Monday, 21 September 2015

Apartheid in The Prisoner: The General

Dead easy to see echoes of South African apartheid in this one. Speed learn equates almost seamlessly with the 'Bantu education' legally allowed to the black majority by the white majority during the apartheid era. The point, of course, is that speed learn is not education at all: no attempt is made to develop an ability toi marshall evidence or analyse. It is based solely on repetition, which is explicitly shown up to be its failing in this episode, although ironically it seems that Number 6 has failed to realise that until it is pointed out to him.
I have commented in previous posts in this series, on the condescending way in which the white settlers of South Africa (obviously this would tend to go for white colonialists anywhere) viewed the indigenous people of the country. I have quoted at length on how there are still these views going round that black people cannot think like white people, can't think ahead, make judgements or decisions, and so on. It is also touted around that the average IQ in sub-Saharan Africa is relatively lower than that elsewhere in the world (conveniently it is always ignored that there are a number of things which are crippling to IQ level, such as poor nutrition, and also the fact that IQ as an indicator of intelligence only tests one sort of intelligence). If you were to accept this view of black people's intelligence it may make a very good argument for limiting their education to such useful subjects as dusting and washing dishes (seriously). If you particularly want to read more twaddle in this vein with specific reference to Bantu education, you can find it here.
This view of black people as primitive or child-like actually led to them being treated as permanently children (perhaps this is best seen in the ongoing use of the word 'girl' for any female domestic worker, and ditto 'boy' for a man, regardless of age. This infantilisation comes out at its full extent in this quote:
'The honourable member had a lot to say about Bantu who are sometimes only able to go to see pictures which children under 12 can see. Our problem, and the problem of the Board, is simply this. There are films which you cannot approve for the more primitive Bantu, and if you say that Bantu are permitted, you cannot prevent the primitive Bantu from seeing them. We cannot then discriminate between the more sophisticated Bantu and the primitive Bantu who could be very adversely affected by such a film. – Deputy Minister of the Interior Dr S W van der Merwe, House of Assembly, September 4 1970. The film Zulu, made in South Africa, was Banned for "Bantu…and other persons between the ages of 4 and 12", which meant that Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who had played the role of King Cetshwayo, was unable to see it.' (cited in Ben MacLennan: Apartheid The Lighter Side. Chameleon Press, Plumstead, 1990, p. 106)
The claimed pursuit of 'suitable' education of the Bantu led to the Bantu Education Act No. 47 of 1953:
'A pillar of the apartheid project, this legislation was intended to separate black South Africans from the main, comparatively very well-resourced education system for whites. Authored by Dr. H. F. Verwoerd (then Minister of Native Affairs, later Prime Minister), it established a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs. They were tasked with the compilation of a curriculum that suited the "nature and requirements of the black people". African children students were to be educated in a way that was appropriate for their culture. No consultation occurred on this. All the definitions of culture, appropriate education content and levels, all the decisions about purpose and outcomes of the system were controlled by the apartheid government. Its stated aim was to prevent Africans receiving an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they wouldn't be allowed to hold in society. Instead Africans were to receive an education designed to provide them with skills to serve their own people in the Bantustan 'homelands' or to work in manual labour jobs under white control. This legislation was condemned and rejected as inferior from the time of its introduction. This cornerstone of apartheid ideology-in-practice wreaked havoc on the education of black people in South Africa, and deprived and disadvantaged millions for decades. Its devastating personal, political and economic effects continue to be felt and wrestled with today.' (Source)
This quotation of course points out the ultimate aim of any restrictive approach to education. Bantu education was designed to keep the Bantu in a subordinate place. How does this translate to the purpose of speed learn? My feeling is that this is probably a point at which the comparison falls down slightly, since the main means of control used in The Village is actually isolation – in The Village, and sometimes by The Village. The residents are sufficiently controlled by being there, and the more institutional aspects of life there are sufficient to quash any rebellion. I feel the purpose of speed learn is ultimately like many of the other exercises (art competitions, etc) organised by the village: they are completely pointless, really, serve to distract an already broken population from questioning authority, and may provide a useful yardstick of how well the residents have 'adapted' to The Village.
Obviously, the way through this edifice of pretence is to ask the one question the machine can't answer, which requires the ability to think about it. I feel this 'tramlines' approach to education has an interesting modern echo which would have been unforeseen at the time. In the 1960s a university degree was eminently more valuable than it is now, so that claim that education of that level could be completed in three minutes would have been even more of an achievement then. Nowadays a master's degree seems to have the standing that a bachelor's degree once had. When employment is on a downturn, governments have a habit of pushing people into education to get them off the unemployment numbers. Doesn't this sound just like the sort of meaningless occupation which speed learn is?
(Image credit: here)

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