Happy Imperialist #Leadership Day from the Keywords #Team!

This Columbus Day offers some of the less historically (to say nothing of morally) inclined out there to draw fatuous links between the contemporary cult of entrepeneurship and the legacy of Christopher Columbus’ conquest—err, acquisition—of America some 500 years ago.

Columbus was the “entrepeneur’s entrepreneur,” whatever that means, says a blogger for VentureBeat. The Harvard Business Review, always a reliable source for insipid business mythologies, argues that Columbus’s colonization of the Caribbean made him the original disruptive innovator (but this author, a business professor named Patrick Murphy, covers all his bases and sensitively concedes that “those colonial activities, to be sure, turned wicked.” To be sure.)  

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce honored the holiday with a listicle called "5 Evergreen Lessons from a 15th-Century Entrepreneur," which is full of penetrating insights like this:

There was no GPS, no internet, no Weather Channel, or petroleum. In 1492—similar to now—entrepreneurs were dependent on the knowledge and inventions of their predecessors.

It’s probably pointless to point out that, even if we concede that “entrepreneurship” means anything now, it means less than nothing in the 15th century. Yet if your historical consciousness is so shallow that you can do little more than observe that people back then didn’t have GPS, it would do no good to get down into the weeds of colonial mercantilism, feudal patronage, slave labor, etc.

But then there is this, on Columbus’ lessons in product “evangelism”:

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Here’s what Columbus had to say to “the very high, very excellent, and puissant Princes, King and Queen of the Spains” on the subject of “evangelism.” In the Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus, the Genoese entrepreneur described the Taíno people of the modern-day Bahamas this way:

They should be good and intelligent servants, for I see that they say very quickly everything that is said to them; and I believe that they would become Christians very easily, for it seemed to me that they had no religion.

Oh, and here’s an inspirational quote. Which diary is that from, I wonder?

On the other hand, this historical visionary aims to debunk a few myths about Columbus the entrepreneur: 

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(Elsewhere in his post, this author argues that one of the key lessons of Columbus’ lobbying of the Spanish Court is that “‘no’ really means ‘no, for now,’” revising and repurposing an anti-rape slogan as justification for imperial conquest.)

And in response to efforts in Seattle to dump Columbus Day in favor of a holiday honoring America’s indigenous people, Randy Aliment of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce for the Northwest told the Post-Intelilgencer:

Christopher Columbus was this country’s first and bravest entrepreneur. He had a noble vision, gathered a team, and had the initiative to solicit funds for his high risk startup from the king and queen of Spain.

…to which I can only echo Twitter user Vlad here:

 

Anonymous said: Hi, I was wondering what you were linking to when you wrote "Historians of punk often credit the short-lived 1976-77 London zine Sniffin’ Glue with popularizing the DIY aesthetic" - the link is behind a paywall

Sorry about that. It’s Teal Triggs, “Scissors and Glue: Punk Fanzines and the Creation of a DIY Aesthetic,” Journal of Design History 19:1, which discusses the common attribution and Mark P’s response to it. 

guernicamag:

Haven’t you heard? Guernica's new American Empires special issue is out. What are American Empires, you ask? You want facts and figures—you want numbers? Well, do we have those:

