coromandal


tyranny of managerialism and the privatization of results

Image result for for profit universities contemporary photography

You will: write proposals, be judged, anticipate and deflect criticism.

You will not: do research, follow your curiosity, solve problems.

You will spend your time writing proposals rather than doing research. Worse, because your proposals are judged by your competitors, you cannot follow your curiosity, but must spend your effort and talents on anticipating and deflecting criticism rather than on solving the important scientific problems. . . . It is proverbial that original ideas are the kiss of death for a proposal, because they have not yet been proved to work.

Jonathan Katz, astrophysicist

The privatization of research results:

You will: jealously guard – as you would personal property – your findings, make findings difficult to access.

You will not: share in convivial competition.

Industrial Revolution British economics was distributed between high finance and local crackpot inventors and researchers, and was highly successful. After 1945, the US and Germany fought over who would replace Britain as world power, and starting with the atom bomb in the 1950s, built our current, stagnant, technological, government funded economy.

In the natural sciences, to the tyranny of managerialism we can add the privatization of research results. As the British economist David Harvie has reminded us, “open source” research is not new. Scholarly research has always been open source, in the sense that scholars share materials and results. There is competition, certainly, but it is “convivial.” This is no longer true of scientists working in the corporate sector, where findings are jealously guarded, but the spread of the corporate ethos within the academy and research institutes themselves has caused even publicly funded scholars to treat their findings as personal property. Academic publishers ensure that findings that are published are increasingly difficult to access, further enclosing the intellectual commons. As a result, convivial, open-source competition turns into something much more like classic market competition.

[…]

Giovanni Arrighi has noted that after the South Sea Bubble, British capitalism largely abandoned the corporate form. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, Britain had instead come to rely on a combination of high finance and small family firms—a pattern that held throughout the next century, the period of maximum scientific and technological innovation. (Britain at that time was also notorious for being just as generous to its oddballs and eccentrics as contemporary America is intolerant. A common expedient was to allow them to become rural vicars, who, predictably, became one of the main sources for amateur scientific discoveries.)

Contemporary, bureaucratic corporate capitalism was a creation not of Britain, but of the United States and Germany, the two rival powers that spent the first half of the twentieth century fighting two bloody wars over who would replace Britain as a dominant world power—wars that culminated, appropriately enough, in government-sponsored scientific programs to see who would be the first to discover the atom bomb. It is significant, then, that our current technological stagnation seems to have begun after 1945, when the United States replaced Britain as organizer of the world economy.

Of Flying Machines and the Declining Rate of Profit, David Graeber, The Baffler

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non zero sum game

You can win and lose in music or cooking, as crazy as that seems. In order to win, others must lose, in the American way, developed by the emotionally stunted, and everyone takes the risk of losing in the belief that someday there will be a big win. Of course there never is.

For Thomas Hobbes social existence was a war of all against all, zero sum. For him competition is an ideal not a problem.

But there is also the cooperative paradigm, the non zero sum game, in which the rising tide floats all boats. It enables strength, sustainable lives, health, freedom.

From Benjamin Barber:

It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another (sweeps week!), pit ­on-­camera competitors against one another in contests only one can win. The eponymous show Survivor is the Darwinian prototype, but the principle rules on all the “reality” shows. On American Idol, singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. In the winners’ world of television, nothing is what it seems. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race (with clocks and time limits) in which there is but one winner. The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally (more?) fascinated with losers. “It is not enough that I win,” proclaims the ­hubris-­driven American competitor, “others must lose.” And Americans have shown themselves ready to become big losers in order to be eligible to become big ­winners—­however remote the odds. We are a nation of gamblers willing to tolerate radical income inequality and a large class of losers (into which we willingly risk being shunted) for the chance to ­win.

[…]
That tension is hard to maintain, however. The two modes of being inevitably become the source of rival theories of politics and society and, as a consequence, two distinctive approaches to human identity. When we contemplate nature as a kind of parody of human warfare and anarchy, as Thomas Hobbes did, our social existence becomes a “war of all against all.” According to this model, we live in a ­“zero-­sum” world where one man’s victory must be another man’s defeat. We either have to sacrifice our liberty to secure tranquility or live well through rivalry and conquest. The price of attenuating competition is always high, even when it is deemed necessary for survival (as posited by social contract theory). In our very impetus to move, this view argues, we cannot help but collide with others. In collision, we cannot help but experience others as limits on our own freedom. The preservation of freedom demands competition, while any restraint at all on competition, even mere civility, becomes an unfortunate limit on ­liberty.

