Rudy at the Republican Convention — possessed by Audrey II ? — possessed by a insatiable greed for power?
Shortly after the election of Trump, I watched my great-niece perform in her high school production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Great show, well done. Interesting script. Amazing that a theater production ending in the death and destruction of its main characters is a brilliant musical comedy. “Shop of Horrors” is a story of Audrey II, a plant that starts out bringing fame and fortune to its caretakers. It demands to be fed — “Feeed me” — and in response keeps getting bigger and more demanding. It causes its caretakers to do horrible things to appease its appetite for human blood. Growing into a monster plant, it eventually eats those who had befriended it.
Audrey II must be a metaphor for something. What is it that initially seems good, greatly pleasing to its owners, but demands to be fed more and more until it grows into a dangerous monster? Audrey II could stand for drug addiction, it could stand for racism or hate — choices and attitudes that initially seem harmless, buoying their victims, but often lead to something horrible — but these metaphors don’t fit the “Shop of Horrors” story line. The lovable characters in this story live on skid row and just want to live the American Dream. When they experience a little success, they want more and more and more. The more success they get the more success they want. They cannot resist and finally give their lives feeding their deep hunger for success. This play endures because it communicates that these characters are us. We all have an Audrey II, demanding to be fed.
As it turns out, there are many people in this country who equate power with success. Who knew? You might say they are greedy for power. They feed this hunger more and more until finally the hunger for power possesses them. (Think: Rudy Giuliani at the Republican Convention.) Many Republicans leaders realize that Donald is a dangerous con man but these Republicans were attracted to the potential bounty of power he could deliver to them. Repudiations of the Trump candidacy from prominent Republicans were tepid and most came after it was already too late to have any impact. Their warnings assuaged their consciences, but they were not so strong as to deprive them a ticket on the gravy train of a Trump win. (Mitt Romney on board, poor John Kasich stuck in Columbus.)
For the disaster known as the election of Donald Trump, I blame the Republican establishment but I blame the media more. Motivated by greed the media fed the phenomena of Trump, helping it grow stronger and stronger — eventually bestowing on it all of America’s nuclear launch codes. It was a fun ride with great ratings. Pushing Trump with billions of dollars of free advertising paid off big. Had Hillary been able to produce terrific ratings by calmly explaining her well-thought-out proposals for public policy, she would have had the same attention. Thoughtfulness doesn’t bring a crowd, clownishness and outrageous behavior does.
The warnings of “Shop of Horrors” is that the power of greed is great, and in the end, if we can’t stop feeding it and feeding it, we’ll be destroyed. Just this week, CBS gave a portion of its valuable “evening news” time to an alt-right bigot who held forth on his views of discrimination. It was all trash. Scott Pelley, the CBS anchor, was recently honored with the “Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.” In my estimation, Walter Cronkite would never have given air time to broadcast such hate and would have had the clout to control his own show. Pelley is a professional frontman. The CBS decision to give this alt-right idiot prime air time was not to advance credible journalism. The goal was to boost ratings by stimulating viewer interest. The point was to feed the greed of their corporate bosses to make more income. It is greed that determines much of what the media does. If the media could provoke a riot or a race war, for society it would be a tragedy, but for the media it would be a bonanza of increased advertisement revenue. Think of the revenue that a nuclear exchange would bring.
The most horrible realities — war, poverty, famine — in the final analysis have often been propelled by greed. Was it greed that prevented the Republican establishment from sinking Trump when it had a chance to do so? Was it greed that motivated the media to promote Trump? Did “Feeding” Audrey II —The Monster of Greed — Cause The Election Of Donald Trump?
Technology / science has given humans power that at one time would have seemed God-like. Imagine how the practices and productivity of modern farming would seem to our ancestors. This capacity for wealth creation is growing exponentially. A factory one day will have zero human workers, yet produce goods of enormous value.
Humanity, at this present time, has the capacity to produce sufficient wealth to supply plenty of quality food, quality shelter, quality health-care to every human in the world. We are failing to use that capacity and the capacity to produce wealth is rapidly increasing. The reality of enormous unused economic potential, in the face of widespread human deprivation, eventually will be huge issue.
In America, there is a huge wealth gap — between potential wealth creation and actual wealth creation — and this gap is become ever greater and greater over time. What possibly could be the objection to the production of ample wealth — if, and when, the production of that wealth has little practical cost? The advance of technology will force debate concerning these two questions:
- What are the public policies that have the best chance of activating the potential of the American economy to produce wealth?
