Monday, May 14, 2007

Institutionalization
I have used domestication as way of describing our behaviour in the past, while I believe that line still holds this is another angle on why our society functions as it does.

Institutionalization is a behavior observed in inmate’s, mental health patients and those who have had their freedom deprived for a long period of time. Upon release the institutionalized person feels restless, uneasy and is unable to carry out functions considered basic to the rest of society. After years sometimes decades of having every decision made for them these people are unable to cope in the outside world. After spending a large portion of their life inside institutions these people lack the most basic of skills and often several years of intense work is needed for these people to be able to live by themselves in the outside world. Institutionalization is most notably a desire to return to the institution they were released from, the prisoner may go out and commit a crime and the patient may try to recommit themselves.

Like the prisoner or mental health patient we suffer from institutionalization on a society wide scale. Throughout our entire lives we are continuously deprived the ability to make our own decisions and are conditioned from birth to unquestioningly accept whatever those higher up in the hierarchy tell us. This begins at birth and continues for around twelve years of formal education before moving into a lifetime of work. We are surrounded by and have become reliant on hierarchy to survive. Like the prisoner we are reliant on others for the basic necessities of life with no knowledge of how most of the world works, no knowledge of how to grow our own food, how to build our own shelter how to dispose of our waste and a million other functions all currently looked after by other members of the institution we live in.

Perhaps the most striking feature of our institutionalization is how when fired, laid off expelled we wander aimlessly for a while before returning to the safety of the office or worksite. The almost unavoidable return to an environment in which we are told what to do in which someone else is making decisions in which we feel safe. Those that are jobless display the same tendencies of the prisoner freed after decades in prison we wander aimlessly don’t know what to do with ourselves and feel stressed by the new decisions we have to make.

And if we do get over the lack of motivation and stress we feel without someone telling us what to do we have the struggle of learning how to function in the real world. The released prisoner has access to social workers that will teach him how to go shopping and pay the bills he probably has a half way house he can stay at. But we have don’t have this support, no guide who will show us the wild edible plants around us no teachers who will show us how to build a composting toilet and few halfway houses we can stay at while we get used to living without the civilization

Our society is almost completely institutionalized to some degree or other, twelve years of having to ask to go to the bathroom in school and being made to feel bad every time you question authority is enough to break almost anyone. Add to that the stress and difficulty of trying to live independently of the system and it’s a wonder that people try and break out at all. And like the inmate if we stay in the system we are almost guaranteed a bed to sleep in and regular meals. Of course having no control over your own life is not a particularly pleasant experience and the symptoms of this manifest throughout society, drop outs dreamers artists back to the landers rebels whatever you want to call it there is always an undercurrent of society rebelling against and trying to live outside the system. And the mental health figures show that living in an institution isn’t a particularly pleasant.

Because the institutionalization is so ubiquitous and runs so deep I don’t think we are in for a revolution any time soon, and if we were to have one tomorrow how would we possibly decolonize our minds to live without hierarchy? Would we like the prisoner return to the prison we had escaped from when we grew hungry and needed somewhere to stay? The police and government will have to grow very hard handed before it overrides our psychological reliance on them. More likely is that the current system will break down and we will be kicked out onto the streets stumbling round desperately looking for someone in charge to tell us what to do.

The good news is that we like the prisoner can learn how to live in the outside world, it may take years of learning and we may struggle to learn what a child in a non civilized society would learn without effort but the window is open to us. And the more of us that leave now the more social workers will be available for when the prison collapses and people come flooding out.

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