjects that are recognised only by their function in an economy? Or is it the function of knowledge to produce the ever-different phenomena of the hack, in which subjects learn to become other then themselves, and discover the objective world to contain potentials other than as it appears? This is the struggle for knowledge of our time.
To hack is to express knowledge in any of its forms. Hacker knowledge implies, in its practice, a politics of free information, free learning, the gift of the result in a peer-to-peer network. Hacker knowledge also implies an ethics of knowledge open to the desires of the productive classes and free from subordination to commodity production. Hacker knowledge is knowledge that expresses the virtuality of nature, by transforming it, fully aware of the bounty and danger. When knowledge is freed from scarcity , the free production of knowledge becomes the knowledge of free producers. This may sound like utopia, but the accounts of actually existing temporary zones of hacker liberty are legion. Stallman: “It was a bit like the garden of Eden. It hadn’t occurred to us not to cooperate.”
McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto
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