- What are the public policies that can best provide a way for all Americans to gain wealth sufficient for a secure and prosperous future?
Making substantial changes to public policies is very difficult in our constitutional democracy. But without substantial change, our system is headed for a crash. Our big problem is that there is not sufficient citizen capacity — not enough citizens who are engaged and knowledgeable — to make our constitutional democracy work as it should. Our nation will soon be called upon to make some very hard choices and, as it is now, our democracy lacks the capacity to successfully respond. We are failing to produce community and governmental leaders who have the character, vision and creativity that is needed.
Our expensive system of public education is failing to develop the capacity of youth for effective citizenship. To meet the challenges to society caused by the explosion of technology, our constitutional democracy will need to be empowered by a vitality that is now nonexistent. The urgent need for thoughtful and engaged citizens inevitably will become more and more obvious.
The irony of the rise of technology / science that is giving humanity God-like power is that rather than becoming more important, STEM education will become less important. Civics education — the preparation of youth for active and effective citizenship — will replace STEM as the focus of public education. We have to hope this change of focus doesn’t happen too late.
I like the story about two economists on a walk who fell into a deep hole. One economist asked, “How will we get out?” The other answered, “I’m going to hypothesize a ladder.”
Trump has revealed that our democracy is in such a huge hole that a crazy egomaniac with lots of money has a good shot at gaining unforgiving power. I get the feeling that if gasoline was $7 a gallon and unemployment was 15%, the American citizenry would elect someone like Trump, or someone much worse.
The question is, “How can our constitutional democracy get out of its deep hole?”
We put a lot of faith in the hypothesis that the ladder that takes us up to a better society is education. But, our enormous and expensive educational system is focused on educating students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It has failed to educate a citizenry with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and experiences needed for effective and active citizenship.
Though the state of civics education is much bemoaned, nothing changes. Have you noticed the efforts of the actor Richard Dreyfuss? He’s made lots of thoughtful impassioned speeches and has established a 501C(3) called The Dreyfuss Initiative to provide leadership in improving civics education in American schools. The former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Conner has an intense interest in improving civics education. She started a website and organization called iCivics . Just last week, the Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr, gave a speech urging big improvements in civics education. (See: Education Secretary says civics education should encourage activism)
Schools largely ignore advice like Dreyfuss, O’Conner and King offer. It’s unrealistic to suppose that schools voluntarily will put additional effort into civics education unless the criteria for evaluating schools is changed to reward that effort. School leaders have been reduced to thinking like their students — if putting in a lot of effort doesn’t improve our school grade, why do it?
Another reality that depresses civics education in public schools is the fact that meaningful civics education is potentially disruptive. Schools rely on taxes and do everything possible to gain the trust and support of taxpayers. The last thing a board wants is for teachers to stir up a controversy that will bring criticism to the school. For example, here in Kettering in this election we have six proposals on the ballot to change the Kettering city charter. I think it is a safe bet that the wonderful opportunity for civics learning that Issues 31-36 provides has not been utilized to inspire meaningful discussion and debate at Kettering High School.
What the election of 2016 reminds us is that democracy is fragile and that its vitality requires a great deal from the citizenry. Increasingly it seems the American citizenry is incapable and unprepared to shoulder its responsibility. It is a frightful realization that we may be headed to a time when the citizenry simply does not possess the capacity to maintain a democracy.
Youth own the future. The hope for the future is that youth will be better citizens than their parents. The task of developing in youth the capacity needed for effective citizenship in a democracy is too important to be left exclusively to the schools. It takes a village to bring youth to civic maturity. The problem is, in this modern age the village, itself, has faded. We are missing important civic structures that a village would have had — a commons, a city square, a town hall — where individuals could participate as part of a real community, listening to each other, debating and trying to understand issues of importance to their community. We are missing the vital civic life of a village where youth could learn by good example and where youth could be inspired to emulate the attitudes and values of thoughtful elders.
In answer to the question — “How can our constitutional democracy get out of its deep hole?” — we need to hypothesize a ladder composed of the energy, zeal and idealism of youth. Youth with their powerful social media skills could be the force that vitalizes our constitutional democracy. How can this ladder be constructed is the question. What is it that could galvanize youth toward meaningful and useful civic engagement?
