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robertogreco : cults   16

How Did WeWork’s Adam Neumann Build a $47 Billion Company?
“The We Company’s headquarters in Chelsea, where more than a thousand of its employees work, is something of a testing ground for how it can serve even larger organizations. (The company will eventually move into the old Lord & Taylor flagship on Fifth Avenue, which it recently bought.) The sixth-floor entrance is flanked by a full-service barista and a “living room” with an array of couches and lounge chairs roughly the size and feel of a West Elm showroom. There are Foosball and bumper-pool tables, along with three video-game consoles. Beyond that is the WeMRKT, an “in-office bodega,” as a WeWork spokesperson called it, next to a kitchen with a dozen taps serving beer, cider, cold brew, Merlot, Pinot, several kombuchas, and seltzer. On one of my visits, signs advertised astrology readings for employees that afternoon.

Aside from a few offices reserved for Neumann and a handful of executives, the headquarters has almost no assigned desks, and some WeWork employees describe a near-constant mental and physical battle to find a space with enough quiet and privacy for concentration. (The private phone booths are coveted, as they are in most WeWorks.) Joel Steinhaus, a WeWork executive, told me that his previous office at Citi allocated 200-to-250 square feet per person, while WeWork has shrunk that number to around 50. (A WeWork spokesperson says the number is higher.) WeWork claims that additional common spaces and amenities make up the difference, but also that closeness has benefits. A half-dozen WeWork employees repeated the same talking point to me about the narrowness of its staircases and hallways, which are there to foster community by forcing people to physically interact with anyone they walk past. They say any cost savings from fitting in more people is merely a bonus.

Building community is what WeWork has always promised, and its pitch to large corporations is not just hip design and flexible leasing terms but what WeWork calls its “WeOS,” referring to its expertise in helping companies optimize both space and overall culture. (In 2017, McKelvey was named WeWork’s chief culture officer, and he’s fond of using one of WeWork’s many internal slogans: “Operationalize Love.”)

But in dozens of interviews, current and former WeWork employees and executives questioned whether the company’s culture is itself one worth spreading. Despite the company’s slogan “Make a Life, Not Just a Living,” employees at all levels have often reported working 60- or 70-hour weeks, and events like Thank God It’s Monday and Summer Camp were mandatory. At its annual summit, the company keeps track of employee attendance at panels and events by scanning wristbands given to each person; excessive absences are reported to managers. A number of employees describe a regular cycle at WeWork: New people would arrive, excited by the company’s mission, only to get burned out, leave, and replaced by a fresh crop. Multiple executives told me Neumann’s cheerleading was critical to the company’s success. “From a business perspective, the cult is working,” said one executive.

Employees say turnover at the company has been dizzying. Multiple people told me Neumann has expressed a desire to turn over 20 percent of WeWork’s staff every year — he denies this — whether through attrition or firings, as a means of keeping staff on its toes. There have been two publicly reported rounds of mass departures, both of which the company said involved culling unproductive workers. But employees say that restructurings, in which entire teams are suddenly disbanded, are a regular occurrence. “When you’re at WeWork, there’s a certain lack of culture, which is ironic for a company selling culture,” one former executive told me. “If there is a culture, it is that of a revolving door.” The need to hire employees at a rate to keep up with its growth has led to occasional hiccups in its hiring process: In 2015, Neumann chastised a group of employees for not Googling a job applicant after finding out that WeWork had hired the Hipster Grifter, a Brooklynite who had become briefly famous several years earlier for scamming her way into jobs and cheating people out of money.

The focus on growth often seemed to leave little room for other concerns. Two people told me that during an early town hall when WeWork had just over 100 employees, Neumann took questions alongside two other executives, Michael Gross and Noah Brodsky, and someone asked about the lack of diversity among the executive team. Neumann disputed the point by referring to himself and the other people onstage, saying, “I’m a brunette, Michael’s blond, and we have a Noah.” (Brodsky, who is gay, went bright red.)

Employees and executives say much of the culture stems from Neumann, whose rule by fiat could be frustrating. Last summer, he announced at the end of a companywide meeting that WeWork employees would no longer be permitted to expense meals that included meat. Several senior members of the company had no idea the announcement was coming or what it even meant. Hundreds of employees joined a Slack channel to debate the policy, while some found various ways around it: A person in the New York tech world said WeWork employees have asked her to expense the meat when they go out for meals.

Especially at the top, WeWork looked to some like a boys’ club. The executive ranks have been sprinkled with Neumann’s friends from Israel as well as his extended-family members. During an executive off-site meeting in Montauk, he gave a joking toast to the virtues of nepotism. In a job interview, the first question one former executive asked a young female applicant was whether she had a boyfriend (he was later fired). Last year, two female employees reported that they were having trouble getting a meeting with Adam Kimmel, the chief creative officer, to whom they reported. According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, Kimmel later said he hadn’t met with the women because he and his wife, the actress Leelee Sobieski, had a rule against meeting alone with a member of the opposite sex. (WeWork disputes this.) In October, Ruby Anaya, the former head of culture, sued WeWork, alleging she had been groped at both the company summit and Summer Camp by colleagues (the lawsuit is pending).

