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The Spectre Of Uncontrolled Breeding

School as we know it was the creation of four great coal powers whose ingenious employment of the coal-powered steam engine shrank distance and crippled local integrity and the credibility of local elites. But the United States produced almost as much coal as the other three school-bound nations put together, as you can see from figures for coal production in 1905: 1) United States—351 million tons; 2) United Kingdom—236 million tons; 3) Germany—121 million tons; 4) France—35 million tons.

Prior to the advent of coal-based economics, mass society was a phenomenon of the Orient, spoken of with contempt in the West. Even as late as 1941, I remember a barrage of adult discourse from press, screen, radio, and from conversations of elders that Japan and China had no regard for human life, by which I presume they meant individual human life. "Banzai!" was supposed to be the cry of fanatical Japanese infantrymen eager to die for the Emperor, but Western fighting men, in the words of H.G. Wells’ wife, were "thinking bayonets." For that reason Germany was much more feared than Japan in WWII.

With the advent of coal and steam engines, modern civilization and modern schooling came about. One of the great original arguments for mass schooling was that it would tame and train children uprooted from families broken by mining and factory work. In sophisticated spots like Unitarian Boston and Quaker/Anglican Philadelphia, school was sold to the upper classes as a tool to keep children from rooting themselves in the culture of their own industrially debased parents.

The full impact of coal-massified societies on human consciousness is caught inadvertently in Cal Tech nuclear scientist Harrison Brown’s The Challenge of Man’s Future (1954), a book pronounced "great" by fellow Nobel Prize–winning geneticist Hermann Müller. Brown examines carefully the probability that the human carrying capacity of the planet is between 50 and 200 billion people, before summarizing the reasons this fact is best kept secret:

If humanity had its way, it would not rest content until the earth is covered completely and to a considerable depth with a writhing mass of human beings, much as a dead cow is covered with a pulsating mass of maggots.

Brown’s metaphors reveal something of the attitude that raised schooling in the first place on the industrial base of coal, steam, and steel. Among other things, the new institution would be an instrument to prevent mass humanity from "having its way."

This essay, characteristic of many such syntheses issuing from foundation and corporate-sponsored university figures of reputation through the century, as well as from public intellectuals like H.G. Wells, was written on the island of Jamaica which to Brown "appears to be a tropical paradise," but his scientific eye sees it is actually "the world in miniature" where "the struggle for survival goes on" amidst "ugliness, starvation, and misery." In this deceptive utopia, the "comfortable and secure" 20 percent who live in a "machine civilization" made possible by coal and oil, are actually "in a very precarious position," threatened by the rapid multiplication of "the starving." Such paranoia runs like a backbone through Western history, from Malthus to Carl Sagan.

Only the United States can stop the threat of overbreeding, says Nobel laureate Brown. "The destiny of humanity depends on our decisions and upon our actions." And what price should we pay for safety? Nothing less than "world authority with jurisdiction over population." The penalty for previous overproduction of the unfit had become by 1954 simply this, that "...thoughts and actions must be ever more strongly limited." Brown continued, "[We must create a society] where social organization is all-pervasive, complex and inflexible, and where the state completely dominates the individual." What is "inflexible" social organization but a class system? Remember your own school. Did a class system exist there? I can see you through my typewriter keys. You’re nodding.

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