A Silicon Valley scheme to “disrupt” America’s education system would hurt the people who need it the most

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them

The plot to destroy education: Why technology could ruin American classrooms — by trying to fix them
(Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc./Pgiam via iStock/Salon)

How does Silicon Valley feel about college? Here’s a taste: Seven words in a tweet provoked by a conversation about education started by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreeseen.

Arrogance? Check. Supreme confidence? Check. Oblivious to the value actually provided by a college education? Check.

The $400 billion a year that Americans pay for education after high school is being wasted on an archaic brick-and-mortar irrelevance. We can do better! 

But how? The question becomes more pertinent every day — and it’s one that Silicon Valley would dearly like to answer.

The robots are coming for our jobs, relentlessly working their way up the value chain. Anything that can be automated will be automated. The obvious — and perhaps the only — answer to this threat is a vastly improved educational system. We’ve got to leverage our human intelligence to stay ahead of robotic A.I.! And right now, everyone agrees, the system is not meeting the challenge. The cost of a traditional four-year college education has far outpaced inflation. Student loan debt is a national tragedy. Actually achieving a college degree still bequeaths better job prospects than the alternative, but for many students, the cost-benefit ratio is completely out of whack.

No problem, says the tech industry. Like a snake eating its own tail, Silicon Valley has the perfect solution for the social inequities caused by technologically induced “disruption.” More disruption!

Universities are a hopelessly obsolete way to go about getting an education when we’ve got the Internet, the argument goes. Just as Airbnb is disemboweling the hotel industry and Uber is annihilating the taxi industry, companies such as Coursera and Udacity will leverage technology and access to venture capital in order to crush the incumbent education industry, supposedly offering high-quality educational opportunities for a fraction of the cost of a four-year college.



There is an elegant logic to this argument. We’ll use the Internet to stay ahead of the Internet. Awesome tools are at our disposal. In MOOCs — “Massive Open Online Courses” — hundreds of thousands of students will imbibe the wisdom of Ivy League “superprofessors” via pre-recorded lectures piped down to your smartphone. No need even for overworked graduate student teaching assistants. Intelligent software will take care of the grading. (That’s right — we’ll use robots to meet the robot threat!) The market, in other words, will provide the solution to the problem that the market has caused. It’s a wonderful libertarian dream.

But there’s a flaw in the logic. Early returns on MOOCs have confirmed what just about any teacher could have told you before Silicon Valley started believing it could “fix” education. Real human interaction and engagement are hugely important to delivering a quality education. Most crucially, hands-on interaction with teachers is vital for the students who are in most desperate need for an education — those with the least financial resources and the most challenging backgrounds.

Of course, it costs money to provide greater human interaction. You need bodies — ideally, bodies with some mastery of the subject material. But when you raise costs, you destroy the primary attraction of Silicon Valley’s “disruptive” model. The big tech success stories are all about avoiding the costs faced by the incumbents. Airbnb owns no hotels. Uber owns no taxis. The selling point of Coursera and Udacity is that they need own no universities.

But education is different than running a hotel. There’s a reason why governments have historically considered providing education a public good. When you start throwing bodies into the fray to teach people who can’t afford a traditional private education you end up disastrously chipping away at the profits that the venture capitalists backing Coursera and Udacity demand.

And that’s a tail that the snake can’t swallow.

* * *

The New York Times famously dubbed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.” Coursera and Udacity (both started by Stanford professors) and an MIT-Harvard collaboration called EdX exploded into the popular imagination. But the hype ebbed almost as quickly as it had flowed. In 2013, after a disastrous pilot experiment in which Udacity and San Jose State collaborated to deliver three courses, MOOCs were promptly declared dead — with the harshest schadenfreude coming from academics who saw the rush to MOOCs as an educational travesty.

At the end of 2013, the New York Times had changed its tune: “After Setbacks, Online Courses are Rethought.”

But MOOC supporters have never wavered. In May, Clayton Christensen, the high priest of “disruption” theory, scoffed at the unbelievers: ”[T]heir potential to disrupt — on price, technology, even pedagogy — in a long-stagnant industry,” wrote Christensen, ” is only just beginning to be seen.”

At the end of June, the Economist followed suit with a package of stories touting the inevitable “creative destruction” threatened by MOOCs: “[A] revolution has begun thanks to three forces: rising costs, changing demand and disruptive technology. The result will be the reinvention of the university …” It’s 2012 all over again!

Sure, there have been speed bumps along the way. But as Christensen explained, the same is true for any would-be disruptive start-up. Failures are bound to happen. What makes Silicon Valley so special is its ability to learn from mistakes, tweak its biz model and try something new. It’s called “iteration.”

There is, of course, great merit to the iterative process. And it would be foolish to claim that new technology won’t have an impact on the educational process. If there’s one thing that the Internet and smartphones are insanely good at, it is providing access to information. A teenager with a phone in Uganda has opportunities for learning that most of the world never had through the entire course of human history. That’s great.

But there’s a crucial difference between “access to information” and “education” that explains why the university isn’t about to become obsolete, and why we can’t depend — as Marc Andreessen tells us — on the magic elixir of innovation plus the free market to solve our education quandary.

Nothing better illustrates this point than a closer look at the Udacity-San Jose State collaboration.

* * *

When Gov. Jerry Brown announced the collaboration between Udacity, founded by the Stanford computer science Sebastian Thrun and San Jose State, a publicly funded university in the heart of Silicon Valley, in January 2013, the match seemed perfect. Where else would you want to test out the future of education? The plan was to focus on three courses: elementary statistics, remedial math and college algebra. The target student demographic was notoriously ill-served by the university system: “Students were drawn from a lower-income high school and the underperforming ranks of SJSU’s student body,” reported Fast Company.

The results of the pilot, conducted in the spring of 2013, were a disaster, reported Fast Company:

Among those pupils who took remedial math during the pilot program, just 25 percent passed. And when the online class was compared with the in-person variety, the numbers were even more discouraging. A student taking college algebra in person was 52 percent more likely to pass than one taking a Udacity class, making the $150 price tag–roughly one-third the normal in-state tuition–seem like something less than a bargain.

A second attempt during the summer achieved better results, but with a much less disadvantaged student body; and, even more crucially, with considerably greater resources put into human interaction and oversight. For example, San Jose State reported that the summer courses were improved by “checking in with students more often.”

But the prime takeaway was stark. Inside Higher Education reported that a research report conducted by San Jose State on the experiment concluded that “it may be difficult for the university to deliver online education in this format to the students who need it most.”

In an iterative world, San Jose State and Udacity would have learned from their mistakes. The next version of their collaboration would have incorporated the increased human resources necessary to make it work, to be sure that students didn’t fall through the cracks. But the lesson that Udacity learned from the collaboration turned out be something different: There isn’t going to be much profit to be made attempting to apply the principles of MOOCs to students from a disadvantaged background.

Thrun set off a firestorm of commentary when he told Fast Company’s Max Chafkin this:

“These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit….”

“I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial… But the data was at odds with this idea.”

Henceforth, Udacity would “pivot” to focusing on vocational training funded by direct corporate support.

Thrun later claimed that his comments were misinterpreted by Fast Company. And in his May Op-Ed Christensen argued that Udacity’s pivot was a boon!

Udacity, for its part, should be applauded for not burning through all of its money in pursuit of the wrong strategy. The company realized — and publicly acknowledged — that its future lay on a different path than it had originally anticipated. Indeed, Udacity’s pivot may have even prevented a MOOC bubble from bursting.

Educating the disadvantaged via MOOCs is the wrong strategy? That’s not a pivot — it’s an abject surrender.

The Economist, meanwhile, brushed off the San Jose State episode by noting that “online learning has its pitfalls.” But the Economist also published a revealing observation: “In some ways MOOCs will reinforce inequality … among students (the talented will be much more comfortable than the weaker outside the structured university environment) …”

But isn’t that exactly the the problem? No one can deny that the access to information facilitated by the Internet is a fantastic thing for talented students — and particularly so for those with secure economic backgrounds and fast Internet connections. But such people are most likely to succeed in a world full of smart robots anyway. The challenge posed by technological transformation and disruption is that the jobs that are being automated away first are the ones that are most suited to the less talented or advantaged. In other words, the population that MOOCs are least suited to serving is the population that technology is putting in the most vulnerable position.

Innovation and the free market aren’t going to fix this problem, for the very simple reason that there is no money in it. There’s no profit to be mined in educating people who not only can’t pay for an education, but also require greater human resources to be educated.

This is why we have public education in the first place.

“College is a public good,” says Jonathan Rees, a professor at Colorado State University who has been critical of MOOCs. “It’s what industrialized democratic society should be providing for students.”

Andrew Leonard Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

Brazil, Defeat and the High Cost of Hosting the World Cup

Bidding for Trouble

http://static.goal.com/329400/329457.jpg

by ANDREW KENNIS

Rio de Janeiro. 

While smoking his tobacco pipe in front of his small cinder block home toward the top of his native Vidigal, a sprawlingfavela  overlooking some of Rio de Janeiro’s most luxurious neighborhoods, Jamil Jorge offered his thoughts on Brazil hosting the World Cup in the midst of the tournament: “The World Cup only benefits people and institutions with money, not people like me.”

Jamil had just finished meditating during a breezy ocean-side night at one of the many stunning lookouts that Vidigal offers. The public viewpoint lies at the foot of one of the many homes of none other than David Beckham–reflective of the uneven and volatile development Brazil has undergone over the last decade alone. Recent years have brought tens of millions into the middle class but left plenty of others behind, as suggested by a low 85th ranking in the United Nations Human Development index.

When asked about the FIFA (International Federation of Football Association, in English) and its motives in relation to the Cup, Jorge grinned and then made the universal gesture for money with his hands. “Someone is profiting from this World Cup, but it isn’t me … or our favela.”

Seven years ago when Brazil was announced as FIFA’s selected host country for this year’s World Cup, Brazilians celebrated in the streets. The country’s then forward-looking President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was in the midst of an economic boon that had catapulted the Brazilian economy into seventh place among the world’s largest economies. During the same time FIFA officials were greeted by what they proudly described to the media as “spontaneous celebrations” by Brazilians, polls revealed nearly eighty-percent support for the hosting of the Cup.

The subsequent announcement in 2009 that the Olympics would also be held in Brazil two years after the 2014 World Cup only compounded the excitement. By all accounts, Brazil was abuzz with anticipation.

In this election year, however, support for both hosting the Cup and the incumbent President Rousseff, who hails from the same Worker’s Party (PT) as her popular predecessor, have plummeted to low levels. Contrary to nearly anyone’s expectations, polls have demonstrated that most people in the very country that has enjoyed more World Cup victories than any other no longer wanted to host the tournament whose final match played out July 13.
Why the drastic change in public opinion, over a game Brazilians clearly adore?

Collapsing Promises

“It was like an earthquake. The ground shook violently,” Daniel Magalhaes told reporters huddling around the scene of an accident. “I heard a deafening sound. I looked and saw the collapsed overpass.”

Headlines around the world were instantly posted in the news media on July 3 when a bridge located in the host city of Belo Horizonte and near the Mineirao Stadium where World Cup matches were held collapsed on top of a bus and passenger cars in a gruesome scene captured by video. Hanna Cristiana Santos, a bus driver, and Charlys do Nascimento, aged 24 and 25 respectively, were instantly killed. Almost two dozen more people were injured. The construction company, the city announced, would pay for the funeral arrangements for the two families.

The Belo bridge collapse was not the only thing that collapsed. The very next day, Colombia’s defender Juan Camilo Zúñiga recklessly jumped into the air for a loose ball and came crashing directly down on none other than Neymar Jr., Brazil’s great hope for the World Cup. Neymar told his teammate, “I cannot feel my legs,” after suffering Zúñiga’s blow.