Several people told me they worried about what the company’s younger employees might absorb from their experience. A former WeWorker who now runs a company told me, “I spend a lot of my time on culture and HR, and it fucking slows you down worrying about how people feel.” But one employee told me his WeWork experience had made him think about what he would do differently if he were ever to run his own start-up. “You can move fast and break things,” he said, citing Facebook’s widely adopted empire-building ethos. “But you can’t move fast and break people.””



“Will WeWork work? The company has existed entirely in an expanding economy, and its business has never been tested by a downturn. WeWork argues that in a recession, larger companies will downsize into its spaces while laid-off workers will need them to start their solo careers. But it’s also very possible that large companies who currently have ancillary spaces in WeWork will identify those as easy costs to cut, and entrepreneurs will revert to coffee shops. A third argument goes that WeWork occupies so much space that many landlords will have no choice but to renegotiate its leases.

During the dot-com boom, a company called Regus became a stock-market darling by offering similar but much blander flexible offices. In 2000, Fast Company published a story about Regus titled “Office of the Future,” highlighting its efforts to bring “community” to the workplace. But the bubble burst and Regus went bankrupt. The company recovered and rebranded as IWG, but its existence presents another conundrum for WeWork. IWG currently has roughly 3,000 locations and 2.5 million customers worldwide, numbers that dwarf WeWork’s. IWG is profitable and now has a hipper, WeWork-ish offering. It is publicly traded and worth around $3 billion.

Everyone in real estate expects the kind of flexible office space WeWork offers to become an increasingly large part of their world, and many of the company’s rivals are grateful to Neumann for preaching the gospel of co-working and shorter-term leases. Even people critical of WeWork’s culture, or skeptical of its focus on hypergrowth, say it will likely remain a force in commercial real estate. But many, too, have begun to wonder what can explain the $44 billion in valuation difference between WeWork and IWG. In a financial disclosure last year, when it was in the process of losing $1.9 billion to fund its growth, WeWork acknowledged, “We have a history of losses, and we may be unable to achieve profitability at a company level.” It also published a financial metric it called “community-adjusted EBITDA” — earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization, which is an accountant-approved way of measuring a company’s performance — that excluded many costs, like marketing, construction, and design, that WeWork claimed would disappear once it reached maturity, in an attempt to show it could make a healthy profit; the Financial Times dubbed WeWork’s doctored version “perhaps the most infamous financial metric of a generation.” WeWork employees told me they would be happy if the company were worth half of what SoftBank said it was going to be. “Even if it goes down to $5 billion, Adam’s still worth a billion dollars,” one rival said, expressing concern about the perverse incentives of the modern economy. “So from an objective perspective, was it a mistake to take this hemorrhage-inducing risk? You could argue that was the rational mode.”

Back in his office, Neumann remained upbeat. “Before you ask, let’s set an intention,” Neumann told me, after a WeWork spokesperson said I had time for … [more]
hucksters  cults  adamneumann  wework  2019  scams  realestate  bubbles  openfloorplans  fraternities  hiring  turnover  myths  diversity  privilege 
12 weeks ago by robertogreco
The Design Thinking Movement is Absurd – Lee Vinsel – Medium
"A couple of years ago, I saw a presentation from a group known as the University Innovation Fellows at a conference in Washington, DC. The presentation was one of the weirder and more disturbing things I’ve witnessed in an academic setting.

The University Innovation Fellows, its webpage states, “empowers students to become leaders of change in higher education. Fellows are creating a global movement to ensure that all students gain the necessary attitudes, skills, and knowledge to compete in the economy of the future.” You’ll notice this statement presumes that students aren’t getting the “attitudes, skills, and knowledge” they need and that, more magically, the students know what “attitudes, skills, and knowledge” they themselves need for . . . the future.

The UIF was originally funded by the National Science Foundation and led by VentureWell, a non-profit organization that “funds and trains faculty and student innovators to create successful, socially beneficial businesses.” VentureWell was founded by Jerome Lemelson, who some people call “one of the most prolific American inventors of all time” but who really is most famous for virtually inventing patent trolling. Could you imagine a more beautiful metaphor for how Design Thinkers see innovation? Socially beneficial, indeed.

Eventually, the UIF came to find a home in . . . you guessed it, the d.school.

It’s not at all clear what the UIF change agents do on their campuses . . . beyond recruiting other people to the “movement.” A blog post titled, “Only Students Could Have This Kind of Impact,” describes how in 2012 the TEDx student representatives at Wake Forest University had done a great job recruiting students to their event. It was such a good job that it was hard to see other would match it the next year. But, good news, the 2013 students were “killing it!” Then comes this line (bolding and capitalization in the original):

*THIS* is Why We Believe Students Can Change the World

Because they can fill audiences for TED talks, apparently. The post goes on, “Students are customers of the educational experiences colleges and universities are providing them. They know what other students need to hear and who they need to hear it from. . . . Students can leverage their peer-to-peer marketing abilities to create a movement on campus.”

