But the event also demonstrated the seductiveness of digital elitism, which incorporates social consciousness and intellectual discussion. “If we’re going to achieve greatness in the twenty-first century,” Eric Schmidt said, “…we have to start with some Silicon Valley thinking.” He stated that “Ultimately, this world will be owned by an entrepreneur.”
Digital elitism is optimistic, in that technology is positioned as a solution to an array of difficult problems. At the same time, it inculcates an air of superiority and a universality of experience that truly only applies to a very small number of the world’s most privileged individuals.
Digital elitism does not reconfigure power; it entrenches it. It provides justification for enormous gaps between rich and poor, for huge differences between average people and highly sought-after engineers. It idealizes a “better class of rich people” (as Kara Swisher put it) who evangelize philanthropy and social entrepreneurship — but it also promotes the idea that entrepreneurship is a catch-all solution, and that a startup culture is the best way to solve any problem. Silicon Valley Isn’t a Meritocracy — And It’s Dangerous to Hero-Worship Entrepreneurs | Wired Opinion | Wired.com (via buzz)
Today, as you know, everything is “innovation.” We have problems, and people are looking for fairy-tale solutions—innovation like manna from heaven falling on the Israelites and saving them from the desert. It’s like, “Let’s not reform the education system, the tax system. Let’s not improve our dysfunctional government. Just wait for this innovation manna from a little group of people in Silicon Valley, preferably of Indian origin.”
You people at WIRED—you’re the guilty ones! You support these people, you write about them, you elevate them onto the cover! You really messed it up. I tell you, you pushed this on the American public, right? And people believe it now. This Is the Man Bill Gates Thinks You Absolutely Should Be Reading - Wired Science. “Preferably of Indian origin”??
If the reader will suspend his disbelief and exercise his imagination upon it even for a few minutes, I think he will become aware of the vast re-adjustment involved in a perceptive reading of the old poets. He will find his whole attitude to the universe inverted. In modern, that is, in evolutionary, thought Man stands at the top of a stair whose foot is lost in obscurity; in this, he stands at the bottom of a stair whose top is invisible with light.
You must go out on a starry night and walk about for half an hour trying to see the sky in terms of the old cosmology. Remember that you now have an absolute Up and Down. The Earth is really the centre, really the lowest place; movement to it from whatever direction is downward movement. As a modern, you located the stars at a great distance. For distance you must now substitute that very special, and far less abstract, sort of distance which we call height; height, which speaks immediately to our muscles and nerves. The Medieval Model is vertiginous.
Historically as well as cosmically, medieval man stood at the foot of a stairway; looking up, he felt delight. The backward, like the upward, glance exhilarated him with a majestic spectacle, and humility was rewarded with the pleasures of admiration…. There were friends, ancestors, patrons in every age. One had one’s place, however modest, in a great succession; one need be neither proud nor lonely.
And … as that vast (though finite) space is not dark, so neither is it silent. If our ears were opened we should perceive, as Henryson puts it, ‘every planet in his proper sphere / In moving mankand harmony and sound.’ The ‘silence’ which frightened Pascal was, according to the Model, wholly illusory; and the sky looks black only because we are seeing it through the dark glass of our own shadow. You must conceive yourself looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music. I was thinking of these key passages from C. S. Lewis’s The DIscarded Image last night as I was conversing with my friend Matt Milliner. This is a condensed summary of Lewis’s whole imagination.
In this sense, it seems to me that the malaise that afflicts our public universities is not really about about dollars and cents. If this country can build the world’s largest military and fight open-ended wars in multiple theaters across the globe, it can find a way to pay for public education, as it once did in living memory. But doing so has ceased to be a real priority. Affordable public education is no longer something we expect, demand or take for granted; to argue that public education should be free makes you sound like an absurd and unrealistic utopian. Meanwhile, we take it for granted that roads should be free to drive on, a toll road here or there not withstanding. You provide the car and the gas; the state provides the road.
This used to be how we thought about our public universities, before they became exorbitant toll roads. If you had the grades and the ambition, there was a classroom open to you. But if every road were a toll road, no one would expect to drive for free. If every road were a toll road, the very idea that the government would build and maintain a massive system of roads and highways — and then let anyone use it (for free!) — would seem fantastical, ridiculous, even perverse. People expecting the right to drive anywhere they pleased, for free, would be branded utopian, socialist and deluded, soft-hearted liberals demanding a free lunch. That’s the world we live in when it comes to highways. When the roads that drive our economy and make modern life possible get too crowded or too congested, we expect the state to build new roads. When the old roads wear out, they are repaved. When a tree or a landslide obstructs a thoroughfare, the state clears the way. When there are not enough classrooms, on the other hand, the state no longer builds new universities; it simply charges more. Aaron Bady