Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Thinking in the Tank
Corporate-military think-tanks -- like the Rand Corporation and the Hoover Institution -- first affiliated and parasitically attached themselves to the academy. Later, think-tanks peddled themselves as a kind of "alternate academy," with the same standards and legitimacy, of course, but now backed by the stunning money and authoritative voices of elite incumbents. Now, before our eyes, they advocate and implement a parochially profitable "think-tankification" of the academy via corporate sponsorship and IP enclosure and digitization (online diploma mills and MOOCs turning teaching into watching syndicated tee vee) over which they have always meant to prevail utterly. There was a certain level of planning involved in all this, as some of the earliest think-tanks were created and funded in the aftermath of the New Deal as social reactionaries and big business interests sought to organize in a way that they had not done hitherto (and had never really needed to do before the Progressive Era), organizing out of which Movement Republicanism emerged and wreaked its still ongoing havoc. But to a more important extent the intuitive rhetorical force and appeal to funders and organizational co-cordination yielding this ongoing multi-generational think-tankification follows quite directly and opportunistically from the rationality that already suffuses a public domain defined by competitive individualism, growth with limit, advertorial deception, and a legislative process driven by moneyed pressure. There is no need to posit a conspiracy or star chamber to arrive at our present distress, though there are definitely real villains and heroes in this story. Although the academy has always been a profoundly flawed and perniciously stratified site in America it also resisted utter determination by Americans drives for profitability, efficiency, and complacency and hence it was earmarked for destruction by definition of the forces of corporate-militarism. We are witnessing the consummation of this project right now. It isn't going well for those who cherish criticality or creativity, let alone those who care about equity, diversity, democracy, or sustainability.