Greg Nelson - Manifesto

1. We ought to redefine the economy inside and out the university to abolish the practice of profit.

I assert that the abolition of profit within and outside of the university would allow for society to become reorganized according to a paradigm that does not seek to exploit the individual, group, or society for narrow interests but a paradigm that seeks to preserve life.

For far too long the idea of private property has been critiqued as the locus from which exploitation begins as property is what allows one to deprive another of his means of substance in a life-circumstance of limited resources. (Footnote: See Karl Marx Capital and Jean-Jacques Rousseau The Social Contract) While many before have argued and fought for the abolition of private property, private property does not need to be abolished, but the ability to use property to profit from others might be another way of conceptualizing the problem of exploitation. Rather than creating theories and incentives motivating ourselves and institutions through profit, by abolishing profit we could encourage our actions (collective and individual) according to a paradigm of life-assurance. Life-assurance is a paradigm where our main motivating factor is to assure that life, both human and non-human, can continue have circumstances in which to thrive. While certainly the critique will be leveled that people cannot be expected to assure the life of organisms beyond their own narrow self-interest to survive, I claim that by abolishing profit we could conceptualize of altruism on a level that extends from humans to nonhumans.

We only encounter the tragedy of the commons in a society that rewards individuals according to profit. David Harvey states:

Enclosure and the assignment of property rights is considered the best way to protect against the so-called ‘tragedy of the commons’ (the tendency for individuals to irresponsibly super-exploit common property resources such as land and water) (65).

The response to already existing exploitation is to design a paradigm of further exploitation but through a legitimized framework of private property that encourages profit. The tragedy of the commons could be avoided if we work to instill an idea of adjudicating our decisions (individually and institutionally) according to assessments which evaluate effects to life. The commons are a means for the sustenance of life. Rather than abolishing private property perhaps if we redefined our critique to one of a critique of profit we would oust from the university the conditions that encourage an endless system of profit and leads to enquiry which focuses on war making techniques (materially and spiritually). The commons of the university and society ought to be asserted around a normative vision which evaluates decisions and actions according to that potential effects on life in this way we can begin to tackle the problem of exploitation.

2. The university and enquiry ought to serve the public-life interest not private profit motivated interests.

The public-life interest would be determined in direct citizen referendums where research agendas are evaluated and critiqued by boards of citizens. These citizens would be within and outside of the university employing a criteria of judgment with an eye toward evaluating the research agenda using an imaginative approach of anticipating the consequences of research according to the effects upon human and non-human life according to a principle of ahimsa or do least harm.

Building upon the idea of prioritizing the problem of profit (leading to exploitation), in all domains of the university and society is the idea of serving the public-life interest. By public-life interest I do not mean merely the human public sphere in the traditional Habermasian sense. Rather I mean all of that which sustains a thriving existence for the human and non-human life. Some refer to non-human life and material as nature; however I have abandoned the concept of nature in its traditional sense of the world outside of human construction. As Slavoj Zizek enumerates:

[Humanity] is becoming a geological factor. Here we come to the next crucial conclusion. Maybe, paradoxically we should accept that nature doesn’t exist, not in some crazy subjectivist way, …there is no nature, that we are just constructing nature through our spirit or whatever. But in the sense that the image of nature that we spontaneously accept, nature as a balanced, harmonized circulation which is then destroyed through excessive human agency. That nature doesn’t exist (Slavoj Zizek-“Nature Does Not exist” 1:30-2:30).

Thus, once we understand our integration within the world both through our dependence upon other life and non-human materials we can begin to judge every research agenda pursued according to a criterion of whether it serves life.

If we were to approach the problem of whose interest the university should serve from an understanding of nature that does not exist in our traditional and platonic (before the fall) understanding then we could adopt and evaluate research agendas and enquiry according to a paradigm that judges proposals by whether they serve the public-life interest. Thus, the public-life interest expands the concept of public interest far beyond our traditional understandings of the public as separate from the natural world. In this way the university, (I am taking as implicit the normative goal of the university to produce knowledge) can directly serve the life of our planet rather than narrow interests based upon the private right of some to exploit others by fostering the development of techniques and knowledge which do not perpetuate exploitation thru profit.

3. The university ought not to engage in any bio-genetic manipulation of any gene in ways that could encode current social or profit paradigm inequalities in the biology of any species. Bio-genetic research must be evaluated for its benefits to all from the poorest to the richest and to any other life form by ascribing non-human life agency.

One of the most important scientific problems of our time concerns with our capacity to directly manipulate the basic life building blocks. The center of bio-genetic research takes place in our universities through corporate and federal funding and the university’s role in training corporate agents to carry out bio-genetic manipulations.