Meanwhile, the UIF blog posts with titles like, “Columbia University — Biomedical Engineering Faculty Contribute to Global Health,” that examine the creation of potentially important new things mostly focus on individuals with the abbreviation “Dr.” before their names, which is what you’d expect given that making noteworthy contributions to science and engineering typically takes years of hard work.

At its gatherings, the UIF inducts students into all kinds of innovation-speak and paraphernalia. They stand around in circles, filling whiteboards with Post-It Notes. Unsurprisingly, the gatherings including sessions on topics like “lean startups” and Design Thinking. The students learn crucial skills during these Design Thinking sessions. As one participant recounted, “I just learned how to host my own TEDx event in literally 15 minutes from one of the other fellows.”

The UIF has many aspects of classic cult indoctrination, including periods of intense emotional highs, giving individuals a special lingo barely recognizable to outsiders, and telling its members that they are different and better than ordinary others — they are part of a “movement.” Whether the UIF also keeps its fellows from getting decent sleep and feeds them only peanut butter sandwiches is unknown.

This UIF publicity video contains many of the ideas and trappings so far described in this essay. Watch for all the Post-It notes, whiteboards, hoodies, look-alike black t-shirts, and jargon, like change agents.

When I showed a friend this video, after nearly falling out of his chair, he exclaimed, “My God, it’s the Hitlerjugend of contemporary bullshit!”

Tough but fair? Personally, I think that’s a little strong. A much better analogy to my mind is Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

When I saw the University Innovation Fellows speak in Washington, DC, a group of college students got up in front of the room and told all of us that they were change agents bringing innovation and entrepreneurship to their respective universities. One of the students, a spritely slip of a man, said something like, “Usually professors are kind of like this,” and then he made a little mocking weeny voice — wee, wee, wee, wee. The message was that college faculty and administrators are backwards thinking barriers that get in the way of this troop of thought leaders.

After the presentation, a female economist who was sitting next to me told the UIFers that she had been a professor for nearly two decades, had worked on the topic of innovation that entire time, and had done a great deal to nurture and advance the careers of her students. She found the UIF’s presentation presumptuous and offensive. When the Q&A period was over, one of UIF’s founders and co-directors, Humera Fasihuddin, and the students came running over to insist that they didn’t mean faculty members were sluggards and stragglers. But those of us sitting at the table were like, “Well then, why did you say it?”

You might think that this student’s antics were a result of being overly enthusiastic and getting carried away, but you would be wrong. This cultivated disrespect is what the UIF teaches its fellows. That young man was just parroting what he’d been taught to say.

A UIF blog post titled “Appealing to Your University’s Faculty and Staff” lays it all out. The author refers to Fasihuddin as a kind of guru figure, “If you participated in the Fall 2013 cohort, you may recall Humera repeating a common statement throughout session 5, ‘By connecting to other campuses that have been successful, and borrowing from those ideas you hear from your UIF peers, it removes the fear of the unknown for the faculty.”

Where does the faculty’s fear come from? The blog post explains, “The unfortunate truth in [Humera’s] statement is that universities are laggards (i.e. extremely slow adopters). The ironic part is universities shouldn’t be, and we as University Innovation Fellows, understand this.”

Now, on the one hand, this is just Millennial entitlement all hopped up on crystal meth. But on the other hand, there is something deeper and more troubling going on here. The early innovation studies thinker Everett Rogers used the term “laggard” in this way to refer to the last individuals to adopt new technologies. But in the UIF, Rogers’ vision becomes connected to the more potent ideology of neoliberalism: through bodies of thought like Chicago School economics and public choice theory, neoliberalism sees established actors as self-serving agents who only look to maintain their turf and, thus, resist change.

This mindset is quite widespread among Silicon Valley leaders. It’s what led billionaire Ayn Rand fan Peter Thiel to put $1.7 million into The Seasteading Institute, an organization that, it says, “empowers people to build floating startup societies with innovative governance models.” Seasteaders want to build cities that would float around oceans, so they can escape existing governments and live in libertarian, free market paradise. It’s the same notion undergirding the Silicon Valley “startup accelerator” YCombinator’s plan to build entire cities from scratch because old ones are too hard to fix. Elon Musk pushes this view when he tweets things, like “Permits are harder than technology,” implying that the only thing in the way of his genius inventions are other human beings — laggards, no doubt. Individuals celebrated this ideological vision, which holds that existing organizations and rules are mere barriers to entrepreneurial action, when Uber-leader Travis Kalanick used a piece of software to break city laws. And then they were shocked, shocked, shocked when Kalanick turned out to be a total creep.

Now, if you have never been frustrated by bureaucracy, you have not lived.Moreover, when I was young, I often believed my elders were old and in the way. But once you grow up and start getting over yourself, you come to realize that other people have a lot to teach you, even when — especially when — they disagree with you.

