Post-Scarcity Princeton, or, Reading between the lines of PAW for prospective Princeton students, or, the Health Risks of Heart Disease

In memory of Robin Rochlin Cooperman, Princeton '86, October 7, 1963 - June 2, 2010

* Introduction
* One motivation for writing (or reading) this essay
* On "quality" in a university setting, and a sketchy map of the landscape of this essay
* A taste of Post-Scarcity
* Some economic numbers related to Post-Scarcity
* Recruitment in an emerging Post-Scarcity world
* Using PAW for mythological analysis, or Goldilocks and the three PAWs: Too easy, too hard, and just right
* What does "post-scarcity" mean exactly, anyway?
* A history lesson: pre-scarcity times (Eden), then scarcity times (Dickens), then post-scarcity times (real soon now)
* Making the whole world into Princeton University, or how Princeton locally stands in the way of Princeton globally :-)
* How might a "post-scarcity" society really work?
* The "what and how" versus "why" of the PU brand's current dismal situation
* What's really the problem with the Princeton University brand?
* Rethinking the mythological scaffolding of the Princeton community
* The "how" versus "why" of the failure of the PU PhD system
* The "how" versus "why" of being a happy intellectual
* This essay is all about sex and money :-)
* More about moving beyond money
* The need for balance even with a new mythology of abundance
* Paradoxical suggestions for the prospective undergraduate intellectual
* The "how" versus "why" of the cost of Princeton
* A Modest Proposal for the use of Princeton's assets for the maximal public education
* Objections to the Modest Proposal
* The Heart of the Matter
* A digression on some aspects of my relationship to the Princeton University community and "trade skill"
* Resuming our Polemic, and considering an even bigger picture
* Another Proposal, the Lewis Center for Post-Scarcity Studies and Economic Transcendence
* Some comments on the PU Economics department and related research directions from a post-scarcity perspective
* Collateral damage
* On sexism, feminism, pseudofeminism, dignity, and current parenting issues
* Generalizing the theme of sexism and racism to general alienation at PU
* PU as an internment camp?
* Worrying about extreme alienation and extreme security distracts from considering routine alienation and routine security
* A fateful memo about too many books
* PU and a mainstream alumni network versus the Patch Adams vision of healthy communities
* A digression on racism, class, power, diversity and my first years at college at SUNY SB before transferring to PU
* Elaborating further on racism and sexism as just forms of alienation, and hope for something better
* Lyme disease as an example of the failure of the PU and capitalist world view
* People and the "Risky Business" of personal and institutional and societal transformation
* Moving beyond competitiveness towards cooperation at PU
* Princeton University Freecycle Transportation Network -- an internet of physical packages
* More motivation for PU to move towards Freecycling and openness and post-scarcity ideals
* The Abolition of the Princeton University Band
* Reducing competition both on and off campus, or, dignity at the end of life
* A change of heart is always possible (at least, metaphorically)
* Dedication
* About the Author
* Or maybe...
* In Memory of Robin Rochlin Cooperman
* A Note on Origins of Post-Scarcity Princeton
* License

Note: here is a much shortened form of this book which focuses only on the post-scarcity issues:


No one else can give me the meaning of my life; it is something I alone can make. The meaning is not something predetermined which simply unfolds; I help both to create it and to discover it, and this is a continuing process, not a once-and-for-all.
--Milton Mayeroff, from On Caring

Wikipedia. GNU/Linux. WordNet. Google. These things were not on the visible horizon to most of us even as little as twenty years ago. Now they have remade huge aspects of how we live. Are these free-to-the-user informational products and services all there is to be on the internet or are they the tip of a metaphorical iceberg of free stuff and free services that is heading our way? Or even, via projects like the RepRap 3D printer under development, are free physical objects someday heading into our homes? If a "post-scarcity" iceberg is coming, are our older scarcity-oriented social institutions prepared to survive it? Or like the Titanic, will these social institutions sink once the full force of the iceberg contacts them? And will they start taking on water even if just dinged by little chunks of sea ice like the cheap $100 laptops that are ahead of the main iceberg? Or, generalizing on Mayeroff's theme, will people have the courage to discover and create new meanings for old institutions they care about as a continuing process?

These four projects all represent post-scarcity trends relating to a small local investment yielding huge results globally. A few million US dollars on Wikipedia turned into millions of person-hours of global labor (taken mostly from TV viewing) to yield a global multi-lingual resource that is changing the face of education worldwide. A college student (and grandson of a poet) named Linus Torvalds developed Linux in Finland, and, along with others' contributions (both volunteer and done while on payrolls), that free software now makes possible huge server farms and huge supercomputers (which previously were slowed by the inability to customize proprietary software, as well as essentially a tax per CPU); those supercomputers are promising all sorts of wonders including new medicines. A few million dollars spent developing WordNet at Princeton has led to a "cognitive revolution" in software that can process text. GNU/Linux and WordNet together made possible Google as it is now. While Google may have annual operating costs in the billions of dollars, it is saving trillions of dollars worth of time spent researching, and it is also improving the quality and timeliness of information used to make important decisions globally. In each case, a relatively small initial investment has produced enormous global benefits. Encyclopedic knowledge is no longer scarce. End-user modifiable software is no longer scarce. The ability to intelligently process text is no longer scarce. Timely answers to certain questions are no longer scarce.

And those trends continue to the point where, say, for *only* US$600 billion (plus some more for communications infrastructure in some places) everyone on the planet can have a personal laptop with access to all these services and others, including free-to-the-user voice communications. US$600 billion is about a fifth of the current projected total cost of the Iraq war. And if a family shares one laptop, this might only cost about $200 billion, or about the size to a recent mailing of "rebate" checks to US Americans intended to prevent recession. And the potential benefits of a connected planet to help everyone become prosperous together in a diverse and democratic way is enormous. Even just one breakthrough innovation, like, say, a general cure for cancer, developed by, say, a woman in Africa studying pond water who might otherwise not have received an education, might pay back that $200 billion investment a hundred fold. And, if $200 billion still sounds too expensive right now for a chance at world peace and prosperity, extrapolating from Moore's law, in another ten years, it might only cost US$20 billion ($10/laptop) to give every family such a laptop. And in ten years after that, US$2 billion ($1/laptop, same as some electronic greeting cards now integrating paper, printing, and circuitry). Or, essentially, at that point twenty years from now, the laptops are free, compared to the benefits and other cost savings (like not needing to mail paper as often).

And, as will be mentioned later, everything that digital computing touches is seeing falling cost trends. Even food, despite the current grim news of food shortages from speculation, can and will get cheaper through agricultural robots and precision farming, and with another benefit of less environmental impact.
These exponential trends in rising capacity and dropping costs illustrate a very different future than the increasingly competitive gloom and doom ones most conventional economists tend to paint for the short term. They even suggest a future where money itself may be less and less important as a control system for day-to-day activities. As Ray Kurzweil puts it:

Most technology forecasts ignore altogether this "historical exponential view" of technological progress. That is why people tend to overestimate what can be achieved in the short term (because we tend to leave out necessary details), but underestimate what can be achieved in the long term (because the exponential growth is ignored).

We are witnessing a historic end to scarcity of many things (maybe not all, but enough to be a new global Renaissance). But is Princeton University helping prepare either students or the rest of society for these changes? Or is it instead an institution under stress, crashing into these trends instead of moving with them? Or is it perhaps conflicted in how it sees itself and its future, and so trying to do both these conflicting approaches at once? :-)

So, here is some advice to prospective Princeton University (PU) students based on reading between the lines of the current (May 14, 2008) issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW). And maybe it offers some advice for PU administrators and trustees too. And maybe even some alumni might get something out of it, as it brings up global trends related to an emerging post-scarcity society. But many others may find it of interest even if they have never heard of, say, Nassau Hall (where the office of the PU president is). I am sorry that to even begin to expose the scarcity-related (and other) mythology interwoven in only a few selected PAW articles, it has taken me about four times as many pages as the entire issue. :-( And all this is without even looking at the ads or class notes. :-)

The fundamental issue considered in this essay is how an emerging post-scarcity society affects the mythology by which Princeton University defines its "brand", both as an educational institution and as an alumni community.

Here is another earlier and more abstract essay by me on post-scarcity ideas in relation to universities:
    "The true cost of a Princeton-style education in the OLPC era"
It also includes a little more of the theory behind these ideas. That essay is about one-twentieth the size of this one and might be a better choice to read for those daunted by the length of this essay, or the personal nature of parts of it, or the interwoven rebuttal of PAW's thoughtless choice of entitling an article "Jumping from the Ivory Tower", or the other Princeton-specific references.

One motivation for writing (or reading) this essay

I have written on these post-scarcity topics before. The biggest single motivation for the organization of this specific essay is the PAW article on "Jumping From the Ivory Tower".

Is that title going to bring up echoes of this controversy?
    "Automaker agrees to changes after meeting with suicide prevention group that objected to spot showing fired robot jumping off bridge."

The robot is shown forced to take a number of menial jobs, including holding a speaker at a fast-food drive through and becoming upset enough [by repeated failure at them] to throw itself off a bridge.
(I won't link to the video, which contains a graphic image of leaping from a bridge.)

That PAW article title was selected only a little over a year after this statement by a recent Princeton University alumna on behalf of her family:
    "Cho family statement"

On behalf of our family, we are so deeply sorry for the devastation my brother has caused. No words can express our sadness that 32 innocent people lost their lives this week in such a terrible, senseless tragedy. We are heartbroken. We grieve alongside the families, the Virginia Tech community, our State of Virginia, and the rest of the nation. And, the world. ... We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless and lost. This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn't know this person. ... There is much justified anger and disbelief at what my brother did, and a lot of questions are left unanswered. Our family will continue to cooperate fully and do whatever we can to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened. We have many unanswered questions as well.

With Princeton-praising articles titled "Jumping From the Ivory Tower", it seems like PAW is not helping answer these deep questions. If anything, PAW is helping bury them under inappropriate humor. This essay is not intended in any way to condone violence or the abdication of personal responsibility. But it is intended to help understand some of these issues of suicide and alienation in a university context, and to make suggestions for improvements to the social part of these issues. It even tries to use humor in relation to suicide and morbid themes a bit more appropriately (satirically about PU in this case, discussing options like its voluntary peaceful self-dissolution to help a billion poor children get an education, or its metaphorical death and rebirth as an agent of global economic transcendence to a post-scarcity society of abundance for all). It is always easier to destroy than to create, so this essay includes some specific suggestions for improving the situation at Princeton University, which is a mythologically troubled institution (even as it is filled with many wonderful and caring people).

Like how the Cho family describes Virginia Tech, PU also is filled with people with "so much love, talent and gifts to offer". Even the brother of Sun-Kyung Cho '04, Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, might have been able to develop his capacities for love further in a different context, whether he ultimately committed suicide or not, and whether he ultimately took others with him or not. We can, and should, ask how we can create institutions that help everyone in them become healthier, more loving, more charitable, more hopeful, more caring (even as they may be dying or even if they are tragically taking others with them). The last word on almost all airplane crash cockpit voice recorders is the same -- "Shit!" -- usually after the pilots' calm struggle for minutes with a seemingly impossible situation like trying to get an airplane with a multiple failing engines over a mountain -- they don't give up even when the task seems impossible. But those are just the aircraft tragedies, the same training helps pilots fly millions of safe and comfortable air miles.

We should also ask how we can create institutions which even help everyone in them become even more faithful in the sense of believing at least in values like health, love, charity, hope, community, and caring. As I say later in this essay, it is part of the human condition to have faith in something (even if it is faith in faithlessness).

That kind of deep questioning might help avert some extreme incidents, or it might even perhaps help bring some little peace to the Cho family someday. But a more important reason to ask those hard questions is to make life day-to-day better for everyone. The most extreme incidents are a bit like strobe light pulses illuminating for an instant in stark relief what is going on all the time. Ultimately, as sad and tragic as extreme incidents are, people die all the time around universities for all sorts of reasons, usually accidents or addictions or health issues. Consider:
    "Top 20 Causes of Death - Young Adult (20 - 24)"
That table suggest the roadway system is the biggest single predator of young lives in the USA (about 5700 a year), although murder (about 3300 a year) and suicide (about 2500 a year) come next. I don't mean to deny or minimize the grief all involved at Virginia Tech feel on a personal basis, but as a percentage of annual deaths, 33 deaths is 0.17% of the annual number of around 19000 in that age range. So, that tragedy is illuminating, but these numbers show the folly of focusing too many resources on preventing that one type of very rare incident.

Roadways can be made safer by looking at the issues surrounding automotive tragedies, including the rare multiple fatality incidents on the roadway, even if that does not help any with a tragedy that happened. With many accidents in cars correlated with a driver getting behind the wheel upset (or getting that way afterwards), even on the roadway helping with emotional issues make a difference (or coming up with ways emotional issue don't effect driving safety).
    "Anger on the road"
    "Study finds emotional upset linked to accidents"
In that sense, a pleasant drive is a safer drive. But more than that, when you really look deeper at the whole notion of transportation you might think of things like self-driving cars as at PU or other rapid transit concepts as elsewhere including automated deliveries. Just think, for example, of all the lives is saving on the roads from trips not made to the local store. Ideas may appear that make life *better* for everybody (even those who don't drive), not just safer for a few who might otherwise be involved in automotive tragedies relative to some number of millions of miles driven.
    "Accidental Deaths - United States - 1999-2003 -- [Motor Vehicle -- 1.3 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles]"

I'd suggest the same may happen if we look deeply and creatively and life-affirmingly at issues affecting murder and suicide at universities and take helpful action on the findings -- that life might get better for *everyone* on and around campus. This essay does not in any way explore the specifics of the Virginia Tech incident. But, that incident did in a sense illuminate for an instant the landscape this essay explores, and an awareness of that tragedy was an aspect of my motivation to write this essay in relation to the PAW article.

This essay mainly uses the illumination from some tragedies I saw myself related to PU (although there are other tragedies in here too). But to counterbalance those tragedies, I also point out specific examples of caring people at PU, as well as try to add in a bit of humor (so think of this is a bit of a tragicomedy). This essay is sad at times and hopeful at times -- like my own personality. :-) And oftentimes, this essay tries to be both sad and hopeful at the same time. That's part of humor sometimes too.

Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vita bella) is a 1997 Italian language film which tells the story of a Jewish Italian, Guido Orefice (played by Roberto Benigni, who also directed and co-wrote the film), who must learn how to use his fertile imagination to help his son survive their internment in a Nazi concentration camp.

By the way, for anyone reading this who is feeling suicidal, or who even just has a friend or loved one who might be, one resource is:
    "If you are suicidal, read this first"

You can survive suicidal feelings if you do either of two things: (1) find a way to reduce your pain, or (2) find a way to increase your coping resources. Both are possible.

That web page also includes free hotline numbers, other suggestions, and some links. Or this general Google search would lead you to many others, just to show all the good people out there willing to help:
    "Results 1 - 10 of about 1,810,000 for suicide prevention. (0.10 seconds)"

And for anyone feeling homicidal or war-like in regards to others, or if you know someone who might be, this book is a good resource for alternatives to killing anyone:
    "Creating True Peace : Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World" by Thich Nhat Hanh

Sometime, people who cannot find any way to resolve a problem with someone else are tempted to eliminate the problem by eliminating the other person. They wish the other person would just go away, die, or disappear. That desire may be strong enough to lead them to kill. Killing another person is not an act of freedom but an act of despair and great ignorance; it will not bring freedom or peace. (page 92)
Our enemy is never another person; our enemy is the wrong perceptions and suffering within him, within her [or sometime even within ourselves about them]. When a doctor sees a person who is suffering, he [or she] tries to identify the sickness within the patient to remove it. He [or she] does not try to kill his patient. The role of the doctor is not to kill people but to cure the illness within them. It is the same with a person who had suffered so much and who has been making you suffer -- the solution is not to kill him [or her] but to try to relieve him [or her] of his [or her] suffering. This is the guidance of our spiritual teachers. It is the practice of understanding and love. In order to truly love, we must first understand. (pages 89-90)
All of us can practice nonviolence. We begin by recognizing that, in the depths of our consciousness, we have both the seeds of compassion and the seeds of violence. We become aware that our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of mindfulness, and also seeds of ignorance, fear, and hatred. We realize that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or compassion, depending o the strength of those seeds within us. When the seeds of anger, violence, and fear are watered in us several times a day, they will grow stronger. Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and we make those around us suffer. Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion, and understanding in us everyday, those seeds will become stronger, and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker. We know that if we water the seeds of anger, violence, and fear within us, we will lose our peace and our stability. We will suffer and we will make those around us suffer. But if we cultivate the seeds of compassion, we nourish peace within us and around us. With this understanding, we are already on the path of creating peace. (Pages 1-2)

And for those who are parents and trying to find ideas to apply in your home to raise peaceful and happy children, perhaps the single most illuminating thing I have learned about peaceful parenting is the difference between "authoritarian", "authoritative", "permissive", and "neglectful" parenting behaviors:
All parents are each of these four types at times, but what matters is the relative proportions in relation to the situation and the child's own growth. And matches of personality between parents and child also a big issue, with each parent personality and child personality matchup having its own unique issues as parents try to build on their strengths and accommodate their weaknesses:
And, as with a critical reviewer of Thich Nhat Hanh (mentioned below) who says Thich Nhat Hanh overstates his case, it is the tension between these first three which can make it hard to find a path of peace in Western society. It doesn't help that US society (including the workplace) generally is often both parent-unfriendly and child-unfriendly. This isn't meant to blame anyone, just to illuminate the landscape of how peaceful families grow.
    "Mister Rogers' How Families Grow"
There are other specific cultural problems in the USA right now, including praising absolute qualities ("you are smart") or accomplishments ("good job") instead of perhaps sometimes effort ("you must have tried hard"), progress ("you are getting smarter everyday") or specific aspects of results ("giving that present must have made that person feel happy"); see in general:
    "Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!""
It can also be harmful to label kids, even with positive labels like "creative", instead of approaching them as whole people who are continually growing and changing, in part by their own efforts. Another difficulty is isolated Western nuclear families without as many ties to relatives in different situations and of different ages to learn from or seek refuge in. General knowledge is obviously no substitute for practice; where do children and would-be parents get a chance to practice parenting skills in our society before they need them? These issues are all interwoven into later life happiness for children. It is not fair to pick out one and blame one person or one aspect of a culture for a tragedy. They are all interwoven (including personal choices).

One of my favorite cartoon images is of someone who slipped over a cliff, and who is holding on to a breaking branch above certain doom, an yet the person gazes in awe at a beautiful flower growing on the side of the cliff. We all die, what matters is how we live until then, including how we help others live until then.
    "Translators dying by the dozens in Iraq"
And we all make mistakes, sometime ones that hurt others.,_2001_attacks
But it is in the reflection on and admitting of mistakes, and resolving to do better, that the deeper healing begins.

Psychologists are beginning to realize the study of psychological pathology can only get you so far. Probably the same is true for the study of ethical pathology. Ultimately, it may be a better idea to build on strengths rather that try to remedy weaknesses. From:
    "Building human strength: psychology's forgotten mission" by Martin E.P. Seligman, APA President

We have discovered that there is a set of human strengths that are the most likely buffers against mental illness: courage, optimism, interpersonal skill, work ethic, hope, [humor, :-)] honesty and perseverance. Much of the task of prevention will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to foster these virtues in young people. Fifty years of working in a medical model on personal weakness and on the damaged brain has left the mental health professions ill-equipped to do effective prevention. We need massive research on human strength and virtue. We need practitioners to recognize that much of the best work they do is amplifying the strengths rather than repairing their patients' weaknesses. We need psychologists who work with families, schools, religious communities and corporations to emphasize their primary role of fostering strength.

I now see "Positive Psychology" was probably something I unconsciously hoped to find in the PU Psychology department a quarter century ago, but sadly I did not find much of it at an academic level (though there was some at a personal level, thankfully). So, while this essay does consider tragedies at PU, it does, following positive psychology, suggest some ways PU could build on some of its strengths both in engineering & science and in the liberal arts.

On "quality" in a university setting, and a sketchy map of the landscape of this essay

That robot in the controversial car company commercial was supposedly suicidal because "everyone at [a Big Car Company is] obsessed with quality". Sound like any university we know? What does "quality" mean anyway? How many dimensions does "quality" have? Let's try to go beyond an abstraction like Pirsig's metaphysics of quality:'s_metaphysics_of_quality
and, as it were, "name names".

Consider these aspects of a high-quality life (and so presumably also life with the least unnecessary pain and the most coping resources, granting that some pain in life is a given or even necessary for health or growth):
* joy,
* balance,
* community
* connectedness,
* rootedness,
* gentleness,
* collaborativeness,
* friendliness,
* peace,
* family,
* love,
* freedom,
* humor,
* community and humor integrated into all aspects of healing and wellness,
* wellness and healing integrated into all aspects of a community, and :-)
* the fact that people can like you exactly the way you are (Mr. Fred Rogers),
    at least, if you are not too much of a mean jerk: :-(
      "Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled" :-)

Are these all aspects of a quality experience at PU too? How much "quality" is in the PU experience by these various measures (both undergrad and grad)? And if we expect there to be an abundance of stuff to go around in the "future", why would we want to sacrifice any of these core humane values in the "now"?

Let's consider some specific tough questions about Princeton related to "quality" in the "now".
* Do, say, most people who start PU PhD programs usually get professorships?
* Does the typical person with, say, a degree in linguistics get to later do research on, say, the history of words after graduation?
* Do alumni who, say, endow professorships have long and joyful lives?
* Are donations doing unique good?
* Is there room for everyone, young and old, to give what they can to the local community and the global world?
* Are ethics integrated into science and engineering?
* Are the non-university surroundings strengthened in diversity and community by the university's presence?
* Are the students socializing Friday and Saturday nights in joyful settings promoting wellness and balance?
* Are PU assets producing the highest return in terms of people well educated globally?
Princeton is a complex institution, so there can be no definitive or easy answers to each of these questions. Still, this essay suggests that, more often than it should be, the answer to all of them is "No". So, I suggest, not only is Princeton conflicted about the "future", it even misses the "now". Which means it is time for serious change in how it sees itself.

Maybe, frankly, that's why "jumping from the Ivory Tower" is a little too realistic a problem for most PhD-granting academic communities. Or, as Leslie Farber suggests (below), why a life spent around PU might too often be spent just *thinking* about jumping from the Ivory Tower, either career-wise or really from Fine Tower? Why might that be? And might it get worse before it gets better unless strong action is taken?

There is also a mention in that PAW article of the term "post-academic". Maybe "post-academic" is not what the PU community should be talking about. Maybe a better thing to talk about is "post-scarcity"?

This essay (more like a short book by now) is written towards addressing both the issue of PU and "quality" (as it relates to "jumping from the ivory tower" in multiple senses) and also the issue of PU and "post-scarcity". These two issues are intertwined as well, for reasons this essay explores. And don't worry PU, this will be a narrative evaluation -- no letter grades here. Make of this what you will.

This essay is not a scholarly work. It is more a humorous (somewhat satirical) travelogue of a romp through a newly discovered island of ideas (myths, really) to which this issue of PAW has provided transportation, like the ship that brought the Swiss Family Robinson to their island. :-) Now that the essay is done, it seems more obvious how it could be structured to be clearer. I'll outline a map of that island of ideas for future explorers, but this essay remains as it is, and it will be up to real scholars to make better maps than I.

So, after the fact, I can now see how this essay would be better and shorter if I had just made a long list of myths many Princetonians live by, and then went through them one by one, to see just how true they are now including how much they are self-fulfilling prophecies, and then venture a guess how true the myths might be in a post-scarcity future or what might replace them. Some of the myths to explore might include:
* the value of competition vs. cooperation
* the value of individual success vs. collective success
* the value of excellence vs. joy
* the value of perfection vs. effectiveness
* the value of the market vs. a gift economy
* the value of materialism vs. voluntary simplicity and spirituality
* the value of reputation vs. playing the fool
* the value of self-censorship vs. free expression and personal growth through feedback
* the value of artificial scarcity vs. universal abundance
* science as truth vs. science as a faith
* external incentives vs. intrinsic motivation
* high anxiety vs. appropriate anxiety
* numerical grades vs. complex narratives
* technology as value-neutral vs. technology as embodying our values through what we build and research
* non-profit private rights vs. non-profit public responsibilities
* institutions as shadows of individuals vs. institutions as emergent beings
* the meaning in movement and ideas vs. the meaning in place or community
* knowing, dominating, and appreciating vs. caring for and being cared for
* classical views of academic intelligence vs. the value in a diversity of intelligences
And so on. Maybe these myths might be carefully captured in the wild from years of PAW or commencement speeches. :-) This essay does address a lot of these myths, just not in a coherent scholarly way. And I don't want to imply that these "vs." statements are mutually exclusive. One may well need some balance of, say, excellence and joy to have a happy and healthy life. Or even lots of both. :-)

I forget who said this: "Sometimes you need to go a long way out of your way to go a few steps correctly". Pogo?
Probably something I read in my class yearbook over two decades ago. [2018 update: Turns out I was probably hazily remembering and paraphrasing an Edward Albee "Zoo Story" quote from the 1986 PU yearbook...] Anyway, this essay is all those wrong steps. :-) But this work is freely licensed (see the end) so feel free to use it to help go a few steps correctly. :-) If I were to write it over, I'd try to be more upbeat about how PU was making steady progress towards a better future (from where it and our society was coming from). I hope someone can do that, and perhaps just show this essay is perhaps a dark shadow from the past.

The end result will be the diagnosis of mythological "heart disease" for the PU community, of which PAW articles like "Jumping from the Ivory Tower" are just a symptom (just like our current president in the USA is more a symptom of something wrong at the heart of the USA than the problem itself, given he could otherwise be easily impeached). If you ask any doctor about, say, heart disease, they would give you this typical advice (and I add what is in parentheses for keeping your mythological heart healthy, too :-):
* give up smoking (and competition),
* exercise regularly (especially your compassion, which studies show increases with practice),
* eat a healthy diet (and do good works and do joyful things),
* get the right amount of vitamin D from sunshine and supplements (and connect to the world around you in a balanced way),
* lose weight if you are physically obese (or give away money if you are financially obese), and
* have regular interactions with your health provider (and supportive community).

This essay goes into how to translate the parenthetical advice to a Princeton University context. :-) I also include a "Modest Proposal" for transforming PU into a post-scarcity organization, as well as a more realistic one, as as *starting* point for discussing these issues. It also seems to have turned into a bit of a memoir. :-)

As an incentive to perhaps get a few people in the current PU administration to skim this essay, I'll point out that this satire also has a section entitled: "The Abolition of the Princeton University Band". Or in other words, be careful what you wish for, you may get it. :-)

It has been pointed out to me since first writing this that the PU Band has curbed its excesses since I knew it in the 1980s, and, despite still having a fundamentally subversive voluntary and egalitarian nature, the Band has come to live more symbiotically with a compulsory and stratified university system and so is now flying under the University's radar so to speak:

So, to further tempt PU administrators to read this essay, I'll mention a few more issues it "resolves" for the university: :-)
* sustainability and greening,
* traffic and parking,
* the Robertson lawsuit ( ),
* Congress' interest in mandating spending down the endowment,
* the changing landscape for financial aid, and
* the university's relationship with the eating clubs.

Well, this essay doesn't actually address the last very well, but some conflicts require more poetry than prose to resolve (like in the movie the Yellow Submarine where Jeremy gives the chief Blue Meanie a rash of roses and a song in his/her/its heart via poetry), so maybe some of these people might be able to help more with the low intensity social conflict between the University and the eating clubs?

As one alumnus put it, this long essay is "Shakespearean". Thanks, Harold, I'll try not to let that go to my head. :-) And for the record, consider this essay as a vocal accompaniment arising to greet Harold's steady drumbeat of posting alternative views on TigerNet (PU's alumni mailing lists). You are an inspiration, Harold. Thank you for your persistence in the face of adversity. If this essay is of any value in the end to PU, also thank Harold "Happy Tiger" Helm '68 for his long lasting dedication to the higher ideals of the liberal arts. :-)

Or building on Harold's "Shakespearean" idea, this essay should perhaps instead start with:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

Although, for the purposes of this essay, you can take "fortune" to be the WordNet sense of "abundance", thus increasing the *irony* of that quote as it applies in a PU context. :-) Yes, I am suggesting Princeton University's deepest trouble is the coming world of "fortune" for all. :-) And PU can take up arms against that fortune for all, or PU can accept these metaphorical slings and arrows, be thankful for them, and change its mythology to help bring good fortune to an inclusive world.

A taste of Post-Scarcity

Capitalism is often it seems all about cost cutting. Why do people have such a hard time thinking about what happens as costs approach zero, even for improvements in quality? Or why do economists have a hard time understanding that many conventional economic equations may produce infinities as costs trend towards zero?

That's because any number divided by zero is infinity (except maybe zero itself. :-) You know all those "divide by zero" errors in economics simulators? Maybe they were telling us something?

Results 1 - 10 of about 18,000 for "divide by zero" economics.

An example:
    "The Long Tail: The Tragically Neglected Economics of Abundance"

I'm preparing for my talk on Long Tail economics at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conference in ten days, and I've run into a slight problem. The Long Tail is all about abundance: the economic effects of infinite shelf space. Unfortunately, neoclassical economics has virtually nothing to say about abundance. Indeed, the economics of abundance is almost exclusively the domain of extropians, a few other transhumanists, and science fiction writers. How can this be? Well, for starters the classic definition of economics is "the science of choice under scarcity". That's a warning sign right there. From Adam Smith on, economics has focused almost exclusively on behavior within constraints. My college textbook, Gregory Mankiw's otherwise excellent Principles of Economics, doesn't mention the word abundance. And for good reason: if you let the scarcity term in most economic equations go to nothing, you get all sorts of divide-by-zero problems. They basically blow up.

Also discussed here:
    "The (Needed) New Economics of Abundance"

So, any aspect of the economy which goes towards zero in cost, tends to make everything else also go to zero in cost (or infinite in abundance), whether zero cost food, zero cost energy, zero cost time, zero cost healthcare, or ... zero cost computing. Karl Marx and others talked about related (but not identical) ideas a long time ago.

And so, maybe more economists (especially at PU) need to start using a calculus of infinites, since infinity times anything is ... infinity. Well, that's true for infinity times anything except maybe zero, if, say, our global society chooses to blow itself up physically. :-( Is diverting our R&D resources to war really a better option than learning to share, and learning to use our collective imagination to make the world work abundantly for everyone, and thus learning to let those now obsolete neoclassical economic equations just blow up *numerically* instead of guiding our society to blow itself up physically fighting over artificial scarcity? :-)

See also:
    "The Myth of Scarcity"

Perhaps the single most devastating myth on earth is that of scarcity. ... The irony of this tragedy is that while people eagerly embrace the myth of scarcity with respect to everything which in reality is or could be abundant if we use our imagination, they ignore the one thing that is actually running out for humanity - TIME.

    "Battlestar Galactica vs. Star Trek [The choice is ours]"

Star Trek takes place in a world where all the ugly things about human existence have been erased. Interstellar globalization has brought us new technologies to make transportation and translation effortless. Machines called replicators can produce absolutely anything you want, so the economics of inequity are gone. The injuries of race and class and gender have been surmounted, if not forgotten altogether. Scarcity, borders, money, and culture have all ceased to exist. ... Galactica is sci-fi without that BS. Sci-fi with all the anger and stupidity and sadness that real people experience. Sci-fi without the conviction that we will conquer our own ugliness. Sci-fi for the age of peak oil and 9/11 and natural disasters compounded by climate change to the point where they can completely destroy major cities. Galactica's message is that unless we come to terms with our own history, we are doomed. Mankind created the Cylons to fight our wars and to do our grunt work for us. Eventually they rose up and wiped out 99.999% of us. This basic lesson is one we still haven't learned: that exploitation leads to exploitation, that if you oppress someone you sow the seeds of your own oppression. ... These days, Battlestar Galactica's warning that technology and progress will bring us to the brink of total annihilation is far more resonant than Star Trek's hope that technology and progress will solve all of our problems.

After an earlier version of this essay was up and people were skeptical that a post-scarcity economy is emerging, I issued a challenge on PU's Advocates and Skeptics mailing list to pick *any* industry and I would reply with a plausible way that digital computing can reduce the cost to near zero over the next few decades. :-) (I hoped. :-)

Here are what one person picked, along with my replies and some elaborations:

* "Aluminum smelting"

Generate the electricity with solar panels that are printed similarly to how computerized ink-jet printers print on paper:
Energy is the dominant cost there.

Printing solar panels to make cheap electricity to power aluminum smelting involved computers, both for design and to control the printers. That all reduces costs.

* "Steel refining"

I could say the same as Aluminum. But for variety, replace most of it with plastics. Grow the plastics as specially bred trees. Use supercomputers to design the new materials and the new DNA for the trees.

Designing new types of plastics and bioengineered trees to replace steel involves computers. That reduces costs.

* "Transportation of people"

In cities:
    "Personal rapid transit"

In rural areas:
    "Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering"

Suburbs perhaps best being demolished and returned to farmland? :-)

I know, you will object that these vehicles cost resources to build and operate? But what if energy is nearly free from those solar panels above and aluminum and steel-like substances are nearly free? See how all these trends start to interact?
    "[unrev-II] Singularity in twenty to forty years?"

Machines to guide vehicles involve computers. As I pointed out, those will be free or cheap if the other aspects are free and cheap, and the rest of this explains how they will. That all reduces costs.

People may suggest materials will still be expensive, but what about robot mining?
    "Robots Set To Change The Face Of Australian Mining"

We need to differentiate between the true energy, informational, time, and physical capital costs of doing things compared to a societally-defined acceptable "rent" a few may charge for access to resources.

And when robots make the robots, they are all cheap too. So. that all really reduces costs.

* "Water purification"

Currently in design:

LifeStraw™ is a simple device, still in a prototype phase, designed for those unfortunate people in the third world who do not have access to clean drinking water. The pipe is composed of two textile filters, followed by a chamber with beads impregnated with iodine.

And available for purchase:

At about an ounce in weight, this survival water filter straw takes out giardia. It will also make you the star of the backpacking trip with friends and colleagues. ... SuckUp Survival Water Filter Straw $9.79

And that's even without nanotech. This will only get cheaper and better as people at places like PU invent new materials (perhaps solar powered ones) to make these things filter better and last longer.

I wasn't kidding when I say later in the essay that dissolving Harvard would give everyone who is poor in the world clean water -- via one or two of these straws.

Granted, I don't know how long the straws can last. But that's the kind of research the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials is for, isn't it?

Water purification using nanotech (and the internet to spread the word about earlier cheap solutions) involves using computers. That reduces costs.

* "Construction"

Theoretically near free for materials:

And nearly free labor:
    "Could This Robot Build A House In A Day? California Engineer's Invention Could Roll Out Concrete Homes Starting This Year"

Construction using robots involves using computers. As does related structural and materials simulations. That reduces costs.

Granted, this area needs work. But hey, the PU's CE&OR graduate program twenty years ago didn't seem to want me to stick around in their graduate program. :-) Granted, I was less of a nice person then. :-(

* "Furniture"

Already essentially free:

Welcome! The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,383 groups with 5,173,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on "Browse Groups" above the search box. Have fun!

OK, I'm playing here, but really, you want free furniture there it is -- or just cruise by PU just after graduation. :-)

OK, another answer: if you are growing free genetically engineered plastic as above, then why not grow it into chairs directly instead of logs you need to cut? :-)

Furniture grown using programmable DNA involves computing, as does freecycling coordinated over the internet. How much furniture does the world need anyway? How much is just landfilled when it could be repaired if it was designed better and people had more "free time" to fix it for fun? That all reduces costs.

* "Shoes"

Already essentially free:

I just reprapped a left shoe. It cost me 30 pence...

A custom shoe was printed in 3D already for about US$0.60. (That is printing a new one, not reuse.) That involves computers. What more proof do you want for the possibility of cheap things -- shoes made to your dimensions for about a dollar right now. Granted, the materials need more work, which brings us back to structural and materials simulations, as above. That reduces costs.

* "Movie production"

This is already essentially free (for some definition of "movie"):

As with all of the above, people may object that I am discounting the value of people's time. But that is part of a point made later on. If things are easy or fun, motivating people to do them for their own sake is not very hard. Lots of people bake cakes, and the world could survive without cake (though it might be hard for some).

Movie are now produced and distributed "free to the user" using computers and computer-powered digital cameras. The people who make the movies generally do it for *fun* so the time is essentially free. That reduces costs.

* "Crop growth"

Agricultural plants are already free and self-replicating and powered by sun and rain. :-) And these self-replicating food plants have been the basis of most societal wealth through the past few thousand years. Our natural self-replicating capital of all sorts has sustained humanity for countless generations.

Self-replicating technical artifacts such as dogs, corn, and trees have been in use by humanity for thousands of years. While humans cannot lay credit to the original creation of such systems, they can claim the adaptation and selective breeding of these for defense, food, and building materials. In the past few millennia, many people have become dependent on technology that is not self-replicating. Primarily this technology involves fairly pure forms of metals, plastics, and crystals. These technologies have expanded the earth's human carrying capacity in the short term, but are not sustainable in the long term. Such technologies lack the closed resource cycles, independent operation, redundancy, and resiliency found in natural systems. A symptom of the use of such non-sustainable systems is the fear that a single problem (like Y2K) could cause a major disruption of life-support infrastructure in the developed world.

OK, how about asking who does the actually planting and harvesting and tilling? How about these agricultural robots from the 1970s sci-fi movie "Silent Running"?

I saw that movie, which contains both multiple murders and a suicide when I was around ten or so on TV (who knew then from the advertising?). And it has in various ways, for both good and bad, been a force in my life. If you do watch the movie, please remember at the end to identify with Dewey, not Lowell. :-( Or maybe you should identify with the filmmakers? :-) It's taken me myself decades to reach that point of view though.

Robots tending crops involve computers. Precision agriculture to reduce fertilizer and water use is only possible by computers. That all reduces costs.

And contrary to what some might say, water and artificial fertilizer just increase yields -- they are not strictly necessary, at least if you return the nutrients from "night soil" back to the land like China has been doing for 40 centuries.
Available here:

Professor King provides intriguing glimpses of Japan, China, Manchuria, and Korea, with information about the customs of the common people; utilization of waste; methods of irrigation, reforestation, and land reclamation; and the cultivation of rice, silk, and tea. An invaluable, profusely illustrated resource for organic gardeners, farmers, and conservationists. 249 illustrations.

Ground rock dust also make great fertilizer.
There are rocks everywhere. Some are better than others for this purpose, naturally.

* "Others?"

If you can think of something that eludes me in seeing how it can get cheap in a world trending post-scarcity, remember that I am only one person (granted echoing thousands of other voices I have read or learned of directly or indirectly). Imagine what would be possible if most of the people on campus at Princeton University and all the alumni decided to think about these issues too. :-) Just imagine...
    "YouTube - Imagine - John Lennon"
(More on that later.)

Maybe that's the best song to answer Silent Running's bittersweet ending?

Or maybe this satire by Frederick Pohl is more likely our future than scarcity? :-)

The Midas Plague" (originally published in Galaxy in 1954). In this new world of cheap energy, robots are overproducing the commodities enjoyed by mankind. So now the "poor" are forced to spend their lives in frantic consumption, trying to keep up with the robots' extravagant production, so that the "rich" can live lives of simplicity. This story deals with the life of a man named Morey Fry, who marries a girl from a higher class. She is unused to a life of consumption and it wears at their marriage.

Many capitalists, like members of any secular religion, still seem in denial about the trends Marx (and others) spotted long ago. The end is near for capitalism -- admittedly in part through its own success. :-) Some people end up that way too: :-(,_Jr.

If Jesus of Nazareth was anything, he was an extraordinary friend of the down-trodden, definitely a Liberal, whose advocacy on their behalf so infuriated the ultra-Conservative religious and political leaders of his day that they had him killed to prevent the public from hearing the very liberal teaching that you will see quoted abundantly in Jesus' own words on this web site!

Capitalism, like the USSR as the Berlin Wall came down, is already history. And all the stuff people have been saying with precise sounding economic numbers has not helped them predict its ongoing demise, just like the collapse of the USSR took the US government by surprise -- and studying the USSR was a major reason for the CIA's existence and high level of funding. Some in the CIA may have understood what was coming, but few listened to *them* either. :-)
As with this change, likely there will be no accountability, either. :-( But, in this case, I don't mind. :-)

For reference, as I learn more about this myself:
    "The CIA vindicated: the Soviet collapse was predicted"

Another reason [for incorrectly assuming no one at the CIA predicted the USSR's collapse] is that the intelligence community has indeed failed in other cases, and it is often easiest to paint with a broad brush. The most famous example is probably the intelligence community's failure to alert U.S. policymakers of the weakness of the Shah of Iran, the strength of his opponents, and, in particular, the support enjoyed by the Islamic fundamentalists. In that case, the evidence confirms that the failure occurred because the United States, in trying to maintain friendly relations with the Shah and the Iranian intelligence service, failed to develop independent sources of information within Iran. The Soviet case looks like the Iranian case -- Uncle Sam betting on the wrong horse -- and so people have assumed that it is the same.

Of course, that last line is callous and out of touch with reality (like the "Jumping from the Ivory Tower" article title) given that what the USA was "betting" on was controlling other people's lives outside the USA with state-terrorism like the Shah used.(%)

I'm sorry to be another bringer of the bad news to Princetonians that the capitalist world view is way out of date. :-( Our society is in the midst of transcending to something beyond it. Whatever any of us do. I do feel we can make a difference here and there though -- to represent the virtues we chose to believe in.
Still, there is something to be said for the time honored tradition of "shooting the messenger". :-(
It makes messengers take their work more seriously -- they are only going to deliver a message if it is really important. :-) Of course, I don't expect the people on top to do that, they are realists -- what would it accomplish? But no doubt, the same pettiness and cruelty that has so warped many capitalists and their minions will play out in other ways as it continues to resonate around the world and even into my own home. :-( As it does in places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib or for, that, matter, any prison, even a "Prison Planet" so many seemingly eagerly build.

Still, maybe we can ask, economics aside, what are the more deeply held values and virtues you see in the market or yourself? And maybe we can see how they would apply in a post-scarcity society? This essay does not explore that issue, but maybe as individuals we could?

(%) An ironic Iran-related disclosure about my family and me:
    "A rant on financial obesity and Project Virgle & an ironic disclosure :-)"
So, in some sense, you can thank the global intelligence community for my "free time" to do all this analysis work for them. :-) And, another benefit is that those same analysts who would have gotten fired for writing this can now spend all their time analyzing it to see what about it is totally off-base. :-)

No, I haven't met Mr. P. personally (avoiding rank here :-). But I know he sincerely means well (I think. :-)
    "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Of course, the same might be said of my own work. Time will tell. :-)

Another good free thing to come out of that work (by my wife):
    "Working with Stories in Your Community or Organization"
And for the record, my wife was always above board with what she was doing. And what intelligence agency would not have known about me? :-)

And even though this essay is all about personal growth, I won't speculate on what sort of person Mr. P. has become from his own trials and tribulations. A better one, I hope, as I have become. At eighteen, I thought all Iranians should be forced out of the USA for the hostage crisis (until I met one at PU, even though he kept throwing his knife into the ceiling tiles in the dorm). I'd have still been cheering on the current Iraq war and recommending even more flaming death as what those impudent Iraqis deserved for mishandling "our" oil. I would not be distinguishing between the people and their guards (let alone having compassion for even the guards). I was all for bombing the oil fields in Iraq in Gulf War I to teach them a lesson (which rightfully shocked my mother, whose house was firebombed during WWII and lost almost all her personal possessions like clothes then). People grow. Even famous or infamous or anonymous ones. :-)

My wife, by coincidence, is currently working on a study on "The future of volunteerism" for a non-profit consortium. Hint: a major issue is that volunteers don't have enough "free time". A post-scarcity society promises a lot more "free time" to volunteer. So, a lot of the issues relating to the emerging post scarcity-economy relate to transitioning from a mostly command economy (whether central government commands or market financial commands) to a mostly voluntary economy. And, in many ways, from child raising to elder care, the economy is mostly voluntary (even given some daycare and some nursing homes). A related idea is that most homes are currently heated with solar energy even when we say they are heated with oil, which would be pretty obvious if the Sun suddenly went out. So, while it seems like the "economy" is all about money, if you look at actual hours spent in activities, from voluntarily watching endless TV sitcoms (and commercials) as a "consumer" to voluntarily cleaning up vomit (and blood) as an "EMT", the economy is already, and always has been, mostly volunteer. It's just hard to see that sometimes unless you turn off the television.

Some economic numbers related to Post-Scarcity

About two to three billion people on the planet live in technological societies out of approaching seven billion people. That's a lot of capacity, even if the other half of the planet may have more social capital and ecological capital than industrial capital.

In the dollars everyone wants to talk about, the global economy is about US$60 trillion annually as a gross world product (GWP).
There are naturally problems focusing on money -- this is one alternative view:
    "Redefining Progress"

Or, per capita:

Gross world product (GWP) is the total gross national product of all the countries in the world. This also equals the total gross domestic product. See measures of national income and output for more details. The per capita GWP in 2000 was approximately $7,200 US dollars (USD). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in their Third Assessment Report (TAR), predicts a maximum per-capita gross world product in 2100 of approximately $140,000 (in year 2000 dollars). The IPCC reports a survey of "economic literature" as providing a maximum value of approximately $110,000 (2000 USD).

That's a lot of per-capita income projected ninety years from now. :-) But let's ignore it as "speculation" even if it is what this essay is about in some sense. That would make things too easy. Also it would be misleading, as it assumes our current economic structure would persist when everyone on the planet could essentially be a millionaire by today's standards. So, let's stick with the current GWP of US$60 trillion and assume in rises only slowly.

On that scale of a US$60 trillion annual GWP, none of the costs for the four projects above, even billions to operate Google per year, are even barely noticeable. That's all part of this issue of post-scarcity -- the costs to do big public digital works whether Google, WordNet, Mammalian Genetics Simulation, or anything else likely to be of breakthrough value are so trivial as to not be noticed. One billion dollars is 0.002% (rounded up) of GWP. Trivial. The entire venture capital sector in the USA is a laughable 0.06% of GWP.

A recent National Venture Capital Association survey found that majority (69%) of venture capitalists predict that VC investments in U.S. will level between $20-29 billion in 2007.

So, do we need to structure our *entire* global economy a certain way because Princetonians and others strongly control 0.06% of the money flow?

That makes no sense as a big picture. That's not even the tail wagging the dog. That's a flea wagging the dog. Naturally, it's still a flea that is a lot bigger than my own personal net worth. :-) Unless I count differently, like measured in free time. :-)

OK, the global equity market is a big thing too.

Estimates of the size of the world's capital market vary; the average of figures compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, Goldman Sachs, and Merrill Lynch place the total stock of global equities at roughly $33 trillion; global government bonds - $21 trillion; private sector bonds - $24 trillion.

That's US$78 trillion for all three together. But, that is still only a little over one year's global spending. So, while that is not a flea, it is still a tail wagging the dog if you consider global spending over twenty years.

As long as investors think in terms of private gain, not public gain, they will emphasize investments that can be the best guarded, not investments that maximize social returns they do not see on their balance sheet. Sometimes, as with Google, they can still make a lot of money, because the trillions in annual saving from Google (for time saved searching, and improved quality of results) leaves a lot of money falling off the table to grab some of somehow.

But if you don't need much funds, because you are frugal, or you are retired, or your parents support you as a student, then you can do whatever you want with your "free" time. :-)

Linux is a free Unix-type operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world. Developed under the GNU General Public License , the source code for Linux is freely available to everyone. [Find] out more about the operating system that is causing a revolution in the world of computers.

TV watching is consuming 2,000 Wikipedias per year:
    Mining the Cognitive Surplus

Shirky defines as a unit of attention "the Wikipedia": 100 million person-hours of thought. As a society we have been burning 2,000 Wikipedias per year watching mostly sitcoms.

A flow into foundations of $55 trillion is expected over the next 25 years:
    Is Open Source the Answer To Giving?

So. we are looking at about one year of global GWP going into foundations over the next 25 years. If something is worth doing as a digital public work, money is not the problem. Again, nor is time when "TV watching is consuming 2,000 Wikipedias per year". Mythology is the problem. Which is why I wrote this presumably ignored email around 2001: :-)
    "On funding digital public works "

So, what is even a *billion* hours of human work on those scales compared to sitcom viewing on TV? It is about 0.5% of the total hours devoted to sitcoms.

What is even a trillion dollars on this scale? Nothing.

I've seen an endless parade of articles reassuring the US public how "affordable" the Iraq war is as a percent of the USA's GDP -- a war now projected to cost three trillion dollars or more. If that exercise in fantasy and needless suffering and spawning terrorists is worth that much, then surely we can as a society spend much more than that on real investments in a happy future for everyone on the planet?

There is plenty of time and money for a massive number of massive projects. That we don't see so many projects has more to do with the economic mythology still dominant in our culture.

Again, the investment right now of US$600 billion that would give everyone on the planet a mesh-networked laptop is only 1% of just one year's global GWP. In ten years, as the GWP increases, and the laptop costs decrease, this will be less than 0.1% of GWP. Or, a trivial amount not even worth mentioning considering the potential benefits of reducing global want and ignorance. Well, it would reduce technical ignorance, as I suspect the social ignorance is on the other side in the "developed" world and the industrialized nations will actually get more out of it than the materially poor ones. :-) There would be some consumerist blowback no doubt as poor people became dissatisfied, which is why laptops for everyone is just the start of a transcendence beyond money, not the end of one.

One reason Google looks free is because, relative to how powerful computers are now for a little money, and relative to the $60 trillion global annual GWP, Google is *essentially* free to operate. :-) And Google search (along with the world wide web it indexes) enables trillions of dollars a year in cost savings and increased productivity and quality. My essays and emails would be effectively impossible without Google search or something similar (I know, I'm wide open for a joke here about the time people spend reading my emails actually reducing productivity. :-)

In twenty to thirty years (assuming continued exponential growth in technological capacity along the lines of Moore's law like price/performance, which most experts agree will happen),'s_law
likely even a $100 laptop computer in 2033 will be literally a million times faster than today (as the OLPC is approximately tens of thousands of times faster than an Apple II). At that point, you could hold the equivalent of all of today's Google physical computer equipment literally in your lap. :-) And likely, someone would be throwing one out to get something better, so if you "dumpster dived", you could get a "Google" of today's computing power for free. :-) By the way, that computer could likely hold all the surface internet of today in *RAM*. And if I turn out to be off by ten years, so what? I was off by two years here -- it still happened:
    "[unrev-II] The DKR hardware I'd like to make..."

I'd love to make a souped up version of this for OHS/DKR use: (Read about in May 2000 Popular Mechanics)
"Cybiko Introduces First Handheld Internet Wireless Entertainment System At Toy Fair 2000"

I predicted five years for the $100 rugged laptop, it took seven. Just by thinking about about a cheap playful toy and what it really meant for humanity as you follow Moore's law along. I don't see the predictions here as much different in approach, though they are broader and so likely to be fuzzier. And in the end somebody else did it, not me. Which is OK by me -- if they had only got the software better by not trying to dumb it down. :-(

As John Taylor Gatto puts it:

As soon as you break free of the orbit of received wisdom you have little trouble figuring out why, in the nature of things, government schools and those private schools which imitate the government model have to make most children dumb, allowing only a few to escape the trap. The problem stems from the structure of our economy and social organization. When you start with such pyramid-shaped givens and then ask yourself what kind of schooling they would require to maintain themselves, any mystery dissipates—these things are inhuman conspiracies all right, but not conspiracies of people against people, although circumstances make them appear so. School is a conflict pitting the needs of social machinery against the needs of the human spirit. It is a war of mechanism against flesh and blood, self-maintaining social mechanisms that only require human architects to get launched.
I'll bring this down to earth. Try to see that an intricately subordinated industrial/commercial system has only limited use for hundreds of millions of self-reliant, resourceful readers and critical thinkers. In an egalitarian, entrepreneurially based economy of confederated families like the one the Amish have or the Mondragon folk in the Basque region of Spain, any number of self-reliant people can be accommodated usefully, but not in a concentrated command-type economy like our own. Where on earth would they fit? In a great fanfare of moral fervor some years back, the Ford Motor Company opened the world's most productive auto engine plant in Chihuahua, Mexico. It insisted on hiring employees with 50 percent more school training than the Mexican norm of six years, but as time passed Ford removed its requirements and began to hire school dropouts, training them quite well in four to twelve weeks. The hype that education is essential to robot-like work was quietly abandoned. Our economy has no adequate outlet of expression for its artists, dancers, poets, painters, farmers, filmmakers, wildcat business people, handcraft workers, whiskey makers, intellectuals, or a thousand other useful human enterprises—no outlet except corporate work or fringe slots on the periphery of things. Unless you do "creative" work the company way, you run afoul of a host of laws and regulations put on the books to control the dangerous products of imagination which can never be safely tolerated by a centralized command system.

So, even with the best of constructivist intentions, the OLPC project, filled with people steeped in these traditions, went wrong in underestimating what kids can and will learn if they want to be part of a global community. :-( If they had just said -- "here run any GNU/Linux application you want, you decide", maybe with a streamlined desktop, as was suggested by this article:
    "The OLPC Sugar Interface: Don't Do it"
the project would likely have been a bigger success (it is otherwise a tough call as a free software developer whether to invest in porting stuff just to it.) But, so what if some tens of millions spent on development of the first OLPC XO-1 was not 100% a success? That amount is nothing to $60 trillion a year in GWP. We can try that a thousand times as a development project and it still will be less than 1% of GWP. As an experiment, the XO-1 is a world changing success. Even if I find the two I have in some sense disappointing. But we are close to something amazing. To many amazing things. And some dangerous ones, of course.

Recruitment in an emerging Post-Scarcity world

Let's start from the heart of the matter these days, as always, for any quasi-military organization like academia needing cannon fodder: recruitment.

