I am a journalist, historian, professor, and former college trustee, and have decided to publish on Substack to reach readers without interference from intellectual gatekeepers. Over the last twenty years, support for independent scholarship and journalism outside an increasingly narrow mainstream has vanished. “Publish or perish” has devolved into “publish and perish” because most academic presses, magazines, and online publications pay, at best, NAFTA inspired wages for writing, photography, and fine art—the “content” that fills their pages. Because Substack is based on subscriptions rather than advertising, this platform allows writers to assert their independence, and engage with readers free from the coercions and distractions of “engagement-based algorithms.”[i]
All of the creative professions are under siege from an economic model that rewards those who monetize the creations of others, but does not reward the actual creators. The rise of the digital giants hastened the fall of many of America’s creative industries and few have been hit harder than independent journalists and independent scholars. Today writers, artists, musicians, and photographers have become subordinate to, and dependent on, “free rider monopoly platforms” like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon.
Why should anyone be surprised that Americans read and believe “fake news” given the declining state of the American media? Journalists were once paid by the word; they received royalties, and payments from the sales of foreign rights. Today, that is no longer the case. According to a 2015 survey, newspaper reporter edged out lumberjack as the worst job in America. Today’s hip “new media” outlets have replaced professional, career reporters with untrained amateurs who are willing to forgo fair pay in exchange for exposure. “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing,” explained President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Ben Rhode. With the 24-hour news cycle, what passes for journalism today is largely partisan talking points. National consciousness is no longer determined by exposure to intellectual quality, but by popularity in the form of Internet traffic and mysterious algorithms understood only by Big Tech. Years ago, internet and virtual reality pioneer, Jaron Lanier, laid bare the implications of this model: “Funding a civilization through advertising is like trying to get nutrition by connecting a tube from one’s anus to one’s mouth. The body starts consuming itself. That is what we are doing online.”[ii]
American higher education has been similarly eviscerated by this profit-driven model. Like our banks, our institutions of higher learning, backed by nondefault student loans, have engaged in economic speculation. Financially leveraged and often operating on lines of credit, universities and colleges, like so many other businesses, balance their books by relying on part-time labor. Despite the progressive rhetoric, American higher education has embraced black market labor practices that have more in common with the meatpacking industry than the world of ideas and scholarship. Today, a minority of academics have full-time employment, much less tenure, and the intellectual freedom it once ensured. Even worse,academia’s managerial elite have embraced a student centric and decidedly anti-Socratic model of education that has made the perception of “comfort” and “safety” a higher priority than education. Sadly, in this new academic culture of complaint, laws, evidence, and due process, have been replaced by “concerns,” “conversations,” and Title IX star chamber courts.[iii]
Sour Milk is my effort to stem the intolerant and censorious tides that are sweeping the nation. Some of my articles are free and others are for paid subscribers only. For a monthly fee of $10 (or $100 annually), Sour Milk subscribers will receive my essays on politics, pressing issues of the day and culture. Sour Milk’s comments are open only to paid subscribers.
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[i] Jonathan Taplin, “Forget AT&T. The Real Monopolies Are Google and Facebook,” The New York Times, December 18, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/04/13/worst-job-careercast/; see also Joe Coscarelli, “Nate Thayer vs. The Atlantic: ‘Exposure Doesn’t Feed My Fucking Children,” New York Magazine, March 5, 2013. After an Atlantic editor asked Thayer to contribute an article for free, he wrote: “I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for-profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children.” Internet and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier believes that the Internet’s greatest failure is that it does not pay creative producers, whose work is cannibalized and scattered far and wide.[ii]http://fortune.com/2016/04/13/worst-job-careercast/;David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru,” The New YorkTimes Magazine, May 5, 2016, “They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington.” Lanier was quoted by Chris Hedges in his 2010 book Death of the Liberal Class.[iii] The American Association of University Professors statistics on part-time faculty: https://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts; Laura McKenna, “The Cost of an Adjunct: The Plight of Non-tenured Professors Is Widely Known, but What about the Impact they Have on the Students They’re Hired to Instruct?” The Atlantic, May 26, 2015; Steve Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves and Gary Rhoades, “Who Is Professor ‘Staff,’ and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?” Center for the Future of Higher Education, August 2012, https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/profstaff(2).pdf. The American Association of University Professors statistics on part-time professors’ income: https://www.aaup.org/report/heres-news-annual-report-economic-status-profession-2012-13; https://psmag.com/survey-the-state-of-adjunct-professors-161eeba463fb#.xue2jbjix. Matt Saccaro, “Professors on Food Stamps: The Shocking True Story of Academia in 2014,” Salon, September 21, 2014; The American Association of University Professors Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession https://www.aaup.org/our-work/research/annual-report-economic-status-profession; Mark Bauerleinmay, “What’s the Point of a Professor?” The New York Times, May 9, 2015; “Survey: The State of Adjunct Professors,” Pacific Standard, March 19, 2015, https://psmag.com/survey-the-state-ofadjunct-professors-161eeba463fb#.cy6z12k23;Anne P. Shively v. Utah Valley University, Astrid S. Tuminez, Karen Clemes, and Sara J. Flood, U.S. District Court, District of Utah, Central Division, Case No. 2:20-cv-00119-DBP; Ann P. Shively v. Utah Valley University, Astrid S. Tuminez, Karen Clemes, and Sara J. Flood, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Oral Argument Requested, No. 12-6294; Insider Exclusive, “Justice in America: Michael Shively’s Story,” December 29, 2020. https://insiderexclusive.com/justice-in-america-dr-michael-jay-shivelys-story/; Kemal Makasci v. Utah Valley University, Astrid S. Tuminez, Matthew Holland, Karen Clemes, Melissa Frost, Shaunna Mcghie, Laura Carlson, and Daniel Fairbanks, U.S. District Court, District of Utah, Central Division, Case No.: 2:19-cv00425-CW; Kieran Ravi Bhattacharya v. James Murray Jr. et al is another sad example of the anti Socratic revolution in American education. In October 2018, Kieran Bhattacharya, a second medical year student at the University of Virginia attended a panel discussion on “microaggressions.” During the Q&A, Bhattacharya asked the speaker, an assistant dean, “Is it a requirement, to be a victim of microaggression, that you are a member of a marginalized group?" When she said that there was no a requirement, the medical student pointed out that in her presentation she defined microaggressions as “negative interactions with members of marginalized groups.” Bhattacharya then asked how microaggressions could be distinguished from unintentionally rude statements? Unbeknownst to the medical student, an assistant professor filed a report known as a “professionalism concern card” about Bhattacharya. She characterized hisquestions as “antagonistic” and claimed that his “frustration/anger” had prompted another panelist to step in and defuse the situation. The assistant dean emailed the student and requested a meeting to help him “understand and be able to cope with unintended consequences of conversations.” Next, UVA’s Academic Standards and Achievement Committee sent Bhattacharyaa written note. It stated that Bhattacharyahad to be psychologically evaluated before he returned to class. After the student asked what he had done wrong, what he had been accused of, and who his accusers were, UVA charged him with being “extremely defensive” and suspended him for being guilty of “aggressive and inappropriate interactions in multiple situations.” After Bhattacharya was ordered by university police to leave campus, he filed a lawsuit arguing that UVA violated his First Amendment rights and retaliated against him for asking a question. In March, a district court judge ruled that the suit could go forward.
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