This isn’t how the UIF sees things. The blog post “Appealing to Your University’s Faculty and Staff” advises fellows to watch faculty members’ body language and tone of voice. If these signs hint that the faculty member isn’t into what you’re saying — or if he or she speaks as if you are not an “equal” or “down at you” — the UIF tells you to move on and find a more receptive audience. The important thing is to build the movement. “So I close with the same recurring statement,” the blog post ends, “By connecting to other campuses that have been successful . . . it removes the fear of the unknown for faculty.”

Is there any possibility that the students themselves could just be off-base? Sure, if while you are talking someone’s body tightens up or her head looks like it’s going to explode or her voice changes or she talks down to you and doesn’t treat you as an equal, it could be because she is a demonic, laggard-y enemy of progress, or it could be because you are being a fucking moron — an always-embarrassing realization that I have about myself far more often than I’d like to admit. Design Thinkers and the UIF teach a thoroughly adolescent conception of culture.

Edmund Burke once wrote, “You had all of these advantages . . . but you chose to act as if you had never been molded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.” The brain-rotting … [more]
leevinsel  designthinking  2018  d.school  tedtalks  tedx  cults  innovation  daveevans  design  d.life  humerafasihuddin  edmundburke  natashajen  herbertsimon  peterrowe  robertmckim  petermiller  liberalarts  newage  humanpotentialmovement  esaleninstitute  stanford  hassoplattner  davidkelly  johnhennessy  business  education  crit  post-its  siliconvalley  architecture  art  learning  elitism  designimperialism  ideo  playpump  openideo  thommoran  colonialism  imperialism  swiffer  andrewrussell  empathy  problemsolving  delusion  johnleary  stem  steam  margaretbrindle  peterstearns  christophermckenna  georgeorwell  thinking  howwwethink  highered  highereducation  tomkelly  nathanrosenberg  davidmowery  stevenklepper  davidhounshell  patrickmccray  marianamazzucato  commercialization  civilrightsmovement  criticism  bullshit  jeromelemelson  venturewell  maintenance  themaintainers  maintainers  cbt  psychology  hucksterism  novelty  ruthschwartzcowan  davidedgerton 
may 2019 by robertogreco
My Childhood in a Cult | The New Yorker
"To people who grew up in more ordinary circumstances, my childhood sounds exotic, scandalous, and fascinating. Cults are fascinating—but one thing the Manson Family and the Lyman Family have in common is the banality of daily life inside these worlds. If you live in a large group of people, there are always dishes to wash and heaps of laundry to hang up to dry. The travel plans for Venus took place against a backdrop of these everyday chores. As I like to say when I tell people about my background, “It wasn’t all acid and orgies.” (Acid was used by adults, as a tool for spiritual growth. To my knowledge, there were no orgies.) What I don’t always say is that I also had a happy childhood, or, anyway, parts of one. The young Family members sang together almost every day as we harvested strawberries or corn—Woody Guthrie songs, or folk songs like “Down in the Valley.” We foraged in the woods for morel mushrooms. Fishing was big, and every time an adult caught a bluefish or a bass I pasted one of the scales in my diary. We had dogs, goats, cows, chickens, a Shetland pony named Stardust, and a cockatiel named Charles. Older kids read younger kids stories before bed—“The Chronicles of Narnia,” “A Wrinkle in Time”—and we fell asleep in piles, three or four to a bed.

Even the mystical stuff had a mundane quality for those of us who didn’t know anything else. The Ouija board, for instance, was a regular part of our lives. Shelves were lined with notebooks containing transcriptions of the conversations adults had had with various spirits. We kids were allowed to talk to only one spirit, Faedra, and sometimes after dinner we’d gather around the board to summon her. The Ouija board was hand carved, the woodgrain beautifully polished, the pointer covered in purple velvet. Only the older kids were allowed to ask questions, and our eyes would be glued to the pointer as it slid over the smooth surface, gaining momentum, the low swish of felt on wood the only sound as we held our breath for answers. One night, one of the questions was “What does Guinevere need to learn?” The answer came back that I was a lazy little girl. After that, I cleaned every ashtray in the compound for weeks, ashamed but also secretly thrilled that Faedra even knew who I was.

It might make sense, then, that when I was told I had to leave the Family, in 1979, I begged to stay, tears streaming down my face. That night, August 25th, I wrote in my diary, “I am totally stunned and heartbroken. I am speechless. . . . I can’t live away from everything I love. I can’t sleep tonight, nothing. . . . But I swear to god I am coming back and I will be the same person. I will fight the world and get back where I belong.” Even now, it’s hard for me to write about the Lyman Family. It’s been four decades since I begged to stay, and I still care what they think."



"Then came a new frontier: school. I was nervous (because, you know, the soul thing). But I was excited, too. Accustomed to being surrounded by dozens of kids my own age, I had been cooped up in my grandmother’s house for two months. I was dying for people. I was wearing green velour bell-bottoms and a blouse with big purple flowers on it, both prized items I had sewn myself. My hair hung down to the small of my back, and I brushed it until it shone."



"Years later, when I visited the Lyman Family’s compound on Martha’s Vineyard, I noticed how everyone I grew up with looked into one another’s eyes, always. It all seemed perfectly normal again.