The prevailing paradigm of thought that encompasses the present structure of bio-genetic manipulation, both theoretically and practically, is centralized upon the idea of the patent. Philip Mirowski states in Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science:

There was a time in the late 1990s when many university TTOs proudly endorsed the research ethos of the institutions of which they were part, for example, openly publishing elaborate statistics describing their various internal and external activities bearing upon IP and making them available to the public and on the Web. One by one, however, perhaps at the behest of their lawyers, or perhaps because of some tense moments at faculty meetings, or perhaps after having some academic provost question the allocation of effort within their office, they came to the conclusion that this openness was not altogether conductive to their overall strategic place in the university and had suspended that practice in favor of producing glossy annual reports that would make any corporation proud, both in terms of their production values but also in being devoid of any solid information whatsoever (156).

The technology transfer office at universities are a central micro-institution within the university that have a direct bearing role in bringing patents to profitability without consideration as to the patent’s effect upon life. The paradigm embodied by the TTO, combined with bio-genetics, grounded in profit must directly be challenged because of the possibility of rendering genetic manipulations as tradable commodities. The implications of bio-genetic manipulations that are not evaluated within a paradigm of life, as enumerated in previous points in this manifesto, present grave instances of neo-eugenics that not only centralizes permanent genetic effects upon humans but also non-human life.

The implications of for profit bio-genetic manipulations are a reality that borders on fantastic science-fiction. The university plays a fundamental role in training the servants of for-profit bio-genetics. By withdrawing from this assault upon life the university could exert considerable influence in reconstructing a knowledge paradigm that challenges the current for-profit paradigm and forces considerable reformulations and investigations into the unintended consequences of for-profit bio-genetic manipulation within a for-profit exploitative model. Thus, the importance of material considerations regarding our lives and the lives of non-humans demand a responsibility and paradigm readjustment if we are to fully understand our omnipotence in manipulating our basic genetic structure and that of other life. (Footnote: See Zizek “Living in the End Times” for an explanation regarding our omnipotence or what ecologists call the anthropocene era.) The university is the central institution in which a direct challenge to for-profit bio-genetics can be launched because the university is charged with the reproduction of agency, knowledge, and materials needed to make possible a scenario in which we can imagine neo-eugenics through corporate experiments. The prospect of profitable bio-genetic manipulations is grave and must fully be opposed if our university system is to fulfill the first two normative statements of this manifesto.

4. The university ought to establish a permanent moratorium on the buying and selling of the tools of scientific research. Specifically, patents on all research and research tools conducted in public institutions should be outlawed as they ought to serve the public and should remain in the commons.

A further implication regarding this analysis and manifesto against the paradigm of profit as exploitative of the life of both the human and non-human concerns how patents are a legal instantiation, informed by bureaucratic control, of exploitative profit. The university must adopt a stance which refuses to recognize the power of private patents. This stance means that not only will the university have to challenge neoliberal state power, but also the power of multinational companies who will seek to protect patents at all expense. Mirowski states:

Once the new model of science [patents of research tools] organization became established, biotechnology and Big Pharma became united in seeking to rein in the free dissemination of research tools Universities tended to be caught up in the Great Engrossment, if only because they, too, were scrambling to jump on board what they had come to regard as the biotech gravy train, believing this meant playing the game in the same way that biotechs and Big Pharma were already carrying on (203).

Mirowski shows that the universities embraced the patent-profit paradigm that was created by privatized pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Rather than resisting they instead jumped on the band wagon and became seduced by the profit motive. Thus, more output, more patents, and more control over the tools of research became the goal of the TTOs and their university hosts.

What began as the embedding of knowledge production into the logic of profitability became adopted by the university as big-pharma and bio-tech companies aligned their profitability to the mobilization of exploitable patent resources. Universities adapted to this regime of patented knowledge production through privatization of research, according to the logic of profit and exploitation of new “knowledge markets” secured by patents. This process was entailed the privatization of the American university and “the fencing off of open modes of access to knowledge…” (Mirowski 339).

The battle over patents requires a focus inside and outside the university. For this reason I have repeatedly spoken of how profit must be abolished inside and out of the university. The university, being the traditional center of research in the United States, has great power to leverage a new way of conducting enquiry along the lines which do not seek to limit the reach and scope of knowledge that patents inhibit by imposing an exploitative profitability model. Mobilization to directly undermine patents would challenge the monopoly of the patent regime and re-conceive enquiry according to a model of falsifiable science with openness in knowledge, material, and technology. Violating every patent would flood the patent legal system to such an extent that profit’s servants would not be able to process all the litigation. Also, information would be leaked and challenge the monopoly of knowledge that exists in a system of exploitative profit. The importance of undermining the privatization of the tools of research and knowledge creation is central to reclaiming the university as a center for the preservation of the life and knowledge of life.

5. The reward system in the university ought to encourage a style of humanities inquiry that is long, thoughtful, and spans many years of work on a single project which must be grounded in criticism that attempts to reveal attacks upon life.

So far I have focused on technological and scientific enquiry, now for some musings on humanities’ enquiry. Lindsay Waters in Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing and the Eclipse of Scholarship argues:

The problem of ridiculous articles by humanists was caused partly by the vast increase of the numbers of publications that humanists (and all academics) are expected to perpetrate on paper or on one another as talks at conferences…We are experiencing a generalized crisis of judgment that results from unreasonable expectations about how many publications a scholar should publish (18).

