Save the System

Dear Young Artist,

“Money isn’t real. You are real.”
That is what the Chase Bank manager told me after I cried and got under the blue Chase tablecloth.
Then he said I should “shoot for your [my] dreams.”
Do you think he learned that in bank school?

Money isn’t real. What is real?


Allison Gerber’s matrix, via

I think everyone should go to school. Get your PhD while you are at it. But don’t do it as an investment, don’t do it for a job. Peel that wish away like an old crusty scab. Go to school because you are going to make something more real than a job, more real than money. Stop being afraid for your own survival. Make it known to the students and teachers around you: this education is not a financial instrument that will help me get a job. I am doing this because I am part of the majority of people who want to learn how and why to exist together.

You are going to do meaningful work, which may or may not result in a job. This work may support you in ways other than money. You can live without money at the center of your actions and desires. Go to school for anything you want, and study whatever you want, for as long as you want. Stretch time out, learn things for fun, experiment with reality, and be as non-productive as possible.

However: you must promise not to go into Debt. Promise me now. Debt is real. I am not talking about financial debt, I am talking about the kind of Debt that colonizes the back of your head– causing you anxiety if you make less money for a month, telling you to get a third job, making you feel like a waste when you are not earning, taking away from your net ‘value’, instructing you to work at a job for the rest of your life to pay off your debt. Your Debt is a site in your brain taken over during decades of psychological warfare – they are trying to replace the imagination area with a dead zone. This dead zone transmits feelings of impossibility to people affected. If Debt takes down the empty spaces in all of our brains, everyone shuts down and no one goes to school. We empty out the academies, the adjuncts have to get jobs as proofreaders for Amazon reviews, professors become prison guards (guards in California earn as much as $124,759 plus overtime and a professor at UC Berkeley is $149,100), and all that is left is administrators teaching administrators how to feel good about doing good in what’s left of ‘the community’.

As a man-made idea-form, money can be created at infinitum. In fact, every time you get a new loan, you actually invite the creation of new dollars that never existed before. The US/Federal Reserve is the US currency creator, and as such, they can make as much money as they choose to. “As the sole manufacturer of dollars, whose debt is denominated in dollars, the US government can never become insolvent, i.e. unable to pay its bills.”  1

As the government can ultimately create as much money as it wants, you are also able to create infinite value. But, this value does not necessarily need to be based in money. You are free to value what you see as important, and to pursue getting those things by any means necessary. This has little to do with what should be valuable or what acts as an investment with a monetary return in the future. So, what is important? To the US government, the value they have created has gone largely to the military, prisons, and surveillance. To look at their 2013 budget, we can see that they spent $800,000,000,000 on defense, and 12% of that number on education. We spent twice as much on interest payments on loans as on education. So, while the nation has chosen to turn away from school, why should we? What do we value? How can we demonstrate our values?

We will go to school. We will not pay.

You’ve heard this over and over again, but in the US, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. “California has built 23 prisons since 1980. In the same period, the University of California system has opened one new campus. And although California’s prison population has declined in recent years, the state’s spending per prisoner has increased five times faster than its spending per K-12 student in the last two decades. ” 2 The California State budget (2013-2014) allows for approximately $11b 7 the same amount of money for higher education as ‘corrections and rehabilitation’. It is time to weigh in with your attendance in one or the other.

Knock off of Alison Gerber’s matrix (above) by Cassie Thornton.

Knock off of Alison Gerber’s matrix (above) by Cassie Thornton.

Without being able to see it (we were working too hard paying off our BFAMFAPHD debt to notice), we have become a society oriented around punishment. We must make it clear that we need to value education, and one very good reason is because it could devalue incarceration. Due to the enormous cost of higher education, it is a risk for a student to attend. You need to see going to school as a political statement, a risk on behalf of your own development, and the development of all present and future non-prisoners.

Poem by an anonymous author.

Poem by an anonymous author.

If we don’t go to school, who will keep academia alive for when the prisoners get out of jail? What will they strive for – a job and a shitty apartment? A few months ago, during an art class I teach in juvenile hall in San Francisco, I asked a group of girls to each draw line graphs to represent what they see growing versus what they want to grow. Using very small pencils they drew shaky diagonal lines, starting bottom left, ascending to top right. Some of the labels under the “actual growth” line graphs included “gangs” and “jail”. On the “desired growth” line graphs people wrote “alternative schools”, “better education”, and one said “beauty”.

If you are thinking of avoiding school, don’t do it to save the government from the loans you will default on. They have already offered to cover prison, which is much harder on the old government ledger. You think your debt is bad? I have 120k for 6 years of education. At 45k a year to stay in a prison in California, 3 in that time the state could have accrued 270k of debt, teaching me things. Because I won’t be paying my loans back, the government winds up with -120k instead of -270k, a net savings of 150k!



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