For many Brazilians, their hopes of Brazil winning the World Cup were significantly dented if not dashed altogether with Neymar’s and Silva’s exit. As it turned out, theseleção wound up suffering a historic defeat in the World Cup’s most lopsided knockout round loss ever. The Germans, who ultimately won took home the Cup trophy, mercilessly pounded against a brittle Brazilian defense and won 7-1. Adding to the cruel irony was that the defeat occurred in Belo Horizonte–the same place where the bridge collapsed.

The subsequent third place match added to the pain, as Brazil was humiliated again 3-0 at the hands of Holland. The match was played in Brasilia, a city that doesn’t even have a first division Brazilian soccer team and rarely can attract attendance to second division matches of more than a thousand people. Now the capital will have to struggle to find a use for the FIFA-standard stadium.

Many observers before the World Cup agreed that one of the few ways that FIFA and the Brazilian government could salvage a losing public relations front when it came to hosting the event, was for Brazil to win the Cup on its home turf and in the same stadium where it suffered its most stinging historic defeat. Brazil lost to Uruguay in the 1950 final (known as the “maracanaço” to Brazilians, a reference to Rio’s Maracanã stadium, which then had a capacity to hold almost two hundred thousand people). But alas, there would be no final in Rio. Instead, Brazilians rioted in the city’s streets, where mass robberies were reported especially in the famous Copacabana beach district.

While no Brazilian expected the trouncing the team suffered against Germany, probably few Brazilians were surprised that one of the unfinished infrastructure projects promised for completion by the World Cup’s start wound up literally killing several of its own people. Fewer than 10 of the 56 infrastructure projects racking up billions of dollars in public expenses were completed on time for the tournament.

“Nearly nothing about hosting this World Cup surprises me anymore,” says Leonardo Silva, a 59 year-old cab driver who has long been working in Natal, a tourist-driven beach city that hosted the Me xico and United States matches.

On FIFA’s Terms
Before the World Cup started, the atmosphere in many cities in Brazil was noticeably dialed down from what one would have expected in 2007. One after another, local press accounts described the pre-tourney atmosphere as “lackluster” and “way less supportive than in previous World Cups hosted abroad.”

Widespread protests, attracting millions of angry people raging into the streets in cities across Brazil, surged a full year before the World Cup even began. International press coverage largely focused on a bus fare hike as what sparked the protests. Gil Castello Branco, the director and founder of Open Accounts, a Brasilia-based NGO that serves as a budgetary watchdog group over the Brazilian government, pointed out that the issues ran deeper than the bus fare hike and included the World Cup.

“You saw the protests last year, right, Andrew?” asked an impassioned Castello the day after the bridge collapsed. “The Brazilian people were demanding to get public benefits out of the event. They said they wanted FIFA-standard schools to be built for Brazilian children, just like the stadiums.”

The nation’s youth, who showed up in droves to protests last year and at the start of the tournament, continue to be a glaring developmental hole for Brazil. While close to 40 million Brazilians have left poverty during Brazil’s rapid developmental climb since the turn of the century, the youth are often left out of this picture when it comes to long-term and stable employment. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, close to 42% of young people have to depend on the precarious informal economy for a livelihood.

“Promising 12 stadiums in 12 cities to FIFA was too much to offer. These stadiums, especially in Manaus, Brasilia, Cuiaba and Natal, won’t ever be used to their capacity,” said Castello.

Other experts, such as Claudio Weber Abramo, the Executive Director of Transparency Brazil, echoed Castello’s sentiments. “FIFA makes its demands and then they arranged to have twelve different places to hold games. This was simply too much. In some of these cities, like Manaus, there was no professional football there whatsoever. It is ridiculous.”

Apparently, Brazilian officials did not pay heed to the words of one of Brazil’s most famous icons–singer, song-writer and poet Chico Buarque–who warned, “You cannot place your faith in a football stadium – that’s the lesson that sunk in after 1950.” He was referring to the belief that a shiny new stadium filled with Brazilian fans would lead the team to victory. His statement could be applied to the politics of hosting mega-sports events as well.

As early as the Confederations Cup, the World Cup warm-up tournament held in the host country the year before the big event, the press began reporting on worker fatalities and construction delays with cost overruns in the billions of dollars. Millions of Brazilians seemed to remember Buarque’s words when they took to the streets. Neymar, who rarely voices any political sentiments, announced on Facebook that, “From now on, I will enter the field inspired by this movement,” explaining further that he desired to see a, “Brazil that is more just, safer, healthier and more honest, which is the obligation of the government.”

Even the face of Brazilian football, the legendary Pelé, expressed sympathy with the protests and criticized the way public funds have been spent. “Money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals,” Pelé told the press this past May. “Brazil needs it. That’s clear. On that point, I agree with the protests,”

Plans to erect a 300-kilogram statue of Pelé before the start of the World Cup in front of the Maracanã stadium also stalled. The frustrated artist commissioned to finish the piece explained to the Times of India that the project was “politically abandoned” a few days after Pelé’s remarks.

As the tournament got underway, the rap sheet of World Cup-related problems was already lengthy. Neil de Mause, co-author of Field of Schemes and a specialist in public spending utilized for private sports stadiums published an article online shortly after the World Cup began that highlighted the worst social and political problems caused by the World Cup:

• Spending on World Cup preparations ballooned to $15 billion, swallowing entire regions’ development budgets and helping spark widespread strikes over low wages.

• An estimated 200,000 people were evicted from their homes, either to make way for World Cup construction projects or because their neighborhoods were designated “high-risk” areas.

• Eight workers were killed in construction accidents during the rush to have new stadiums ready in time for the cup — despite which the stadiums were still decidedly not ready.

• Planned new schools, hospitals and other public projects that were initially promised fell off the construction agenda once the budget ran dry.

• The government spent an additional $900 million on police technology, including surveillance drones, to ensure that anyone upset about all this didn’t cause too much of a ruckus.

De Mause explained that these problems were part and parcel of a “sports model designed to socialize all of your costs so that you can privatize all of your profits. It is a lot easier to make a whole lot of money if someone else is paying your costs. That’s something you see whether it is the New York Yankees or the World Cup.”

Should these problems have been anticipated? Chris Gaffney’s answer is an adamant “yes.” Gaffney, a visiting Professor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, has been living in Brazil for a half a decade and studies the way mega-events, such as the World Cup, are run and managed.

“Public officials could have demanded FIFA to ask for more from their corporate patrons,” Gaffney explained. “But this isn’t about wise use in public money. It’s an extractive business model in which FIFA articulated its business interests and found willing partners among Brazilian governmental and economic elites.”

The picture of an “extractive” business model that Gaffney paints is similar to how Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, another specialist on mega-events, from the Oxford School of Business, describes in his research findings. Particularly when it comes to Olympic and World Cup spending, Flyvgjerg said that, “costs wind up being significantly higher than what was initially estimated… while on the benefits size, we found the opposite. We found that the actual benefits are lower. So you get this double whammy with higher costs and lower benefits, which any businessman would say is not a good situation.”

Flyvgjerg added, “We find in general that politicians like to build flashy monuments and certainly something like expensive FIFA-inspired World Cup stadiums are an example of that. Unfortunately, we find that it is very difficult for officials to find a sensible use for these stadiums after the World Cup is over.”

Not a good situation for the public, in particular, added Weber. FIFA “says I want this and that. That is their role. And they get what they ask for, at the cost of the public.”

The bidding and negotiating process behind what is offered, asked for and agreed-upon remains clouded in mystery and secrecy. Weber noted, “Everything is confidential. FIFA and the Brazilian organizing committee can and did hide whatever they wanted.”

That is the reason why, as Gaffney explained, “The bid book for Brazil hosting the World Cup has never seen the light of day. The bid was given by disgraced former FIFA Vice President, Ricardo Texeira, to FIFA chief Sepp Blatter in 2007 and the document never surfaced publicly.

What has surfaced since FIFA awarded Brazil the bid and the government began the preparations has been FIFA-related public spending and projects.

In 2007, Lula made lofty promises and voiced high expectations of public-private partnerships in the aftermath of Brazil being chosen as a host country. He promised, “Stadiums will be completely built with private money. Not one cent of public money will be spent.” During the same time, excited officials from the Brazilian Football Federation echoed Lula’s claim. However, because of the failure of public-private plans to ever come to fruition, public spending exploded and a significant paper trail followed, one that Weber and Castello have been closely following.

In the case of the country’s capital, Brasilia, a municipal auditor’s court released a 140-page report detailing over $275 million in over-spending for a $900 million stadium-building project for the World Cup host city. The stadium is the world’s second most expensive among soccer venues,standing in sharp contrast to the lack of a professional team to fill the seats there after the Cup ends.

For Weber, even with the revelations of the scathing Brasilia audit report, there are still sharp limits to what is known thus far. “The actual totals on over-spending on stadiums and corruption related to it is already bad and it will be much worse than what people know and think right now.

Carol Campos, a 22 year-old Brazilian woman who attended many of the protests against the Cup, railed against another lavish stadium built for the Cup up in Natal. She asserts that the expensive arena will have no clear use after the Cup.

“It really is a beautiful stadium, if you see it from the sky, it looks like a sand dune, which are typical here in Natal. But the thing is, it’s a crazy situation. They built a whole stadium for four games. Four games!”

Bidding for Trouble?

The bid for the 2014 World Cup, which by FIFA rules had to be held in Latin America this year, had one entrant: Brazil.

Some experts speculate that the reason why Brazil had no competition on the bid for the Latin America-designated FIFA rotation is that there’s a political cost for politicians wanting to build flashy monuments bearing their name, in addition to the economic costs. In political terms alone, and certainly in Brazil’s case, hosting mega-events has proven to be risky and unpredictable. The way matters are shaping up for President Rousseff as of late is a strong case in point.

Brazil’s close association with FIFA and its slowing economy have not won political points for President Dilma Rousseff. During the current World Cup, FIFA has stirred controversy. After being booed in a Confederation Cup appearance with President Rousseff, its president NAME decided not to even participate in the opening ceremony CHECK. Scandals regarding reports on bribery being a factor in Qatar’s successful attempt to win the 2022 World Cup bid. The awarding to Qatar raised the eyebrows of football observers the world over, in no small part because of the scorching desert-like temperatures in Qatar during the summer months the Cup is held. Other scandals included one where a FIFA official was implicated in a Brazil-based ticket-scalping ring that reaped millions of dollars in resale profits, and an alleged match-fixing scandal, implicating players and possibly officials from the Cameroon squad.

In Brazilian politics, an Associated Press investigation published last month revealed that companies receiving publicly funded and FIFA-related construction projects turned around and raised their election campaign donations to the same public officials who awarded those contracts. In some cases, donations leaped by over 500% higher than their previous donations.

President Rousseff’s approval rating fell to a paltry 38% in April 2014 and at the start of the World Cup, was hovering around 34%. Nevertheless, Rousseff’s closest challenger for the October presidential election is still many percentage points behind her in terms of how they are polling.

While President Rousseff may be able to weather her lowered popularity in the face of a disastrous World Cup, governments – particularly those of newly developing or under-developed economies – may now think twice about hosting the World Cup.

Such second thoughts may be particularly weighty if the people in the host nation have any political decision-making power over the decision.

Andrew Kennis writes for America’s Program, where this story originally appeared.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/15/brazil-defeat-and-the-high-cost-of-hosting-the-world-cup/

 

The universe according to Nietzsche

Modern cosmology and the theory of eternal recurrence

The philosopher’s musings on the nature of reality could have scientific basis, according to a prominent physicist

The universe according to Nietzsche: Modern cosmology and the theory of eternal recurrence

Friedrich Nietzsche (Credit: AP/Salon)

Excerpted from “The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos.” It originally appeared as a speech given by Steinhardt at an event in 2002.

If you were to ask most cosmologists to give a summary of where we stand right now in the field, they would tell you that we live in a very special period in human history where, thanks to a whole host of advances in technology, we can suddenly view the very distant and very early universe in ways we haven’t been able to do ever before. For example, we can get a snapshot of what the universe looked like in its infancy, when the first atoms were forming. We can get a snapshot of what the universe looked like in its adolescence, when the first stars and galaxies were forming. And we are now getting a full detail, three-dimensional image of what the local universe looks like today. When you put together this different information, which we’re getting for the first time in human history, you obtain a very tight series of constraints on any model of cosmic evolution.