In my vision of what is possible, I’m imagining a network of youth organizations — a local chapter in each local community. The idea is that these local organizations would empower youth to show leadership in building important civic structures in their local communities. We learn by doing and if youth are to learn civic leadership, they must have the opportunity and encouragement to practice civic leadership. I believe that many youth, if given the opportunity, would rise to the challenge of being a leader in his or her local community, and that many adults, if given the chance, would support creating such opportunity.
.Five years ago, I considered researching a book about the future of public education. My great-great niece, Anna, was a baby. Now she is a big girl in kindergarten. Where does five years go?
When my great-great niece Anna is 19, in 2030, according to Ray Kurzweil, author of, “The Singularity Is Near,” she will be entering adulthood into a world stunningly different from what it is today. Five years ago, 2030 seemed a good target for a book about the future of education. Now I’m thinking a book about the future of education should focus thirty years into the future — 2046. Anna then will be 35 and ready to enter mature adulthood.
Thirty years of exponential progress in technology will produce astounding results. If Kurzweil is right, the technology thirty years in the future will be one billion times more powerful than today’s. One billion.
I write here: “Kurzweil predicts that by 2019 a computer with the capacity of a human brain will cost only $1000, by 2030 the process of ‘reverse engineering’ the human brain will be completed and by 2045 the intelligence of computers will be billions times that of today’s humans.”
To prepare today’s children for the future of intelligent machines will require a big transformation in education. It will require that the education system pursue aims quite different from the aims of the system today. The idea is to write a short book that will make a specific proposal showing how transformation could unfold in the school district where I live, Kettering, and show one vision of what a transformed system could look like. I’m considering advancing this proposal to jump-start the process.
With the emergence of the super machine intelligence described by Kurzweil, chapter one of this proposed book speculates that the need to redefine the aim of public education will become a national emergency.
Education In 2046, Chapter 1: Congress Demands That Schools Develop Human Intelligence
Eventually the force of exploding technology changed the very definition of what it means to be intelligent, what it means to be educated. In 2016, an educated person was acquainted with a wide curriculum and often specialized in a narrow discipline or profession. A well-educated person was expected to have good skills of analysis, reasoning and communication.
As technology advanced, machines came closer and closer to mimicking all of the qualities of an educated person. It became clear that eventually machines would surpass humans in all contests of intelligence and professionalism. Here in 2046, a physician robot, indefatigable in its efforts, knows each of his patients via a history of detailed data to a depth of understanding rare in human physicians. It is thoroughly up-to-date with the latest medical research and has energy and focus beyond what literally is humanly possible. A teacher robot, for the same reasons, succeeds in getting students to master the standard curriculum much more effectively than what is possible for a human teacher. Today’s robots are are growing stronger and more formidable at an incredible rate.
The human response to rising machine superiority at first was to deny its significance. This denial started in 1997 after IBM’s Big Blue defeated the reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in a chess tournament. From this water-shed event there arose the practice of devaluing those aspects of cognition that machines could mimic. The intellectual skills of a chess champion are wonderful, but, these skills became to be seen as machine-like and therefore inferior to aspects of human intelligence seen as non-machine-like.
As machines imitated more and more of the human intellect, they became intellectually dominant. For machines to dominate a narrow well-defined intellectual endeavor like chess was one thing. But when it became clear that we were headed for an era when robot physicians, robot teachers, robot architects and the like would be the world champions of their fields, the threat to human intelligence became very real. There was a lot of anxiety about defining human intelligence in such a way that humans would remain in a position of superiority relative to machines.
In 2035, an Act of Congress proclaimed this official definition of human intelligence:
Human intelligence includes machine intelligence — like memory, reason and the capacity to communicate with understanding — but because living and breathing humans transcend what is possible for a machine, human intelligence includes human emotion and human values as well. Human intelligence is the capacity of humans to experience and to generate love, empathy, joy, togetherness, leadership, meaning and independent thinking. Human intelligence is the capacity of an individual to grow into his or her potential to be fully human.”
This Act of Congress recognized the growing panic that unless humans could stand together —united in their humanity, united by their human intelligence — the very definition of what it means to be human would be compromised. This Act of Congress called for a transformation of American education so that it would effectively advance the development of human intelligence.
CBK tri-fold mailed to Kettering households urges a NO vote on Issue 36 — to reject, “the Commission Scheme,” and to reject, “bundling of unrelated proposals.”