Total number of items purchased on Amazon.com on “Cyber Monday” last year: 36.8 million
Miles walked, per day, by employees at Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses: 7 to 15
Current federal minimum wage in the United States: $7.25/hour
Annual earned income of a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year: $15,080
Net worth of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos: $6.5 billion
Of the top ten richest people in America, number who are members of the Walton family (heirs and descendants of the founders of Walmart): 4
Number who are Koch brothers: 2
Total annual charitable grants awarded by the Walton Family Foundation in 2013: $325 million
Amount of federal assistance spent annually supporting Walmart employees: $6.2 billion
Number of Americans who attended a pop music concert in 2011: 54.3 million
Average nightly revenue of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “On the Run” tour: $5.2 million
Percentage of US concert sales controlled by Ticketmaster: 80
Total amount the American pharmaceutical industry spent on drug promotion in 2012: $27 billion
Factor by which spending on physician-facing marketing outstripped spending on patient-facing marketing: 9
Number of countries other than the US that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising: 1 (New Zealand)
Consumer spending on antipsychotics, antidepressants, and drugs to treat ADHD (in 2010): $16 billion, $11 billion, $7 billion, respectively
Percentage of corn acreage in the US growing genetically modified crops: 93
Percentage of soybean acreage in the US growing genetically modified crops: 94
Percentage of cotton acreage in the US growing genetically modified crops: 96
Factor by which total US student debt increased between 2004 and 2012: 3
Total US student debt at the end of 2012: $966 billion
Total American consumer debt as of June 2014: $3,211,211,800
Number of US counties that account for one-quarter of executions carried out in the US since 1976: 3
Total amount of government fines, penalties, and judgments assessed against Koch Industries for violating regulations, between 1999 and 2003: $400 million
Koch Industries total annual revenue: $115 billion

guernicamag:

Haven’t you heard? Guernica's new American Empires special issue is out. What are American Empires, you ask? You want facts and figures—you want numbers? Well, do we have those:

Total number of items purchased on Amazon.com on “Cyber Monday” last year: 36.8 million

Miles walked, per day, by employees at Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses: 7 to 15

Current federal minimum wage in the United States: $7.25/hour

Annual earned income of a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours/week, 52 weeks/year: $15,080

Net worth of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos: $6.5 billion

Of the top ten richest people in America, number who are members of the Walton family (heirs and descendants of the founders of Walmart): 4

Number who are Koch brothers: 2

Total annual charitable grants awarded by the Walton Family Foundation in 2013: $325 million

Amount of federal assistance spent annually supporting Walmart employees: $6.2 billion

Number of Americans who attended a pop music concert in 2011: 54.3 million

Average nightly revenue of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “On the Run” tour: $5.2 million

Percentage of US concert sales controlled by Ticketmaster: 80

Total amount the American pharmaceutical industry spent on drug promotion in 2012: $27 billion

Factor by which spending on physician-facing marketing outstripped spending on patient-facing marketing: 9

Number of countries other than the US that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising: (New Zealand)

Consumer spending on antipsychotics, antidepressants, and drugs to treat ADHD (in 2010): $16 billion, $11 billion, $7 billion, respectively

Percentage of corn acreage in the US growing genetically modified crops: 93

Percentage of soybean acreage in the US growing genetically modified crops: 94

Percentage of cotton acreage in the US growing genetically modified crops: 96

Factor by which total US student debt increased between 2004 and 2012: 3

Total US student debt at the end of 2012: $966 billion

Total American consumer debt as of June 2014: $3,211,211,800

Number of US counties that account for one-quarter of executions carried out in the US since 1976: 3

Total amount of government fines, penalties, and judgments assessed against Koch Industries for violating regulations, between 1999 and 2003: $400 million

Koch Industries total annual revenue: $115 billion

Keywords for the Age of Austerity 12: DIY (Do It Your [Damn] Self)

A New York Times op-ed written by Jayne Merkel, an architecture critic, argues that the New York City Housing Authority could address its vast backlog of unfinished repairs—caused by the long-term cuts in federal funding—by training residents to make their own repairs. She calls this “A DIY Fix for Public Housing.”

 The argument rests on a couple of obvious major fallacies. As with so many of our keywords, it values individual derring-do and ignores structural forces, resulting in the apolitical assumption that closing the federal funding gap is impossible, and thus “arguing over who will make nonexistent repairs is fruitless.” (One could borrow this logic to dismiss any political demand that seems, as most important ones do, unrealistic: “arguing about how women will exercise their nonexistent franchise is fruitless,” “arguing about taxation with nonexistent representation is fruitless,” and so on.). Second is its confidence that “almost anyone can replaster a wall.” (No.)