If you go back to the different theories of cosmic evolution in the early 1990s, the data we’ve gathered in the last decade has eliminated all of them save one, a model that you might think of today as the consensus model. This model involves a combination of the Big Bang model as developed in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s; the inflationary theory, which Alan Guth proposed in the 1980s; and a recent amendment that I will discuss shortly. This consensus theory matches the observations we have of the universe today in exquisite detail. For this reason, many cosmologists conclude that we have finally determined the basic cosmic history of the universe.

But I have a rather different point of view, a view that has been stimulated by two events. The first is the recent amendment to which I referred earlier. I want to argue that the recent amendment is not simply an amendment but a real shock to our whole notion of time and cosmic history. And secondly, in the last year I’ve been involved in the development of an alternative theory that turns the cosmic history topsy-turvy: All the events that created the important features of our universe occur in a different order, by different physics, at different times, over different time scales. And yet this model seems capable of reproducing all the successful predictions of the consensus picture with the same exquisite detail.



The key difference between this picture and the consensus picture comes down to the nature of time. The standard model, or consensus model, assumes that time has a beginning that we normally refer to as the Big Bang. According to that model, for reasons we don’t quite understand, the universe sprang from nothingness into somethingness, full of matter and energy, and has been expanding and cooling for the past 15 billion years. In the alternative model, the universe is endless. Time is endless, in the sense that it goes on forever in the past and forever in the future, and in some sense space is endless. Indeed, our three spatial dimensions remain infinite throughout the evolution of the universe.

More specifically, this model proposes a universe in which the evolution of the universe is cyclic. That is to say, the universe goes through periods of evolution from hot to cold, from dense to under-dense, from hot radiation to the structure we see today, and eventually to an empty universe. Then, a sequence of events occurs that cause the cycle to begin again. The empty universe is reinjected with energy, creating a new period of expansion and cooling. This process repeats periodically forever. What we’re witnessing now is simply the latest cycle.

The notion of a cyclic universe is not new. People have considered this idea as far back as recorded history. The ancient Hindus, for example, had a very elaborate and detailed cosmology based on a cyclic universe. They predicted the duration of each cycle to be 8.64 billion years—a prediction with three-digit accuracy. This is very impressive, especially since they had no quantum mechanics and no string theory! It disagrees with the number I’m going suggest, which is trillions of years rather than billions.

The cyclic notion has also been a recurrent theme in Western thought. Edgar Allan Poe and Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, each had cyclic models of the universe, and in the early days of relativistic cosmology Albert Einstein, Alexander Friedmann, Georges Lemaître, and Richard Tolman were interested in the cyclic idea. I think it’s clear why so many have found the cyclic idea to be appealing: If you have a universe with a beginning, you have the challenge of explaining why it began and the conditions under which it began. If you have a universe that’s cyclic, it’s eternal, so you don’t have to explain the beginning.

During the attempts to try to bring cyclic ideas into modern cosmology, it was discovered in the 1920s and ’30s that there are various technical problems. The idea at that time was a cycle in which our three-dimensional universe goes through periods of expansion beginning from the Big Bang and then reversal to contraction and a Big Crunch. The universe bounces, and expansion begins again. One problem is that every time the universe contracts to a crunch, the density and temperature of the universe rises to an infinite value, and it is not clear if the usual laws of physics can be applied.

Second, every cycle of expansion and contraction creates entropy through natural thermodynamic processes, which adds to the entropy from earlier cycles. So at the beginning of a new cycle, there is higher entropy density than the cycle before. It turns out that the duration of a cycle is sensitive to the entropy density. If the entropy increases, the duration of the cycle increases as well. So, going forward in time, each cycle becomes longer than the one before. The problem is that, extrapolating back in time, the cycles become shorter until, after a finite time, they shrink to zero duration. The problem of avoiding a beginning has not been solved; it has simply been pushed back a finite number of cycles. If we’re going to reintroduce the idea of a truly cyclic universe, these two problems must be overcome. The cyclic model I will describe uses new ideas to do just that.

To appreciate why an alternative model is worth pursuing, it’s important to get a more detailed impression of what the consensus picture is like. Certainly some aspects are appealing. But what I want to argue is that, overall, the consensus model is not so simple. In particular, recent observations have forced us to amend the consensus model and make it more complicated. So, let me begin with an overview of the consensus model.

The consensus theory begins with the Big Bang: The universe has a beginning. It’s a standard assumption that people have made over the last fifty years, but it’s not something we can prove at present from any fundamental laws of physics. Furthermore, you have to assume that the universe began with an energy density less than the critical value. Otherwise, the universe would stop expanding and recollapse before the next stage of evolution, the inflationary epoch. In addition, to reach this inflationary stage, there must be some sort of energy to drive the inflation. Typically this is assumed to be due to an inflation field. You have to assume that in those patches of the universe that began at less than the critical density, a significant fraction of the energy is stored in inflation energy so that it can eventually overtake the universe and start the period of accelerated expansion. All of these are reasonable assumption, but assumptions nevertheless. It’s important to take into account these assumptions and ingredients, because they’re helpful in comparing the consensus model to the challenger.

Assuming these conditions are met, the inflation energy overtakes the matter and radiation after a few instants. The inflationary epoch commences, and the expansion of the universe accelerates at a furious pace. The inflation does a number of miraculous things: It makes the universe homogeneous, it makes the universe flat, and it leaves behind certain inhomogeneities, which are supposed to be the seeds for the formation of galaxies. Now the universe is prepared to enter the next stage of evolution with the right conditions. According to the inflationary model, the inflation energy decays into a hot gas of matter and radiation. After a second or so, there form the first light nuclei. After a few tens of thousands of years, the slowly moving matter dominates the universe. It’s during these stages that the first atoms form, the universe becomes transparent, and the structure in the universe begins to form—the first stars and galaxies. Up to this point, the story is relatively simple.

But there is the recent discovery that we’ve entered a new stage in the evolution of the universe. After the stars and galaxies have formed, something strange has happened to cause the expansion of the universe to speed up again. During the 15 billion years when matter and radiation dominated the universe and structure was forming, the expansion of the universe was slowing down, because the matter and radiation within it is gravitationally self-attractive and resists the expansion of the universe. Until very recently, it had been presumed that matter would continue to be the dominant form of energy in the universe and this deceleration would continue forever.

But we’ve discovered instead, due to recent observations, that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. This means that most of the energy of the universe is neither matter nor radiation. Rather, another form of energy has overtaken the matter and radiation. For lack of a better term, this new energy form is called dark energy. Dark energy, unlike the matter and radiation we’re familiar with, is gravitationally self-repulsive. That’s why it causes the expansion to speed up rather than slow down. In Newton’s theory of gravity, all mass is gravitationally attractive, but Einstein’s theory allows the possibility of forms of energy that are gravitationally self-repulsive.

I don’t think either the physics or cosmology communities, or even the general public, have fully absorbed the full implications of this discovery. This is a revolution in the grand historic sense—in the Copernican sense. In fact, if you think about Copernicus—from whom we derive the word “revolution”—his importance was that he changed our notion of space and of our position in the universe. By showing that the Earth revolves around the sun, he triggered a chain of ideas that led us to the notion that we live in no particular place in the universe; there’s nothing special about where we are. Now we’ve discovered something very strange about the nature of time: that we may live in no special place, but we do live at a special time, a time of recent transition from deceleration to acceleration; from one in which matter and radiation dominate the universe to one in which they are rapidly becoming insignificant components; from one in which structure is forming in ever larger scales to one in which now, because of this accelerated expansion, structure formation stops. We are in the midst of the transition between these two stages of evolution. And just as Copernicus’ proposal that the Earth is no longer the center of the universe led to a chain of ideas that changed our whole outlook on the structure of the solar system and eventually to the structure of the universe, it shouldn’t be too surprising that perhaps this new discovery of cosmic acceleration could lead to a whole change in our view of cosmic history. That’s a big part of the motivation for thinking about our alternative proposal.

With these thoughts about the consensus model in mind, let me turn to the cyclic proposal. Since it’s cyclic, I’m allowed to begin the discussion of the cycle at any point I choose. To make the discussion parallel, I’ll begin at a point analogous to the Big Bang; I’ll call it the Bang. This is a point in the cycle where the universe reaches its highest temperature and density. In this scenario, though, unlike the Big Bang model, the temperature and density don’t diverge. There is a maximal, finite temperature. It’s a very high temperature, around 1020 degrees Kelvin—hot enough to evaporate atoms and nuclei into their fundamental constituents—but it’s not infinite. In fact, it’s well below the so-called Planck energy scale, where quantum gravity effects dominate. The theory begins with a bang and then proceeds directly to a phase dominated by radiation. In this scenario you do not have the inflation one has in the standard scenario. You still have to explain why the universe is flat, you still have to explain why the universe is homogeneous, and you still have to explain where the fluctuations came from that led to the formation of galaxies, but that’s not going to be explained by an early stage of inflation. It’s going to be explained by yet a different stage in the cyclic universe, which I’ll get to.

In this new model, you go directly to a radiation-dominated universe and form the usual nuclear abundances; then go directly to a matter-dominated universe in which the atoms and galaxies and larger-scale structure form; and then proceed to a phase of the universe dominated by dark energy. In the standard case, the dark energy comes as a surprise, since it’s something you have to add into the theory to make it consistent with what we observe. In the cyclic model, the dark energy moves to center stage as the key ingredient that is going to drive the universe, and in fact drives the universe, into the cyclic evolution. The first thing the dark energy does when it dominates the universe is what we observe today: It causes the expansion of the universe to begin to accelerate. Why is that important? Although this acceleration rate is 100 orders of magnitude smaller than the acceleration thatone gets in inflation, if you give the universe enough time it actually accomplishes the same feat that inflation does. Over time, it thins out the distribution of matter and radiation in the universe, making the universe more and more homogeneous and isotropic—in fact, making it perfectly so—driving it into what is essentially a vacuum state.

Seth Lloyd said there were 1080 or 1090 bits inside the horizon, but if you were to look around the universe in a trillion years, you would find on average no bits inside your horizon, or less than one bit inside your horizon. In fact, when you count these bits, it’s important to realize that now that the universe is accelerating, our computer is actually losing bits from inside our horizon. This is something that we observe.

At the same time that the universe is made homogeneous and isotropic, it is also being made flat. If the universe had any warp or curvature to it, or if you think about the universe stretching over this long period of time, although it’s a slow process it makes the space extremely flat. If it continued forever, of course, that would be the end of the story. But in this scenario, just like inflation, the dark energy survives only for a finite period and triggers a series of events that eventually lead to a transformation of energy from gravity into new energy and radiation that will then start a new period of expansion of the universe. From a local observer’s point of view, it looks like the universe goes through exact cycles; that is to say, it looks like the universe empties out each round and a new matter and radiation is created, leading to a new period of expansion. In this sense it’s a cyclic universe. If you were a global observer and could see the entire universe, you’d discover that our three dimensions are forever infinite in this story. What’s happened is that at each stage when we create matter and radiation, it gets thinned out. It’s out there somewhere, but it’s getting thinned out. Locally, it looks like the universe is cyclic, but globally the universe has a steady evolution, a well-defined era in which, over time and throughout our three dimensions, entropy increases from cycle to cycle.

Exactly how this works in detail can be described in various ways. I will choose to present a very nice geometrical picture that’s motivated by superstring theory. We use only a few basic elements from superstring theory, so you don’t really have to know anything about superstring theory to understand what I’m going to talk about, except to understand that some of the strange things I’m going to introduce I am not introducing for the first time. They’re already sitting there in superstring theory waiting to be put to good purpose.

