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robertogreco : peterthiel   12

Traditions of the future, by Astra Taylor (Le Monde diplomatique - English edition, May 2019)
"If the dead do not exactly have power or rights, per se, they do still have a seat at the table—Thomas Jefferson among them. In ways obvious and subtle, constructive and destructive, the present is constrained and shaped by the decisions of past generations. A vivid example is the American Constitution, in which a small group of men ratified special kinds of promises intended to be perpetual. Sometimes I imagine the Electoral College, which was devised to increase the influence of the southern states in the new union, as the cold grip of plantation owners strangling the current day. Even Jefferson’s beloved Bill of Rights, intended as protections from government overreach, has had corrosive effects. The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms allows those who plundered native land and patrolled for runaway slaves, who saw themselves in the phrase “a well regulated Militia,” to haunt us. Yet plenty of our ancestors also bequeathed us remarkable gifts, the right to free speech, privacy, and public assembly among them.

Some theorists have framed the problematic sway of the deceased over the affairs of the living as an opposition between tradition and progress. The acerbic Christian critic G. K. Chesterton put it this way: “Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.” Social progress, in Chesterton’s account, can thus be seen as a form of disenfranchisement, the deceased being stripped of their suffrage. Over half a century before Chesterton, Karl Marx expressed sublime horror at the persistent presence of political zombies: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

The most eloquent partisans in this trans-temporal power struggle said their piece at the end of the 18th century. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine had a furious debate that articulated the dichotomy between past and future, dead and living, tradition and progress. A consummate conservative shaken by the post-revolutionary violence in France, Burke defended the inherited privilege and stability of aristocratic government that radical democrats sought to overthrow: “But one of the first and most leading principles on which the commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have received from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not think it amongst their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original fabric of their society.” Any revolution, Burke warned, hazards leaving those who come after “a ruin instead of an habitation” in which men, disconnected from their forerunners, “would become little better than the flies of summer.”

The left-leaning Paine would have none of it. Better to be a buzzing fly than a feudal serf. “Whenever we are planning for posterity we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary,” he quipped. His critique, forcefully expressed in Common Sense and The Rights of Man, was not just an attack on monarchy. Rather, it was addressed to revolutionaries who might exercise undue influence over time by establishing new systems of government. “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time,’” he protested.

In his pithy style, Paine popularized a commitment both to revolution and to novelty. “A nation, though continually existing, is continually in the state of renewal and succession. It is never stationary. Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and old persons from the stage. In this ever-running flood of generations there is no part superior in authority to another.” Given the onslaught of change, a constitution “must be a novelty, and that which is not a novelty must be defective.” Never one for moderation, Paine advocated a decisive break with tradition, rejecting lessons from the past, castigating those who scoured records of ancient Greece and Rome for models or insights. What could the dead teach the living that could possibly be worth knowing?

Every person, whether or not they have children, exists as both a successor and an ancestor. We are all born into a world we did not make, subject to customs and conditions established by prior generations, and then we leave a legacy for others to inherit. Nothing illustrates this duality more profoundly than the problem of climate change, which calls into question the very future of a habitable planet.

Today, I’d guess that most of us are more able to imagine an environmental apocalypse than a green utopia. Nuclear holocaust, cyber warfare, mass extinction, superbugs, fascism’s return, and artificial intelligence turned against its makers—these conclusions we can see, but our minds struggle to conjure an image of a desirable, credible alternative to such bleak finales, to envision habitation rather than ruin.

This incapacity to see the future takes a variety of forms: young people no longer believe their lives will be better than those of their parents and financial forecasts give credence to their gloomy view; political scientists warn that we are becoming squatters in the wreckage of the not-so-distant liberal-democratic past, coining terms such as dedemocratization and postdemocracy to describe the erosion of democratic institutions and norms alongside an ongoing concentration of economic power. Meanwhile, conservative leaders cheer on democratic regression under the cover of nostalgia—“Make America Great Again,” “Take Our Country Back”—and seek to rewind the clock to an imaginary and exclusive past that never really existed."



"Questions of labor and leisure—of free time—have been central to debates about self-government since peasant citizens flooded the Athenian Pnyx. Plato and Aristotle, unapologetic elitists, were aghast that smiths and shoemakers were permitted to rub shoulders with the Assembly’s wellborn. This offense to hierarchical sensibilities was possible only because commoners were compensated for their attendance. Payments sustained the participation of the poor—that’s what held them up—so they could miss a day’s work over hot flames or at the cobbler’s bench to exercise power on equal footing with would-be oligarchs.