In The Republic Plato asserted that the state should take responsibility for training children from the age of three and that each citizen could be guided by the system towards an ideal conception of justice and into the social class and occupation best suited for him. Education had to be universalized so that all citizens could be effectively screened and placed. In this Plato was emphatic that it was the state's job to support and control schools and to make them compulsory. There was no question in Plato's mind that schools should be designed by the state to support the state. ...
Among those who saw the value to the State in controlling schools was Napoleon, who centralized all education bureaucracies in France and took complete control of education in the country.
"No one" it was decreed "may open a school or teach publicly unless he is a member of the imperial university and a graduate of one of its faculties ... No school may be set up outside the university and without the sanction of its head" ...the whole system was modeled on the military regime of its founder. The university, in fact, was organized like a regiment. The discipline was severe, and the teachers were subject to it as well as the scholars. When a teacher infringed any regulation and incurred censure, he was put under arrest. There was a uniform for all members of the university: a black robe with blue palms. The college was a miniature reproduction of the army. Each establishment was divided into companies with sergeants and corporals. Everything was done to the sound of the drum. It was soldiers and not men that were to be made.

Consider a prospective Princeton student evaluating whether an elite education at Princeton is a good investment of four years of her or his youth -- as well as a the direct expenses and indirect opportunity cost of lost wages. How should such a person evaluate the Princeton University "brand" these days, given, say, Donald Rumsfeld '54 as a PU poster boy?
    "Children Pay Cost of Iraq's Chaos"
And also, how should a bright student interested in a future of independent intellectual effort see a PU investment in relation to perhaps a future PhD and professorship if they stay on the academic track all the way? Is it worth it? Should they really sacrifice, say, creating their own personalized "brand" on their own in the internet age from day one, as opposed to trying to build a life under the Princeton "brand" and so perhaps follow in Donald Rumsfeld's footsteps?

Here is an analogous example of someone choosing to pass up working at Apple to continue developing their own personal brand:
    "Why I passed up the chance to work at Apple"
A visitor comment from that web site:

Apple has nothing on Cameron Moll. Sure, Apple is a wonderful brand. But where Apple is in the business of design, Cameron strikes me as one in the business of the art of design, and that may appear to be a subtle difference at first glance. But it isn't. ... You have built a brand for and of yourself, and I personally admire your accomplishment. I believe you describe an important self-discovery: you value the Cameron Moll brand more than you value the mighty Apple brand.

By coincidence (if such really exist? :-), such a prospective student need look no further that the current (May 14, 2008) issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (Cover story: "The new rules of financial aid"):
to understand how the "Princeton University" brand may need to be rethought in a collaborative GNU/Linux & Wikipedia internet age. Is it still advisable to align oneself with the historic Princeton University brand in an emerging post-scarcity society? Or, to be fair, to align one's personal brand with how that historic PU brand is now seen by the public, acknowledging there is always a lot going on at Princeton in different directions? I'd also suggest there are more alumni than just me who have stopped buying PU-related automobile window stickers (see below for more on that).

That choice of self-branding versus main-stream branding in the internet age is related to the idea of "post-scarcity". I will define that better later, but for now, let's just imagine a future where beer everywhere in the world is as easy to get anywhere as it is at Reunions after someone gives you a badge. :-) Or, a little more seriously, where you can print pizza as easily as you might print this web page. Examples:
    "Funny video of a person interacting with a future computer and printing pizza"
    "Printing sushi" (for real, sort of :-)

Prospectives probably know about such things, or will soon. The question is, does Nassau Hall know about them, and is Princeton ready for such prospectives and their concerns? As is suggested here:

Traveling through New Jersey in the late 1960s with two classmates from Harvard, Stephen Goheen stopped back home in Princeton, where his father, the president of Princeton University, invited the trio out to lunch. Cambridge, even more than Princeton, was gripped by antiwar protests and unrest. Stephen, who later would perform alternative service as a conscientious objector, recalls that his father asked all manner of questions. Afterward it dawned on him that the elder Goheen had been "conducting research. He was trying to learn what we were thinking." That was Robert Francis Goheen, always listening. ... He hired a young assistant professor from Harvard, Neil Rudenstine '56, as dean of students when he realized that nobody in Nassau Hall really had a clue about the late-'60s generation.

No, I'm not looking for that job. And in any case, I'm not "qualified" as I don't have a PhD. :-) The last time I was in Nassau Hall was about twenty years ago and a Dean was essentially telling me I should find a research institute to do creative research work related to sustainability and post-scarcity-related issues, not expect to do it at PU in a graduate program. :-( I'd not planned to ever set foot in there again, even though that Dean was 100% realistically right, maybe even helpful. And even if PU has come half way: :-)

But to be fair to everyone at PU at the time, I was not then the person I am now. I have grown. As I'm sure people at PU have grown. And the institution may have grown, if such is possible. Maybe someday I will set foot again in Nassau Hall as a visitor, just for curiosity or just to mark my own growth. :-) Also, as my wife says, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. :-)

Also, as I say here:

Where would I be if, for example, I did not recognize, despite the pain and trouble it caused me, the ultimate funny irony of people working in Von Neumann Hall (and surrounds) at Princeton having no interest in studying self-replicating systems? :-)
"Von Neumann also created the field of cellular automata without the aid of computers, constructing the first self-replicating automata with pencil and graph paper. The concept of a universal constructor was fleshed out in his posthumous work Theory of Self Reproducing Automata.[13] Von Neumann proved that the most effective way of performing large-scale mining operations such as mining an entire moon or asteroid belt would be by using self-replicating machines, taking advantage of their exponential growth."

Although John von Neumann's life is so complex and full of contradictions (whose isn't?) that they did have a lot of issues to chose from. :-) Maybe arms control was more important. And at least a handful of people there were thinking hard about green energy back then (even if the rest of the University thought they were nutty, if they thought of them at all :-).

Why am I am taking the time to write this essay as my alumni contribution then? Is it maybe just an "I told you so"? :-) Frankly, I'm *not* writing this essay out of much concern for Princeton University as an institution. I'm writing it mainly out of concern for the world my child will be living in twenty to thirty years from now (as well as maybe some general concern for the people themselves who make up PU as an institution). And I think that world would be a better one for my child if PU changed in ways that will coincidentally also interest prospectives right now, as well as help current faculty, staff, students, and alumni (since the changes might help everybody). Make what you will of that.

People who read this might rightfully say I am at the very least somewhat "bitter". OK, I won't disagree. What you have to really ask is, am I an isolated case? And if there are many bitter like me, then why?

The rest of this essay considers what, reading between the lines, PAW is admitting about the declining value of the "Princeton University" brand these days and the related spread of "heart disease" (in the alienation sense) on campus and beyond. And it suggests why aligning oneself with that PU brand might lead both staff and students to eventually consider "Jumping from the Ivory Tower" (either consciously or unconsciously). :-( And it has the beginnings of ideas on how the PU brand might be renewed in a different direction.

But what high school student, let alone one busy enough to get into Princeton, would be likely to read through more than 700K of dry text, even if it might save their life? Maybe there needs to be some added motivation, since youth generally think they are immortal? :-) So, here are some "teasers" intended to appeal to late teen prospectives. :-) As fair warning, there is stuff about "prostitution" (both on and off campus) involving "money" in here. Mostly safe for "work" though -- well, sort of. :-) And, yes, with an essay this long, especially one touching on "jumping from the Ivory Tower", there is a murder mystery in here, too, but a very sad one. :-( One in which I myself may have had a role to play. :-(

And, I would expect all this talk of sex, some mixed with money, and also my personal admission of potential involvement with a possible murder :-( would stir up some controversy, enough to perhaps cause some troubles for myself. To quote the current US President, as he expressed his support and concern for the welfare for our brave and dedicated troops in Iraq (who in some ways are the most idealistic young men and women in the USA, or would be if we brought them home), "Bring them on". :-(
Oh, sorry, wrong quote. :-( Maybe I can find a better quote by Princeton's president about concern for the youth of the world? (We'll see. :-) Again, sorry, I would not want our youth to question the concern our current institutions have for their long term welfare, or should I? And some institutions clearly *are* concerned with people's long term well being, so no need to be too cynical:

More and more evidence suggests a relationship between the risk of cardiovascular disease and environmental and psychosocial factors. These factors include job strain, social isolation and personality traits. But more research is needed on how stress contributes to heart disease risk. We don't know if stress acts as an "independent" risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Acute and chronic stress may affect other risk factors and behaviors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.

Oh well, no doubt no matter what I say this essay will cause trouble for me. But if those young men and women can (in their minds) risk their lives for me, maybe I can risk most likely less for them -- even if they may not appreciate it at the moment. So, trying to be brave and self-serving at the same time, I'd appreciate it if someone could bring this essay to the attention of higher authorities at PU as grounds to kick me off Princeton University's TigerNet (which I have spent too much time on anyway, including writing this), as well as to revoke my diploma (which I see mostly as an embarrassment at this point), and also to suspend my "free" subscription to PAW (which serves as a constant reminder of my youthful indiscretion in not seeing past Earthly wealth and power). Thanks in advance. :-)

Think of this as a follow up to the classic movie about the Princeton admissions process called "Risky Business". :-) Why not supply prospective Princetonians with some fun involving sex, prostitution, lots of money, and maybe death, as in the movie? :-) OK, the death part isn't funny. :-( But some of the rest is hopefully funny, like any tragicomedy:

Tragicomedy refers to fictional works that blend aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy refers to a serious play with a happy ending.

It's been said that US American public suffers from seeing too few tragedies in the fictional media. Tragedies help keep us humble -- and out of places we shouldn't be, like Palmer lake (with a new Porsche). Or Iraq. Or technology and science-filled "Brave New World" dystopias filled with military robots and other nasties (more on that later). :-( Or, dare we even think it, maybe Princeton?

But with this serious non-fiction essay inspired in part by the current issue of PAW, the happy or tragic ending is still to be written -- hopefully a happy one helped along by at least some in the Princeton community.

Using PAW for mythological analysis, or Goldilocks and the three PAWs: Too easy, too hard, and just right

Let's find some PAW article as a starting point for analysis of Princeton's current mythology (meaning, the way it explains itself to itself) as an aid to seeing whether Princeton's values are aligned with an emerging post-scarcity society of abundance and security for all (along with "liberty and justice" of course).

OK, let's flip hopefully, to, say, lucky page 13, "Campus police seek approval to carry weapons".
Nope, that is just too easy to criticize. :-( "Great news, prospective students," the Orange Key guides can say, "the Princeton campus environment is now so intrinsically insecure it had to arm itself." :-( That would just be echoes of Amory Lovins and Brittle Power, but in a personal security way:

Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security is a 1982 book by Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, prepared originally as a Pentagon study, and re-released in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. The book argues that domestic energy infrastructure is very vulnerable to disruption, by accident or malice, often even more so than imported oil. A resilient energy system is feasible, costs less, works better, is favoured in the market, but is rejected by U.S. policy. In the preface to the 2001 edition, Lovins explains that these themes are still very current.

When I was in an engineering graduate program at PU, about twenty years ago, (actually it was the third time I was there after being an undergrad and, later, staff) I used to stay and chat with one of the uniformed officers who let me in when I came into the Engineering building late at night. He had quite a tale to tell about creeping fascism in the on-campus security. To the administration's credit, when I raised a concern about this with a PU dean, they may have taken it seriously because not long after there was a coincidental review of PU security issues. The music CD that officer recommended to me when I asked his opinion on music (when running into him by chance in a Nassau Street music shop) has become one of my favorites: Grover Washington, Jr: "The Best is Yet To Come". Maybe this was a hopeful choice for Princeton's future, especially coming from a man who used to tell me stories about the old Princeton town, when there were things for young kids to do on their own and the place felt more like a friendly neighborhood, and the sense of community and available options and strong role models kept young kids mostly out of trouble.

This was also before the University expanded into more and more aspects of everything "Princeton" as in the town. :-( Kind of like was feared in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".

Dolores informs Valiant that if the missing will is not found by midnight, a company called Cloverleaf Industries will be able to buy Toontown.

Except it actually happened in reality in some sense. :-( So, if the spirit of Toontown (no offense meant) is long gone (though perhaps also from larger social trends than just the University's operations), how can that great loss at least be retroactively justified by helping other towns elsewhere be happier and safer places -- in part by finding the "will" to do it?

Let's flip back to the beginning of PAW and try again to find a more challenging article that explains PU mythology.

Perhaps the president's letter on page 2, "A Library for Scientists" will do.
PU President Shirley Tilghman describes a new library that will replace several "isolated" departmental science libraries with one "scientific" library. According to her letter, the new library "will symbolize the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the work in these fields on our campus". The question is, where do you even begin to tell a university president so obviously proud of her new library that making science and engineering studies even more isolated from the humanities is the opposite of what Princeton University needs to do to survive as an ethically viable institution? And that splitting ethics from innovation was at the root cause of a lot of evil in the world in the past? There is a lot of talk of facilitating "interdisciplinary" work in her letter, but if you read between the lines, you'll see that the implication is it will be between different branches of science and engineering, not say, between biologists and sociologists, or mechanical engineers and historians.

In case Professor Tilghman has not noticed, there is a picture on page 21 of that same issue of PAW of a shark about to eat a Princetonian floating in DeNunzio Pool:
(I know the article refers to the Dillon pool, but I don't see how that pool is big enough and deep enough for a shark of that size. :-) Maybe she had better look into that? It can't be good PR under any circumstances, can it? I had not known PU's scientists had got that far in their shark breeding experiments as they are sometimes hard to keep in captivity (real scientists, not sharks. OK, that's just a joke, both are hard to keep in captivity. :-)
Still, are those PU scientists and engineers doing a good thing? Wouldn't it make it harder to recruit prospective talent for the PU swim team? Or are the sharks in DeNunzio part of some new training regime? Unless that is supposed to be a visiting Yalie about to get eaten? That seems a little harsh, even by intercollegiate competitive standards. :-(

Still, maybe rather that "make the world a better place through advances in scientific understanding", perhaps when you make an anti-social shark "smarter" (with or without the laser beam :-), what do you have except a bigger problem? :-(

For example:

So, in an effort to save their funding, they want to take one really good go at making this...serum? I don't remember, brain activating protein...stuff. So, they conduct their test on the shark. And it WORKS! Yay! Congratulations all around! These guys f--ing rule! And it's all parties and cupcakes until someone's arm gets eaten.


Some scientists are out in the middle of the ocean, trying to reproduce proteins in shark's brains. These proteins are the cure for Alzheimer's, and one character even gives a half-assed speech about how she's driven by memories of her father's mental illness. Well, to harvest more protein, that scientist makes the shark's brains four times bigger than normal and now the shark's are super-smart and eat all the scientists. Hooray.

I'm sorry to say that the internet consensus on PU's smarter sharks is that they are not a good idea. :-( Or maybe "Deep Blue Sea" was just a poorly made horror film. :-)

For a more serious take on this issue, consider:
    "Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?"

As someone who had spent time living around Navajo people once told me, the Navajo had a saying something like:

If you begin a thing with the right spirit, it is a success even if it fails. If you begin a thing with the wrong spirit, it is a failure even if it is a success.
That's not the sort of thing that would be possible to explain to many Princetonians. Was Kit Carson a PU alumnus, perhaps, figuring out the most efficient means of taking long walks? :-( So I won't even go there. Sadly, other than a splash of cold water or two, that divorce of science and engineering (and economics) from the humanities and ethics is a mythological idea so entrenched at PU and in our society that it is *way* too hard for me to address.

Perhaps our biggest danger as as society is in putting the *tools* (some being useful as weapons) of a post-scarcity civilization into the hands of scarcity-preoccupied minds. (Especially minds following outdated military dogmas like unilateral security instead of mutual security.) As Albert Einstein said, with the advent of atomic weapons, everything has changed but our thinking. And if nobody listens to Albert Einstein about this, why should they listen to me? Still, it's pretty clear Einstein was not suggesting our societal problems would be solved by getting Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science and Molecular Biology all together to work on more atomic weapons or smarter sharks, or even to fuse the two. Smarter sharks with laser guided nuclear weapons -- now that's an "interdisciplinary" idea to have PU students think about while enjoying the "tree house" (while it lasts, till the sharks learn to target it from DeNunzio Pool). :-( Or maybe smart armed sharks isn't such a good idea: :-)
    "Military Robot"
    "Killer Military Robots Pose Latest Threat To Humanity, Robotics Expert Warns"
    "Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering"
(Actually, I like the idea of self-driving cars, given the potential to reduce road accidents, free drivers to do other things en-route, or make possible driverless automated deliveries. So, I can respect that sort of work at Princeton if done in the right spirit and freely licensed, like, say, WordNet was. But you have to wonder when the military funds anything what their scarcity-oriented plans are.)

WordNet was developed at Princeton, and in the internet age is Princeton's greatest claim to fame (well, maybe other than Amazon :-):

WordNet® is a large lexical database of English, developed under the direction of George A. Miller. Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms (synsets), each expressing a distinct concept. Synsets are interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations. The resulting network of meaningfully related words and concepts can be navigated with the browser. WordNet is also freely and publicly available for download. WordNet's structure makes it a useful tool for computational linguistics and natural language processing.

Maybe someday free software for ethical cars and robots might be a claim to fame by Princeton, too? :-)

Ultimately, you can't reason without assumptions, including assumptions about what reasoning tools are valid or valuable. :-) And then you also need values and desires to direct your oh-so-feeble flashlight of reason in different directions in a larger murky mystery. Even PU's early attempts towards vehicle AI begin to deal with such issues -- like whether certain memories are valuable to hang on to versus painfully abandoning them in pursuit of a certain mission. :-) Like I'm asking alumni to do by writing this essay. :-) So, "assumptions", "reasoning tool preferences", "values", "desires" -- a lot of faith there through all those (in a sense) in any life -- even in a scientist or engineer who might claim to be an atheist. :-) All these help define your personal ethics whether the roots of them are store-bought or self-crafted. :-)

To be clear, what I am really pointing out is that needing to have "faith" in something (even in just the validity and usefulness of our perceptions and reason) is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, as is then needing to build on top of that faith. This isn't meant to tear down any specific faith, whether hand-made existential humanism or even, say, off-the-rack Roman Catholicism (there are far worse faiths out there in many ways, and why take away something that works for many unless they will get something much better in return, not the risk of nihilism, even though even *that* takes a leap of faith. :-)

Nihilism is often described as a belief in the nonexistence of truth. In its more extreme forms, such a belief is difficult to justify, because it contains a variation on the liar paradox: if it is true that truth does not exist, the statement "truth does not exist" is itself a truth, therefore showing itself to be inconsistent. A formally identical criticism has been leveled against relativism and the verifiability theory of meaning of logical positivism. A more sophisticated interpretation of the claim might be that while truth may exist, it is inaccessible in practice, but this leaves open the problem of how the nihilist has accessed it. It may be a reasonable reply that the nihilist has not accessed truth directly, but has come to the conclusion, based on past experience, that truth is ultimately unattainable within the confines of human circumstance. Thus, since nihilists believe they have learned that truth cannot be attained in this life, they look upon the activities of those rigorously seeking truth as futile. Of course one may add that nihilism is a self fulfilling prophecy, as without making any attempts to attain the truth one is presumably less likely to find it.

See also:
  "Thinking As A Hobby" by William Golding

While I was still a boy, I came to the conclusion that there were three grades of thinking; and since I was later to claim thinking as my hobby, I came to an even stranger conclusion-namely, that I myself could not think at all. ... Grade-two thinking, though it filled life with fun and excitement, did not make for content. To find out the deficiencies of our elders bolsters the young ego but does not make for personal security. I found that grade two was not only the power to point out contradictions. It took the swimmer some distance from the shore and left him there, out of his depth. I decided that Pontius Pilate was a typical grade-two thinker. "What is truth?" he said, a very common grade-two thought, "but one that is used always as the end of an argument instead of the beginning". There is still a higher grade of thought which says, "What is truth?" and sets out to find it. ... [Though Golding has more to say, even on the folly of grade one thinking, but I won't spoil his essay. :-)]

It would take someone more like, say, Langdon Winner to *really* know where to start:
But he's at RPI. Maybe in a pinch Professor Michael Mahoney at PU could fill in for Prof. Winner, as he assigned Winner's "Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought" at least when I took one of his courses. Of course, I did not bother to read it much until after I graduated. :-) Now I wish I had paid more attention in his class. So it is never too late to learn what PU humanities professors have to teach, and then pass on that new color of illumination to someone else as a gift, to help them complete their intellectual rainbow, and pass more colors onto others. Until the whole world is rainbows. Even for the sharks so badly maligned by that picture (as indicated by the scattered applause reported in Dillon when that animal was blown up in the movie). :-( See:

You can help save sharks by telling everyone you know to watch Sharkwater and spread the word. We need to give sharks a new image and make ocean conservation a part of our daily lives.
But the original movie "Jaws" shows the power of myth. Even though sharks pose only a small risk to humans in most cases, several species have now been hunted to almost extinction:
    "From the Jaws of Extinction"
The irony of the shark myth, according to Dr. Harvey, is that some species of sharks are being hunted to the point of extinction by humans, not the other way around. "Many species are at critically low levels and if we do not act immediately on their behalf, then entire marine ecosystems could collapse," Harvey explains.

So, where can I find something in PAW a little easier to discuss than essentially religion, but not as easy to discuss as getting more guns onto campus? I need something to chew on, not too hard, not too soft, to provide the main course of this essay. :-)

How about on page 12, "$25 million gift to strengthen engineering-liberal arts ties".
Sound like a promising Navajo start, with a heart setting off in the right direction. But towards the end of the article, a black hole shows up unexpectedly:

Security, for instance, includes traditional work in national defense as well as newer research topics like secure information technology and electronic voting.

Whoa, slow down there. The USA is in the middle of spending three trillion dollars (see below) on "traditional" national defense which is making everyone in the world less secure (just ask them), and some of this "engineering for a better world" money is to be added to that boiling-over pot?

Now there is a theme we can talk about: a secure and prosperous future for all on the planet and beyond, and how the Princeton community has perhaps lost sight of it. How could that future be achieved through bold and noble investments (by people who look as very happy as that donor from being able to give a gift to the world)?

So, what does the rest of the PAW issue say about whether the mythology guiding the Princeton community helps or hurts security and prosperity for all? Or even just professor wanna-bees?

Future security and prosperity is likely a major concern of prospective Princeton students these days, who are choosing whether to give the university the gift of their youth and presumed future allegiance. Is the "Princeton University" brand up to that challenge, as the social pendulum swings from "greed is good" back to "the love of money is the root of all evil"? How does the "Princeton University" brand interact with an emerging post-scarcity of abundance (of which GNU/Linux is just the beginning)?

Also, if Princeton's current mythology is a good one, then it should be reflected at least in a lot of happy intellectuals, like newly minted PhDs, right? We'll see. :-(

What does "post-scarcity" mean exactly, anyway?


Murphy's (First) Corollary: Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.

And also, to keep us humble:

Murphy's (Second) Corollary: Every solution breeds new problems.

The idea of "post-scarcity" is a central theme in this essay, so let's explore what that idea means.

It has nothing to do with "posts" being rare. :-)

And it has nothing to do with not getting enough mail from friends and family. :-)

The term "post-scarcity" means "after" scarcity. So it is about a world where most everything essential to human life is so common and easily obtainable that anyone can take practically as much as they would like without metering. An example now is how people can breathe as much air as they like (even if hyperventilation can give people a headache or much worse). Or at the beach anyone can drink as much sea water as they like (which isn't very good for you either, of course). Or, almost anyone with an internet connection can now surf to as many web pages as they like (which is not good for you either in excess).
Relative to individual human needs, the atmosphere, or the ocean, or free-to-the-user web page views are effectively infinite. Of course we may be polluting each of those three commons via industry, but that is a different issue.

What happens to society when most physical things ranging from automobiles to bicycles to computers to dentures to energy to food and so on to zirconia all become essentially free-to-the-user?

Some might suspect what I am talking about would be European "socialism" or Soviet-style "communism". But I'm not. I am talking about transcending those economic rationing and taxing and working issues altogether. And I am saying, as above, that this is a virtually unstoppable trend (short of cataclysmic war) that is happening with or without our individual involvement.

For reference, from Wikipedia on "socialism":

Socialism refers to the goal of a socio-economic system in which property and the distribution of wealth are subject to control by the community. This control may be either direct—exercised through popular collectives such as workers' councils—or indirect—exercised on behalf of the people by the state. As an economic system, socialism is often characterized by collective ownership of the means of production, goals which have been attributed to, and claimed by, a number of political parties and governments throughout history, due to this, socialism has been identified with communism mainly because the distribution of wealth is controlled as a whole and not individually.

For reference, from Wikipedia on "communism":

Communism is a socioeconomic structure that promotes the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the means of production. It is usually considered a branch of the broader socialist movement that draws on the various political and intellectual movements that trace their origins back to the work of theorists of the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. Communism attempts to offer an alternative to the problems believed to be inherent with capitalist economies and the legacy of imperialism and nationalism. Communism states that the only way to solve these problems would be for the working class, or proletariat, to replace the wealthy bourgeoisie, which is currently the ruling class, in order to establish a peaceful, free society, without classes, or government. The dominant forms of communism, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism and Luxemburgism, are based on Marxism, but non-Marxist versions of communism (such as Christian communism and anarchist communism) also exist and are growing in importance since the fall of the Soviet Union.

That's not to say, of course, that a lot of ideas in socialism don't make sense -- from using increases in the money supply as a "social credit" dividend to progressive taxes that equalize the rich-poor divide and produce public works. :-) It is possible to use laws to try to make a "market economy" work to meet some social goals (more on that later).

But I am really talking about something else than market-interactive socialism and the taxation it usually involves.

Also, one could perhaps draw parallels to "communism" as defined abstractly above, but still not at all to how communism has ever been put into practice, since "common ownership" generally translates to "strong state control of production by bureaucrats" and assigned "work" which is tightly supervised (even though it does not have to).

Still, yes, I shall admit, in a broad sense, I am asking Princetonians to think about communism and *beyond* (as in going beyond "work" and "school" as ideas, towards "play"), because "from each according to his or her abilities, to each according to his or her needs (or wants :-)" is happening right now in various ways -- even in the USA, and Princetonians can no longer stop it. So even if you have a visceral bad reaction to that idea, read on so you can think of ways to stop it. :-) But, as a hint, maybe you can't, and maybe you would not want to -- so essentially, there is not much of an alternative to heading these words sooner or later. :-) Other that blowing most of everything up, of course, as in "better dead that red", or is it, "read"? :-(

To see the difference (at least from anything tried recently :-) let's read together the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Princeton-related "This Side of Paradise",
where the main character, Amory Blain, toys with socialism. From the (free) text:

"Modern life," began Amory again, "changes no longer century by century, but year by year, ten times faster than it ever has before--populations doubling, civilizations unified more closely with other civilizations, economic interdependence, racial questions, and--we're _dawdling_ along. My idea is that we've got to go very much faster." ... If we had government ownership we'd have the best analytical business minds in the government working for something besides themselves. ... "Let me tell you" -- Amory became emphatic -- "if there were ten men insured against either wealth or starvation, and offered a green ribbon for five hours' work a day and a blue ribbon for ten hours' work a day, nine out of ten of them would be trying for the blue ribbon. That competitive instinct only wants a badge. If the size of their house is the badge they'll sweat their heads off for that. If it's only a blue ribbon, I damn near believe they'll work just as hard. They have in other ages." ... "How can they get it without taking it? For years people have been stalled off with promises. Socialism may not be progress, but the threat of the red flag is certainly the inspiring force of all reform. You've got to be sensational to get attention."

Amory Blain talks of going "faster", but does not talk about in which direction. Is he just trying to be another "catalyst for change"? :-(

Amory Blain raises competition as an organizing force, but we will see that Alfie Kohn suggests there are better ones (see the middle of this essay).

Amory Blain is mean to the chauffeur, but Tadodaho Chief Leon Shenandoah will show a way forward through gentleness (see the end of this essay).

Amory Blain also suggests government ownership of a centralized means of production, but what if much production was decentralized back to the neighborhood or household -- even for, say, couches or cars?

And what if everything was so cheap that who was to pay for it all stopped being an interesting question?

From Wikipedia ():

Post scarcity or post-scarcity describes a hypothetical form of economy or society, often explored in science fiction, in which things such as goods, services and information are free, or practically free. This would be due to an abundance of fundamental resources (matter, energy and intelligence), in conjunction with sophisticated automated systems capable of converting raw materials into finished goods, allowing manufacturing to be as easy as duplicating software.

Note that "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia" is itself a great example of the post-scarcity trend.

A history lesson: pre-scarcity times (Eden), then scarcity times (Dickens), then post-scarcity times (real soon now)

Humanity used to live in relative abundance with a few people with limited wants living on a big planet.
    "The Original Affluent Society" by Marshall Sahlins

Hunter-gatherers consume less energy per capita per year than any other group of human beings. Yet when you come to examine it the original affluent society was none other than the hunter's - in which all the people's material wants were easily satisfied. To accept that hunters are affluent is therefore to recognize that the present human condition of man slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times.

Let us call this time "pre-scarcity". Because of the very success of hunter-gatherers, their populations grew, and they got harder to feed. That was the beginning of scarcity. In desperation, people turned to agriculture. But it had problems. Humanity had to suffer the resulting worse nutrition from less diversity of sources. Human skeletons actually were shorter from the advent of agriculture until only reaching hunter-gatherer stature about this century.

For instance, the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago has commonly been seen as a major advancement in the course of human evolution. However, as Larsen provocatively shows, this change may not have been so positive. Compared to their hunter-gatherer ancestors, many early farmers suffered more disease, had to work harder, and endured a poorer quality of life due to poorer diets and more marginal living conditions. Moreover, the past 10,000 years have seen dramatic changes in the human physiognomy as a result of alterations in our diet and lifestyle. Some modern health problems, including obesity and chronic disease, may also have their roots in these earlier changes.

Populations grew even further and militaristic bureaucracies arose like hurricanes on a warming ocean.

As Marshall Sahlins suggests, then comes along "Modern Times":

Modern Times is a 1936 comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his famous Little Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization.

Let's call this time "scarcity" times. Those are what our recent ancestors lived through, and to an extent we are still living in now. All the things you have read about how certain things have gotten better from the 1800s and early industrialization are probably true.
But, they miss the big picture of the phase change transition from pre-scarcity hunter-gatherers (like the Hmong or Iroquois in older times) to a more scarcity-dominated agricultural and industrial way of life today for most people.

The Genesis story in the Christian Bible can be interpreted that way as well, as the story of rising populations resulting in part from hunter-gatherer success and increasing technical knowledge and social bureaucracy ending the happy hunter-gatherer days:

God forms Adam "from the dust of the ground...and man became a living being."[5] God sets the man in the Garden of Eden and permits him to eat of all the fruit within it, except that of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." God makes "every beast of the field and every bird of the air, ... and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name ... but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him." God causes the man to sleep, and makes a woman from one of his ribs, and the man awakes and names his companion Woman, "because she was taken out of Man."[6] "And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed."[7] The serpent tells the woman that she will not die if she eats the fruit of the tree: "When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[8] knowing good and evil." So the woman eats and gives to the man who also eats. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." God curses the serpent: "upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life;" the woman he punishes with pain in childbirth and with subordination to man: "your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you;" and the man he punishes with a life of toil: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground." The man names his wife Eve,[9] "because she was the mother of all living." "Behold," says God, "the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil," and expels the couple from Eden, "lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever." The gate of Eden is sealed by a cherub and a flaming sword "to guard the way to the tree of life."[10]

(I thank one of my homeschooling friends for reminding me of this Genesis parallel.)

What went before Genesis is apparently lost. But some of those older peoples still have more detailed stories about what life used to be like and in detail how awful that transition was from the freedom of hunting and gathering to the bondage of agriculture, or as Chaplin suggests, to industry. There were even rough times when agriculture finally started working well and populations grew and people invented industrialization. So it was worse than now in the time of Dickens, but if you go way, way back, to the times Sahlins talks about, certain aspects of life might have been better that they even are now (not all aspects, of course). For example, art, music, story-telling, poetry, dance, conversation, gift-giving, and child-rearing had a more central role in some of those hunter-gatherer societies than in many of the industrialized societies of today. Those are the kind of things people tend to do when they have idle time. :-)

Trends towards increasing per capita production relative to wants still continue, made possible by the very success of industrialization and the growth of shared knowledge, like by the internet. People are also developing robots and 3D printing, plus all sorts of other new things like easy-to-make solar panels. Those systems are potentially so productive that only a few people might be able to provide much for all. Or everyone might only have to labor just a little to get a lot. At some point, industrialized goods, including cars, electricity, computers, and even eventually food may become so easy to get they are no longer scarce. Someday, people will not have to spend much time thinking about them or spend much effort to get them. Essentially, we return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but instead of picking fruit off the trees, we pick it from our robotically-stocked refrigerator. Instead of making tools from stones, we might print them using a 3D printer. All those trends are happening now, from how Amazon ships books now or soon:
    "Filling Amazon's Tall Orders"
    "Smart Warehouse Technology - Automatic Guided Vehicles"
    "Warehouse & Distribution Systems"
to how WoW custom figurines get made:
    "WOW 3D Printer Application - FigurePrints"
    "How 3-D Printing Figures To Turn Web Worlds Real"

Here are links to today's early 3D printers, both commercial/proprietary and F/OSS:

And here is a blog about them:

And here is a a related but broader "Fab Lab" approach:

Fab Lab is an abbreviation for Fabrication Laboratory. It is a group of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools, wrapped in open source software and programs written by researchers at the Center for Bits and Atoms. Currently the labs include a laser cutter that makes 2D and 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots in copper to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers. MIT has additionally written a Computer-Aided Machinery (CAM) program that can read all of the different kinds of ways that people describe things digitally and turn them into tool paths for all of the different ways it's possible to make them. Researchers have written another program for Fab Labs which helps users share their files and experiences as they work, so that users can teach each other rather than relying on a fixed curriculum: Fab Labs are evolving as our research evolves. A full Fab Lab currently costs about $25,000 in equipment and materials without MIT's involvement. It is a rapid prototyping platform, and as such is meant to encourage local entrepreneurs to take their own ideas from the drawing board to prototypes to starting local micro businesses, Fab Lab also teaches users critical skills in computing, electronics, programming, and CAD/CAM fabrication techniques--a set of internationally recognized skills. It is additionally a platform from which a community's technical challenges can be shared with an international roster of engineers, who can help problem solve and design solutions for the community. In return for the involvement of trained engineers with the community, engineers have an opportunity to work on real life design problems faced by large, under-served communities at the lower end of the consumer market.

All are just the beginning of a "personal fabrication" revolution. This is what prospective Princeton students might have access to *now*. What will they have access to twenty years from now when that prospective is in the middle of his or her career? Consider, for example, the difference in quality between the output of a 1980s dot matrix printer and a color inkjet printer of today (2008). There are huge differences in output resolution, color availability, quietness, ease-of-use, non-fanfold paper handling, and so on. And they are cheaper now, or even come free with computers. So, we might expect that with continued innovation that MIT's "fab lab" capabilities may be nearly free in twenty to thirty years too.

What is coming could be termed "post-scarcity" as it is the time after scarcity issues dominate our thinking and our politics. Not everyone agrees on the meaning of the term 100%, but the general outline of abundance for all with little "work" is clear, as in the Wikipedia article above. At that point, "money", which is mainly used to ration access to goods and services, ceases to have much meaning.

A half-way step from a market economy based around fiat dollars might be a "social credit"
of enough money to support at least a graduate student level of existence, guaranteed to everyone by right of birth. This is essentially "welfare and medicaid for everybody" with no means testing (and so less paperwork). The cash is either taxed or taken from increasing the money supply. Then people would continue to set prices for things and to self-ration using those prices. Additional independent activities would produce further income if desired. As more productive capacity came online, the social credit would be increased. Such a system is described here as future sci-fi, but it might work even now:
Right now, at about 300 million people in the USA, at $10,000 per person, this system would cost three trillion dollars a year to operate. I might expect as a guess that universal quality health care might cost another trillion per year. The US GDP is about fourteen trillion dollars a year, so this would require taxing about 30% of the GDP for that. Note that the US government already takes in approaching that in taxes.
Benefits from this include a much smaller government from less paperwork, reduced expenses for things like schools since parents could educate kids at home and in the community, and likely there would be much less crime. Parents would be able to spend a lot more time with their kids, likely making for a much happier society overall. The workplace would in general also be happier and also more efficient, as only the people who wanted to work would work. Entrepreneurship might blossom countrywide as people would be able to take more risks knowing they had a safety net.

A country like the Netherlands has moved somewhat in this direction (not entirely, of course, just a trend) and it is a happy place.
    "Why are Dutch children so happy?"
Note that in the same report referenced that puts Dutch kids as tops in happiness, US and UK kids are at the bottom of the list. :-( So, clearly, past Ivy League leadership for the USA leaves a lot to be desired, at least if you ever were a kid or plan to be a parent. :-( Anyway, the same brilliant Princeton economic minds that will no doubt find all sorts of flaws in this essay might better spend a lot of time explaining this inconvenient fact of US kids taking it on the chin for empire and capitalism. And it is likely not coincidental the last global empire before the USA (the UK) is last, and the US second to last. As is explained here:
    "Generation F*cked: How Britain is Eating Its Young"

"The reason our children's lives are the worst among economically advanced countries is because we are a poor version of the USA," he said. "So the USA comes second from bottom and we follow behind. The age of neo-liberalism, even with the human face that New Labour has given it, cannot stem the tide of the social recession capitalism creates."

That is the childhood experience that an empire focusing on enforcing local and global scarcity has created. Social credit is one approach to a band-aid fix. But it does not address a lot of deeper issues as a post-scarcity society approaches with the eventual abolition of most work and most rationing. Ultimately, making things too cheap to matter (see below) is where this is all heading. And trying to do such a system via taxes or the money supply raises difficult questions of compulsion through taxes or an inflationary tax by increasing the money supply. It might be better that the present system for most in the USA, but it would soon be obsolete. It also would not address the issue of *global* prosperity. So, I outline this half-way house to universal prosperity for completeness, but I don't see any exponentially advancing technological society staying there very long. Of course what lies even further down the road (a technological singularity) is more like a mirror we can mainly use to see ourselves and our heart's desires, like in Harry Potter's "Mirror of Erised":
Kurzweil sees conservative libertarian-ish capitalism in that mirror (which has done well for him personally); I see something else -- a circling back to the spirit of how we used to be, a return to the better parts of when we did not need so much clunky technology to survive. :-)

It is important to consider this a circle, to see that it is a return to some older ways more than it is something completely new. Because then we can see from history that art, music, story-telling, poetry, dance, conversation, gift-giving, and child-rearing can once again become priorities. So, we don't have to go into such times without a guide. To see what the future might hold for such a society, imagine if the whole world looked like Princeton University right now but with everyone on the planet accepted from birth on full scholarship as well as on full salary as tenured faculty with no teaching duties. :-)
Right now, that front page shows a picture of happy smiling people doing African dance.
    "Harvey brings lively beat of African dance to Princeton"

But we are obviously still seemingly far away from that world today. Only a few people, for a short time, get to freely dance at Princeton. And some of the more reflective of those are likely sad about the growing rich-poor divide and the difficulty of doing anything about it. As is suggested in an introduction to a 1950s short story by Theodore Sturgeon, "The Skills of Xanadu" (which helped inspire the World Wide Web) in his book, "The Golden Helix":

Dr. Toni Morrison, novelist, essayist, and educator, gave a commencement address at Bard College in 1979 in which she said (among many other powerful things) that your freedom is worthless unless you use it to free someone else, and that happiness is not happiness unless it makes others happy

And even worse, as the disaster of the Iraq war shows, this issue of "helping" others is a slippery topic. We need to distinguish between:

"If I knew...that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life." -- Henry David Thoreau
"If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." -- often attributed to Lila Watson, but more complex than that as it came out of a group culture

Ironically, in my one attempt many years ago, I was unable to convince the current rights holder to free that fifty year old "The Skills of Xanadu" story about freedom (achieved in part by using advanced information technology and nanotech) for non-commercial distribution on the internet.

Making the whole world into Princeton University, or how Princeton locally stands in the way of Princeton globally :-)

So, the question becomes, how do we go about getting the whole world both accepted into Princeton and also with full tenured Professorships (researchy ones without teaching duties except as desired? :-) And maybe with robots to do anything people did not want to do? This is just intended as a humorous example, of course. I'm not suggesting Princeton would run the world of the future or that everyone would really have Princeton faculty ID cards and parking stickers. Still, that's a thought. :-) That motel for scholars, The Institute For Advanced Study, is already a bit like this (no required teaching duties), so it's an even better model. :-)

But you might object, who will run the kitchens, repair the roofs, plant Prospect Garden, and so forth? Essentially, who will be the Morlocks to support and maybe eat the Eloi on staff? :-)

Well, that's where this analogy breaks down, although one could perhaps imagine robots as the Morlocks (maybe without the whole eating PU staff for fuel thing).

A prototype robot capable of hunting down over 100 slugs an hour and using their rotting bodies to generate electricity is being developed by engineers at the University of West England's Intelligent Autonomous Systems Laboratory.

Also, idleness is nice on occasion, but ultimately, to quote E. F. Schumacher:

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give [a person] a chance to utilise and develop [his or her] faculties; to enable [a person] to overcome [his or her] ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

Ah, maybe that explains why so many Princetonians are unhappy? :-( As well as their overworked servants? :-(

That wasn't really fair, as Princetonians are typically the working class of the wealthy (doctors, lawyers, CEOs, hedge fund managers, US presidents, and so on), not the "top out of sight" "super rich" :-) who indirectly employ Princetonians etc. to keep some notion of order in the world as they see it, or at least so suggests Paul Fussell in his book: (don't know whether to take it seriously :-)
    "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System"
See also:
    "The middle of nowhere"
        (That's just coincidentally where my immediate family lives, as it is still a somewhat intact ecology, and my wife likes trees. :-)
    Tour of the US Income Distribution, "The L-Curve"
        (Note, really "super rich" people are maybe off even *that* curve, since even "Bill Gates" might be the working poor by their standards :-)

Contrary to popular opinion, Fussell suggests the super rich can't see any relevant difference between Princeton and a lowly state school, and so their kids might attend either or none at all. No matter who the kid marries, they'll be super rich. :-) That's the calculus of infinites for you. :-)
But for the rest of this essay I'll assume Princetonians run things. And they do even in Fussell's view, but more in a sort of administrative way. :-)

Also Fussel suggests a way out in the book -- to live as "Class X" which is perhaps what my immediate family is, not "super rich", or even plain "rich", but living in such a way as it does not matter (much. :-) Really, how many sunrises can you enjoy each day? How many beautiful dandelions can you look at at once? How many organic eggs you raise yourself can you really eat at one sitting? How big does your office really have to be to fit a treadmill and a computer with a few LCD screens? And so on. As long as you don't want to boss millions of people around, there is not much difference between "Class X" and being "Super Rich". And you might expect even bossing gets wearing and boring after a while.

Also, assuming for a moment that Fussell was right about there being "super rich" people, this essay would then be about convincing the super rich to let everyone else (including most Princetonians) become super rich instead of killing all poor people (say people with less than a few billion Euros in liquid assets) as a precaution with military robots, mutant sharks with laser beams, or related stuff (see especially Marshal Brain's "Manna" story).
One can only hope the super rich might see that in a calculus of infinites that allowing more super rich people might make the planet and solar system more interesting. Like the society of Star Trek's "Q Continuum".
I'm not talking about actual help, naturally, (and which would take all the fun out of it), so much as just not standing in the way. :-) But let's just pretend I did not say all that, or that Fussell isn't serious about the "super rich". Also, I've taken some liberties with his analysis -- he's not as extreme in his definition of the "super rich" as I am. :-) Besides, accepting the existence of the "super rich" with Princetonians as the "working poor" would make analyzing PAW harder (but also, admittedly, funnier. :-)

So, for the rest of this essay, I'll assume the "scarcity" world (at least in the USA) currently works more like, say, G. William Domhoff suggests:

Q: So, who does rule America? A: The owners and managers of large income-producing properties; i.e., corporations, banks, and agri-businesses. But they have plenty of help from the managers and experts they hire. ... I will try to demonstrate how rule by the wealthy few is possible despite free speech, regular elections, and organized opposition:
        * "The rich" coalesce into a social upper class that has developed institutions by which the children of its members are socialized into an upper-class worldview, and newly wealthy people are assimilated.
        * Members of this upper class control corporations, which have been the primary mechanisms for generating and holding wealth in the United States for upwards of 150 years now.
        * There exists a network of nonprofit organizations through which members of the upper class and hired corporate leaders not yet in the upper class shape policy debates in the United States.
        * Members of the upper class, with the help of their high-level employees in profit and nonprofit institutions, are able to dominate the federal government in Washington.
        * The rich, and corporate leaders, nonetheless claim to be relatively powerless.
        * Working people have less power than in many other democratic countries.

And what is the current result of that system of social organization? We create a self-fulfilling prophecy of scarcity in part through fearing it, and then acting on that fear. (And the only antidotes to fear are things like joy and humor. :-) Consider, say the US military and Iraq. The USA invades Iraq and produces terrorists that now justify having invaded as well as now devoting more money to the military. :-( Now people are saying the Iraq war, promised as a "cakewalk" will cost about three trillion US dollars before it is done. So, now we need to cut back on US social programs like R&D and nursing homes and also reduce aid to poorer countries (which might have truly helped prevent more problems). Thus we ensure more scarcity at home and abroad.

How much of the US monetarized economy goes into managing "scarcity" in terms of person-hours of work?
* A big chunk of the prison system,
* A big chunk of the legal system,
* A big chunk of the military and police,
* Cashiers,
* Most guards,
* Most of the management chain,
* Most of the banking system,
* Most sales people,
* Most of the insurance industry,
* Most of the Welfare and Medicaid government program staff (eligibility and oversight),
* Most lawyers and related proceedings,
* Much of the schooling and grading system, and
* Most of the government.

Add it all up, and maybe it is 90% of the person-hours consumed by the money economy by now? That's just a wild guess, of course. :-) I'm sure someone else better with numbers could refute or affirm that. But it is loosely based on a study mentioned in the essay linked below.

If you consider that a lot of service work is unnecessary if people had more free time (babysitting, restaurants, teaching, home construction, entertainment) then even less hours in the money economy are really needed in a society with a lot of leisure to raise children, cook meals, putter around the house, take on apprentices or educate neighbors on demand, and sing their own songs or make up their own stories.

And of course, child-rearing and day-to-day housekeeping and volunteering probably represents many more person-hours than the 10% or so of the total person-hours that the money economy uses for real production (actual work on factory goods, actual labor in agriculture, actual work making energy etc.). So clearly people will do important tasks for intrinsic benefits.

Things may have been different 100 years ago when most US Americans still lived on somewhat subsistence farms, and so most work was local and for one's own family and business. But somewhere during the past century, I'd speculate a shift happened where the amount of hours spent guarding exceeded the amount of effort spent producing. And then it probably just got worse from there, to the current situation where most work was related to guarding, even though work that is mostly guarding may also euphemistically be called "cashiering", "teaching", "managing", and so on. Pick almost any job and take most of the guarding out of it and it becomes more enjoyable.

It's important to look at the hours people work on various tasks, not the money value assigned to the tasks. If all those person hours are going into guarding functions, then of course there is little time left over for playful productive work.

And note, this estimate is without even giving a long hard look to rethinking how things could be done to be easier or more fun. Down the road, once tasks are redesigned to ignore the guarding aspects, they might be more efficiently done. For example, think of all the time people waste waiting in supermarket checkout lines or at toll booths. Or the time educators devote to attendance and grading.

The above is all an echo of this essay by Bob Black :
    "The Abolition of Work" (written as I graduated in 1985, but I only saw it a couple years ago through the internet)

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you'd care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

How might a "post-scarcity" society really work?

So, how might a "post-scarcity" society really work? How could a "post-scarcity" society emerge at all, given this (obsolete) elite social deadlock Domhoff outlines?

What if some people get some "free" stuff somehow, and they use it, and in the process of using it they make more free stuff than they got? Let's assume these people then freely give this extra stuff away for free to others who use it to make even more free stuff. If everyone starts doing this, soon there could be an enormous amount of free stuff going around. A chain reaction (but a good one). Of course, as with any exponential process, with ever more free stuff on the way from more and more people, the problem becomes, where to find the space to put it all? (Hint: maybe "Space". :-)

Can't happen you say? Well, to keep us humble, consider:
    "10 impossibilities conquered by science"

The number of scientists and engineers who confidently stated that heavier-than-air flight was impossible in the run-up to the Wright brothers' flight is too large to count. Lord Kelvin is probably the best-known. In 1895 he stated that "heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible", only to be proved definitively wrong just eight years later. Even when Kelvin made his infamous statement, scientists and engineers were closing rapidly on the goal of heavier-than-air flight. People had been flying in balloons since the late eighteenth century, and by the late 1800s these were controllable. Several designs, such as Félix du Temple's Monoplane, had also taken to the skies, if only briefly. So why the scepticism about heavier-than-air flight? The problem was set out in 1716 by the scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg in an article describing a design for a flying machine. Swedenborg wrote: "It seems easier to talk of such a machine than to put it into actuality, for it requires greater force and less weight than exists in a human body." Swedenborg's design, like so many, was based on a flapping-wing mechanism. Two things had to happen before heavier-than-air flight became possible. First, flapping wings had to be ditched and replaced by a gliding mechanism. And secondly, engineers had to be able to call on a better power supply – the internal combustion engine. Ironically, Nicolaus Otto had already patented this in 1877.

In a sense, this is what has already happened with GNU/Linux. With the productivity of modern technology and the internet, just a few hundred serious maintainers of the Debian GNU/Linux distribution can provide plenty of free stuff for hundreds of millions of users:
Imagine if things started to work that way for physical objects too. Things like cars or toolboxes. Or even non-physical services like educations. :-)

This is an organization trying to do something like that with livestock in materially-poor communities:
A fundamental part of their assistance is the notion of "passing on the gift" which both helps others and lets the previous aid recipient feel more self-respect as they are now a philanthropist and not a needy recipient.

But what about all the "slackers" who will consume without giving back? The answer is just, "So what?" Why not have pity on such people who are stuck in such an embarrassingly juvenile state of mind? My mom, a hard worker, dreamed of being a slacker in a big house with servants. You know where she found her dream? A nursing home. :-( So, be careful what you wish for, slacker wannabees. :-)

If a few can supply the many, then, so what of the slackers? Who cares? Why build a whole mythology around slackers? And surprisingly, there may be less slackers than one might expect, because when you have the freedom to make things your way, without a "boss", there is often a lot of fun to be had in making things. Just look at all the kids making free music for the internet these days. Or people writing web pages. :-)

Examples like the Israeli Kibbutzim have already shown in the past that even with hard manual labor, there are always a bunch of schmucks (like maybe even myself and my wife, or many others already working in non-profits :-)
who are willing to work hard even with apparent slackers in their face. Sure, Kibbutzim had problems with slackers, but modern automated robotic technology changes the nature of that situation:
(and without bringing in migrant laborers to exploit and expose to pesticides). And how hard can it be to sit in your GPS-driven air-conditioned tractor and listen to free music? Or even make some more music of your own in between keeping an eye on how the robots are doing?

This is the world the prospective Princeton student is probably imagining these days as in their future -- or will be soon. :-) Robot tractors. Free music. GNU/Linux everywhere. Slackers who only take stuff and don't make stuff as being "so junior high" or "so nursing home". Essentially, these kids are imagining (or will soon) a John Lennon "Imagine" sort of world -- with abundance and security for all. With robot tractors able to get higher yields from less land and less water through precision farming, why fight so much about the agricultural fields or river water? With nanotech solar panels and nanotech near-perfect insulation, why fight about the oil fields?

I'm not talking about the market apologist version of "post-scarcity" at, say, Stanford:
    "Post-Scarcity Prophet: Economist Paul Romer on growth, technological change, and an unlimited human future."
If you read that carefully, that supposed "Post-Scarcity Prophet" seems more obsessed with ensuring an abundance of ... scarcity. :-) There is not much talk of "free" or "cheap" for *everybody* as much as an obsession with more patents and more copyrights and more secrets -- which are all ways to create artificial scarcity in a market economy. So, a supposedly brilliant economist presumably would promote even more artificial scarcity through draconian copyright and such. This person (shortlisted for the Nobel Prize, the article says) can't understand that if *all* the basics are essentially "free" to the user through the miracles of improving F/OSS technology and a healthy natural world, then people's personal time for more desktop innovative R&D is mostly "free" too. :-) An example where he misses that is when he says: "If you're going to be giving things away for free, you're going to have to find some system to finance them, and that's where government support typically comes in." Maybe that is true now, but it is less and less true with each passing day. And no charge for this "free" essay, by the way. :-) A typical related problem is to confuse or ignore free as in "freedom" and free as in "price" by the way. This essay is free as in both (see the license at the end. :-)

Here is part of a sci-fi story about the flip side of that "Imagine" world kids are thinking about, where it all goes horribly wrong, say, with a Stanford-led elite unable to let go of a fear of scarcity, and instead using the robots to guard most of the world who are kept in "welfare" prison camps:

"Time to turn around Jacob Lewis105. There is construction in the next zone and, for your safety, we cannot allow you to proceed." There were a hundred reasons the robots gave for making you turn around. Construction, blasting, contamination, flash flooding, train derailments, possible thunder storms, animal migrations and so on. They could be quite creative in their reasons. It was all part of their politeness. If you turned around you were fine. If you made any move in any direction other than the one suggested, you were immediately injected and woke up back in your room. I had only tried it twice.

To me, "post-scarcity" means the end of rationing the basics for everybody, where what is defined as "the basics" grows and grows over time. :-) And one of those basics is unrationed access to important information. Ration units went out of use with World War II, you might object. But what is a US Federal Reserve Note (commonly called a fiat dollar) if not essentially a "ration unit"? So, in that sense, to quote Iain Banks, "Money is a sign of poverty", meaning that money's presence in a society indicates the society believes (as part of its mythology) that there is not enough stuff to go around.

I suggest Princeton economists start ignoring the next Nobel Prize sure bet listed above, who is claiming to be "post-scarcity" while taking us down the road to Marshall Brain's scarcity dystopia linked above (though read to the end of Marshall Brain's story for some hope).

The Debian community (which puts together a distribution of GNU/Linux) is an example of the true post-scarcity mythology in action:
(which is an idea represented in that last link both by the contents of the article and also by Wikipedia itself.) So, I also suggest the Princeton community think really hard about the really good post-scarcity stuff like is happening at Debian:
    "Study Reports On Debian Governance, Social Organization"

That report above essentially defines an approaching iceberg of an emerging post-scarcity society. Is Princeton University ready for it? :-) Because, frankly, Princeton can't hold it back any longer, even if it wanted to. Though it could probably make the future turn really bad for most people if it tried hard -- producing the dystopia linked above, run through polite military robots.