This celebration of radical competition has, of course, been contested by theorists such as ­Jean-­Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and John Dewey, who have treated competition more as a problem or pathology to be overcome than an ideal to be realized. In the cooperative paradigm, the world is understood to be a ­non–zero-­sum game in which we can win by helping others win. We are psychic as well as material beings and can ­co­exist in common space with similar beings, even become stronger by doing so. Mutual aid and common ground are extensions of our common being and make possible healthy and sustainable lives. Freedom becomes a feature of our cooperative interaction with others rather than a symbol of our rivalry with or independence of them. We are free not when unconstrained but under constraints and norms we choose for ourselves. And we are free together, not ­alone.

The Lost Art of Cooperation by Benjamin Barber



acquiescence

In case you wondered why: the complete cynicism, the lack of public ideals, the acquiescence, the inability to combat evils:

There is in America a subject called civics, in which, perhaps more than in any other, the teaching is expected to be misleading. The young are taught a sort of copybook account of how public affairs are supposed to be conducted, and are carefully shielded from all knowledge as to how in fact they are conducted. When they grow up and discover the truth, the result is too often a complete cynicism in which all public ideals are lost; whereas if they had been taught the truth carefully and with proper comment at an earlier age they might have become men able to combat evils in which, as it is, they acquiesce with a shrug.

The Functions of a Teacher, Umpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell



money is a promise: American jubilee

 

Here is a story about fierce people.  A king decides to sell a servant and his family into slavery to settle the servant’s debt.  The servant begs the king for leniency to repay the debt, and the king has pity and mercy and not only releases the servant but forgives the debt in full.

The same servant meets a man in the street who owes him money and grabs him by the neck, and demands repayment.  The debtor pleads for leniency, but the servant has the man thrown into prison.  Friends of the servant see this cruelty and relate it to the king, their common benefactor.  The king calls the unforgiving servant to him, chastises him for his hypocrisy and lack of mercy, and throws him into prison.

Unhappy ending, sorry.  You probably remember this story from Matthew’s gospel from childhood when you went to Sunday school.  Or if you’re of another faith, echoes of the universality of the message in stories from your own religious teachings.

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The author David Graeber wrote a book called Debt: The First 5000 Years.  I have excerpted three passages from one of his chapters below to introduce the idea of Jubilee, which is state sanctioned debt forgiveness.

Jubilee, called amargi (freedom) by the ancients, was perfectly described in the moment – in Matthew’s gospel – when the king forgives the servant and the servant is made free of his obligation.  What exhilaration must have accompanied this transformative moment in the servant’s life.

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rioters and partiers
August 23, 2011, 6:24 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , , , , , ,

In America you have the tea party, in England you’ve got this.

– UK rioter.

They see the hierarchy and riot; we are told there is no hierarchy and believe it.

A friend on facebook asked:  why do the Brits riot while in America we have the tea party?  They have rioters and we have partiers.

He is of course assuming that economic events – budget cuts and economic stagnation – are the common cause which give rise to both the rioters and partiers.  I waited and watched the thread for two days during which time he received, as could be expected, representative opinions from the cultural extremes:  the rioters are thugs and n’er-do-wells, or they are disenfranchised and have lost hope.  Partiers are crackpots working against their own best interests; they are the true fiscal stewards.

But these pat answers don’t address the question – a good one – to name the constituent difference, between England and America, that would lead to profoundly different reactions to arguably the same social impetus:  drawbacks based on a failing economy.  There has to be profound differences between societies that react so differently.

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strange place

From the Economist, 2003:

The usefulness of dividing the broad subject of “values” in this way can be seen by plotting countries on a chart whose axes are the two spectrums. The chart alongside (click to enlarge it) shows how the countries group: as you would expect, poor countries, with low self-expression and high levels of traditionalism, are at the bottom left, richer Europeans to the top right.

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the degradation of intelligence
January 18, 2011, 7:33 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , ,

I was wandering with a friend through a lower east side neighborhood in Manhattan, having just moved into town and relishing each new street and bar and topic that came up as we ambled along and talked.  He had moved to the US three years prior, and I had been here – in another city – for over ten years.  But now I was new to New York and he was my guide.  Too, he was a confessor of sorts for me to test my ideas about the strangeness of life in America.  And so on that day I made some generalizations between bars, including one about my bafflement about our love affair with dumbing down, our anti intellectualism.  His answer surprised me both for how quickly he reacted and for the content.  I asked, why do I always feel like I can’t have an intelligent conversation with anyone, friends, acquaintances, colleagues?  He said, because in America you have to pay for your education.

This is George Monbiot on the degradation of intelligence in the US. Regardless of personal politics, it is a topic worth taking a dispassionate look at.  Topics include fundamentalism, darwinianism and slavery.  A really clear if biased discussion of a big problem for a society that continues to describe itself as free.

From the article:

Like most people on my side of the Atlantic, I have for many years been mystified by American politics. The US has the world’s best universities and attracts the world’s finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

/…/

Susan Jacoby’s book The Age of American Unreason provides the fullest explanation I have read so far. She shows that the degradation of US politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies.

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