Wednesday, April 30, 2008
That said, in his farewell address to the nation, the military-industrial complex was just one of the two threats to American democracy Eisenhower mentioned, and I almost never see reference to the second: the government’s relationship to research:
“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”
It’s easy to point to the fulfillment of Eisenhower’s forecast of the power of the military- industrial complex, but this second “threat” at first seems harder to nail down (except by those of us who smugly congratulate ourselves for eschewing “administrative” research). It’s hard to grasp how the general public was meant to understand it then, and how we can understand it now. This view of “free ideas” – as opposed to ideas that cost a lot and require validation with a patent or other “deliverable” – seems romantic but obsolete. However, when paired with the American dependence on oil, and the lengths to which we go to “protect our interests” in the Middle East, Eisenhower’s skeptical glance at “the power of money” in allocating research funds makes a lot of sense. The scholars he imagines are “hard” scientists – those who might have figured out some energy alternatives by now, had public money been aggressively allocated to this sort of research instead of war (and internally-targeted psy-ops programs put in place to justify war). As critical media scholars, we have some interest in examining the demise of the notion of “free ideas,” and wondering whether the education industry has long been covered by Eisenhower’s first warning, leaving the second warning elegantly phrased and interesting to read, but ultimately redundant.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Given my religious allegiances, and my amateur interest in the possibilities of sequential art (not to be confused with the actual expertise of our own pravdakid, of which see below), it was probably inevitable that I would end up directing readers to this story. And for those of you who aren’t into the whole “Christian” thing; the very notion of a British artist of African heritage using a Japanese variation on a medium generally associated with twentieth century American popular culture, in order to update a several thousand year-old text from the Middle East, should be interesting simply as an example of the emerging, global ecumene, if nothing else.