The "what and how" versus "why" of the PU brand's current dismal situation

In the introduction of my 1985 PU undergraduate senior thesis ("Why Intelligence: Object, Evolution, Stability and Model") I distinguish between studying the "why" of intelligence as opposed to studying the "how" or "what" of intelligence as was then in vogue (studying the "why" of intelligence is now called "evolutionary psychology" but did not exist very coherently as a field back then). Well, it seems to me that PAW in this current issue ("The new rules of financial aid") is finally starting to admit to the "what" and "how" of the failure of elite education and the related Princeton brand, but apparently won't touch the "why". :-) So, that leaves a duty for a "Fool" like me (see below on "Fools", too. :-)

Brands fail all the time and need to be reinvented; remember all those funny commercials around 1999 (like the guy hiding food in his jacket in a supermarket and getting stopped by the guard to get a receipt?) as IBM spent more than a billion dollars on advertising to reinvent its brand? It's not uncommon; these things happen as society changes and some institutions lag behind, or are perceived to. A related overview of some of these issues:
    "Brandus Interruptus: When Good Brands Go Bad"
But like anything dysfunctional, when it actually happens to you, it is often a painful surprise. "We were doing everything right; how could this happen to us?", you might ask. Well, that's where this essay comes in. :-)

So, the rest of this essay suggests what PAW won't say. :-) Or perhaps, more charitably, these are things that PAW staff simply "can't" say, despite being staffed by far better and more succinct writers than I am, sorry. :-(

Consider a three supposed "needs" implicit in almost any PAW article over the last few decades:
* the supposed need for competition (as well as excessive consumption) to produce "excellence",
* the supposed need to personally concede altruistic ideals and aspirations to economic "resource" pressures routinely, and
* the supposed need for a good academic reputation (to get "scarce" grants and publications) and thus the related need to "watch what you say" at all times, as disciplined self-censorship.

The career success of Noam Chomsky is a rare exception:
    "Education is Ignorance"
What happened to military veteran Ward Churchill (dismissal) is more the unwritten rule, leading to widespread self-censorship of even the few academics who can still contemplate dissent (rightly or wrongly):

These implied needs of academic living in a capitalist fish bowl are all so non-obvious as water is to a fish at this point -- to almost all PU alums living anywhere on the planet in the USA's global empire. In their defense, PAW writers no doubt also have no time or peace-and-quiet either for the intellectual effort of imagining transcending any of these "needs" which produce a huge and growing (and explosive) rich-poor divide. They probably would not even have time to read this essay, let alone rewrite it into something succinct and effective (as I do not at the moment, unfortunately). PAW writers likely have simply no "free" time to explore all this even as those supposed needs are based on a fleet of related mythological ideas PAW implicitly and even explicitly promotes, the ideas for which the consistently #1 (in the college rankings) Princeton University is the flagship. And it is indeed an impressive flagship, even if a few aboard are also a bit nervous about that big white thing floating over there or are even actively trying to steer clear or get the lower class emergency exit gates unlocked if the worst happens:
    "Titanic -- the movie"

Yet, while PU deservedly pats itself on the back with doing away the need for student loans for financial aid at PU, allowing a few more of its graduates to go into public service, or while it fights it out in court over control of the Robertson funds, the biggest public service picture slips away.

What's really the problem with the Princeton University brand?

Princeton University has serious brand issues upcoming. And no, I'm not talking something as obvious as this:
    "The Kept University"

Commercially sponsored research is putting at risk the paramount value of higher education -- disinterested inquiry. Even more alarming, the authors argue, universities themselves are behaving more and more like for-profit companies.

A problem like being a kept university would be relatively easily fixed if the university community chose to do something about it someday. I'm talking more serious damage than being called a "mistress". I'm talking damage to the PU brand itself, or essentially being called an "ugly mistress". That might happen from too many grant funded bonbons, but it also might happen from when societal tastes change, like when flat flappers went out of style and busty beauties came in (or the reverse, which happens too, like heroin chic). And how many "ugly mistresses" get "kept" for long?

Heroin chic? Hmmm. Drugs -- that's what I forgot to include in the teasers above for high school students. :-) And music. Dang. This essay is too focused on just sex and money. :-)

Well, let's at least put some music in here right now. And let's have the Princeton community face it. :-) Here is a Chomsky example, naming Princeton, as some background:
    "What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream"

The universities, for example, are not independent institutions. There may be independent people scattered around in them but that is true of the media as well. And it's generally true of corporations. It's true of Fascist states, for that matter. But the institution itself is parasitic. It's dependent on outside sources of support and those sources of support, such as private wealth, big corporations with grants, and the government (which is so closely interlinked with corporate power you can barely distinguish them), they are essentially what the universities are in the middle of. People within them, who don't adjust to that structure, who don't accept it and internalize it (you can't really work with it unless you internalize it, and believe it); people who don't do that are likely to be weeded out along the way, starting from kindergarten, all the way up. There are all sorts of filtering devices to get rid of people who are a pain in the neck and think independently. Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don't do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren't lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society. The elite institutions like, say, Harvard and Princeton and the small upscale colleges, for example, are very much geared to socialization. If you go through a place like Harvard, most of what goes on there is teaching manners; how to behave like a member of the upper classes, how to think the right thoughts, and so on.

See why those (in my words) "supposed" needs listed above are so non-obvious to most PU alumni at this point? See, through Chomsky, why they are essentially unquestioned and unquestionable? Almost anyone who questioned them would not be a PU alum (or at least, not one with money and thus worth listening to). Some PU alumni (and staff, students, and faculty) do question these assumptions, of course, as I do again here -- no system made by humans and made of humans can be perfectly disciplined. :-)

It was the same with the navigating officers on the Titanic, who were warned of icebergs but did not reduce speed or post additional lookouts:

Below, after a little more background, is a detailed Chomsky-inspired "reading between the lines" of the current issue of PAW for people as clueless as I was when I blew all my self-earned money on PU (and also took on debt and so on to pay for a ride on the flagship of US capitalism.) And, have no fear at the PU admissions department, any prospective student will probably ignore this essay, as I ignored this other essay even having read it before PU: :-)
    "College is a Waste of Time and Money" by Caroline Bird

For the sake of argument, the two of us invented a young man whose rich uncle gave him, in cold cash, the cost of a four-year education at any college he chose, but the young man didn't have to spend the money on college. After bales of computer paper, we had our mythical student write to his uncle: "Since you said I could spend the money foolishly if I wished, I am going to blow it all on Princeton."
Writing with prospective students in mind is mainly just a rhetorical device. I know the IM generation probably won't read this far. Even if a few of their lives may perhaps depend on it. :-(

I can admit that if some poor "lower class" student gets a lot of grant-based financial aid, and adding in the general endowment subsidy and non-profit tax exemptions which help everyone who attends, then PU can be a good deal for some specific individuals in some ways (as for me, but see below). Being part of a flawed system does not entirely take away from PU being the best it can be within that system -- even as PU also defines and sustains that system by the mythology of wealth and the ideal of financial obesity (or even intellectual obesity :-) that PU promotes explicitly or implicitly. And, in my case, Princeton (well, the people there, faculty, staff, students, and town) may well have made me a much better person in various ways. I can be thankful for that, even as many might read this as biting the hand that fed me. If biting was the main reason for writing this, I wouldn't bother; I've got other things to do, like play with my child. And no, I don't want to have more to do with PU and changing its mythology than write this essay. But think on this -- Princeton is not our mother. It is an institution (an abstraction, which is itself a myth). And we feed that institution, with our time, attention and money. We even fed it when we were undergraduates. Maybe we should be careful about what myths we chose to feed, including by what children or grandchildren we sacrifice to those myths.

What am I up to with that PU education myself? Besides being a part-time stay-at-home Dad, I'm busy these days in my "free" time (along with many in the world, such as these people: :-) attempting to help take down the intellectual scaffolding of global capitalism one myth at a time in a controlled safe manner where no one gets hurt, same as these people do when demolishing physical structures past their usefulness:

And behind each successful project stands the CDI team - a talented group of professionals with decades of experience dedicated to absolute perfection on each new project.

See, there are people whose whole careers are devoted to the safe demolition of historic structures. And this essay is not intended in any way to defend anyone who intentionally destroys structures in a way intended to hurt people.

Rethinking the mythological scaffolding of the Princeton community

Consider this Atlantic article by Professor Harvey Cox, Jr. of Harvard Divinity School entitled "The Market as God: Living in the new dispensation" which discusses some parallels in mythology between the Bible and mainstream capitalism:

A few years ago a friend advised me that if I wanted to know what was going on in the real world, I should read the business pages. Although my lifelong interest has been in the study of religion, I am always willing to expand my horizons; so I took the advice, vaguely fearful that I would have to cope with a new and baffling vocabulary. Instead I was surprised to discover that most of the concepts I ran across were quite familiar. Expecting a terra incognita, I found myself instead in the land of déjà vu. The lexicon of The Wall Street Journal and the business sections of Time and Newsweek turned out to bear a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans, and Saint Augustine's City of God. Behind descriptions of market reforms, monetary policy, and the convolutions of the Dow, I gradually made out the pieces of a grand narrative about the inner meaning of human history, why things had gone wrong, and how to put them right. Theologians call these myths of origin, legends of the fall, and doctrines of sin and redemption. But here they were again, and in only thin disguise: chronicles about the creation of wealth, the seductive temptations of statism, captivity to faceless economic cycles, and, ultimately, salvation through the advent of free markets, with a small dose of ascetic belt tightening along the way, especially for the East Asian economies. ...

Now, compared to Harvey Cox, I am a duffer when it comes to mythology. The one time I found myself at Princeton surrounded by extraordinarily beautiful women along with another geeky guy in a too small room, it turned out we were both in the wrong place ("History of Science and Technology" being in a room with a confusingly similar number down the hall) and it was instead an Art History class. Art History in some ways focuses on our collective mythology through the ages; maybe I should have stayed for the articles (seriously. :-)

My research has focused on whether an evolutionary approach can help answer the question of what makes certain faces attractive and why certain traits may be valued.

But here is another more serious student of contemporary mythology -- a trial lawyer gone "Conceptual Guerilla". Here's what he has to say about myth:
    "The Mythology of Wealth" by

Can we use the power to "levy taxes" and spend money for "the general welfare" to do things like educate people, feed the hungry, and generally provide them with what Abraham Lincoln called "a fair start in the race of life"? You're [expletive] right we can. Thomas Jefferson said so. The "market place" isn't a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is a human invention, created by our laws, customs and institutions. The vast fortunes of our elites are likewise the product of a mythological legal infrastructure that bestows access to resources to some people and denies it to others. "Wealth" is just the latest in a long history of myths used to divide the world into the people who work and the people who live off of them. We created this mythological system, and we can change it if we feel like it. We can regulate it a little -- or a lot. We can modify any one of its elements, or all of them. Or we can abolish it altogether. It's called "democracy", and you should now understand why cheap-labor defenders of the "haves" don't like it.

Someday, all those PU lawyer alumni may yet prove their worth to society. :-) As some do already, of course; for example:
    "Becky Hiers '85"

Sunrise Mediation provides a variety of Conflict Prevention and Conflict Management services to help meet your needs.

Or, the more obvious:

Here is a thought -- a lawyer's career is based entirely on free stuff. Lawyers cite laws without paying a fee per law. The legal documents they submit to the court generally become part of the public record, along with judges decisions related to those, which other lawyers learn from. They advise clients on stuff clients could look up themselves in any law library (obviously lawyers may do that more efficiently than clients, which is why they pay for the service.) Lawyers may also use services to help them save time. But essentially, their entire career is based around free stuff, crafting custom solutions for individual unique clients, but essentially drawing from the public domain. They are already the post-scarcity beings many of them deny are possible. :-) A lawyer is the embodiment of free, but she or he has been trained not to see it. :-(

If you want to see how the legal profession would look otherwise, here is a satire I submitted to the DOJ when they asked for comments on "in order to help plug the [analog] hole, watermark detectors would be required in all devices that perform analog to digital conversions."

The laws of the land are in some ways like a computer program defining our society. In some ways, computer programs are mythologies too -- just ones that happen to be directly executable on the matching computer hardware. With myself, after more then twenty five years of programming experiences, I find those skills starting to bleed over into my essay writing skills. You want to know how programs I write look to me? They look a lot like this essay, with interwoven themes, forward and backward references, successively refined structures, external library calls, and so on. And as I said at the start, now that this essay "runs" (even with bugs), I'd be the first to agree it could improve by being refactored, like almost any big program after it is first written. Or maybe these ideas could benefit from being transformed entirely into a freely licensed work of poetry, music, video, dance, theater or even live stand-up comedy? Maybe by you? :-)
    "In the End, It is the Violin that Wins"
Just like many of the ideas in here in some sense come out of the arts, especially music, like by my listening to the "Mystery Men" soundtrack over and over while I wrote some of this.

In the same way that in my mind two set of skills that were completely isolated from each other for many years are starting to merge, perhaps we will soon see, say, lawyerly skills of Princetonians being redirected to post-scarcity mythological ends? Like this law professor is doing (although Eben Moglen is at Columbia, and PU has no law school anyway):

Moglen says that free software is a fundamental requirement for a democratic and free society in which we are surrounded by and dependent upon technical devices. Only if controlling these devices is open to all via free software, can we balance power equally. Moglen's Metaphorical Corollary to Faraday's Law is the idea that the information appearance and flow between the human minds connected via the Internet works like induction. Hence Moglen's phrase "Resist the resistance!" (i.e. remove anything that inhibits the flow of information).
From the research agenda on Eben Moglen's site:
Current research proceeds by facilitating high-energy collisions between widely-dispersed non-homogeneous randomly-motivated incremental acts of individual creativity and large masses of ill-gotten wealth. The primary collision domain is the thin layer of executable software that enables production and distribution of all zero marginal-cost goods (bitstreams) in a globally transformed economy. Ongoing complete destruction of monopoly control in this layer triggers secondary fission in adjacent layers (music; video; literary as well as scientific, technical and medical publishing; higher education policy; criminal prosecution vel non of scientists and scholars; etc.) Observation is complicated because collisions occur in an atmosphere heavily contaminated by wide-scale political bribery. Despite observational difficulties, multiple independent observers report increased likelihood of basic transformative shifts in loci of political control and social authority. This phenomenon is conventionally described in the relevant literature as "revolution."

Or as Eben Moglen writes here:

A Spectre is haunting multinational capitalism--the spectre of free information. All the powers of "globalism" have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcize this spectre: Microsoft and Disney, the World Trade Organization, the United States Congress and the European Commission. Where are the advocates of freedom in the new digital society who have not been decried as pirates, anarchists, communists? Have we not seen that many of those hurling the epithets were merely thieves in power, whose talk of "intellectual property" was nothing more than an attempt to retain unjustifiable privileges in a society irrevocably changing? But it is acknowledged by all the Powers of Globalism that the movement for freedom is itself a Power, and it is high time that we should publish our views in the face of the whole world, to meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Free Information with a Manifesto of our own.

Was that a little bump I heard from some drifting post-scarcity sea ice bouncing off PU's hull? :-)

That manifesto reminds me when I was at PU in a staff member's office and saw a CD-ROM of art they had on their computer, but they said that while technically easy to let everyone share access to it campus wide, they could not make it available on the campus network for copyright reasons. But now, I can do this:
    "Results 1 - 20 of about 47,500,000 for art history. (0.02 seconds)"
Or even, dare I: :-)
    "Results 1 - 20 of about 3,820,000 for princeton [definition]. (0.04 seconds) "
Oops, too general:
    "Results 1 - 20 of about 922,000 for princeton university. (0.02 seconds) "
That's still a respectable almost million images.

OK, let me repeat that in bold: About a million images related to Princeton University are viewable for free on the web. Granted, that is an imperfect search process. Many may be incidental. But many are not. That search process will likely only improve as PU Professor George Miller's WordNet continues to help facilitate the "semantic web" or the "semantic desktop".

At some point, after you are done building a new building (or a new post-scarcity society) the scaffolding comes down. :-) But unlike the easier time CDI has with demolishing vacant structures, it's much harder if people (including PU alumni) still mistake that competitive capitalist scaffolding for the post-scarcity building full of abundance the scaffolding surrounds (and likely always did. :-) And I'm definitely hoping for that intellectual scaffolding's removal in a controlled way, not a big crash like these where often people get hurt: :-(
    "Images of catastrophically collapsed scaffolds"

Here is my young child's contribution to this essay. And I have also taken perhaps too much time from our relationship to write this, sorry, so that is another contribution. So if this essay helps anything, thank in part my kid, who helps make me a better person every day. From:
    "Fighting Fire Trucks" by Larry Shapiro

Chapter 5. Special Units. Workers didn't need to be told what the creaking noises meant as they ascended the construction elevator outside the 26-story building in Times Square. They quickly shouted over their radios that the scaffold was about to come down, alerting pedestrians and co-workers alike to get clear. Moments later with a loud crushing sound, 14 floors of steel dropped the equivalent of one story to rest on the bottom 10 floors. One of the two elevator tracks came raining down on a neighboring building and the street below. The incident would turn out to require a fire department presence for several days. The Mobile Command Post was ordered to the scene as a base for chiefs and other supervisory personnel.

That metaphor of dedicated brave people helping the current partially-collapsed economic "scarcity" scaffolding come down in a controlled fashion to reveal a beautiful and joyful "post-scarcity" society for everybody is what I'd suggest a prospective Princeton student meditate on. :-) And then she or he can ask the hard questions about whether Princeton (and perhaps then grad school) is a good investment of time to help realize that future. It's also a scaffolding built using dollars as war time "ration units", so more dollars and more financial obesity aren't going to fix the problem in the end (Princeton's main selling point in the public imagination).

What is happening isn't even really the failure of global capitalism (focused on creating and managing scarcity) so much as the transcendence to a new society (focused on creating universal abundance). A society where everybody (apparent slacker or not) gets as a right of birth at least the frugal basics of fresh air, clean water, organic food, quality shelter, 3D printing, health care, internet access, and education, and yet also still has a song in their heart (and hopefully love in their family, too; see: :-)
      "All I Really Need" by Raffi
That's quite a challenge, obviously, but it is happening. The issue I am considering here is how Princeton as an institution and as a community decides to relate to that trend.

And that is likely a world very different looking than the one IBM painted in that previously mentioned "brand renewal" commercial obsessed with RFID and scanners and accounting using personalized receipts for getting the basics from a supermarket. The basics of life support in an age of automation and nanotech-based solar power,
will likely finally be "too cheap to meter" at some point, like some internet services are already now. Even TigerNet is already "too cheap to meter", given operating costs (a few dollars per alumnus?) are still insignificant compared to the potential value to the community it serves (and TigerNet could easily be hosted for "free" at, say, Google Groups these days if cost were the major issue).

And that emerging new society is one where, through rethinking "work", more and more of "work" turns into "play" and "hard fun"; see Bob Black:
    "The Abolition of Work"

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx's wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue, I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists -- except that I'm not kidding -- I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work -- and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs -- they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They'll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don't care which form bossing takes, so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working. ... What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a "job" and an "occupation." Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people, are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won't be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.
(See, this was the "not safe for work" part. :-)

On to reading between the lines of the current issue of PAW; I asked PU years ago to stop mailing PAW etc. to me (especially given the internet if I really wanted to read it), so I guess this is payback for PU ignoring a polite request. Or maybe just good (or bad) fortune. :-)

    "The Farmer's Luck"
Basically, and old farmer keeps saying "maybe" to whether things that happen on his farm are "good luck" or "bad luck" as they interact with each other, sort of like parts of a complex essay. :-)

What is an example of an alternative to the mythology of scarcity-based mainstream economics (and especially the artificial scarcity that celebrates and creates)? Here is an older mythology to consider integrating into Princeton University's future, The Field of Plenty from Native American tradition as told and illustrated by Marcine Quenzer -- who I met once at the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Strawberry Festival where she presented her work. Thank you for your beautiful words and artwork, Marcine.

The Field of Plenty is an Iroquois Teaching that has to do with the understanding of Creation. When Great Mystery created our world everything that would ever exist was created as ideas in the Thought or Spirit World. This nonphysical plane of awareness is eternal and can be drawn upon anytime there is a need. The thought-forms that provide all that is ever needed on the Good Red Road of physical life exist in eternal readiness inside the Field of Plenty. To call these ideas into manifestation, one need only come to Great Mystery with a grateful heart which will bring the needed ideas into physical reality.

In our Seneca Tradition, the Field of Plenty is seen as a spiral that has its smallest revolution out in space and its' largest revolution near the Earth. This shape could be likened to an upside-down tornado. When our Ancestors assisted the Pilgrims in planting Corn and raising crops so they would not starve, we taught them the understanding of the Field of Plenty by bringing the cornucopia baskets full of vegetables. The Iroquois women wove these baskets as a physical reminder that Great Mystery provides through the Field of Plenty. The Pilgrims were taught that giving prayers of gratitude was not just a Christian concept. The Red Race understood thanksgiving on a daily basis.

The Field of Plenty is always full of abundance. The gratitude we show as Children of Earth allows the ideas within the Field of Plenty to manifest on the Good Red Road so we may enjoy these fruits in a physical manner. When the cornucopia was brought to the Pilgrims, the Iroquois People sought to assist these Boat People in destroying their fear of scarcity. The Native understanding is that there is always enough for everyone when abundance is shared and when gratitude is given back to the Original Source. The trick was to explain the concept of the Field of Plenty with few mutually understood words or signs. The misunderstanding that sprang from this lack of common language robbed those who came to Turtle Island of a beautiful teaching. Our “land of the free, home of the brave” has fallen into taking much more than is given back in gratitude by its citizens. Turtle Island has provided for the needs of millions who came from lands that were ruled by the greedy. In our present state of abundance, many of our inhabitants have forgotten that Thanksgiving is a daily way of living, not a holiday that comes once a year.

Since the Vibral Alignment or Harmonic Convergence, in August of 1987, our Elders have seen the Field of Plenty actually touch the Earth Mother and come to rest like a blanket over her body. In so doing, the Field of Plenty is now able to provide instant manifestation for all Earth’s Children who call for their needs with gratitude prior to receiving those blessings.

The Field of Plenty houses all thought forms that supply abundant creativity to the Children of Earth These new ideas are available to every Two legged and can be made manifest through acknowledging the ideas, then acting on them. When there is a need, it is sent by the Field of Plenty, in idea form, to the consciousness of all life-forms. These ideas begin to manifest as they enter the physical realm and are acted upon by humans. Every need in our world can be met when we act upon any good idea that comes into our minds. Every talent and every role in physical life plays a part that assists the whole in manifesting abundant life.

The Field of Plenty always has a way putting the needed item into the hands of the person who needs it. The keys to manifesting what is needed are gratitude and trust, balanced with action. There is no need for scarcity in the Fifth World. Abundance for all the Children of Earth is manifesting Thought always precedes form. If ideas of sharing and equality precede that reality in the hearts of Two-legs, the manifestation of physical needs being met will follow.

For one technological implementation of that mythology, consider the combination of both nanotech-level 3D printing (including of solar panels, 3D printers, and recycling machines) and something like wearable mobile computing as envisioned in "The Skills of Xanadu". Mythology can affect what we make, just as what we make can make -- or even just imagine making -- can also affect our mythology.

In some ways, that idea is not even that different from Planning Through the Market in the sense that there is a "pull" based on need or desire -- it is just a matter of who gets how many kanban tokens or dollar-denominated ration units or emails or tweets to affect what the system produces and where:

Most importantly for our purposes, markets can be reconstructed to make it possible to plan for a more egalitarian economic future. It turns out it is possible for strong governments to use the market system for planning. Once it is realized that markets can be viewed from a governmental point of view as administrative instruments for planning, it can be seen that with a little reconfiguring they can serve collective purposes as well as the individual consumer preferences trumpeted by conservative free market economists. In this form of planning, the information is supplied by the price system that is so central to the considerable, but far from perfect, efficiency brought about by markets.

There is thus no need for one big planning apparatus. Instead, the planning tools within a reconstructed market system are simply taxes, subsidies, government purchases, and regulation. This point may seem very mundane, but these well-known government powers can be potent when applied to markets. They make it possible to speak in terms of restructuring the market system. They make it possible for different agencies of the state to tinker with different parts of the economic system, and to change course quickly if the economy does not respond as projected. (This is exactly how the Federal Reserve Board operates now, but always in favor of using higher interest rates to control inflation by throwing people out of work, not to increase maximum employment in conjunction with tax and spending policies that could help constrain inflation.)

That said, any real economic system is going to have a mix of subsistence production, gift giving, market-based exchange, and governmentally-planned transactions -- with the balance between those determined by a location's history, culture, technology, and politics.

The "how" versus "why" of the failure of the PU PhD system

From PAW, here is the "how" of the failure of the PhD system:

"One of the things that are a real frustration for graduate students is that, when you're in the academy, all the people around you are professors who've gone this "traditional path," says Peter Fiske '88. "But, if you look at the numbers, only about one in four Ph.D.s in the sciences remains in academia." The reason for this is simple mathematics: There are not nearly enough positions within the academy. (page 32)

Things are actually worse than that, since typically only about 50% of people who start PhD programs finish. So, if about 25% of the finishers get academic jobs, that's 12.5% of PhD starters who get academic jobs (at least out of school; a few get them later). In any case, this essentially rounds down to zero as far as calculating the human cost/benefit of the PhD process (to the prospective student) as it is currently designed. :-( So think about what that means for the next generation of academic professorial scientists if that is what a prospective student wants to be. Essentially, there is no realistic chance of success anymore, compared to the years of toil and often heartbreak (assuming you don't just submit to authority for fun; some do).

People may object at this point that students learn valuable skills in graduate programs that they can use in non-academic settings. That may well be true sometimes to an extent, especially in the sciences or engineering. And if you spend between three to ten years of your 20s around academia (or anywhere else :-) and you are bound to learn *something* useful. But clearly, PhD and other graduate degree programs were not originally designed for making people a happy part of a happy society -- they were designed for making people professors (sometimes that coincides, of course. :-) The fit is (usually) at best very rough for self-employment or working collaboratively, the whole notion of a PhD dissertation is somewhat irrelevant to most industrial work in most cases (even if some skills transfer sometimes), there are vast gaps in the related experiences for self-empowerment or helping others, and the "mining, sorting, and polishing" assumptions underlying the whole system (outlined and depth by Goodstein in his article linked below) are deeply flawed from that point of view.

    "Links About Academia"

Sample link:
    "Generation Debt; Wanted: Really Smart Suckers: Grad school provides exciting new road to poverty",kamenetz,53011,1.html

Here's an exciting career opportunity you won't see in the classified ads. For the first six to 10 years, it pays less than $20,000 and demands superhuman levels of commitment in a Dickensian environment. Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it's time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession's ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off. Welcome to the world of the humanities Ph.D. student, 2004, where promises mean little and revolt is in the air. ...

Here is the "why" of the failure of the PhD system, from Dr. David Goodstein:

The period 1950-1970 was a true golden age for American science. Young Ph.D's could choose among excellent jobs, and anyone with a decent scientific idea could be sure of getting funds to pursue it. ... Even so, that explosive growth was merely a seamless continuation of a hundred years of exponential growth of American science. It seemed to one and all (with the notable exception of Derek da Solla Price) that these happy conditions would go on forever.
By now, in the 1990's, the situation has changed dramatically. With the Cold War over, National Security is rapidly losing its appeal as a means of generating support for scientific research. There are those who argue that research is essential for our economic future, but the managers of the economy know better. The great corporations have decided that central research laboratories were not such a good idea after all. Many of the national laboratories have lost their missions and have not found new ones. The economy has gradually transformed from manufacturing to service, and service industries like banking and insurance don't support much scientific research. To make matters worse, the country is almost 5 trillion dollars in debt, and scientific research is among the few items of discretionary spending left in the national budget. There is much wringing of hands about impending shortages of trained scientific talent to ensure the Nation's future competitiveness, especially since by now other countries have been restored to economic and scientific vigor, but in fact, jobs are scarce for recent graduates. Finally, it should be clear by now that with more than half the kids in America already going to college, academic expansion is finished forever. ...
The question of how we educate our young in science lies close to the heart of the issues we have been discussing. The observation that, for hundreds of years the number of scientists had been growing exponentially means, quite simply, that the rate at which we produced scientists has always been proportional to the number of scientists that already existed. We have already seen how that process works at the final stage of education, where each professor in a research university turns out 15 Ph.D's, most of those wanting to become research professors and turn out 15 more Ph.D's. ...
I would like to propose a different and more illuminating metaphor for American science education. It is more like a mining and sorting operation, designed to cast aside most of the mass of common human debris, but at the same time to discover and rescue diamonds in the rough, that are capable of being cleaned and cut and polished into glittering gems, just like us, the existing scientists. It takes only a little reflection to see how much more this model accounts for than the pipeline does. It accounts for exponential growth, since it takes scientists to identify prospective scientists. It accounts for the very real problem that women and minorities are woefully underrepresented among the scientists, because it is hard for us, white, male scientists to perceive that once they are cleaned and cut and polished, they will look like us. It accounts for the fact that science education is for the most part a dreary business, a burden to student and teacher alike at all levels of American education, until the magic moment when a teacher recognizes a potential peer, at which point it becomes exhilarating and successful. Above all, it resolves the paradox of Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates. It explains why we have the best scientists and the most poorly educated students in the world. It is because our entire system of education is designed to produce precisely that result. ...
I firmly believe that this problem cannot be solved by more government money. If federal support for basic research were to be doubled (as many are calling for), the result would merely be to tack on a few more years of exponential expansion before we'd find ourselves in exactly the same situation again. ... We must find a radically different social structure to organize research and education in science after The Big Crunch. That is not meant to be an exhortation. It is meant simply to be a statement of a fact known to be true with mathematical certainty, if science is to survive at all.

That's the Vice Provost of Caltech talking, even if it takes a "Fool" like me to quote him in public. Related, the sci-fi novel:
    "Fool's War" by Sarah Zettel:

In "alien contact" science fiction, the aliens come from far off, light-years away. But what if the aliens were closer to home? What if the next great life-form with which we must contend isn't from the stars but from our hard drives? In Zettel's second novel (after Reclamation), Katmer Al Shei, owner and engineer of the starship Pasadena, and her crew become pawns in an elaborate scheme to bring human beings and artificially intelligent life-forms into deadly conflict. But the real protagonist ends up being Evelyn Dobbs, the ship's Fool, who, hired to amuse the crew for its long voyage, finds herself trying to contain the threat of war.

That book is a product of a Muslim-oriented imagination, by the way -- a representative of the kind of people the USA is busy killing (facilitated earlier by PU alumnus Donald Rumsfeld '54) as "collateral damage". An example from the book: the starship captain wears a burqa and she likes it as it assists her in contract negotiations (not saying this is good or bad, just imaginative. :-)

Compared to a major PU alum setting the stage for killing and dislocating vast numbers of Muslims, the fact that most professor-wannabes get their dreams smashed and live on food stamps and then they then have to sell themselves other ways (see below) is small potatoes, of course. Still, both are ways the Princeton brand is eroding, globally and locally.

The "how" versus "why" of being a happy intellectual

From PAW, here is the "how" of having a long healthy and happy life:

What can people do to maintain healthy brain function later in life? Have an intellectually engaged lifestyle and undertake physical exercise. People who engage in fitness training to get the heart rate up, and who do intellectual work for a living or who have complex intellectual hobbies like learning a language or bridge, are more likely to retain executive function. Executive function, which begins to decline in people's 70s and 80s, is a set of abilities including self-control, making plans for the future, and decision-making. The more education you have, the more likely it is you will maintain healthy brain function later in life. Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and the amount of energy available to the brain. The short slogan in the book is if you do physical things for a living, you should get an intellectual hobby. If you do intellectual things [for a living], you should get a physical hobby. (page 38)

Again from PAW, here is the "how" of having a shorter unhappy life:

Most of the time nobody is tacky enough to say this out loud, so let's go ahead and do it: Regardless of what field you're in, the Princeton clan wants you to be a big success, and if you're not meeting expectations, well, the brood has gentle ways of letting you know. Upon acceptance to Princeton you're introduced to a family where the siblings constantly are comparing themselves to each other, and Mom and Pop Nassau are in no rush to stop it. ... Even though I'd managed to carve out a gratifying career writing feature stories for magazines like Esquire and Details and Entertainment Weekly, I hadn't yet delivered my hardcover debut, and from the Princetonian perspective, a writer without a book is like a venture capitalist without a private jet. ... (Jeff Gordinier '88)

But surely all this suffering must be worth it -- say to promote good science? At least the ends of academic results justify the means, right? (Even if ignoring that in general they do not: :-)

Consider, again from Goodstein's "why" linked above:

The crises that face science are not limited to jobs and research funds. Those are bad enough, but they are just the beginning. Under stress from those problems, other parts of the scientific enterprise have started showing signs of distress. One of the most essential is the matter of honesty and ethical behavior among scientists.
The public and the scientific community have both been shocked in recent years by an increasing number of cases of fraud committed by scientists. There is little doubt that the perpetrators in these cases felt themselves under intense pressure to compete for scarce resources, even by cheating if necessary. As the pressure increases, this kind of dishonesty is almost sure to become more common.
Other kinds of dishonesty will also become more common. For example, peer review, one of the crucial pillars of the whole edifice, is in critical danger. Peer review is used by scientific journals to decide what papers to publish, and by granting agencies such as the National Science Foundation to decide what research to support. Journals in most cases, and agencies in some cases operate by sending manuscripts or research proposals to referees who are recognized experts on the scientific issues in question, and whose identity will not be revealed to the authors of the papers or proposals. Obviously, good decisions on what research should be supported and what results should be published are crucial to the proper functioning of science.
Peer review is usually quite a good way to identify valid science. Of course, a referee will occasionally fail to appreciate a truly visionary or revolutionary idea, but by and large, peer review works pretty well so long as scientific validity is the only issue at stake. However, it is not at all suited to arbitrate an intense competition for research funds or for editorial space in prestigious journals. There are many reasons for this, not the least being the fact that the referees have an obvious conflict of interest, since they are themselves competitors for the same resources. This point seems to be another one of those relativistic anomalies, obvious to any outside observer, but invisible to those of us who are falling into the black hole. It would take impossibly high ethical standards for referees to avoid taking advantage of their privileged anonymity to advance their own interests, but as time goes on, more and more referees have their ethical standards eroded as a consequence of having themselves been victimized by unfair reviews when they were authors. Peer review is thus one among many examples of practices that were well suited to the time of exponential expansion, but will become increasingly dysfunctional in the difficult future we face.

As above, almost everyone who begins even just at the PhD level won't get an academic job. Even the ones who do must then fight it out in a career of unspoken and unacknowledged fear and fraud (often also breaking up marriages with split-career moves). They try to survive on the failing scaffold of the collapsing PhD pyramid scheme to build and maintain a reputation which translates into grant money and limited intellectual freedom (while preparing the next generation for a similar or worse life). The entire PhD institution PU helps support is thus effectively obsolete; as a machine it rarely produces happy intellectuals as output compared to the vast input (given so many get culled, and the rest get a messed up and ethically questionable life preparing others for the same). Goodstein also talks of "The Paradox of Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates" in explaining why the USA has "the worst science education in the industrialized world". So everyone else suffers too, even K-12 students and the regular taxpayer.

That all helps explain "Hot for Words" perhaps:
    (Safe for work, barely. :-)

Who is HotForWords? Her name is Marina Orlova, she's 27 and she's a philologist! Now you might be asking what the heck is a philologist? Well, it's someone who studies linguistics and etymology.. and in Marina's case.. she has applied her Philology degree to specializing in word origins. Marina burst in on the scene in mid 2007 launching her YouTube channel HotForWords, where she takes requests from YouTube viewers for words to discuss, and she releases about five videos each week discussing the origins of these words, in a fun and playful manner! ... Marina was voted the World's #1 Sexiest Geek by Wired Magazine's Sexy Geek of the Year Contest ...

See what getting a degree in linguistics and etymology does to people? :-)

Shouldn't words and the minds who study them be valued for their own sake, not because they are all mixed together in a "hot" body? Is this what the value of an academic degree in a less commercial area has come to, as far as being a happy independent intellectual?

And what of the word aficionados who may not be as good looking right now to many of today's youth? Example:
(Sorry, George, but it's true. Not bad for past 65, of course. :-)

This is not to disrespect Marina's choice as to how to express her own sexuality and intelligence if that choice was freely made. But I suspect, given the above on graduate studies, that economics played a big role in her choice, as it often does in today's intellectual world. It does sometimes take a bit of effort to get people to appreciate the inherent fascinating value of a seemingly dry topic like linguistics, so we can respect her for that certainly -- assuming again her new profession was freely chosen.

George A. Miller has done an amazing and generous thing for the world through decades of patience and perseverance and insight in building WordNet as a free gift to the world (whatever his past or present looks. :-) His gift to the world is helping bring about the emergence of a post-scarcity society (WordNet powers several internet services as well as many research explorations, sponsored and volunteer). But how many budding word lovers (even ones that look "hot") will get their chance for a similar happy academic life these day if they expect to repeat George's success after the "Big Crunch" Goodstein describes above?

For the record, George was my advisor at PU, and he was the best advisor I could have hoped for under the circumstances of being in a competitive college like PU. Please don't blame him for any of the words I'm using at the moment. :-) And, of course, presumably he was "hot" at one point to young people and even might have always been, at least to the eyes of his wife, Kitty. :-)

Still, could anybody have his career now? See this article in Psychological Science:

Although Miller's degree was not in psychology, after graduation Ramsdell offered him a position as an instructor, and then helped him get into graduate study in summer school at Harvard. "They admitted me in spite of the fact that I knew nothing," Miller said."

That's the kind of thing that happened in the years before Goodstein's "Big Crunch" came in the 1970s, during the exponential expansion of academia with plenty of abundance (in terms of money). The next George Miller, without credentials, is more likely to be the janitor George mentions in the article in Psychological Science (more on janitors later :-).

Sure, his career may still be possible even now in very exceptional cases:
but it is a lot rarer. What is more true now, after the "Big Crunch", is that academia is like a railroad track -- derail once and you will never be let back on the line. Why help the next George Miller get on a new track if he made a "mistake" early on in choosing his major and there are many others already on the right track? This is all part of the closing of science to new ideas and new perspectives, in part from a finite amount of cash relative to the exponential production of PhDs.

And that makes little sense. As one biology professor told me, there are enough unknowns about life on Earth to keep millions of biologists busy for centuries. From basic research come all sorts of new ideas for supporting more people in a sustainable but also stylish way. This exponential trend towards the noosphere is being stopped by the myth of money -- not any real physical limit. There is no real reason everyone on Earth who wants to cannot be a researcher in a post-scarcity society. But instead people with PhDs are driving cabs (instead of letting robots do the driving). And people with PhDs are building weapons or even being weapons (instead of mentoring the next generation in their passion, be it the history of the woods or the history of words). Why build bombs you never want to use instead of build ethical intelligences to be interesting companions? Unless you somehow deeply believe in scarcity and the need to fight over it? The myth of scarcity has become a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point in academia and elsewhere. There are not the resources PhDs need to freely innovate because PhDs are not allowed to freely innovate. And instead, academia and science spirals down the drain of infighting and fraud.

As Douglas Adams said:

This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it was not the small pieces of paper that were unhappy.

This essay is all about sex and money :-)

There are post-scarcity aspects to Marina's "Hot for Words" site -- in the sense the content is both free and fun (for people of certain sexual orientations).

Ultimately, unlike WordNet, Marina's site is probably not about words in their pure form though. Five words a week? George could do add that many words to WordNet in an hour, I'm sure, even approaching ninety years of age. Now, IMHO that's truly the performance of a person who is "hot for words". :-)

And also, while I respectfully won't speculate on George's private married life with his late wife Kitty, ultimately Marina's site is probably not even about wholesome *sex* in its pure form either (since not much involving sex and the internet can be that wholesome anyway, in a humane sense, at least when used in isolation).

And I'd suspect even the famous sex therapist parent of one of George's other advisees might mostly agree:
    "Doctor Ruth Westheimer"
Though I'm sure she'd point out all sorts of nuances related to healthy and unhealthy behavior and the internet depending on the relationships somebody was in, whether the behavior was addictive or displacing other interactions, the type of content, and so on.

OK, I *will* speculate on my undergrad advisor's sex life anyway, since I've broken about every other Princeton taboo, and since George did after all preside for a time over a bunch of probably sex-obsessed psychologists. :-) From the way George and his wife affectionately interacted even in their 60s while working together on WordNet, one can suspect they had a lot of "wholesome and hot marital bliss" even then, bless 'em. :-) So, not only were they both apparently hot for words, they were apparently hot for each other, which is more important. Here's to a good love life for everyone for all their lives. :-)
    "6 Steps to Better Senior Sex"

Many older adults and seniors report that their sex lives actually improve as they age. Once the children are grown and work doesn't require the energy it used to, couples can relax together and enjoy each other without the old distractions. They find that senior sex gets better. With a little creativity and communication, you can improve your sex life too. ...
And I'd expect Doctor Ruth would entirely agree with that, too. :-)

Instead of "words" or "sex", what Marina's "Hot For Words" site is most likely about is really *money*. :-( So, in that sense it might be seen as a form of intellectual prostitution even more direct then most PhDs admit they engage in:

The system of journal editing existing in our field at the present time virtually forces academics to become prostitutes: they sell themselves for money (and a good living). Unlike prostitutes who sell their bodies for money (Edlund and Korn, 2002), academics sell their soul to conform to the will of others, the referees and editors, in order to gain one advantage, namely publication. Most persons refusing to prostitute themselves and to follow the demands of the system are not academics: they cannot enter, or have to leave, academia because they fail to publish. Their integrity survives, but the persons disappear as academics.

OK, I said at the start I'd talk about prostitution, both on and off campus, so those out there just looking for salacious gossip can stop reading now. :-) Except for the sad murder mystery ahead. :-(


Todd's First Two Political Principles: [or Academic Principles, or Wired's "Sexiest Geek of the Year" Principles: :-)] 1. No matter what they're telling you, they're not telling you the whole truth.
2. No matter what they're talking about, they're talking about money.

That joke is not going to change for word aficionados like George, Marina, or anyone else, even these people:
    "NSA poised to hire 7,500 people"
    "Linguist up to his ears tracking security threats"
until we move beyond money. The NSA was likely the alternative career path for someone like Marina. By coincidence, Dr. Ruth Westheimer was trained as a sniper. Or not really coincidence since military demands related to fighting over perceived scarcity dominate a lot of R&D and even the structure of schooling itself:
So, stuck in some sense between choosing between sex and the military, can we really stand in judgment of these women? Especially since the world does indeed benefit from entertaining education about sex and words? And as to George, one can guess a lot of his funding came through military channels, but I have to salute him with respect in the end for using the money to build a free-as-in-freedom gift to the world as WordNet. He could have kept it proprietary. Also, you didn't think a place like Princeton, especially in the 1980s after the "Big Crunch", would either fund such a noble effort or make it easy to give it away, did you?

Might Marina Orlova have been the next George Miller? Because of the nature of the scarcity-related myths that drive academia and the larger society around it, we may never know. As sad as we can be for those likely lost dreams, whatever worldly success Marina now enjoys, she is not the only one who has had to face hard choices about her intellectual or artistic interests in our society:
    "The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet"

Mickey Z. considers work a 50-year fugue from which some people awaken to wonder what has become of their lives. In The Murdering of My Years, cabbies, waitresses, clerks, telemarketers, and an array of others tell how they balance activism and artistic production with the daily struggle to make ends meet. Contributors' essays are at once absurd and poignant; captivating and strange. Collectively, their reflections challenge the myth of the American work ethic and exhort readers to advocate for themselves in the workplace.

Is "murdering their years" the best we can do as a society for some of the most altruistic people in the world outside the military? (And no, that is not the murder mystery. I wish it was only that. :-( )

OK, I'll add another teaser since you stuck with this essay this long. There is talk about toplessness on campus later on. :-) Yeah, yeah -- you know by now what to expert when I say something like that. :-) So, I'll add that I will discuss certain "essential services", originating from a certain roadside bar in Illinois, which are being supplied to students, faculty, staff and alumni -- as well as administrators all the way to the highest levels of Nassau Hall -- and which are knowingly paid for by the PU trustees to the total of millions of dollars per year. And I'll even provide documented proof of that. :-) But if I have lost you anyway here, at least go read about Eliot Spitzer '81 to see another cautionary tale about being a PU undergrad and getting involved with prostitution:
I'll ask now, but leave unanswered, did Eliot Spitzer's competitive experience at PU have anything to do with his tragic fall? :-(

And for those who still want something salacious, here:
    "Callgirl: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure" by Jeannette Angell

When a bad boyfriend leaves with the contents of her checking account, professor and novelist Angell (The Illusionist; Wings; etc.) decides to stabilize her finances by responding to an ad seeking escorts. Surprisingly, the world she enters isn't all that different from the Boston dating scene she already knew; it's just far more lucrative.

More about moving beyond money

Even for the NSA linguists, like the ones reading this someday, :-) eavesdropping has got to get old after a while. I'm sure many there would take up, say, gardening if they felt they could once the world was safe from money, :-) and thus the worst of the "war racket" (see below).

And of course, you might think some of the other parts of the US military would find that torture gets old too, including from learning the fact that it does not work the way it seems to on TV:

It really is a better plan to try proving to prisoners that they will eat better in your prison than they do at home. The only conceivable circumstances when torture is the only way is when time is tight, and the creatively fertile writers of 24 have to invent those circumstances because the ticking clock scenario is unlikely in real life. Terrorists usually take their time. The real problem is with people who want to be torturers.

Maybe in a world that has transcended money, there might be more interesting things to do than torture people? Or be prostitutes? Or maybe not: :-(

The book is very graphically violent and sexual, especially in earlier chapters (there are eight in all). The story of the novella explores the nature of human desire and the uses and abuses of technology in the satisfaction of desire.

In any case, fortunately, and seriously, at least a very few academics and others are on the job working hard at moving beyond money, even if their "Santa Claus Machine" (a term coined by Ted Taylor as he tried to atone for nuclear bomb designing)
may not fix all social or psychological problems (as above), and will no doubt even create some new ones. For one example, see:

RepRap is short for Replicating Rapid-prototyper. It is the practical self-copying 3D printer shown on the right - a self-replicating machine. ... [RepRap] has been called the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment...

And RepRap is just one of many related projects; some are commercial products:

Now you can print 3D color models so quickly and affordably, you'll do it every day. Introducing the ZPrinter®450. The ZPrinter 450 makes color 3D printing accessible to everyone. The lowest priced color 3D printer available, it outputs brilliant color models with time-saving automation and an easy printing process. (About US$45K)

Remember how much laser printers used to cost in the 1980s? They literally cost tens of thousands of US dollars. Now you get laser printers for *free* with computers. Think what that will mean as we print more and more in 3D. And when you can print more printers, like RepRap works towards, the economy as we currently know it with long supply chains will implode. (Remember those collapsed scaffold pictures? It's coming.) Money in many areas of life will cease to be as significant, especially once these printers can disassemble ("unprint" or "recycle") as well as print.

And things don't need to be entirely free for profound changes to happen -- even very cheap things will make for big social changes.

Banks' Observation on Money: "Money is a sign of poverty."

Fernhout's Corollary to Banks' Observation on Money: "The degree to which money needs to be handled in a society is inversely proportional to the abundance of imagination, skill, freedom, effort, and community present."

And mathematically:
      M = 1 / I * S * F * E * C

Any mathematician inspecting that formula might easily tell you, say, that as the amount of freedom or imagination in a society goes to zero, the amount of money goes to infinity. But is that a good thing to thus have so much money lying around?

But how can we ensure the collapse of money as scaffolding for society happens in a more orderly and safer way than a catastrophe? Even just the catastrophe of avoidable suffering through ignorance and poverty for some extra years for many people on the planet? As someone suggested on a while back, the year the food replicator is invented by capitalism, everyone will starve from economic forces. :-(

That's the sort of problem that will challenge prospective Princeton students down the road in their careers. And not just in some distant future, but in the next ten to twenty years, perhaps even before someone starting PU next year can get tenure -- or maybe a third post-doc. :-( And such a prospective Princeton student has to ask themselves, is Princeton University (the current flagship of global capitalism) the right place to find or make answers to those sort of problems? I frankly do not know, having been out of the physical university community for so long -- but based on the current issue of PAW alone, I suspect the answer is still, "Not yet". :-(

We seemingly rush headlong to a technological singularity
that is otherwise in some ways just a mirror of our own choice of virtues.
And academia has a big part to play in this -- but it is conflicted as to where it stands and what virtues it will emphasize in years to come.

So true these days of exponential change: "A liberal can turn into a conservative in twenty years without changing a singe idea." Is Princeton as a "kept university" starting to look a little ugly these days or does it have the potential to be something more beautiful again in the mythological transition to a post-scarcity society? Is it possible that Princeton's strengths in areas like the humanities might help it to be a better flagship for a new post-scarcity fleet that nimbly moves with the flow of the sea ice, rather than, say, the technology-heavy MIT? Or even better than the giant Harvard dreadnought, which, while it also is strong in humanities, is likely impossible to steer away from a direct collision even if the institution wanted?

The collapse of the PhD system is just one example of a potential larger social collapse into a black hole of a "nasty" technological singularity. How can we make it more likely we instead fall into a "nice" singularity filled with joy, and laughter, and dare I say it, love? Or, in other words, the "utopia" instead of the "oblivion" that Buckminster Fuller talks about? That more hopeful outcome seems unlikely unless we shift those competitive values as the main driver of our motivation as a society. And that shift in values is done in part by changing the day-to-day myths we live by. And then, we need to change our habits of thought and action to accord with our new mythology.

If Princeton University is implicitly pushing all the old myths, why should any prospective "post-scarcity" student want to go there? It seems that a place like, say, Berea College (mentioned in that PAW issue) might be better preparation, even for the brightest academic minds, because a "work college" helps build the collaborative and community oriented skills which are so needed in a post-scarcity internet age of personal brands. In fact, one might argue an experience like at Berea is even more essential these days for people who have been immersed too long in competitive academia even just at the high school level from which Princeton recruits undergraduates. Still, Berea is presided over by a PU graduate alum, one who is quoted as saying lack of debt may imply "entitlement" -- as if people were not entitled to lots of basic things in a decent society. One can see there the power of Princeton mythology -- and how it extends even into places like Berea. Again from:
    "The Mythology of Wealth" by

This is the difference between say, George W. Bush and you. Dubya went to prep school. You went to the public high school. Dubya went to Yale – ahead of someone with better credentials because he had family connections. Dubya had wealthy friends, through family, "skull and bones", etc, who bankrolled his oil drilling business. Ask some of his friends to bankroll your oil business. Let me know if they stop laughing before their bodyguards throw you out. Even if you managed to persuade an investor to bankroll some enterprise, you're going to have exactly one shot. If you lose, you won't be getting a second chance. Dubya, on the other hand, went broke, and then his friends bankrolled him again, before finally getting him a one percent share of the Texas Rangers. See how it works? People with money help each other out. They don't help out people who don't have any. Many cheap-labor conservatives don't want to help out the destitute at all. They say government assistance to people will make them "dependent". They say it breeds "inefficiency" and "laziness". They say that a harsh "got mine, get yours" social environment breeds "market discipline" by rewarding the most resourceful and competitive. Some extreme cheap-labor conservatives don't even believe in public education. They say it is the family's responsibility. If your family can't afford to send you to school, well, that's not their problem.

Maybe in the end, this change is exemplified by, say, the difference between a small group of academics using a lot of "defense" dollars to build WordNet (as thankful as we are for that, and it was a good "defense" investment IMHO) versus the world building Wikipedia in its free time (more on free time and Wikipedia later). I don't begrudge the academics like George Miller the fun of building free tools like WordNet (and what an accomplishment that was, only starting it in his early 60s -- that man must be smokingly "hot for words" healthwise, :-) leading one to question the notion of mandatory "retirement" altogether, in academia or the rest of life.) But Wikipedia shows we as a society are no longer absolutely depend on a grant-based system to get digital public works built -- even big things. And even with the non-profit world still making mostly proprietary works:
    "On funding post-scarcity digital public works"

None of this is meant to disrespect true academic excellence. Or even to disrespect Professor Emeritus George A. Miller in his pursuit of that, even if I use his professional career, perhaps unfairly, as a foil to Marlena's "hot for words" sexualized one.

Still, any psychologist might acknowledge a lot of life and the internet is about sex, overtly or sublimated. Probably a lot of PU competition too. So in the end, like James P. Hogan (who I met through PU's sci-fi society),
I'm suggesting the PU community find ways for prospective PU students and alumni to compete about sex that don't involve hundreds of millions of already born children suffering, as is the case today. :-(
Or even unborn ones, however one feels about the ethics of abortion, since poverty and abortion are clearly linked:

Moreover, as Cuomo pointed out, truly respecting the lives of the unborn requires providing women in general with the opportunities necessary to lead full and productive lives, and supporting pregnant women with the encouragement they need to see their pregnancies through to the end. These tasks alone should take lifetimes to complete.
How about more PUers showing how sexy they are by doing more about that? And in a collaborative way? (Or, at least, via "coopetition").

So, this is not to deny excellence, or even competition, but to instead say that excellence is happening more and more in a different way than the old scarcity myths related to competition inform us about. And there remains much to do in making better myths -- including looking at the pre-scarcity myths, like still persist among many older cultures from the Iroquois to the Hmong.

The need for balance even with a new mythology of abundance

As is suggested here, I personally feel life and society need a balance of meshwork and hierarchy:

Indeed, one must resist the temptation to make hierarchies into villains and meshworks into heroes, not only because, as I said, they are constantly turning into one another, but because in real life we find only mixtures and hybrids, and the properties of these cannot be established through theory alone but demand concrete experimentation.

As well as a balance of selfishness and altruism:

If Marxism is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one can run it purely on selfishness and individualism. Society in fact requires both individualism and collectivism, both selfishness and altruism, to function.

But it has to be a balance of those things in a mythology of abundance, not a mythology of scarcity that the current Princeton University is the flagship for. I used to think "exclusive" meant "high quality" -- now, thanks to the academic work of George A. Miller and others, I understand it just means:
"not divided or shared with others" among other senses. And frankly, I don't think the world really cares if they are excluded from PU Reunions, but everybody cares if they are excluded from the very basics of life -- including a conception of "mutual security" which Donald Rumsfeld '54 seems not to be able to understand in setting the tone for military doctrine (before "resigning").