One of the ideas in superstring theory is that there are extra dimensions; it’s an essential element to that theory, which is necessary to make it mathematically consistent. In one particular formulation of that theory, the universe has a total of eleven dimensions. Six of them are curled up into a little ball so tiny that, for my purposes, I’m just going to pretend they’re not there. However, there are three spatial dimensions, one time dimension, and one additional dimension that I do want to consider. In this picture, our three dimensions with which we’re familiar and through which we move lie along a hypersurface, or membrane. This membrane is a boundary of the extra dimension. There is another boundary, or membrane, on the other side. In between, there’s an extra dimension that, if you like, only exists over a certain interval. It’s like we are one end of a sandwich, in between which there is a so-called bulk volume of space. These surfaces are referred to as orbifolds or branes—the latter referring to the word “membrane.” The branes have physical properties. They have energy and momentum, and when you excite them you can produce things like quarks and electrons. We are composed of the quarks and electrons on one of these branes. And, since quarks and leptons can only move along branes, we are restricted to moving along and seeing only the three dimensions of our brane. We cannot see directly the bulk or any matter on the other brane.

In the cyclic universe, at regular intervals of trillions of years, these two branes smash together. This creates all kinds of excitations—particles and radiation. The collision thereby heats up the branes, and then they bounce apart again. The branes are attracted to each other through a force that acts just like a spring, causing the branes to come together at regular intervals. To describe it more completely, what’s happening is that the universe goes through two kinds of stages of motion. When the universe has matter and radiation in it, or when the branes are far enough apart, the main motion is the branes stretching, or, equivalently, our three dimensions expanding. During this period, the branes more or less remain a fixed distance apart. That’s what’s been happening, for example, in the last 15 billion years. During these stages, our three dimensions are stretching just as they normally would. At a microscopic distance away, there is another brane sitting and expanding, but since we can’t touch, feel, or see across the bulk, we can’t sense it directly. If there is a clump of matter over there, we can feel the gravitational effect, but we can’t see any light or anything else it emits, because anything it emits is going to move along that brane. We only see things that move along our own brane.

Next, the energy associated with the force between these branes takes over the universe. From our vantage point on one of the branes, this acts just like the dark energy we observe today. It causes the branes to accelerate in their stretching, to the point where all the matter and radiation produced since the last collision is spread out and the branes become essentially smooth, flat, empty surfaces. If you like, you can think of them as being wrinkled and full of matter up to this point, and then stretching by a fantastic amount over the next trillion years. The stretching causes the mass and energy on the brane to thin out and the wrinkles to be smoothed out. After trillions of years, the branes are, for all intents and purposes, smooth, flat, parallel, and empty.

Then the force between these two branes slowly brings the branes together. As it brings them together, the force grows stronger and the branes speed toward one another. When they collide, there’s a walloping impact—enough to create a high density of matter and radiation with a very high, albeit finite, temperature. The two branes go flying apart, more or less back to where they are, and then the new matter and radiation, through the action of gravity, causes the branes to begin a new period of stretching.

In this picture, it’s clear that the universe is going through periods of expansion and a funny kind of contraction. Where the two branes come together, it’s not a contraction of our dimensions but a contraction of the extra dimension. Before the contraction, all matter and radiation has been spread out, but, unlike the old cyclic models of the 1920s and ’30s, it doesn’t come back together again during the contraction, because our three dimensions—that is, the branes—remain stretched out. Only the extra dimension contracts. This process repeats itself cycle after cycle.

If you compare the cyclic model to the consensus picture, two of the functions of inflation—namely, flattening and homogenizing the universe—are accomplished by the period of accelerated expansion that we’ve now just begun. Of course, I really mean the analogous expansion that occurred one cycle ago, before the most recent Bang. The third function of inflation—producing fluctuations in the density—occurs as these two branes come together. As they approach, quantum fluctuations cause the branes to begin to wrinkle. And because they’re wrinkled, they don’t collide everywhere at the same time. Rather, some regions collide a bit earlier than others. This means that some regions reheat to a finite temperature and begin to cool a little bit before other regions. When the branes come apart again, the temperature of the universe is not perfectly homogeneous but has spatial variations left over from the quantum wrinkles.

Remarkably, although the physical processes are completely different and the time scale is completely different—this is taking billions of years, instead of  10-30 seconds—it turns out that the spectrum of fluctuations you get in the distribution of energy and temperature is essentially the same as what you get in inflation. Hence, the cyclic model is also in exquisite agreement with all of the measurements of the temperature and mass distribution of the universe that we have today.

Because the physics in these two models is quite different, there is an important distinction in what we would observe if one or the other were actually true—although this effect has not been detected yet. In inflation when you create fluctuations, you don’t just create fluctuations in energy and temperature but you also create fluctuations in spacetime itself, so-called gravitational waves. That’s a feature we hope to look for in experiments in the coming decades as a verification of the consensus model. In our model, you don’t get those gravitational waves. The essential difference is that inflationary fluctuations are created in a hyperrapid, violent process that is strong enough to create gravitational waves, whereas cyclic fluctuations are created in an ultraslow, gentle process that is too weak to produce gravitational waves. That’s an example where the two models give an observational prediction that is dramatically different. It’s just difficult to observe at the present time.

What’s fascinating at the moment is that we have two paradigms now available to us. On the one hand, they are poles apart in terms of what they tell us about the nature of time, about our cosmic history, about the order in which events occur, and about the time scale on which they occur. On the other hand, they are remarkably similar in terms of what they predict about the universe today. Ultimately what will decide between the two is a combination of observations—for example, the search for cosmic gravitational waves—and theory, because a key aspect to this scenario entails assumptions about what happens at the collision between branes that might be checked or refuted in superstring theory. In the meantime, for the next few years, we can all have great fun speculating about the implications of each of these ideas and how we can best distinguish between them.

Paul Steinhardt is a  theoretical physicist, an Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University and coauthor (with Neil Turok) of “Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang.” This piece originally appeared as a speech by Steinhardt at an event in 2002. It has been excerpted here as it appears in “The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos.” Copyright © 2014 by Edge Foundation Inc. Published by Harper Perennial

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/13/the_universe_according_to_nietzsche_modern_cosmology_and_the_theory_of_eternal_recurrence/?source=newsletter

Do we control our brains? Our do our brains control us? Research sheds light on this age-old question

The truth about free will: New answers to humanity’s biggest riddle

, Scientific American

The truth about free will: New answers to humanity's biggest riddle
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific AmericanPhilosophers have debated for years whether we deliberately make each of the many decisions we make every day, or if our brain does it for us, on autopilot. Neuroscientists have shown, for example, that neurons in the brain initiate our response to various stimuli milliseconds before we’re even aware that we’re taking such an action.

This heady debate has hit a very practical road in the past decade: whether individuals who commit crimes are actually responsible for them. Lawyers have argued in court that if the brain determines the mind, then defendants may not be responsible for their transgressions.

Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is at the forefront of the research into free will, and its implications in courtroom trials and in the expectations of different societies. His thoughts and proclamations are captured in an engaging video called Free Will, created by Joseph LeDoux, a well-known expert on the emotional brain at New York University. The video is the second in a series he is putting together with director Alexis Gambis called My Mind’s Eye. (The first episode featured Ned Block on the mind-body problem.) They have given Scientific American the chance to post these videos first, on our site.

The conversation between LeDoux and Gazzaniga (who is also an editorial adviser toScientific American) runs about 12 minutes, and Gambis has inserted some compelling imagery, including clips of creepy old movies in which scientists probe the brains of live people. The film then morphs into a four-minute music video of the song “How Free Is Your Will?,” performed by LeDoux’s band, the Amygdaloids. A few highlights of the interview, offered freely, by me:



2:55  Split-brain patients. Gazzaniga explains what has happened to these people, and what they can teach us about how we make decisions.

6:50  Personal responsibility. This is the crux of the argument about whether responsibility for our actions lies in the neuronal structures of the brain or in our conscious minds, and whether biological mechanisms or society’s norms are most important in defining acceptable behavior. “There’s no reason to not hold people accountable for their actions,” Gazzaniga maintains. He then discusses how society can more intelligently decide on what to do with people who violate its rules.

9:05  Criminal trials. Gazzaniga discusses problems in referring to brain scans in courtroom trials and in sentencing people who are convicted, and considers the effectiveness of capital punishment, given what we know about free will.

12:00  Music video of “How Free Is Your Will?”

Further reading, suggested by Michael Gazzaniga:

For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything. Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 359, 1775-1785; 2004.

The Law and Neuroscience, Michael S. Gazzaniga in Neuron, 60:412-415; 2009.

Who’s in Charge?  Free Will and the Science of the Brain. Michael S. Gazzaniga. Ecco, Harper Collins, New York; 2011.

Neuroscience in the Courtroom, Michael S. Gazzaniga in Scientific American, April 2011.

A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience: A Contribution of the Law and Neuroscience Project. Oxford Series in Neuroscience, Law, and Philosophy; eds. Stephen J. Morse and Adina L. Roskies; 2013.

Image from this video courtesy of Imaginal Disk

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/01/the_truth_about_free_will_new_answers_to_humanitys_biggest_riddle_partner/?source=newsletter

The Shifting Legacy Of The Man Who Shot Franz Ferdinand

June 27, 2014 3:52 PM ET
Nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip fired the shots that killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie during a visit to Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Depending on who you ask, he's either a hero or a terrorist.

Nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip fired the shots that killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie during a visit to Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. Depending on who you ask, he’s either a hero or a terrorist.

Historical Archives Sarajevo/AP

A 100 years ago Saturday, . That event triggered World War I, charting the course for the 20th century. Today, the legacy of the Bosnian Serb nationalist remains the subject of intense debate — nowhere more than in Sarajevo itself.

In the one-room museum on the corner where the assassination took place, tour guide Mirsad Nazerovic points to a black-and-white photo of a pillar that used to stand outside this building. It was a monument with a very short life.

“Construction started in 1916. It was finished in 1917. And it was destroyed in 1918,” says Nazerovic.

That was the first in a long string of short-lived memorials to the assassination.

“The question you’re faced with is very stark,” says historian James Lyon, an expert in Balkan history. “Was Gavrilo Princip a terrorist, or was he a national hero? There have been tug-of-war interpretations, and they have changed over time.”

Lyon runs through about a half-dozen monuments that have been erected on this site, built up and torn down with each change in power.

There was a plaque in the 1930s that said Princip fired shots expressing the longing of people to be free. It was removed when the Germans arrived.

Then World War II ended, and a plaque went up noting that this was “where Gavrilo Princip threw off the German occupiers,” says Lyon, “obviously with references to the recent war in mind.”

For a while, there were footprints in the sidewalk where tourists could stand in Princip’s shoes. Those were torn out during the Balkan war in the 1990s.

Today, a resolutely apolitical plaque stands on the corner of where the assassination took place. It reads: “From this place on 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia.”

And this isn’t the only place where the battle over Princip’s legacy is raging.

Along with his co-conspirators, Princip is buried in this chapel outside Sarajevo. The chapel includes a citation from a Montenegrin poet: "Blessed is he who lives forever. He had something to be born for."

Along with his co-conspirators, Princip is buried in this chapel outside Sarajevo. The chapel includes a citation from a Montenegrin poet: “Blessed is he who lives forever. He had something to be born for.”

Ari Shapiro/NPR

A visit to Princip’s grave requires a taxi ride outside of the town center. The site doesn’t look like a historic place of consequence. People sell used books outside the cemetery fence. There’s a grungy cafe, and a highway overpass casts a shadow on the graves.

Inside, Princip and most of his co-conspirators are buried in a small chapel. He died in prison after being convicted of the assassination. Some of the others were executed.

Historian Edin Hajdarpasic of Loyola University says the inscription on the chapel literally refers to the assassins as heroes.

“And above it is a citation from the Montenegrin poet Njegos,” says Hajdarpasic. “And it reads: ‘Blessed is he who lives forever. He had something to be born for.'”