For all their disdain, Plato’s and Aristotle’s conviction that leisure facilitates political participation isn’t wrong. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, radical workers agreed. They organized and fought their bosses for more free time, making substantial inroads until a range of factors, including the cult of consumption and a corporate counterattack, overpowered their efforts. A more sustainable, substantive democracy means resuscitating their campaign. Free time is not just a reprieve from the grindstone; it’s an expansion of freedom and a prerequisite of self-rule.

A reduction of work hours would have salutary ecological effects as well, as environmentalists have noted. A fundamental reevaluation of labor would mean assessing which work is superfluous and which essential; which processes can be automated and which should be done by hand; what activities contribute to our alienation and subjugation and which integrate and nourish us. “The kind of work that we’ll need more of in a climate-stable future is work that’s oriented toward sustaining and improving human life as well as the lives of other species who share our world,” environmental journalist and political theorist Alyssa Battistoni has written. “That means teaching, gardening, cooking, and nursing: work that makes people’s lives better without consuming vast amounts of resources, generating significant carbon emissions, or producing huge amounts of stuff.” The time to experiment with more ecologically conscious, personally fulfilling, and democracy-enhancing modes of valuing labor and leisure is upon us, at precisely the moment that time is running out.

With climate calamity on the near horizon, liberal democracies are in a bind. The dominant economic system constrains our relationship to the future, sacrificing humanity’s well-being and the planet’s resources on the altar of endless growth while enriching and empowering the global 1 percent. Meanwhile, in America, the Constitution exacerbates this dynamic, preserving and even intensifying a system of minority rule and lashing the country’s citizens to an aristocratic past.

The fossil fuel and finance industries, alongside the officials they’ve bought off, will fight to the death to maintain the status quo, but our economic arrangements and political agreements don’t have to function the way they do. Should democratic movements manage to mount a successful challenge to the existing order, indigenous precolonial treaty-making processes provide an example of the sort of wisdom a new, sustainable consensus might contain. The Gdoonaaganinaa, or “Dish with One Spoon” treaty, outlines a relationship between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Nishnaabeg people. The dish symbolizes the shared land on which both groups depend and to which all are responsible; in keeping with the Haudenosaunee Great Law of peace, … [more]
astrataylor  ancesors  climatechange  history  2019  democracy  capitalism  patriarchy  whitesupremacy  borders  power  time  future  change  hannaharendt  ecology  sustainability  globalwarming  interconnected  interconnectedness  indigeneity  indigenous  leannebetasamosakesimpson  leisure  plato  aristotle  philosophy  participation  participatory  organizing  labor  work  marxism  karlmarx  socialism  freetime  longnow  bighere  longhere  bignow  annpettifor  economics  growth  degrowth  latecapitalism  neoliberalism  debt  tradition  gkchesterson  thomaspaine  thomasjefferson  us  governance  government  edmundburke  commonsense  postdemocracy  dedemocratization  institutions  artleisure  leisurearts  self-rule  collectivism  alyssanattistoni  legacy  emissions  carbonemissions  ethics  inheritance  technology  technosolutionism  canon  srg  peterthiel  elonmusk  liberalism  feminism  unions  democraticsocialism  pericles  speed  novelty  consumerism  consumption  obsolescence  capital  inequality 
may 2019 by robertogreco
The Complicated Legacy of Stewart Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” | The New Yorker
"Brand now describes himself as “post-libertarian,” a shift he attributes to a brief stint working with Jerry Brown, during his first term as California’s governor, in the nineteen-seventies, and to books like Michael Lewis’s “The Fifth Risk,” which describes the Trump Administration’s damage to vital federal agencies. “ ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ was very libertarian, but that’s because it was about people in their twenties, and everybody then was reading Robert Heinlein and asserting themselves and all that stuff,” Brand said. “We didn’t know what government did. The whole government apparatus is quite wonderful, and quite crucial. [It] makes me frantic, that it’s being taken away.” A few weeks after our conversation, Brand spoke at a conference, in Prague, hosted by the Ethereum Foundation, which supports an eponymous, open-source, blockchain-based computing platform and cryptocurrency. In his address, he apologized for over-valorizing hackers. “Frankly,” he said, “most of the real engineering was done by people with narrow ties who worked nine to five, often with federal money.”