Reader Barbara A. Knecht of New York City already pointed out the idea’s other problems, in a letter to the editor so sensible one wonders how it slipped by the editors:

 …[F]or the cost and time to develop, administer and insure a training program, the authority could employ and deploy the trainers to make repairs.

…Would the same recommendation hold for the residents of a Park Avenue rental building with a noncompliant landlord? Housing authority tenants pay rent and have a right to expect their landlords to keep up their end of the contract.

Knecht points out something both very old in the history of “do-it-yourself,” and something very new in its recent appropriation as a term of austerity individualism. Informal and inexpert by nature, straddling work and leisure, DIY has never been a strict necessity: you don’t just “do it yourself” because you have to, but also, and sometimes mostly, because you want to. This informality obviously makes it a poor solution for an affordable housing crisis.

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Popular Mechanics, Jul. 1960.

What seems new in Merkel’s use of DIY is the migration of this individual ethic of “do-it-yourself” to the sphere of social policy. Besides improving the plaster and the work ethic of public housing residents, a DIY spirit will also relieve the state of its obligations to them. And so, like its close cousins “local,” “artisanal,” and the neologisms “hacker” and “maker,” DIY is a practice of middle-class consumption masquerading as a practice of citizenship. And like the cult of entrepreneurship, such uses of “DIY” reframe social disempowerment as individual achievement, delegating to citizens social costs without giving them any social power in return. It is a lamentable sign of our times that 1) someone can seriously propose that public housing residents, mostly people of color, should work without pay for their landlord and that 2) such a proposal pretends to be “progressive.”

As Steven Gelber has argued, the rise of “do-it-yourself” as amateur home repair dates to the middle of the 20th century. By 1950, the classified section of Popular Mechanics advertised an array of tools and tutorials to do-it-yourselfers.More Americans lived in owner-occupied homes than ever before—30 million by 1960, 10 times the number in 1890—and a majority worked for someone else. The growth of home ownership and the separation of home and work space created the conditions for doing it yourself as a middle-class, mostly male pursuit.

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From Popular Mechanics, Mar. 1960: do-it-yourself leathercraft, welding, laminating, and…will-writing.

“When industrialization separated living and working spaces,” Gelber writes, “it also separated men and women into non-overlapping spheres of competence.” But the desire to do-it-yourself came not just from economic necessity, argues Gelber. It was a satisfying hobby for desk-bound workers and a respectable way for men to share the labor of the home while asserting a degree of autonomy and expertise within it. Even as the exclusively male claim on “do-it-yourself” culture has frayed, any Home Depot commercial or Tim Allen rerun will remind us of the anxious performance of masculinity that comes with doing it yourself.

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It’s not clear (to me) when DIY regularly appeared as an acronym, but many contemporary uses of the word draw on its association with the print style of self-published punk fanzines and the anti-professionalism of punk more generally. Historians of punk often credit the short-lived 1976-77 London zine Sniffin’ Glue with popularizing the DIY aesthetic—a graphic language built on Xeroxed pages and hand-written or cut-and-pasted type, and a writing style celebrating the close, collaborative networks of authors, bands, and artists.

As Sniffin’ Glue’s creator Mark P. insisted, however, the impulse towards self-producing streamlined industrial products—whether they are music magazines or manufactured goods—goes back further, to other forms of sports and music zines in Britain and to countercultural publications like the 1960s publication Whole Earth Catalog, subtitled “Access to Tools.”  

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In a recent essay in The New Yorker, Evgeny Morozov makes an insightful critique of the contemporary celebration of “makers” and “hackers,” which borrows rhetorically from the rebellious posture and community-mindedness of punk DIY. He traces it further back, to Whole Earth and to the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts movement. (To me, punk DIY, as a specifically media movement, seems different, since punk zines never pretended to be reforming the industrial labor system, and therefore had less of the apolitical hubris that for Morozov fatally compromise the Arts and Crafts and 60s “maker” movements). Arts and Crafts, as Jackson Lears has also written, responded to regimentation and inequality in modern industry by reviving old methods of craft production. By restoring to the worker the autonomy the factory had taken away, the movement would also provide consumers with the beauty they were missing. Yet without structural reforms of the economic system, critics pointed out, Arts and Crafts, which aimed to liberate workers, just became a niche market for middle class consumers. Morozov levels the same charge at so-called “makers” today, who see “ingrained traits of technology where others might see a cascade of decisions made by businessmen and policymakers.” 