Not what one would think of as the grave of a villain. Instead, says Hajdarpasic, “It has hero written all over it.”

In every era, people with power have tried to use this assassin as a symbol. The meaning of the symbol changes depending on who’s talking.

Even Hollywood got in on the act. The real Princip was a scrawny, malnourished guy.

But in the 1975 movie, The Day that Shook the World, he’s a smoldering heartthrob who murmurs to a gorgeous woman, “Try to understand. I must do it.”

To people with first-hand experience of the assassination, this all seems very odd. Haaris Pasovic is a theatrical director in Sarajevo. His grandfather was a teenager working in the family shop on June 28, 1914, and actually heard the gunshots that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

“My grandfather mentioned that once to me in passing,” says Pasovic. “The Sarajevo assassination wasn’t ever the big deal in Sarajevo.”

Not for locals, anyway. But politicians know a powerful tool when they see one. And for the last 100 years, Gavrilo Princip has been a more potent symbol in death than he ever was in his life.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/06/27/326164157/the-shifting-legacy-of-the-man-who-shot-franz-ferdinand?ft=1&f=1001

“The Most Dangerous Book”: When “Ulysses” was obscene

A stirring new book describes how publishers defied censors to bring James Joyce’s masterpiece to the world

"The Most Dangerous Book": When "Ulysses" was obscene
James Joyce (Credit: AP/Salon)

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” changed literature and the world, not necessarily in the ways its author intended and certainly in ways we still don’t entirely understand. One of the unexpected effects of the novel, which was first published in its entirety in Paris in 1922, was the most famous obscenity trial in U.S. history, conducted in 1933. That trial serves as the culmination of Kevin Birmingham’s astute and gorgeously written “The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’” an account of the tortuous path Joyce’s masterpiece took to print. Publishing is not the world’s most fast-paced and high-stakes business, but when it came to introducing the English-speaking world to a novel that one critic deplored as “full of the filthiest blasphemies” and “afflicted with a truly diabolical lack of talent,” the ride was a wild one.

Countless reams of paper have been consumed by writings on Joyce and “Ulysses,” but Birmingham has two particular, little-discussed themes to bring to the table. First, and most peripheral to his narrative, is Birmingham’s discovery of strong evidence that the eye problems that tormented and eventually blinded Joyce were caused by syphilis. (Birmingham concludes that a medication given to Joyce by his Parisian doctor in the late 1920s was probably “an obscure French drug called galyl,” used only to treat symptoms of syphilis.) Birmingham expands on this a bit by arguing that the effects of pain and disability on the writer and his work have been underestimated. It’s a credible argument, especially once you’ve read this book’s squirm-inducing description of a typical eye surgery Joyce endured and learn that he went through the equivalent a dozen times over. But Birmingham never quite gets around to showing how Joyce’s suffering shaped his work.



More central to the story is Birmingham’s interest in the role women played in midwifing “Ulysses.” There’s the novel’s muse — Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, who could never be bothered to read the thing — and his longtime patron, a genteel Englishwoman named Harriet Weaver, who published excerpts from the novel in her literary magazine as well as funneling the impecunious author cash amounting to $1 million in today’s money. In the U.S., the two editors who first risked prison and fines to publish portions of “Ulysses” in their journal, the Little Review, were Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap. Then there was the bookseller Sylvia Beach, who, as her inaugural venture in publishing, produced the first full edition of the notorious novel despite the seemingly endless (and expensive) revisions Joyce insisted on making to the text, even after it had gone to proofs. When the Little Review was brought up on obscenity charges for publishing Joyce, female supporters filled the courthouse, and when a New York City bookstore needed middlemen to receive copies of “Ulysses” smuggled in from Paris, the volunteers were all women.

Birmingham underlines the irony in this: The obscenity laws that banned the novel in America and England were supposedly meant to “protect the delicate sensibilities of female readers.” The first major push against the Little Review in the early 1920s was initiated by a businessman who discovered a copy of the magazine among his teenage daughter’s possessions and freaked out after reading the section of “Ulysses” Joyce called “Nausicca.” (It features a young girl named Gertie MacDowell displaying her legs to protagonist Leopold Bloom at the beach. The businessman’s daughter claimed she never bought the magazine and that it had simply appeared in the mail one day. Sure.) This protective outrage represented a holdover from 19th-century notions of novels (especially French novels) as dangerous reading for young girls. How easily their impressionable minds could be filled with dreams of passionate love and their moral fiber loosened! It was not men like Bloom the censors feared would be inflamed by books like “Ulysses,” but girls like Gertie MacDowell.

When “Ulysses” finally got a serious hearing a decade later — thanks to the efforts of Bennett Cerf and his upstart publishing company, Random House, along with civil liberties attorney Morris Ernst — one of the issues at hand was the definition of obscenity. It had long been viewed as consisting of any material that might “corrupt” a pure and impressionable mind. Many of the people trying to maintain the ban on “Ulysses,” such as the assistant U.S. district attorney assigned to the case, Sam Coleman, acknowledged that it was not pornography; Coleman called the novel a “literary masterpiece.” But under earlier understandings of obscenity, this hardly mattered. Justices were not even expected to take the whole work into consideration. If innocent women and children could be tainted by exposure to its raciest passages, then the work was illegal in the U.S.

United States v. One Book Called Ulysses overturned that conception of obscenity forever. Judge John M. Woolsey found that while the novel contained “many words usually considered dirty, I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake.” Furthermore, he told Ernst, “Ulysses” included “passages of moving literary beauty, passages of worth and power.” The two elements are inextricable. As Birmingham puts it, Woolsey asserted that “the novel was transcendent, that it turned filth into art.” That is, in fact, the point of it.

“The renovation of ‘Ulysses’ from literary dynamite to a ‘modern classic’ is a microhistory of the way modernism was Americanized,” Birmingham writes. He’s particularly adept at briskly and vividly sketching the way Joyce’s literary project epitomized the modernist ethos. The novel “demanded unfettered freedom of artistic form, style and content — literary freedoms that were as deeply political as any speech protected by the First Amendment.” But what Joyce wanted to do with that freedom was not to preach political revolution but to speak with complete and comprehensive honesty about everyday and intimate experience. In “Ulysses,” relatively straightforward accounts of the events in a single day in the lives of two Dubliners, Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, run counterpoint to their fragmented and cascading thoughts and fantasies — the stream of consciousness. Birmingham writes, wonderfully, that “Ulysses” “split the ego” presented in Joyce’s early novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” into two characters “and that split is the fission through which the world pours out.”

Because of the truth Joyce wanted to tell, “Ulysses” contains some of the most ravishing and profound passages in the English language and it is also pretty dirty. That made it not only one of the greatest novels ever written but the perfect book to overthrow the existing definitions of obscenity. “Ulysses,” with the power of its language and vision, defied collective decorum to crack open the allowable and permit a new literature to emerge. Birmingham conveys the excitement of this insurrection with great skill, knitting together the story of Joyce’s vexed personal life with those of the various characters who recognized and championed his genius even as they were often at each other’s throats. (A smashing movie could be made about the interactions among Anderson, Heap, Ezra Pound and John Quinn, a finance attorney and art collector who funded the Little Review and seemed equally attracted and disgusted by the lesbian bohemianism of its two editors.)

One lasting legacy of “Ulysses” can be observed in the ubiquity of another Random House title, freely available in bookstores everywhere today although it would most definitely have been deemed obscene in 1933: E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It turned out that the American public’s resistance to “dirt for dirt’s sake” was a lot less robust than its resistance to stream-of-consciousness narratives. “After ‘Ulysses,’ modernist experimentation was no longer marginal. It was essential,” Birmingham writes. That’s debatable, as is Birmingham’s belief that there’s a necessary link between the desire for sexually explicit art and “the larger struggle between state power and individual freedom.” Nevertheless, the two have coincided at certain pivotal historical moments, and never more gloriously than in the battle for “Ulysses.” It’s a story that, as Birmingham puts it, forced the world to “recognize that beauty is deeper than pleasure and that art is larger than beauty.” He has done it justice.

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/15/the_most_dangerous_book_when_ulysses_was_obscene/?source=newsletter

Obama administration says child immigrants are “priorities for removal” from US

http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/26d7ab52b2bd445d5868c51ee1e57851fee418fd/c=170-0-936-575&r=x404&c=534x401/local/-/media/KXTV/KXTV/2014/06/12//1402576557000-0611-border-children04.jpg

By D. Lencho
14 June 2014

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson made clear on Thursday that immigrants—including unaccompanied children—caught illegally crossing the US border are priorities for deportation.

His comments addressed the crisis generated by the tens of thousands of Central American youth attempting to enter the United States through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In the last six months, over 47,000 children—mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—have crossed illegally without an adult.

“Those apprehended at our border are priorities for removal,” Johnson told reporters at a Washington new conference. “They are priorities for enforcement of our immigrant laws, regardless of age.” He added, “I am not encouraging in any way, shape or form illegal migration. That’s the message,” he told reporters. “Those who cross our borders today illegally, including children, are not eligible for an earned path to citizenship.”

The children will be turned over to Department of Health and Human Services, which will decide if a relative in the US gets custody or if the children will be deported, according to Johnson.

The White House has come under increasing fire from Republicans—as well as some Democrats—who accuse the Obama administration of being “soft on illegals.” They cite the president’s 2012 signing of an executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, as well as the administration’s overall immigration policy, as the cause in the growth of the numbers of immigrant children crossing the Rio Grande.

Johnson emphasized that the thousands of children crossing the Southwestern border are ineligible for relief. Addressing the parents of the child immigrants, he said, “Illegal migration is not safe,” adding later, “your child will not benefit from DACA now.”

The Republicans claim that DACA, which delays deportation of some undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children on or before June 15, 2007, attracts undocumented workers and their children, who are led to believe, often by coyotes, or human smugglers, that they will get a deferral.

In testimony before a Congressional committee on Wednesday, Johnson stressed that DACA “does not apply to anyone who came into the U.S. today, tomorrow or yesterday.” The HHS secretary avoided mentioning any connection between US imperialist policy in the region and the conditions of poverty and violence leading many to make the dangerous journey to the US.

CBP Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who was also at Thursday’s press conference, defended the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which is holding and processing the children at a converted warehouse in Nogales, where the population has now exceeded 1,000. Kerlikowske praised the “absolutely heroic efforts” of CBP agents to provide for the children.

HHS’s Johnson said that government is looking for additional space to shelter the children and process them. He said that space for them has already been reserved at three military bases.

CBP has allowed some politicians, activists and religious charities, but no media personnel, into the warehouse where the child immigrants have been transferred by authorities from Texas. While some of the visitors have commented that the youths’ needs appear to be addressed, not all of them took such a rosy view of the facility.

One visitor, the Rev. Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative charity, wrote on the organization’s web site: “Based on the way they looked and on the facilities that had been set up, their physical needs seem to be met. Their psychological and spiritual well-being is less clear to me, due to the inability to speak and interact with the young people.”

Another visitor, Deedee Blase, an immigration activist, told Fox 10 News, “It felt like a dog pound… It had a warehouse like, concrete, feel to it. When we walked in you saw cages with barbed wire fencing. There are two cages with boys and girls next to each other, and then there are 4-5 porta-potties behind it.”

According to Blase, many of the children had not taken a shower in 10 days. “I see the morale is very depressing,” she said.

Photos taken on the cellphone camera of one visitor, Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, show children crammed into chain-link fenced areas and sleeping on the floor with no more than aluminum blankets. In such cramped conditions, diseases like chicken pox, MRSA staph infections and rabies have sprung up, with no quarantining other than segregation behind yellow police evidence tape.

On the same day as Johnson’s Congressional committee appearance, the National Immigrant Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations filed a complaint to the DHS alleging systematic abuse of 116 youth by CBP agents. The range of abuses included beatings, sexual assaults, verbal abuse and threats, inadequate food and water, forced stress positions, confiscation of money and belongings and separation from family members.