Brand is nonetheless impressed by the new tech billionaires, and he described two startup founders as “unicorns” who “deserve every penny.” “One of the things I hear from the young innovators in the Bay Area these days is ‘How do you stay creative?’ ” Brand said. “The new crowd has this, in some ways, much more interesting problem of how you be creative, and feel good about the world, and collaborate, and all that stuff, when you have wads of money.” He is excited by their philanthropic efforts. “That never used to happen,” he said. “Philanthropy was something you did when you were retired, and you were working on your legacy, so the money went to the college or opera.”

Brand himself has been the beneficiary of tech’s new philanthropists. His main concern, the Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit focussed on “long-term thinking,” counts Peter Thiel and Pierre Omidyar among its funders. The organization hosts a lecture series, operates a steampunk bar in San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and runs the Revive & Restore project, which aims to make species like the woolly mammoth and the passenger pigeon “de-extinct.” The Long Now Foundation is also in the process of erecting a gigantic monument to long-term thought, in Western Texas—a clock that will tick, once a year, for a hundred centuries. Jeff Bezos has donated forty-two million dollars to the construction project and owns the land on which the clock is being built. When I first heard about the ten-thousand-year clock, as it is known, it struck me as embodying the contemporary crisis of masculinity. I was not thinking about death.

Although Brand is in good health and is a dedicated CrossFit practitioner, working on long-term projects has offered him useful perspective. “You’re relaxed about your own death, because it’s a blip on the scale you’re talking about,” he said, then quoted Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms,” saying, “Much was decided before you were born.” Brand is concerned about climate change but bullish on the potential of nuclear energy, urbanization, and genetic modification. “I think whatever happens, most of life will keep going,” he said. “The degree to which it’s a nuisance—the degree to which it is an absolutely horrifying, unrelenting problem is what’s being negotiated.” A newfound interest in history has helped to inform this relaxed approach to the future. “It’s been a long hard slog for women. It’s been a long hard slog for people of color. There’s a long way to go,” he said. “And yet you can be surprised by successes. Gay marriage was unthinkable, and then it was the norm. In-vitro fertilization was unthinkable, and then a week later it was the norm. Part of the comfort of the Long Now perspective, and Steven Pinker has done a good job of spelling this out, is how far we’ve come. Aggregate success rate is astonishing.”

As I sat on the couch in my apartment, overheating in the late-afternoon sun, I felt a growing unease that this vision for the future, however soothing, was largely fantasy. For weeks, all I had been able to feel for the future was grief. I pictured woolly mammoths roaming the charred landscape of Northern California and future archeologists discovering the remains of the ten-thousand-year clock in a swamp of nuclear waste. While antagonism between millennials and boomers is a Freudian trope, Brand’s generation will leave behind a frightening, if unintentional, inheritance. My generation, and those after us, are staring down a ravaged environment, eviscerated institutions, and the increasing erosion of democracy. In this context, the long-term view is as seductive as the apolitical, inward turn of the communards from the nineteen-sixties. What a luxury it is to be released from politics––to picture it all panning out."
stewartband  wholeearthcatalog  technosolutionism  technology  libertarianism  2018  annawiener  babyboomers  boomers  millennials  generations  longnow  longnowfoundation  siliconvalley  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  politics  economics  government  time  apathy  apolitical  californianideology  stevenpinker  jennyholzer  change  handwashing  peterthiel  pierreomidyar  bayarea  donaldtrump  michaellewis  jerrybrown  california  us  technolibertarianism 
november 2018 by robertogreco
The Tycoon Who Planned His Very Own Island Utopia in the 1970s | Atlas Obscura
"When governments buckle, stock markets collapse, and clowns run for president, a billionaire’s thoughts turn naturally to a favorite fantasy: private utopia. The Seasteading Institute, funded by PayPal founder Peter Thiel, recently announced it intends to launch floating cities by 2020. Thiel, the closest living embodiment of an Ayn Rand character, longs for libertarian territories, untrammeled by big government regulation. Google’s Larry Page also says he wants to “set aside a part of the world” for free experimentation. What’s not to love about the DIY nation? No meddling regulators, no patent trolls, no privacy hawks, no taxes!