Paradoxical suggestions for the prospective undergraduate intellectual

Even for those who just plan to get an undergraduate degree, and who don't plan to ever attempt a PhD and then pursue the ever smaller per capita grants, it is likely many, like the PU author quoted above, will end up with major frustrations from the "so obvious it is hidden or unspoken" elephant-in-the-living-room curriculum of competition at PU. The "why" of this will be explained a little later by Alfie Kohn. So, just following the "how" above, if prospective student truly wants to have intellectual freedom in a collaborative hobby-like "Professional Amateur" way,
he or she may be better off learning something like carpentry or plumbing or farming (instead of academics) at a place like Berea where their hands are rented, but their minds are still free, and then they can pursue ideas as a serious hobby in their spare time to make a balanced and healthy life. It would be a life lived in frugality. That frugality would buy more time off from any physical job for intellectual community, but frugality is the life of a perpetual graduate student or perpetual post-doc anyway. With the internet, such a life built around a physical job like plumbing with an intellectual hobby like number theory is quite possible anywhere while still being connected to the emerging "Noosphere" now that it contains more than was ever in the Princeton University library system.

Any downsides to this advice? A downside to trades is that in your 50s your knees may start to give out. But that is somewhat fixable these days, and will be only more so in the future. :-) A worse downside is that once you have kids, something has to give, and usually it is your hobbies. Nothing is perfect, but frugality maximizes your options, even with kids:

FSB: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs? SG: Learn to live cheaply. Learn to live like an animal. One thing we had going for us is we all spent a lot of time in grad school, and long periods of grad school teach you how to live well on a low budget. That's good training for becoming entrepreneurs. It's easier to have a high-risk tolerance when you know where the dumpsters with free food are. ...
So, I'd suggest creative dumpster diving is another class that should be taught at PU. Especially for those planning to get wealthy by being entrepreneurs (a whole other essay, or see these books :-)

Similarly, I might add, someone seriously interested in physical things like doing fine carpentry at their own pace might be better off going to Princeton instead of Berea, :-) so as to have an academic day job and then go home to do what they really care about -- playing with wood and following the grain at their own high quality pace, "messing around in boats", doing gardening, or so on. But ultimately, we need a balance of both physical and intellectual work for a happy and healthy life. And that suggests in some sense both institutions are flawed in separating education from normal community life. And the flaw extends, as with PU and George Miller, to separating out retirement too:
(There is a sad murder mystery in that book, too, of a relation of Richard Bolles. :-( That murder was over "money" and "secrecy", even though most are not. But I'd like to point out that that Stanford professor above is still pushing "money" mixed with "secrecy". So is he indirectly and unknowingly pushing "murder" too? :-( )

I remember how unfair it seemed to me that another beloved professor of mine, Prof. James T. C. Liu, and his wife were forced to leave the faculty housing near campus they so enjoyed just because he had to "retire", yet with so much left to give. This was a person who had spent his whole career studying and teaching about a set of interrelated societies and philosophies which generally respected the elderly -- yet he was literally turned out into the street by the University because he was getting a little gray. Granted he had resources, no doubt, like a PU pension, so he and his wife did not starve or go without the basics, but I'm sure the social changes hurt, no matter the grace and good humor he found to accept them (with his practice of Tai Chi Chuan no doubt helping him keep his mental as well as physical balance). I'm not saying there is an easy answer to this question of "faculty housing" or "retirement", but it still bothers me. It's also a sad fact that a good percentage of the elderly slide slowly into dementia too, whatever their professions. Still, I suggest that enforced career "suicide" and enforced community "suicide" by a university at some age is a deep issue that relates to some failure of the university concept as a learning community. See also some related ideas I suggest here about learning communities:
And I am glad at least one of my professors, George Miller, managed to sidestep that, and build during his "retirement" Princeton's greatest claim to fame in the free internet age IMHO. But frankly, not every professor who could do something like that gets a chance. Maybe instead they get broken hearts? :-( And on the other hand, the graying of the faculty without mandatory retirement only adds to the "Big Crunch" theme mentioned above.
That suggests another reason the entire academic pyramid scheme is failing and needs to be rethought. And it also suggests why students with academic interests should question enlisting if, given the internet, academia is no longer the only intellectual game in town.

And no matter how amazing each college may become someday on the back end, both Princeton and Berea are also limited on the front end by taking in students in some sense intentionally warped by our current economic system and the "Seven Lessons" K-12 teachers teach in lieu of education. New York State "Teacher of the Year" John Taylor Gatto describes those seven lessons here:

Look again at the seven lessons of schoolteaching: confusion, class position, indifference, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance. All of these things are prime training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And over time this training has shaken loose from its own original logic: to regulate the poor. For since the 1920s the growth of the school bureaucracy, and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling exactly as it is, has enlarged this institution's original grasp to the point that it now seizes the sons and daughters of the middle classes as well. Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, preempting the teaching function, which belongs to everyone in a healthy community.

Often at the price of family financial sacrifice, homeschoolers and unschoolers usually have successfully kept their kids from getting scarred by a K-12 compulsory educational system which breaks apart a unity of work, leisure, education, family, and community and in the process also labels and pigeonholes everybody. Yet, it continually amazes me that these same parents then offer these same kids so willingly to the colleges. And these parents are proud and validated when their frequently imaginative and hard working kids are eagerly snatched up by the colleges. Such is the power of a "brand" or a "myth" to get parents to sacrifice their children to a quasi-military organization for some unspecified future reward (as the Napolean related quote above attests to).

As an alternative, a prospective Princeton student with academic and scientific inclinations can still apply in order to go work on RepRap in academia, even working all the way through the PhD system. :-) Or he or she could work on similar projects and ideas (advanced biotechnology, copyright reform, new forms of economics focusing on the calculus of infinite abundance, and so on). But note that those are just objectives within the academic system towards transcending it by helping bring it down in a controlled way and replace it with something post-scarcity.

But can I in good conscience foist off the problem of fixing the decaying and out-of-date Princeton University institutional brand onto the next generation?

As Goodstein suggests, the PhD mining operation is broken beyond fixing.

Gatto says of mass schooling:

Before you can reach a point of effectiveness in defending your own children or your principles against the assault of blind social machinery, you have to stop conspiring against yourself by attempting to negotiate with a set of abstract principles and rules which, by its nature, cannot respond. Under all its disguises, that is what institutional schooling is, an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. Nobody can reform it. First you have to realize that human values are the stuff of madness to a system; in systems-logic the schools we have are already the schools the system needs; the only way they could be much improved is to have kids eat, sleep, live and die there.

The $20 billion dollar question (see below) is, does Princeton fit that description these days?

And no, that is not the murder mystery part, either, of the frustrated institutional desire to have kids "eat, sleep, live [presumably grow old] and die" in schools. I wish it were as simple as a hypothetical death. No, someone really died in this mystery, sadly. Someone I knew at PU. :-(

And if a prospective student goes that route to climbing the ladder to push it down from the top, he or she should first read "Disciplined Minds" by Jeff Schmidt:
As is indicated there, he or she should prepare for years of living like a POW resisting "discipline" (in part by using some of the same social and psychological techniques the Army teaches its soldiers to survive in POW camps, as are outlined in that book).
    (61,100 hits, I'm getting so trailing edge here, thankfully)
See, the military is good for some things. As Mr. Rogers says, "No one is good all the time. No one is bad all the time. We don't all do the things we should do all the time." And while I have commented on multiple people in this essay, including President Shirley M. Tilghman, this should not be taken as a belief that they are doing less that a human best under trying and ambiguous circumstances. Well except maybe for the USA's president, but he's a Yalie. What can you expect? Still, even Yalies can change. The US president gave up drinking. In a less stressful situation, he might be a wonderful neighbor, parent, or friend.

In a sense, this other statement by Socrates is no longer true in the internet age (at least, if you live frugally):

Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship.
I might argue, in the internet age, perhaps, compared to academics who need to fight it out over reputation in a collapsing system while in some sense preying on the young, manual laborers (including part-time "stay-at-home" parents like me :-) may be the only ones with the time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship.

The "how" versus "why" of the cost of Princeton

From PAW, here is the "how" of the cost of elite education just at Princeton:
The article (page 22) starts simply, quoting a song: "Princeton is free!"

That is, to be clear, Princeton is essentially cheap for a few of the poor, in terms of not asking for loans (and ignoring the opportunity cost of earning money instead). So a PU education is free as in free beer (well, more like cheap as in loss leader discounted beer) for one person, not free as in freedom for all. Ironically, despite all I write about PU, I am almost one of the small percent each year with the typical background to have benefited from Princeton's social class boost for the (lower) middle class as described in here:
    "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System" by Paul Fussell
What do I do with that PU degree now? It helps give me the social confidence to be a (part-time) stay-at-home Dad in our anti-feminist and anti-child culture:

The purpose of this site is to increase my ability to communicate the awe that children strike in me and the lessons I continue to learn as I spend my days in an amazing human laboratory that allows me and all who pass through the doors of number 8 Elm Street to be ourselves exactly as we are.

So, I can be thankful to PU for that social confidence.

I might add Chris' insights are what comes of seeing children as people, not academic subjects -- as important as dispassion can be, sometimes.

Also from the PAW article above:

Though some schools have followed Princeton's lead in eliminating loans for all students, most colleges simply cannot afford it. Princeton's endowment — $15.8 billion at the end of the last fiscal year — enables the University to pay out more in financial aid than it takes in through tuition, but few others have that flexibility.

Using the endowment to provide financial aid to hundreds of poorer students every year sounds wonderful on the surface.

But the article itself points to a deeper "why" type problem:

Several of the alumni presidents note that financial aid alone cannot greatly increase the representation of poor students in higher education in general and elite schools in particular. All the aid in the world, they say, can't make up for the diminished educational and enrichment opportunities throughout the K-12 years that often accompany lower socioeconomic status. To tackle college access in a serious way, Nugent, like many others, predicts that four-year colleges increasingly will forge partnerships with elementary schools, secondary schools, and community colleges to work on the more fundamental problem of college preparedness — which she argues would be a better investment than helping out the upper-middle class.

Hmmm. This gives this maybe "bitter" Princetonian an idea for a "Modest Proposal" to help fix "the diminished educational and enrichment opportunities throughout the K-12 years that often accompany lower socioeconomic status". And fix it in a *big* way. :-) And maybe even resolve the Robertson lawsuit at the same time. :-)

Still, bitterness is not very healthy way to live one's life:
See also, as in later:

A Modest Proposal for the use of Princeton's assets for the maximal public education

Consider, if Princeton had a "going out of business" sale and sold its physical plant on Nassau Street (and just freed its patents and copyrights, please) it might raise a few billion US dollars, on top of the endowment. :-) So, the total PU assets are probably about $20 billion. Well, that's enough to buy 200 million $100 laptops. Is a "free as in beer" Princeton education for a handful of students next year worth 200 million children remaining in want and ignorance next year (or more, approaching a billion kids if four or five children share a laptop). Essentially, if kids share OLPC laptops, the dissolving of Princeton as a "non-profit" would educate all the billion poorest people in the world. In that sense, the cost of just *one* elite academic institution in the OLPC era is massive global ignorance.
As well as global tyranny (as I wrote about in 2000):

Consider millions of these [$100] devices airdropped into Iraq and Yugoslavia -- instead of more expensive cruise missiles! Anybody got $1 billion to spend on ensuring democracy with a true defense against tyranny in those places? (This is probably what the U.S. military spends on gas/oil for a month cruising the area...)

Princeton could justify this as a sincere attempt at "partnerships with elementary schools, secondary schools, and community colleges to work on the more fundamental problem of college preparedness". :-) Or some other high sounding academic language. They can turn here for ideas on how to write dismissal letters to the faculty: :-)
There's a good example of something similar in there by the way as a starting point. It begins (page 28): "It the face of the severity and continuing character of the budgetary stringencies which we thus face, we have concluded that we must undertake an immediate and thorough programmatic review and reordering of academic priorities..."
So drafting the dismissal letters should not be the problem. I might even be persuaded to set foot again in Nassau Hall to help write them, although with the internet, we can just collaborate remotely. Which is the whole point. :-) I'm just being facetious there -- I actually have the highest respect for most of the faculty, so writing such letters would be pretty painful, but still a lot less painful than thinking about a billion kids without hope.

And getting rid of all of PU's assets would end any lawsuits against PU (Robertson or otherwise) once and for all. (See, I said I'd address that concern. Be careful what you wish for. :-)

And look at what is possible even without adult involvement beyond setting computers up:

Dr. Mitra heads research and development at NIIT, a leading computer software and training company in New Delhi. Just outside his office is a wall that separates his air-conditioned 21st-century office from a slum. Mitra decided to place a high-speed computer in the wall, connect it to the Internet, and watch who, if anyone, might use it. To his delight, curious children were immediately attracted to the strange new machine. "When they said, 'Can we touch it?'" Mitra recalls, "I said, 'It's on your side of the wall.' The rules say whatever is on their side, they can touch, so they touched it." Within minutes, children figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day they were browsing. "Given access and opportunity," observes O'Connor, "the children quickly taught themselves the rudiments of computer literacy."

Obviously, this is not to discount the value of face-to-face interaction in an education, but many "poor" (in a material sense) communities are very "rich" in social capital and human interactions, often more so than in, say, the USA. But many of these kids do not have access to even books. Let alone computer simulations or communication tools.

And bringing these cultures on-line might actually bring some of the better parts of these society's ancient social and technical wisdom into cyberspace, with benefits back to the USA. Example:

In response to biopiracy threats such as this, India has been translating and publishing ancient manuscripts containing old remedies in electronic form. The texts are being recorded from Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian and Arabic; they will be made available to patent offices in English, German, French, Japanese and Spanish in 2006. The aim is to protect India's heritage from being exploited by foreign companies. Hundreds of Yoga poses are also kept in the collection.

Clang! Is that another noise from under the PU hull just from drifting sea ice? What's all the shouting going on below decks about taking on water? And we are still not even anywhere near the real post-scarcity "free" iceberg. :-) But already "cheap" is making significant changes in what is possible and thus what is justifiable as ethical.

Objections to the Modest Proposal

An alum has quite rightly pointed out the need to be suspicious of global solutions not rooted in local culture as well as "one-true-way" solutions. I'd agree that locally rooted solutions are best. The OLPC suggestion is for comparison (as in, better than nothing or better than a somewhat-even-if-unconsciously-destructive elite institution); it is not the ideal, and at best would just be a start. I'd agree that ecovillage ideals (as that alum also suggested) are a bigger part of good solutions.
But I might suggest the connectivity of the laptops might help even with that by allowing ecovillages to share ideas. Some dusty ideas of mine from 1990 on that (since mostly surpassed by the internet):
One other aspect is to see something like that as a two-way flow -- where a lot of different indigenous local ideas and ideals flow around the globe because they are now easy to publish, not a one way flow of conventional mainstream Western ideals everywhere as is happening now with TV. My first internet access outside of a university around the early 1990s was using the Institute for Global Communication's "Econet"
and also the Whole Earth Electronic Link (WELL) from the same people as the catalog, and those were important services for connecting people with similar interests at the time. Connectivity has limits and issues, but I feel these people should themselves have a choice to reject it if they wish.

Oh sure, PUers might also point to:
    ""Free" is Killing Us--Blame The VCs"
But if you read the comments, it depends on whose perspective you take on this -- or who the "us" is meant to include.

I think the real thing companies should be asking themselves is why they were trying to charge so much for something in the first place? Chris Anderson's article on why free is the future of business over at makes it clear that costs have gone down dramatically. But some companies refuse to accept that this might mean that they just have to settle for making less money. The music industry is a great example. Instead of lowering their prices right away when their costs came down with digital distribution, they tried to fight it, and they got burned by free. Other similar companies need to realize that the world has changed, and there is less profit to be had. Until they do, they will get burned as well.
How much does PU tuition cost again? And what do kids these days really get for it? A new science library with no ethics books and less materials than what is browseable on the internet? A faculty that is engaging in (according to Goodstein) fraud and duplicity? Alumni donations for integrating humanities and engineering that get heaped in part on three trillion dollars gone up in smoke in Iraq? A diploma from a financially obese school and a chance to join an alumni community that may soon be called "so 20th century"? A gymnasium swimming pool with mutant sharks in it?

OK, so maybe that last one thing makes PU worth attending, for some. That's the kind of thing it's difficult to do at home. :-) Except maybe via simulation: :-)

This simulation exhibits the cyclic rise and fall of a predator prey Lotka-Volterra model. On the rectangular grid of the upper left corner, the red blocks represent predator ( sharks ) who eat any adjacent green prey ( fish ). If the sharks cannot find fish after X iterations starvation takes claim. Both species ( fish / shark ) reproduce after given intervals.

The article mentioned in that quote:
    "Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business"

The second trend is simply that anything that touches digital networks quickly feels the effect of falling costs. There's nothing new about technology's deflationary force, but what is new is the speed at which industries of all sorts are becoming digital businesses and thus able to exploit those economics. When Google turned advertising into a software application, a classic services business formerly based on human economics (things get more expensive each year) switched to software economics (things get cheaper). So, too, for everything from banking to gambling. The moment a company's primary expenses become things based in silicon, free becomes not just an option but the inevitable destination. ...
What Mead understood is that a psychological switch should flip as things head toward zero. Even though they may never become entirely free, as the price drops there is great advantage to be had in treating them as if they were free. Not too cheap to meter, as Atomic Energy Commission chief Lewis Strauss said in a different context, but too cheap to matter. Indeed, the history of technological innovation has been marked by people spotting such price and performance trends and getting ahead of them. ...
Today it's digital technologies, not electricity, that have become too cheap to meter. It took decades to shake off the assumption that computing was supposed to be rationed for the few, and we're only now starting to liberate bandwidth and storage from the same poverty of imagination. But a generation raised on the free Web is coming of age, and they will find entirely new ways to embrace waste, transforming the world in the process. Because free is what you want — and free, increasingly, is what you're going to get.

I'd suggest that is the sort of prospective Princeton University think hard about recruiting -- one who takes "free" for granted. PU could try to recruit the kind of prospective who would laugh at this essay as being so obvious as to not be worth writing (some youthful arrogance is discountable, of course :-), and, even worse, suggest that this essay is even behind the times because of X, Y, or Z which they are involved in personally. :-)

Otherwise, seriously, if PU does not have the spirit of the likely future, why can we not educate literally a billion of the poorest kids in the world next year "for free" instead of just a few hundred at Princeton on financial aid (and so on until post-scarcity hits full force)? It would cost the same in charitable capital either way in a sense. One approach produces a thousand or so more people a year of the "Old Guard":
What are they guarding, by the way? Maybe guard duty is getting old by now? As the article above on senior sex suggests, there is a lot more to do than stand around and guard as we age. :-) See also:
    "Your Health: Is Sex Necessary?"

This alternative approach of dissolving the PU status-quo produces maybe a billion or so more K-12 educated people over the next five or ten years for the "GNU garden". :-)

I'd suggest Whig-Clio have a debate on it at least. :-)
Resolved: Princeton University should be dissolved as a going concern in order that the approximately US$20 billion in combined endowment and physical assets can be given to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation.

Oh sure, people will come up with all sorts of reasonable sounding objections to my modest proposal, same as for this one by Jonathan Swift:
    "A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick"
That is one thing "reason" is good for -- coming up with excuses for something your heart, or stomach, :-) is not ready for.

But, in an ironic twist on The Time Machine's plot referenced earlier, who are really the Morlocks here
but the beautiful PU Old Guard and PU faculty and staff? And who are the Eloi being eaten
but the disease-ridden and thus apparently ugly children of the poorest globally who are being denied an education (as well as food, clean water, etc.) which it is easily within the Princeton Alumni community's power these days to give them, like by dissolving Princeton University? PU alumni could easily switch from TigerNet services to, say, free Google services. Arrangements could no doubt be made with whoever purchases the PU physical plant to rent back part of the PU campus during reunions for the P-rade. So, aside from a PAW which had somewhat different articles focused on the problems of educating a billion kids all at once using laptops, I don't see that the PU alumni would notice much difference, except maybe by feeling better about themselves. As to the staff and faculty, no doubt other universities would pick them up -- or maybe many of them could be transferred to the employ of whoever buys the PU physical campus as part of the package? Maybe one of the pharmaceutical companies in New Jersey might be interested? And any current PU student could either transfer out or just receive diplomas, even would be sophomores.

The Heart of the Matter

Why is the Princeton University community's heart not ready to make this switch? Why has it not, to my knowledge, been proposed before? Beyond legal constraints on gifts to Princeton, consider the flaw in Princeton's guiding mythology of individual excellence through competition:

No Contest, which has been stirring up controversy since its publication in 1986, stands as the definitive critique of competition. Drawing from hundreds of studies, Alfie Kohn eloquently argues that our struggle to defeat each other -- at work, at school, at play, and at home -- turns all of us into losers. ... No Contest makes a powerful case that "healthy competition" is a contradiction in terms. Because any win/lose arrangement is undesirable, we will have to restructure our institutions for the benefit of ourselves, our children, and our society. For this [1992] revised edition, Kohn adds a comprehensive account of how students can learn more effectively by working cooperatively in the classroom instead of struggling to be Number One. He also offers a pointed and personal afterword, assessing shifts in American thinking on competition and describing reactions to his provocative message.

Or from an Amazon review:

In this inspiring and well-researched book Alfie Kohn describes how we, in our compulsion to rank ourselves against one another, turn almost everything into a contest (at work, at school, at play, at home). Often, we assume that working toward a goal and setting standards for ourselves can only take place if we compete against others. By perceiving tasks or play as a contest we often define the situation to be one of MEGA: mutually exclusive goal attainment.

This means: my success depends on your failure. Is this wise? No! Is this inevitable? No! This book brilliantly shows how: 1) competitiveness is NOT an inevitable feature of human nature (in fact, human nature is overwhelmingly characterised by its opposite - co-operation), 2) superior performance not only does not require competition; it usually seems to require its absence (because competition often distracts people from the task at hand, the collective does usually not benefit from our individual struggles against each other), 3) competition in sports might be less healthy than we usually think because it contributes to the competitive mindset (while research shows that non-competitive games can be at least as enjoyable and challenging as competitive ones), 4) competition does not build good character; it undermines self esteem (most competitors lose most of the time because by definition not everyone can win), 5) competition damages relationships, 6) a competitive mindset makes transforming of organizations and society harder (those things requiring a collective effort and a long-term commitment).

I think many people reading this book will recognize in themselves their tendency to think competitively and will feel challenged and inspired to change. And that's a good thing. Our fates are linked. People need to, and can choose to, build a culture in which pro-social behaviors and a co-operative mindset are stimulated. The competitive mindset can be unlearned. By developing a habit to see and define tasks as co-operative we can defy the usual egoism/altruism dichotomy: by helping the other person you are helping yourself.

So, the "healthy competition" idea is part of the "why" PAW does not discuss about the cost of Princeton. Give a billion poor kids a leg up, and that's just unfair and unhealthy, because they don't deserve it compared to a bunch of 18 year olds who already have had a fantastic K-12 education and so proved they are competitive? I'll be curious to see how people justify not doing this. Words like "leadership" will pop up, I'm sure. But think on this, Princeton has already produced many of the leaders who let (or made) this rich-poor disparity happen. Why should it get a second chance?

Nothing new here, really, Marx and many others (even Jesus) have talked about all this for a very long time. And Bucky Fuller's "World Game" said the same thing decades ago, that we can redirect a fraction of the US defense budget to make the world work for everyone. They were even said in a letter to the US President in 1964:
    "The Triple Revolution: Cybernation, Demilitarization, and Civil Rights"

This statement is written in the recognition that mankind is at a historic conjuncture which demands a fundamental reexamination of existing values and institutions. At this time three separate and mutually reinforcing revolutions are taking place:
The Cybernation Revolution: A new era of production has begun. Its principles of organization are as different from those of the industrial era as those of the industrial era were different from the agricultural. The cybernation revolution has been brought about by the combination of the computer and the automated self-regulating machine. This results in a system of almost unlimited productive capacity which requires progressively less human labor. Cybernation is already reorganizing the economic and social system to meet its own needs.
The Weaponry Revolution: New forms of weaponry have been developed which cannot win wars but which can obliterate civilization. We are recognizing only now that the great weapons have eliminated war as a method for resolving international conflicts. The ever-present threat of total destruction is tempered by the knowledge of the final futility of war. The need of a "warless world" is generally recognized, though achieving it will be a long and frustrating process.
The Human Rights Revolution: A universal demand for full human rights is now clearly evident. It continues to be demonstrated in the civil rights movement within the United States. But this is only the local manifestation of a worldwide movement toward the establishment of social and political regimes in which every individual will feel valued and none will feel rejected on account of his race.
We are particularly concerned in this statement with the first of these revolutionary phenomena. This is not because we underestimate the significance of the other two. On the contrary, we affirm that it is the simultaneous occurrence and interaction of all three developments which make evident the necessity for radical alterations in attitude and policy. The adoption of just policies for coping with cybernation and for extending rights to all Americans is indispensable to the creation of an atmosphere in the U.S. in which the supreme issue, peace, can be reasonably debated and resolved.

The only big difference here is instead of comparing apples and oranges (guns versus butter), I'm comparing two varieties of apples -- educating 1000 or so rich and middle class kids next year (and each year for a decade or two after that until the whole socio-economic system implodes from 3D printing) versus educating a billion really poor ones right now (and maybe producing the next George A. Miller). Given that there are many other elite colleges besides Princeton to attend, how can anyone possibly justify *not* dissolving Princeton University and educating a billion really poor kids instead? Seriously, if the Princeton community is about education, how can *not* doing this dissolution possibly be justified, even by the PU trustees? Beyond the 50000 or so alumni and staff and some town businesses, who would really miss Princeton at this point if it had a "going out of business" sale and educated a billion children with the proceeds? Maybe people can invent reasons not to do this, but hopefully they would be way better than educating a billion children, and if so, let us hear them. What can Princeton contribute to the world that is more important that giving literally a billion children access to all of modern knowledge via the internet?

Anyway, now maybe you can begin to see the shape of that big white thing in the mist that PU as the flagship of global capitalism is heading towards. I'm sure in time Nassau Hall will have a ready answer to this idea. But I doubt they have one as of when I write this. Because I doubt they have ever thought about it. Again as above:

That was Robert Francis Goheen, always listening. ... He hired a young assistant professor from Harvard, Neil Rudenstine '56, as dean of students when he realized that nobody in Nassau Hall really had a clue about the late-'60s generation.
Those who study history are condemned to see others repeat it, or something like that. :-)

For me, this is one of these moments in history Howard Zinn talks about here:
    "The Optimism of Uncertainty"

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

As of this moment, ethically, Princeton University, the flagship of elite academia and global capitalism, is "history" IMHO. At least, the myths are gone, even if the buildings remain (more on that later).

Or also, as I wrote here, from a different perspective about most schooling:

Ultimately, educational technology's greatest value is in supporting "learning on demand" based on interest or need which is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to "learning just in case" based on someone else's demand. Compulsory schools don't usually traffic in "learning on demand", for the most part leaving that kind of activity to libraries or museums or the home or business or the "real world". In order for compulsory schools to make use of the best of educational technology and what is has to offer, schools themselves must change. ... So, there is more to the story of technology than it failing in schools. Modern information and manufacturing technology itself is giving compulsory schools a failing grade. Compulsory schools do not pass in the information age. They are no longer needed. What remains is just to watch this all play out, and hopefully guide the collapse of compulsory schooling so that the fewest people get hurt in the process.

With all that said, what makes sense for us as individuals may not make sense for us as a society, otherwise my family would not have a private library approaching 5000 books. :-) Princeton is, as universities go, a fine institution, although as with human relationships what matters most is a good "match" not picking the "best partner" on some absolute grounds.

I was glad to see PAW mention Berea college (a "work" college) even though it was in a somewhat elite dismissive tone (for poor people). Again, ironically, the value of a "work college" might be the largest for those with the greatest *intellectual* aspirations, since, with manual labor, while your hands may be rented out, your mind remains your own to read and think as you like (an idea a mathematics aficionado who did her work-study as a student peeling potatoes in food services told me). See also:
    "The Joys of Janitorhood: Reflections on a low status career field"
But then, once one starts thinking about "work colleges" as "learning communities", then why make college a special place at all? People of all ages have a lot to learn from each other, if we can move past a (literally) Medieval system of education. Maybe then when learning grows in an area, it would not have to kill the spirit of the physical town it is associated with, as that Princeton security guard talked about (way back at the start of this essay).

A digression on some aspects of my relationship to the Princeton University community and "trade skill"

One reason I could afford (emotionally) to take Princeton less seriously than my peers was that I developed a trade skill (programming) before attending. But it could just as well have been plumbing, carpentry, or farming. So, even if I failed, I knew I could support myself.

I also wrote a (derivative) video game the summer before PU. I think I may have annoyed my first year Princeton Inn College dormmate across the hall a little with that "Intruder Scramble" program and related tiny royalties, and maybe that competition helped spur him on to ambitious heights: "[In] 1998, Goldman donated $2 million to his alma mater to endow a chair, becoming the youngest alumnus ever to do so". Though see where that got him in the end: :-(
    (July 17, 1964 -- December 26, 2003)
As someone once told me, the graveyards are full of monuments to "indispensable" people. :-( Or, I might add, ambitious ones. :-( (More on Phil and me later.)

I didn't in the end rewrite that VIC-20 game for the Commodore 64 (which might have made me much money). This was in part so as to focus on my PU studies and to learn to play the flute. And I *did* benefit from that time with faculty, students, and staff (including janitors). And I met Gerry O'Neill in person (and later became a fan of his ideas).

And I met George A. Miller, of course, who continues to inspire me with his commitment to life and free content. Plus I later (as a grad student) met the "other" George Miller (really, "Dean George J. Mueller") in the engineering quad, who I remember walking with across campus as he made his way to human resources a day or so before he ended his own life in a park. Which illustrates two very different approaches to the issues raised by this complex world, whether as individuals or communities. And I thought the other George was less than his usual talkative self that day due to some problems *I* was having at the engineering school, otherwise I would have talked to him more, not wanting to impose. How self-centered we (or I) can be. We miss you, the other George. Thanks for staying with us so long.

And no, this is not a comment on the PU HR department. What else do you need to say about a place that in its name implies people are only just "resources"? :-(
Even though people do have aspects of their lives that are "resource" related in a sense, of course:

A large section of the book is dedicated to showing how population growth ultimately creates more resources. The basic argument echoes the overarching thesis: as resources become more scarce, the price rises, creating an incentive to adapt. The more people a society has to invent and innovate, ceteris paribus, the easier the society will raise its living standards and lower resource scarcity. People, on average, add to a civilization more than they take away.
Though we can transcend markets for that feedback, of course. And with stuff much better than the US government apparently helped destroy the first September 11 (1973, in Chile):
So, two myths with one stone. Or even three. But I remain sad as to the deathly occasions of it all. :-(

I am glad there is an award in George Mueller's memory.
But as with Phil, I can't help but wonder if there is something wrong with PU emphasizing:

evidently combined high scholarly achievement in the study of engineering with quality performance in intercollegiate athletics.
instead of affirming our more basic human values like gentleness or compassion or even joy:
Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we're living, which is so excellent once one gets one's mind and one's desire out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.
Another myth to live by. Giving thanks to the great Mystery every day helps remind of us of it, even as we acknowledge our smallness and dependency, but perhaps hopefully still not total insignificance, including the significance to help others see their own significance in our limited lives at this Earthly party.

In this amazingly titled book by Leslie Farber I once wanted to use at PU for "charades" (people thought it too hard :-):
    "Lying, Despair, Jealousy, Envy, Sex, Suicide, Drugs, and the Good Life"
Leslie Farber makes the point that individual suicides are best thought of like a "trap door" that springs open under a person, and that endless "what ifs" get us nowhere useful. I'd add that death gets us all in the end, whether from a flawed assumption or a flawed heart valve. But as Leslie Farber points out, it is how we live our lives before then that matters. Including whether we spend too much time thinking about "jumping" from towers, and not building better ones we don't want to jump from, because we are all jumping together inside to the beat of African dance music.

Or jumping to whatever inspires our passion for life, even "Fermat's Last Conjecture". Or now, should I call it, "Andrew Wiles' Theorem"?
Bless Andrew Wiles for his courage and stamina in finding a reason to live a glorious mathematical life around Fine Tower, but why did he have to be forced to be so alone to do his work for seven years in his attic? Why wasn't his office (presumably among colleagues in Fine Tower) good enough? OK, mathematicians often need quiet to think. But was that all it was? Or did he, in some sense, need to jump from the institution every day that otherwise threatened him with "career suicide" for doing what he cared about? Of course, as with my comments above on Marina's choice, this is not to disrespect Andrew Wiles' isolated mathematical life in an attic (and with a confidant or two) if that was freely chosen.

Perhaps what helped me myself survive my (fortunately?) three years at Princeton was that, like perhaps Andrew Wiles, and many others probably hidden at PU, I always felt I was "racing alone"?
"Is it really sane to follow one's ideals and dreams and race alone in today's world? Is it really reasonable to insist on holding to one's visions against all odds, and after many trying years?"
But there is often an unfortunate human cost for that when attempted in an institutional context like PU. And even "racing alone" or "racing against" yourself can be damaging if taken too far, given it is ultimately issues like joy and connectedness that help us build a good life.

So, even given what Farber writes, it still might still be useful to consider aspects of our social institutions that make suicide (physical, career, or just moving on) more likely either for individuals, institutions, or even entire societies?

One of the greatest preventers of suicide is meaningful human relationships. And these rarely come from an adversarial approach to life, like the ones Princeton both implicitly and explicitly promotes. From:
    "On Caring" by Milton Mayeroff

Through caring for certain others, by serving them through caring, a [person] live the meaning of [his or her] own life. In the sense in which a [person] can ever be said to be at home in the world, [he or she] is at home not through dominating, or explaining, or appreciating, but through caring and being cared for. — Milton Mayeroff, from On Caring
But Mayeroff would accept that caring for ideas and institutions is important, too, as well as caring for people. Maybe, despite what I said above about Nassau Hall, I'm still a sucker for that old "Orange and Black"? Or maybe a similar color preference is because someone who cared about me gave me an orange and black "Whizzer" top as a child, by chance, which became a favorite toy? Or maybe, I have grown from being "good little automaton droid" or a "Captain Amazing wannabee" or even a "mean jerk" :-( into a (reformed) "Mr. Furious" and I now just see the people under whatever colors? Or at least, try to.
As I'd suggest, through struggle and pain and also love, maybe we all can?

I'd suggest, the quest for "excellence" (whether in mathematics or even, say, ethics :-) done apart from service to other human values (even just curiosity), and done through competition with others, is a big part of the current Princeton mythology. It's part of that whole "smarter shark" thing, too. :-) Perhaps things like joy in service to others, or work/life balance might be better things for PU to promote more than academic or athletic excellence (however important those may be in the right context)? Similarly, considering people as "resources" to be used (or even used up) perhaps sets a bad tone for a campus. How about simply relating to people as "people"?

A person who exemplified some of that spirit of joy in service and who understood work/life balance IMHO was Yvonne Mccready(?), the director of the PUCC Computer Clinic it the early 1980s. As one of her computer clinicians for a time, I learned ready habits about the joy of helping others which have served me well throughout my career and elsewhere. And she and others there like Blair Dewey set good examples of work/life balance and a humorous approach to life. Thanks, Yvonne. Thanks Blair. That's the kind of thing all a college's students might learn more easily at say, Berea, than Princeton. And as I think of it, that time working at the PUCC "Clinic" may have been the most valuable of my entire PU experience (and not just in a monetary sense).

I also took some good courses on the history of science like with Michael Mahoney who tried to have us read "Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought" by Langdon Winner. Although, as I said, I was too dumb to read it at the time. By the way, nothing I say here should be considered to in any way represent any of his opinions. I'm sure he could write a much better essay than this. And better in many ways -- shorter, faster, more current to campus culture I only speculate on, perhaps unfairly. And if people, even him, write long rebuttals of this showing point by point where I went wrong, I welcome them. But, realistically, even if he wanted to, and even with tenure, could he write something similar socially, while living in the PU physical community (assuming anything I write here makes sense :-)? And as is suggested here:
    "Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts: A Study in Educational Epistemology"
it is very hard for a person to introspect about a culture they are deeply enmeshed in. I make some more comments on the limits of that essay in a previously linked post, also here:
(to begin with, it ignores the many types of intelligence like musical, kinesthetic, narrative, compassionate, 3D visualization, spiritual, existential, ethical, etc.)

Of course, when I made a comment in a paper about the new residential college system and the related harm to the Princeton Inn community and the physical character of that space, he soundly trounced it (rightly, no doubt). So, he may do the same to this essay. :-) I'm sure there are endless good things people are doing at PU. Michael Mahoney could point to, say:
    "The University Center for Human Values"
or other similar aspects of PU's extensive curriculum offerings and research areas. Still, they just don't show up in this Google search on "post-scarcity" focused on the Princeton web site:
    "Your search - "post-scarcity" - did not match any documents."
By comparison, there is a lot of talk about "scarcity":
    "Results 1 - 10 of about 795 from for "scarcity". (0.02 seconds)"
Still, this is a somewhat hopeful sign, on a search on "abundance":
    "Results 1 - 10 of about 969 from for abundance. (0.25 seconds)"
even though the top match there mentions "parasite abundance". :-) Maybe someday there will be some web pages at PU displayed by that "post-scarcity" Google search. Maybe even a result for this essay? :-)

And maybe that "The University Center for Human Values" linked there could be relocated from Louis Marx Hall to, say, the "tree house" in new Lewis Library for science, to at least help give those smarter sharks some humane ethics to go with their laser-guided nuclear munitions? Since those sharks are a given at this point anyway. :-) And who am I to say they have no right to be born? But we still need to educate those advanced sharks with "liberal arts" values IMHO. Well, the post-scarcity version of the "liberal arts" anyway. :-) Or maybe instead, perhaps these:
Maybe those smarter sharks will turn out to be excellent space propulsion specialists with their nuclear munitions and laser beams. :-)
And space is really the ideal environment for water breathers like sharks anyway:

I learned much also from Professor Jim Beniger. I learned a lot more about PU when the Sociology department denied such an excellent and devoted teacher tenure, saying of his specialty "Communications is a fad". I wish I was making that up, because I felt that situation hurt him deeply, and he was one of the kindest and most insightful people I met at PU. But I did learn more about what the institution values, of course. Maybe Jim did not bring in enough of an abundance of money for tenure at PU? :-( And so did not get tenure despite the abundance he brought to PU in many other areas of excellence?

I also in part abandoned the rewrite as the game was called "addictive" (described as a positive :-) and that bothered me a little (plus it was about violence, even if abstract). So I picked a different path than Phil in some ways, a less directly ambitious one, strangely enough perhaps because of early "trade skill" success such as Berea teaches. I never felt I had to prove anything in economic terms, and I could afford (emotionally) to take academics less than seriously.

Even to the point of essentially (half-way :-) choosing to fail a course and see what happened:
And in the process, unfortunately, I helped turn a peaceful Quaker (and later Nobel laureate) into, in a very limited sense, a bureaucratic villain just following orders in a Princeton-powered system that ignores the importance of failure, ambiguity, and uncertainty in creating certain necessary aspects of a good life, a good education, and good mentoring relationships. It's also a system which likely has an unexamined focus on the grading process which among other things poisons mentoring relationships or playfulness, as it in some sense poisoned my relationship with my own advisor or almost ever other faculty member. :-(

I audited Stephen Cohen's Soviet Politics course, and there were a few faculty around the dorms who were exceptions. I even fortunately interacted with Lynn White a tiny bit in passing, as he was a faculty member hanging out at PIC sometimes.

By the way, one reason I failed that Physics course on labs missed (the Professor was such a nice guy, otherwise I'm sure I'd have gotten a C despite my inability to wrap my mind around special relativity, which seemed like BS to me even if supposedly mathematically consistent :-) was that the administration seemed to keep bouncing the Band around as to when and where it could practice in order to destroy it (and the new time and field ended up conflicting with my physics labs). So, I picked the Band over studying with the Macarthur Fellow and eventual Nobel prize winner. A good choice I think in retrospect, as that time spent with the Band helps me plan for its abolishment (see below. :-)
    "Evil Overlord, Incorporated: Planning your Future, One Step at a Time"
And I hope the Professor involved might ultimately agree that it was a good choice, since we all know the PU Band has got to go. But see below before you judge me to be a Blue Meanie on that statement. :-)

Really, is this the best thinking about grading the PU community can do these days when computers so easily support narrative feedback on portfolios?

These proposals are designed to assist the faculty in bringing grade inflation under reasonable control. By adopting them, the faculty will be better able to give students the carefully calibrated assessment they deserve of the quality of their course work and independent work. The proposed grading standard responds to the desire of the department chairs that all departments be asked to meet common expectations. It responds to the desire of students for evenhandedness in grading across the departments. And it positions Princeton to take national leadership in tackling what has seemed an intractable national problem.
What purpose do these (reading-between-the-lines) admittedly arbitrary grades really serve? Why assign arbitrary letter grades at all? What do the grades really prove?

Contrast what PU said in 2004 with this five year earlier essay from 1999 by Alfie Kohn:
    "From Degrading to De-Grading"

Grades aren't valid, reliable, or objective. A "B" in English says nothing about what a student can do, what she understands, where she needs help. Moreover, the basis for that grade is as subjective as the result is uninformative. A teacher can meticulously record scores for one test or assignment after another, eventually calculating averages down to a hundredth of a percentage point, but that doesn't change the arbitrariness of each of these individual marks. Even the score on a math test is largely a reflection of how the test was written: what skills the teacher decided to assess, what kinds of questions happened to be left out, and how many points each section was "worth." Moreover, research has long been available to confirm what all of us know: any given assignment may well be given two different grades by two equally qualified teachers. It may even be given two different grades by a single teacher who reads it at two different times (for example, see some of the early research reviewed in Kirschenbaum et al., 1971). In short, what grades offer is spurious precision – a subjective rating masquerading as an objective evaluation. ...
Most of us are directly acquainted with at least some of these disturbing consequences of grades, yet we continue to reduce students to letters or numbers on a regular basis. Perhaps we've become inured to these effects and take them for granted. This is the way it's always been, we assume, and the way it has to be. It's rather like people who have spent all their lives in a terribly polluted city and have come to assume that this is just the way air looks – and that it's natural to be coughing all the time.
Oddly, when educators are shown that it doesn't have to be this way, some react with suspicion instead of relief. They want to know why you're making trouble, or they assert that you're exaggerating the negative effects of grades (it's really not so bad – cough, cough), or they dismiss proven alternatives to grading on the grounds that our school could never do what others schools have done.
The practical difficulties of abolishing letter grades are real. But the key question is whether those difficulties are seen as problems to be solved or as excuses for perpetuating the status quo. The logical response to the arguments and data summarized here is to say: "Good Heavens! If even half of this is true, then it's imperative we do whatever we can, as soon as we can, to phase out traditional grading." Yet many people begin and end with the problems of implementation, responding to all this evidence by saying, in effect, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but we'll never get rid of grades because . . ."
It is also striking how many educators never get beyond relatively insignificant questions, such as how many tests to give, or how often to send home grade reports, or what grade should be given for a specified level of achievement (e.g., what constitutes "B" work), or what number corresponds to what letter. Some even reserve their outrage for the possibility that too many students are ending up with good grades, a reaction that suggests stinginess with A's is being confused with intellectual rigor. The evidence indicates that the real problem isn't grade inflation; it's grades. The proper occasion for outrage is not that too many students are getting A's, but that too many students have accepted that getting A's is the point of going to school.
And, that's just a tiny excerpt from a *long* essay. :-)

Do people need to be graded on, say, how well they use the internet to learn things, as in "A, B, C, D, F for, say, Fernhout"? :-) Don't we have enough brain power as a society to move beyond what are, in a sense, just another form of ration units for an artificially created scarcity? Can't professors begin to think in narratives, not arbitrary grades? Just as, even in 1973, as with Cybersyn, we had enough computer power to start to move beyond markets?

Some Quaker humor as as interlude: (and I think it applies to grading as well :-)

One World War II Quaker conscientious objector had been a professional wrestler. Once when he and some other inmates of the Coshocton CPS camp in Ohio made a trip into town, they were hassled about their pacifism by some local youths, who insisted that only force could change the German's views. In response, the ex-wrestler took off his coat, challenged one of the local boys to a match, and promptly threw the townie across the room. He then asked the youth,
"Now do you believe that force won't change people's views?"
"Heck no!" the local boy hollered back.
"That's exactly my point," said the Quaker, who put on his coat and left.

Resuming our Polemic, and considering an even bigger picture

What exactly is a polemic, anyway? From WordNet:

S: (n) polemic (a controversy (especially over a belief or dogma))
Unfortunately, George Miller had to draw from only sources about 100 years old to make WordNet, due to copyright issues and limited time. From Wikipedia:
Polemics is the practice of disputing or controverting religious, philosophical, or political matters. As such, a polemic text on a topic is often written specifically to dispute or refute a position or theory that is widely viewed to be beyond reproach.
Well, if the RepRapped shoe fits, I'll wear it. :-) This is a "polemic" against the secular mythology (or "secular religion") that shapes the Princeton University community. See also:
In the terminology of some scholars working in sociology, a political religion is a political ideology with cultural and political power equivalent to those of a religion, and often having many sociological and ideological similarities with religion.
I'm basically saying that PU's secular mythology is getting more and more out-of-date with each passing day. PU's mythology contains ideas like:
* achieving excellence through competition,
* praising financial obesity,
* valuing "work" instead of "play",
* assuming a need for extrinsic rewards (money and grades) instead of intrinsic rewards (just from the experience),
* the need to be exclusive instead of inclusive,
* putting the college years ahead of the early years,
* assuming perpetual war, empire, and the "free" markets the empire defines are the only alternative to chaos, disaster, and sloth, and so on.
All these myths are starting to fall apart in the internet age -- if they ever were true to begin with.

Again, Princeton University should seriously be evaluating the value of its "brand" in the internet age, especially after the Iraq war, IMHO. This is especially true given what PU represents to the public these days with, again, poster boy Donald Rumsfeld '54, which is part of why I didn't put a PU sticker on our current car. See:
    "They Thought They Were Free"

And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident ... collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in — your nation, your people [, your university :-(] — is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

This essay is my small attempt to help the Princeton community reverse this process of spiritual decline.

Sure there are PU alumni like Marty Johnson '81 who passed on his dreams to make sustainable islands in the sea or space and instead renewed the city of Trenton out of immense practical altruism:
But it's hard to offset just one Donald Rumsfeld with the Iraq war costs now expected to reach three trillion US dollars or more
(ignoring tens of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees). Let's assume one "Marty Johnson" can raise, say, being very generous, $100 million over his life for good ends. It would still take 30,000 Marty Johnsons to equal (financially) just one Donald Rumsfeld. That's almost all the alumni. So, based on that failure to help just that *one* student learn to be less competitive, or to find the courage to stand up for his lower echelon staff (who said it would cost a lot, and hurt a lot, and achieve no important objectives), maybe it's time for Princeton to admit ethical bankruptcy as an institution and as a "brand" and to make amends by dissolving itself in favor of educating hundreds of millions of the poorest kids on the planet instead of starting up again next year? :-) Presumably other universities would accept PU students as transfers, as I was a transfer to PU. Obviously, Yale would not be accepting transfers, because by this line of reasoning, it should be dissolved too, with the money spent on, say, educating another billion children.

There is obviously enough money to both have PU and laptops for all, of course. A flow into foundations of $55 trillion is expected over the next 25 years:
    "Is Open Source the Answer To Giving?"
And TV watching is consuming 2,000 Wikipedias per year:
    "Mining the Cognitive Surplus"

There is plenty to go around to meet the needs of everyone on the planet. (Even Yalies' *unreasonable* needs, too. :-) See Buckminster Fuller:

It is now possible to give every man, woman and child on Earth a standard of living comparable to that of a modern-day billionaire.


The human population on earth has crossed six billion. If we distribute all the exposed land evenly among all mankind, 133 people would have to share one square mile. What that means is that every single person on Earth, man woman and child would have close to five acres of land for his or her use. More precisely, each person would get 209,000 square feet of land, or a square plot of land 457 feet on each side.

So there is a lot to go around, just on Earth, especially as many people like to live in villages or cities, and modern technology makes human habitation possible just about anywhere on the planet -- or even the oceans, or someday, in space.

But we need to change the scarcity myths we live by into "post-scarcity" ones to make it work for everyone. And until then, IMHO, PU is ethically bankrupt when a billion kids get next to no education at all and that could be fixed by dissolving just one elite university. Maybe we could dissolve Harvard as an institution to give them all clean water, too? Just a thought. :-)

Which is better if we *had* to choose as a global society: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (given we'd still have Berkley, Swarthmore, and Dartmouth), or two billion educated kids with clean water and long healthy productive lives? And, maybe, if we are very lucky, also netting us a whole bunch of young George Millers giving us a whole bunch more cognitive revolutions and free tools to bring us to even greater heights of abundance and gift giving?

But fortunately, (some might say, unfortunately :-) in a post-scarcity society, there will be enough wealth to go around, *even* for having places like Princeton University. :-)

Another Proposal, the Lewis Center for Post-Scarcity Studies and Economic Transcendence

To focus on "restorative justice" of action, instead of "punitive justice" of dissolution,
how can the punishment of Princeton be made to fit the crime of creating a hyper-competitive Donald Rumsfeld?

As a start, that the Princeton community could at least more than redouble its efforts to promote a post-scarcity mythology globally, rather than still implicitly promoting the myths of scarcity and the value of competition (including through the PhD process) that help justify war. See, also:
    "War is a racket"

Here is one approach to "reboot" Princeton for a post-scarcity world. This is just an example. No doubt the creative minds on campus can come up with better proposals once they turn their attention to the matter. Should these be followed, it's a lot more likely I might encourage my own child to apply in a dozen years or so. :-)

Or, I might then maybe encourage somebody, like, say, this 18 year old person of my recent internet acquaintance to apply: :-)

Hey, my name is Bryan, I am 18 years old and living just south of Austin in Buda, Texas, enrolled in the local high school. Will be attending the University of Texas at Austin starting August 2008 (in chemical engineering). You should see my (outdated) roadmap to see my projects, such as free + open source automated manufacturing, in vitro meat, asteroid mining, open source do-it-yourself genetic engineering and 'biohacking' kit, AutoScholar software, synthetic biology research, etc. I also run a blog called Transapient Musings.
Obviously, this is not meant to approve of everything on his site. :-) Or to say that less intense people might not also make great prospectives -- since a healthy society takes all kinds of people. Some others hang out, say, here:
Even within one person, it is often the balance of ethics and action that make the difference. But why should someone like "Bryan" choose PU over anyplace else (like University of Texas at Austin)? Yeah, PU's got a lot of labs and resources, but so do lots of other universities. The issue is, does PU have the post-scarcity "spirit" a prospective like Bryan might be looking for? And can it do a convincing job of arguing PU's strengths in the humanities will play an important role in helping someone like Bryan become a boon to humanity and not a bane? Even within the world of "free", there is still yin and yang, light and shadow. What are, say, the ethics of ideas he mentions like "brain augmentation" (Google and email archives? :-) or "transhuman tech" (eyeglasses, hearing aids, pacemakers, prosthetics, cosmetic surgery, and cellphones? :-)? I know he means more than those, of course, but these show our world is already engaged in those trends. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) already approves of the "in vitro" meat idea Bryan is interested in, so maybe not too many ethical issues there? :-)
    "Where’s the beef? Try the lab. Researchers attempt to make meat without killing livestock. [PETA offers prize]"
Although PU is behind the times even on just that:
Your search - "in vitro meat" - did not match any documents.
Lab grown (shark? :-) meat is one of the biggest upcoming revolutions in our society and PU has nothing to say about it? Bryan does.

What can PU do down the road to help assure any future similar prospective's parents or guardians that PU helps such students sort through all their dreams and ethics to set priorities, and to help them see what makes sense for a humane world and a happy life, and what does not? What sort of skills can PU help someone like that learn to be an even better collaborator on free projects? As happened with Linus Torvalds in Finland, how can PU help ethics and poetry come together with science and engineering in such a young person's life? How can PU become a more compelling alternative than such a person working on his or her own or just collaborating through the internet? In short, how can we make PU the number one choice of both Bryan *and* his parents? :-) (Even if PU is not now? :-( ) Sure Bryan may be off to other things, but there no doubt will be more people like him down the road. Many more as these ideas become more and more mainstream. While every person is unique, based on SourceForge having almost two million registered users making free software and free content, I have no doubt there are tens of thousands of high school seniors who might have related general interests in developing free software. And, there might be similar numbers in the areas of free music and free movies and free hardware and free content. It's often said that every (quasi-)military organization prepares to fight the last war. Is PU busy looking for the next military/political Donald Rumsfeld or market-driven/corporate Jeff Bezos, when it should be looking for the next free-as-in-freedom "Bryan"?

To that end, here is an alternative proposal to the modest one above. It is in some ways perhaps inspired by the book "Ecocity Berkeley" by Richard Register.
But it approaches reforming Princeton from a "post-scarcity" point-of-view, taking an interest in ecological sustainability now for granted. So, maybe it is like "Ecocity Berkeley" crossed with Murray Bookchin's writings? :-)
And beyond, of course.

Rather than move books into a new "Lewis Science Library" (as if even just today's usual prospectives would care about that in the internet age with Google Books and so forth accessible from their dorm desktops or from networked laptops anywhere), the building could be renamed the "Lewis Center for Post-Scarcity Studies and Economic Transcendence".

Bring people like Michael Mahoney and Lynn White together with people like Eben Moglen and Richard Stallman and see what happens.

Use the space to house offices for related faculty and visitors. Some non-profits like the Buckminster Fuller Institute could be encouraged to take up residence for free. Same to with making facilities available to "professional amateurs":

The 20th century witnessed the rise of many new professionals in fields such as medicine, science, education and politics. Amateurs and their sometimes ramshackle organizations were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it. This historic shift is now reversing with Pro-Ams: people who pursue amateur activities to professional standards are increasingly an important part of the society and economy of developed nations. Their leisure is not passive but active and participatory. Their contribution involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, and is often built up over a long career involving sacrifices and frustrations.