I was eighteen at the time. I had been out in the world for six years. In high school, I had effectively erased any signs of my childhood—I didn’t talk about it, and that made life so much simpler. A year after I left the Family, one of the more powerful adults had written me a letter. “I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that everyone misses you,” it said. A letter I received a few weeks later explained, “We work at it, striving for inner consciousness, self development on the inside instead of the outside. This life we live is not for everyone, only if you have Mel inside of you. ” When I was about to go off to college, I wrote to the Lyman Family to ask if I could visit before I went. The members welcomed me warmly, and I spent a glorious few days there. Slowly, people in the Family encouraged me to stay with them instead of going to college: this was home, they said, where I belonged. I did feel as if I were home, and, after a day or two, I thought I might not go to college after all. These people really knew me. They looked into my eyes."



"I went off to Sarah Lawrence, where I discovered that an ironic inversion had taken place. When I was in high school, I effectively erased my past; at college, my background became a valuable commodity. Everyone there tried to outdo one another with his or her wild backstories. Mine inevitably won. When people asked me where I was from and I grew circumspect, my best friend would egg me on: “Tell them about the Moonies! Tell them about the Moonies!” He couldn’t wait to see their reaction to my stories."



"For the cult members who’ve survived over the decades, it’s possible that the ideals they started with have given way to the demands of their daily lives, to the buffeting effects of the larger culture, to the familiarity of routine. Or maybe they just haven’t been found out.

There will always be people in search of what cults have to offer—structure, solidarity, a kind of hope. In the back yard of our Los Angeles compound, the adults built a wooden pyramid, big enough to hold about twenty kids, small stilts raising it a few feet off the ground. The smell of blooming jasmine surrounded us as we climbed into it at night, sat cross-legged in a circle, and sang one note all together. We would do this for hours. There were skylights in the ceiling, and we stared up at the stars as we sang. I loved those moments, holding on to the note until I thought my lungs would burst, then taking a deep breath and starting again. It felt as if we were one being, and we were proud of that. Most of all, we hoped that the spaceships could hear us, and that they would be summoned at last."
childhood  cults  belief  school  schooling  identity  2019  children  guinevereturner 
may 2019 by robertogreco
This Is How You Kill a Profession - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"Like any addict, I have to be vigilant whenever higher ed calls again. I know what it means to be a member of that cult, to believe in the face of all evidence, to persevere, to serve. I know what it means to take a 50-percent pay cut and move across the country to be allowed back inside the academy as a postdoc after six years in the secular professions. To be grateful to give up a career, to give up economic comfort, in order to once again be a member.

Part of me still wants it. That kind of faith is in my bones, and reason can only bleach it away somewhat. The imprint is still there, faint, hauntingly imprecise, all the more venerable for its openness to dreams. I worked as a college administrator for seven years after that postdoc, because I couldn’t bear to be away from my beloved community even after it had set me aside. Because I couldn’t walk away.

All cults, all abusers, work the same way, taking us away from friends and family, demanding more effort and more sacrifice and more devotion, only to find that we remain the same tantalizing distance from the next promised level. And the sacrifice normalizes itself into more sacrifice, the devotion becomes its own reward, the burn of the hunger as good as the meal. "
herbchildress  academia  labor  work  cults  highereducation  highered  teaching  colleges  universities  health  inequality  tenure  competition  faith  abuse  adjuncts  service  class  precarity  capitalism  hungergames 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Jonestown Part 1: Who was the Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones? - YouTube
"A documentary on the 40th anniversary of the largest murder-suicide in American history, when over 900 members of the Peoples Temple consumed a deadly cyanide-laced drink on the orders of leader Jim Jones."

"Jonestown Part 1: Who was the Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones?"
"Captivated by the charismatic style of Pentecostal and Methodist preachers, Jones became a preacher himself and founded his ministry, the Peoples Temple."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0B1sMfxWYw

"Jonestown Part 2: How Jim Jones rose to power within his Peoples Temple"
"Jones promoted social justice, racial and class equality and desegregation. But some of his former followers said he paid lip service to those ideas to lure people in."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWtH6VIfnAQ

"Jonestown Part 3: Jim Jones was 'a predator,' ex-members allege"
"Former Peoples Temple members said Jones became extreme, manipulating his congregants with blackmail and administering humiliating beatings to those who displeased him."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUrd0h8-a6A

"Jonestown Part 4: Ex-members claim Jim Jones practiced faux suicides"
"At the Peoples Temple base in California, former members said Jones would talk about planning for death and ask them whether their movement was worth dying for."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zco4jN7zouI

"Jonestown Part 5: Jim Jones sets up Jonestown compound in Guyana"
"In 1976, about 50 of Jones' followers left California to help him build his "utopia" vision deep in the jungles of the South American country."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NveT_KQeu5w

[Full video:
https://abc.go.com/movies-and-specials/truth-and-lies-jonestown-paradise-lost ]
jonestown  documentary  2018  socialjustice  history  sanfrancisco  cults  religion  race  class  desegregation  equality  gender 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Jonestown’s Victims Have a Lesson to Teach Us, So I Listened – Mother Jones
"In uncovering the blackness of Peoples Temple, I began to better understand my community and the need to belong."