The various organizations had filed numerous prior complaints to the DHS, all of which were met with silence. The present complaint says, “By failing to meaningfully investigate or otherwise respond to consistent reports of systemic abuse, DHS has demonstrated a continuing disregard for the civil and human rights of unaccompanied immigrant children.”

Joseph Anderson , director of litigation for Americans for Immigrant Justice, told the Arizona Daily Star, “We are coming forward now with more than 100 complaints, but we believe thousands of children have been subjected to these conditions.” He added, “Although the surge of unaccompanied exacerbates this problem, it predates this problem.”

Time for Congress to Probe Bill Gates’ Education Coup


The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected, wealthy man is ample reason for congressional hearings

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 24: Bill Gates attends the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting at The Shertaon New York Hotel on September 24, 2013 in New York City.
Photo Credit: JStone / Shutterstock.com

The story about Bill Gates’ swift and silent takeover of American education is startling. His role and the role of the U.S. Department of Education in drafting and imposing the Common Core standards on almost every state should be investigated by Congress.

The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and–working closely with the U.S. Department of Education–impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal. A Congressional investigation is warranted.

The close involvement of Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the law was broken.

Thanks to the story in the Washington Post and to diligent bloggers, we now know that one very rich man bought the enthusiastic support of interest groups on the left and right to campaign for the Common Core.

Who knew that American education was for sale?

Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could dismantle and destroy state and local control of education?

The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected man, underwriting dozens of groups. and allied with the Secretary of Education, whose staff was laced with Gates’ allies, is ample reason for Congressional hearings.

I have written on various occasions (see here and here) that I could not support the Common Core standards because they were developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students.. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.

In a democratic society, process matters. The high-handed manner in which these standards were written and imposed in record time makes them unacceptable. These standards not only undermine state and local control of education, but the manner in which they were written and adopted was authoritarian. No one knows how they will work, yet dozens of groups have been paid millions of dollars by the Gates Foundation to claim that they are absolutely vital for our economic future, based on no evidence whatever.

Why does state and local control matter? Until now, in education, the American idea has been that no single authority has all the answers. Local boards are best equipped to handle local problems. States set state policy, in keeping with the concept that states are “laboratories of democracy,” where new ideas can evolve and prove themselves. In our federal system, the federal government has the power to protect the civil rights of students, to conduct research, and to redistribute resources to the neediest children and schools.

Do we need to compare the academic performance of students in different states? We already have the means to do so with the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It has been supplying state comparisons since 1992.

Will national standards improve test scores? There is no reason to believe so. Brookings scholar Tom Loveless predicted two years ago that the Common Core standards would make little or no difference. The biggest test-score gaps, he wrote, are within the same state, not between states. Some states with excellent standards have low scores, and some with excellent standards have large gaps among different groups of students.

The reality is that the most reliable predictors of test scores are family income and family education. Nearly one-quarter of America’s children live in poverty. The Common Core standards divert our attention from the root causes of low academic achievement.

Worse, at a time when many schools have fiscal problems and are laying off teachers, nurses, and counselors, and eliminating arts programs, the nation’s schools will be forced to spend billions of dollars on Common Core materials, testing, hardware, and software.

Microsoft, Pearson, and other entrepreneurs will reap the rewards of this new marketplace. Our nation’s children will not.

Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education? Who decided that the federal government should watch in silence as school segregation resumed and grew? Who decided that schools should invest in Common Core instead of smaller classes and school nurses?

These are questions that should be asked at Congressional hearings.

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education.

Leo Tolstoy on Finding Meaning in a Meaningless World

by

“For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite.”

Shortly after turning fifty, Leo Tolstoy succumbed to a profound spiritual crisis. With his greatest works behind him, he found his sense of purpose dwindling as his celebrity and public acclaim billowed, sinking into a state of deep depression and melancholia despite having a large estate, good health for his age, a wife who had born him fourteen children, and the promise of eternal literary fame. On the brink of suicide, he made one last grasp at light amidst the darkness of his existence, turning to the world’s great religious and philosophical traditions for answers to the age-old question regarding the meaning of life. In 1879, a decade after War and Peace and two years after Anna Karenina, and a decade before he set out to synthesize these philosophical findings in his Calendar of Wisdom, Tolstoy channeled the existential catastrophe of his inner life in A Confession (public library) — an autobiographical memoir of extraordinary candor and emotional intensity, which also gave us Tolstoy’s prescient meditation on money, fame, and writing for the wrong reasons.

He likens the progression of his depression to a serious physical illness — a parallel modern science is rending increasingly appropriate. Tolstoy writes:

Then occurred what happens to everyone sickening with a mortal internal disease. At first trivial signs of indisposition appear to which the sick man pays no attention; then these signs reappear more and more often and merge into one uninterrupted period of suffering. The suffering increases, and before the sick man can look round, what he took for a mere indisposition has already become more important to him than anything else in the world — it is death!

The classic symptoms of anhedonia engulfed him — he lost passion for his work and came to dismiss as meaningless the eternal fame he had once dreamt of. He even ceased to go out shooting with his gun in fear that he might be too tempted to take his own life. Though he didn’t acknowledge a “someone” in the sense of a creator, he came to feel that his life was a joke that someone had played on him — a joke all the grimmer for the awareness of our inescapable impermanence, and all the more despairing:

Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.

[…]

Had I simply understood that life had no meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my lot. But I could not satisfy myself with that. Had I been like a man living in a wood from which he knows there is no exit, I could have lived; but I was like one lost in a wood who, horrified at having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road. He knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still he cannot help rushing about. It was indeed terrible. And to rid myself of the terror I wished to kill myself.

And yet he recognized that the inquiry at the heart of his spiritual malady was neither unique nor complicated:

My question … was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?” Differently expressed, the question is: “Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”

Seeking to answer this seemingly simple yet paralyzingly profound question, Tolstoy first turned to science, but found that rather than recognizing and answering the question, science circumvented it and instead asked its own questions, then answered those. Most of all, he found it incapable of illuminating the infinite and instead reducing its questions and answers to finite. He writes:

These are all words with no meaning, for in the infinite there is neither complex nor simple, neither forward nor backward, nor better or worse.

[…]

One who sincerely inquires how he is to live cannot be satisfied with the reply — “Study in endless space the mutations, infinite in time and in complexity, of innumerable atoms, and then you will understand your life” — so also a sincere man cannot be satisfied with the reply: “Study the whole life of humanity of which we cannot know either the beginning or the end, of which we do not even know a small part, and then you will understand your own life.”

A century and a half before Alan Lightman tussled, elegantly, with the same paradox, Tolstoy captured the Catch-22 of the predicament:

The problem of experimental science is the sequence of cause and effect in material phenomena. It is only necessary for experimental science to introduce the question of a final cause for it to become nonsensical. The problem of abstract science is the recognition of the primordial essence of life. It is only necessary to introduce the investigation of consequential phenomena (such as social and historical phenomena) and it also becomes nonsensical. Experimental science only then gives positive knowledge and displays the greatness of the human mind when it does not introduce into its investigations the question of an ultimate cause. And, on the contrary, abstract science is only then science and displays the greatness of the human mind when it puts quite aside questions relating to the consequential causes of phenomena and regards man solely in relation to an ultimate cause.

He then turned to philosophy, but found himself equally disillusioned:

Philosophy not merely does not reply, but is itself only asking that question. And if it is real philosophy all its labour lies merely in trying to put that question clearly.

Instead of an answer, he finds in philosophy “the same question, only in a complex form.” He bemoans the inability of either science or philosophy to offer a real answer:

One kind of knowledge did not reply to life’s question, the other kind replied directly confirming my despair, indicating not that the result at which I had arrived was the fruit of error or of a diseased state of my mind, but on the contrary that I had thought correctly, and that my thoughts coincided with the conclusions of the most powerful of human minds.

Frustrated, Tolstoy answers his own question:

“Why does everything exist that exists, and why do I exist?” “Because it exists.”

It’s a sentiment that John Cage would second a century later (“No why. Just here.”) and George Lucas would also echo (“There is no why. We are. Life is beyond reason.”) — a proposition that comes closest to the spiritual tradition of Buddhism. And, indeed, Tolstoy turns to spirituality in one final and desperate attempt at an answer — first by surveying how those in his social circle lived with this all-consuming inquiry. He found among them four strategies for managing the existential despair, but none that resolved it:

I found that for people of my circle there were four ways out of the terrible position in which we are all placed. The first was that of ignorance. It consists in not knowing, not understanding, that life is an evil and an absurdity. From [people of this sort] I had nothing to learn — one cannot cease to know what one does know.

The second way out is epicureanism. It consists, while knowing the hopelessness of life, in making use meanwhile of the advantages one has, disregarding the dragon and the mice, and licking the honey in the best way, especially if there is much of it within reach… That is the way in which the majority of people of our circle make life possible for themselves. Their circumstances furnish them with more of welfare than of hardship, and their moral dullness makes it possible for them to forget that the advantage of their position is accidental … and that the accident that has today made me a Solomon may tomorrow make me a Solomon’s slave. The dullness of these people’s imagination enables them to forget the things that gave Buddha no peace — the inevitability of sickness, old age, and death, which today or tomorrow will destroy all these pleasures.

The third escape is that of strength and energy. It consists in destroying life, when one has understood that it is an evil and an absurdity. A few exceptionally strong and consistent people act so. Having understood the stupidity of the joke that has been played on them, and having understood that it is better to be dead than to be alive, and that it is best of all not to exist, they act accordingly and promptly end this stupid joke, since there are means: a rope round one’s neck, water, a knife to stick into one’s heart, or the trains on the railways; and the number of those of our circle who act in this way becomes greater and greater, and for the most part they act so at the best time of their life, when the strength of their mind is in full bloom and few habits degrading to the mind have as yet been acquired…

The fourth way out is that of weakness. It consists in seeing the truth of the situation and yet clinging to life, knowing in advance that nothing can come of it. People of this kind know that death is better than life, but not having the strength to act rationally — to end the deception quickly and kill themselves — they seem to wait for something. This is the escape of weakness, for if I know what is best and it is within my power, why not yield to what is best? … The fourth way was to live like Solomon and Schopenhauer — knowing that life is a stupid joke played upon us, and still to go on living, washing oneself, dressing, dining, talking, and even writing books. This was to me repulsive and tormenting, but I remained in that position.

Finding himself in the fourth category, Tolstoy beings to question why he hadn’t killed himself. Suddenly, he realizes that a part of him was questioning the very validity of his depressive thoughts, presenting “a vague doubt” as to the certainty of his conclusions about the senselessness of life. Humbled by the awareness that the mind is both puppet and puppet-master, he writes:

It was like this: I, my reason, have acknowledged that life is senseless. If there is nothing higher than reason (and there is not: nothing can prove that there is), then reason is the creator of life for me. If reason did not exist there would be for me no life. How can reason deny life when it is the creator of life? Or to put it the other way: were there no life, my reason would not exist; therefore reason is life’s son. Life is all. Reason is its fruit yet reason rejects life itself! I felt that there was something wrong here.

And he discovers the solution not in science or philosophy or the life of hedonism, but in those living life in its simplest and purest form:

The reasoning showing the vanity of life is not so difficult, and has long been familiar to the very simplest folk; yet they have lived and still live. How is it they all live and never think of doubting the reasonableness of life?

My knowledge, confirmed by the wisdom of the sages, has shown me that everything on earth — organic and inorganic — is all most cleverly arranged — only my own position is stupid. And those fools — the enormous masses of people — know nothing about how everything organic and inorganic in the world is arranged; but they live, and it seems to them that their life is very wisely arranged! . . .

And it struck me: “But what if there is something I do not yet know? Ignorance behaves just in that way. Ignorance always says just what I am saying. When it does not know something, it says that what it does not know is stupid. Indeed, it appears that there is a whole humanity that lived and lives as if it understood the meaning of its life, for without understanding it could not live; but I say that all this life is senseless and that I cannot live.