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 “Workers of the world, disperse.”

Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog, January 1971 (via moma.org)

Morozov quotes one of the maker movement’s apostles, Kevin Kelly, who writes in his book, Cool Tools: “The skills for this accelerated era lean toward the agile and decentralized.” This technophilic rhetoric of speed, nimbleness, and decentralization in the individual parallel the celebration in the corporate world of the same values for capital. As in Merkel’s DIY fix for public housing, which imagines the collective of public housing residents as an assemblage of atomized, vulnerable “yourselves,” the DIY celebration of autonomy can be easily colonized by a corporate zeal for individualism. (To make the link with government austerity even clearer, Merkel ends her column by saying that public-housing residents could “take pride in his or her home…and save the city millions.”)

And now, search Twitter for “DIY” and you will find a host of consumer goods which offer evidence of this: the so-called “sharing economy” has appropriated the DIY label, reframing the vulnerability of precarious employment as self-fulfilling autonomy. Etsy craftmakers eking out extra income hustling “DIY” crafts online, AirBnB apartments are DIY hotels (or, more grandiosely, “DIY urbanism”), and Uber asks you to do cabdriving yourself, with little regulation and decreasing pay.

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If, as some have argued, the abuses of the “sharing economy” fall hardest on women and in female-identified professions, then it is no surprise that “DIY,” once the male preserve of Popular Mechanics and This Old House reruns, now markets itself mostly to women. And of course, we should applaud fewer Tim Allens,  fewer macho tool commercials, fewer uses of the phrase “man cave.” Yet the shift in the gendering of DIY also confirms Gelber’s argument that “doing-it-yourself” was a form of productive leisure that also reproduces gender roles in the home. Search Twitter for “DIY” and you will find women’s magazines offering plans for DIY jewelry, Martha Stewart’s DIY pumpkin spice latte, even something called a “DIY chicken coop chandelier.” Much of this usage, which seems to want the anti-establishment posture of Whole Earth or Kill Rock Stars, drains the phrase of the particular meanings it once had (there’s no solidarity in a pumpkin space latte) or even any meaning at all (didn’t “DIY dinner” used to be called “cooking”?).

And then there is this: “Drone it yourself,” a military-style drone you can assemble and launch all by yourself.

 

Tags: diy

Anonymous said: Which one would win: a resilient object or a disruptive force?

Anonymous said: Can't find you on the twitterverse

I’m in the twitterverse: @johnpatleary

My letter of application to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Professorship of Social Innovation

Dear Sir or Madam, But Most Likely Sir:

I am writing to apply for your advertised position in Social Innovation. As a Comparative Literature Ph.D, I am proficient in the fabrication of closed tautological circles of non-meaning; this makes me the ideal candidate for a job seeking “innovative teachers…for the position of lecturer in innovation.”

On the other hand, as an Assistant Professor of English, I know only too well the dangers of failing to innovate. For example, I am often forced to talk to human students who are sitting in bounded classrooms often wired for multimedia applications I am unable or simply unwilling to use. Paper books are an obsolete technology barely worthy of the word, and poetry, despite its promising shortness, takes far too long to understand. These hardships have granted me an acute understanding of the innovation deficit your department so bravely seeks to overcome.

In spite of English Literature’s disciplinary hostility to “innovation,” change agency, and both entre- and intra-preneurship, my training as a literature scholar would offer immediate benefits to your department’s offerings in Social Innovation. For example, I would be pleased to proofread your job advertisements, in order to innovate their presently sub-optimal levels of intelligibility.

The professorship is open to both distinguished practitioners, especially those with a deep understanding of social entrepreneurship, and to tenure-level scholars in fields related to social innovation, including social entrepreneurs, social intrapreneurs and, more broadly, social change makers.  