Plus, you can design your own flag.

Today’s gazillionaires are not the first rich guys to dream of perfecting the ugly world around them. (See especially company towns such as Pullman, Illinois.) Their most direct ancestor may be one of the strangest tycoons of the 20th century, and his curious, failed scheme of the 1970s.

Robert Klark Graham invented shatterproof plastic eyeglasses in the 1940s, and was worth $100 million by the early 1970s—back when $100 million was real money. An ardent conservative, Graham was obsessed with the idea that America was being overrun by morons: Smart people were having too few children and stupid people were having too many. This genetic suicide would lead the nation to catastrophe, Graham believed, and ultimately doom America to communist dictatorship. (Graham imagined the world of Idiocracy 40 years before the movie.)

But Graham, like his modern day counterparts, also brimmed with cheery technological utopianism. He was an inventor, and believed that science could prevent the genetic doom, and perfect humanity.

Robert Graham, from an undated photo. (Photo: Geni)

So in the early 1970s, Graham tried to start a country. Of course he thought an island would be best. Graham instructed George Michel, a vice president at his eyeglasses company, Armorlite, to locate an island that Graham could buy and flag as a sovereign—or at least semi-sovereign—nation. Graham told Michel that the island should be at least five miles wide and 15 miles long.

Michel enlisted several Los Angeles real estate agents, and they eventually located four or five promising candidates, mostly small islands in the Atlantic Ocean that Great Britain might surrender for the right price. Graham was thrilled. Next, he assigned Michel and several Armorlite colleagues to design the island’s living and working quarters. Graham decreed that the island had to be completely self-sufficient, and that no cars would be permitted on it. Michel drew blueprints for prefabricated living saucers that could be stacked on land or in the sea. He designed a futuristic sewage system, greenhouse, and food factories. His masterpiece, Michel recalled fondly, when I interviewed him several years ago, was a vacuum-tube-driven transportation system, in which gyroscopically balanced pods would zip passengers from one part of the island to another. (Elon Musk surely dreams of gyroscopically balanced, vacuum pods!)

Another tech utopia: The Blueseed Project wants to build a floating island near the Bay Area. (Photo: Blueseed Project)

Graham intended to create an elite research colony. The world’s best practical scientists would come to the island, enticed by lavish living conditions, and the fanciest laboratories money could buy, and they would start inventing. Grahamland would support itself: when scientists produced something valuable, they and the colony would share the royalties. The inventors would get rich, and Grahamland would prosper. Graham was convinced that scientists would flock to his island, because he was sure they also desired an escape from the morons, weaklings, and imbeciles who increasingly dominated the rest of the world. Science would be Grahamland’s god and its law. It would be a rational empire, Graham’s own private Atlas Shrugged.

Alas, Grahamland never progressed beyond the planning stages. Michel quit Armorlite in a stock dispute. Graham got distracted and never managed to buy the island. But the private nation was pure, distilled essence of Robert Graham: the entrepreneurial vigor; the cockamamie grandeur; the unshakable faith in practical science; the contempt for the pig-ignorant, lazy masses; and the infatuation with finding—and claiming—the world’s best men.

Undeterred by the project’s failure, Graham remained determined to stop genetic doom and raise an army of geniuses. So in the late 1970s, he launched the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners, whose clients would be women who belonged to Mensa. The Repository would operate until the late 1990s—I wrote this book about it—and produce more than 200 children, the largest, oddest experiment in human genetic engineering in American history. If seasteading fails, will eugenics be Peter Thiel’s next stop?"
peterthiel  technoutopianism  libertarianism  robertgraham  1970s  2015  technology  society 
july 2015 by robertogreco
The Myth of Magical Futures — Kate Losse
"Despite its (now frequently mocked) claims to meritocracy, Silicon Valley loves its hierarchies. However, because these hierarchies often look somewhat different than old-time corporate ones, they are often opaque to outsiders looking in. My book The Boy Kings is among other things a diagram of hierarchy as it was architected at Facebook in Facebook’s early years, where the closer one was to a Mark-Zuckerberg-when-he-started-Facebook combination of age, race, and gender qualities the higher one was in the hierarchy (a hierarchy that appears not to have changed much given the industry's recently released diversity data). In the past year tech's particular version of hierarchy has been more widely acknowledged and critiqued, and thus we are now in the situation where people as powerful as Peter Thiel are being asked to comment on tech’s diversity and misogyny problems, as in yesterday’s Reddit Ask Me Anything interview with Thiel.