Clearly there is a link between the adoption of profitability in the university and the need to quantify the scholar’s production by the number of publications produced. A scholar is profitable if production occurs regardless of quality. The emphasis on mere production of pages is a systematic problem of profitability.

The reward system of the university ought to encourage single projects that span large time scales that escape from the short-term necessities of the profitability paradigm and attempt to unify knowledge. Water’s observes:

The modern university takes the present organization of knowledge into separate disciplines, all those gated communities, as inevitable and as natural as the categories of niche-marketing (72).

The ways we conceptualize epistemology in the framework of profitability entails the division of knowledge to overly-specified particulars. Knowledge must be liberated from its narrow confinement in the profit paradigm. Humanities’ enquiry is uniquely situated as a location of synthesis: knowledge(s) can be unified because of the prioritization of the human as the object of enquiry. However, a further step must be taken, we must introduce human/life (outside of the human) as the object of enquiry then we can move toward critiques and testimonies of attacks upon all life-forms. Thus, if we redefined the incentives of knowledge, by removing profit as a motive, from micro-productions of time-space dependent studies toward testimonies and documentation of attacks upon life humanities’ enquiry can serve to guard against situations of exploitation and destruction by focusing the gaze of enquiry upon abuse, violence, exploitation and profit.

Adopting this paradigm would allow the university to fulfill a mission of service to life. In contrast to the knowledge organized in categories of niche-marketing a more general knowledge, which is both specific and broad, could be developed of attacks against life. Bearing witness to profitable exploitation is one arena in which humanities’ enquiry can serve to redefine knowledge away from profit. Perseverance of life must be seen as the end in all situations of knowledge creation. Only through criticism, of an extended format, with an effort to unify knowledge, can the profitability paradigm be challenged. The implications of adopting a format that testifies to life and bears witness to destruction will ensure that the university fulfills a mission to survivability of both human and non-human life forms.

6. We ought to redefine the role of students and teachers according to a paradigm that does not see the teacher as providing a service and the students as consuming it.

Only within the paradigm of profitability can the idea of students as consumers and teachers as service producers endure. By redefining students and teachers as facilitators in the process of bearing witness to life’s destruction and testifying to the existence of life the university would be changed into a community concerned with survivability. Such a position concerned with survivability is precluded within the profit paradigm because the university can only function to generate profit which I have argued is exploitative and requires control through patents and micro-level time-space dependent knowledge(s) that manipulate and process life and material toward the end goal of profit.

A piece-meal engineering step to undermining the paradigm of profit is to allow all students wishing to attend school do so for free: not for profit. Teachers should live with their families in cohabitation with students at the school in order to develop and foster a community that is grounded in the mutual recognition of their inherent aliveness. Students and Teachers should become facilitators of each other and engage in life skills and activities that far exceed the scope of the current university by adopting a paradigm of learning that is founded upon the acknowledgment and furtherance of life. A simple example would be that the university should adopt organizing principles of a self-sustaining commune. Teachers would be those who have lived in the commune of the university and acquired the knowledge to ensure the continuance of the community’s life (survivability). Students on the other hand would be those just moving into the commune and have not mastered the skills needed to ensure life.

The transformation of the role of student and teacher away from the profit model’s conception would vastly alter the material architecture of the university toward an experimental society that focuses on maximizing the potential of each being to live. Society would be restructured as students would not be trained as corporate servants but rather as providers of their means of sustenance in cohabitation with those who already know how to provide (teachers). After all the university is central to the social reproduction of the values of our society, thus the university in pursuing a redefinition of roles of teacher and student would change definition of knowledge.

As Karl Popper reminds us:

Critical dualism merely asserts that norms and normative laws can be made by man, more especially by a decision or convention to observe them or to alter them, and that it is therefore man who is morally responsible for them; not perhaps for the norms which he finds to exist in society when her first begins to reflect upon them, but for the norms which he is prepared to tolerate once he has found out that he can do something to alter them (61).

We are fully responsible for our condition within the profit paradigm because we have accepted the norm of profit. We must seek to undermine this norm by redefining how we norm the teacher and the student. The implications of establishing a new norm of existence grounded in survivability and preserving life is a decision we can make.

The importance in seeing our agency in the norms we accept is central to establishing new normative guidelines and this has been my attempt throughout this manifesto. Redefining the role of teacher and student is one of many steps toward moving from the exploitative profit paradigm to the nurturing paradigm of life that sees the non-human and human in equal terms and our similarity of aliveness.

Works Cited:

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Mirowski, Philip. Science-Mart: Privatizing American Science. Harvard University Press, 2011.

Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies. 4th ed. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Slavoj, Zizek - Nature does not exist, 2011.

Waters, Lindsay. Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship. Paradigm 15. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004.

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