Put in a big server farm to serve free content. Or collaborate with on that.

All the books over 20 years old slated to be moved there could be digitized and served to the world, with the originals shipped to an English speaking poor place like New Delhi, India to be given away for free. When Princeton gets sued for this, the alumni lawyers could rally to its defense, either winning in court or changing the copyright laws. Then *all* the books at PU could be digitized, served to the world, and shipped for "disposal" to India, perhaps with notarized copies of original cover pages kept in a vault somewhere as proof of purchase, and the books stamped "intended for disposal; may not be resold, only given away". The URL where the book can be found at should also be stamped onto the inside cover. (Obviously "rare" books might be excepted from being shipped to India, and now there would be a lot more space for more of them.) The space freed in Firestone could be converted to indoor squash courts as well as office and lab space for free projects. When PU gets sued again for making its whole collection available to the public for free, tap into the alumni lawyer network to deal with it, or even tap into the endowment to solve this some way with money which would soon be near worthless anyway as more and more of the economy goes free.

The university could free all the patents and copyrights it controls, as well as make new contracts for faculty, staff, and students, that all published work done using university resources must be freely licensed.

PU could resist RIAA's FUD campaign not by using their licensed content but by becoming, like, a hub for free music. Encourage alumni of the PU singing groups and students and staff to record new free stuff of their own creation by adding a few recording studios for that purpose. Again, for classic tunes, maybe get alumni lawyers involved in freeing any music over twenty years old, perhaps by getting copyright laws passed to restore the original term of copyright. Similarly, there could be improved support for creating free movies by PU's Triangle Club. WPRB could commit to playing only free music:

Project '55 might help alumni raise a billion dollars from tech alumni to saturate the airwaves about the crazieness of the current music copyright policies and the "NET Act" in the internet age.
Why let the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry tail wag the multi-trillion dollar IT industry dog? Project '55 might help reverse the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act that has kept immense amounts of copyrighted material from the public.
It might get the USA to end its involvement with the Berne convention or have the Berne convention altered to a maximum twenty year copyright term with notice required. Project '55 might get revenue raising laws passed by Congress to tax all copyrights annually at a 3% of a self-assessed public domain buyout value (where anyone can pay the rightsholder the self-assessed value to buy the copyright into the public domain). See my post:
    "Copyright Tax for the Privilege of the Monopoly"

Copyrights were originally monopolies granted "for a limited time" with the notion that the costs they imposed on society would be repaid by the work moving into the public domain after that limited time. That bargain has effectively been broken because the terms are so long (and likely will be in perpetuity in the U.S.A. given the recent Supreme Court decision). Yet, copyrights still pose a cost on society. There must be courts to dispute them, police to enforce them. There must be prisons to hold the millions of copyright offenders. Like no one in the 1960s would imagine a million U.S. citizens behind bars for non-violent drug offenses in the 1990s, it is possible that there may be a million U.S. citizens behind bars in the 2010s for copyright violations as the "War on Those Who Share" gets underway. There must be an information superhighway to transport these works, and standards for disseminating them. Authors of derivative works must spend time researching whether a work is already in the public domain, or locating all the related rights holders if it is not. Extensions of the principle of copyright to cover the ideas in the work such as characters or plot lines or other structures make it ever more costly to create new non-infringing works. Many new or derived works are not created because of these chilling effects, which is a hidden cost of copyrights. People in developing nations or others who cannot pay use fees for copyrighted works are deprived of education or enjoyment when such a deprivation does not directly benefit anyone. So, given all these indirect costs of granting copyright monopolies, society is justified in imposing a financial cost on copyright holders to rebalance the copyright bargain.

Princeton University no doubt contains a vast knowledgebase related to getting alumni to volunteer and donate resources, whether through volunteering their time interviewing prospectives, contributing to Annual Giving, or making a few really big donations. Rather than continue to hoard that knowledge and use it for selfish sharkish ends to feed on alumni to support the old Princeton, take that knowledge and generalize it for the world, to encourage a world wide gift economy. That's an example of how Princeton's knowledge in practice is completely different from the theoretical knowledge pushed by the economics department.

Princeton could follow Penn's lead and make a center for "Positive Psychology", so as to improve on this:
    "Results 1 - 7 of 7 from for "positive psychology"
The two PU profs (one emiritus) who have pages that mention it could be asked to set one up:

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The Positive Psychology Center promotes research, training, education, and the dissemination of Positive Psychology. This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.
And from:
Is positive psychology an abandoning or rejection of the rest of psychology?
In a word, no. Since World War II, psychology has focused its efforts on psychological problems and how to remedy them. These efforts have reaped large dividends. Great strides have been made in understanding and treating psychological disorders. Effective treatments now exist for more than a dozen disorders that were once seen as intractable. ... One consequence of this focus on psychological problems, however, is that psychology has little to say about what makes life most worth living. Positive psychology proposes to correct this imbalance by focusing on strengths as well as weaknesses, on building the best things in life as well as repairing the worst. It asserts that human goodness and excellence is just as authentic as distress and disorder, that life entails more than the undoing of problems. Psychology's concern with remedying human problems is understandable and should certainly not be abandoned. Human suffering demands scientifically informed solutions. Suffering and well being, however, are both part of the human condition, and psychologists should be concerned with both.

All the university's courses and research could be rethought along post-scarcity lines as to content.

All letter grading could be abolished as well and replaced with portfolios, and so on.

If any students need to work at PU, then *all* students should be required to work the same hours per week. Ideally though, work around campus would be arranged to be done on a voluntary basis and that would be disconnected from money. Let the trash pile up for a few weeks and see how soon students start taking these issues seriously and figuring out novel solutions. :-)

OK, I know that last idea may not sit well with the New Jersey Health Department. So, separate out the foodscraps and compost them first then. :-) Maybe ask this other internet acquaintance of mine and high school senior, "Mike", to help with that:

Hmm. 80,000 dollars over four years at the University of Colorado paying for a major that I'm not even sure I like could buy 800 lap tops and educate 4000 children. Double that after masters and PhD. I have some thinking to do. I've always wanted to make a living off of plants, own a nursery and grow bonsai, maybe set up some city composting projects and live simply, with time for educating myself on the side. My parents would say that still requires a degree in horticulture with a minor in business, and it probably would, not because the knowledge would be useful (it wouldn't be, it would be mostly theoretical or filler, what I need to know could be learned free online) but because employees, loans, and investors all require having a degree.
A Post-Scarcity Princeton could make Mike's dream come true right now, to learn important trade skills on campus, without a degree -- as a student or not. :-) Maybe a "Mike" (or a "Michelle") might already be at Princeton, working in Prospect Garden,
and secretly laughing (both in joy for themselves and sorrow for others) at all the other young people at PU who are heading for lives on both real treadmills and career treadmills, when he or she gets to be in the sun and rain and work with plants and think about what he or she wants to think about right now? And get paid to do it, too. :-) You can also see that high school seniors are beginning to wise up to the racket that is higher education. Granted, he had some help. :-) And I'm sure, again, that while every individual is unique, that there will be more and more high school seniors who share Mike's sentiments, especially with talk of food shortages in the paper (even if those shortages are mostly from speculation, not a real lack of enough to go around). Or also water shortages. And Mike's heartfelt email shows that all that doom and gloom in the papers is a farce with people like Mike around who are being prevented from learning and doing by the very social systems that claim to be set up to "help" him.

Even Socrates, that executed "corruptor of youth", probably made his living from a trade:

It is unclear how Socrates earned a living. According to Timon of Phlius and later sources, Socrates took over the profession of stonemasonry from his father. There was a tradition in antiquity, not credited by modern scholarship, that Socrates crafted the statues of the Three Graces, which stood near the Acropolis until the second century AD.
Fortunately, nobody these days except someone like Mike is likely to learn the difference between "hemlock trees" and other similarly named things. :-( But before even he learns, should not we have an integrated, life affirming culture for people like him to be part of, rather than him having to second guess social processes that are in many ways working against him, causing him to sacrifice his youth for some undefined future reward by "investors" who likely as not won't care about his dreams anyway? As Mike might be learning, it's hard to cheat an honest person, even just out of his or her youth:
    "Honest Business" by Michael Phillips
I purchased this book in 1987 just before starting my business. "Honest Business" affirmed every belief I had about how business should and could be practiced. Even concepts such as a business' responsibility to the community it conducts business in is discussed in depth. "Honest Business" gave me the courage and the steps for conducting business without foresaking my personal principles, morals, and objective. Even today this book is my constant companion; my business bible.

And how many philosophical people like "Socrates" work at PU as janitors, masons, security guards, or running the physical plant? :-)

Mr. Boothby was the curmudgeonly groundskeeper at Starfleet Academy in San Francisco on Earth. He was born about the 2260s. (TNG: "The First Duty") He worked at Starfleet Academy from about 2321 and saw many promising young cadets come and go, often offering up helpful advice and kind words, among them such prominent Starfleet captains as Picard, Janeway, Richardson, and Lopez.
As an undergrad, I learned a lot about a good thankful spirit for life from Anthony "Tony" Cifelli, in charge of the the Princeton Inn Residential College's cleaning and maintenance. Thanks for your cheerfulness, even needing to work three jobs to support your family, Tony. As you were grateful, I am learning to be.

Say, wasn't even Charles Darwin interested is soil and compost and earthworms at the end (as far as writing his last book about that)?
Maybe there is more to an interest in dirt than meets the eye? :-)

For the record, my (unappreciated at the time) staff job at PU in the CE department doing robotics and 3D graphics was the best job I ever had (as "jobs" go) -- again, one can be best in the world at something even as it is going out of style. :-)

Why not make the entire university a laboratory for experiments in abolishing "work" and turning it into "play"? Or maybe even think deeply about re-engineering "work" away altogether via rethinking what truly needs to get done or by automating it if no one likes to do that:

Mike raises another point in his email:

It seems to me like greed is no longer good, but for a bad reason, because kids are spoiled by parents who have everything. Whether that's to our advantage or not is arguable. On one hand they are getting used to the idea of "maybe I really don't need to work when everything is so easily obtained" but on the other they get in the habit of spending their free time on persistent browser based mini games (myself included) and developing excessive social dependencies with cell phones and the dark side of the internet (chat rooms, the corrupted Y! A, social mmos). Whether people can mature to the point where they enjoy improving society and do it on their own free will is the big issue.

I don't have a great answer to that issue of "spoiling". But it could be a good topic for research at PU.

University research could be encouraged along more post-scarcity ends, by establishing related research centers. For example, Princeton could position itself as the world leader in free software for self-driving vehicles. (See, I said I'd solve the traffic problem. These networked cars could coordinate their movements better. :-) Or the world leader in free software for mammalian genetic simulation.

This would all make Princeton and the newly renamed Lewis Center for Post-Scarcity Studies and Economic Transcendence the *unique* destination in the Ivy league for any prospective interested in freedom and transcending a market economy to a gift economy.

Granted, it might be hard to catch up with someone like Paul Jones at UNC Chapel Hill, who has spent decades creating freely accessible collections of free-to-the-user digital materials like SunSITE and Ibiblio.
But I am sure that he would just love to see Princeton try to compete; seriously, I'm sure he would even help PU be way better than anything he has ever done, and probably he would help mostly for "free". :-)

And don't be timid about this. I'm not talking a little center like the one for ethics smushed away somewhere. I'm talking burning a few billion dollars of the PU endowment to even *begin* such a transformation campus wide and turn such a big ship the flagship of capitalism. (See, I said I'd solve the issue of Congress' interest in mandating spending down the endowment. :-) Conferences. Speakers. Travel expenses. Lawsuits and legal fees. Space for free projects PU students help with. Robotic book scanners. Supercomputers for simulating free products that are easy to build. Raiding the faculty of institutions globally.

And I'm talking burning the money *fast* and burning it *now*. Because that post-scarcity iceberg is on its way, and it may be a lot closer and a lot bigger that one might think, even if it may just look like, at a first glance, that Wikipedia, GNU/Linux, WordNet, and Google might be all there is or will ever be. They won't. Even if I had to do it all myself, and thankfully I'm just small potatoes these days. Like any iceberg, most of the action is invisible, under the water. But that's what faith is for -- pick your best sources of information, think about them the best you can, and then take action, and as new things happen, revise plans and take more action.

And here is another suggestion that may seem totally counter to everything I said -- PU should *double* its tuition, maybe even *triple* it, for those who can easily pay, and otherwise make it free along the current lines for those who cannot pay. Seriously, if PU makes these transformations, or better ones, I predict the admissions department will have trouble keeping up with application processing even with tuition list price spiking $100K or $250K per year. :-) With six million millionaire families in just the USA, there are plenty of people who could afford to pay that as a gift to their child and the world. Maybe now you can see how hard it is to wrap your mind around the issues related to transcending to a post-scarcity society. And this also shows why rethinking the PU brand is so essential. All the Ivy League schools are like luxury cars and cost about a Lexus a year. Does PU want to stay in that market if that form of instruction is going the way of horse cart buggy whip manufacturers? Maybe PU might think about moving into the new industry related to flying through the internet? And then it could charge a whole lot more per plane, especially if money is going out of style.

My family couldn't afford that increased tuition of $250K/year, by the way, :-) but then I've decided to burn any hope of a college fund now to spend time with my kid when it most counts -- the early years. And hope that if I do that, whet my child gets older, it will be possible from that early investment to build a happy life even if without college. But that would be a whole other long essay to explain. :-) Essentially, and I know people will spin these words against what else I say here, but why should I sacrifice my child's "now" for a mythical future twenty years from now that assumes money and a PU degree will still be important? Especially when everything I read suggests building a happy now for a young kid implies building a happy tomorrow for a kid too? (And, yes, my kid already does chores -- I'm talking happiness, not lack of responsibility.) So too might any parent of a prospective ask, do I really want to spend $50K a year on the floundering brand of Princeton ground car when I can spend, say, spend $250K a year on a post-scarcity Yale flying car and see my kid be truly happy now as well as in the likely future? Or spend $30K a year at UNC Chapel Hill (metaphorically a hot-air balloon by comparison to a $250K flying car?) to study with a post-scarcity-leaning Paul Jones if on a budget? :-)

Although often mistaken for other unreconstructed relics of the failed social policies of the Sixties, Paul Jones is the Director of, a project that includes the Site Formerly Known as MetaLab and SunSITE, The Public's Library -- a large contributor-run digital library. Besides speaking at several conferences world-wide, Paul teaches on the faculties of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Information and Library Science. ... Paul is a founding board member of the American Open Technology Consortium, a member of the Board of Trustees of Chapel Hill Public Library, and a board member of the Linux Documentation Project. But he is most pleased to have been admitted into the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists and to have been selected in April 2003 as Best Geek in the Research Triangle by the Independent Weekly.

Of course there is one obvious flaw in all this -- how can Princeton continue to be selective if it makes a commitment to be inclusive? That's the kind of question that should be keeping university administrators up at night, kind of like one of the biggest issues Unitarian Universalist congregations wrestle with is how to be tolerant of intolerance? And there likely is no easy answer. Maybe a lottery for applicants? But even that has obvious problems -- are people commited to post-scarcity ideals? Or can they learn them? At what point does PU cease to exist going down the road to inclusiveness as society transforms itself, and is that a bad thing? Hardly anyone bemoans, say, the relative decline of monestaries as seats of learning and research in the Renaissance. And in a sense, that is what I am talking about here -- PU deciding to pull down the flag of global elite capitalism and put up the Jolly Roger of global common Renaissance.

Seriously, I've outlined how the PhD system PU feeds into and draws from for faculty and staff is broken beyond repair, how people with degrees are often turned into prostitutes of one form or another, and how in a sense PU is eating some of its most vulnerable alumni. What parent in their right mind would want their kid to take part in that parade of broken dreams? Even the traditional reasons of, say, going to medical school are breaking down -- what parent (especially with an MD) would advise a career in institutionalized medicine these days? That's another system collapsing in the face of advanced technology and backward social institutions. PU's only saving grace is it is better that almost everyone else doing the same thing (educating young people in how to be part of a global scarcity-oriented capitalist system). But what happens when that thing becomes obsolete, like if flying cars eclipse ground cars? Must PU be the last to accept it?

As fun at PU replaced fear, and peace at PU replaced profit, the burst of creativity at Princeton University might lead to all sorts of new ways to reinvent the university and the world. Imagine if these students could, say, figure out a way to improve 50% on Princeton's already astoundingly efficient energy systems? (See, I said I would address the sustainability/greening issue. :-) That would free up more money for more scholarships. Then more students might do even more. And so on, until Princeton was able to afford to accept all who wanted to come and give them the best residential educational experience in the world (except for Yale, of course, where those copycats might be trying the same thing. :-) Remember:
    "Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator: Creativity and intrinsic interest diminish if [a] task is done for gain"
(See, I said I'd resolve the issue of the changing landscape for financial aid. :-) One can expect that as more universities follow Princeton's lead that they will form some sort of loose network expanding to cover the globe. A bit like this idea I had as a grad student at PU:
(which is an idea I was developing from reading widely the books at Firestone Library and elsewhere on campus).

And, as with the colors on this site, maybe as a symbol of Princeton's "Self Renewal"
    "Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society" by John W. Gardner
Princeton University could change its colors from "orange and black" to "orange and green"? "Orange and green" are the colors of the rising sun and the living things on which it shines. And that seems better than continuing to use the colors of the setting sun and the darkness to follow.
    "Why are Princeton's colors orange and black?"
Of everything I propose, naturally, this change would be the hardest of all for the Princeton University community to make, as it has to do with the core of how Princeton explains itself to itself, or its mythology. A lot of songs would have to be rewritten too. :-)
    "Going green, going green, it's the best blessed thing I've seen." :-)
And of course, ironically, everyone else in the world will think it is about Princeton finally admitting it is all about the other green stuff, money. :-) So, as with IBM, it might take burning another billion dollars or so of the endowment to let everyone know about its change of heart as a community. Does PU want to commit to a world of "shiny happy people holding hands"? Or does it want to continue to commit to something else? :-(

From John Gardner's 1971 book:

As I was browsing in a university bookstore recently, I heard an apple-cheeked girl say to her companion, "The truth is that our society and everything in it is in a state of decay." I studied her carefully and I must report that she did not seem even slightly decayed. But what of the society as a whole? Decay is hardly the word for what is happening to us. We are witnessing changes so profound and far-reaching that the mind can hardly grasp all the implications. ... Only the blind and complacent could fail to recognize the great tasks of renewal facing us -- in government, in education, ...
John Gardner goes on to say that every generation faces the problem of renewing itself to meet new challenges emerging from the very success of the old ways of doing things. And he suggests that social values are not some drying up old reservoir, but rather a reservoir of variable capacity that must be recharged anew in every generation. Democracy -- use it or lose it. Free speech on the internet -- use it or lose it. Social capital -- use it or lose it?

Some comments on the PU Economics department and related research directions from a post-scarcity perspective

The PU economics department, of course, should be abolished as part of this transition. :-)

OK, that will never happen, so it should be at least "strongly admonished" for past misbehavior. :-(

What misbehavior? Essentially, the PU Economics department has taken part in a global effort to build an economic "psychofrakulator". How does a psychofrakulator work? Consider a paraphrase of something Doc Heller says in the movie Mystery Men:

Dr. Heller: It's a psychofrakulator. They used to say it couldn't be built. The equations were so complex that most of the scientists that worked on it wound up in the insane asylum [in Chicago]. ... It creates a cloud of [dollar denomiated] radically-fluctuating free-deviant chaotrons which penetrate the synaptic relays [via television]. It's concatenated with a synchronous transport switch [of values from long term seven generation life-affirming love of caring to short-term immediate profit and immediate gratification suicidal death-affirming love of money] that creates a virtual tributary [back to large corporations]. It's focused onto a biobolic reflector [of the elite controlled mass media] and what happens is that [economic] hallucinations become reality and the [global] brain [and global ecosystem] is literally fried from within.
Or in other words:
    "Screwed: What 30 Years of Conservative Economics Feels Like"
    "Obituary: Conservative Economic Policy"
Conservative economic policy is dead. It committed suicide. Its allegiance to market solutions, tax cuts and spending cuts, supply-side nonsense, manipulative and corrosive ties to industry and the rich, have left it wholly unable to cope with the challenges we face. Its terribly limited toolbox simply cannot address the economic insecurities and opportunities generated by today's global, interconnected, polluted, insecure, dynamic, bubble-prone economy. ...

And any economists who don't want to move to, say, Chicago should be asked to follow this twelve step program: :-)
    "Confessions of a Recovering Economist" by Jim Stanford

Good evening. My name is Jim. And I am an economist. It is seventeen days since I last uttered the phrase "supply and demand." But the demon still lurks, untamed, within me. ...
Every other addiction has a Twelve Step program, laced with tough love and blunt self-honesty. Why not a Twelve Step program for economists? God knows, they've done enough damage with their arrogant, drunken prescriptions. Here's how each and every economist can face up to their inner demons, and make their own small contribution to setting things right.
Step 1: Admit you have a problem. Like they say at the AA meetings, this is half the solution. Where economists are concerned, however, it's easier said than done. Getting a substance abuser to face the facts of their addiction is nothing compared to convincing an economist that they're hooked on elegant but useless mathematical models, and authoritative but destructive policy advice. Where economists are concerned, we're talking denial with a capital 'D.'
Step 2: Accept that all your efforts to explain the world have failed. The 'market' is the holiest symbol in all of economics. It's magically automatic and efficient. And supply always equals demand. The whole profession of mainstream, 'neoclassical' economics is dedicated to the study of markets and how they can be perfected. The problem, however, is that in real life these idealized 'markets' don't explain much at all. Powerful non-market forces determine most of what happens in the economy - things like tradition, demographics, class, gender and race, geography, and institutions. Indeed, what we call the 'market' is itself a complex, historically constructed social institution - not some autonomous, inanimate forum. Power and position are at least as important to economics, as supply and demand. ...

But I'm mainly using the PU economics department as a stand-in for the problems our world faces and past misdeeds of all economists, which is not really fair, I know; I'm not in any way expert on their current research. A few of the faculty, even twenty years ago, may well have been concerned about some of these issues. The closest I came to the PU economics department was rooming with a PU Economics graduate student for a time during the summer after I left the graduate college and he was one of the most fun people I ever met and he was interested in global issues. We became friends. But, beyond the troubles I saw him have finding an advisor, I saw this clever and witty fellow beaten down over the years as we stayed in touch, even to the point of divorce as he was forced to sacrifice his marriage to a wonderful person for his PhD (though granted, he could have abandoned his degree). To me, that sums up what the PU Economics department has really been about -- numbers and credentials instead of joy and family. The department may well have improved some over the last two decades. Still, at the very least, the PU Economics department faculty should be admonished for not writing the post-scarcity part of this essay instead of me (with my baggage. :-) Obviously, as with Paul Krugman, there are some partial exceptions who maybe should perhaps be admonished double for raising our hopes? :-)
To my knowledge, none of them look at the actual issue of the nature of work:
    "Results 1 - 10 of about 19 from for work nature. (0.12 seconds) [None relevant]"
    "Your search - "why work" - did not match any documents."
like Bob Black raises:
        "Your search - "bob black" - did not match any documents."
Again, from Bob Black:

Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.

OK, maybe Bob Black is less known, but what about E.F. Schumacher and Buddhist Economics?
    "Your search - schumacher - did not match any documents."
From Schumacher:

Economists themselves, like most specialists, normally suffer from a kind of metaphysical blindness, assuming that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths, without any presuppositions. Some go as far as to claim that economic laws are as free from "metaphysics" or "values" as the law of gravitation. We need not, however, get involved in arguments of methodology. Instead, let us take some fundamentals and see what they look like when viewed by a modern economist and a Buddhist economist.

Should the PU economics department wish to stay intact rather than move en masse to another university, the calculus of infinites mentioned at the start of this essay is one new direction for their research and teaching.

But, if PU economists still want to make charts and theories about finite things (they're good at that, obviously, and it is labor that they seem to love to do, see Schumacher :-), then what they need to start looking at and charting are physical concepts like Ray Kurzweil considers here:
    "The Law of Accelerating Returns"
PU economists could graph historical trends over time like:
* increasing computation delivered per unit mass of silicon,
* the increasing amount of freely licensed software and other content,
* the increasing percentage of human attention devoted to free content,
* the increasing electrical energy captured per unit mass for windmills,
* the increasing incarceration rate per capita in the USA,
* the decreasing amount of time it takes a solar collector to repay the energy used in its manufacture,
* the decreasing ground crew size per space rocket launch,
* the decreasing topsoil depth per capita,
* the decreasing global biodiversity, and so on.
Obviously, they'd also want to look at other things at websites like this for more ideas:
    "Redefining Progress: Shifting public policy to achieve a sustainable economy, a healthy environment and a just society"

Like Kurzweil, PU economists could start applying their skills to charting trends in the real basis of prosperity. They need to move beyond charting derived trends that are social constructions like fluctuations in fiat currency. They need to start admitting that as a fiat currency system breaks down with a transition to the emerging post-scarcity economy, dollars are no longer a very good way to measure things (if they ever were). They need to remember that currency is as arbitrary system related to a current economic control system which is rapidly becoming obsolete. Fiat dollars are essentially ration units, and rationing is becoming obsolete as part of the emerging post-scarcity society. For example, personal internet bandwidth use and server disk space are now so cheap as to be effectively "too cheap to matter" except in the most extreme cases for some small number of individuals. So, PU economists need to get back to basics and start charting real physically measurable (or estimateable) things. And then they need to think about the interrelations of those real things. Essentially, they can still use a lot of their old skills at analysis, but rather than apply them to one thing, money, they need to apply them to thousands of individual measurements of aspects of life-support and production. And the challenge will be in seeing how to make predictions about systems where these thousands of factors are difficult to interchange for each other (for example, topsoil depth versus sewing machine production).

The historic focus of PU economists on charting changes in social constructions (fiat dollars) instead of changes in technological capacity that is one cause of PU economists failing to predict a post-scarcity society. It is no surprise it took someone like Ray Kurzweil to be able to handle both the mathematical content and the technological content to provide his analysis of the timing of a post-scarcity transition (or even broader singularity). However, just because Kurzweil is good at seeing the trends leading up to a singularity in our society, does not mean that he can see beyond it (and he admits this). So it is important to understand that the policy proposals Kurzweil suggests come out of his own longstanding conservative/libertarian financial perspective as a self-made technology millionaire. The exact shape of a future society in terms of what core priorities and values it reflects is still up in the air, and may well be very different then the propertarian approach Kurzweil assumes:
as opposed to, say, libertarian socialism:
or something else much broader as a gift economy:
or something much narrower as an internet mediated central planning like Chile's Cybersyn pioneered in the 1970s:
There could be a fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration between PU economists with their charting skills for historical trends and PU engineers with their technical knowledge of what physical characteristics of systems are important to production.

In general, economists need to look at what are major sources of *real* cost as opposed to *fiat* cost in producing anything. Only then can one make a complete control system to manage resources within those real limits, perhaps using arbitrary fiat dollars as part of a rationing process to keep within the real limits and meet social objectives (or perhaps not, if the cost of enforcing rationing for some things like, say, home energy use or internet bandwidth exceeds the benefits).

Here is a sample meta-theoretical framework PU economists no doubt could vastly improve on if they turned their minds to it. Consider three levels of nested perspectives on the same economic reality -- physical items, decision makers, and emergent properties of decision maker interactions. (Three levels of being or consciousness is a common theme in philosophical writings, usually rock, plant, and animal, or plant, animal, and human.)

At a first level of perspective, the world we live in at any point in time can be considered to have physical content like land or tools or fusion reactors like the sun, energy flows like photons from the sun or electrons from lightning or in circuits, informational patterns like web page content or distributed language knowledge, and active regulating processes (including triggers, amplifiers, and feedback loops) built on the previous three types of things (physicality, energy flow, and informational patterns) embodied in living creatures, bi-metallic strip thermostats, or computer programs running on computer hardware.

One can think of a second perspective on the first comprehensive one by picking out only the decision makers like bi-metallic strips in thermostats, computer programs running on computers, and personalities embodied in people and maybe someday robots or supercomputers, and looking at their characteristics as individual decision makers.

One can then think of a third level of perspective on the second where decision makers may invent theories about how to control each other using various approaches like internet communication standards, ration unit tokens like fiat dollars, physical kanban tokens, narratives in emails, and so on. What the most useful theories are for controlling groups of decision makers is an interesting question, but I will not explore it in depth. But I will pointing out that complex system dynamics at this third level of perspective can emerge whether control involves fiat dollars, "kanban" tokens, centralized or distributed optimization based on perceived or predicted demand patterns, human-to-human discussions, something else entirely, or a diverse collection of all these things. And I will also point out that one should never confuse the reality of the physical system being controlled for the control signals (money, spoken words, kanban cards, internet packet contents, etc.) being passed around in the control system.

The above is somewhat inspired by "cybernetics".
So, I'd suggest, should the PU Economics Department faculty be kept on, the department should be renamed the "Princeton University Cybernetics Department" with there being an "historical economics" subsection all the current economics faculty are assigned to, and one faculty member each from the PU Department of Religion, the PU Department of History, and the PU department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering be put in as an acting team triumvirate leadership of the larger department. :-) As economics faculty broaden their research, then they could move into other new Cybernetics department sections. See also:
    "The Human Use Of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society" by Norbert Wiener

What is more pressing in understanding a post-scarcity economy is seeing what real physical limits exist currently and how they could change over time. This requires examining physical production from first principles, since only when one understands the physical limits of a system does a discussion of various control systems and their strengths and weaknesses make sense.

The essentials to producing anything in general are:
* Human time (or other decision making time)
* Energy
* Raw Materials
* Tooling
* Transportation
Plus there is maybe the effort involved in cleaning up environmental or social damage. In classical economics there is also "rent" for access to money or land or copyrights or patents and so on, but for the sake of a physical analysis we can ignore that because rent is an arbitrary social construction related to rationing, and so is a higher level concept.

On replacing human time with computers and automation in a couple decades, see, for background:
    "Kurzweil says, by the 2020s we'll be ... building machines as smart as ourselves."
And to see what is happening right now:
    "Supercomputer Simulates Human Visual System"

What cool things can be done with the 100,000+ cores of the first petaflop supercomputer, the Roadrunner, that were impossible to do before? Because our brain is massively parallel, with a relatively small amount of communication over long distances, and is made of unreliable, imprecise components, it's quite easy to simulate large chunks of it on supercomputers. The Roadrunner has been up only for about a week, and researchers from Los Alamos National Lab are already reporting inaugural simulations of the human visual system, aiming to produce a machine that can see and interpret as well as a human. After examining the results, the researchers 'believe they can study in real time the entire human visual cortex.' How long until we can simulate the entire brain?

It's amazing to me how quickly sci-fi supposedly set in the 24th century is becoming reality:
    "Star Trek TNG: The Game (episode)"

Wesley and Robin investigate the [video game] device in sickbay, [using a computer simulation of the human visual system and other brain systems] and determine that it has a psychotropically addictive side-effect, and that it stimulates increased serotonin production. Most worryingly, it also stimulates the brain's higher reasoning area.

And it doesn't take human level AI or vision to do the kind of things ants can do -- gather materials and process them chemically. So we will see big changes before human AI, even if human level AI for some reason was impossible or undesirable.

Looking at things from this perspective, how can everything become free as computer costs decrease? Well, if you use robotics and automation, the human time goes away as a necessity. If human-equivalent time is free, then there is no human time cost to the other items as well. So, say for energy, with free labor, you only need the other categories to make more energy producing equipment, at which point you have all the free energy you want. So, with free labor and free energy, to get free raw materials all you need is tooling and transportation. And with free labor, energy, and raw materials, you get tooling if you you have transportation, But with free labor, energy, raw materials, and tooling, then you have the ingredients for free transportation. And with free everything else, the robots and computers are free too. Ultimately, there are only two costs to anything -- labor and rent (ignoring the destruction of environmental capital). Since rent is societally determined, if labor is free (via computer driven robots) then everything can be free eventually. Granted, there are *physical* limits involving how fast you can do something with the robots or 3D printers on hand. Those physical time limits and their interdependencies are well worth studying by a new breed of post-scarcity economists. But in practice, if you look at nature, the long term limits are more like incident sunlight and our planet has tens of thousands times more incident sunlight then our current society would need if it was all electric. Most materials can be recycled and so do no pose limits. So as computing replaces labor, everything can eventually be "free", as long as physical capital is produced faster than it wears out or is consumed. No doubt many of the mathematical techniques economists have developed for thinking about imaginary things like fiat dollar return on investment may have some applicability to more complex models considering energy return on an investment of energy, or computational return on an investment of mass, or the sustainable yield of consumer product mass from a productive physical system with a certain target growth rate of mass and energy converted into robots given tooling wear, and so on. Here is a paper prototype of such an analysis system which considers tool wear in relation to expanding industrial capacity:

Collateral damage

Princeton University (judging only from PAW) is way behind the curve on this process of post-scarcity self-renewal. As soon as more and more prospectives start thinking along the lines I've outlined, PU will get more and more behind. In that sense, this essay itself is part of the iceberg as it points out how the PU brand is failing due to these forces. On the other hand, this essay might be seen as betraying the cause of global abundance by bringing it to PU's attention for possible counter-revolutionary action (although I would not write this essay if I did not think it was too late for PU to do much to stop abundance for all, even it if tried harder than it has in the past, except via global warfare, which this essay tries to help provide the insight to prevent or minimize.)

Still, in either case, somehow I do identify with this metaphorical Dutch boy:

In the original tale, The Hero of Haarlem, a nameless Dutch boy saves his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike and stays there all night, in spite of the cold until the adults of the village found him and made the necessary repairs.
But I'd suggest the "adults" are not coming, and so it is up to us to invent creative alternatives to manage potentially destructive forces other than damming them back, even if that change should be ideally peaceful and incremental, not all at once and deadly as when a dam breaks.
    "Clearinghouse for Dam Removal Information"
So, I'm really twisting that Dutch boy metaphor, even as I still identify with the brave individual keeping his lonely vigil throught a freezing night (in some versions he freezes to death).

But, obviously, a better metaphor for a sustainable life is the one my child is currently excited about -- the firefighter who works as part of a well-trained team again and again to help rescue people and safeguard property from the destructive force (fire) we use to cook our meals or warm our homes. The surprise is never that out-of-control blazes happen, it is more that they don't happen more often, in part due to things like safety standards and fire-prevention education:
    "National Fire Protection Association"
    "Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching children that fire is a tool, not a toy."
But it's a complex topic:
    "5 dangerous things you should let your kids do (#1 -- Play with fire)"

I think the commonality in the Dutch boy story and firefighters that without creative community, all these short term individual efforts are in vain (even this essay). Still, there is a sense that the internet enables virtual communities, but they are still not as healthy or life-affirming as face-to-face healthy ones, which PU has the potential to become (or at least, become a better one than it is already for some of the individuals, becoming instead a community where some people's success there doesn't imply others' failure). Consider:
    "Polarization in the Political System"

... What is it about politics and power that seem to always put them at odds with good government? ... As the United States becomes more extreme in its beliefs in general, group polarization and competition, which requires a mutual exclusivity of goal attainment, will lead to more "showdown" situations in which the goal of good government gives way to political posturing and power-mongering. ... If both victory and extremism are necessary to retain power within the group, and if, as Alfie Kohn (1986) stated in his book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, competition is "mutually exclusive goal attainment" (one side must lose in order for the other to win), then compromise and cooperation are impossible (p. 136). ... I do not think these examples are aberrations or flukes, but are, instead, indicative of structural defects in our political system. If we are not aware of the dangers of extremism and competition, we may, in the end, be destroyed by them.
That entire site is in a sense a representation of the entire competitive college problem and maybe its solution, by the way, as on the main page it says:
Cyber Essays is your one-stop source for free, high-quality term papers, essays, and reports on all subjects. ... Cyber Essays is a completely free service that relies on students to submit their own papers in order to keep this site expanding; so please consider submitting your good papers to us as you enjoy this site.

And I am truly sorry for any "collateral damage" this essay risks in the PU community or even on my own household.
You can't reconstruct the mythology of 50,000 of the richest and most powerful people on the planet without expecting at least a little petty blowback. :-( Or worse. :-( Or at least, this limited being I am can not. But as I said at the start, I'm inspired by the brave sacrifices our young men and women are making overseas, in their youthful idealism to make the world a better place. Even if I feel the Iraq war is one of the stupidist and most harmful things the USA has ever done. :-( And even if their elders should have done everything possible (and more) to help keep these young people and others on all sides from "jumping" or just "landing" into mostly needless suffering. :-( "Bring them on"? What kind of a thing is that for a humane and ethical and compasionate and spiritual president to say? At least about other people's deaths?

Despite every life-affirming thing I tried to write, I can accept that in the end, how one chooses to live and die may be a private choice, as painful as it may be sometimes to the rest of us. And who am I to ignore the example of Jesus?
One thunderbolt at the end to scare the Romans and Jesus would have lived a long life, little doubt -- but it would have gone against what he stood for. And there are many other such examples from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr.
And really millions of examples if you look at all the well lived lives out there. There are literally millions of volunteer firefighters who risk their lives to save others, as just one category. But there is a *huge* difference between killing for a cause (even killing just yourself) versus being willing to die for a cause that is in service to life and community.

Also, there is obviously more complexity to the topic of suicide -- physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, trade-offs of pain management versus longevity in hospice care, withdrawal of life-support for comatose vegetative-state patients, and other related topics all have many books written about just them (even the ethics of personal decisions in the face of progressive organic dementia). These are all difficult topics, and they are beyond the scope of what I focus on here which is more people in the prime of life with potentially manageable difficulties, whether the difficulties are biological (hardware) or philosophical (software) or social (network), or as is usually the case, a mix of all three aspects. I'd suggest unless an experienced health care provider has specifically told you you face one of those other situations (or even if one has), a good community can help you build a more meaningful life for yourself whether you are suicidal or not. And if your community is not a supportive one, there is life-affirming meaning to be found in finding one or helping build one for yourself and others.

There are also hard decisions society makes in the face of current perceived scarcities, like for example how the USA spends about half its medical care budget on medical interventions in the last year or two of life for a subset of the population with health care access, while many others including the working poor and their children go without any medical care. Those conflicts hopefully will lessen as post-scarcity society continues to emerge.

And personally life-threatening risk taking is an even more complex topic. For example, even just in order to bear children, a woman must face at least three self-inflicted life-threatening risks -- dating, sex, and childbirth, any one of which can prove deadly from psychopathology, AIDS, or complications. So, even in the act of bringing new life into the world, women face the risk of immediate death. But, it is obviously a risk many women have been willing to take or we would all not be here. Are all women by definition a little suicidal just to contemplate having kids? :-) And to a lesser extent are men suicidal who want kids as well, although with other risks substituted for labor complications? But what is the physical alternative? No more babies? And what is the conceptual alternative to this use of "suicidal" to define a large proportion of the population who are knowingly running huge life-threatening risks (which is a typical aspect of human behavior in late teens and early twenties)? Consider:
    "The Culture of Adolescent Risk-Taking"

"What Cynthia Lightfoot has done in this groundbreaking book is first to ask adolescents why they take risks and then to listen thoughtfully to their answers. She refuses to see teenagers as accidents waiting to happen, as people who, under the influence of peers and hormones, lose all recourse to reason. She looks deeper and finds that teenagers do have their reasons: They know well that in this culture, our heroes are expected to take risks, risks that, if they survive, garner them wisdom, love, and fame (and a story to tell). By a thorough analysis of both her data and our own unspoken assumptions--about development, heroic narratives, and risk as play, Dr. Lightfoot shows us how adolescents creatively and dangerously set out to become the heroes of their own lives. The unique and important insight of this book is to remind us that such risks are taken for a positive purpose: It is only through testing the limits that adolescents discover their own." --Brian D. Cox, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Hofstra University

An alternative to seeing suicide as an anomaly is perhaps to see at least shades of gray in what it means to be self-destructive, accepting that life is change (often within a larger more stable framework), and that all change entails risk. What is in an extreme case called "suicide" (completing an action with a intended result of death)
is really just one end of a continuous spectrum of self-changing and world-changing behavior involving risk management. Suicide is just one possible outcome of decisions about risk and reward and just one possible outcome of decisions about desirable benefits and undesired costs involving a community of involved people.

Or, looked at another way, given that suicide is in some sense a decision (even if often made by an unhealthy mind), it just one more possible outcome of all the things, say, the PU Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering studies. :-)

Our researchers develop the tools used to make better decisions, improve the performance of complex systems, and manage resources efficiently.
As as side note, Operations Research style logic has optimized the deployment of the USA's nuclear arsenal for Mutually Assured Destruction (a suicide pact), as well as helped design a global economy that denies food to poor people in other countries who can't pay for it (in some sense, murder). The outcomes of optimization depend heavily on what you choose to optimize and what factors you choose to consider -- but those issues are usually considered beyond the scope of such research. Again, the smarter shark splashes a bit in its pool? :-)

Nonetheless, good decision making is something people need to do every day. A firefighter deciding to go into a burning building searching for and rescuing survivors is in some sense optimizing something and making a decision about managing resources -- in some sense weighing perhaps the chance of personal survival and the future ability to help others versus the chance of helping someone right now. And there is a lot of uncertainty involved. (In practice, some decision making may have happened much earlier as well, in deciding to be a firefighter or to accept a certain style of training with certain priorities.) Soldiers face similar decisions, both before enlisting and afterwards.

Similarly, someone thinking about leaping off an Ivory Tower physically would weigh (at the very least irrationally) in decision making the costs of the leap versus the benefits in the face of uncertainty. Is there an afterlife, and if so, what are the consequences? Is there instead karma and rebirth? Will the act really hurt self or others and is that good or bad? How much pain is one in and what are the future prospects for it to get better? Are there alternatives or hope or help?
What is the probability of success or consequences of failure? Will things for self and/or others get better in some sense given the trouble of getting there, compared to the alternatives, like just going to bed early or reading another web page? And so on. So, the irony of suicide is it involves a self-harmful action that is done based on a decision made in service of the positive end of improving one's situation somehow. Naturally, there are many alternatives for making one's life better, including people to talk to, some linked here:
    "If you are suicidal, read this first"

You can survive suicidal feelings if you do either of two things: (1) find a way to reduce your pain, or (2) find a way to increase your coping resources. Both are possible.
I actually don't agree 100% with how they phrase on that page whether suicide is a choice (since I feel even to seek out coping strategies or pain reduction strategies is all part of making choices), but it is still a great site and it tries to accomplish a lot in a few words (unlike me :-), so I link to it anyway. [2018 update: Having recently read "Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain" by David Conroy, I now see the social wisdom of reframing suicide as almost always an involunary act related to aggregate pain exceeding coping resources, as that conception then leads to many obvious ways organizations and individuals can address the issue.] Granted, under various health conditions (including resulting from extreme chronic pain), the brain (and so mind) may not work as well at decision making as it usually does when in good physical health.
    "Can Diet [and regular exercise etc.] Help Stop Depression and Violence?"
And also granted, anything involving murder, even of one's self, might be expected to be usually intertwined with strong emotions, often centered around anger. [2018 update: As David Conroy points out in "Out of the Nightmare", the anger theory of suicide is not as useful compared to the aggregate pain theory, even as learning healthy ways to cope with anger can reduce pain for oneself and others.]
      "Google search on Anger Management"
By contrast, a firefighter probably isn't angry with a fire, and their larger goals to save life are in a sense the opposite of murder.

Also on anger management, Mr. Fred Rogers says, "Did you know that when you are mad, you don't have to hurt yourself or anybody else?"

The What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel? training workshop explores anger, where it comes from, and how young children can gradually learn the self-control necessary to manage their anger and channel it into productive activity. It also suggests ways to intervene when children act out or lose control.
For three decades, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" has been an oasis of peace and calm, familiarity and safety in a kid-unfriendly world. ... And Rogers' epic "What Do You Do?" offers a list of anger management tools for all ages: ...
Part of the lyrics:
    "What Do You Do With the Mad that You Feel?"
... It's great to be able to stop
When you've planned a thing that's wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time. ...

While "rescuing" and "leaping" are actions on the same conceptual landscape of life and death, they are of course of different characters. As is said here:

Suicide. The very mention of the word creates uneasiness, fear and bewilderment for most individuals. The stigma and tragedy associated with suicide makes it one of those life events that we hope never happens to us, so we avoid learning about it and preparing for its occurrence. Unfortunately, most fire departments also avoid the topic. We hate to think about even the possibility that one of our own might decide to take his or her life. Such a thought contradicts the very essence of what it takes to be a firefighter: courage, resilience, self-sacrifice, confidence and the ability to handle the most difficult situations.
Though even that life-affirming statement raises the complex issue of "self-sacrifice". It is doubly sad when suicide-prevention support funds are cut in relation to these brave and self-sacrificing people:
    "Disturbing legacy of [9/11] rescues: Suicide ... [Counseling funds cut]"
    "The director of the National Institute of Mental Health says that more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans may die from suicide than from combat."

People make life and death decisions all the time for others. Doctors. Firechiefs. Presidents. Even people named in health care proxies (as I was for my mother with dementia in a nursing home). Parents do it for their children every day in split-second decisions related to aspirations and a need to grow versus abilities and risks (like in allowing them to climb a certain tree or not). One can at best hope people make those decisions in an informed compassionate manner, for others or themselves. If the study of decision making like in Operations Research can provide insights into helping people make such decisions in even more informed and more compassionate ways, I am all for it. Still, as I point out elsewhere, our assumptions, desires, and choice of reasoning tools (all, in a sense, what defines our "faith") have a big effect on the results our reasoning tools supply us when we finally operate them on top of all that faith.

Evolutionarily speaking, even the concept of sex is intentionally suicidal at one level. In terms of genetics, sexual recombination is a way to maximize genetic diversity across a population and to allow that population to engage in continual genetic self-renewal and thus stay healthy as a population. The alternative is identical cloning, where clones can only have at most as much genetic diversity as the original. But, sexually reproducing populations in the face of limited resources also imply the eventual death of the aging individuals, whereas clones can in theory persist identically forever (although in practice are eventually parasitized or suffer replication failure through spontaneous mutation). So, evolution as a process sometimes results in a trade-off of the lifespan of the individual for the health of the population.

The Princeton University community has continually reinvented itself over the years. Each time it lost some things and gained others. What I am discussing here is just the biggest self-renewal challenge PU has ever faced given the societal-wide transformation from scarcity to post-scarcity mythology. And, in that sense, it is deeply a matter of life-and-death, both for PU and society. Self-renewal is itself in a sense somewhat suicidal too -- the old self dies to the new self and in doing so is born again. :-) Usually the process of change is one small part at a time, of course, even if the changes often add up to perhaps produce something with little obvious connection to the past. So, I suggest, fire up those huge endowment powered engines of creative destruction and reconstruction, burn the endowment money that may soon be worthless anyway, and steer alonside the post-scarcity iceberg instead of straight into it. It's a risk, like a man and a woman conceiving and bearing a child. But what is the alternative, given so many people (as PAW suggests) "Jumping From the Ivory Tower" (or just thinking about it)? And as I outline here, there are more and more "jumpers" of one form or another ever since the Goodstein's "Big Crunch" in the 1970s. And there will likely be more and more "jumpers" (physical or career-wise or wannabe) as the nature of education and society changes in the internet age as the $100 laptop OLPC project represents as a data point.

PU is facing the biggest existential crisis possible for an elite institution of privilege, and I'd suggest based on reading PAW that PU as a community is still unawares of the depth of PU's increasing ill health in a changing society. Again, my concern is not for the institution itself, but for the people in it and the people around it who may get hurt if it collapses in an uncontrolled fashion. If it can be responsibly renewed under the same name and using the same buildings instead of being dismantled, that is fine too.

On sexism, feminism, pseudofeminism, dignity, and current parenting issues

The only thing easy about the proposal above is that there is already a new beautiful building that President Tilghman is "hot" for to act as the symbol of all this. The main difference outlined here from what she goes on about on the President's Page in PAW is the name of the building and the mythology behind that name, and then flowing from that mythology, the actions. But in the end, social mythological infrastructure is *much* harder to change than a bit of physical infrastructure in only one place.

Sorry, Professor Tilghman, I could not resist that "hot" wisecrack, and I probably should have. I don't want to even imagine the personal sacrifices you have had to make to care for the mythologically-conflicted institution of Princeton. And if this essay were to discuss the issues women in academia face often (but not always) in more abundance then men, from the glass ceiling, to harrassment, to having someone else essentially take credit for, say, their X-ray crystallography work,
or to simply having their own unique individual voices be *ignored*, well then this essay would no doubt be twice as long, and then some. :-(
    "Results 1 - 10 of about 66,700 for "women in academia". (0.09 seconds)"

But here is one general way to address all those discrimination issues:

The Dignitarian Foundation is an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the intrinsic right to human dignity - the belief that as a person, one is automatically worthy, honorable, and deserving of respect, regardless of status, station or stage of life. We believe we can and must find alternatives to practices that harm individual dignity, instead of continuing to convey the toxic residue of these indignities down the line, from those with the most power to those with the least. Our mission is to overturn the consensus view that says it is acceptable to treat certain people and groups badly because other people are doing it or because you can get away with it. We invite you to join us in raising awareness within families, schools, workplaces and governments of the enormous personal and public costs arising from everyday insults to dignity. Collectively, we can dissolve unhealthy power imbalances and begin to create societies that not only acknowledge, but also actively celebrate, the inherent dignity in everyone.
A related idea is reducing "Rankism":
Rankism is a term coined by physicist, educationalist and citizen diplomat Robert W. Fuller. Fuller has defined rankism as: "abusive, discriminatory, or exploitative behavior towards people who have less power because of their lower rank in a particular hierarchy"
The deep question is, how can an institution like PU, that has until now fundamentally defined itself by a process of "selecting" people and then "ranking" them, rethink its very existence in a world moving beyond discrimination and rank? This is not to say selectivity or grading is inherently wrong in all cases, but it is so fraught with ethical problems (like conflict of interest as Goodstein outlines) that it should be minimized or softened where possible. While issues like the abuse of rank will no doubt ever go completely away, the less rank there is, the less the potential for abuse. What does formal rank really get anyone in a post-scarcity world? The fundamental thing so much of academia is about now remains deciding who gets the scholarships and grants. If *everyone* in a post-scarcity society gets the equivalent of a scholarship or grant (at least for the basics, enough to think on if frugal) then much of the worst of academic temptations related to the "Big Crunch" might go away as we return in some ways to how science worked socially in an era of exponential expansion before the 1970s.

Alfie Kohn devotes an entire chapter of his "No Contest" book to "Women and Competition". He makes a key point about "pseudo-feminism" which encourages women to emulate the worst aspects of stereotypical competitive male behavior in US culture, as if this would either make their own lives better or make the already hyper-competitive USA a better place. As Alfie Kohn puts it:

... This perspective does not deny the reality of sexism; it asserts that becoming competitive is a spurious and unhelpful response to it. ... The situation is analagous to something that baffles and dismays those committed to social change. Members of the underclass in America often seem less interested in ending a system of privilege than in becoming privileged themselves. They rarely challenge the basic script, preferring to concentrate only on the casting. The economic system that predicates wealth on poverty, power on powerlessness, is implicitly accepted even by those with the greatest incentive to challenge it. This is a tribute to the effectiveness of our society's ideological apparatus, which encourages debate on tiny questions in order to deflect attention from the big ones, and which ... perpetuates a myth of individual responsibility to the exclusion of attention on structural causes. ... Now something similar is happening with women, who are buying into the competitive system rather than challenging it. (Pages 178 - 180)

True feminism (at least as I see it, and presumably Alfie Kohn does) tries to solve the deeper problems our society faces. (This is not intended as a comment about Shirley Tilghman, just the context she finds herself embedded in.)

To make this a physical analogy, consider for example what a "pseudo-feminist" chain saw might look like. :-) It might be the biggest chainsaw one strong woman or even two strong women could conceivably lift (or even beyond that), just to show 'em.
    "V8-Engine-Powered Big chainsaw"
That is the "Margaret Thatcher" of chainsaws. :-) Maybe the world does need some Margaret Thatchers (male or female) wielding V8-powered chain saws. But I'd suggest, maybe that need isn't a very common one, and even professional loggers are trying new things. :-)
    "Logging Hexapod Robot"
    "EFIKA Project #698 - Autonomous Logging Industry Robot"

Consider this hand-held alternative which I might term a true "feminist" chain saw:
    "Black & Decker Alligator Lopper 4.5-AMP Electric Chain Saw"
    "BDK Alligator Lopper Video"
My wife just bought one (she swings the chain saw in our family, "country girl" that she still is at heart :-) although I myself like it too. It's electric, it has multiple built-in safety features, and it is relatively easy to use (a little on the heavy side, but well balanced). Maybe it's not the perfect chain saw for everything (like cutting a big tree trunk), but generally it is a great all-around chainsaw for safely cutting most brush and dead wood near a homestead into burnable lengths. It can let you do 95% of those things very safely, even if you still might need something bigger and more dangerous occasionally for bigger trunks and really huge branches. And there is little reason the design could not be expanded to at least somewhat larger sizes. My wife likes it even though she has used bigger and noisier chainsaws -- in fact, that's exactly why she does like it. :-) Like anything, I'm sure it has its limits and downsides, but it shows some real innovation as a first attempt. That kind of better product for a better world does not get built by just trying to be even more dangerous, and more difficult, and louder, and so on than existing chain saws. It came from looking at the problem of cutting small logs from a new perspective and with different priorities. It makes chain sawing (reasonably) safely accessible to the young or old, female or male, rich or poor, strong or weak. It's an attitude towards design -- whether for a better product or a better world. And it is an attitude both women and men can have. Princeton University could collectively think really hard about how to foster that attitude on campus across all its operations. (For the record, we have no connection to that company except as satisfied customers, and to assuage my male ego, I'll also add that I usually run the snowblower. :-)

And if you want a more serious take on that physical analogy, consider:
    "[Pseudo] Feminism Is Mugged by Reality"

Princeton University, a former male citadel, is now run largely by women, and Ms. Belkin interviewed the president, Shirley Tilghman. Commenting on her current crop of female students, she said that for every one "who looks at an Amy [Gutmann, the Provost] or an Ann-Marie [Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs] and says, 'I want to be like her,' there are three who say, 'I want to be anything but her.'" It turns out that (like child care) the workplace has its drudgery, its long hours, its repetitious duties, its demands that an employee accommodate herself to the schedule of others. Maybe the home is a pleasanter and more fulfilling work environment than the office, after all.
I added "Pseudo" to the title to be clear that IMHO what Phyllis Schlafly rails against is "pseudofeminism" in Alfie Kohn's terminology. And that's one reason these conversations are so hard to have. Phyllis Schlafly (a very educated lawyer and independent woman)
is right about the evils of the modern workplace and even the related failure of the schooling system. She can be right about those things even if she may be wrong about some other things, including her seemingly preferring women not having options the same as men (or whatever women agree makes sense). From Wikipedia:
The feminist activist Gloria Steinem and the author Pia de Solenni, among others, have noted what they consider irony in Schlafly's role as an advocate for the full-time mother and wife, while being herself a lawyer, editor of a monthly newsletter, regular speaker at anti-liberal rallies, and political activist. In her review of Schlafly's Feminist Fantasies, de Solenni writes that "Schlafly's discussion reveals a paradox. She was able to have it all: family and career. And she did it by fighting those who said they were trying to get it all for her... Happiness resulted from being a wife and mother and working with her husband to reach their goals."
But to go back to the physical analogy, perhaps PU should not be thinking about metaphorically encouraging more women to swing V8-powered chain saws? :-) Maybe PU should be thinking about why anyone should want to be swinging V8-powered chain saws at all (except as a joke)? And maybe PU should help build a world where no one *aspires* to swing dangerous V8-powered chain saws even if that may make sense occasionally? A woman routinely wielding a V8-powered chain saw is as nonsensical as a man routinely wielding a V8-powered chain saw IMHO.