"Trying to unpack the meaning of Jonestown and its leader, Jim Jones, has become a genre in its own right. Peoples Temple was a church and socialist political movement that began in Indianapolis in the 1950s before migrating to California and opening congregations in Redwood Valley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In 1977, the church established what it called an “agricultural project” in a remote outpost in Guyana, where its leader and hundreds of his followers set about establishing a socialist utopian Promised Land. Instead, on November 18, 1978, 918 people died at the behest of Jones, who called the action “revolutionary suicide.” There are memoirs by survivors, like Deborah Layton’s Seductive Poison. There are documentaries, including Stanley Nelson’s Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. There are more recent historical looks at Jones and how he built the church, like Jeff Guinn’s The Road to Jonestown.

The vast majority of these popular accounts center predominately on Jones, who was white, and the perspectives of white survivors. Each anniversary of the massacre, though, brings a more sober look at how race functioned within the church, like Sikivu Hutchinson’s 2015 novel White Nights, Black Paradise. More than 90 percent of Peoples Temple members were African American. Jones even modeled the cadences and substance of his preaching on those of a black spiritual leader named Father Divine, a sort of T.D. Jakes of the early 20th century. Of the roughly 1,000 Peoples Temple members who moved to Guyana before its tragic end there, 70 percent were black and almost half were black women. A number of those were black women over the age of 61; the burgeoning community relied in part on the $36,000 per month in Social Security benefits that these women brought in.

I can see why the church and its drive to build a colorblind utopia appealed specifically to black people in this San Francisco community. The Fillmore was once called “the Harlem of the West,” a black neighborhood dominated by jazz bars, mom-and-pop shops, and Victorian duplexes in varying degrees of upkeep and decay. Like most black communities, it was a place of government-sanctioned racial segregation, one of only two neighborhoods open to black people, where black doctors didn’t live that far from the poorest of the poor. By the 1970s, black families in San Francisco were struggling with drug addiction and neglect; the neighborhood was still reeling from a two-decade-long redevelopment program that demolished hundreds of homes and displaced tens of thousands of residents. It was mostly the poor who were left to live in a smattering of public housing complexes that took up most of the neighborhood.

What’s more, the church became the place where radical and progressive dignitaries, the people many of these neighbors looked up to, came to show their worth: Angela Davis visited and once gave a radio dispatch talking about the “conspiracy” against the church. Dennis Banks, who had been part of the more than year-long occupation of Alcatraz with the American Indian Movement, also reportedly showed up. Willie Brown, who would become San Francisco’s first black mayor but was then a California state assemblyman, was a strong supporter. Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett, the influential publisher of the city’s black newspaper, became the publisher of the church’s newsletter and was also the personal physician of the church’s reverend.

Even still, in America, Jonestown is largely seen as a white catastrophe; in Guyana, it’s viewed as a distinctly American one, a late-20th-century experiment in colonialism. In both tellings, and in the many books and films, black people are seen en masse, without individual stories of their own that might tell us something about how private entities learn to prey on black people when civic institutions fail them, and how joy can sometimes be found within that.

So I went looking for names."



"I came away from all of this with a deeper appreciation for just how average Peoples Temple members seemed. I went into it thinking that I’d find people who were misunderstood, maybe, but also brainwashed. Their inclination to be part of something was ultimately misguided, but nonetheless, it was human. But now, crucially, through Moore and McGehee, I also deeply understand how possible it is to build a life from tragedy, and how necessary it is to sift through what’s most painful, year after year after year, to better understand how it’s shaped you.

The irony isn’t lost on Moore. After rejecting the church when her sisters were alive, she’s spent the decades after their deaths more enmeshed in the Temple’s existence than really anyone. Her involvement goes beyond the study of the Temple and its meaning. Once, when I tried to arrange a time to talk with her, I hear from McGehee that she’ll be busy helping a former Temple member move in Indianapolis, even though the couple lives in a remote part of Washington state. “[My husband] and I occasionally ask ourselves, ‘What would we be doing if Jonestown had not happened in 1978?’,” she told me. “And the fact is we’ve been part of Peoples Temple much longer than my sisters ever were part of the movement.”

I became fascinated with Jonestown not because I was repelled by the idea of people mindlessly following along on some wild journey to build a utopian community, but because, on some level, I got how they did. I know how it feels to want to be a part of something that is separate but still part of the community in which you’re raised. I wasn’t born until nearly a decade after Jonestown, but the Fillmore I grew up in was one besieged by stories of loss. It was the Dot Com boom of the late 1990s, and all around me were stories of black families who were leaving the city because their rents were too high, their property taxes had skyrocketed, or the violence and neglect of the preceding decades left them aching for a fresh start elsewhere.