“Social entrepreneurs” are not a field, as the sentence’s syntax suggests, and that final clause could be made nimbler by using the adjective “social” only once, as here: “social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and change makers.” In addition, it’s not clear that “change makers” constitutes a broader category than “entrepreneurs,” yet neither is it obviously more specific. Given my exposure to creative industries like literature, I would be excited to invent more terminology to make this list of synonyms for “businessman” even longer. 

But innovating new ways of saying “entrepreneur” isn’t the only thought-leadership I would exercise within the field of Innovation Studies. As thinkfluencers have argued persuasively, disruption must occur not only within fields and businesses but institutions and organizations. My first intrapreneurial initiative, therefore, would be to fatally disrupt your (hopefully soon to be our) department. Moving our courses entirely online and replacing department faculty other than myself with low-wage adjuncts armed with xeroxes of J.S. Schumpeter quotations would improve efficiency, reach even more students, and ultimately make a bigger difference. 

To paraphrase a great disruptor: We must destroy the Professorship of Social Innovation in order to save it. I am available for immediate Skype interviews.

Sincerely,

John Patrick Leary  

Tags: innovation

"The equality of all humans regardless of station has always been a deeply uncivil idea, because “civil” usually means “that which makes me comfortable.” Comfortable people paint nice watercolors but otherwise don’t accomplish much."

http://www.popehat.com/2014/09/06/u-c-berkeley-chancellor-nicholas-dirks-gets-free-speech-very-wrong/

Tags: civility

Keywords for the Age of Austerity 11: Civility (at NYU and the University of Illinois)

Earlier this month, the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign recently took the unprecedented step of rescinding a job offer to the Palestinian-born scholar Steven Salaita, who was set to begin classes there this week. It was a unilateral move by the upper administration, apparently taken in response to a series of tweets in which Salaita condemned the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Others have already written on the case and its implications for academic freedom—see especially Corey Robin’s blog and this op-ed by many Illinois faculty, for example. (Also check out @FakeCaryNelson on Twitter, for all the latest from a fictional version of the former advocate of academic freedom.)

In the spirit of this blog, I want to focus on the 2 official statements on the case from Illinois’ Chancellor, Phyllis Wise, and its Board of Trustees. As efforts at damage control, they are on the one hand singular in their ineloquence and ineptitude. Yet on the other hand they are familiar in their abuse of notions like “civility,” “debate,” and “discourse”—especially when the latter are “robust,” a keyword forthcoming on this blog.

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Stakeholders in Ferguson

As the militarized police occupation of Ferguson, MO, drew comparisons between the midwestern suburb and a "foreign authoritarian country," the town’s police chief affected a different sort of vocabulary in one of his press conferences. [Put aside, for a moment, the deep naivete of a writer, like this one for Vox.com, so stymied by violent repression in the United States, God’s country and freest land on earth, that he must invoke “Middle East dictatorships” as the only available comparison for the images on his TV screen.] The Ferguson PD released the name of the uniformed killer of young Mike Brown, the Boston Globe reported,after consulation with “stakeholders”:

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Obviously the decision was taken at the highest levels of the local police brass; likely Missouri’s governor and the Department of Justice had a role in the decision. Nothing this police department has done yet smacks of consulation or transparency, so the likely trained recourse to the discourse of”stakeholders” is laughable here. Stakeholder, as I argued in an earlier post, is an austerity keyword that started in business schools and has migrated into the world of municipal government, non-profits, and organizations of all types. The word has financial origins, but it aims to reassure audiences that what they are witnessing is an egalitarian partnership, not a hierarchical enterprise, at work. As I wrote then:

Like other phrases derived from gambling and finance that have migrated into democratic politics—the appropriately gruesome phrase “skin in the game” comes to mind—stakeholder conflates access with rights, obscuring hierarchies of power under the veneer of cooperation.

A determined group of citizens in Ferguson seem undeceived by the laughably thin veneer of cooperation on display there, however.

Tags: stakeholders