But even with that change, there are other organizational changes to work that are missed. Consider the original source for that quote from Shirley Tilghman:
    "The Opt-Out Revolution"

Tilghman is now a leader. In that role she wonders how to educate women to enter this shades-of-gray world and how to create an environment for her own staff that encourages a balanced life. But Tilghman is also a scientist, and she suspects that policies and committees, while crucially important, cannot change everything. And she wonders whether evolution has done both men and women a disservice.
"My fantasy is a world where there are two kinds of people -- ones who like to stay home and care for children and ones who like to go out and have a career," she says. "In this fantasy, one of these kinds can only marry the other." But the way it seems to work now is that ambitious women seem to be attracted to ambitious men. Then when they have children together, "someone has to become less ambitious." And right now, it tends to be the woman who makes that choice.

Here is an alternative fantasy:

The ThirdPath Institute is committed to helping people lead meaningful, balanced, intentional lives. We do this by teaching people how to redesign work to create more time for family, community and other life passions. Together we are finding new options. New ways for men and women to approach family, and new and innovative ways to redesign work and create more time for life. Consistently we are seeing that people are deeply motivated to make change when their family's well-being is on the line. Consequently, a significant focus of our work has been parents - both mothers and fathers- who have already tested new ways of reconfiguring both work and family. Long-term our goal is to organize individuals, families and communities to influence larger systemic change - both within organizations and at the public policy level. Together, with other like minded people, we will shape a future where no person is required to choose between work and children, work and an aging parent, work and community involvement, or work and some other life interest. Instead, people will be able to follow a "third path," one that allows them to integrate work with other life priorities.
My wife's fantasy is both she and I take care of our children half-time, and that's roughly what she has. :-) Not exactly, but we try (she still does more); see for similar examples:
    "Share and share alike: Equal parenting"

Still, as a male, I do feel excluded from the mostly female-oriented get-togethers related to child care (even ignoring the social issues of breastfeeding in our society), and my family suffers for that. I'm not even saying I wanted to attend such get-togethers as *I* would feel uncomfortable too -- but I'm just reminding people, that's the way it is in most societies around young children. Maybe it is possible or desirable to change that, but it is an enormous issue, and yet one implicit in what Professor Tilghman suggests. Were I doing 100% of the child care for my family instead of (ideally approaching) 50%, this would be a very difficult situation for me and my child in our society. Maybe I could navigate it, but it would be exceedingly stressful in practice for young kids, for everyone. It's not as big a deal for older kids in theory, but in practice that builds on social networks built at younger ages. I remember in one psychology class at PU, "Sex Roles and Behavior" the female and pregnant professor explaining to her class her difficulty trying to bend over beyond her maternal instincts and interview (and reject) a male nanny (who seemed weird).

Even in that professor's life, we see a plan for neither parent to be directly there with the kids, and for some other woman to take up the slack.
    "Dispatches from the nanny wars: How [Female] Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement"
That's one issue glossed over in Professor Tilghman's fantasy (as well as practical issues related to breastfeeding mentioned also later on) -- both of which would require a complete reorganization of the nature of child care *and* "work" in our society. What Shirley Tilghman also leaves unsaid is 60 to 80 hour per week careers including commuting and work at home. That is just a harmful culture for families no matter which parent does it. Her fantasy does not fix that problem either. So, three major unresolved child care issues in her ideal in the USA -- practical exclusion of males from young child care communities, impracticality of healthy extended nursing, and an absent parent. The world President Tilghman is really building for academically ambitious women in actuality revolves more around female Nannies (or excluded males), absent parents, baby formula, early weaning, and a lot of ear infections (to name just one problem of early weaning, which in general leads to higher infant mortality). And if she wants proof of that, she need look no further than PU's parentnet alumni email list. But, to President Tilghman's credit, she did use the word "fantasy". But is that also another word for guiding "mythology"?

Perhaps more to the point is the next part of that article:

Sarah McArthur Amsbary of the Atlanta group leads a much-examined life. Back in college, she says, she gave no thought to melding life and work, but now, ''I think about it almost constantly.''
And what she has concluded, after all this thinking, is that the exodus of professional women from the workplace isn't really about motherhood at all. It is really about work. ''There's a misconception that it's mostly a pull toward motherhood and her precious baby that drives a woman to quit her job, or apparently, her entire career,'' she says. ''Not that the precious baby doesn't magnetize many of us. Mine certainly did. As often as not, though, a woman would have loved to maintain some version of a career, but that job wasn't cutting it anymore. Among women I know, quitting is driven as much from the job-dissatisfaction side as from the pull-to-motherhood side.''
She compares all this to a romance gone sour. ''Timing one's quitting to coincide with a baby is like timing a breakup to coincide with graduation,'' she says. ''It's just a whole lot easier than breaking up in the middle of senior year.''
That is the gift biology gives women, she says. It provides pauses, in the form of pregnancy and childbirth, that men do not have. And as the workplace becomes more stressful and all-consuming, the exit door is more attractive. ''Women get to look around every few years and say, 'Is this still what I want to be doing?''' she says. ''Maybe they have higher standards for job satisfaction because there is always the option of being their child's primary caregiver. When a man gets that dissatisfied with his job, he has to stick it out.''

Maybe pseudofeminists should read George Orwell's "Animal Farm" where in the end there is little difference between the pigs and the humans as owners of the farm? :-(
By itself, neither putting women in charge nor women "opting out" of the work force changes very much. That "opt-out revolution" article goes on to suggest if bright women leave the workforce it will change of its own accord, but I suggest, especially with rising unemployment at the moment, that is also a "fantasy" (though not without some small justification in fact). This is to say nothing against alternative social systems like balanced matriarchy, like the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) traditionally have, with women traditionally picking and removing a male leadership (and whom they had known and shaped the character of from birth) and where women essentially held all land in trust for seven generations. But that is a vastly different culture than the USA or PU has right now. The USA took only some of the Haudenosaunee ideas for the US Constitution -- maybe it would have been a good approach to add some other Haudenosaunee ideas in there too? :-)

Generalizing the theme of sexism and racism to general alienation at PU

One can of course make similar arguments as for sexism at PU about other political situations. Consider the current controversy over the senior thesis entitled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" written by Michelle (LaVaughn Robinson) Obama '85.
The alienation she discusses (both for some from their cultural roots and for others from the university)
    "Michelle Obama thesis was on racial divide"
might be analyzed in a similar way. And it is why the current US election, while important in some ways, is unimportant in many others. Woman or man, black or white, as Bob Black suggests, what does it matter what color or creed or gender the bosses have? Again from Bob Black:
    "The Abolition of Work"

Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
What does Barack Obama have to say about the fundamental nature of forced "work" in our society? To my understanding, nothing.

I could have written Michelle's thesis (ignoring her being a better writer than I :-) on several different topics:
* how those who care about the environment were marginalized at PU (like Becky),
* or those who cared about ending the arms race were marginalized (like Joel),
* or those who cared about becoming parents were marginalized at PU (especially some women),
* or those who cared about ending Apartheid in South Africa were marginalized,
* or those who cared about vegetarianism were marginalized,
* or those who cared about just having fun and doing playful basic science were marginalized.
Essentially, almost everyone who was not pre-professional (doctor, lawyer, mainstream college professor, inherited wealth manager :-) was marginalized or alienated at PU in the 1980s. :-( Even the Puerto Ricans felt that way (I knew some, Hola Anita!. :-) I have little doubt that the experience may have been worse for some minority groups. And US American blacks may have felt left out of even the then "Third World Center" because it was more international in focus?
    "Third World Center gets new name to better reflect its mission"

I'm not going to suggest Michelle was wrong about the extreme situation she discusses for US American dark-skinned people at PU, or that people in the USA identified as "black" don't have unique aspects to their circumstances, but I am suggesting in many ways the alienation she wrote about in relation to PU was more one of degree, not of quality. Still, the color of your skin is generally obvious whereas your politics are not, and eventually a difference in quantity of difficulty may become a significant difference in quality of life, so again this is not to say the black experience in the USA is not unique. Nonetheless, it is to suggest that it is in the nature of alienation not to find commonality with others who are alienated. As Sting sings about throwing his message in a bottle out into the ocean and getting a hundred billion bottles back:
    "Message In A Bottle"

Seems I'm not alone at being alone.

The strategy of "divide and conquer" is a common theme in the military, businesses, politics, or even schooling:

In order to give these vertical relationships strength, the horizontal relationships among teachers — collegiality — must be kept weak. This divide-and-conquer principle is true of any large system. The way it plays itself out in the culture of schooling is to bestow on some few individuals favor, on some few grief, and to approach the large middle with a carrot in one hand, a stick in the other with these dismal examples illuminating the discourse. In simple terms, some are bribed into loyalty, but seldom so securely they become complacent; others sent despairing, but seldom without hope since a crumb might eventually fall their way. Those whose loyalties are purchased function as spies to report staff defiance or as cheerleaders for new initiatives.

Yet, unifying can be a strategy too -- if it is the unification of allegiance to empire. Consider a historical example:
    "Hostages and Hostage-Taking in the Roman Empire"

For [Joel Allen, in a Yalie PhD thesis :-)], hostages were at the center of Roman thinking about empire: noble or royal males, twelve to forty years old and detained at or near the center of power, could be forged into a new "over class" (jargon borrowed from recent discourse on globalization) to collude with the Roman exercise of power. Hence Humanization of hostages and subsequent humanization of the hostages' native populations was a strategic aim: hostages represented an inexpensive, low-risk method of winning territory or extending Roman influence (p. 224). ... [Joel Allen's] pursuit of the hostage as a "type" renders irrelevant whether an individual is legally a hostage, i.e., delivered by treaty or held as surety to another form of agreement, or voluntarily in Rome for an education. For [Joel Allen], the fact that Roman political superiority fostered a desire to learn Latin and Roman customs constituted a form of compulsion. ...
Ignoring the controversial "hostage" aspect, the general outline described is of a social process of indoctrination in order to function in "mainstream" Roman society.

Noam Chomsky above suggests the major purpose of a place like PU is to socialize ambitious and talented young people a certain way to become part of the elite that Domhoff describes, regardless of where they come from (as they are otherwise, like Michelle, potentially trouble-making). I suggest, following Chomsky, that what Michelle found in her thesis about black students also applies to many people becoming alienated from their roots and taking on a different persona and allegiance through four years at PU. So, in the same way as for racial alienation, PU also contributes to, say, gender alienation, producing people (of any gender) more often interested in abstractions than than hands-on parenting and related issues. If you think through Chomsky's thesis, then the whole point of an institution like Princeton University historically is to alienate people from *any* non-elite roots which might otherwise claim allegiance (gender, race, prior social class, friends, family, children, etc.). Or, it short, the point of PU is to alienate people from themselves and mold them into an elite. This alienation is presumably effected by choice, but what choice made in the late teens related to social power in our society is really completely well informed? PU can presumably easily prey on such kids, especially after they have been weakened ethically and divided socially by over a decade of compulsory K-12 education as Gatto outlines. And for those who realize on campus that they made a bad choice, the only alternative is to leap from that ivory tower one way or another (hopefully in a non-violent way towards themselves or others). The obvious violent leap is from Fine tower, but students can transfer out, they can turn inward, they can join a few non-elite organizations on campus, or they can try to just ignore it. But it is a contest of wills -- and what sort of place is that to spend four years of your youth?

For good or bad, alienation is in some sense the whole point of Princeton University -- even though some like me may decry it now, and others like Michelle were wise enough to see it decades ago. To be clear, I am echoing Gatto's theme of schooling as an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. I'll readily acknowledge PU as I knew it was filled with many wonderful caring people among the faculty, staff, and students.

PU as an internment camp?

When I think back on someone like, say Shinobu "Dink" Asano of the PU psychology department staff related to undergraduate students, I can imagine no finer or more caring a person. Her presence made my life better at PU, both as an undergraduate and also when I was a graduate student. We still chatted a few times and she read one of my grad school papers I gave her ("The Self-Replicating Garden"). She pointed out correctly how alienated it sounded, and that was something I really had not noticed or thought much on (although she used more compassionate words, of course). I hadn't know until just now on using Google that she and her husband had spent time in Japanese-American internment camps in the USA during WWII: [Although I think on this over a year later and think now she did mention that her husband did not like reunions because of putting up the walls but I did not think much on it at the time, as many will not think much on the points here at the time?]
That obviously has implications both in seeing alienation first-hand and also seeing the limits of walled gardens (as opposed to, say, networked ones). I made improvements to that idea later in both those ways. Here is a two-author paper (my wife and me) on people networking to build self-replicating gardens:
    "A Review of Licensing and Collaborative Development with Special Attention to Design of Self-Replicating Space Habitat Systems"
And this includes a mention of the value of networks of space habitats; see the section on Island Biogeography:
    "On college and space habitats"
So if my other work or this essay help some people someday, thank Dink.

Which leads me to reflect on something. I am sure she tried her very best to make the PU psychology department a humane place, and I have fond memories of her. Nonetheless, what Gatto suggests applies to K-12 (school mainly as social control, not education), I suggest applies equally well to college as it is currently constructed as an institution. And it applies even more so to graduate school, which is becoming more and more a perceived requirement of any sort of professional career in the USA. I suggest it applies no matter how many nice people there are at PU, as long as its mythology for both undergraduate and graduate education revolves around scarcity, and related themes of elitism (alienation), competition (destructiveness), and excellence (perfectionism). I suggest it applies no matter how prettily you architect a place in faux Cambridge-style,
    "Images of Cambridge University"
I suggest an internment camp is in some sense an internment camp even if it looks like a country club like the "Village" in the Prisoner series,
if it tries to discipline minds and break wills:
and even if it extends across the planet in various ways.

Thinking of Princeton University as an internment camp may seem odd, but let me repeat something referenced earlier from a review of a Yale PhD thesis:

[Joel Allen's] pursuit of the hostage as a "type" renders irrelevant whether an individual is legally a hostage, i.e., delivered by treaty or held as surety to another form of agreement, or voluntarily in Rome for an education. For [Joel Allen], the fact that Roman political superiority fostered a desire to learn Latin and Roman customs constituted a form of compulsion.
College is a social institution almost all young people aspire to in part because most young people are presented no secure or socially-acceptable alternative -- even though alternatives exist and college is unhealthy and inappropriate and produces insecurity in many ways for many families. And even when they are presented alternatives, the social momentum of going to college for anyone tracked for that usually seems irresistible. See for example:
    "We're NOT Off to See the Wizard: Revisiting the idea of College"
Our culture has more or less bought into the idea that going to college is just one of those things you're "supposed" to do. Increasingly, parents feel they are "required" to finance their children's education even if it means mortgaging themselves to the hilt or working crazy hours. Few ever dare to question this assumption, at least not in public. ... Over and over I read statistics that "prove" that even with a much higher price tag, the long-term benefits of a college education still make it a bargain. But sometimes I wonder whose interest is best served by that "proof": the individual student's or that of the massive higher education industry? Furthermore, I often question whether the "doors of opportunity" which college supposedly unlocks, actually lead to places where people truly want to go. Maybe the "doors of opportunity" are just the passageway into an adulthood of Babbittry. [A narrow-minded, self-satisfied person with an unthinking attachment to middle-class values and materialism.] Could college attendance be a sign of cowardice? Could it be a way to duck from the scary thought of being who we really are inside? Could we do the college thing mainly because that's what's expected of us, or what everyone else is doing, not because it's what we truly should do? ...
So what has college become but another sort of internment camp for many of our youth, although a pleasant-enough seeming one on the surface. And some such camps *are* admittedly better places for personal growth and self-education than others. This is not to suggest, as colleges go, PU is not one of the better ones, even with all its conceptual flaws. If you are going to have prisons, at least they should be well-run ones, right? And they should be full of people like Dink Asano who know how much worse internment camps can get, right?

While not strictly about college, the movie Good Will Hunting is a good example of the dynamics of this system and the absence of alternatives. Like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Hunting is teased and attacked at an early age for his unique abilities. Hunting is only able to obtain expensive care for his related mental difficulties because an academic (Santa) sees value in that ability to serve him (not him as a person). The trade-off is that, like Rudolf guiding Santa's sleigh to gain acceptance for has difference, Hunting is then asked to apply his talents to the military-industrial complex, either in a job for a defense contractor implementing Mutually Assured Destruction or in a job for a financial services firm implementing market-driven World Hunger. Fortunately, at the end of the movie he picks a different path (although there remain overtones of elitism in his choice -- an academically and professionally successful girlfriend is all that is acceptable to the plot). In the course of the movie, the alienation from his lifelong childhood friend and lifelong neighborhood is completed. It is simply unacceptable to the community for Will Hunting to continue in a life of manual labor which he enjoys, both for the work and the camaraderie, and to continue to use his gift in a self-pleasing hobbyist way -- his gift must be put to use for the capitalist system for it or for Will Hunting to be deemed of value.

I was inspired in that analysis by a book I picked up in the Princeton University Store as an undergrad called "How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic." (Actually it was for a class I was not taking, but I often did that, sorry to anyone inconvenienced. :-) From:

Donald Duck, a powerful symbol of imperialism in Latin America, is the famous product of Walt Disney, a poor man from an abusive family who became a friend of right–wing politicians, a skilled war propagandist, an exploitive employer and one of the richest men in the USA. As comics declined in popularity in the USA, he started exporting his duck version of the American dream to the world, most specifically to Latin America. Donald Duck was a clean–living, parentless, sex–less creature who symbolized American innocence while glorifying capitalism. ... In the preface to the English edition, the authors quote Pinochet as saying the point was "to conquer the minds of Chileans". So this expose of the power and purpose of comic characters was burned along with hundreds of others by the military dictatorship. The Disney comic was retained with its particular USA–created world view. Reading Donald Duck was written in 1971, in the fervour of hope created by Allende's government to, the authors say, critique the popular culture exported so profitably by the USA. They saw it, not as an academic exercise, but a practical need. It was part of cultural context that included printing millions of books, including in indigenous languages, murals, music, writing and theatre that were all part of cultural liberation – and smashed by the fascistic new junta. But memory was not obliterated, words, music and art survived underground and abroad.

For more on reading Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, see:

The newly remastered Rudolph is on. It's gorgeous, and it tells the story of the evils of socially constructed disablism. But, damned, it sure is disturbing. ...

By the way, on paying for expensive face-to-face psychological care Will Hunting required as opposed to pills in regard to managing his uniqueness and related trauma:

I want a low-stress high-paying job where I can help people. Do you think psychology is the right career for me?
No. Become a plumber. Just about anyone will pay you a small fortune to unclog a stopped-up toilet, but only a few will pay you more than pocket change to unclog a mind stopped up with confusion, self-indulgence, and unconscious hostility.
Ironically, Will Hunting already had manual laboring jobs he was satisfied with, but was being coerced into mental labor. Fortunately, in a post-scarcity gift economy, there will be hopefully be more time for such both mathematical and mental health activities, since guarding occupations diminish (for example, health insurance company workers could retrain as mental health care providers or mathematical hobbyists).

Good Will Hunting has some parallels to the 1954 sci-fi short story "Gomez" by C. M. Kornbluth. A blue collar mathematical prodigy is discovered and brought online in the military-industrial-academic complex to design new weapons and becomes disillusioned with it (faking his loss of abilities to escape revealing the secret of a terrible new post-scarcity weapon implied by his work). The protagonist in Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Dispossessed" also is a mathematician trying to avoid revealing a post-scarcity military secret to scarcity-preoccupied and elite-preoccupied minds. Ted Taylor's real life story related to nuclear energy has some weak parallels to this as well, with him moving from developing atomic bombs to developing nuclear starship drives and reactors for electricity, as well as other life-affirming innovations. One of the fortunate things about being a grad student at PU at the time in the CE&OR department was free work-related long distance calls; I used to use that privilege to talk with people like Ted Taylor (Freeman Dyson gave me his phone number) about how to undo the disastrous M.A.D. and Brittle Power situation we had gotten locked into in part from his earlier work (he had an idea he called "Micropolis" for a one-square-mile mostly self-contained community).
    "Theodore Taylor, a Designer of A-Bombs Who Turned Against Them"
Of course, along with being discouraged from taking Frank von Hippel's public policy course, calls like that didn't go over too well in the CE&OR department either. :-( It seemed like learning to become a capitalist tool was OK. Even learning to be a capitalist critic was OK. But combining ability and insight into one person was verboten. :-( Still, I can see the sense in that policy from an institutional point of view (and President Tilghman's interdisciplinary proposal on her PAW page similarly leaves that sort of interdisciplinary integration of, say, religious studies and civil engineering, off the table).

There is also this prison for the alienated coming out of PU, people who have been alienated from their past associations and roots, but who reject the PU mainstream future planned for them once they really see it up close:

Desperado, oh, you aint gettin no youger
Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin
Your prison is walking through this world all alone
I'd suggest that after Will Hunting's medical student girlfriend dumps him for not being willing to do enough of the household chores, that would be his fate. He can't go back to his blue collar roots which academia has alienated him from. But he can't fit in to the global society built around exploiting people like himself to hurt others and concentrate wealth (including through the structure of the medical system his girlfriend will slot into in the USA after Stanford, if for no other reason than to repay her student loans in the six figures).
So where would that leave our fictional Will Hunting but an alienated "Desperado"? Even if he and his girlfriend manage to work out a compromise over household chores and stick together, he still faces her profitable alienation. Unless, perhaps, he can find or forge an alternative community or an alternative vision to sustain himself among others with similar interests (even given the internet is not as good as a face-to-face community in many ways).
Or maybe, like John O. Anderson, he could go back to his job as a janitor as self-employment this time and continue doing math as a hobby:
Even if it occasionally may be a profitable hobby for some: :-)
    "Millennium Problems"
(But it would not surprise me to find those prize problems were picked for military or financial applications.)

This is not meant to trivialize the different and more extreme sorts of trauma and alienation Dink Asano experienced during WWII. Being forced out of your home into a camp obviously brings up a different conscious set of emotions than arriving at Princeton as a freshman out of choice. But I nonetheless suggest the two are related on some sort of continuum in more unconscious ways then are obvious at first. Again, from Gatto on how mainstream K-12 schools are prisons (compared to freeschools or homeschooling/unschooling):
    "The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher"

The second lesson I teach is your class position. I teach that you must stay in class where you belong. I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being plainly under the burden of numbers he carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the strategy is designed to accomplish is elusive. I don't even know why parents would allow it to be done to their kid without a fight. In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make them like it, being locked in together with children who bear numbers like their own. Or at the least endure it like good sports. If I do my job well, the kids can't even imagine themselves somewhere else because I've shown how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes. Under this efficient discipline the class mostly polices itself into good marching order. That's the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

A society that accepts and approves of one sort of segregation and indoctrination in an organization with walls and fences, whatever the organization is called or whoever it is intended for, can more easily accept others forms of oppression.

Oppression is the act of using power to empower and/or privilege a group at the expense of disempowering, marginalizing, silencing, and subordinating another. Note: Oppression does not need established organizational support; it can be rendered on a much smaller individual scale. It is particularly closely associated with nationalism and derived social systems, wherein identity is built by antagonism to the other. The term itself derives from the idea of being "weighted down."
And I'd suggest this is true whether the institution is surrounded with real barbed wire fences or conceptual fences like just elite ID cards keyed to permissions for all activities.

I can also only speculate on how Dink Asano might have felt every year working on campus when the walls and gates went up at PU for reunions with badges and checkpoints and guards. That always felt weird to me, but now I can see how it is a perfectly appropriate metaphor for how the PU community sees itself and what is acceptable. See also:
    "1944: Princeton builds the A-bomb"
    "The Official Homepage of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum"
    "The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum"
Atomic energy is an example of an almost infinitely abundant post-scarcity power (and it is now responsible for saving millions of lives annually through medical applications like diagnostic X-rays or radiation therapy for cancer treatment); it is scary to think of atomic energy controlled by institutions still oriented around scarcity mythology more than fifty years after its first use. With that said, I prefer solar and wind energy for electrical production, especially as long as our institutions remain scarcity-oriented in outlook:

Silkwood is a 1983, Academy Award-nominated film which dramatizes the story of Karen Silkwood, who died in a car accident under suspicious circumstances while investigating alleged wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant where she worked.

The product of all these walls and fences, real or virtual, is bound to be a degree of social alienation in many people.
I'd suggest for every Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech, there are millions of students with either lesser degrees of alienation from our society or simply lesser abilities to act on that alienation for either good or bad ends (including the ability to transcend alienation through community and laughter). See also:
    "Why Men Rebel" by Ted R. Gurr
    "Book Summary of Why Men Rebel by Ted Gurr"

This is a classic book that explores why people engage in political violence (riots, rebellion, coups, etc.) and how regimes respond. Though written long before the current rash of insurgencies, it has a lot to say about what is happening in the early 21st century. In this book, Gurr examines the psychological frustration-aggression theory which argues that the primary source of the human capacity for violence is the frustration-aggression mechanism. Frustration does not necessarily lead to violence, Gurr says, but when it is sufficiently prolonged and sharply felt, it often does result in anger and eventually violence. Gurr explains this hypothesis with his term "relative deprivation," which is the discrepancy between what people think they deserve, and what they actually think they can get. Gurr's hypothesis, which forms the foundation of the book, is that: "The potential for collective violence varies strongly with the intensity and scope of relative deprivation among members of a collectivity." ... A number of other variables influence the use of violence as well, for example the culture, the society, and the political environment. The culture must at least accept, if not approve, violent action as a means to an end. Political violence is also more likely if the current leadership and/or the socio-economic/political system is seen as illegitimate. Another factor is whether violence is considered to be a viable remedy to the problem.

Worrying about extreme alienation and extreme security distracts from considering routine alienation and routine security

But do I think a similar violent incident as happend at Virginia Tech is likely at PU? Not especially. The amazing thing, considering everything crazy that goes on at universities for all sorts of reasons, is that such things happen so rarely anywhere. Same with driving accidents. See:

Now come back to the present while I demonstrate that the identical trust placed in ordinary people two hundred years ago still survives where it suits managers of our economy to allow it. Consider the art of driving, which I learned at the age of eleven. Without everybody behind the wheel, our sort of economy would be impossible, so everybody is there, IQ notwithstanding. With less than thirty hours of combined training and experience, a hundred million people are allowed access to vehicular weapons more lethal than pistols or rifles. Turned loose without a teacher, so to speak. Why does our government make such presumptions of competence, placing nearly unqualified trust in drivers, while it maintains such a tight grip on near-monopoly state schooling? ... It should strike you at once that our unstated official assumptions about human nature are dead wrong. Nearly all people are competent and responsible; universal motoring proves that. The efficiency of motor vehicles as terrorist instruments would have written a tragic record long ago if people were inclined to terrorism. But almost all auto mishaps are accidents, and while there are seemingly a lot of those, the actual fraction of mishaps, when held up against the stupendous number of possibilities for mishap, is quite small. I know it's difficult to accept this because the spectre of global terrorism is a favorite cover story of governments, but the truth is substantially different from the tale the public is sold. According to the U.S. State Department, 1995 was a near-record year for terrorist murders; it saw three hundred worldwide (two hundred at the hand of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka) compared to four hundred thousand smoking-related deaths in the United States alone. When we consider our assumptions about human nature that keep children in a condition of confinement and limited options, we need to reflect on driving and things like almost nonexistent global terrorism.

The reason to pay attention to these issues is really not to prevent another massacre. While murders and suicides cause unique pain, far more deaths by many orders of magnitude will always happen from car accidents or smoking or even, now, TV and internet use due to secondary effects of obesity and physical inactivity. Massacres are more one representative indicator of a collective unconscious, as are all the times they don't happen. The main reason to pay attention to the alienation problem that college creates is simply to alleviate the day-to-day suffering the university system inflicts on its own students and staff and the world around it. That is the same reason companies (like Volvo) still work to make safer and more comfortable cars even when fatalities are already very low for some models, or why some PU professors work to make safer cars that drive themselves so that falling asleep at the wheel is not a safety hazard but a feature.

Volvo is an interesting case because, while excellent at passive safety, they fell behind on active hazard avoidance safety. Now they are spending more time focusing on human factors like driver distraction and handling feel and better electronics to match their excellent crumple zones built of multiple types of Swedish steel. Most road accidents are not fatalities, but it still makes sense to make cars that avoid any accidents and make trips more pleasant. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is the latest major innovation in that area for cars, and may well save more lives than airbags by cutting the rate for all automobile accidents about in half eventually.
ESC involves a computer braking one or more wheels of the car to make it steer as directed by the driver. But ESC (DSTC in Volvo terms) was not really a Volvo innovation nor was it standard on many Volvo models until very recently. If you as a consumer not understanding either crumple zones or active avoidance naively focused only on coming out better than the person in the other car in accidents (and not mainly preventing them or helping everyone survive in both cars), you might not think in terms of vehicle stability control or crumple zones or low slung collision system activating bumpers. You might instead focus on driving bigger trucks which actually are more dangerous for everyone. This is because even though big trucks could be safer with so much room for crumple zones and great seat belts, in practice, big pick-up trucks are not designed for intrinsic safety for either occupants or those in other cars collided with and so are less safe than a well-designed lighter sedan). With all that weight and room, there is just no excuse for disastrous crash test results like in this video:
    "Crash Test Ford F150"
But there that crash test result is as the product of either ignorance or a willful disregard for safety. (Granted, one reason Ford bought Volvo was supposedly to bring its safety knowledge into more Ford products.) It still took even Volvo, long a leader in automotive safety, a long time to come around to focusing on active safety and crash avoidance instead of just passive safety and crash survival. So it does show that even in a safety-minded culture, there can still be even more levels of awareness and a difficulty seeing new concepts.

Yes, a side effect of good design and happier people and smarter support systems is less tragedies. But one should not let that "less tragedies" part become an extreme preoccupation. It is natural at first to focus on the "tragedy" part alone, as Volvo did long ago for car safety, and blame campus massacres or individual suicides on ill individuals seemingly acting at random and focus on responding to such actions while in progress. That's a very convenient and obvious place to start. But if you do that, you are likely to pursue mainly strategies like putting *more* guns on campus rather than think of these things in holistic ways that make life better for everyone. You'll possibly reduce the number of shooting victims per incident, but you'll miss the day-to-day suffering across campus or the globe of which the incident might just be a symptom, and so miss a chance both to help alleviate daily suffering and reduce the number of extreme incidents (including suicides that are only involve one death). And a focus on guns would also miss the chance to see the deeper roots of incidents all the way down into the K-12 schooling process which universities are codependant with. Or, as an alternative, you'll backtrack to ignored warning signs of the tragedy, find anyone with a hint of similar deviance, and make their lives worse by increasing their alienation. But again, I'd suggest this treats the symptom, not the societal disease (one aspect of which is simply lack of access to mental health care in the USA other than cheap pills). As Leslie Farber pointed out in the book previously mentioned, actual completed suicides are far rarer than lives lived where suicidal thoughts are a big issue. It is all those thoughts that add up to the most time spent suffering, the most possibilities for building meaning or community wasted. It is these aspects of alienation, depression, ill health, poor diet, lack of exercise, spiritual trauma, and so on, which are the deep areas where the most general benefit will come from. And to an extent, ratcheting up campus security may actually make things worse in those areas -- more guns, more walls, more intrusiveness, more costs for guns and walls and guards instead of good food, community, and laughter. Maybe you can have both guns and community, but if you can't, I'd suggest go for the approach involving healthy laughter.

The phrase for doing security wrong is "security theater":
The sad reality is that any seriously violent crazy person has some small chance of finding a way around whatever campus security is implemented. As Gatto points out, cars are lethal weapons -- and there are lots of cars around campus. And if not cars, it could be something else. It is ultimately much cheaper and more effective to conceive of holistic global security for all (as mutual security) than to think more guns here or there really solve anything about security.

For example, around my second month at PU living in the Graduate college (20 years ago), I heard a horrible tale from another grad student of a female grad student who was contaminated with radioactive phosphorus in her work on campus due to poor training (she was given the stuff to use but not given any detailed explaination of safety issues, supposedly), who also walked that stuff around campus including the dorm, graduate dining hall, etc. for two weeks before accidentally setting off an alarm in another lab. And supposedly it was covered up within the labs involved to protect the university's license to handle that stuff (or so the ROTC student said). Potentially, much or all of the work in this entire building might have been shut down just a couple years after opening:
Who was going to stick their neck out when that might be the result?
This isn't the sad murder mystery I referred to at the start, even though this incident may have shortened the lives of random people on campus (maybe even me) or damaged the DNA of future children. And with hindsight, I should have done more immediately on hearing that story to either determine it was a baseless rumor or alternatively bring it to the attention of senior administrators or the press or OSHA. I did later bring what I had heard about the radioactive phosphorus incident to the attention of a town council person I was friends with who was by chance reviewing PU's certification for such materials the next year but nothing came of it that I know of. I did not know the actual person involved, and I did not keep in touch with the person who told me about it, and I had left campus in any case, so I had no proof and sadly no big inclination to pursue it. Campus security having more guns would not stop that kind of contamination which that graduate student reportedly suffered and potentially spread to other PU grad students that year (maybe even me) -- contamination suffered in some sense at the hands of the university itself. And more guns wouldn't have made a difference in the people involved (myself too sadly) making a choice not to do more about it. Around that same time someone I knew joked the university had determined working in the basement office I had been in two years earlier was equivalent to smoking about 10 packs of cigarettes a day from radon (since remediated). I remember how working there someone down the hall said their Geiger counter must be malfunctioning when it clicked in the hall. Presumably PU's radioactive monitoring has improved since then; if it hasn't, it should, if only in case of accidents or situations like that. At least for radon it apparently has:
    "University to begin radon testing protocol in April"
I sure hope the training has improved for new graduate students handling such materials. This is hopeful:
    "NEW! How to Use Your Laboratory Survey Meter to Estimate Dose and Activity"
    "Radiation Incidents & Emergencies"
And to be fair, at SUNY SB later as a grad student, I saw people all the time wheeling carts with glassware with stuff in it in the biosciences building elevator and punching the buttons with their safety gloves with who knows what on them. This cavalier attitude towards those risks in one hazard of being around these sorts of institutions, even when you do not work with those materials yourself. Still there is this issue which is comforting about receiving small doses of some things:

Seriously, why is this stuff in the 21st century not all done by robots in sealed workcells?
    "New 4-axis cylindrical robot for DNA screening in applications"
    "Clean Room Applications [with robot work cells]"
As with humans and mining, why should any human being ever set foot in a biosciences laboratory (except virtually) these days? Maybe PU can become the world leader in researching that sort of thing for the biosciences?
    "The 1980s vision of "lights-out" manufacturing, where robots do all the work, is a dream no more."

At Fanuc, the bot invasion is already moving beyond the factory floor. In 2001 the company opened an automated kitchen center that preps 2,000 meals for the human rank and file. The bots cook rice, pack lunch boxes, and wash dishes. They even wear rubber gloves.
Anyway, I'd suggest more materials handling robots on campus instead of more guns might do more for real security. And if you think along those lines, about what security really means in a day-to-day context and how you can get it without sacrificing other ideals, other ideas might arise (especially ones about education and research, PU's supposed reason to exist).

A fateful memo about too many books

I regretfully never chatted deeply or at length (hours) with Dink Asano as a graduate student in another department, and no doubt that would have been in part from my avoidance of some of these alienation issues too. I don't know what she might have said about if we had. It was ultimately an assistant (acting?) Dean of the Chapel who suggested I find a better place than PU to look into issues of sustainability, global abundance, social reform, dealing with nuclear age issues, and so on. I had come to her office because I had received a memo from my graduate department, that I had too many books in my office. :-) It also said some untrue or misleading things, for example, suggesting I talked too much on the phone and disturbed my officemates' study (who had not discussed that with me), but it was only a few conversations to people like Ted Taylor as above, and it was the only place I could affordably call them from (hard even to remember those pre-widespread-internet cost issues for communications). Professor Steve Slaby suggested jokingly that I frame the memo, which is in fact what I did. I used to have it up on a wall at home by my personal library as a sort of "diploma" from the PU graduate school. :-) Those were also the days faculty were protesting on behalf of a certain Islamic-related writer in hiding, so the memo was doubly ironic.

One of those "too many books" was my old and worn Bible from my believing days. This is not to say I reject all of those core beliefs or values now that I see the Bible as containing lots of illuminating stories and poetry; it's more a rejection of the dogmatic belief about them all being "true" or even all being "normative" or the Bible being the only acceptable source of such illumination. So, I went and asked that Dean of the Chapel what she thought about that memo, and that one of the too many books I had in my office was my Bible. And she said she didn't think it was an issue about the Bible. :-)

But she did suggest essentially that I leave PU and find a better community with people that cared about life-affirming things. At the time I cynically thought of her as another university functionary, working to keep the university running smoothly by helping eject people like myself with the least fuss. I recently read in Jeff Schmidt's book Disciplined Minds about how academia has structural aspects like "cooling off periods" to eject people with minimal blowback as it goes about its mining, and sorting, and polishing operations (to use Goodstein's terminology). But, as I reflect on it, could there be a chance, even in just one interaction, that she cared about me as a person? I'm not enough of a believer to truly mean it when I say, "God works in mysterious ways", or am I? :-) For all I know, maybe that memo mentioning too many books leading to me seeing the Dean of the Chapel saved my life.

Even though I had heard grousing about the university (or even capitalism) here or there, this was the first time a person in a position of some institutional authority at PU had indirectly admitted, yes, Princeton University itself was in some sense suicidal in its capitalist values and elite vision and unsustainable operations, and being around such a place and the people it attracts was bound to be extremely stressful if you were trying to do something life-affirming, and there were other happier communities out there (including at other universities) that were trying to transcend such things. Remember, this was twenty years ago, so, as with the new PU office of sustainability, the institution is slowly changing, though years behind many other places with less financial resources.

The conservative PU defense was alway essentially, "We're life-affirming, but we just believe in living another way."
That always ignores or accepts the risks of M.A.D. because of TINA, and ignores or accepts those who starve because of TINA, and ignores or accepts those dumped by hospitals on the streets (Michael Moore) because TINA. TINA stands for "There in No Alternative". So, perhaps simply calling PU's behavior then "suicidal" is actually charitable; perhaps "intentionally destructive to others and so indirectly destructive to itself out of obsession and lack of compassion and lack of creativity" might be more accurate description of PU at the time?

I used to hang out with an elderly ex-countess interested in solar energy during my graduate school days (who as a commoner married into royalty). She told me the reason her husband's family had so many castles (seventeen?) was that after a few months the local game around a castle would be getting exhausted and the peasants were getting restless at the treatment and demands, and so the family would need to move onto another castle in rotation. I guess that works for an elite as long as the demands are low relative to the regenerative capacity of the ecology and the peasantry, but when demands exceed that regenerative capacity, then the whole system will collapse. To continue on that way when collapse is staring you in the face seems to at least be a case of deep denial.

I'll certainly admit I have my own issues, and I had other issues as a graduate student, and psychologists out there might term all this "projection" by either me or the Dean (what a sad life she must have had in some ways). Still, it was the first time someone at PU had given me advice working from the premise that PU was rotten at the core and irredeemable in a short timescale. Even Professor Steve Slaby had never gone that far. He always seemed more optimistic for reform. But he dealt mainly with undergrads, and it is true the PU undergrad experience is far better than the grad experience, even though both have their problems and for many people the undergrad experience is a precursor to worse graduate experiences elsewhere. Still, I can wonder if there may have been an aspect of Steve, as good a person as he was, that may have seen students a little as pawns. That acting Dean of the Chapel was the only person in the entire institution I ever met who could see the metaphysical and mythological basis that represented the inner soul of the institution and say essentially, "Yes, PU's soul is a horror, where do you go from here?". On reflection though, where did that leave her? :-( Assuming she really cared, my eyes fill with tears at the thought of this self-sacrificing woman bravely living in hell so she could point the way out. From:
    "What Dreams May Come" (the novel)

"This is their composite mental image?" I asked. Soundless; hueless; lifeless. "It is," he said.
"And you work here?" I felt stunned that anyone who had the choice would elect to work in this forbidding place.
"This is nothing," was all he said.
So, if this essay helps anything with PU's future, thank that (associate, but acting) Dean of the Chapel (whose name eludes me right now, but might be best left unsaid anyway). Freeman Dyson could see aspects of that horror too I expect, at least as far as aspects of the PhD system, but he was not directly of PU.

And so, the person who wrote the memo on too many books which brought me to the Dean of the Chapel should in some sense always remember how helpful that memo was to me. Thanks. :-) And I don't mean to cause that person pain or embarrasment by bringing that memo up. I have long ago forgiven all those people and also in other ways come to see them as even worse victims of "an abstraction that has escaped its handlers" as Gatto says. But it is one more useful datapoint about PU as an institution (both good and bad aspects).

PU and a mainstream alumni network versus the Patch Adams vision of healthy communities

The only thing that can be said in PU's defense as in institution (at least back then) is that PU attempts to provide a mainstream power-oriented high consumption lifestyle in compensation for alienation from one's roots (for those for whom the new persona fits and are also willing to "go all the way"). See, for example:
    "Milgram experiment"

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation. Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
As Mr. Fred Rogers say, tears are one way we have of telling other people we need them. Aren't screams of pain another way, too? :-( We need to be careful what systems of formal authority we create, if any.

Still, consider even the life of the "winners" of the class competition:
    "The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids" by Madeline Levine

Wandering among suburban estates, sports clubs and prep schools are overlooked children of a perplexed generation. Their lives overflow with abundance and praise, yet ironically, the mask of apparent health and success may hide a gloomy world of emptiness, anxiety and anger. Strangely, argues Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist practicing in Marin County, California, the nation’s latest group of at-risk kids comes from affluent, well-educated families. Despite advantages, these children experience disproportionately high rates of clinical depression, substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders and self-destructive (even self-mutilating) behaviors, according to various studies. Based on criteria from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Levine says these children "are exhibiting epidemic rates of emotional problems beginning in junior high school and accelerating throughout adolescence." One may brush off these youngsters as overindulged products of wealthy, narcissistic parents. But Levine says many of these kids are really ill. They suffer from a weak sense of self, often struggling to fill inner emptiness with objects and praise. Too often they know something is wrong and grope desperately for help yet fail to escape a downward spiral. Could it be, Levine wonders, that privilege, high expectations, competitive pressure and parental overinvolvement yield toxic rather than protective effects? Levine explores such issues as social isolation, the fine line between parental underinvolvement and overindulgence, and the perverse role of money and material goods in creating false promises of fulfillment. Yearning for outward approval, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the delusion that wealth causes happiness. In many cases, a rude awakening occurs only after many years of anxiety and depression.

This combination of institutional mission of alienation along with its human costs may help explain why the PU Alumni network remains so mainstream (and apparently often still unhappy sounding on TigerNet) despite an endless parade of students like Michelle Obama or many others of any background starting PU (even as staff?) hoping for better and likely getting indoctrinated and/or alienated instead (even if they may not see it at the time). And it is a reason why I seriously ask if PU-as-it-is has a role to play in a post-scarcity Dignitarian society. The alternatively-minded people were often there out of some notion that going to PU would help them be more influential in the future, not knowing that PU was intended to break them, and they would end up marginalized even afterwards as the alumni network revolves around mainstream issues. Even mainstream parenting, sadly:
    "Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent" by Meredith Small

In this thoroughly researched and well-referenced book, anthropology professor Small explores ethnopediatrics, an interdisciplinary science that combines anthropology, pediatrics, and child development research in order to examine how child-rearing styles across cultures affect the health and survival of infants. Small describes the different parenting styles of several cultures, including (but not limited to) the nomadic Ache tribe of Paraguay, the agrarian !Kung San society of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, and the American industrialized society. In discussing these societies, she illustrates that although there are numerous ways to care for babies, some cultural norms of care are actually at odds with the way infants have evolved. Thus, parents should expect "trade-offs" when they act in opposition to how babies are designed. Small speculates that the custom of mothers in industrialized nations to wean early or not to breastfeed at all may be responsible for the higher incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, more medical problems and fatalities, and more crying than is commonly noted in babies of more agrarian societies. She urges parents to recognize that although their native culture does have an impact on their parenting, they can adopt aspects of child rearing from other cultures, if they choose.

I see occasional little alternative flickers here and there on Tigernet, and I can hope they eventually grow into something more. Princeton Project 55 is obviously a hopeful sign:
Still, its approach is mainstream non-profit oriented, also with interwoven elite filtering ideals, and so that project is subject to some of the same tensions Domhoff raises concerns above about the interlocking non-profit and commercial elite. From:

We have a rigorous screening process to ensure that you are referred excellent candidates. Just as we have high expectations of our Fellows, we also have high expectations of our partner organizations.
Whether Princeton Project 55 continues to rise above that contradiction is still to be seen; we can be hopeful. Consider this alternative future statement (by me) for comparison, inspired by the work of Chris Mercogliano and the Albany Free School:
We have a playful support system to ensure that you are referred candidates empowered to play. Just as we have playful expectations of our Fellowettes, we also have playful expectations of our partner organizations. If a good percentage of all the people involved are not playfully failing, taking reasonable risks, we feel the way forward will be blocked. Naturally, we hope for a few playful big successes here and there too, in terms of protecting people's inner wildness.

Maybe that new statement goes too far (like playfully setting bones the wrong way)? But in any case, something to think about. See also, for example, the ideals for building whole healthy communities here:
    "Vision for a Free Hospital Based on Fun and Friendship"

The original vision had all the principles we have maintained all these years. There would be no charge for the care. Barter was also not an option. In fact, we wanted to eliminate the idea of debt in the medical interaction as a way to begin recreating human community. We didn't want people to think they owed something; we wanted them to think they belonged to something. We could not conceive of a community that did not care for its people. This also meant a refusal to accept third party reimbursement, both to refuse payment and to sever the stranglehold that insurance companies had on how medicine was practiced. We would have nothing to do with malpractice insurance, which forces fear and mistrust into every medical interaction. We espouse the politics of vulnerability and are clearly aware that we can only offer caring and never promise curing. In such a flagrantly imperfect science, we need the right to make mistakes. ...
In spending this amount of time with patients, we found that the vast majority of our adult population does not have a day to day vitality for life (which we would define as good health). The idea that a person was healthy because of normal lab values and clear x-rays had no relationship to who the person was. Good health was much more deeply related to close friendships, meaningful work, a lived spirituality of any kind, an opportunity for loving service and an engaging relationship to nature, the arts, wonder, curiosity, passion and hope. All of these are time-consuming, impractical needs. When we don't meet these needs, the business of high-tech medicine diagnoses mental illness and treats with pills.
This "Patch Adams" vision of holistic community healthcare at this point seems more likely to be reached by a post-scarcity society focusing on supporting healthy communities and a healthy life-affirming culture, rather than by Patch Adams building just one playful rural hospital that struggles against convention in isolation (as worthwhile as that is). Adams' broad and playful vision is what we need in the future for a healthy society, and hopefully it might be reflected more and more by Project 55 and Princeton University someday. Perhaps with a university-wide commitment to Post-Scarcity ideals, Project 55 would in turn make such a commitment too, and working together, achieve Patch Adams' ideals to bring together "free-to-the-user", "community", "health", and, of course, "fun".

And we might then see even more of this attitude toward life and death (from the movie, which has made up parts, so this might be too):

After [a beloved person's] death, Patch again faces the issue of his own mortality. He peers over a cliff, musing, "Yeah, I could do it. We both know you wouldn't stop me. So answer me please. Tell me what you're doing. Okay, let's look at the logic. You create man. Man suffers enormous amounts of pain. Man dies. Maybe you should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day. Maybe you should've spent that day on compassion."Patch could have returned to his initial despair and thrown himself off the cliff, but instead decided, "You know what? You're not worth it." Despite his incredible hardships, he walked away from the cliff and continued to fight for his passion for humane medicine.

At that cliff, Patch makes a mental leap of faith to reaffirm his core belief in humane service to the community via medicine and humor, instead of a physical leap of faith affirming despair and nothingness. In some sense, that choice of leap is one all people and all institutions make on a regular basis, as they create and recreate meaning in their lives on a continuing basis, as the Mayeroff quote at the start suggests. But there are some people making up some institutions who are more life-affirming than others, and who also help others in other communities to be also more life affirming, in a sense, passing on a gift. The US$20 billion question is, can Princeton University and its alumni community be one of the more life-affirming ones these day? And if it wants to be, then Patch Adams' Gesundheit Institute is a good place to ask for help in envisioning a happier institution, especially given PU graduates so many pre-med students.

On campus back in the 1980s, some alternatively-minded people ended up in little marginal groups here or there -- for me it was the Band, the sci-fi society (never a member, but they were many of my friends), and some computery types. OK, I'll admit it, like Doc Heller of the Mystery Men in the nursing home, I was mainly just at PU for the ladies. :-) Maybe that lack of seriousness helped me survive the indoctrination process -- or avoid catching anything or anybody? :-) Sadly, I was too picky and ended up passing by some very fine women. I'm lucky I ended up with as very fine a person as my wife many years later, despite my own mythology.

A digression on racism, class, power, diversity and my first years at college at SUNY SB before transferring to PU

Still, as PU had about a 95% acceptance to med school in the 1980s, there were a *lot* of would-be doctors and so on at PU to be a mainstream peer group for each other. A lot. My black-skinned (as it is at issue here as per Michelle Obama's thesis) PU roommate aspired to be a doctor (and became one) and so in some sense he fit right in. He did gravitate more toward international students as an identity, as he was from Bermuda and had also been an exchange student in Japan. So even while black-skinned in a sense, he represented a very different black perspective at PU. For him, these issues about race politics in the USA were probably far removed from his personal experience (I heard years later his father was finance minister of Bermuda or something like that, not thinking to ask at the time. :-) He was a great guy in any case, although as with most people at PU, I did not appreciate his wonderfulness enough at the time, or all the things he had to teach me from Judo, to Japanese, to this funny comedy sketch in funny voices he wanted me to learn (and I was too embarrassed about). Maybe Michelle did not appreciate him either?

I was a white-skinned boy from the middle class suburbs whose mother sadly ended up fairly prejudiced against dark-skinned people after twenty years working in welfare offices seeing an endless parade of people (many dark skinned) wanting money and often lying about relationships due to the crazy welfare system we have. But even still, I myself could learn something about people of other skin tones. My father never tired of telling the story about when in my naivete I called my future roommate in Bermuda before classes started and I suggested just to be conversational that he must have a good suntan. :-) Long pause --- "I'm black." My father was a person who as a merchant mariner spent decades working with people of all sorts of backgrounds. Knowing nothing about Bermuda except it was vaguely English, it really had never occurred to me that my roommate at Princeton would be dark skinned, even having a dark skinned Puerto Rican friend from high school who went to Brown. (Now, that friend was really smart. You could design your own major at Brown even then. :-) And that was even before this hit the papers:
    "1980s prostitution ring at Brown University"
But that friend was also very specific once when the topic came up that he was Puerto Rican, not "black". Even though, appearance-wise, I hadn't noticed any difference (even though I obviously now understand cultural and historical differences a little better):
It turns out this was my early introduction that designations like "black" or "Jewish" or "Native" turn out to be a little slipperier than one might think at first. (One reason my mother survived the Holocaust turned out to be the the Jews and the Nazis defined "Jewishness" differently.)

Still, I'm sure Michelle might suggest my uninformed and unaware interactions with dark skinned people were the kind of thing she was up against and she would have been right. Maybe putting that future Rhodes Scholar and me together our first year was Dean Cecilia Drewery's (in charge of transfer students, and dark skinned) little attempt at broadening someone's horizons? :-) It worked. :-) But, perhaps Michelle would correctly add, only in *some* dimensions as my roommate was perhaps by her definition not "black" despite his skin color, like my Puerto Rican friend (with the nicest father I have ever met) was also not "black" by his own defintiton? And of course, from here we can even wander into the history of warring African tribes and classes, etc.
    "Black on Black violence in Africa"

Still, despite what I said about PU broadening my horizons, as a transfer student I have an additional perspective. Through chance, I had several roommates in three semesters at SUNY Stony Brook before transferring to PU. Even though all were white -- they were fairly diverse. I roomed briefly in a spare room in my older sister's apartment (she was a residence hall director). I could have stayed there the entire time in my own room but the dorms sounded more interesting than hanging out with my sister. :-) Well, I was right, but be careful what you wish for.