Awake to what Stuart Firestein would call “thoroughly conscious ignorance” some 130 years later, Tolstoy sees his own blinders with new eyes:

In the delusion of my pride of intellect it seemed to me so indubitable that I and Solomon and Schopenhauer had stated the question so truly and exactly that nothing else was possible — so indubitable did it seem that all those milliards consisted of men who had not yet arrived at an apprehension of all the profundity of the question — that I sought for the meaning of my life without it once occurring to me to ask: “But what meaning is and has been given to their lives by all the milliards of common folk who live and have lived in the world?”

I long lived in this state of lunacy, which, in fact if not in words, is particularly characteristic of us very liberal and learned people. But thanks either to the strange physical affection I have for the real laboring people, which compelled me to understand them and to see that they are not so stupid as we suppose, or thanks to the sincerity of my conviction that I could know nothing beyond the fact that the best I could do was to hang myself, at any rate I instinctively felt that if I wished to live and understand the meaning of life, I must seek this meaning not among those who have lost it and wish to kill themselves, but among those milliards of the past and the present who make life and who support the burden of their own lives and of ours also. And I considered the enormous masses of those simple, unlearned, and poor people who have lived and are living and I saw something quite different. I saw that, with rare exceptions, all those milliards who have lived and are living do not fit into my divisions, and that I could not class them as not understanding the question, for they themselves state it and reply to it with extraordinary clearness. Nor could I consider them epicureans, for their life consists more of privations and sufferings than of enjoyments. Still less could I consider them as irrationally dragging on a meaningless existence, for every act of their life, as well as death itself, is explained by them. To kill themselves they consider the greatest evil. It appeared that all mankind had a knowledge, unacknowledged and despised by me, of the meaning of life. It appeared that reasonable knowledge does not give the meaning of life, but excludes life: while the meaning attributed to life by milliards of people, by all humanity, rests on some despised pseudo-knowledge.

He considers the necessary irrationality of faith and contemplates its unfair ask of forsaking reason:

Rational knowledge presented by the learned and wise, denies the meaning of life, but the enormous masses of men, the whole of mankind receive that meaning in irrational knowledge. And that irrational knowledge is faith, that very thing which I could not but reject. It is God, One in Three; the creation in six days; the devils and angels, and all the rest that I cannot accept as long as I retain my reason.

My position was terrible. I knew I could find nothing along the path of reasonable knowledge except a denial of life; and there — in faith — was nothing but a denial of reason, which was yet more impossible for me than a denial of life. From rational knowledge it appeared that life is an evil, people know this and it is in their power to end life; yet they lived and still live, and I myself live, though I have long known that life is senseless and an evil. By faith it appears that in order to understand the meaning of life I must renounce my reason, the very thing for which alone a meaning is required…

A contradiction arose from which there were two exits. Either that which I called reason was not so rational as I supposed, or that which seemed to me irrational was not so irrational as I supposed.

And therein he finds the error in all of his prior reasoning, the root of his melancholia about life’s meaninglessness:

Verifying the line of argument of rational knowledge I found it quite correct. The conclusion that life is nothing was inevitable; but I noticed a mistake. The mistake lay in this, that my reasoning was not in accord with the question I had put. The question was: “Why should I live, that is to say, what real, permanent result will come out of my illusory transitory life — what meaning has my finite existence in this infinite world?” And to reply to that question I had studied life.

The solution of all the possible questions of life could evidently not satisfy me, for my question, simple as it at first appeared, included a demand for an explanation of the finite in terms of the infinite, and vice versa.

I asked: “What is the meaning of my life, beyond time, cause, and space?” And I replied to quite another question: “What is the meaning of my life within time, cause, and space?” With the result that, after long efforts of thought, the answer I reached was: “None.”

In my reasonings I constantly compared (nor could I do otherwise) the finite with the finite, and the infinite with the infinite; but for that reason I reached the inevitable result: force is force, matter is matter, will is will, the infinite is the infinite, nothing is nothing — and that was all that could result.

[…]

Philosophic knowledge denies nothing, but only replies that the question cannot be solved by it — that for it the solution remains indefinite.

Having understood this, I understood that it was not possible to seek in rational knowledge for a reply to my question, and that the reply given by rational knowledge is a mere indication that a reply can only be obtained by a different statement of the question and only when the relation of the finite to the infinite is included in the question. And I understood that, however irrational and distorted might be the replies given by faith, they have this advantage, that they introduce into every answer a relation between the finite and the infinite, without which there can be no solution.

So that besides rational knowledge, which had seemed to me the only knowledge, I was inevitably brought to acknowledge that all live humanity has another irrational knowledge — faith which makes it possible to live. Faith still remained to me as irrational as it was before, but I could not but admit that it alone gives mankind a reply to the questions of life, and that consequently it makes life possible.

Tolstoy notes that, whatever the faith may be, it “gives to the finite existence of man an infinite meaning, a meaning not destroyed by sufferings, deprivations, or death,” and yet he is careful not to conflate faith with a specific religion. Like Flannery O’Connor, who so beautifully differentiated between religion and faith, Tolstoy writes:

I understood that faith is not merely “the evidence of things not seen”, etc., and is not a revelation (that defines only one of the indications of faith, is not the relation of man to God (one has first to define faith and then God, and not define faith through God); it is not only agreement with what has been told one (as faith is most usually supposed to be), but faith is a knowledge of the meaning of human life in consequence of which man does not destroy himself but lives. Faith is the strength of life. If a man lives he believes in something. If he did not believe that one must live for something, he would not live. If he does not see and recognize the illusory nature of the finite, he believes in the finite; if he understands the illusory nature of the finite, he must believe in the infinite. Without faith he cannot live…

For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite.

And yet the closer he examines faith, the more glaring he finds the disconnect between it and religion, particularly the teachings of the Christian church and the practices of the wealthy. Once again, he returns to the peasants as a paragon of spiritual salvation, of bridging the finite with the infinite, and once again seeing in their ways an ethos most closely resembling the Buddhist philosophy of acceptance:

In contrast with what I had seen in our circle, where the whole of life is passed in idleness, amusement, and dissatisfaction, I saw that the whole life of these people was passed in heavy labour, and that they were content with life. In contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings, these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they approach death and suffering with tranquility and in most cases gladly…

In complete contrast to my ignorance, [they] knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good…

[…]

I understood that if I wish to understand life and its meaning, I must not live the life of a parasite, but must live a real life, and — taking the meaning given to live by real humanity and merging myself in that life — verify it.

A Confession is a remarkable read in its entirety. Complement it with Tolstoy’s subsequent opus of philosophical inquiry, A Calendar of Wisdom, and this rare recording of him reading from the latter, exploring the object of life shortly before his death.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/06/03/tolstoy-confession/

Market-based education reform has become a mainstay of American politics — and it’s a disaster waiting to happen

Capitalism vs. education: Why our free-market obsession is wrecking the future

Capitalism vs. education: Why our free-market obsession is wrecking the future
Michelle Rhee, Karl Marx, Michael Bloomberg (Credit: Reuters/Hyungwon Kang/Wikimedia/Jonathan Ernst/Salon)

The 2014 State of the Union address was billed as the speech in which President Obama would finally reveal himself as the progressive champion we’d been promised. In the weeks prior, senior administration officials leaked word that the president would use his platform to declare income inequality the “defining challenge of our time,” a claim he’d first made two years prior, in a highly touted speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. Then, in early February, news came that the phrase “income inequality” had been scrapped from subsequent drafts, replaced by an emphasis on “ladders of opportunity.”

In Osawatomie, the president decried runaway inequality as a threat to the legitimacy of American democracy. In the State of the Union, he paid lip service to the divergent fortunes of “those at the top” and of average wage earners, before transitioning into boilerplate calls for improving education and cutting taxes on domestic manufacturers. As the “ladders” metaphor suggests, the speech framed the crisis facing the vaunted middle class as one of economic mobility, rather than inequality. The word “inequality” was spoken only three times, “opportunity,” thirteen.

Even in Osawatomie, after describing in bracing detail how automation and globalization devalued American labor, producing an economy where weak demand is propped up by credit card debt, the president transitioned from diagnosis to prescription. Not with a call for robust income redistribution, or a proposal for aggressive government hiring, but by declaring, “We need to meet the moment… It starts by making education a national mission.”



The point here is less to criticize the Obama administration’s timidity than to illustrate the incredible onus our politics places on education. We have an economy in which 46.5 million Americans live in poverty, the real unemployment rate is above 12 percent, and our 400 wealthiest citizens enjoy as much wealth as the entire bottom half of the population. But a political system designed for gridlock, the grossly disproportionate influence of the rich, and Americans’ ideological aversion to class politics conspire to make it politically inadvisable for a Democratic president to even speak the words “income inequality” before a national audience. Absent the political will to explore redistributive structural reforms, we’re left with “ladders of opportunity,” and a vision of economic salvation through higher test scores.

Writing in Salon last month, Matt Bruenig illustrated the inadequacy of education as a remedy for inequality by looking at the market poverty rate in Finland, a nation whose students’ math and science proficiency is among the highest in the world. Were education reform in the United States shaped by liberal utopian principles instead of corporate ones, Finland would be its model. The Finns’ education system is radically egalitarian, with free college and no private schools. Standardized testing is limited, and teachers enjoy significant pedagogical freedom. Yet the only thing keeping Finland’s market poverty rate from exceeding that of the United States is a redistributive system financed by a tax level twice as high as our own.

In his new book, “The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame,” philosophy of education professor David Blacker takes Bruenig’s pessimism several steps further. In Blacker’s vision, the economy’s dysfunction renders systemic improvements in education not merely inadequate, but impossible. He argues that the form and quality of public education is so dependent on macroeconomic forces that education reform is “at best a mirage that diverts oppositional energies.” To Blacker, it’s no coincidence that universal public education became a reality in the Western world at the same time that industrialization created the demand for an expansive, educated workforce.

Now, as automation and globalization renders whole swaths of the American labor force useless to capital, Blacker sees the economic system transitioning from a mode of exploitation to one of “elimination.” From the perspective of capital, an ever-increasing portion of the population is no longer seen as a resource to be cultivated, but as a risk to be contained. He sees this “eliminationist” logic driving disinvestment from public higher education, impatience with student speech and activism, and the charter movement’s push toward school privatization.

His book advises activists to adopt an attitude of fatalism. In his narrative, hope is found in the fact that even neoliberal capitalism is helplessly constrained by a system larger than itself, namely that of the environment. The task for the left then, is to prepare, psychologically and experimentally, for inevitable collapse.

Salon spoke recently with Blacker about his new book, and the problem with America’s approach to education and inequality. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You write that education reform is “at best a mirage that diverts oppositional energies.” Why do you believe education reform is a poor target for activists, and where do you believe oppositional energy should be directed?

The primary target of my critique was large-scale educational reform, the systemic movement. The goals of which, my heart is with: unionization, desegregation, inclusion. But I think my conception of fatalism is that the institution of education is so deeply, structurally tied to a certain trajectory of capitalism that it’s not amenable to structural reforms. So that’s where my pessimism comes from. I think that that kind of mainstream liberal activism, at best, has the effect of softening blows that are almost inevitably coming.

There’s a little bit of nuance in experiments like the Waldorf Schools, places like Summerhills in England, the free schooling movement and so on. I don’t mean to tar those efforts with the same brush, because I see those as little oppositional islands of truly alternative practices. But I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about Waldorf Schools on the assumption that we can make the whole primary education system in the United States Waldorfian. I think that’s delusional. On the other hand, I find those experiments very valuable and well worth everybody’s efforts. I think there will be great value in having those smaller-scale experiments around, as potential models in a post-crisis or post-catastrophic situation. They’re for the hereafter.

Your book is titled “The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame.” Can you explain what you believe the neoliberal endgame is, and how it relates to the controversial Marxist notion of “the tendency of the rate of profit to fall?”