This morning I met with Ron Alban, spokesperson and leader of Citizens For A Better Kettering (CBK). Alban explained that up until late May the group had no intention of putting proposals on the ballot to change Kettering’s City Charter and it was only after the Kettering Charter Review Committee surprise proposal to modify term limits (Issue 36) that his group responded with Issues 31-35. (See: In This Coming Election, Kettering Voters Have Six Choices — Issues 31-36 — To Change The Kettering City Charter)
Four years ago, Citizens For a Better Kettering succeeded in passing two big changes to the Kettering Charter. Voters (62%) specified that the mayor and council members would be limited to two consecutive four year terms and voters (55%) reduced the pay of the mayor and council 50%.
Alban says on May 20 he learned for the first time that a mayor’s Charter Review Committee even existed and only then did he learn that this committee was recommending to eliminate term limits for the mayor and to increase the limit on Council members from two consecutive terms to three consecutive terms. Alban, in an opinion piece published in the DDN, writes,“The Council’s effort to undo term limits is deceptive and disrespectful.”
Urging a YES vote on Issue 36 and NO on Issue 31-35 is a pac called “weRkettering”. This mailing charges that “Issue 31-35 are restricting our form of government.”
Don Patterson, Kettering’s mayor, in an article published by the DDN , wrote that Issues 31-35 are, “of great concern to me.” Patterson in that article makes the accusation that Issues 31-35 “are not truly driven by Kettering residents like our Charter Review Committee was.”
Alban responded to Patterson’s accusation by explaining that in 2012 his group started in January to raise money and get signatures, but, because the work of the Kettering Charter Review Committee came in late May as a big surprise, his group had only a short time to meet a deadline to raise money and get signatures. Alban figured he would need $30,000 for a credible campaign. He requested help from a national group called US Term Limits, a 501C(4) tax exempt organization dedicated to promoting term limits nationwide. He received a grant of $10,000. He says other contributions came from Kettering residents, including a $1000 contribution from former mayor Dick Hartman and a $2000 contribution from former mayor Chuck Horn.
Alban says CBK had 60 volunteers who collected 1350 signatures in three weeks, but in order to get sufficient signatures by the deadline, CBK contracted with a company that organized paid solicitors to get the remainder of the signatures. Eventually CBK had a total of 3190 signatures — a comfortable cushion above the 1879 signatures that were required. (This is 10% of Kettering votes in the last gubernatorial election.)
Patterson in the DDN article also claimed that the changes to the Charter called for in Issues 31-35, “are unnecessary and involve the potential for significant additional cost to Kettering taxpayers If they are approved.” The additional costs Patterson referred to pertains to Issues 32 and 34.
Issue 32 empowers citizens to bring suit against the city — specifically for failure to follow the charter — providing for litigation expense if the suit wins. Alban says that Issue 32 simply assures that the charter will be followed and does not open the door to litigation concerning other matters. Alban indicates that if Issue 32 is approved, he feels that the city will comply with the charter and that there would be no need for legal action.
Issue 34 requires that every two years the city send a mailing to all Kettering residents showing the salary / benefits of 45 Kettering city employees (by job position, not name) — 15 at the top, 15 at the middle, 15 at the bottom. (The city has about 400 employees.) Patterson in his DDN article says that “the printing and postage of such a report would cost at least $10,000 per year.” Alban says that Patterson’s estimate is way off and that he feels that a more realistic cost would be only $5000 per mailing, or only $2500 per year. Alban indicates that when over 70% of the city’s budget ($100 million over two years) goes to salary / benefits, this transparency would be well worth the cost.
Issue 36 bundles six amendments into one Issue. Alban sees this as “an effort to confuse voters.” He writes, “The Ohio Constitution bans the bundling of unrelated proposals for statewide issues, but ambiguity in the law on local issues provides a loophole for local officials to get away with this practice.” Alban says, “CBK asked council members not to bundle, but they voted 7-0 to do so.”
I enjoyed my visit with Ron Alban today and I hope to continue my conversation with him in the near future. I was sorry that my camera was temporarily on the fritz and I couldn’t get a picture, but maybe next time. I also intend on contacting Mayor Patterson or other supporters of Issue 36 and continue writing about these issues in the near future.
Alban predicts that the public will support the efforts of Citizens For A Better Kettering. He is predicting that Issues 31-35 will be approved and that Issue 36 will be rejected.