"Blood on the ice and a body washed up on the shore"
Photo credit: Storyblocks via Little Red Fern
This past fall, I left academia. I walked away from a tenured position, and I took a job as a researcher with the Illinois State Board of Education. The reason is straightforward enough: my family all live in Southwest Michigan, and my wife's family all live in Central Indiana so taking a job in Chicago meant that we could live much, much closer to all of them. We've already enjoyed daytrips and lots of visitors.
I want to offer a few clarifications. First, I didn't change careers because I had become disillusioned with higher education. I loved being a professor, and I might do it again some day (if possible). Second, I didn't leave my job because of my employer--mostly. My colleagues at Georgia College were wonderful. I had several complaints about the local administrators, but generally, they were all doing their best. The University System of Georgia and the State of Georgia, on the other hand, suffered from many, many problems. I won't delineate them here, but suffice to say, the USG and the state are victims of their own politics. Still, this, by itself, was not enough to cause my exit. Finally, we didn't move because we didn't like Georgia. Milledgeville was a nice place to work, and we loved living in Athens. We will miss Athen's culture and all of the friends that we made in Georgia. Commuting nine hours a week wasn't sustainable, though, especially as the kids are getting older and more involved in extracurriculars. (Oh, the irony of moving to a major metropolitan area from a rural area to cut down on the commute!)
The transition was very difficult, but we are finally feeling settled and are happy. More updates to come.
I have long advocated for employee control and ownership of the means of production. This was really at the core of what Marx imagined communism would be, even though he never really fleshed it out. (See the New Belgium Brewing Company, Publix, Taylor Guitars, and the W. W. Norton & Company for contemporary variations on such a model.) A practical problem, though, when aiming toward this end is, How do we encourage economic development while turning companies over to the ones who actually create value through their labor? In capitalism, investment happens because individuals with wealth see an opportunity to expand their wealth, but how would this work for laborers who have very little wealth and often only their own labor to sell?
One could imagine government stepping in as the financer in such a new system, lending money to a collection of workers, but this seems politically untenable, at least in the short term. I think copyright law might offer a surprising solution. The Founders established copyright in the US as a compromise to encourage and reward creativity. An author would have a set time time to profit from their creation after which the work would be turned over to the public domain. 28 years, they surmised, should be more than enough time for authors to profit from their work, and then the public would be able to elaborate from there. The relatively short copyright period encourages creativity (with the promise of a brief monopoly) while the eternal public-domain period discourages stagnation (with the promise of collective ownership). What if, like copyright, we limited the time that those who gave the startup capital for a business were allowed to profit from their investment after which the business would be turned over to its workers? It wouldn't even necesarily need to happen all at once. I could imagine a system that gradually shifted the profits and control from owners to workers. I think it's worth considering.
I was listening this morning to The Daily, and the lead story was about school librarians and book-banning. It got me thinking about the dominant rhetorical strategy being employed by those who want to
be Nazis do censorship. Set aside for a minute any human concerns for the marginalized folks whose existence and representation tend to be at the center of this culture war battlefield. Let's take the right-wing, wouldbe censors at their word and assume this is actually about "parents' rights." I am not the first to point this out, but an obvious issue is that Parents' Rights™ actively negates the rights of the majority of parents who don't wish controversial books to be removed from their kids' school libraries. It is more accurately a debate about whether one set of parents has the right to impose their worldview on other parents.
That led me to this conclusion: at its core "Parents' Rights" parents are lazy parents. In effect, they are asking the state* to do their parenting for them. If a parent doesn't want their kid reading Lawn Boy, for example, it is the parent's job to inform their child that they're not allowed to read the novel and then, if necessary, to police the kid's reading. Instead, under the guise of their "rights," these parents are arguing that the schools should restrict access from all students simply because they don't want their child to have access. They apprently can't or won't suprevise their own child and ask the state to do so on their behalf. They can't control their own household so they ask the state to control their entire community. If I remember correctly, folks on the right had a term for situations where the government acts in an overprotective manner, curtailing individual choices: the nanny state. I guess these kinds of criticisms only apply to the state when one disagrees with the state's actions, huh?
* - Public schools are special-purpose government entities.