Well, basically, I think the way the economy has developed, productivity having been increased and augmented largely through technological development, including automation, has brought about what I call in the book “eliminationism.” I think we find that because of those productivity increases, fewer and fewer workers are actually needed. Human labor is simply less and less part of the equation.

Now, after the economic crisis of 2008, when I looked around and tried to find what seemed to be the best explanation for what had happened, I thought Marx’s argument of “The tendency of the rate of profit to fall” was a really interesting, important argument. It’s very contentious. Mainstream economists don’t accept it at all, most Marxists don’t accept it. But still in its basic outlines, as long as you don’t look at it in an overly constrained way, I think it’s a really important part of what’s going on.

Capitalist firms don’t exist just to make stuff. They exist to make a profit. Marx’s Labor Theory of Value assumes that profit comes from the difference between what workers are paid and the value they actually produce. That’s the profit the capitalist takes and either spends or reinvests. So that’s labor value, that’s why we get paid.

Given the assumption of the labor theory of value, the profit-producing sliver of enterprises is the human labor part of those enterprises, and as technological advances in production take place, that human labor element starts to get replaced on a large scale. And in many respects, from the point of view of an individual firm, that’s not a big problem. In fact, they can reap gigantic profits in the short term with such developments. But in the long run, in the ensemble, we look at entire sectors of the economy, and for example see how costs lower and you start not making money any more from producing, say, DVD players. When we look at the economy as a whole, as it becomes more and more automated, and the production process comes to rely less and less on that human labor component, by hypothesis, the profitability will decrease.

I don’t think it necessarily always shows up very well in terms of official measures of corporate profitability. Those profits, I think, can be propped up by any number of means. A lot of my analysis is trying to explain those means. Marx called them counter forces. To me, it’s about this gravitational force pulling down profitability, that gives rise to all these counter forces, and these counter forces can be even more powerful than the original force they were opposing. They can win for a long time. Globalization, financialization, the debt machine, this ensemble of counter forces that together constitute “Neoliberalism.” And corporate profits can look great under those conditions, but I always feel like there’s an analogy with gravity:

So someone says, well, wait a minute, that airplane over there, it just took off, so where’s your theory of gravity now, smarty pants? The plane took off. It defeated gravity, so therefore there’s no gravity. Well, no. It just means the plane has sufficient counter forces to overcome that gravity. But any explanation of flight trajectory and the energy requirements of the airplane are going to involve gravity and understanding how it works.

And if you look at various charts of profitiability since World War II, there’s jagged curves and there’s ups and downs, but on the whole, it seems like profits from actually making stuff, competitive capitalism, and that old style of making stuff and selling stuff for a profit? Profits in those areas seem to be down. The big money is in finance. It’s not in making and selling stuff.

Given that picture, I think we’re entering a new phase in terms of labor needs.

Back in the 19th century, when capitalism was gearing up with factory-style production, we had what I call the “all hands on deck” phase of capitalism: Okay, immigrants, get ’em in here. Gather up the world’s people for the factories. The more people whose labor you can exploit, the more profits you can squeeze out of them, the more capital you can accrue. And that’s the era precisely, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, that’s the era where we experienced the birth of universal public education.

What decade do you tie that to?

In the United States, it was the 19th century. Universal primary education was complete in this country around the middle of the 19th century, and then universal secondary came in around the turn of the 20th century. And interestingly enough, the beginning of universal public education came in Massachusetts, which was also where factory production started, in the early 19th century.

And there was idealism; it’s not a simple reductionist picture. There are theories of democracy that contributed. But by and large, I think the real driving engine was the needs of production. It was a certain expansive phase, with a great imperative towards value-addedness, like literacy. And so, that expansive phase is almost what we came to take for granted. We erected visions of progress that would keep on going forever. We got the idea that education is always about inclusion and expansion and bringing more people in. And we had civil rights, racial desegregation, the disabilities movement, Title IX with gender equality. Over the generations, we got this picture of universal education as an unstoppable progressive force. And to me, I feel like we’re now witnessing the frightening spectre of a tectonic shift, where things are starting to contract because of the reduced need for human labor.

There’s an institutional lag time, but I think that change in the needs of capital is bound to have effects, and unfortunately fairly dramatic effects, on the project of universal public education. And so we’re seeing austerity, we’re seeing an increasing willingness to place the burden of that education, especially in higher ed, on individuals. As witnessed, and symptomatized by student debt.

In that context, then, how do you understand the movement toward charter schools?

I think the logic there is a kind of marketization logic. It’s an ideal of privatization which I think is ultimately tied to… I think privatization is the twin of austerity. Austerity being withdrawal of public commitment and public expenditure. I see those things as hand in hand, and they are symptomatic, from my point of view, of this decrease in commitment to that project of universal public education. Because the market logic sort of implies that education is this contingent matter for individuals. It’s less of a social good. It’s less of something we ought to worry about collectively, and more a commodity that individuals need to seize or take advantage of on their own. Invest in yourself. Or parents, invest in your children.

I don’t want to promote a kind of “good old days” picture here, but in the 19th century around the time of, say, land-grant colleges, we had robust agricultural expansion offices being set up. So, say I’m a farmer in Indiana somewhere, and I have these five young kids coming from the local college showing me some new agricultural technique having do to with fertilizer. And it increases my productivity and teaches me something worthwhile. It’s very easy for me to feel like, well hey, it does make sense for me to pay property taxes to support that stuff, because it comes back to me. It’s easier for me to buy into the idea that we as a society are actually better off if we augment the level of education of everyone.

It’s easy for me to see that I’m tied into that project. But once the state starts withdrawing from that commitment, it becomes much easier for that Indiana farmer to see education as just a personal investment in his or her own kids. And if it’s a personal investment, why should I have to pay for it? It’s not a social good that’s shared in any way. It’s like placing a bet on the stock market. In this case it’s the educational market; to the victor go the spoils. So I see charters and school choice as extensions of that basic logic. That education should be made much more a matter of personal choice, and the large-scale effect is that the rest of us, collectively as a society, we don’t really have a shared interest, we just have our own isolated interest in it.

The effect is this vast funneling of public money into private money. The profitability is lower in traditional capital modes, so it’s a good time to start looting erstwhile public institutions. In the book I call it the “searching under the couch cushions for loose change” phase of capitalism.

An obvious rebuttal to your argument about eliminationism in education would be that federal funding for public education has actually increased over the last decadePresident Obama has been championing universal pre-K. Here in New York, Mayor de Blasio is working to implement public pre-K services. Do you see those facts as products of institutional lag time, or how do you integrate them into your vision?

The way I would integrate it, I wouldn’t conflate public expenditure on schooling with increased commitment to education. So, for example, in cities and other places, my argument is not that schools are going to dry up and blow away, that we will stop having things called schools. In fact, we might have quite well-funded places called “schools.” Prisons are more expensive than schools. So I think even though the things are called schools, they’re internal nature is moving further away from citizenship goals, forget learning for its own sake. Those institutions, their level of funding may even increase. To do surveillance and warehousing… maintenance of a school-to-prison pipeline can be quite expensive. So I wouldn’t see an increase in funding of school systems and school employees and school buildings as any particular cause for optimism.

Near the end of your book you write, “my recommendation is to prepare for catastrophe.” Do you believe that catastrophe is a necessary precondition for our economic order to be reformed?

I think so. I think it’s gotta get worse before it gets better. A lot of people don’t like to hear that because it sounds defeatist. But I guess I really don’t see it that way. I think a certain type of fatalism actually is the only thing that gives me optimism.

So, an analogy that I think may help clarify the existential attitude here is, if, let’s say a blizzard is bearing down on my home, and I think: I need to do whatever I can to thwart the blizzard from coming. I need to stop it. I guess it would involve intervening with the weather. At a certain point, you realize it’s just going happen. And to me, a mode of preparation: battening down the hatches, boarding up the windows, getting the candles and the flashlights, filling up the bathtub with water… a preparatory attitude that accepts the inevitability of the blizzard is actually a more “activist,” sensible action or stance to take.

One thing that strikes me with that analogy, though, is that we have enough foreknowledge from previous blizzards to have a pretty good idea what being prepared for a blizzard entails. We can’t say the same about the collapse of the global economy.

I think you’re absolutely right. So the analogy breaks down a little bit there. It’s hard to create a preparedness pamphlet for something that’s never happened. But I’d say there are still things we can do. There’s value in small-scale social experiments.

An example would be something like permaculture, in terms of organics or agriculture. It’s not that Monsanto and the entire U.S. is going to turn to permaculture. But it’s really valuable that we have it around in pockets that have developed experience and expertise. So that’s one thing I think I would put in the preparatory toolkit. As much of those small-scale alternative experiments as possible. And I also wouldn’t minimize the value of psychological preparedness. History shows, I’m thinking of things like the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in the late ’80s early ’90s, where the currency collapsed, the economy wasn’t functioning for a period of time… What actually killed most people there were not directly food shortages, water shortages, shelter shortages, those sorts of things. It was more psychological problems, having to do with alcoholism and suicide. People just aren’t psychologically prepared at all for the possibility of this level of disruption.

One solution to the crisis created by increased productivity through automation would be to redistribute the abundance created by that productivity, without any labor requirement. You refer to this possibility, somewhat dismissively, as a “redistributive techno-utopia.” However, the idea of a Universal Basic Income has been gaining traction, at least amongst those paid to pontificate on economic matters. And in our history, it seems that there have been moments in which elites have made concessions to the broader public out of enlightened self-interest.

Like the New Deal era, for example?

And so you would credit that period of reform to the catastrophe of the Great Depression?

Yeah. I think so. It’s somewhat a case and point. And what’s useful there is to actually have a program ready to go. I want a forthrightly opportunistic sort of mindset. Sort of a Naomi Klein Shock Doctrine. The right is really great at Shock Doctrine, and maybe a little left-wing version of it would be salutary here. Again, it’s a preparatory mode. Ready with the tools that are going to make sense, not for now, not for tinkering with the status quo, but actually ready to make a difference in those moments when change really happens, in moments of acute economic crisis and war.

And that’s one of the scary things: War is one of the traditional reset mechanisms for capitalism. A means of restarting the value-creation machine. And so I actually think one very traditional mode of activism that is actually quite radical and appropriate is anti-war, anti-imperialism activism. For example with Syria, I think there was a real desire to intervene in Syria that was thwarted by whatever vestiges of public opinion still matter. And if that kind of war solution for destruction of capital is prevented, if that isn’t an option, then I think that could help create the conditions for the kind of cataclysmic change that I think is needed to force the hand of the system economically.

What would you say to the argument that catastrophe, historically, is more conducive to reactionary or regressive kinds of change? And that it’s actually times of abundance and prosperity in which the left has been most successful, when people, particularly the young, feel enough economic security to spend time contemplating and fighting for political alternatives, as arguably happened in the 1960s?

I think I actually agree a lot on that. It’s really naïve to think, okay, cataclysm… economic, or climatic… I think it could come from many different directions, unfortunately. I sort of sardonically refer to them as the “three horsemen of the apocalypse:” economic crisis, climate change, or energy depletion, any one of which could generate something pretty wrenching. But I agree that it’s naïve to think we’ll have a wrenching social cataclysm and out of it will pop permacultural, agrarian, leftist communism or something like that. In fact, I would say if I had to place a cold-eyed bet? In this country, I’d put my money on fascism.

But to me that provides further fuel for the argument of a preparatory mode. A certain type of survivalism is warranted. Not a survivalism of canned goods, stockpiled weapons and buried gold. But an intelligent survivalism, where you realize what’s really key are certain bonds of neighborhood. The face-to-face solidarity that can be fostered in an urban space. Traditions of mutual aid that can be developed and enhanced.

But it’s true, you can’t root for a catastrophe. There’s too much human misery involved. And ultimately, it’s a bit like Russian roulette. There’s an element of contingency that can’t be wished away.

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/08/capitalism_vs_education_why_our_free_market_obsessions_are_wrecking_the_future/?source=newsletter