“It’s every bastard for himself, the last century hasn’t ended yet”

everything is a commercial. we advertise our memories
we leave our shit on silver platters and THEN we buy whatever’s left
(empty life? ? fine?)

These days I can’t help but turn on Unwound’s magnum opus Leaves Turn Inside You at every chance I get. It’s serving as the textured background for just about all my web reading these last weeks, and it gets me all fired up when I read ’bout the end of this, the beginning of that, the emergence of the new education market, for-profit, leverage, synergize, and on and on and on, but the guitar barrels through it all like an off-the-rail train—it refuses it, it knows everything is a commercial and we are selling our soul. It hits you like only music can, shoots straight to the veins, an anti-opiate for the mind to jack out of all the maneuvering, grandstanding, planning, and public pillage.

.And while reading the recent series of articles in Today’s Campus (thank you, Barry Dahl) about the business of EDUPUNKS, Edupreneurs, Eduneers, and Edubadgeres I marvel at how quickly the narrative of change in higher education is sucked into the seemingly irrefutable and naturalized logic of business innovation. The entreprenuer as savior of education (a myth Bill Fitzgerald so beautifully deconstructs here) becomes the all-too-apparent solution, and what gets left out through these articles is anything resembling a thought about teaching, sharing, and learning. It’s all about business, markets, possibilities, and vast returns for the sharp young edupreneur— I mean look at the video Bill Fitzgerald’s links to in his post, it’s insane—it’s about a shallowly glamorized culture of capital, and as David Harvey notes here, capital’s goal remains re-inventing and innovating so that we really don’t stop and think about the increasingly vast inequalities in the accumulation of wealth and power. At the same time, it grafts on a hero narrative around the private sector’s financial innovation which in many ways might be part and parcel of the financial crisis we have yet to truly recover from.

And and and, where are all the teachers and professors in the discussion? Where’s the space and shape of teaching and learning as we move forward. The discussion of EDUPUNKS—re-coined “Change Exploiters” (WTF?)—gives way to the next article in the series talking about EDUBANKERS, and new and innovative ways to finance your way through college—sounds like capital simply re-inventing itself in what it hopes becomes a market abandoned by public support and monies. I mean, what do you do with the innovative business SafeStart that basically provides students with an “interest free” line of credit to pay off their loans during the years immediately after graduation when they can’t afford the payments. They are sure to note SafeStart isn’t “insurance,” but that’s purely semantics, that is exactly what it is—a product you purchase to protect against the likelihood you can’t afford the education you have been encouraged to finance. A parasitic market on a market—it’s exactly what Tom Woodward, Brian Lamb, and I predicted in our Uncanny Learning session for NMC last October, which featured John Titan—an education insurance salesman for EduSafe from the future who has come back from the future to encourage us all to buy education insurance.

Talking at length with Brian Lamb last night (my edtech guru), the whole transformation of higher ed from an egalatarian mission to a privilege, along with which comes the price tag, is exactly the issue which Downes nailed in his newsletter yesterday (he’s been on serious fire lately) in three off-the-cuff sentences:

In the 1970s universities were much more egalitarian than they are today. More and more, you have to be the child of rich parents to be admitted and to pay tuition. This results in the student body, as a whole, appearing to have a greater sense of entitlement.

Fact is, we seem to allow the banks, business folk, and financial innovators to help us avoid the real issue of hyper-inflated costs by pointing us to shadow education banking, insurance, and further debt-inducing alternatives that simply serve to fuel the perpetual motion machine that is capital. Now while Anya considers getting her “Skin in the Game” with the for-profit start-ups—where art thou world free of partisanship?—I can’t help but hold on to this quote by Tony Hirst, which I was reminded of by the Today’s Campus article on Change Exploiters—and for me is the vision we need to be working against within our public spaces, and one which the articles in this business rag all seem to ignore:

The disaster that happens when democracy is for sale is nothing when compared to what will happen when learning is for sale.