So, in the infinite wisdom of the SUNY SB housing office, I (just turned 16) was assigned a room in a dorm across campus that was occupied by a last semester senior. Maybe they (or even my sister?) thought this was a safe choice? :-) And that room was part of a three room suite with a shared kitchen. I didn't use the kitchen much; I'm trying to remember how I fed myself not being on a meal plan? :-) I later ran into that roommate another semester when he was drunk at a party and he apologized for making my life in his word "hell", as he had been upset that his best buddy had dropped out (which is how the slot opened up) and so he took it out on me. I replied truthfully I hadn't noticed. :-) With no frame of reference, I just expected your roommate would fill half your desk with big stereo speakers, play music to odd hours, apply for the computer job you thought you might want to apply for, ask you to run to the campus police in case the sort-of gang war he was bringing you along to turned ugly (thankfully it didn't, no one showed up; some female student had been insulted or something like that), or sneak you into a movie as a "child" as what "offer to pay" for a movie meant (he later won an Academy Award for computer graphics. :-) I actually liked him a lot, even his music. I didn't study much anyway, so my desk was otherwise unused. :-) I was short and wearing a Parka so the unexpected movie thing went without incident even though I was troubled by it and never did such again. I wasn't that serious about the job (which he later came to regret and blame me for too. :-) He had offered me his academic computer lab job (PDP-11 running UNIX(?) collecting biological data) as he was graduating (programming skills were rarer then) but I turned it down as I had been accepted to Caltech (I had applied both there and MIT before I left high school). But, I did not mention everything, just the funnier things. :-) That is a personal example of how easy it is to not see events from another perspective at the time. :-) Or how you can like someone, but then think on that relationship later. At the time, what bothered me more was being asked by another suitemate after the semester was over to pay a share of the outstanding long distance phone bill when I never made such calls (I paid anyway, $30 or something like that).

Thinking on that experience now, it was not the presence of negative experiences with my roommate situation that was the problem, because I have come to learn that negative experiences of some sort are a given in any relationship lasting over time. What was the problem in hindsight was the absence of lots of strong positive experiences (and there were some positives, especially broadening my musical experiences), given that my roommate was in a sense alienated from the university from the unexpected loss of his roommate who he no doubt had shared many strong positive experiences with and was mourning. Fortunately, the same dorm complex housed the science fiction society and its library and lounge, and the membership included people I liked from high school, and so I had many strong positive experiences with the people there that semester (as well as some negative ones). Plus I liked my classes, and my sister's presence on campus was reassuring. In the absence of those strong positives, then the lack of many positives with my first roommate might have been a more serious problem. As it was, in some sense, I was too busy to seriously notice (or even understand my roommate's grief over his lost roommate), especially I had no standard of comparison at the time. But looking back, even at later roommates at Stony Brook, by comparison, I can perhaps see what he meant. For example, my last roommate at SUNY SB helped organize inclusive comical hall awards and other fun activities. This issue of positives outweighing negatives (as opposed to the perfect absence of negatives) is obviously a theme in many life situations and relationships.

Over the summer, I changed my mind about going to Caltech mainly as I had liked the friends I had met at SUNY SB (especially at the sci-fi society), but also as California seemed so far away from Long Island, and tuition way more expensive, and they had smog and earthquakes, and also a bit of a reputation at the time for stress and students killing themselves.

My roommate the next semester at SUNY SB, an EMT driver, dropped out half-way as he had loaned his car to someone who drove drunk with it and killed someone. :-( The wrecked car was impounded with all his books and notes in it (he took them home weekends to study). His girlfriend tried to help him recover with some of her notes and books, but it was all too much for him and he dropped out. Then I got a roommate who I had fun playing hockey with in the building first floor multi-purpose area (he felt like an older brother I never had) and I did not find out till much later he was going to be on the Olympic team in wrestling the year President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics. I had not known the housing office would reassign someone that semester, so I had made arrangements with someone I knew from high school who wanted to leave his rooming situation to move in with me. But, as the new roommate (the Olympian-almost) was suddenly there, and my friend still wanted to move, we ended up swapping at some point and I got his roommate (who I also knew from high school). As I enjoyed the Beatles (his passion and part of the reason the other guy left I think) we got on quite well.

On the hall with the EMT and the Olympian, one hallmate was black and not very talkative, but my RA suggested I not complain directly about the hair he left in the sink after shaving because he had been in prison. My next-door neighbor on that hall was also black, and, forgive me, a slightly effeminate-seeming male model/actor who was also a talkative ex-telephone repairman. So, I saw two black guys at opposite ends of the spectrum in some sense, living almost next door to each other. That was certainly instructive.

The second guy, very fashion-oriented, showed me a magazine article with Brooke Shields talking about maybe going to Princeton in a few years and what a wonderful place it was (one incentive to transfer). I also had met and liked a (suicidally-inclined, as in tried it) female friend of a female friend who was applying to PU while still in high school. She ironically did not get in and ended up at Stony Brook for a time I think. Her parents did not want her to go to SUNY SB as they thought her friend a year ahead was a bad influence. Her friend at SUNY SB was another wonderful person I did not appreciate at the time. But it really was in some sense Terry (the fashionable black guy) who first seriously pointed me at PU. Maybe there was more to his putting PU in my path than chance now that I reflect on it? So, if this essay helps PU down the road, thank Terry. :-)

Still, I might not have applied if my father and I had not gone to campus together on a visit. I had an incredible sense of deja vu in Nassau Hall. :-) I even remembered the indentations in the floor from the cannon ball rolling. Every step seemed familiar. It eventually came to me that years earlier I had been on campus on a rainy day as a short stop for a ("First" Presbyterian) church youth group field trip that had briefly stopped there on the way back to Long Island from Philadelphia, and I had long forgotten. Because it was very rainy, all we had seen was Nassau Hall and an area in the Orange Key guide house. The point of stopping at PU on that church trip was that it had supposedly been founded by Presbyterians.
(Although, it looks like even the Presbyterians could not get along with each other sometimes, splitting, then reuniting, etc.)

So there were several factors that came together to make me consider transferring to PU, which was the only place I applied (although I did contact Caltech again, but they were too smart to take transfers. :-) See also: "Consilience". :-)
Or is it "Coincidence"? :-)
Or is it really the themes in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" that better describes my path in the gravitation pull of all these people at SUNY SB and then PU including my own failings on both counts? :-(

And I could go on about other diversity in the SUNY SB residence halls, especially the international one my sister was running. And all that was still less intense than my time in the SUNY SB science fiction society, which would be a book in itself. :-)
For the most part, I liked all the people I met at SUNY SB. All that in three semesters starting when I turned 16. And as I think back on it just now, many of those people somehow seemed more "adult" than the people I met at PU who were generally more dependent on their parents; the SUNY SB students often were older or paid a lot of their own way. Many, like Terry, had been in the work world for years already. As crazy a place as it was, I can wonder if that diversity of ages and backgrounds was in some sense healthier for me to see than the academic monoculture of PU?

So, frankly, by those standards, rooming with a guy at PU who taught Sunday school locally and was a scholar-athlete from an affluent family, even if he was black, was pretty tame and in a sense not that enlightening comparatively, even with Japanese, Judo, Bermuda humor, etc. :-) As I was a more academic and intellectual person, it was at SUNY SB, unintentionally hanging around crushed-dream Olympians, overtly suicidal people who had actually tried it, ex-prisoners trying to rebuild their lives, quasi-gang-involved macho guys, fashionable telephone repair people, and so on that really broadened my horizons more than a black/white divide. Again, by that standard, it was also no stretch to have as a friend in high school someone who was dark skinned and Puerto Rican who academically was going to Brown. We had a lot more in common at the time than, say, most of the kids in my drafting class in high school, or my EMT roommate at SUNY SB who kept talking about the thrill of driving fast and other things (as wonderful a guy as he was). While the SUNY SB students smoked more, the PU students drank more. I'm now seeing as I reflect on that some of the significance -- the SUNY SB students were in some sense more alive and less repressed -- even if they did seemingly get more difficult life challenges and also likely did more stupid things (ignoring PU alcoholism being stupid, but something has got to give sometimes).

One of the most insightful things I heard about universities came from PU alumnus John Marburger '62, who was President of SUNY Stony Brook at the time, where he said you should judge a university not by what it puts out, but by the difference between what it takes in and puts out. Princeton could be only a hotel and it would still put out amazingly ambitious and academically gifted people, because that is what it takes in. SUNY Stony Brook had a different situation as it takes in a lot more diversity, even just wanting a "B" average in high school or better then. (I was disappointed the admissions office seemed uninterested in my science fair awards. :-) Unfortunately, I lost a lot of respect later for John Marburger as the current President Bush's science advisor and apologist for those policies. Still, now, with a little more insight of my own, I'd suggest universities also be judged by many other factors like the quality of the daily campus life, how they support wholistic lives and wholistic societies, and the life-affirmingness and inclusiveness of their mythologies.

My last hallmates at SUNY SB where a bit (jokingly) annoyed at me when I went to a residential talk John Marburger gave and ended up in a group picture with him only a couple weeks after I moved in there. I had been asking about more opportunities for science and engineering on campus (selfish, really). They were joking, we lived in this dorm for years and this guy shows up and gets his picture in the paper with the president? Of course, they hadn't gone to the meeting. If I was at that meeting now, I would have asked about less personally selfish things. And I would have said a lot of wonderful things about some Stony Brook programs like the Federated Learning Community on Human Nature I had joined (and which was even integrated with that particular dorm). But hindsight is so often 20/20, looking back years later at the experiences or people we did not appreciate at the time, or the foolish or selfish things we may have done. For example, I could have helped my EMT roommate get new set of books and tutored him in everything he was behind in. Maybe it still would not have been enough, but it might have helped. The thought never occurred to me then at 16 -- and he really was a wonderful, generous guy hitting some bad luck in part exactly because he was a wonderful generous guy and loaned out his car. It was a theme, now that I think about it, that I was to see again in many people I met all sorts of places -- those who were generous in some sense falling behind to those who were not, but the selfish ones looking like the winners and getting their pictures in the papers next to the top person of the pyramid. I saw it for example in one person I worked with who had sacrificed college studies early on to take care of his ill father.

Elaborating further on racism and sexism as just forms of alienation, and hope for something better

PU in the 1980s had community, it was true, and friendly people (many unselfish), but it lacked a certain life and death intenseness which was easy to find (even without trying :-) at SUNY SB. Michelle and I apparently both chose the allure of power and a selective community at PU over an inclusive community elsewhere. And that "selective" community in some sense excluded us both as outsiders (even having friends, joining clubs, etc.) as well as *many* others at PU because we all did not fit either the "mining and sorting gem polishing academic model" or "the old boy network model" (or even now, "mainstream any-gender power network model"). And I think in terms of happiness we probably both suffered in our personal lives for that foolish choice as you can see here or in her thesis. (Even as I can acknowledge PU on a resume may have been a boost professionally in some situations to get jobs doing "work" for others -- although maybe as self-starters we might have been better off without too. :-) What she documented in her thesis is the whole unfortunate point of PU according to Chomsky -- to alienate people from their roots in the lower levels of the US social pyramid (if they are not already elite). For me, about the only value in a PU degree at this point is writing this document to try to help reform the place. I'm not saying I did not learn stuff at PU, but I could have learned it in a happier way (even possibly at SUNY SB, if I had survived a few more roommates. :-) And now Michelle faces the unhappy life most first ladies face (depending on the election), whatever pretty face they put on it. Even the thrill of imperial figurehead power probably gets old eventually, especially when traded against loss of privacy and the loss of authenticity in human relationships (who can you trust to be truthful when you are so close to "power"?). It is a sacrifice she is apparently willing to bear (to some it would not be a sacrifice, but I expect to her it is), and I hope it is worth it for any humane progress she helps make for our global society.

I'd sadly agree with the notion, implicit in Michelle's thesis, that someone like me raised where I was will probably always still notice skin color and the marks of "class" in the USA whether I want to or not. But, while unfortunate, that does not always mean what it is always implied by others to mean; see for example:
    "Why Anti-Racism Will Fail, by Thandeka"

To answer this question, we have to turn to the second problem I have found in UU anti-racist strategies: the errant assumption that white America works for white Americans. Any one who cares to look will quickly discover that it doesn't -- at least, not for the vast majority of them. The privilege that, according to the anti-racists, comes with membership in white America, actually belongs to a tiny elite. Let me illustrate this point.
Imagine that business and government leaders decreed that all left-handed people must have their left hand amputated. Special police forces and armies are established to find such persons and oversee the procedure. University professors and theologians begin to write tracts to justify this new policy. Soon right-handed persons begin to think of themselves as having right-hand privilege. The actual content of this privilege, of course, is negative: it's the privilege of not having one's left hand cut off. The privilege, in short, is the avoidance of being tortured by the ruling elite. To speak of such a privilege -- if we must call it that -- is not to speak of power but rather of powerlessness in the midst of a pervasive system of abuse -- and to admit that the best we can do in the face of injustice is duck and thus avoid being a target.
My point is this. Talk of white skin privilege is talk about the way in which some of the citizens of this country are able to avoid being mutilated - or less metaphorically, to avoid having their basic human rights violated. So much for the analogy. Here are the facts about so-called white skin privilege.
First, 80 percent of the wealth in this country is owned by 20 percent of the population. The top 1 percent owns 47% of this wealth. These facts describe an American oligarchy that rules not as a right of race but as a right of class. One historical counterpart to this contemporary story of extreme economic imbalance is found in the fact that at the beginning of the Civil War, seven per cent of the total white population in the South owned almost three quarters (three million) of all the slaves in this country. In other words, in 1860, an oligarchy of 8,000 persons actually ruled the South. This small planter class ruled over the slaves and controlled the five million whites too poor to own slaves. To make sense of this class fact, we must remember that the core motivation for slavery was not race but economics, which is why at its inception, both blacks and whites were enslaved.
Second, let us not forget the lessons of the 1980s. As former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips reminds us in his book The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath, "For all workers, white-collar as well as blue-collar, their real average weekly wage -- calculated in constant 1977 dollars -- fell."
Third, let us also not forget that today, numerous companies are opting to lower standards for job qualifications for their work force rather than raise wages and thus cut into profits. Jobs paying $50,000 a year or more have twice the share of the job-loss rate than that they did in the 1980s.
The result of these contemporary economic trends is the most acute job insecurity since the Great Depression. As economist Paul Krugman has pointedly argued in the November 3, 1997, edition of the New Republic, the modern success story of America's booming economy rests on the bent backs of the American wage earners. The economy is booming because wages, the main component of business costs, are not going up. And wages are not going up because the American worker is presently too fearful to stand up and make demands. Downsizing has shaken worker confidence. Unemployment insurance last only a few months, and the global labor market has undermined the American worker's bargaining power. These basic economic facts, Krugman argues, have created one basic psychological fact for the typical American worker: anxiety.

I am truly sorry for anyone of my and Michelle's year (1985) who was not helped to see a better way forward than fighting over who plays what role in this pyramid-oriented society. I can however think of students of all colors and genders who were at least presented with other options in PU Professor Steve Slaby's courses (although he himself may have focused more on the misuse of power that the nature of power itself). Maybe Michelle did not have the good fortune to take one of those courses that I had (in part by the influence of friends like Becky)? I don't think Michelle was in that course (and in any case, different people can take away different things from the same course). I can only hope she has had similar experiences since. It was in Steve's course that I brought together Jim Beniger's ideas of "The Control Revolution" and Steve Slaby's title "The Technological Imperative of the Arms Race" to ask the question of whether (the desire for) too much control was a bad thing? And looking back on what I wrote for that class on "future alternatives", I can see I'm actually still trying to do what I outlined there back around 1984. :-) Or, she could have learned from the informed sense of futility of revolution in Professor James TC Liu's Chinese Lifestyles and Values class -- that the revolutions in China through the ages rarely change anything as the fundamental pyramidal power system did not change, and the pressures on that system (often famine) often shaped life more than the leadership. Or she might have learned through Professor Michael Mahoney's class where, through reading Langdon Winner (eventually) it became clear that people were mainly just components fulfilling roles to large systems, and if a person ceased to behave as expected in the role, the person would be replaced the same an a "faulty" electronics package would be replaced in a car. (Consider, even after the Iraq disaster that Bush is not replaced (impeached) -- that tells you a lot about what our society deems faulty leadership or not.) Put all these ideas together and one can see how changing the nature of power in a society is more important that becoming powerful if you want progressive change -- since power of some sorts doesn't just supply possibilities, it also makes demands. Like the mythological bargain with the Devil?

I still wish Michelle Obama and her husband luck considering the alternative, John "100 years of War" McCain -- even though her husband did not act to impeach Bush and is already talking war against Iran. I even voted for her husband in the primary given by then Dennis Kucinich and others had dropped out, and Hillary Clinton also represents these same trends and same problems, even as a woman (not much of a choice anyway I thought). But the kind of change our society needs is not wielded directly from political power (even though politics can slow or speed it). And personally, I'll most likely be voting Green or Nader in the election. If anything, Al Gore, with his early support for the internet, has done more than most politicians for the possibility of a better future. Ultimately, it will be general trends like the Dignitarian movement and the related end to "rankism" that make more societal progress than people who try to address one "ism" at a time (whether sexism, racism, or whatever.)

I can also hope that many of these issues at PU continue to slowly change. There is some hopeful news now and then in PAW (like more profiles of alternative alumni careers), even as the deep issues about "elitism" (alienation?), "competition" (destructiveness?), and "excellence" (dissatisfaction? perfectionism? excessive self-criticism?) usually remain unspoken.

But, to go back to a physical analogy, if President Tilghman's office got a call about a male Great White Shark swimming in DeNunzio pool, I doubt the response would be to suggest that shark should be replaced with a female Great White instead. And if Michelle Obama took that call, I doubt she would suggest a Great Black Shark should be introduced instead. And what would the community say if the two women suggested the two new sharks fight it out over who gets to eat Princetonians? I would expect the university community to remove the shark to the ocean (ideally) and make the pools around Princeton University safer and healthier for everybody (even sharks which are safer in their natural habitats). Maybe it does make a difference who is in charge of a hierarchy sometimes, but there is also always a risk that if you can learn to metaphorically "Swim with the Sharks" you run the risk of turning into a shark yourself: :-(
    "Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition"
The way forward to a post-scarcity Dignitarian society involves substantial institutional change whoever presides over it. Dolphins manage sharks in different ways than becoming them, and the ocean is so big and diverse that there are many ways to be that don't require being sharklike.

Still, as in a somewhat contrasting book to "Swim with the sharks" even though both are about being a good salesperson:
    "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

Carnegie opens the book with Two Guns' story as a way of explaining how each of us is so skilled at rationalization that "criticism is futile."
Which suggests the critical aspects of this essay are futile as far as changing PU itself or the PU alumni community? Even if the essay helps me and perhaps some few others move past the PU-related mythology we have let guide our own lives (even those not attending PU) -- a mythology that has long shackled us? Still, I have tried at least a little to suggest positive improvements and to acknowledge the difficulties those at PU face.

Lyme disease as an example of the failure of the PU and capitalist world view

Now people might expect I might want to be involved with this transformation at PU somehow. I don't. :-) I like where I live in the Adirondack Park with my wife and child and have no wish to return to a disrupted New Jersey ecology full of Lyme ticks and Poison Ivy (I got Lyme once, that's enough thanks, although that was actually near SUNY Stony Brook, not PU).

That assumes Lyme is just due to disrupted ecologies and not an accidentally or intentionally released bioweapon (our tax dollars at work?):
    "Results 1 - 10 of about 105,000 for lyme plum. (0.09 seconds)"
Ever wonder why "Lyme" disease was named for somewhere just a short hop from a lab like that? Still, maybe it is just coincidence:
But in either case, maybe PU's molecular biology department has what it takes to devise better means to diagnose and treat Lyme and similar related diseases than this experience:
    "Amy Tan on Lyme Disease"
which is leading people across the country to unfortunately fear the woods or even their own manicured back yards?
    "Nature deficit disorder"

I have a friend (non-PU) whose one year old baby got Lyme disease in their nice well kept suburban backyard around Boston. Even just lots of antibiotics can harm babies -- it's a no win situation. But capitalism shunned stuff like this cheaper former Soviet Union solution:
In that entire community of half-million dollar and up homes, with big yards, there was not a kid in sight outside when we visited. Is that the future for US America? Even if Lyme is not a weapon of war, what do people think other insects like, say, carpenter ants eat but ticks? Or what do bigger predators (snakes, owls, foxes) eat but mice? How can we turn ecologies into simplified systems and not expect some blowback of "life out of balance"?
    "KOYAANISQATSI: life out of balance"
(I first saw that movie during an Earth Day event at PU, thanks.) And the more we dose and trim our backyards, maybe the worse the problem becomes?

Maybe PU can admit defeat using broad spectrum pharmaceutical pills and broad spectrum outdoor biocides and get in line to learn from the former Soviet Union?
    "Phage Therapy: Where Communism Succeeded"

While there are some genuine reasons why phage treatments of bacterial diseases were overlooked in the 1930s and 1940s, the failure to develop a western research program into bacteriophage treatment in the 1980s and 1990s represents an inexcusable failure of western capitalism. By the 1980s, there could be no denial that antibiotic resistance was going to be a major problem in (if not before) the twentyfirst century. Yet, we just didn't want to know about what will probably turn out to be the most important medical breakthrough in the twentieth century; a breakthrough made in communist Georgia, in Stalin's Soviet Union. ... It's not too late for western medicine to enter the post-antibiotic bacteriophage era. Our grandchildren will hardly thank us if we persevere with our corporate-profit-motivated conservatism. The Soviets were able, eventually, to admit that they were wrong to follow Lysenko. Will we in the west be equally able to admit that we were wrong to put all our medical eggs into the one antibiotic basket, in the process ignoring the most basic tenets of the theory of evolution?
And perhaps Phage Therapy is not just a breakthrough for Lyme disease treatment, but for "superbugs" too?
    "Alternatives: Phage Therapy: Rediscovering a Treatment for Superbug Infections"
Here is a place a little closer to home in the USA for PU to start to learn from:
    "Phage Biology" at Evergreen State College
And here are even some links on campus:

But simple things like just promoting more balance, more sunlight, and the right amount of vitamin D3 supplementation, may do wonders too.

But *first* you have to admit that capitalism and militarism has had, and still has, problems. And you might just have to contemplate the possibility that, even more that a decade after the US supposedly "won" the Cold War (I'd suggest both sides "lost"), just that one war and its mythology is still claiming victims? Be careful what you pray for (for both sides):
    "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain
And yet, even now, we in the USA are praying for victory in the midst of a violent multi-trillion dollar war we launched against ... violence?
Who in the USA suffers for that to? We'll see. :-(

People and the "Risky Business" of personal and institutional and societal transformation

Maybe in a decade or two when a Post-Scarcity PU gets to the point of having fixed that disrupted ecology too as this post-scarcity transformation expands to all of New Jersey and worldwide, then I might "go back". :-) Till then, like with J. D. Salinger, this essay is all you get. :-)
Unless you read my related writings. :-)

Seriously, I've got other things to do than babysit the richest per-capita institution of higher education in the world. If people heavily involved with PU now can't figure out a way forward from just this essay alone, by following links and thinking on these issues and turning anything sensible in this polemic into scholarship, then PU's whole reason to exist should be questioned IMHO. I've already taken way too much time away from my family and other projects to write this. It was worth it, I hope, and it was fun. But it is a bit of dwelling in negativism and fairly depressing -- like the initial episode of a "This Old House" series where they are sledgehammering out walls and talking about "dry rot" or "black mold" or whatever and everyone is wearing respirators. :-(
    "How to Take Down a Wall",,1113328-2,00.html
(Once again, there are professionals who know a lot about demolition and renovation and do it *all* the time. :-)

Plus, the very skills I use to write this essay are the very height of the old "Princeton" in some ways: alienation (elitism?), destructiveness (competitiveness?), dissatisfaction (excellence?), and so on. These are not the things Princeton most needs most going forward, but rather inclusiveness, cooperation, and effectiveness. Often our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses, depending on the context. For another example, the same habits of mind that help me be a great programmer in some contexts -- perfectionism (great code), paranoia (useful for debugging), isolation (great for concentrating) and so on -- are also often huge weaknesses in dealing with people, where acceptance, trust, and gregariousness are usually key. So, being able to write this essay may prove my incompetence to do anything with the ideas in it. :-)

I'm learning and growing of course, and this essay is part of that growth. But I have little doubt one could easily find people way beyond me in these sorts of personal growth -- even if you just look at a lot of my contemporaries from the 1980s based on *just* who they were then (Becky Hiers '85 as mentioned above, Joel Sipress '86 as mentioned below, and so on). But these alumni are perhaps unable to help the university while it is caught up in its current "scarcity" mythology, and for for the structural issues Alfie Kohn outlines and provides examples of study after study as documentation for in his 1986 book "No Contest".

Still, I know little about these people these days except what I see on the web, and it is sometimes true that even the nicest people may become warped or wounded by being in loyal opposition to key self-destructive trends in a society for decades as a personal price they pay or a daily risk they face; a lot depends on their social support networks and a degree of luck. If you take any entity, whether a bicycle, or person, or institution, and stress it too much (beyond normal limits of resiliency), something is bound to break. :-( And if nothing breaks, maybe there was something broken to start with? :-) See also (and not meant as a comment on these individuals, but as a general occupational hazard):
These are people, not "superpeople" (even if they often seem to be such).

My mother wrote a Master's thesis on the topic of "burnout" in the 1970s, ironically while working full time, raising a family, and going to college part-time (both undergrad and grad) . Still, while the degrees and that study may have helped her own self-esteem or personal insight, she herself said to me that they made little difference in her twenty year career in social services. But I know the promise of those degrees (even subsidized by her job) in some sense made her life harder. And maybe her family's. But it is always a tough call as a parent (or "social worker" as a welfare caseworker) where to draw the line between self and other. And no doubt the line between self and other is a tough call as well for anyone working to reform social processes on the larger societal landscape, as both Becky and Joel have done to varying degrees. My mother had a desk job and an expanding waist line and became a chain smoker -- something I cluelessly like a fish in water (or smoke) had not noticed about my mother until Becky pointed out her chain smoking after meeting her once. Despite my mother being intelligent and social, the advice above from a PU professor suggests that my mother might have had a happier and longer life (maybe even being with us today) if instead of being encouraged to pursue schooling credentials as "me time" after work (or other sedentary activities, even the planning of a local community pool she never had time to use and various other political activities), she had been encouraged instead to take up swing dancing, or swimming, or gardening. Those activities might better have helped her handle her obesity and chain smoking related to the stress of her job and family responsibilities rather than piling on yet more stress conforming to other's expectations or trying to change them. And success at those physical activities might have done more that those degrees or even other successes
    "North Lindenhurst Pool"
for her self-esteem and provided different personal insights as well. But our society is not set up to encourage that sort of balance -- it more likely uses up those who care.

Without knowing anything about her, I can almost 100% guarantee PU is using up Shirley Tilghman in that way (even with her consent).
And if it is not, and I hope it is not and my speculation is 100% off-base, then indeed it is an amazing place worth preserving. But ask Professor Tilghman when the last time was she got some physical "me time" just swimming for fun and just playing for fun with those mutant sharks in DeNunzio pool. :-) Maybe some water ballet to bring together mind and body and ethically-enlightened mutant sharks? :-)

Synchronized swimming is a hybrid of swimming, gymnastics, and dance, consisting of swimmers (either individuals, duets, teams or combos) performing a synchronized routine of elaborate and dramatic moves in the water, accompanied by music. Synchronized swimming demands some water skills, and requires incredible strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, artistry and precise timing, not to mention exceptional breath control while upside down underwater. Developed in the early 1900s in Canada, it is a sport performed almost exclusively by women. In its early form it was sometimes known as "water ballet".
But let's say President Tilghman does exercise regularly as I don't see how anyone could keep up all her responsibilities across multiple organizations without that. And let's assume she prudently avoids swimming with even ethical "Fish Eaters Anonymous" sharks like Bruce, Anchor, and Chum:
(You have to wonder what those sharks do eat, if not "fish"? :-) Even then, I'd still suggest the university/corporate system often uses up people in such roles. It is in the nature of a competitive social system itself to do so, and Alfie Kohn helps illuminate why. And his work even may help understand why Finding Nemo was such a violent movie too and we have become so inured to that violence and competitiveness we call it a "kid's movie":

In any case, I have little doubt, especially given PU is a more diverse place these days in no small part from the dedicated actions of many PU people over the years who no doubt resemble Becky or Joel or my mother (or even Shirley Tilghman :-), that there are lots of students and faculty and staff to help with such a transformation already on campus. And they deserve their chance. But it might take a major push by the university to bring them together. But please don't expect them to sacrifice all the balance in their lives just to help save an institution which, as above, for the greater good might perhaps best be dissolved in an OLPC era.

And in case PU should try to contact me anyway to help, our main phone number is unlisted. :-) Our little fifteen acres of paradise is posted against trespassers. :-) Our driveway is private. :-) And, for your own sake, and theirs, don't bother our neighbors either, as most of them are armed. :-(

Still, someone like Chris Mercogliano might nonetheless suggest:
    "In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids' Inner Wildness" by Chris Mercogliano

When you add all this isolation up, you get the very phenomenon upon which Robbins and Wilner are reporting: a generation of young people who urgently need each other's support and yet who don't know how to reach out for it. The subject of connectedness, or lack thereof, brings us back to Jung's model of healthy psychological development, the ultimate goal of which, again, is individuation. Reaching the goal involves a paradox of its own: one can achieve the kind of inner growth that leads to individuation -- understanding our emotional selves, opening up an awareness of our unconscious patterns, becoming comfortable with intimacy, developing a sense of our purpose in being alive -- only in the context of other people. Jung's reasoning is thus: "As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by [his or her] very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation." ... Escaping the maze that adolescence has become requires a rare ability to be both autonomous and relational.(Pages 153 to 159)
So, I'm not holding my example up as either healthy for myself or generous towards PU. :-) Still, I do have other projects and communities I am involved in; this essay is related to them, but tangentially. I feel like I have sacrificed enough of my life to the old PU myths, which still echo around in my life. It's taken many years to reach where I am mythologically, and like an alcoholic, I fear associating with (unreformed) alcoholics will cause me to backslide pretty fast. Power is indeed so tempting... But, there are many sorts of power. Some are more problematical than others. I'm putting my faith more in the power of the F/OSS communities. Still, I can accept that from a human point of view, face-to-face communities like at PU are superior in many ways than internet communities, when they have a non-self-destructive mythology.

Note: we have no more land per family member than, as above, is available for everyone on the planet. (Although, granted, our total ecological footprint right now is larger than that due to obsolete centralized technologies we are stuck with for the moment but may transcend in the future.) And most people don't want to reside where we do anyway, due to the biting blackflies (perhaps soon to carry Lyme if not already, taking our paradise away) and the mosquitoes and the long cold winters. Plus there are few jobs. And no, we actually don't have much money, so don't bother to ask for more money for PU for the transition. We've given most of that potential for accumulating green pieces of paper away through using it to buy free time to write free software and essays and emails like this. We're just a little frugal and a little lucky. Like almost anyone could be who learns a trade and practices some voluntary simplicity (we have only one car, and a small house, as I said, in area people do not want to reside in year round, so our house was cheap). There is no reason most Princetonians could not live this way almost anywhere on the planet and then give most of the rest of their wealth and free time to charitable causes and a post-scarcity transformation for everyone, while also putting some of their increased free time into their relationships with neighbors, friends and family, and while even using some of the new found free time to homeschool/unschool their kids and care for their own hearts.

Princeton has money enough, and wastes a lot of it anyway. Of course, what I have found at other universities is that they have less money, and often waste it in worse ways. :-( My (and unfortunately our) sacrifice in writing this is to sacrifice some of our privacy (security through obscurity, never the best security, but sometimes part of it) in exchange for a hope at a chance make the world a better place. So, I knowingly perhaps am making myself yet another lightning rod for those disgruntled alumni or others in relation to any changes (inevitable or not) that may or may not happen related to a transition to a post-scarcity society. And I am sad about that, as I love my life (at least now :-). But as I say, I'm inspired by the brave sacrifices our young men and women are making overseas (even if I think the Iraq war is a nightmare). Also, now living in a rural place with a lot of volunteer firefighters and EMTs, I am inspired by the seemingly cheerful acceptance of the life-threatening risks these people take everyday for others (admittedly, with camaraderie and proper training).

And I'm not saying anything that different than what someone like, say, Professor Joel Sipress '86 has probably been saying all his life (even when I roomed with him at Spelman during the summer and ignored all that, sorry), and is apparently now on a Secret Service list for just organizing an anti-Bush protest:
    "More on Free Speech Zones (not)"
    "Why Students Don't Get Evidence and What We Can Do About It"
    "Joel M. Sipress -- Department of Social Inquiry"
Nor am I saying what many others have said in bits and pieces, including PU faculty like Steven Slaby or Richard Falk or Frank von Hippel. Maybe what I write is a little different in practice, but it is not in spirit. Sorry I didn't sign your nuclear freeze petition back in the 1980s, Joel. I thought I might end up working in the defense industry if I wanted to do robotics. :-( I'm pretty late to the party. :-( Although I am maybe bringing some new "free" food for thought. :-)

Look at the hassles Naomi Klein apparently goes through now when she travels, one step shy of being labeled an "enemy combatant" for trying to save our democracy from fascism:
She might be a great person to get on the faculty, as well as Joel, at the very least to stir things up a bit. :-) Can't say if either one of them would be willing to risk it though. :-) Why should only the PU Emeritus faculty have all the "fun"? :-(
    "Is Princeton Professor and Retired Marine on Government No-Fly List for Criticizing the White House?"

Maybe US Americans should be worried if we are *not* on such a list? How about new grounds for denial of tenure at Princeton -- you are still allowed to fly without harrassment? :-(

And there are many, many others saying similar things, and long have, even famous and influential Christians:
    "Pope John Paul II calls War a Defeat for Humanity: Neoconservative Iraq Just War Theories Rejected"

Or "Engaged Buddhists" like Thich Nhat Hanh say some similar things (who studied for a time at Princeton University):
    "Thich Nhat Hanh"
    "Creating True Peace : Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World"
Or other Buddhists mentioned in this somewhat critical review of Thich Nhat Hanh's book:
Which leads to other Buddhists:
(That review points out both strengths and weaknesses in Thich Nhat Hanh's writings, just like someone could point out strengths and weaknesses of what the Pope has to say.)

Or even a long list of other religious people looking for new ways forward:
    "all of life redeemed: Resources for a Christian worldview"
I found that last link by coincidence searching on Alexa for "post-scarcity princeton fernhout" to see if this essay's web page had been indexed and archived.
Another link from Alexa on just "post-scarcity princeton"
made me think to search on this:
There are lots of matches there. As to the broader Alexa search, the top match is strangely enough at the PU Civil Engineering department: :-)
But I can't explain any of those matches. No doubt there is a technical reason. I've also got a Dutch "Reformed Reformed" minister as a distant relative, or so my father said. Maybe that helps. :-)

And I'm sure if you looked, you'd find people of many faiths thinking about related things to find a way forward compatible with their deepest ethics. I'm not saying I necessarily agree 100% with any of them -- but the point is many people are most sincerely trying to find a way forward that reconciles ethics and the physical ways we live. For an example of a disagreement, consider Harry Fernhout's emphasis,
as president of The King's University College, on "Christan Schooling". While I otherwise like the questions he addresses and issues he raises (and he's probably a distant relative I'd expect :-), I consider "Christian Schooling"
to be an oxymoron (or self-defeating) because schooling-as-it-is-historically is fundamentally un-Christ-like in my view,
given how usually "education" (especially "character education") and "schooling" are different things and usually at odds with each other whatever the formal curriculum (Bible-related or not); contrast:
    "The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher"
    "Free School"
or even:
    "Christian Unschooling"
(See my other comments on a meshwork/hierarchy balance as well. Or in general, all the comments here on the PhD process. :-) But nonetheless, Harry Fernhout is a pioneer and I wish him and his college well. He's at least *trying* really hard to make something better, and doing it in a non-violent way. He may well be doing the best that is possible in our society, even as I hope for something more. And note that Harry Fernhout uses the word "interdisciplinary" in a very different way than Shirley Tilghman did in her letter about the PU Lewis Library:

Additionally, at King's the curriculum is intentionally interdisciplinary, meaning that all fields work together and nothing is studied in isolation. This stems from the belief that this reflects the Creator's design. Activities inside and outside the classroom are designed to encourage students to examine real world issues from a Christian perspective and to become agents of social transformation.

I reference a Judeo-Christian example, as it is the cultural context I am most familiar with (or related to :-), but I am sure one could easily find such examples among those who were born other traditions:
    (That is a very long list.)
And there is certainly plenty of room for lots of different ways to be:
    "Faith manages on Babylon 5"
as long as they don't end everything for everybody:
    "James P. Carse, Religious War In Light of the Infinite Game, SALT talk"

Another link from the first page of Alexa results earlier mentioned:

But there were two competing papers that illuminated most of the issues roiling to and fro. The first was by John Ikenberry of Princeton. He argued that the U.S. will not face one big threat in the coming decades. Instead, there will be a "diffuse, shifting and uncertain" array of security challenges: collapsing nation-states, global warming, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, energy scarcity and so on.
Therefore, the U.S. can't pursue a grand strategy against a specific enemy. It has to embrace what Ikenberry calls a "milieu-based approach." In essence, the U.S. would make itself the center of a series of new global institutions where nations could come together and solve common problems.
During the 1940s, the U.S. excelled at this, Ikenberry notes. Dean Acheson and others initiated the Atlantic Charter, the Bretton Woods agreements, the Marshall Plan and the U.N. The idea was that capitalism could be organized internationally. Problems could be addressed in common. The U.S. could leverage its power more effectively if embedded in multilateral institutions with broad legitimacy. This order has been torn asunder because the Bush administration refused to operate within it. And so it's time to update. The new global architecture would have three features.
First, there would be a global social services sector, providing health care, education, shelters, emergency services and other parts of any healthy community. Second, there would be renewed security alliances, in part to enmesh China before it becomes so powerful that it's uncontainable. Third, the U.N. would be reformed and a Concert of Democracies would be created, where the free world could respond as threats emerge.

One could hope, that in a post-scarcity sense, Princeton University could be the place to come to do that -- where organizations could come together and solve common post-scarcity problems.

And, as to the world, it makes no big difference in the long run if PU heeds my words early or not -- although it still might make a difference to millions of poor people in the USA and elsewhere if PU has a change of heart sooner rather than later. And of course, it would matter to the people at PU, as less of them might end up bitter like me and dead like Phil. :-( :-( Even if it was just a coincidence, did PU encourage Phil to take care of his heart? :-( Or did I? :-(

Also, it is not clear to me that this risky alternative proposal for rebooting PU as a going concern is better than the Modest Proposal that is almost guaranteed to help hundreds of millions of poor children. It may not be good enough to justify leaving hundreds of millions of children in want and ignorance. But IMHO either proposal is probably better for the world and PU students than business as usual at PU. The fact that transforming PU sits easier with alumni sensibilities does not by itself make it the better idea. The endowment and physical plant are essentially held in trust by a non-profit for the biggest public benefit.

Maybe PU should hedge its bets? Spend a few billion on laptops for tens of millions of kids, and then devote the campus to making wonderful free content for those laptops and the internet in general? There is nothing like writing free content or developing free simulations to get a young person really immersed in learning. Here is a PU alum (Martha Groom '84?) who does just that in her courses:
    "When Wikipedia Is the Assignment"

If there's one place where scholars should be able to question assumptions about the use of technology in the classroom (and outside of it), it's the annual Educause conference, which wrapped up on Friday in Seattle. At a morning session featuring a professor and a specialist in learning technology from the University of Washington at Bothell, presenters showed how Wikipedia — often viewed warily by educators who worry that students too readily accept unverifiable information they find online — can be marshaled as a central component of a course's syllabus rather than viewed as a resource to be banned or reluctantly tolerated. That's what Martha Groom, a professor at the university's Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences program, tried to do for the first time last fall by requiring term papers to be submitted to the popular, user-edited online encyclopedia. The project comes at a time when instructors and administrators continue to debate the boundaries of certain technologies within the classroom and how to adapt to students' existing online habits. ... Groom's first attempt at incorporating Wikipedia into a class came in the fall of 2006, when she required her students to make a major revision to an existing article or to create one of their own, with a minimum of 1,500 words, for 60 percent of the grade. The assignment, for her course on environmental history and globalization, encompassed an initial proposal, a first draft, revisions and peer review, after which students would post the final article to the Web site. For the next semester, and after student feedback, Groom decided to lower the weight of the assignment (to 40 percent of the grade) and have students work in groups.

So, perhaps PU could hire Professor Groom to help lead this new effort? Though the numerical grading bit could be thrown out. :-) But she might be willing to give up assigning grades to her students in exchange for a Full Professorship with Tenure at a reformed Princeton. :-) It can't hurt to ask. :-) And while the trustees are at it, they could offer "Bryan" and "Mike" and other students like them four year full-everything scholarships, not as any kind of reward, but as a desperate SOS looking for help finding the way forward. While it might be wise for PU to make these offers, I can't say if it would be wise for these people to accept -- after all, how much in the end was a pre-paid first class ticket on the Titanic worth? :-( Only if PU has indicated a change of heart leading to a change of course might using such a ticket make sense.

I'd suggest Whig-Clio have a debate on this as well. :-)
Resolved: Princeton University should create the Lewis Center for Post-Scarcity Studies and Economic Transcendence and devote all its institutional assets to supporting an emerging global post-scarcity society.

Moving beyond competitiveness towards cooperation at PU

And if both Bryan and Mike did decide to sacrifice four years of their youth to come to PU to help save it from sinking, how can PU's strength in the humanities then in turn help this new Cain (Mike: "bonsai" and "composting") and this new Abel (Bryan: "in vitro meat" and "transhumanism") of an emerging post-scarcity world learn to get along together and work towards common interests?

How can PU help two such different people learn to be cooperative colleagues instead of perhaps competing like maybe Phil and me (starting across the hall from each other), even just indirectly out of unconscious memory at many years and many leagues distance from PU and each other?
    Phil: (An offering bringing money deemed fair in PU's eyes.)
    Me: (A "rejected" free sacrifice ten years ago by my wife and me?)
Watch out for gardeners, or rather, the competitive memory of them. :-( And watch out for how early competition might set a tone for the rest of a life, even if the people involved never see each other again. Perhaps like cluster bomblets or land minds might still be lying around in fields decades after some related military conflict is long forgotten? :-( Or like a cure for a possibly bioengineered weaponized plague (Lyme?) might go missing due to the funds going to bombs, as well as a related ideological refusal to learn from each other? :-( Which perhaps also implies the opposite -- that early experiences of cooperation might also last a lifetime too, and be like cooling trees and fountains and phages placed throughout a landscape? (More on that rivalry with Phil later. And actually, I did not garden much at the time; maybe if I had, things would have gone better, since really good gardening is about cooperating with nature and even your community.)

An astute reader, as before with the comment on bitterness, might ask, am I still competing with the memory of Phil myself even after he is dead? :-( Assuming it was true for a moment, then Alfie Kohn might suggest, as he does in his book, "No Contest: The Case Against Competition":
that the deeper question is not to look at just competitive individuals like myself or Phil, but to look at the overall organizations and larger competitive society that shapes them. Sometimes your role in life may just be that of being a negative example to others? :-) Perhaps I am myself a hopeless case or a lost cause. But that does not mean that going forward our society or the next generation has to be a lost cause too.

I myself would like to think the time I spend on this essay arises more out of love for my own child than anything else, as well as a hope to "imagine" a more joyful future for all built on faith in charity and other things, even if I use myself as a negative example. But I can also accept that, as with Moses, this entire generation of competitive alumni, including me, may end up building a more collaborative and joyful world for their children which they may never be completely comfortable living in, given the fundamental aspects of their early character education.

Earlier competitive and cooperative experiences help shape future comfort in other areas of life too. I am now mostly (maybe 95% of meals?) a vegetarian. But, as I was raised on meat with every meal three or four times a day, vegetarianism still feels a little awkward to me even after many years, and maybe always will. A decade or more later, it still feels a little like when I found myself breathing underwater in the Dillon Gym pool during scuba classes. :-) Or the first few years after turning off broadcast television. Yet I still explain to my own child (mostly vegetarian) that those big strong horses pulling carts at parades show what is possible for vegetarians. :-) And so, hopefully, my child may always be comfortable with vegetarian cuisine, which will also provide more flexibility in life later for frugal living. And many Princetonians have long been way ahead of me on this, of course:
    "New Princeton Vegetarian Club sets down roots in the University"
    "Two Dickinson Street Co-op"

Yet, I can also accept how destructive agriculture of any kind can be to the environment, how most organic milk producing cows end up as steaks, and how cattle and Bison may be the best use of some land, and fish the best use of some of the sea. Nor do all people have the same physiologies or same current needs or choices or live in the same environments. Consciousnesses not raised for food may then never have existed at all -- or would they? And if you do not eat at all, trillions of cells that make up you will starve, and the community will suffer a loss. And our dogs usually eat higher on the food chain than we do, sadly more out of laziness on our part and habit than anything else:
So there are no easy 100% answers to any of this -- whether competing with other people or competing with plants and animals. I suggest something similar here in the section about Yin/Yang and seeing forests from multiple perspectives:

Beyond "God" (or "PU") maybe having a lot of explaining to do for setting everyone up :-) (not to say people don't also have responsibility for their actions), that Cain and Abel Genesis story again reflects the transition from abundance to scarcity:

Modern scholars suggest the [passage] may have been based on a Sumerian story representing the conflict between nomadic shepherds and settled farmers.
Even in that story, God seems to be on the side of the abundance-based joyful hunter/gatherers/nomads, not the scarcity-based hard-working farmers/industrialists/settlers.

Maybe it is time to move beyond taking sides, or worrying about offerings and institutional acceptance? Maybe it is time to think more on doing things because they are fun (and maybe a little helpful), and not because of competition? As I discovered my first week at PU, where practically everyone was president of their high school science club or debate team or dramatic society, there will always be someone better at you at something -- even, perhaps, just better at being kinder and generous. But "the woods would be pretty quiet if no bird sang there but the best".

Or as Alfie Kohn suggests:
    "No Contest: The Case Against Competition" By Alfie Kohn

If competitiveness is inherently compensatory, if it is an effort to prove oneself and stave off feelings of worthlessness, it follows that the healthier the individual (in the sense of having a more solid, unconditional sense of self-esteem), the less need there is to compete. The implication, we might say, is that the real alternative to being number one is not being number two but being psychologically free enough to dispense with rankings altogether. Interestingly, two sports psychologists have found a number of excellent athletes with "immense character strengths who don't make it in sports. They seem to be so well put together emotionally that there is no neurotic tie to sport." Since recreation almost always involves competition in our culture, those who are healthy enough not to need to compete may simply end up turning down those activities. ... Each culture provides its own mechanisms for dealing with self-doubt. ... Low self-esteem, then, is a necessary but not sufficient cause of competition. The ingredients include an aching need to prove oneself and the approved mechanism for doing so at other people's expense. ... I do not want to shy away from the incendiary implications of all of this. To suggest in effect that many of our heroes (entrepreneurs and athletes, movie stars and politicians) may be motivated by low self-esteem, to argue that our "state religion" is a sign of psychological ill-health -- this will not sit well with many people.(Page 103)

This point on entrepreneurs is not directly aimed at Phil; I know little of who he became; it might apply as Alfie Kohn suggests, or it might not. I would say it applies to myself and the destructive role of competitiveness in my own life, though. Even our garden simulator would have been many times better if my wife and I had cooperated better, and if the two of us could have framed our project in such a way as to have better cooperated with academia, non-profits, and governments. Probably that would have meant planning it as "free" from the start (perhaps as a hobby) rather than always worrying about being scooped, or how we would make money from it, or how we could talk a little about it but not too much, or how to get people to sign non-disclosure agreements, and so on. Remember, for every Phil Goldman, the statistics about business success suggest there are probably 100 or 1000 Paul Fernhouts. :-) Which situation does it make more sense to plan your life for, especially if planning for cooperation and sharing may actually make it more likely you have a happy time of it? And does this suggest a possible conflict-of-interest at a university between producing alumni with long or happy lives arising from education in a cooperative open liberal arts tradition versus maximizing profitable returns to the university by launching alumni who out-compete everyone else in a competitive proprietary conservative society (however short or unhappy their lives may be)?

By the way, this alternative approach or reforming PU into a post-scarcity organization also resolves the Robertson lawsuit too. :-) That is mainly about students not going into public service after a sort of vocational training. Well, what can be a better form of international public service than lives dedicated to making free stuff cooperatively for all of humanity? :-) So, one lawsuit settled. :-)

But that still leaves the most burning issue at any university: parking. :-)

That will be addressed in the next section. :-)

Princeton University Freecycle Transportation Network -- an internet of physical packages

Here is just one more example of changes to PU's infrastructure and operations from a Post-Scarcity point of view. These might take burning another billion dollars of the PU endowment or so, but you will see soon another reason why money is going out of style anyway, whether PU does this or someone else. :-) But, there may well be reasonable objections to it, so consider it first mainly as a thought experiment in understanding Post-Scarcity style issues. Maybe it is both possible and worth doing, maybe it is neither.

A big problem in a post-scarcity society is not so much how to make abundance, but how to get rid of it. :-) The Freecycle network mentioned at the start is an example of that:
Or, from Wikipedia:

The Freecycle Network (often abbreviated TFN or just known as Freecycle) is a non-profit organization ... that organizes a worldwide network of "gifting" groups, aiming to divert reusable goods from landfill. It provides a worldwide online registry, and coordinates the creation of local groups and forums for individuals and non-profits to offer and receive free items for reuse or recycling, promoting gift economics as a motivating cultural outlook. "Changing the world one gift at a time" is The Freecycle Network's official tagline.
(Note that "Freecycle" is a trademark, so if PU used it, it would need permission.)

Obviously, long term the solution in a few decades might be general purpose nanotech 3D printers that can both "print" (or "compile") and "unprint" (or "decompile").
Perhaps you don't believe that kind of 3D printing and unprinting is possible or even desirable (perhaps due to energy costs of disassembly). Or maybe you think 3D printing might be possible, but would take a long time. Or perhaps you expect much production and disposal may still be centralized at least at the neighborhood level. Or maybe you expect that people will still have sentimental attachments to specific items they wish to store and retrieve. So, until all those issues are resolved for 3D printing, how can PU handle the embarrasment of material riches it has now and will soon have more of? And how can it make it *easy* to do the same as "The Freecycle Network" does -- give away items to people who want them instead of sending them to a landfill?

Material transportation and storage systems (like Amazon uses) could play a big role here. ('86)
As could interactive computer information systems on material goods (like eBay pioneered). ('77)

How might these be used together?

Princeton University could put in place a system of kiosks around campus which had what looked like Star Trek matter replicators. These would all be connected underground to one or more warehouses. Whenever anyone needed anything on campus, they would go to a kiosk and flip through the display to find what they wanted in the warehouse. Then, using their university ID card, or something else, or nothing at all :-), they would request the item (say, a specific soccer ball they like) be delivered to the kiosk. Presumably, using fast robots, and maybe pneumatic tubes (perhaps in old steam tunnels), within minutes the item would be delivered into the kiosk's reception area. But here is the important point -- when the person was done with the item, rather than worry about storing the item in their dorm room, they could walk up to any kiosk and just put the ball back into a waiting container, where it would be scanned, identified, and moved back to a warehouse. See also the idea of "spimes":
    "When Blobjects Rule the Earth"

Think of this as a sort of "interlibrary loan" for any physical object.
    "Material Handling System"
    "Han-Tek, Inc. Automated Conveyor, Palletizer, Wrapper"
    "The Art of Sortation in the Conveyor Industry"
Books could of course be put into the system too. Here is a video of automated handling of books:
    "Automated Materials Handling (AMH) system for books"
An automated system can even handle huge shipping container sized objects. like here:
    (Well, maybe not exactly like in that picture of collapsed containers. :-)
    (Also, I'm not affiliated with any of these places; I'm just picking examples from the web.)

I like this title and the first part of this article which also applies to this idea:
    "How shipping containers shortened the life span of petro-civilization"

In 2005, roughly 18 million containers worldwide made over 200 million trips (wikipedia). Containers come in many sizes, an average one is 40 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 8 feet high, the size of three 10 by 10 foot bedrooms. There are 1,300 foot-long ships now that can carry 7,250 of them. It's mind boggling to think about how different the world is now. My grandparents ate what was in season, an orange was a precious Christmas gift. Today, the Japanese are eating Wyoming beef and we're driving Japanese cars. Before containers were used to move cargo, port cities had long piers where boxes and bales were moved by sweat and muscle onto ships. Longshoremen lived within two miles of the docks in cheap housing. Now the piers are gone and the only sweat comes from yuppies on treadmills in luxury apartments. The cost of moving products by any means, whether truck, train, or ship, was often so high most goods were made locally. Factories were often located near ports to shorten the distance of getting products to ships. The idea of containerization was around for a long time, and a few companies experimented with doing this and failed for various reasons. It took Malcolm McLean, the founder of Sea-Land, and standardization, to make containerization really take off. The cost of shipping goods, whether the container was on land or water, dropped so drastically, that suddenly it made more economic sense for a factory to be located wherever land, labor, and electricity were inexpensive. Millions of high-paying factory jobs were lost as containerization made it possible for factories to move overseas.

My father, a merchant mariner for about a quarter century around WWII, saw the rise of container ships. He liked the idea, even though some of his liveliehood for a time depended on knowing how to operate things like steam-powered cranes (when no one else around knew anymore). Still, that article misses the big post-scarcity picture and assumes a lasting energy crisis. :-( Guess they don't know about Nanosolar and similar renewable energy initiatives -- or the ones PU might make soon. :-)

There are several variations on the idea that are easy to make. The kiosks could be dispensed with (as well as ripping up parts of campus yet again :-) and the system could respond to requests made anywhere on campus from a wired or wireless computer (or even a cell phone). Delivery robots could bring the object to where it was requested, or even to where the person was as they moved to around campus, perhaps tracked via their cell phone or some other way (Star Trek TNG style badges?)
    "Willow Garage - RoboDevelopment 2007"
Or one could make hybrids of kiosks that were serviced by above ground deliver robots. Or, one could even dispense with the delivery infrastructure, and just expect people to go to a fully automated warehouse directly. Or even a partially automated one. Items could be moved between various warehouses on campus or put in delivery robots near expected needs to increase response time. Likely a few standard metal or plastic container sizes would be selected and used. Items in the warehouse would either be stored in the transport container or transferred to shelving. One container might have lots of room if occupied with, say, half-used pencils, and so other things could be added, with the expectation that if a container shows up with a half dozen unrelated things -- a tennis racket, at unused bra still in the original packaging, some marbles, a CD of Grover Washington's music, and a saxophone, the person getting the delivery would just take *whatever* they wanted in addition to what was requested, and the delivery system would rescan (laser 3D imaging? RFID? stereo vision? Smell sensors?) and put the rest back into inventory. One of the things you could request from the system is empty containers to put things in -- these might come directly or bundled inside other containers.