It’s extremely lonely and vulnerable to be born and raised and black in San Francisco these days. My mom is aging, and I’m a thirtysomething living 3,000 miles away and feeling increasingly anxious about the amounts of care I’ll have to provide to her on my own. For this, and so many other reasons, in this time of tribalism and instability, with inequality on the rise and people feeling moved to find a political savior, Jonestown is still worth revisiting. So too are the people still surviving it."
sanfrancisco  history  jimjones  jonestown  peoplestemple  2018  jamilahking  cults  race  progressive  progressivism  socialism 
november 2018 by robertogreco
How a Cult Infiltrated the California Institute of Integral Studies
"In 2011 the California Institute of Integral Studies concluded a several month long investigation into Cultural Anthropology professors Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro. Both were fired citing a “cult-like environment,” “exploitation,” and a “siege mentality” among other reasons. In 2007 I was one of four students who walked out of the program reporting serious dysfunction. This is the never been told story of how it unfolded."



"“Dr. Angana Chatterji is the most powerful being I have ever met…Her capacity borderlines on Mastery. Her power is deeply complex…She uses concentrated rage with Mastery…I am becoming a Master — like her I conjure divinity…These beings [Angana and Richard Shapiro] resonate on degrees of consciousness barely comprehensible to others…She [Angana] is the one whom we fear, to whom we gravitate… and in her presence we share divine expression, visions of practice, healing, and transformation. She conjures Kali and she is a destroyer.” — Former Anthropology student"
californiainstututeofintegralstudies  ciis  bescofield  anthropology  cults  highered  highereducation  2007  2011  foucault  pedagogy  abuse  intimidation  sanfrancisco  2018  socialchange  michelfoucault 
january 2018 by robertogreco
Pookleblinky on Twitter: "1. Assemble a corpus of a person's utterances. 2. Compute their redundancy. 3. Now you know whether to ignore them or not"
"1. Assemble a corpus of a person's utterances.

2. Compute their redundancy.

3. Now you know whether to ignore them or not

That quote about Eichmann being an unthinking finite state automaton, endlessly regurgitating the same words.

Consider the role of redundancy in political discourse. You could summarily ignore as worthless any convo with asymmetric entropy between

Theory: actually rational debate, which has never been observed, can only occur between parties with similar entropy levels.

If person A and Person B both say things that are about equally unpredictable, they can claim to be debating.

Granted, neither will actually change either other's minds, because that has never once happened. But, they'll think it was pleasant.

Vary the entropy a bit, make one person a bit more compressible than the other, and there's no chance of a debate occurring.

Person A uses a vocabulary of 20,000 words and varied sentence structures. Person B pseudorandomly utters one of 6 catchphrases

Entropy asymmetry makes debate impossible. Thus, a good strategy if your goal is to avoid debate.

Either make yourself incompressible, and maximize the spider nipples randomness of your utterances, or make america great again

Both sesquipedian polysyllabicism and semiliterate howls serve the same strategy of rendering argument impossible.

On one side: the bitter graduate student. On the other, the foxnews chyron voter

Obviously, if you want to gain power, it's much much easier to aim for the latter than the former. Books are expensive.

If your strategy is to acquire followers who cannot be debated, increasing their compressibility is in every way a cheaper option

You want to be more Eichmann than Chomsky. More Git R Done than dialectical materialism.

Theory: every fascist movement looks similar, partly because all of them have found the same cheapest solution to the engineering problem.

That solution will appear different in superficial ways, but will always tend toward the same trend: redundancy and low-entropy

Suppose the average reading level in a nation is that of a 13 year old. Reduce your followers to a 10 year old's levels, and voila.

What's interesting is that you can do this even to people who are highly educated. Cf. Normal cults.

Education is not at all a solution to this. It's ahistoric to suggest highly-educated people can't parrot phrases while commiting evil.

Feynman, a horrible person but a great teacher, used to recount how students would not connect two fields of knowledge.

They'd know about indices of refraction, and parrot the equations on demand. But couldn't explain a spoon in a glass of water with them.

They'd effortlessly recite laws of thermodynamics, but be incapable of connecting that knowledge to anything else.

One of the big problems teachers have, is that students automatically compartmentalize. Consilience is hard.

The natural tendency is to not connect fields of knowledge, forcing students to piece things together is what takes hard work.

Historically, you can't stop atrocity by hoping that education is a solution.

All you end up with are people who can write papers on physiology, while freezing prisoners in 55 gallon drums.

People who can cite the great philosophers of history, while getting riled up hours later by the same 5 phrases shouted at them."
pooklebinky  via:jessicaferris  2016  election  donaldtrump  entropy  debate  richarfeynman  cults  education  language  communication  adolfeichmann  noamchomsky  redundancy  dialecticalmaterialism 
march 2017 by robertogreco
Wake Up Now | This American Life
[Bookmarking mostly for the intro and act one. I know someone who got sucked into something similar and predating WakeUpNow. It was frustrating and disheartening, but also a little fascinating to watch as he bought in (despite my warnings) to the pyramid scheme, mostly due to someone who he considered to be a mentor. At the time, I did a lot of searching to expose to him that the company was a pyramid scheme. YouTube and the rest of the web was full of videos that were labeled as exposing them as a scam, but actually supported the company. Wake Up Now seems to have taken that strategy to a whole new level. SEO is bad, but this is the worst of all SEO.