I’m not sure public education can withstand what’s coming, but it’s high-time we start trying to work through these issues as the market “innovations” get ready to sell us our future. To steal from Brian Lamb, higher ed needs to communicate openly and directly with the public, it needs to make the case for its relevance, and it needs to re-invest in people, possibilities, and reaffirm its role as a responsible leader in the world of ideas with some distance and protection from the market whims of capital. The people need to demand and protect this from the forces of profit that will answer to nothing else but bottom lines. Perhaps it does call for a not-so-secret revolution, but I’d love to hear a bit more clamoring out loud amongst those in higher education who seem to be sitting around playing the fiddle while Rome burns. What’s more, I’d love to seem some ideas and organization from people other than the business leaders—cause it’s that kind of “leadership” that is always in service to the dollar that scares me more than anything.

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24 Responses to “It’s every bastard for himself, the last century hasn’t ended yet”

  1. Sami says:

    “And and and, where are all the teachers and professors in the discussion? Where’s the space and shape of teaching and learning as we move forward.”

    This. Politics has been taken over by economic and the academics are all bitches to power! These include philosophers… who have been relegated to the ivory towers of eduction to useless publications to serve the economic interests rather than seek wisdom for humanity…

  2. Sami says:

    Two things to be brief. When civilization starts collapsing, as it did in Rome or the Maya, people start searching for solutions to problems. At that point, historically, it’s too late.

    Second, what you are pointing to are symptoms to is a fundamental philosophical collapse. But really, what we have today is a tyranny of capital or economic interests… Democracy can only exist with an active philosophical culture, I don’t believe the 20th century ever had one… other than perhaps the Nazis and that’s saying a lot. In terms of modernity we are in a massive philosophical collapse and the only way we can deal with this trauma is by ignoring it and focusing on capital and its management as the major narrative… anything else would probably cause massive conflict and violence.

  3. Sami says:

    “In the 1970s universities were much more egalitarian than they are today. More and more, you have to be the child of rich parents to be admitted and to pay tuition. This results in the student body, as a whole, appearing to have a greater sense of entitlement.”

    I wonder how Stephen reconciles this with a greater number of students attending post-secondary than ever… and post-secondary being the new high school diploma… I think people have lost apathy, because most college age students want to be rich and famous… and want everything… Not to help people as they did in the 20s…

    The reason is mainly because that’s what the culture has been encouraging since their birth… and the net has made them more isolated to see error in their ways.

  4. Reverend says:


    Are you missing D’Arcy’s blog? 🙂

    As for the philosophical question, we’ve had a series of post-structuralist thought and philosophy that really informed this moment. Now whether or not you are a proponent of those theories, so many of them have come to bear in some fascinating ways. This idea of the end of history, the constant now, and micro-histories, etc., etc. It is kinda hard not to see folks like Derrida, Spivak, and Foucault as figures who were thinking about all of these questions of language, power and capital.

  5. Sami says:


    Yes. and actually I think you are closer to the way I think than D so I can bounce banter off someone who might appreciate it… I don’t really think that post-structuralist thought is anything substantial other than an attack on the tools of the philosophers… or thought or humanity… I have read the philosophers of whom you speak and they contribute nothing substantial other than reveling in the narcissism and meaningless that confounds us today.

  6. Sami says:

    Foucault I think is different though, his contributions are very useful by Derrida, pure crap… Post-structuralism… Crap… Nietzsche crap…

  7. Sami says:

    Further, I think the only constant is power and wealth as exhibited by the tyrants, justice, truth and wisdom as exhibited by the philosophers… and potential aesthetics as exhibited by religions… attacking language is a moronic use of time… when we take anything apart it means nothing; we know that now… let’s move on. Also like to call crap on analytical philosophy in general… BTW, there is no end of history, it’s just a moral and philosophical crisis and we have decided that capital is the answer to this crisis… and that theory is failing at this very moment.

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  9. Sami says:

    One final thing, a real philosopher’s job is to ask what is to be done in pursuit of justice, truth, and wisdom, etc… encouraging a certain sort of decision making and direction for all of humanity.