Peter Thiel’s answer to misogyny in tech was that we need more women founders, and this answer struck me as interesting on a number of levels, and also somewhat opaque to someone looking into this world from outside. Why women founders? On the one hand, the possibility that a woman founder would construct the hierarchy at her company differently than Mark Zuckerberg is compelling. On the other, the idea of women founders as a solution to tech misogyny also makes existing male founders and investors unaccountable for misogyny as it exists today. Thiel is saying that he and his funded companies are not responsible for the misogynist environments they themselves have built, and furthermore, that they can’t fix them-- only a woman founder can.

This is a problem, because the misogynist hierarchies that exist in tech today are not mystical outcomes, but very real products of the values of the people involved at the formation of a company, which are investors and founders. Investors and board members in addition to founders influence everything from how much equity goes to individual employees, to perks and play budgets (which often are not evenly distributed across the company), to the construction of departments, their relative importance, and the resources accordingly allocated to them. And not coincidentally the privileged departments, on this model, tend to be those occupied by people who look most like the founder and investors (at Facebook this was product engineering, which dominated other forms of engineering, which dominated non-engineering departments, which tended to have the largest degree of race and gender diversity).

But when Thiel is arguing for more women founders he isn’t just deflecting responsibility from himself and his fellow investors. He is also doing something else that I want to unpack: he is re-inscribing a form of hierarchical thinking that is part of the reason tech is such a mess regarding diversity. That is, when Thiel points to “more women founders” as a solution, he is asking women to become founders in order to possess a status that would allow Thiel to acknowledge women in tech at all. That is, all of the women who are currently working in tech, up and down the employee stack, many at companies that Thiel may be invested in, do not seem in Thiel’s formulation to really exist to him. They do not have a seat at the table. They are not acknowledged as agents of change, or as subjects of discrimination (for example, in the AMA, Thiel cited the Bay Area “housing crisis” as a worse problem than sexism in tech, not knowing that the housing crisis disproportionately affects women and people of color because of the wage discrimination marginalized people face at work).

That is, according to Thiel’s “women founders” logic, he can only imagine women as agents/subjects if they are the founder of a company. And this, in the end, is exactly why and how tech is such a diversity disaster: because there are so many ways powerful people in the industry have of ignoring that marginalized people are working at their companies and are experiencing multiple forms of discrimination right now. This is why many powerful people in tech can only conceive moves to “change” the industry in terms of magical futures like “more women founders” or “getting young girls to code”. The women working in the industry right now are being written off in favor of these magical futures, and as long as this is the case, the now of tech (whether the now is today or twenty years from today) will be unchanged.

This is why you should be skeptical whenever you see powerful men arguing for magical future outcomes in regard to diversity. Instead, ask what they can do right now to affect discrimination in their companies. For example, what are they doing to rectify across the board pay and equity discrepancies between men and women, or white men and people of color? What do their harassment policies look like? Investors like Peter Thiel directly influence these decisions at startups they fund (even if “influence” means “failing to advise founders to avoid discriminatory practices”, which is a form of influence). So when men like Thiel speak of magical futures, we should always be asking them: what are you doing today?"
katelosse  siliconvalley  sexism  internet  culture  business  women  technosolutionism  peterthiel  gender  californianideology  meritocracy  facebook  markzuckerberg  vc  venturecapital  technology  libertarianism 
september 2014 by robertogreco
The Miseducation of America - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"While I was watching Ivory Tower, a documentary about the state of college in America that appears in select theaters this month (the movie also airs on CNN this fall), it occurred to me that of the many problems with higher education these days, not the least concerns the way we talk about it. "Efficiency," "art-history majors," "kids who graduate with $100,000 in debt," "the college bubble," the whole rhetoric of crisis and collapse: The public discourse is dominated by sound bites, one-liners, hearsay, horror stories, and a very great deal of misinformation.

Higher ed is not unique in this respect, of course, but it is particularly bad. College, as the movie points out, was always treated as a black box: 18-year-olds were inserted at one end, 22-year-olds came out the other, and as long as the system appeared to be working, no one bothered to inquire what happened in between. Americans, as a result, have very little understanding of what college is about—how it works, what it’s for, what larger social benefits it offers—and those employed in higher education have had very little practice in explaining it to them. The debate has been left to the politicians, the pundits, and increasingly, the hustlers and ideologues. Few who talk about college in public understand it, and few who understand it talk about it.

