‘The university system, I realised in that moment, is nothing more than a capitalist panopticon, aimed at discreetly making me, and everyone else, fit smoothly into this sickly world order. (…) As a place of intellectual stimulation, it is a complete failure.’
In this post I shall recount a recent psychotic experience, which has led me to a profound revaluation of how I interact and react to the world around me.
I was recently unpleasantly surprised upon receiving a negative grade on a dissertation project in ‘Philosophy of Medicine’, which focused on the diagnostic difficulties presented by paraphilic disorders and their definition in the DSM-5. If interested you can find my essay here.
This piece of work encompassed much of my personal reflections on mental health in general, and writing it helped me out significantly in a period of great personal distress. For this reason, the bad grade represented a very personal and intimate defeat. Upon setting my eyes on the unexpected unpropitious mark, the ‘unquiet presence’ in my head, who so often criticises everyone around me, turned her disgust on me. She accused me of being useless and incompetent, worthy only of a miserable pass mark. I tried, effortlessly to push her away and regain my grasp on reality, but all it did was make my head hurt like hell, shoving me into a state of confusion and detachment which was all to familiar.
I distractedly let my friend lead me onto the woodland path that surrounds my university. My eyes went fuzzy and the leaves on the floor below me began to move and shimmer like worms. Taking further steps filled me with such dread and discomfort I couldn’t bear it, as well as the now in-comprehensive shouting in my aching head. I pushed my way through the prickly bushes and onto the main road, where the yelling abruptly stopped. I was left vacant and annoyed, at myself and the world for being such an unfamiliar and mechanical place.
In my anger, I suddenly realised that I had just had a practical lesson on the foucauldian notion of power I had been struggling with that same morning. Foucault describes a new, modern for of power, that organises society hierarchically through the means of knowledge mechanisms (determined by the discourse of a particular time – in this case the capitalist values of competition and production) which, in a world of complete transparency and observation, rank and punish individuals through praise and blame. We think in a way that makes us view certain things as normal and right and others as abnormal. About other ‘insignificant’ and unimportant things, we often do not even think.
This university system, I realised in that moment, is nothing more than a capitalist panopticon, aimed at discreetly making me, and everyone else, fit smoothly into this sickly world order. It is becoming with increasing invasiveness, an instrument for transforming individuals into pieces of paper and productive drones, in a world so ingrained in competition that there is no longer space for the creative and imaginative human spirit.
‘We are so scared of making wrong decisions, which ‘can affect our entire lives’, of momentarily stopping and deviating from these ‘essential’ activities, that our fear of being ‘left behind’ gives us no time to reflect on our feelings and wishes.’
As a place of intellectual stimulation, it is a complete failure. The majority of the students and academics I have met in my three years of undergraduate study, hardly seem to love and appreciate what they do. It may indeed be a subject of great personal interest that which they are studying, but the pressures that are impressed upon them prevent it from manifesting itself as such.
We are so actively and entirely engaged in the need to prove ourselves valid and worthy (ironically through tiny little numbers on a transcript, which seem to be our only key to self-determination) that even the things we love become an incommensurable weight. We are so scared of making wrong decisions, which ‘can affect our entire lives’, of momentarily stopping and deviating from these ‘essential’ activities, that our fear of being ‘left behind’ gives us no time to reflect on our feelings and wishes.
‘Unlike computers, people are constituted largely by determined knowledge, education, abilities and conserved memory, but also by the creative and emotional ways through which we store this information.’
I came to two life-changing realisations that day:
1. That I myself, with all my convictions and claims of independence, am entirely enslaved by this system. I am so ensnared, that a silly bad grade, given to me by someone who means nothing to me, sent me over the brink of insanity.
2. What I also realised, (being the Economics profit-weighing student that I am) is that in determining and constructing us so thoroughly and mechanically, society is not really creating a more productive world.
The reason for this is really quite straight-forward: people are not machines. Unlike computers, people are constituted largely by determined knowledge, education, abilities and conserved memory, but also by the creative and emotional ways through which we store this information. What I radically believe to be the main failure of capitalism, is that in creating its machine-like masses, it has under-estimated the full value of the raw material on which it operates. The emotive and creative spirit of man, is not as coercible and influenceable as would be required for a similar system to be effective in the long run. It is sufficient to look at widespread human behaviour to see how it constantly squirts out of the facade of perfection of our world. Alcohol and drug abuse are widely diffused (especially in nations that enforce prohibitionism); statistics on mental disorders are disturbing and, especially in the younger population which is subject to intense performance pressure, individuals struggle with depression and anxiety which decrease performance.
When people reach their limit, they explode. When the pressure of society takes too much of a toll on people’s personality, they lose their minds, commit suicide, become insane or turn into mass-murdering psychopaths. Even when they don’t reach their limit, their performance is still not as productive as it potentially could be. Their abilities are stumped by alcohol and drug abuse, demotivation, anxiety and other personality weakening conditions. Furthermore people attempt to deviate and fool the system, by cheating and hiding their activities from regulative enforcements and laws.
We express our malaise and anguish, using our constructed statuses of superiority over others, treating people who think differently from us with viciousness, contempt, bullying them to feel better about ourselves and failing because human emotions are not a zero-sum game.
Perhaps, precisely how this teacher acted in my case.