A few notes the digital aristocracy

Many of the leading figures in contemporary Silicon Valley are those who survived the fall out from the earlier crash. Thiel made his fortune by co-founding the online payments platform Paypal, acting as CEO until its sale to eBay. He subsequently founded Clarium Capital (a hedge fund), Founders Fund (a venture capital firm) and Palantir Technologies (a data analytics platform). The latter has proved a particular source of controversy, leveraging the anti-fraud algorithms developed for Paypal transactions into an intelligence platform used by security agencies across the United States government. Their primary services, Gotham and Metropolis, provide data linkage and predictive analytics for corporate and governmental clients across an enormous array of datasets. The interests of Palantir have been central to Thiel’s emerging political ambitions, as his forceful backing of Donald Trump at a time when the rest of the tech world was steering clear has given him outsized influence with the unexpected Trump administration that has reportedly translated into significant influence over operations and appointments, particularly within the sphere of intelligence and security (Ciralsky 2017). Thiel has gained notoriety for his ultra-libertarian beliefs, infamously proclaiming in an essay for the Cato institute that he no longer believed that “freedom and democracy are compatible”. His essay explicitly frames his commitments to investing in cyberspace, outer-space and seasteading in these terms. Each represents a new frontier, opportunities to create “new spaces of freedom” beyond the confines of a state (Thiel 2009). It remains to be seen whether he will recant this commitment, given his seeming success at winning influence within the existing confines of the existing state within the Trump administration.

The same period has seen growing expectations of a future Presidential bid by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, raising questions about whether this is simply an extension of Facebook’s lobbying efforts or reflects a genuinely-held ideology which is beginning to coalesce into ambitions of social transformation (Marcetic 2017). Earlier reports from within the company suggest a sincerely held, though nebulous, vision of Facebook as facilitating “a world in which we all become cells in a single organism, where we can communicate automatically and can all work together seamlessly” (Losse 2012: 201). In some ways, this vision is a familiar one of global corporations outgrowing nation-states, demonstrating more effective ways of achieving social outcomes that nation-states will ultimately adapt themselves to. This is a faith which McGoey (2015: loc 289) has argued is embodied in contemporary ‘philanthrocapitalism’, a surge “rooted in growing wealth concentration”: nearly half of the 85,000 private foundations in the United States were created in the last fifteen years, as income inequality rose precipitously. Zuckerberg joined this movement in a significant way with the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose lofty promise to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy” is belied by a limited liability corporate status that evades the transparency and political neutrality requirements which would be imposed upon a charitable trust.

The most famous proponent of philanthrocapitalism is undoubtedly Bill Gates, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation working with an endowment of $44.3 billion as of 31 December 2014. While the ambitions of Gates have been less explicitly political than those of Thiel and even Zuckerberg, they have proved politically influential through the sheer scale of their philanthropic activity. One of their key focal areas has been ‘education reform’, with the foundation being the largest amongst the philanthropic donors who spend almost $4 billion on education in the United States each year (McGoey 2015: loc 1974)

4 thoughts on “A few notes the digital aristocracy”

  1. Gates investing in “education reform” seems like the reinvention of the Wheel with the Square Block…hardly a piece of Progress for all its success to date. All these icons of industry appear as outsiders from the perspective of Education, some many centuries already practiced, with today showing a disadvantage in too many particulars to its learners, not the least of which failure is this generations feeble Historical Consciousness.

    It’s fair to say that learners today are boxed-in to an experience really not their own, but that of powerful others who have their way with them on every important level of social organization. Gates and his like would offer a bridge over this chasm, but cannot well nor convincingly argue exactly WHAT intelligence may mean for mankind in the 21’st Century in anything other than functional to the society he and his propound behind closed doors.

    You can’t trust a rich man’s generosity, as it is no generosity at all, being rich. They can be little better than Middle Men of the system that spawned them, with all the ideological baggage that must entail. Wolves in Sheep’s clothing, withal.

  2. Why these ‘philanthropists” haven’t invented a way to make Learning universally available on the fundamental plane of data in the historical record remains a quandary directly aimed at their “back door” motivations from the start. It would be the easiest thing for such as Gates to begin the compilation of Learning over the ages on every conceivable Topic to Learning in the Cannon of the West (to start), that it begs the question of their (his) motivation to date.

    Were I a Student of any given Topic, from Intellectual History and Philosophy of Science to modern Anthropology and Cultural Studies (soft sciences)…and I am…I would want to pursue the first examples of concern expressed by this Canon, and those that added to or subtract from such concern, from the earliest Universities and Guilds of Learning to the present. Too much information? Hardly. It’s the First aim of Education to put into the hands of every learner the tools of Inspection on the Historical Record, then let them find their own Library, create their own Library, to suit their unique investigations. Independent Learning, worthy of any emancipated brute.

    The technology is available for such a Project, even better now with Block Chain Technology and certifications of any argument, on any topic, viewed by any/all participants to the Cause (of Learning).

    What the Worlds of men needs is a New Community of Learning, which such a Bank of Intellectual History could provide, if at least as a basis for what must come next, from what was before and informs the present. Men may not be sophisticated enough for such a Project, but could invent and AI protocol to perform the task, free of bias. Utopia.

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