Do people still call our current time by this pompous name? Putting a binary coding (not binary that way, different rant) on all that can be seen, heard and recorded gives you information, of sorts. I’m not deriding that classification and organisation of the world. But it requires people who need the world organized in such a way. Suppose you have no need of a binary universe, like a Kalahari bushman, or a Mongolian goat herder? But with the ever expanding digitized universe comes control and power. It follows that autonomy from the digital world creates gaps in the control of the digital masters. Now I’m neither a Luddite nor do I advocate an unrealistic primitivism, but what institutions exist to counterbalance the tech giants? These businesses appear motivated at their core by money and the evermore sinister megalomania of their founders, owners, and top executives.
I’m not really interested in giving the tech plutocrats any more power than they have already. But with every election, this is taking place. High technology tycoons have ready partners with politicians, also blatantly hungry for power. They also have ready accomplices with the officials of the university establishments, both public or private (with a few exceptions). The modern university’s need for ever more money makes the university little more than a satrapy, the academic bureaucrats and professors, the vassals, of the government agencies(through grants), tech companies,and individuals who give them money. The legislature, through its appropriations has devolved into merely another funder. President Ryan, at the University of Virginia, recently unveiled plans for a digital, information science college. Directly, it will produce more qualified workers for the technology field. It will also produce yet another dependent class of workers, perhaps more affluent and better educated than a nineteenth century millhand, but still carrying the risk of being dependent on the fortunes, whims and vicissitudes of an industry. The textile manufacturers of the past or high tech digital industries of the present day suggest merely a distinction with no difference.
Thomas Jefferson is being vilified these days because he owned slaves. His position around slavery is more complex than what his detractors suggest. I suspect the real reason he is “ungood”, in Newspeak terms, goes beyond his slaveholding, but in his social and economic vision.
Jefferson had a vision of a self-sufficient yeoman class, who were independent of the monied interests and their political allies. The powerful could control the independent factions by manipulating their economic environment. Look at a railroad setting freight rates in the nineteenth century, with no free market alternatives to curb their power.*
Senator Kaine and Senator Warner, in Virginia, can scare the civil servants, uniformed service members or federal contractors with the specter of a conservative or libertarian out to eliminate their job, military mission, or contract. They use code phrases like “strong defense” or “supporting military families”, undoubtedly worthy purposes, to maintain both their own power and the size of government. Other worthy and necessary purposes keeping government big are highways and education. The administrative state needs government employees and government contractors, who will always fall prey to the political bully boy/girl. I’m not suggesting merely derailing the gravy train. Rather, I’m saying take up the track, just as railroads abandon obsolete, disused, and,therefore, expensive lines. Thriving economies have a dynamism to them. Shackling them to government or to privileged industries with the risk of ossification and obsolescence hinders that dynamism. The counter balance demands citizens who see beyond a job or an industry. And it is a delicate balance, requiring the discerning skills of a broadly educated citizenry, unfettered to any potentially stifling industry.
At its core is a conflict. Politicians and their financial backers want the economy and the government to grow, Thus the university has morphed into a trade school. Some new graduates will get jobs in government. Alternatively, the prospective college graduate/ employee finds work in an industry (often “high tech”), whose owners regularly and overwhelmingly support politicians who advocate for their agendas. They conflate the needs and values of, say, an Amazon, with the greater public good. The tech giants have shown with increasing frequency that their corporate “cultures” are monolithically authoritarian and leftist, holding political, social or religious conservatives in disdain, if not outright contempt. An employee who must conform to the corporate culture to practice their skill is not free.
All this “education” for work in the administrative state or private sector behemoth creates a dependent or subservient class that would be anathema to visionaries of a free society, people like Jefferson. Higher education has the challenge of educating a free people, not evermore sophisticated serfs. And this challenge to educate independent critical thinkers is not new. Paradigms of conformity have always existed, and always it is necessary to assess the value of these paradigms. Transcendent standards and ideals must be studied.The studies comprise the liberal arts and sciences. It would do well to study tbese disciplines independent of a Marxist analysis.
In the political realm, I would urge voters to make university funding and overview priority issues in the upcoming election cycles. That means seriously looking at just what colleges are up to. That means using funding and the student loan programs to maintain universities as institutions dedicated to the free exchange of ideas. Demand the college presidents go before the legislative bodies to justify their institutions’ existence. The legislatures, while they still can exert a modicum of restraint on the public college, should demand full disclosure of the “partnerships” between the University and contemporary tech companies. If they are reticent to disclose, use the subpoena power. Have tbe University presidents explain why they turn a blind eye to the leftist gangs and their excesses. Have them explain why cronies of Democratic politicians get teaching jobs and conservatives working in Republican Administrations don’t. Have them justify the tenure systems that keeps Marxist ideologues employed in perpetuity, all in the name of “academic freedom”, while, at the same time, they seek to repress dissent. Look no further than the academic monoculture that decries “white male privilege” and villifies Jefferson, to name just one of their bête noir.
The voters can stop this impending dystopia. The politicians and academic officials won’t.
* The exorbitant unchecked rates (power) of the railroads was counterbalanced by a robust government response at the time. So I’m not advocating a toothless lion for government.