Reminds me too of Adam Curtis talking about “a constant state of destabilized perception” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcy8uLjRHPM ]

"This American Life staffers Brian Reed and Bianca Giaever explain to Ira this thing they've found online called WakeUpNow. It's a company but they can't tell exactly what it does, and what its product is. Maybe it's a club? An organization? They find hundreds of enthusiastic videos people have made about it. (5 minutes)

Act One: Something’s Happening Here and You Don’t Know What It Is.
Brian and Bianca go to a WakeUpNow conference to try to figure out what the company really is. WakeUpNow does something called "network marketing," which Brian points out, is a very bland term for something completely mind-blowing. The company's Marketing Director Jordan Harris tells Brian and Bianca that what they saw at the conference was not a good measure of what the company is. We also hear from Robert L. Fitzpatrick, who researches network marketing and wrote a book called False Profits; and Damien Lacks, who quit his job to do WakeUpNow. (31 minutes)

Act Two: Board Games.
Jacob Goldstein and David Kestenbaum of NPR's Planet Money tell the story of two guys who decided that the CEO of a small tool company was paid too much and wanted to wake people up to that fact - They wanted to cut the CEO's pay. The two people happened to be investors in the tool company. It turns out if you think CEOs are paid too much, it's guys like this with money to invest in stocks that you want on your side. Planet Money is a production of NPR News. (15 minutes)

Act Three: Sleep No More.
A woman in Springfield Oregon named Angela Jane Evancie tries to get her boyfriend, sleepy grad student Morgan Peach, to wake up during finals week. (3 minutes)"
business  employment  fraud  wakeupnow  seo  2014  thisamericanlife  pyramidschemes  brianreed  biancagiaever  wakupnow  networkmarketing  marketing  misinformation  psychology  attitude  emptiness  presentationofself  positivepsychology  cults 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Secluded innovation — Medium
"When work is fragmented and spread across multiple places, the ease of connections becomes more valuable than free coffee. Public transportation becomes critically important (as if it weren’t already). The maintenance of our sidewalks becomes as essential as their initial design. Parks and other urban punctuation move from being amenities to being productive assets. And all of this changes the equation for deciding what to do within one company’s own little fiefdom. If someone can walk a few blocks down for a break on a bench, or up the street for coffee, why recreate anemic versions of those options indoors? Why pass up moments of transition between spaces, between conversations, between peer groups, between moods? Those are the moments when serendipity is most active. If you value creativity, there is little incentive to recreate the city internally. The walls of the amenity fortress become more of a burden than a benefit.

One peace dividend of the intense competition and talent wars between consumer technology companies is massive effort being dumped into all the things that make a company. The staid pillars of human resources, operations, facilities, management hierarchies, and others are being consciously redesigned from scratch. If these approaches are affordable in slower industries where investors are more cautious, and they spread outside of the enclave of technology companies, this will be as important as the apps and websites those companies have built. Yet, for all of the attention — the hype, I think it’s fair to say — that the new tech-driven culture of work is attracting, it still feels cloistered behind the collective mass of security badges, clubby language and NDAs. These trappings of seclusion make it feel fresh and exciting if you’re on the inside of the bubble, but cultish if you’re on the outside.

Moving from cult to culture rarely happens by fiat; it’s a slow process that will be painful for the true believers and awkward for the rest of us. Yet luring all of us forward should be the potential that doing so means we change things on a fundamental level by redesigning the assumptions we’ve inherited from the industrial era. The city itself remains an under-loved ally in this. For a community that understands the essential value of open source, there’s a distinct lack of respect for openness in the way they relate to the city. Re-engaging with the public realm is the most fundamental tool that companies (and groups of companies) have to connect with the public, to understand needs more holistically, and to convert that understanding into longterm public and private value. Doing so will require many companies to go back to first principles and find a way to internalize the value of the outside world rather than literally importing it. Seclusion may make it easier to develop technology, but it’s a barrier to deeper innovations in how we live together as a society. Pop the bubble, come out of that garage; the weather’s great."

[See also: http://aeon.co/magazine/altered-states/what-tech-offices-tell-us-about-the-future-of-work ]
bryanboyer  architecture  cities  culture  technology  startups  cults  2014  officedesign  seclusion  isolation  offices 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Andrew and Akina Cox: Meet the Moonies - Strangers on KCRW
"Andrew and Akina seem a lot like any other late 20s artist couple you might find in Los Angeles. But a few things about them are quite a bit different from your average L.A. hipsters. For one thing, they’ve been married since they were 20 and 21. And not only that, they were matched for marriage by their parents in the Unification Church that they both grew up in, a.k.a. ’The Moonies,” and they had a ”Moonie” wedding in a stadium in Korea with several hundred other couples, all being wed at the same time. Eight years in, they seem remarkably happy…"

[See also: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115512/unification-church-profile-fall-house-moon ]
moonies  kcrw  cults  religion  unificationchurch  via:youngna  andrewcox  akinacox  reverendsunmyungmoon 
november 2013 by robertogreco

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