Ivory Tower, for the most part, is an honorable exception."



"Ivory Tower shows us why it’s so important that we get this right: that we think with facts, with respect to college costs and what they get you, not emotions. When we cherry pick the scariest stories and numbers, we do two things: We open the door to hucksters selling easy answers, and we forget what college is really for. Apocalypticism leads to messianism. Close behind the anxious parents whom we see on college tours at Wesleyan and NYU—variously blithe or glum adolescents in tow—come, like vultures to a kill, a pair of now-familiar figures: Peter Thiel and Sebastian Thrun."



"The truth is, there are powerful forces at work in our society that are actively hostile to the college ideal. That distrust critical thinking and deny the proposition that democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. That have no use for larger social purposes. That decline to recognize the worth of that which can’t be bought or sold. Above all, that reject the view that higher education is a basic human right.

The film recounts the history and recent fate of that idea: its origin among the philanthropists of the industrial age, figures like Peter Cooper, founder of his eponymous Union; its progressive unfolding through the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, the GI Bill of 1944, the postwar expansion of the University of California, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the federal student-loan and grant programs; and its deliberate destruction under Ronald Reagan and his ideological heirs.

Free, high-quality higher education (just like free, high-quality school, which we continue to at least pretend to endorse): that is what we used to believe in; that’s what many other countries still believe in; that is what we must believe in once again. The filmmakers undoubtedly knew what they were doing when they chose to show us the moment, during that seminar at Deep Springs, when the students are debating Hegel’s proposition that, as their professor puts it, "you need to have a common identity as citizens, because it creates the bonds of affection." Or in Delbanco’s words, "What kind of society do we want to be?" Cooper Union’s commencement speaker, that tumultuous spring of 2013, turns out to have been none other than Michael Bloomberg. "The debate you’re having really isn’t about whether education is free," we see him tell the students. "It’s really about who can and who is willing to pay for it."

On this the billionaire and I agree. In terms of the "can" (and it’s hard to believe the word could even pass his lips), the answer is clear. Not just the plutocrats, not just the upper class, but the upper middle class, as well. Everybody knows by now that the share of national income that accrues to the famous one percent has risen to about 23 percent, higher than at almost any time since 1928. But the share that accrues to the top 10 percent as a whole, which stayed around 33 percent from the 1950s through the 1970s, has risen to its highest level ever (or at least, since record-keeping started), more than 50 percent. In a $17-trillion economy, the difference represents a premium of nearly $3-trillion a year, about five times the federal deficit and more than enough for this and many other public purposes.

The problem of costs, to be sure, is not a one-way street. Higher education must indeed increase efficiency, but how? Institutions have been willing to spend on everything in recent years except the thing that matters most: instruction. Dorms, deans, sports, but not professors. Piglike presidential salaries, paid for by hiring adjuncts. Now, with MOOCs and other forms of online instruction, the talk is more of the same. My friends, they are coming for you. The professoriate no longer has the luxury of thinking that all this is someone else’s problem. If you want to save your skins, let alone ensure the future of the enterprise, you need to wake up and organize against the people who are organizing against you. The fact is that by focusing exclusively on monetary issues, the current conversation prevents us not only from remembering the higher objectives of an undergraduate education, but also from recognizing just how bad a job our institutions have been doing at fulfilling them. Colleges and universities have a lot to answer for; if they want to regain the support of the larger society, they need to prove that they are worthy of it.