    This, I believe, comes from the personality and genetic wiring of a certain type of person. In that we don’t have a class of people who do that… and instead the people who would do that spend their lives either attacking systems of thought and serving tyrants — because after something like post-modernism nothing can really be said that can’t be attacked using one of these systems of analysis… ultimately, narrowing the window of what people already intuitively believe to be the truth or just… Same thing with feminism, I believe the 50% divorce rate serves the tyranny more than the women or the men or the children effected by it — the fact that this might make some readers cringe to me seems to be proof of the sort of mess that has been created.

    I could go on and on… but that’s all I have to say for now.

  10. Sami says:

    One final thing, what does this have to do with edupunks and why do I bother interacting with your community..? Mainly because it’s you guys who must do the jobs of the philosophers and seek the truth, justice and wisdom and preach this to the people. This is where there is need for real reform… In coming to terms with the ideas that wisdom, truth, and justice should be striven towards in negation of wealth and profits… and against profiteering and expert-ism and service of the tyranny. That virtue should once again be promoted, not fun which has been used by the tyrants to stand in for the virtue… and all of this behavior, that in the absence of money and profits will completely destroy society.

  11. Reverend says:


    I have no idea what you are talking about in these last four comments. You have to slow it down. How do I respond to “post-structuralism” is crap? I really don’t understand what you are saying about Feminism. Fact is, the bava abides, and you gotta take it easy here on my comments, it will turn into a full time job for me. Write a post about it and frame it for yourself so I can mull over it and we can have a conversation, not a series of this is crap, etc.

    Does that make sense?

  12. Sami says:

    ^ above, i meant sympathy, not apathy…

  13. Sami says:

    Yes. I will try to do as you suggest in the future. I tend to rant, I do need to boil it down to a few sentences.

  14. holy crap, sami. please set up your own blog without spamming blogs with comments. I know you mean well, but it’s exhausting. It’d be much better to formulate what you have to say into something coherent and then post it on its own, rather than jumping on blog posts like this.

  15. Sami says:

    D, thanks. I will get on that at some point. In the meanwhile, I promise not to “spam” blogs and form a coherent post before posting it in the comments like this:

    Let me try to sum it up. How I see it is that historically, human beings tend to break into three groups. Philosophers, tyrants, and priests… These each play off each other for power. In this generalization philosophers want justice and truth; priests want to bring amount their arbitrary aesthetics (a certain view that they want to paint on the world), and the tyrants simply want wealth. It is my contention that since the renaissance what started out as attempt to seize power by philosophers (and potentially scientists) ended up as a tyranny pretending to be a democracy… but with the philosophers completely serving the tyranny.

    Why is it a tyranny? Because its primary drive is wealth and power and an immoral sense of virtues; almost a complete attack on them; for example greed is good, sexual immorality is good; that we should have fun. Further, the elite work hard to take away idea of power from the people in the name of justice and understanding. It starts with Nietzsche glorifying the the tyrant and making him an ideal. Then expert-ism breaks up what can be understood by a generalist, which again dis-empowers the individual and potentially any philosopher. So nothing can be understood by an individual, and only certain specific parts of the system can be understood by an expert… Who is resided on top of a hierarchical organization, a tyrant who makes all of the decisions. We have voting, but what are we voting for? Populist issues which are not particularly real as they don’t affect power or wealth; and these issues are fought over and once in a while they throw us a bone to make us feel as if we are making progress. The tyrant seeks power in whatever domain, business or government over which he presides.

    In such a frame, what does it mean to vote? Nothing. What are voting rights for women? Nothing. What are voting rights for blacks? Nothing. True, there are certain things which are improvement, for instance an end to slavery of one sort. But with about 12% of the American population living below poverty, and a current unemployment rate of 10% in the US, there is a different sort of slavery… which is also unnecessary; an economic type… a social slavery.

