Yesterday: Six Flags Nonsense Tomorrow: Another Quote
Books: The Bubble Boys, The Decline of the Epic?, Rules for Writing, The Role of the Gods in The Iliad, Folksiness in History and Baseball!, Logic Requires Asking Questions
Wow. So I’m mostly recovered from the fright that was Friday. None of my stuff has been recovered, to the best of my knowledge–but of course that’s….ugh. Also note that I haven’t shut off my blog–there’s interest. It’s working. So now it’s up to you: are you in, or are you out? If you’re out, you’re a BIG loser.
What I can add, however, on a positive note is that later that evening I checked my mail and in it were the books I’d ordered a couple weeks ago: a history of baseball’s exemption from antitrust law, and a biography of Thomas Becket, the latter of which I’ve had my eyes on for over a year and was waiting on the right price (which I got). I’m about halfway through the antitrust one, and let me say this: it is a special book. A combination of fascinating legal history with the great sport of baseball–makes me want to meet the author, who happens to teach at UCLA Law School. Hmmm. (Meanwhile the Dodgers, at 42-8 in their last 50 games, are having the best stretch of any team in 71 years–since World War II was raging!)
I want to say a few words here about trusts and monopolistic behavior. I think it’s essential to understanding the nature of the modern world, and I think it’s becoming particularly relevant as we see bigger and bigger business flourish, and smaller businesses (such as mine) struggle. And while I am not prone to confusing the economic with the political, there is a space where the two intersect, and that’s where this becomes relevant.
Trusts are combinations of businesses that are designed to control the entire market in any given item. There have been several notable examples in American history, most notably among them being Standard Oil, which was eventually broken up. Trusts are illegal under United States law, and–especially those that do business in multiple states, which now would mean nearly any business seeking to establish a trust–specifically under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
But trusts often are not as unambiguously evil on a day-to-day level as people assume. This is not to say they don’t have serious moral issues, but that the perception of them stems from how they are characterized by businesses that lose and by persons who themselves don’t engage in private enterprise. On the whole, trusts provide most items at a cheaper rate than businesses in competitive markets, and get them to consumers more rapidly. They are able to capitalize on economies of scale to lower prices. This is only true to an extent, however–once all competition is out the door, trusts have unlimited leeway to raise their own prices and break consumers’ bank accounts in the process.
The problem with trusts, then, lies not in their relationship to consumers. Consumers tend to benefit most directly from their existence. Instead it lies in the fact that by putting one business in complete control of an industry, you leave the drive for innovation at the door. They are in such a position that they will not seek to improve the product or their position unless forced to do so; and economic forces are unlikely to provide enough of an impetus, since they face no competition. Only public relations, political, and legal forces can make them do so–and these with decreasing frequency as a trust becomes tied to the governing bodies which allow it to continue in its anticompetitive position. More even than lacking innovation, trusts are often opposed to innovation, and seek to stifle it.
So trusts lead to stagnation. This is true both in the products they create and in the mentality that they foster–and I would argue that the latter is the more destructive form of the two. Over time, a culture of complacency and resistance to new ideas, harboring a position of prominence or preeminence in a society, becomes dangerous. The business may cease to be open to new ideas, but the world does not stop changing, and new and improved forces in other societies can bring old and stagnant ones down. Trusts do not carry the ability to see this, partially because they are so single-mindedly focused on dollars and cents that they do not care to see it. Trusts are also particularly ruthless when it comes to stamping out new entrants into their market of control; these are no angels.
One of my big concerns–and this is something I pointed out in The Bubble Boys–is that our university system carries a monopoly on the lives and time of its students. The same is true for our conventional secondary schooling system. The demand for meaningless credentials from second- and third-tier universities gives them completely arbitrary sway. The constant complaints about the ever-increasing costs of college education reflect an entrenched monopoly that has ceased to care about the product it offers and now feels it acceptable to line its own pockets at the expense of the middle and lower classes. Until you start to see it this way, you will never understand in the slightest the nature of the modern university.
But it gets a bit worse than this, in that universities are fostering ideas that are out of touch with reality, claiming they are innovating and yet really resisting new ideas. One look at the persistence of courses reading postmodernist French socialist literature can easily persuade the reader of the truth of this assertion; please do me a favor and if you haven’t done so, read a page or two of Foucault and/or Chomsky, then tell me that these men are not idiots masquerading as philosophers. (I will never teach these fools.) They are taking advantage of the perceived stupidity of others to use complicated language attempting to characterize themselves as intelligent, when in fact their pictures could be up next to the word “imbecile” in the dictionary.
When I’m asked what it is about my program that would make someone want to join, it’s the way I’m making use of technology, making use of the cheapness of the existing resources (most of the books are available for free online because they are in the public domain) and their newfound availability, which was not the case even a decade ago. And I see so much use for it, so many ways in which these ideas and these insights can lead every man and woman who encounters them to live a happier, more fulfilling, more successful life, that it is hard to believe how many people are being deluded by our current school system. There is no substitute for a Great Books education. None.
Here is a list of organizations whose immediate and unconsidered discard of my ideas mean you should not use them for any purpose: Huntington Learning Center; Sylvan; Kumon; The Great Books Foundation; Hawthorne High School; all homeschooling organizations on the following list: http://www.home-school.com/groups/CA.html; and Oaks Christian High School. These are all I can remember for now.