Ivory Tower ends, in the manner of such films today, by referring us to a website. Under the rubric "Take Action," the site encourages us to sign a petition that calls on Congress to pass legislation, of the kind proposed by Elizabeth Warren (and just blocked by Senate Republicans), allowing individuals to refinance their student loans. That would certainly be a good thing, but we need to set our sights a great deal higher. If service workers can demand a $15 minimum wage, more than double the federal level, then those who care about higher education can insist on the elimination of tuition and fees at state institutions and their replacement by public funding furnished by taxes on the upper 10 percent. As with the minimum wage, the campaign can be conducted state by state, and it can and should involve a large coalition of interested groups: students, parents, and instructors, to start with. Total enrollment at American colleges and universities now stands at 20 million, on top of another million-plus on the faculty. That’s a formidable voting bloc, should it learn to exercise its power. Since the Occupy movement in 2011, it’s clear that the fight to reverse the tide of growing inequality has been joined. It’s time we joined it."
2014  williamderesiewicz  highered  highereducation  education  policy  politics  finance  money  studentloands  ivorytower  reform  faculty  solidarity  ows  occupywallstreet  inequality  purpose  canon  funding  publicfunding  mooc  moocs  unions  labor  deepspringscollege  colleges  universities  liberalarts  society  learning  criticalthinking  uncollege  dalestephens  peterthiel  sebastianthrun  peterschiff  efficiency  cooperunion  communitycolleges  debt  studentdebt  employment 
june 2014 by robertogreco
An inconvenient truth about higher ed | Al Jazeera America
"As an answer to higher ed’s crisis, the best “Ivory Tower” has to offer are community colleges, where the name on the credential doesn’t mean much, but students at all stages in their lives can acquire skills using online and classroom resources. This might be the best pure deal on the higher education market, but community colleges are unlikely to unseat four-year institutions in prestige or cultural dominance. Like HBCUs and tuition-free hippie schools, some community colleges are fighting for survival. City College of San Francisco, for example, is clinging to accreditation, disputing charges that it lacks a sufficient number of administrators and a secure financial base. Solutions like education hacking and community colleges also ignore the fact that brand-name diplomas and connections are what schools are selling, at least as much as knowledge. If you had to choose between a college credential and a college education, in this job market you’d be a fool to take the latter.

When it comes to reforming four-year nonprofits, there’s no reason to believe pumping in more state money won’t just exacerbate the current problems, rooted in skyrocketing cost. And since state money is earmarked for particular expenses, schools will still need more no-strings-attached tuition money to service institutional debt. If federal regulators were to require schools to cut costs, we know just how these corporate managers would do it: contracting out whatever good jobs are left and doubling the marketing budget so no one notices."
malcolmharris  education  documentary  ivorytower  2014  highered  highereducation  money  communitycolleges  moocs  mooc  deepspringscollege  peterthiel  arizonastateuniversity 
june 2014 by robertogreco
The Billionaire King of Techtopia: Critical Eye : Details
"It’s a vivid, wild-eyed dream—think Burning Man as reimagined by Ayn Rand’s John Galt and steered out to sea by Captain Nemo—but Friedman and Thiel, aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias, believe that entrepreneurial zeal sets this scheme apart. One potential model is something Friedman calls Appletopia: A corporation, such as Apple, “starts a country as a business. The more desirable the country, the more valuable the real estate,” Friedman says. When I ask if this wouldn’t amount to a shareholder dictatorship, he doesn’t flinch. “The way most dictatorships work now, they’re enforced on people who aren’t allowed to leave.” Appletopia, or any seasteading colony, would entail a more benevolent variety of dictatorship, similar to your cell-phone contract: You don’t like it, you leave. Citizenship as free agency, you might say."<br />
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[via: http://ayjay.tumblr.com/post/9251562982/it-goes-like-this-friedman-wants-to-establish-new ]
peterthiel  libertarianism  aynrand  objectivism  patrifriedman  seasteading  2011  capitalism  appletopia  corporatism  antisocial 
august 2011 by robertogreco
Atlas Shrugged: Silicon Valley billionaire reveals plan to launch floating 'start up country' off coast of San Francisco | Mail Online
"PayPal-founder Peter Thiel was so inspired by Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand's novel about free-market capitalism - that he's trying to make its title a reality.

The Silicon Valley billionaire has funnelled $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, an organization that aspires to launch a floating colony into international waters, freeing them and like-minded thinkers to live by Libertarian ideals.