    Under such a system, I think all people called philosophers, are not really philosophers. Because they don’t particularly understand anything of value and are often overly concerned with the costs (for instance social costs). They don’t bother power, and instead produce works which are then used by power to further take away more power from the people. I think feminism is an example of this, in that it has been used very specifically to make those with power wealthier while it has actually done little for women’s rights or created certain family dynamics or sexual dynamics which make people dysfunctional in participating in families. Foucault talks about this when he says, “Power is based on knowledge and makes use of knowledge; on the other hand, power reproduces knowledge by shaping it in accordance with its anonymous intentions. Power (re-) creates its own fields of exercise through knowledge.” The knowledge that we create serves power and power encourages production of a certain sort of knowledge. I believe power has coerced a certain domain of philosophy which is not particularly useful in finding wisdom, truth and justice.

    In that this has now gone further, and now those in power are no longer concerned with knowledge, but only wealth and create knowledge to make themselves wealthier… I think we err. I think this is a final collapse in what began with someone like Nietzsche… and that we need to return to an idea of virtue, at the very least. Without that, there will be hell to pay in all systems which we inhabit. Now there are some who believe that restoring the system so those that have power seek power once again, and are not concerned with wealth. I personally believe that was an intermediary step and that any such arrangement with tyrants always ends up with a corrupt system that only wants wealth for the corrupt people in the top. If you study history, you often find this is the case in Rome, where initially the tyranny is successful and eventually becomes excessively corrupt ending in revolution of sorts.

  16. The romance of capital is right on. Precisely what is going on here.

    But I for one refuse to see edupunk as merely a catalyst for some edupreneur Fabio. There’s a lot of us that feel the same, and despite the inevitable “well, what are you doing about it” the truth is we are doing a fucking whole lot about it every single freaking day. And maybe it’s delusion, but I think we are winning. I think we are getting real change done.

    The weird thing about eduprenuers (how the heck do you even spell that word?) is that they are wholly unnecessary if edupunk succeeds. And they know that. So they are not alongside us at all — they are actually our enemies, actually are in opposition to us. They can not wish us a success which undermines their raison d’etre.

  17. Reverend says:


    You got me working over time.

    I love that sentiment, and I hope you are right. I hope the small works so many of us are doing around the world can add up to a refutation of what is sold to us as inevitable. And your viewpoint seems like the only one to me, a certain belief that things can and is changing for the better, and that the hijacking of a culture and approach is no different than an attempt to kill it. Vigilance must be ours!

  18. Sami says:

    Rev, I apologize :(, be sure to ignore anything and everything. If I have thoughts about something I feel that it’s better putting it somewhere where it’s available to anyone who cares to read it, rather than just sit on it. This is probably not be the right venue, and I don’t care to maintain a blog. The search goes on. Cheers, and thanks for you time.

  19. Hello, Mr.Groom and others,

    The “edupreneurs” would have come into existence regardless of whether or not edupunk ever saw the light of day, simply because there is money to be made from education. The brilliance of edupunk is that it frames many of the concerns. The unfortunate side of what the “edupreneurs” are doing is that they are using those concerns to move product without really caring about how they address them.

    @Mike, re “The weird thing about eduprenuers (how the heck do you even spell that word?)” – I spell it with the taste of bile in the back of my throat.



  20. Brian says:

    Dumb question… Where does that Tony Hirst quote come from? I can think of an article it should get inserted into before the presses roll…

  21. Teddy says:

    @Brian, @Reverend: I think that quote actually came from Stephen Downes (http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=44712), misattributed to Tony Hirst in the TODAY’S CAMPUS article.

  22. Brian says:

    More than two years ago no less. Thanks Teddy!

  23. Reverend says:


    Nice pickup, that to me was the take away quote from that whole article experience—what does happen when learning is for sale? And there’s just an endless line of venture capital looking to profiteer. Another thing for that article, or some other, is College, Inc.—Brian you will appreciate Michael Clifford, he is everything that is wrong about this whole thing. http://video.pbs.org/video/1485280975/

    The future was invented by Michael Clifford!

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