Mr Thiel recently told Details magazine that: 'The United States Constitution had things you could do at the beginning that you couldn't do later. So the question is, can you go back to the beginning of things? How do you start over?'"
libertarianism  peterthiel  seasteading  seasteadinginstitute  2011  atlasshrugged  aynrand  capitalism 
august 2011 by robertogreco
Open the Future: Not Giving Up
"Our technologies are not going to rob us (or relieve us) of our humanity…are part of what makes us human…are the clear expression of our uniquely human minds…both manifest & enable human culture; we co-evolve w/ them, & have done so for hundreds of thousands of years. The technologies of the future will make us neither inhuman nor posthuman, no matter how much they change our sense of place & identity…

Technology is part of who we are. What both critics & cheerleaders of technological evolution miss is something both subtle & important: our technologies will, as they always have, make us who we are—make us human. The definition of Human is no more fixed by our ancestors’ first use of tools, than it is by using a mouse to control a computer. What it means to be Human is flexible, & we change it every day by changing our technology…it is this, more than the demands for abandonment or invocations of a secular nirvana, that will give us enormous challenges in the years to come."
jamaiscascio  technology  billjoy  2011  2000  nihilism  human  humans  humanism  singularity  nicholascarr  rejectionists  sherryturkle  society  democracy  freedom  peterthiel  posthuman  posthumanism  raykurzweil  identity  evolution  change  classideas  civilization 
june 2011 by robertogreco
The Future Of College: Forget Lectures And Let The Students Lead | Co.Design
"The technological power of the "cloud" as an aggregator of global knowledge & social network capital combines w/ natural tendency to learn through sharing & playing to create a multidimensional, interconnected network that solves complex problems. Simply put: Purpose & play drive learning.

These students help us discern what is valuable about higher-ed learning & what needs to be shed to save it from complete ossification. The insular nature of academia could lead to its demise, but these students also see tremendous value in its ability to incubate. Unis become testing grounds where students can find mentors, receive funding, & iterate initiatives with real-world consequences. The design community can debate where innovation comes from, but we can no longer look to authoritarian, top-down dictation to drive societal change. If the blossoming of this pattern doesn’t point to a new trend in education, then it at least represents what these higher-ed institutions must become."
unschooling  deschooling  hierarchy  trungle  highereducation  highered  colleges  universities  organizations  education  learning  mentoring  mentorship  apprenticeships  problemsolving  criticalthinking  realworld  entrepreneurship  lcproject  johndewey  life  sugatamitra  peterthiel  via:lukeneff  play  purpose  academia  networkedlearning  networks  cloud  socialnetworks  authority  authoritarianism 
june 2011 by robertogreco
The crusade against college
"if we are to lose faith in college degrees, how can we best represent what an individual is capable of? Could LinkedIn-style social portfolios, w/ testimonials ranked according to built-in trust metrics, fill the gap? Or will we be left having to take peoples’ word for their own achievements?

I’m inclined to think we’ll figure out a strong, decentralized, less-elitist way of going about this. But there’s a bigger question in all of this, too. If you take salaries away & look only at the overall education of a person, & the overall knowledge of our global society at large, don’t universities have some inherent value?

I would argue that they do. I also think that looking at direct salaries as the sole measure of ROI in an institution is a short-term, short-sighted way to look at the world. Sure, some degrees yield less well-paying jobs than others. However, the contribution to our overall well-being, & to our economy, shouldn’t be overlooked. The world is a complex system…"

[via http://www.downes.ca/post/55638/ ]
benwerdmuller  highereducation  highered  economics  unschooling  deschooling  elitism  sarahlacy  peterthiel  publiceducation  schools  education  learning  credentials  salaries  society  louismenand  compensation  2011  via:steelemaley  lcproject  democracy  colleges  universities 
june 2011 by robertogreco
The BS Bubble | Hack Education
[in response to: http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/10/peter-thiel-were-in-a-bubble-and-its-not-the-internet-its-higher-education/ ]

"So in conclusion (holy shit, phew!) I think Lacy’s Techcrunch story conflates several important points here. They’re interconnected, sure, because they’re all part of Thiel’s spiel. But if you just take her story at face value, you miss what should actually be a pretty nuanced analysis about what education means and what education is “worth.”

If you frame the story of higher education in terms of Thiel’s argument — Ivy League schools are over-valued — and his actions — paying students from those very elite academic backgrounds to ditch the degree to become entrepreneurs under his tutelage — well, in return you get these oddly protectionist responses from the likes of Vivek Wadhwa (a vocal proponent of education who I really do admire) that end up looking like they’re propping up what is, I think many of us agree, a deeply flawed system."
education  highereducation  highered  unschooling  deschooling  money  nuance  2011  sarahlacy  peterthiel  bubbles  learning  economics  meaning  value 
april 2011 by robertogreco

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