Here are some further twists. Everything a student or alumnus put into the system could perhaps (check with the tax lawyers) be considered a "donation" to Princeton University, same as given to Good Will or the Salvation Army. The university could supply the student or his or her parents or guardians with a detailed receipt of everything put into the system for tax deduction purposes. No more situations like my wife encounters at some such places, where high quality donated items get left out in the rain from lack of room or staff. Note that groups like the Salvation Army could make use of this system, scanning the system's inventory for worn things that could be fixed up with a little effort.

When people put things into the system, like any donor, they might attach conditions. They might say anyone can order up the object. Or they might say only Princetonians could order the object forever. Or maybe for three years. Or they could say that if the object was unrequested for a few years by Princetonians, it could then be distributed off campus. There is an issue here of whether the original donor's license follows the object forever (the Spime idea) or just until the next person gets the object. There are all sorts of licensing combinations. All sorts of restrictions. But ideally, rather than have a lot of licenses, our society might settle on a few basic approaches -- like three years for PU then OK for anybody. Or something like that. Part of the problem here is that we are involved in a *transition* to post-scarcity. So, things that might work differently in the future when everyone moves objects around as easily as data packets on the internet (through container boxes that are the physical analogy of digital packets), and when everyone trusts in the abundance of the system enough not to feel a compulsion to hoard or not feeling they have to take things out of the system just to sell things. So, some aspects of setting licenses (the GPL is an example) have to do with managing that transition in a way that makes something work now, and makes future progress possible. Obviously, PU doesn't want crowds on Nassau Street sucking out all its office supplies for resale the first day. So, maybe one has to think about a plan with stages of licenses. As well as related social norms. This book has some related ideas:
    "The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia" by Ursula K. Le Guin

Obviously, a variation on this is also that in some cases only the person who put the object into the system could get it back out -- or someone he or she allows (for a fee or not). But what would be the fun of that? :-) But yes, perhaps there would be some of that -- people hoarding using the system. But, one could look at reports of that, and then perhaps give these people help in overcoming their need to hoard. The good news for hoarding is that if a hoarder decides to become a sharer, the change only requires a few mouse clicks. :-) Maybe to discourage hoarding, a storage fee could be charged for such hoarded items stored with restricted delivery instructions? And I would expect any commercial use of the system would also slowly decline over time as a relative percentage of use, after perhaps an initial relative flurry of commerce, same as with the digital internet after it went beyond academia.

Eventually a lot of junk might accumulate in the system -- old shoes, broken balloons, obsolete one-Google-equivalent laptops, :-) stuff like that. So how to get rid of it all? One possibility is to just set up a Kiosk on Nassau Street and let anyone in the world pick what they want and just take it away. Or the materials could be listed on eBay as free (except for shipping or handling). Or, the system could be interlinked with a similar one at Yale, and presumably the old shoes and last year's dresses would flow that way. :-) Or, let's call it, "vintage clothing". :-) And if they did not, PU could set up terminals in materially poor places like, say, the country of Malawi
or the city of Trenton, NJ
or wherever and periodically ship out whatever was asked for via containers. People in materially poor countries would have to be patient to get their used shoes or worn glasses, but many of them already are very good at patience. Eventually this entire system could be used globally. Imagine, say, you leave stuff you don't want in containers on the street. As the Postal Service or UPS comes by to drop things off, they also pick up those containers to put into the system. Essentially, at that point this Freecycle-ish material goods version of the internet might begin to dominate global trade. And people might also use it for business needs as well as sending gifts to family and friends. Fees for business use might cover all the costs of operating it, like craigslist only charges for certain ads. But, eventually, I would expect this would all diminish the value of money to the point where people would just maintain this system for the same reason people operate their local garbage collection systems or mail delivery system. Also, if you're like me you're tired of all those empty leftover Amazon boxes piling up, so if the containers used were sturdier, the empties even could just be left at the curb to be picked up and put into use elsewhere, perhaps for years and thousands of trips around the world.

The system might have an aspect that allows people globally to submit requests of things they might like. Maybe they want them for free (preferred) or maybe they would be willing to pay for them (or bid for them) or maybe they might by willing to trade other items for them. Amazon has "wish lists"; this system could also have "wishes". If you live in a materially poor country, you might put in a "wish" for, say, a good pair of boots, size 9. Maybe someday someone at Princeton who is having a bad day might decide to cheer themselves up by giving you their used pair, or might buy you a new set and put it in the system for delivery -- or even buy you a new one entirely through the system. Physical stores would likely of course decline as this system was widely adopted -- many would become virtual stores, their inventory just store securely in some part of the system. (This might free up a lot of space on Nassau Street for the university to use for expansion. :-) In general, one would want this system to be designed to make it easy to give gifts. Maybe it might be tied in with a way that people could blog about their lives or make video diaries, making this idea similar in some ways to "microcredit" but typically as a gift. As with Heifer, maybe you might ask the recipient to pass on a similar gift someday to someone (or a similar gift in proportion to their wealth, since a pair of boots might be a trivial gift for the donor but most of the recipient's wealth).

The containers to use in this system would be the subject of a lot of study themselves. Maybe they even might expand and contract some as needed. Perhaps they would have some kind of auto-expanding cushioning material for preventing damage during shipment or storage. Some might even be self-guiding. Many might have open tops or be pallets with standard attachment systems. Boxes might come in a variety of material or formats (cardboard, plastic, metal, wood, etc.) each with their own international standards governing bar code placement or label format or robotic attachment handle or RFID locator or wireless network hardware or sensors or whatever other aspects were important. Some box styles might have active climate control (to stay hot or cold for a time).

There might be standards for opening and closing boxes, so you might have the house robots or receiving automation open boxes for you in advance and inspect and repack the contents, if you were nervous about the delivery. Routing hardware on routes within the system might do that as well for suspicious packages. Some boxes might be sealed with tape, but I'd expect many would have alternative ways of opening and closing, perhaps with electronic locks (active or passive).

I'm expecting most of these container boxes might be in the range of sizes of typical Amazon boxes. That is, about from shoe box sized to microwave sized. But some might be smaller and some might be huge -- like for storing your car when you arrive on campus. (See, I said I'd solve the parking problem. :-)
    "Amazing Parking System"
But if you don't like that solution, just use the self-driving automobile software PU will develop as above and have the cars park themselves at a distant lot and return on demand. :-)

Parking your car in the system brings up security. You might only want your car or other item to be released back to you or someone you authorize. You might only want it stored in particular secure places and only handled by certain secure processes. You might want it only contained in containers meeting certain requirements or standards, or only transferred to similar containers or only inspected by certain processes you agree to. You might want the container to keep a visual record of whoever accesses it. If you allow others to use your car, you might want to have the container scan your car before someone else takes it out as well as when someone puts it back in storage (like rental companies do). This way you can see if someone did not take good care of it. In the transition period from a scarcity world view to a post scarcity world view, people might use these features to run rental businesses for any kind of equipment or products -- cars, lawnmowers, jewelery, tuxedos, and so on. There are a lot of things to think about there when looking at the system from the stand point of use for only transient storage (the service like a parcel locker at an airport supplies).

When I was at IBM Research about ten years ago (contracting), IBM held a future-oriented brainstorming session with high school students. One of the sessions related to the future of packaging. They talked about things like having a GPS in every package. And maybe digital paper as the display on the package (run by a limited computer, and in thirty years a "limited" cheap computer might be more powerful then one of today's supercomputers :-). Add in a solar panel or inductor or isotope generator (or even cold fusion :-) to the package, along with a wireless network link, and you have essentially a complete OLPC computer system. Imagine a world so wealthy that anybody who even got a discarded Amazon box had access to all the world's knowledge for "free to the user". :-) Maybe working towards such a future might help justify Princeton's continued existence as a going concern, instead of a "going out of business sale" dissolution to provide $100 networked computers to every poor family on the planet right now? Or maybe not. It might still depend on who you ask which appears better.

Maybe it's time again to ask high school students what the future could be like? And here is another place to start, as well:
    "Google search on reuseable/reusable containers"
Or people could ask Historical Societies (or old alumni) what life was like back with a "milkman" and horse cart. :-)
    "The Milkman"

Some styles of boxes might have cameras or microphones or other sensors too, enabling them to directly scan the materials put in them or identify the person closing or opening them. Other boxes might use services at kiosks or delivery trucks to scan their contents as they were opened and closed. The design of kiosks, deliver trucks, delivery robots, and delivery points outside homes would itself take some thought -- sensors, security, privacy, climate control like refrigeration, and so on.

Of course, one can also imagine doing this without the containers. Robots of various types (humanoid or cart-like) with dexterous manipulators could carry items and put them on shelves -- like human slaves once did and in some places still do. :-(
But as with people, if we develop sentient robots to help with this task, then we have to start thinking about rights for them too.
    "Robots could one day demand the same citizen's rights as humans, according to a study by the British government."

Also, as it might be fun to help out others, somehow this system, like the one in "The Skills of Xanadu", might make it easy for people to know when something needed to be moved from near where they are to somewhere else they are thinking of going, so they can deliver it just for the fun of it and the joy of service. So, while the robots are cool to me, there are ways to look at this system that might avoid them. Imagine people might even load a few boxes into their car or truck to carry along as hitchhikers to move a little closer to their destination. This used to be how letters were delivered before centralized post offices. You'd write a letter and give it to someone going in the general direction, and they might later pass it on to someone else going even closer. There are aspects of that in the internet routing of today.

Once one sees this internet of things in standard containers as an analogy to the internet of bits in standard packets, then a lot more analogies flow from that. You can have public repositories of objects and private ones. Some services might start off as free, some an paid. Some packets might be free, some expensive. People might bid on items, or they might bid to get rid of them. :-) Or there might be fixed prices, user varying prices, or no prices at all. You might cache things you might want soon locally, in local storage systems, which are like local networks (LANS) but gatewayed to this larger "Internet of things". You might have firewalls or packet sniffing tools. :-) Packages might be periodically opened and the contents transferred to new containers to interface with different networks (UPS, the post office, etc.). And the contents of open-top on-campus containers or pallets might be transferred to closed containers as the objects crossed the campus "firewall" or vice-versa. Some packages might be split up into multiple packets; some might be condensed together into one package. Packets might arrive at a location and have the contents processed (by people or robots) with the result put back into another packet. Perhaps cardboard containers that arrive on campus might be opened in a "firewall" like mail room and repackaged into more sophisticated containers (or not) for storage and delivery on campus. Similarly, when materials were to go off campus, they might be transferred to other types of containers (or not). And so on. This twelve minute movie visualizes digital packets as real ones, so look at it for inspiration:
    "Warriors of the Net"
I saw that movie a few months ago and perhaps it unconsciously inspired this overall idea.

One might also think about the way materials stream in cells.

To be extra clear, this idea is not exactly the same as the "Internet of Things" currently described here:
That focuses more on putting "things" on the internet in the sense of interacting with them remotely, as well as tagging them to track their movements. Those may well be part of the future. What I talk about here is more about moving real things around in a standardized way typically with standardized physical containers or standard ways of manipulating and tracking most objects by people, robots, or automation. That web page description does not yet encompass standard ways of routing items, such as any post office or package delivery service already does. So, the proposal here is a little closer to spirit to what those Yalies are up to:

In 1962, Smith entered Yale University. While attending Yale, he wrote a paper for an economics class, outlining overnight delivery service in a computer information age. Folklore suggests he received a C for this paper although in a later interview he claims that when asked he told a reporter "I dont know what grade, probably made my usual C". The paper became the idea of FedEx (for years, the sample package displayed in the company's print advertisements featured a return address at Yale). Smith became a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and Skull and Bones. He received his Bachelor's degree in economics in 1966. In his college years, he was a friend of George W. Bush. Smith was also friends with John Kerry and shared an enthusiasm for aviation with Kerry and was a flying partner with him.

Note that all sorts of things might be put into the system, even bottles of dangerous chemicals, refrigeration-required biohazards like yesterday's chili, or the inevitable guns that campus security will end up with. :-( So, one might start thinking about limited access to some items, perhaps based on some personal record of certification. However, I'd expect *most* items would not need to be restricted. Kind of like on Star Trek -- you might expect that if a five year old asks a matter replicator for a "Hand Phaser" that at worst they get a toy version. But if they ask for a soccer ball or a telescope, why not oblige with a real one?

Here is an example of a delivery robot for dangerous things, especially biohazards:
    "Secure and efficient transportation of lab specimens throughout a healthcare facility"
Certainly working on those seems better to me than all the time and money the USA is now putting into developing this:

But in general, the carriers would not need to be secure, since while it might be OK to grab something going by (the system could just fetch something similar), causing another user an extra delay would probably be seen as very rude.

Since people might put *anything* into the system, including bombs like yesterday's dining hall mystery meat dish, the system might need smell sensors as well as advanced vision software to detect such situations. Obviously, the NSA would get their paws into such a system, so why no just invite them in at the start to help fund it all and make it "secure"? :-) As long as, with "Security-Enhanced Linux", the results should be F/OSS.

As part of its Information Assurance mission, the National Security Agency has long been involved with the computer security research community in investigating a wide range of computer security topics including operating system security. Recognizing the critical role of operating system security mechanisms in supporting security at higher levels, researchers from NSA's National Information Assurance Research Laboratory have been investigating an architecture that can provide the necessary security functionality in a manner that can meet the security needs of a wide range of computing environments.

Naturally, such a system could also be used to route unused food to a composting facility, or obvious garbage to a waste disposal or recycling center. PU people have good ideas; I'm sure they will think of completely unexpected uses for the system. :-) Also, "interdisciplinary" studies as Professor Tilghman seems fond of may help here. I used to be more interested in engineering self-reliant systems until I came, through studying ecology, to read about Island Biogeography, and see the interplay of self-reliant and networked systems in maximizing diversity.
No doubt, even in expansion into space, the future will entail networks of otherwise self-replicating space habitats, making some things locally, and exchanging others (even if just information and people and genetic materials and some hard to make goods). That's the way bacteria work on Earth today -- they are self-replicating but still part of a vast network exchanging genetic material by various means.

Who would write the complex routing and optimization free software for something like this? Certainly not me; I hardly know anything about that stuff, as fascinating as it can be. :-( But, President Tilghman and the PU Trustees need look no further than, say, PU's own Professor Warren B. Powell:

Warren B. Powell is the founder and director of CASTLE Laboratory. A faculty member at Princeton since 1981, CASTLE Lab was created in 1990 to reflect an expanding research program into dynamic resource management.

And from:

Jets, locomotives, people, trucks,energy, vaccines, information, money... The management of physical, financial and informational resources is the domain of CASTLE Lab. We want to know how to use resources efficiently in the presence of different forms of uncertainty. We also want to know what information we should have to make these decisions, and how much we are willing to pay for this information.

Now you might expect him to be my graduate advisor at PU, but he isn't. :-) He's the guy I had the most trouble with as a CE&OR (and Transportation) graduate student at PU, as the Director of Graduate Studies and thus the point man for the CE&OR faculty. Now that I am a parent myself, I can better understand how difficult I must have made his life when he and his wife had just had a new baby and were losing sleep. I am sorry for any distress I thus caused you and your family, Warren. I can only speculate that if PU had mandatory one year paid sabbaticals for faculty with new babies, that we two might be best buddies today. :-) Seriously, he's a smart guy. I'm sure if anyone could make such a system work, he could. And I have also now come to appreciate much of the value of the math he wanted me to learn, some of which my wife and I used in our garden simulator and other software. He knows that and much, much more already. While not a complete explanation, I was losing sleep too,
as the PU housing office put me into an inescapable (financially) rooming situation with a grad student who would usually come in at 2am and wake me up as he took his contacts out (after watching the Olympics), so I myself was not on my best behavior for that and other reasons. No surprise the year before his previous roommate was also only around for only a short time in the CE&OR program too. :-) And thus giving him a single for the rest of the year, same as when I moved to other quarters my second semester. :-) But while coincidental, I do not think it was intentional, and I still have to take responsibility for my own actions, and my grad college roommate was otherwise a great guy.

Here is a thought about a compulsory curriculum, even if it was an unwritten one like then in the CE&OR department (which at the time had no formal course requirements, which was a big reason why I liked the idea of going there). In my own time, after trying to write a simulation or two, I would little doubt have come to realize the worth of all Professor Powell and others at CE&OR had to teach, without the compulsion or fuss. And if I wasn't that kind of person, then why should I even want to be in graduate school myself? The current academic system has ways of making every man, woman, or child it touches into a broken person (ready to run around a curriculum, like a horse),
whether that person is student or faculty or staff. That's what it is designed to do. :-(
    "Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives"
    "Underground History of American Education"
It's not just all about individuals, even imperfect ones -- as we all are.

And if people raise all kinds of legitimate objections to this idea, he and others involved with the PU transportation program, including the students, no doubt would have the creativity to take this sketch and make it real. Or ask my previous graduate advisor who I still have high respect for, even as I won't name him so he can at least get a head start when people decide to tar and feather him for doing the "no no" of bringing a PU undergrad back as a grad student (see what happens? :-) He's a marathoner, so I figure with a short head start, the crowd won't be able to catch him. :-)

More motivation for PU to move towards Freecycling and openness and post-scarcity ideals

I outline the above in part as a disclosure to prevent some patents. Although, as people have been handling containers and transferring objects with and without barcodes, RFID, machine vision, automation and robots for decades, chances are all (or almost all) of the key related patents have been filed and have expired already. :-)

And, after I wrote this, I came across this short essay and I am sure there are many such examples if you look:
    "Automatic Delivery Systems" by John McCarthy, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Stanford University

An automatic delivery system is a system for the transmission of material objects between homes, stores, offices etc. with as much as possible of the convenience of the telephone system used for the transmission of information. First we shall discuss how such a system might look to a user. Then we shall discuss the advantages of such as system and what it might be worth. Finally, we shall propose some ways of implementing the system and try to estimate how much it might cost. (Except for specifically designated 1995-96 notes, this essay was written in the 1970s.)
Althought, while that and many other "techonogical cornucopian" notions on John McCarthy's site make a lot of sense to me, without some notion of social equity or a gift economy, he risks the distopia Marshall Brain outlines in his story "Manna", where all these services are just for the rich and the poor are literally swept aside by robots.

And sorry if this idea eventually forces Amazon and eBay out of business, or at least, their current businesses. A bit of a conflict of interest there of course -- does PU move in a way that may be seen as working directly against the short term interests of their richest alums, who may even be trustees at some point? And it even treads directly on Yalie "Skull and Bones" turf of FedEx. This echoes themes in the Domhoff book previously mentioned on why things don't change. Still, there are thousands of other universities that might start experimenting along these lines, so does PU want to get left behind? You see why I don't name my graduate advisor. What a pickle. :-)

And as for me, I'll be glad if I do not end up like the suspicious death of the grad student who helped invent the modern digital computer:
At least I can hope I've managed, like Clifford Berry and the digital computer, to prevent some patents in the process. By coincidence, Clifford Berry killed himself or was murdered a short time before I was conceived, and geographically close by. But, that's probably just coincidence. :-) And even if it isn't -- it's a hopeful "I'll be back" sort of thing. :-)
Or maybe I just inherited his Pooka. :-)
Or his muse:
If so, Clifford, I'm very grateful I could be of service in continuing your dreams. Thank you, or any other powers that be.

But any of that fantastical speculation aside, the uncertainty about Clifford Berry's death shows the *potential* dangers of secrecy (as that Nobel-prize-short-listed Stanford professor earlier unfortunately suggests as a workable approach towards innovation). Clifford Berry's questionable death highlights the danger of not making your discoveries part of the public record as you go -- something Clifford Berry's and John Vincent Atanasoff's idea of the electronic digital computer makes easy these days.

This PU Freecycle Transportation Network idea was probably inspired by some unconscious combination of Warriors of the Net, the fact that I have long been interested in factory automation including seeing some at NC State and elsewhere, and also the fact that I am a bit of a pack rat, but not this bad:
I've been thinking about building something like this network for our own small house in part because my wife complains about my clutter -- and she is right to complain. :-) I'm proud (I guess :-) that a year or two ago I parted with about ten car loads of stuff to the Salvation Army and one carload with old computers and such to a local computer recycling center. Even as I still feel like some of the computer stuff might have been useful for robotics projects I'll never have time for myself. :-) And photographing and inventorying some of it for tax purposes was a lot of work. Anyway, I decided to finally put that storage system idea down on digital paper and expand it a bit. So if this idea is useful for the world, you can thank my wife's nagging. :-) Oh yeah, and you can also thank a little fire in the PU robot lab about a year after I left, apparently (so I am told) ignited by a spark from a welder working next door and then smoldering in boxes and junk (put there mainly by others). Those boxes were in a rear storage area which I should have nonetheless cleared out from the PU robotics lab but did not, as I always thought they might come in useful somehow. Well, people told me not to throw some of that stuff out too, in case the boxes were needed for warranty repairs. So, being a pack rat can have serious consequences -- unless you are a super serious pack rat, in which case you have a nice sounding title like "curator" or "librarian". :-) (I know, those people have to get rid of stuff too.) Anyway, so if the idea is useful, thank both the fire and the nagging. It's a dark cloud indeed that does not have a silver lining.

On the other hand, that electronic digital computing idea of Atanasoff (implemented by Berry) may have been inspired at the other end of the marital spectrum (the male side? :-) at a roadside (topless?) bar over the Iowa state line in Illinois, or so the story goes :-). If it was indeed a topless bar of bouncing unmentionables, his sudden inspiration about the on-off binary design makes a lot more sense. Consider the situation of a somewhat inebriated professor trying to figure out how to represent numbers electronically being surrounded by topless women. In a drunken haze, he might have seen a woman as representing a "binary coded digit" from zero to three encoded by two binary items each, each of which can be in one of two states -- bouncing up or down. :-) And two women together could represent zero to fifteen. And so on. The basics of binary representation of numbers. And then further imaginings might have led to mathematical operations. :-) But that is hardly the kind of thing you put down in an academic paper, is it? No, I'm probably not channeling Clifford; I just lived in Ames, IA for a while by coincidence. I even, also by coincidence, lived next door to a key person involved with reconstructing the Atanasoff-Berry Computer,
but I want to be clear he did not tell me this topless rumor; I heard it at a neighborhood get-together. But I suggest that maybe it is good to set the record straighter? Or bouncier, really. :-) You don't think these straight arrow people at the University of Pennsylvania would get their digital (ones and zeroes) ideas hanging around in topless bars, did you?

Anyway, I know some people may find this analysis of the history of computing to be offensive. That's sort of the point. All the neat little squared away compartments we want to put learning and innovation in -- including separating them from basic human drives -- are usually an after-the-fact prettied-up illusion to suit our social sensibilities. Even to the point of glossing over credit for where ideas really come from, whether topless bars or disregarded academics in Iowa, to the point where a brilliant grad student like Clifford Berry ends up supernova-ing by age 45. What kind of social institutions have we built that have so denied our humanity? Even to the notion of "science" as a pseudo-religion itself? (And not a very good one at that.) And as David Goodstein suggests, is this problem only getting worse since the 1970s with a financial crunch in academia?

In any case, as I promised earlier, whether the rumor is true or not, Princeton University is clearly spending millions of dollars each year to provide "essential services" related to computing to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and all administrators -- and there is no question that the essential idea behind those services originated in a roadside bar in Illinois (OK, see, I delivered even on that :-); see for example this documented evidence:
    "The Origins of Statistical Computing"

Atanasoff set off on a long drive across Iowa to think about this problem sometime during the winter of 1937–1938. Several hundred miles later, at a roadside bar in Illinois, he conceived the basic elements for a machine to solve systems of linear equations.
The deeper big joke, if this topless rumor is true, is perhaps not that there is a certain something sometimes on computers and the internet, it is that the entire internet itself -- all those streams of ones and zeroes -- is itself that certain something. :-) And maybe bouncing unmentionables is a more hopeful conception about the true origin of the internet than "surviving a nuclear attack":

And here is a related public service announcement: :-)

Breastfeeding is the ideal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.
There is no question in the medical community that a couple years of breastfeeding is a lot better for babies than either formula or nuclear war. But breastfeeding is less profitable to others than those alternatives (or using breasts to sell beer and cars and other stuff too -- including essays, although at least this one is free, except for a few billion dollars from the endowment. :-) Granted formula is better than nothing, but it is a poor substitute. Essentially, beyond being nature's best mobile water purifiers, breasts enable a mother's immune system (which constantly scans the environment for biological threats) to manufactures substances for young children to consume that boost the child's own immune system in relation to specific local threats -- something formula will never do. But our society has become so breast-obsessed that women hardly use them anymore for that miraculous purpose. :-( From:
Assuming causality, however, promoting breastfeeding has the potential to save or delay approximately 720 postneonatal deaths in the United States each year.
See also:
    "Formula for Profit: How Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes Undermines the Health of Babies"
Formula as prescription-only might even be a temporary part of the solution, until the economic resonances promoting formula from all the way back to the 1950s fade away. Also, if you take this mother-child nursing relationship seriously, it means rethinking major aspects of US society (including PU's daily operations) as the technical alternatives to encouraging mothers and their extended nursing children to be together most of the time are fairly unpleasant (even though they can sometimes work).
    "Extended Breastfeeding (Beyond One Year)"
Many people are surprised to learn that experts consider 4 or 5 years to be the average age of weaning worldwide. ... Because our culture tends to view the breast as sexual, it can be hard for people to realize that breastfeeding is the natural way to nurture children.

It's been said that Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships. Well, somewhere in Illinois in the 1930s, there may have been a bosom that launched a billion chips. :-) I know I'm indirectly writing some humor here at the expense of likely some poor women who worked at that bar in Illinois, topless or not, as well as many women and some men who have ended up unhappy in much worse situations. Or marriages or careers that get broken in the process. As well as poking fun at the memory of John Atanasoff, who was undoubtedly a brilliant guy, and may well just have been thirsty and not even known that bar was topless if it was. As they say, chance, or toplessness, favors the prepared mind. :-) So let me add, that should these post-scarcity transformations happen, we may well see the end of the days when any adult (or runaway) need enter into such arrangements as Jeannette Angell did (linked several sections above) just to secure the basic needs of life. Hopefully, that change might at least see the end to the worst side of that adult industry. And we might also see the end of the worst side of the formula industry, and the worst side of using breasts to sell things instead of nourish young children. And we might even see the end of the worst side of the defense industry too -- creating threats and accelerating arms races to sell weapons. And I'd suggest that every day PU delays transcending to a post-scarcity institution (like by implementing this Freecycle network or something similarly inspired) is another day PU directly or indirectly supports this dark side of capitalism as an institution (regardless of how individuals on campus may spend their money, on prostitutes or formula or nukes). Who is really the one being "abhorrent to morality or virtue" here? I'm willing to at least settle for a verdict of "both" the author and PU. :-)

Actually, if you want to go even farther back on the history of digital computing and how it originated in mostly topless ancient Africa, see: :-)
    "TED Talks: Ron Eglash: African fractals, in buildings and braids"
    "African Fractals"

So, where at PU to put the biggest warehouse for all these containers with gifts (containers with and without tops)? (See, I said I'd talk about toplessness on campus, too. :-) Well, with this overall shift to volunteerism and more free time, I'd expect conventional competitive spectator sports would decline in interest, compared to participator noncompetitive sports. :-)

So, I'd suggest that the new Princeton University Stadium be modified to serve as the main warehouse.
This would also have a side benefit of reducing, or eliminating, the influence of the troublesome Princeton University Band, the complete abolition of which is the subject of the next section. :-)

The Abolition of the Princeton University Band

Let's face it. Business as usual at PU is hard enough and consumes all the administration's attention. There is practically nothing I can say that will get PU's president or trustees to seriously consider these changes from business as usual. Not being able to raise tuition to $250K per year. Not more motivated prospectives. Not more paid time off for faculty. Not advanced free simulations of Mammalian or Shark genetics. :-) Not even freeing up more space in Firestone Library. They probably could not even be induced to skim it without some really good idea that would help them day-to-day. There is only maybe one idea here that may get President Tilghman and the trustees to listen, and that is to lay out the way that this plan will put a permanent end to that unruly and troublesome organization I so little understood the danger of at the time: the Princeton University Band.

What do I have against the PU Band? I joined the Band my first year at PU. Well, anyone who *truly* knows the character of the PU Band from the inside will know what precision marching will do to one's soul. Or the damage done by all that crazymaking talk about grades continually -- "Give me an A" and "Give me a C". And anyone who knows what high musical standards the band sets will know what anxiety producing performance pressure I was continually under when, as the only male in the otherwise all female flute section, and despite the most careful and dedicated tutoring by my flute teacher in Woolworth Music building, I essentially had to (mostly) "fake it". (Well, another guy showed up occasionally, I seem to recall). There I said it -- I was faking it ladies! (Mostly. :-) No doubt some of them saw through me, especially when Debbie (the "first" flute) covered me on the piccolo parts of the Stars and Stripes Forever. (I was one of the few with a piccolo as well as a flute.) Anyway, between the precision marching and the push to excel musically, is it any wonder I ended up writing an essay like this? :-) Once again, PU administration, blame the Band for the cause of all your trouble!

Seriously, for anyone who does not know the PU Band, the above is total satire. :-) Except the part about my mostly faking it, which is mostly true. I was, essentially, a "trash" flute. :-) There is nothing about the PU Band that involves "grading" (those are musical notes :-), the band accepts anyone for what they can add to it, and the Band's organizational and physical structure is fairly minimal and fluid.

From the PU Band's web site:

The Princeton University Band, founded in 1919, is one of less than a dozen scramble bands in the country. A "scramble band" is kind of like a "marching band", only with less formality, more funniness, and Marching more fun — in other words, better. ...
Unlike most college bands, the Princeton Band is entirely student-run. Our twelve officers are all students who are elected by the Band at large. Anyone who wants to tag along (except law enforcement officers) is welcome to become a member. ...
The Band has a wide range of musical skill levels. Some members are virtuosos who write their own song arrangements for our repertoire. And then there are the people who show up just to bang drumsticks against road signs and plastic flamingos. Somehow, we always manage to come together and look and sound great. We have no idea how that keeps happening. [See: :-)]
The Band exists as much for the enjoyment of its own members as it does for the entertainment of spectators. (No, really! It says so in our Constitution.) In short, we're all about having fun. Consider this: Membership in the PUB is entirely voluntary — nobody (except some officers) ever has to show up for anything — and yet dozens of people still show up to all our gigs. How many other student groups can claim that?


Scramble bands also have something else in common: they all like to tilt at windmills. A scrambler's favorite tool is satire. While scramblers' views may vary wildly, one thing we all seem to agree on is that nothing is so sacred that we can't poke fun at it.

I am the Band's worst nightmare -- a Band member gone into (a self-serving) league with the University Administration. :-(

Every new mythology generally requires human sacrifice. Band, this time, you're it. :-)

Take your [Band], your only [Band] – yes, [the PU Band], whom you love so much – and go to the land of [New Jersey]. Sacrifice [the Band] there as [an administrative] offering on one of the [concepts], which I will point out to you."

The PU Band preys on all those spoiled rich kids (and some poor ones) with too much wealth and structure and pressure in their lives who are looking for another way to live than even more competition and excellence and wealth. The Band helps them drown their sorrows (at rarely being able to change a durn thing about the university or the world, for all their satire, and for all their heart) in community and, occasionally, also in excessive alcohol consumption. :-(

Clearly, in the new transcendent PU I have outlined, there is no room for the Band. How will it recruit when all work in the world is voluntary and playful? It *can't*. There will be too many other interesting things for PU students to do. Plus, I have proposed changing the PU colors, and even the songs, which will drive the Band into financial ruin. Even if they temporarily wear, say, green arm bands to show their support for change to defer the cost of new uniforms, it will not be enough, and the Band will eventually be driven out of existence both spiritually and financially.

Band, I'm sorry to say that this is the end, since some of my happiest times at PU were with you. Well, you and the Infinity Limited sci-fi society, but that was never a "serious relationship" as I was never an official member even if I orbited the people and a few events. No Band, at PU, for me, you were my one true serious relationship. :-) Even if it only lasted a year and a few quickies afterwards just for old times sake. But, if the new PU Post-Scarcity mythology requires a human sacrifice, I'm sure you won't take it too personally; I know you are full of warm and understanding and red-blooded people (when not intoxicated(#)).

I know you will feel betrayed Band, but the University administration is just too powerful, so I am sure you can understand in the end why I have gone over to their side, and why I am aiming this satire at you. :-) Band, here is something musical to help you understand:
    "You Always Hurt the One You Love"

And, the administration can hopefully see that if the new mythology proposed here takes root at PU, like when Darth Vader sliced that old geezer, what was his name, Band Kenobi(?), in half, the Band will cease to exist when these plans are put into action. I promise you, there won't even be a body to clean up. :-( And all the Band jackets left over can be put into the PU Freecycle Transportation Network. :-) The Band never could keep good track of those anyway. :-(

What more can I say to the Emperor and Imperial Senate to prove my loyalty? I'm doing all I can here for your benefit. I have handed you a plan to put an end to the Band, once and for all, or in Band-speak "D.C. al Fine", as a sacrifice to a new Post-Scarcity mythology. :-)

Still, I can hope that this is only a test of faith, and that in the end, like Abraham and his son Isaac, we will not have to sacrifice the Band for this new mythology, and it can continue to lead PU into the future, one satire at a time. :-)

[(#)By the way, Band guys and gals, I never did like the excessive drinking, sorry. See: But perhaps I understand it better than the Administration. Also, I should be clear, I'm referring more to the Band I knew in the 1980s here, not today's Band, of which I know little about, beyond it still being full of wonderful and brave people.]

Reducing competition both on and off campus, or, dignity at the end of life

Still, maybe even figuring out a way to finally destroy the troublesome PU Band once and for all will not be enough.

Let's take for granted the above handwriting on a web page in the internet will be ignored. :-)
To be clear, this essay isn't quite the same, as that other writing was a flat out "the end is near", but at least this writing mixes a portent of abundance (even if it may mean the end of PU as it is) with a first draft of a way to reform. :-) But we all know PU is likely not going to listen, or if it does, will likely make some timid step. So, with the value of its stated mythological reason to exist (education) shown wanting in the $100 laptop era compared to educating hundreds of millions of very poor kids, as above, it is only a matter of time before the rest of the death process sets in.

And the end will come. For us all, too. There is no shame in accepting that your time has come to return to the great mystery, and approaching that transition with grace and humility, having lived life to the fullest you could, treating each remaining day as the gift it is.

What little thing can PU do to make itself a little happier a place until the end comes if it does not change course now?

One hopefully helpful source of ideas is an offshoot of the Dignitarian movement:
    "Dignity Therapy: A Novel Psychotherapeutic Intervention for Patients Near
the End of Life"

One of the most confounding challenges faced by end-of-life care providers is helping patients achieve or maintain a sense of dignity. Our prior studies of dignity and end-of-life care have shown a strong association between an undermining of dignity and depression, anxiety, desire for death, hopelessness, feeling of being a burden on others, and overall poorer quality of life. Yet, dying with dignity is usually only vaguely understood; hence, although the pursuit of dignity frequently underlies various approaches to end-of-life care, its therapeutic implications are frequently uncertain.

So, how can we help PU at least die with dignity if it will not reform?

You can probably guess I spent a lot of time in nursing homes with my Mom while all the people in them (whether old or young, whether infirm or visitor or volunteer or paid caretaker) were suffering increased indignities due in part to money indirectly siphoned off from these places to support the Iraq war disaster. :-( And all that suffering in the USA has been for *worse* than nothing:

The UN secretary general has said that most Middle East leaders regard the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath as a disaster for the region.
Sad to see my mom take it on the chin for war twice -- both as a teenager in WWII (her house was firebombed, many in her community starved) and then again at the end of her life for Iraq. Also described some here:
    "A rant on financial obesity and Project Virgle & an ironic disclosure :-)"

I'm glad I had the "free" time every once in a while to visit with my mom. One metaphor came to me as I would sit with my Mother (after probably having done more medical intervention than we should have for her :-( ), after having wheeled her in her reclining chair outside into a little circular court to get some sunlight, near where cars and ambulances and delivery vehicles came and went at the nursing home entrance. As I sat on a bench besides her, one day it occurred to me that this felt a lot like waiting at a bus stop for a bus to pull up. Sadder, of course, but still in some ways the same. And I realized, there can be a lot of human worth in just waiting with someone -- just waiting for the bus together, even if only one person is going on a trip just then. And a lot can happen even while you are just waiting. My child took some first steps in the court there on the grass, while we all spent time there together in the sun. I got a lot of insight into life and death just waiting with her. One can call it waiting, or one can call it partying too, I guess. :-) As much as an eighty year old woman with dementia and an oxygen tank who is starting to wonder who you are can party. :-) But she still might surprise you with a smile. :-) She was one tough old bird; I can only hope I inherited some of that. After I got an urgent call, I waited with her in her room through one night, holding her hand, and into what was her final hour. Not that she could probably understand me, but I repeated something from hospice literature that there is a difference between "giving up" and "letting go". The nurses brought me some lunch (and seemed happier to be doing *something* ) near the end. I didn't really want it, even though I was a little hungry, but thought I would eat some of it to at least be polite and not waste it (wasting food was a big deal to my Mom). Plus I thought I would be there for days. But you never know when the Angel of Death (if there is such a thing) will arrive for any of us, to give us one last helping hand getting on the bus out of here and to who knows where. That bus schedule isn't published. So in the short time I turned away and ate most of what was listed on the menu as "Hahvahd Beets", my mom died as her heart finally stopped. Somehow, that timing seems appropriate in retrospect. Having watched people starve to death, I'm sure somehow (at least, metaphorically) it made my mom happy to see me eating, even as she breathed her last. And something "Hahvahd", too. :-) She was always a bit of a snob (I inherited that too, sadly) -- but bless her anyway for her trying to help her family and others as best she could. :-) You would not think someone with dementia and two types of incontinence could still be a snob, but it is possible -- sometimes it is all you have left. :-( She surprisingly became more generous the less she had -- proud to give to us gifts others had given her. Of all the things she has given me, in some ways I treasure those little trinkets most of all. Unlike the death of my still mentally sharp and independent father from a heart attack about three years earlier, my mother's death, after fifteen or so years of slow descent into dementia, felt very different -- since my family had been in a sense grieving her loss one ability at a time for a very long time.
We came back to thank her caregivers after she died, but had trouble finding them all as there was a big "Elvis" event happening right on that court, with loud music and lots of happy sounds and much of the staff. We didn't want to bring them down. I wish I could remember what song we heard as we pulled away in the car, but I remember it was an uplifting and appropriate one:
My wife thinks it might have been "Love Me Tender":

In some sense, we are all terminally ill from the day we are conceived. :-) Even our institutions. :-) (I have such an amazing wife to put up with my sunny optimism, don't I? :-)

Some might disagree from a post-singularity perspective:
    "Ray Kurzweil's Plan: Never Die"
Of course, it may take Kurzweil a billion years (literally :-) to discover this, but death is inescapably a part of life, because life is change. If Kurzweil tries not to die ever, he will have to stop changing. And then he is dead already. That is not to say embrace death any quicker than it comes way down the road after a full life (if for no other reason than how it effects friends and family), but it is to say that death is part of life, the other side of the coin so to speak. Try to take away one side of a coin and what do you have? Nothing. So we are left figuring out for ourselves and our communities how to live *and* die with dignity.

What sort of indignities is PU inflicting on itself and its community as it dies?

For one thing, the alternative proposal above completely ignores restorative justice for all the alumni, like Phil Goldman, who may have also suffered personally at the hands of the institution in the past. And for any part I played in that, Phil, I'm deeply sorry. As I am also sorry to anyone else I may have harmed (and I can think of many stupid or thoughtless or insensitive and thus hurtful things I did, sadly, but I won't risk reinjuring anyone by bringing them up -- but I am truly sorry).

As I knew him, Phil was generally a nice guy even as he was competitive and sometimes sarcastic, but then that could probably have been said of me at the time too. And he might well have been nicer than me then. He was probably much smarter in most ways. :-) He was certainly much better at the "Defender" video game in PIC than I was, or probably anyone else I knew. Aside from seeing him at reunions once or twice by chance, we did not in any way keep in touch. So I have no idea what a wonderful person in other ways he might have become as a spouse or parent. He did object when I snuck in to the '86 fifth year class picture, :-) and quite right technically I should not have been in it (even starting at the same time), but, as with me, sometimes it could be hard to tell with Phil if he was serious or joking, and I ended up being in it as others rallied to my inclusion and he conceded the point. In some ways, maybe suggesting I be excluded was his way of including me? :-) And maybe, on reflection decades later, seeing him spend so much time at "Defender" was another reason I did not make a new version of the game I wrote, and in that sense he helped save me from a career writing such things? You never could tell with Phil. He was a complex and amazingly bright guy.

People grow, as I have; not to grow in one way or another is almost impossible while you live. I do not know who Phil became, nor who he would be now had he lived a longer life. Or who he might have become had he read this essay. Or even if he might have written it first. :-) After all, his fortune was made developing small networked handheld devices at General Magic and then making access to the internet easier for more people via WebTV. I may or may not agree 100% with Alfie Kohn, but I'd certainly agree that the ethical and practical framework we put around any competition in our lives is something to think deeply about. As well as the fact that Theodore Sturgeon, with his short story, "The Skills of Xanadu", has us both beat by 50 years anyway in discussing the future of technology, so why compete? :-) We will never know what the two of us working together, along with others, might have accomplished for a "free" world -- had people helped point us in that direction at PU. :-(

And of course I met people who would be living financial successes (Jeff Bezos and others), and students whose families had less assets (some dropped out, some didn't) and even one guy who dropped out for a time to take a great paying job to help support his family and then returned. And likely all are different people now then when I knew them from campus.

Phil's career at PU starting across the hall from mine is just a strange coincidence perhaps, and maybe his death was just the random bad luck of a weak heart no matter how he lived his life. As the link near the beginning of this essay to the American Heart Association suggests, no one knows for sure -- the evidence is at best just suggestive (which means it's still a mystery). And maybe our interactions our mutual first year at PU had nothing to do with anything. Maybe I read way too much into just a random coincidence. I hope so. We will never know for sure about the role competitiveness promoted via Princeton University played in Phil's death. But I can't help but wonder, if Princeton had been a gentler and more cooperative family, or me a gentler and more collaborative person then, might Phil still be with us now? We will never know.

A I gradually understand more about the connection between vitamin D and heart disease, let me plot out Phil's murder, point by point, as a hypothetical overzelous District Attorney trying to pin the blame for Phil's early death on somebody.

Phil starts out aspiring, otherwise he would not have gone to someplace like Princeton, when California had a great public college system at the time like at Berkeley. Phil is surrounded by other aspiring people like myself at PU, but in a twisted context that prizes individual achievement and competition, and does not emphasize cooperation or balance. Princeton in that sense is an Ivy League ant hill. Phil and I are formed by Princeton University into (as Mr. Furious of the Mystery Men suggested) "little automaton droids"; essentially from our years at PU, we pupate from human beings into ants who go off programmed by PU to find and bring back money to the colony. Phil succeeds at bringing back a lot of money to PU, and I don't, but PU is playing the odds, it knows everyone won't bring back lots of money. Phil dies shortly after endowing a chair in Computer Science as the youngest alumni to ever do so (he was an amazing guy). PU doesn't really care about Phil's death (or whatever becomes of someone like me if I were to die trying to bring money back to PU) because there are always more ants. What does any ant colony care about the loss of one ant or even many in the pursuit of more resources for itself? So, in that sense, PU set up both both Phil and me to die in pursuit of profit for itself. So, there we have "motive" by PU as an institution.

But what was the actual "method" of the murder itself? Where is the smoking gun? In the process of being sent out as extremly competitive unbalanced people, and working with computers, both Phil and I spend an awful lot of time indoors, becoming vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency is now epidemic in the USA; here is how to treat it:
And it doesn't help that we both don't eat right or exercise enough (especially outdoors), which we might do if we pursued more balance in our lives or devoted time to things like health research instead of always striving to beat out some other person. But PU never encouraged us to be any different than what it recruited us for, "excellence" which can be seen as another word for "extremism". And the stress of all that, being that kind of hyper-competitive extremely unbalanced ant, acknowledged or not, damages both of our bodies in various ways (including blood pressure issues). And so we both become at risk for physical heart disease, in large part because of metaphysical and mythological heart disease that Princeton itself suffers from. And so Phil succumbs to it first, maybe having a somewhat weaker heart or having other factors in his life. I'd conjecture, without any evidence, that if Phil's vitamin D level had been measured the day before he died, it would have been zero. And it was that way in large part because of the Princeton community. Not entirely, but a lot.

And somewhere along the line, I got lucky, whether from the Bengali fiancee of a housemate telling me I need more color in my diet, or various other people in my life either directly or through books who helped me become somewhat more balanced, and helped me grow to something beyond a Princeton alumnus ant. My time spent as a stay-at-home Dad, as well as the responsibility of being a health care proxy for my mother, also gives me time and motivation to read up about health issues for my child, which indirectly benefits me, as I learn about vitamin D deficiency, and remediating that helps do things like bring down my blood pressure.

Or maybe I'm still a PU alumni ant, but bringing something unexpected and probably unwelcome back to the colony? Wisdom? The tidings of change? The handwriting on the ant hill wall? In any case, not money. :-) Even as, I predict, if PU followed my off-the-wall advice here, I predict PU would have more money than it knew what to do with, until money ceased to have much importance at all in everyone's day-to-day lives.

Someone pointed out to me the University of Wisconsin has patents related to Vitamin D.
So, were people perhaps denied Vitamin D as an example of a public institution being funded by public dollars privatizing research results? Something Princeton itself does and encourages. If people were somehow getting less Vitamin D because of the societal consequences of patents (including competitivenesses among researchers, but also making techniques to costly to use or delaying their widespread adoption), it is possible the the consequences of proprietary knowledge from just this one issue might have cost our global society many trillions of dollars and untold personal suffering. Enough money to fund endless researchers making more free knowledge. Enough to fund endless chairs of Computer Science, instead of just the one Phil endowed before he died. Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin got a little bit bigger, and so did PU. Obviously, I'm all for the Vitamin D researchers at the University Wisconsin as well as other universities getting all the resources they need to do good work, even Princeton. :-) But, there may be a huge problem here with public funding strategies or research. The proprietary approach to research knowledge may literally have been costing trillions of dollars a year (in current dollars) for decades taken across the globe. For the past fifty years, at two trillion a year in excess medical costs, this might add up to US$100 trillion in excess medical costs due to such medical knowledge being proprietary and researchers not cooperating more. Of course, then the huge public health bills are used to justify *increasing* the proprietary aspects of medical knowledge to create more artificial scarcity -- which is a tremendous and sad irony.

With all those trillions of dollars of wealth we could have had if academics had cooperated and lived more balanced lives and shared their information better, we might have even had Gerry O'Neill's space habitats by now. (Did Gerry O'Neill's fatal cancer also come in part from vitamin D deficiency from him working indoors so much?) But no, rather than space habitats for everyone, PU got one more CS chair that it can boast about.

So, all these issues related to competition added up and murdered Phil Goldman. Vitamin D deficiency and other factors from lack of balance in life may have been the smoking gun (I speculate), but competition pulled the trigger -- competition amplified by Princeton University culture.

That was the part about the murder mystery, except, as I said at the start, it isn't very funny. :-(

Or maybe there are two PU-"mediated" ones here? :-( The other being with George Mueller, but in his case, vitamin D deficiency or some other thing out of balance contributing to depression and then his suicide? And a culture of competition and "individual excellence" making it impossible for Dean Mueller to reach out? It is also ironically sad that George Mueller's death is used by the university as an occasion to celebrate the competitive extremist values that may have killed him. At least the part recognizing athletecism might help get more people out in the sunshine -- but even then, as Alfie Kohn suggests, rewards may *diminish* intrinsic interest in something. So, giving someone an award for going outside may contribute to them doing less of it. So, the reward idea itself is broken.

And maybe, if one explored that issue, one will find murder after murder in this sense of PU students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Now that I think about it, my first or second year at PU a student died in their room of a heart attack in the Princeton Inn College. Could that too have been from lack of sunlight and getting enough vitamin D by someone who was a nose-to-the-grindstone too much time inside type of person? Of course, to be fair to PU, there are aspects of PU that do try to counter that -- Outdoor Action, caring Resident Advisors, intramural sports, individual good faculty examples, and many others. But all these individuals and relatively small programs are set against a broader context, as well as related to admissions standards, that may thwart them.

This problem is not unique to PU, but it may be most extreme at a place like PU. But for another possible example at a different university, speculating again, was the brother of Sun-Kyung Cho '04, Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, vitamin D deficient because he was embedded in an academic culture there that was also unbalanced? Was Seung-Hui Cho encouraged enough by that institution to spend time cooperating together with friends in the sunlight? Or was Seung-Hui Cho encouraged in other ways to find balance, eat well, and take care of himself and those around him? Did such a deficiency and imbalance contribute to his actions and direct murders of others besides himself? Virginia Tech might be liable in all those ways for failing to prevent that tragic incident, but instead, the "lesson learned" seems to be more about how could campus security have gotten there sooner to stop Seung-Hui Cho after all that? Is there a way academic institutions can address that as a core problem, rather than promote more guns on campus, increase the ongoing war on difference in our culture, and do even more profiling and grading of people on campus? Prevention is almost always cheaper than "cure". But we need to think deeply about what we are preventing and what we are nurturing.

Between people spending more time indoors at computer screens and other devices, dermatologists suggesting well-meaningingly to avoid the sun, people driving more instead of walking or bicycling, and better window glass that lets in less UV-B that could fade carpets, between all these things, vitamin D deficiency is now epidemic in the USA. As indicated at these two web sites run by medical doctors and scientists:
Apparently the US RDA for vitamin D was set decades ago for healthy bones, not a healthy brain or a healthy immune system or a healthy heart. And to make it worse, even though too much vitamin D can be bad for you, for most people the acceptable levels are far higher than the safe upper level usually indicated, as discussed here:
And vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many issues like cancer, autism, obesity, diabetes, depression, schizophrenia, and heart disease. And vitamin D deficiency is generally worse if you have darker skin, something all such PU professionals who spend a lot of time indoors need to think about:
    "Why Michelle Obama is More Likely to Die From Breast Cancer than Hillary Clinton"

If all you get from this is that you should get your vitamind D levels checked and supplement to get the right level, that would be a good thing. But the importance of vitamin D has been know about for decades. Vitamin D was even known to help prevent tooth decay before flouride became popularized, but it was not advocated for (maybe flouride had less patents?). The real deep issue here is, with all that brainpower at PU and the rest of the Ivy league, and all those pre-meds, why was such a simple thing forgotten, and why have so many suffered because of that, including probably Phil and me? Why has vitamin D deficiency been costing our global society maybe a trillion dollars a year directly through medical costs (and far more indirectly), because people do not have enough sunlight and balance in their lives? What is deeply wrong with PU and our society that we let that happen, that we forgot the basics? Or that we did not even really explore them or put them together in a systematic way? How can we fix that? How can we cure the metaphysical and mythological heart disease that Princeton University suffers from? How can we help Princeton University to tell different stories to itself about itself and what it wants to be? Well, this story here is a start. But it is just a start.

To be clear, there are no doubt a lot of factors in anyone's life and death. Extreme "fat free" diets like Phil was interested in have been linked to heart arrhythmias.

What about heart healthy eating? Nutrition data is confusing at best. Unfortunately, the medical community has been telling us for years to eat a low fat diet for heart health. Well, the number one cause of death is now cardiac! When people went to low fat, they went ALL the way! Good fats are now found to be necessary for your body's heart health.
Excess carbohydrates (to replace fats) in the diet are converted by the body to fat, especially when we are under stress, which can lead to other health issues from excess body fat or from missing key nutrients that are fat-soluble (including vitamin D) or converted by bile (which the body produces to digest fatty foods, but also helps convert beta-carotene from vegetables to vitamin A as needed). The human body needs good fats in some balanced proportion to be healthy because a big part of the body is fat -- whether cell walls or parts of the brain. So, vitamin D is probably not the only issues here. For more on how to have a balanced health-promoting diet (one I'm currently exploring, which emphasises a balanced "nutritarian" style of eating, heavy on the vegetables, especially things like kale, but also including good fats from nuts and seeds), see Dr. Joel Fuhrman's web site (a nutrition-based M.D. who practices not far from Princeton).
Phil was interested in his health, but with a competitive Princeton background, perhaps he did not have the time to explore all the issues to make much of that aspiration, or the social encouragement towards moderation in all things (even moderation) or towards making health and health related research more of a priority? And with so much competition in our society over selling products or for research grants, it is hard to sort out fact from distortion even when you try to be as healthy as you can. I too fell for a while for the oversimplistic meme "fat makes you fat", where the results of such a diet for most people is to get fat, since carbohydrates can make you fat, too, with related ill-health effects, especially if you miss other essential nutrients from your diet (or from sunlight). So, there are a whole web of issues here, both individual and societal, even if vitamin D deficiency and competetion might be very big ones. Still, am I being fair to Phil? Maybe, maybe not. Consider this quote from a 1999 article about him:,1902,7965,00.html
Wealth and prestige haven't changed Goldman much, according to Perlman. He still dresses every day in a well-worn button-down shirt, sometimes tattered blue jeans, a sweater tied around the waist, no socks and penny loafers. And he still works hard. "For me, it's really about leaving a legacy," said Goldman. "Some people can make so much money that their legacy is being rich. That's not for me. If you put yourself in the right place, build the right relationships, you can make a positive impact on the world."
Sounds like just a really nice guy to me. And such a loss to his family and the world, whatever the reason.

But regardless of my own importance or more likely insignificance in Phil Goldman's life and death, there remains a lot of truth to what Jeff Gordinier '88 wrote in the current issue of PAW (linked above). Again, for emphasis:

Upon acceptance to Princeton you're introduced to a family where the siblings constantly are comparing themselves to each other, and Mom and Pop Nassau are in no rush to stop it.
Any prospective student has to ask, is that really the future I want to help maintain and extend these days? Any prospective student has to ask, how can I work towards John Lennon's "Imagine" universe instead of Marshall Brain's dystopia? And is that the kind of place where I want to spend four years of my youth? (Or two or three years for transfer students. :-) I think this whole thing of urging the younger generation on to suffer in collapsing institutions in order to maybe reform them someday is getting pretty old. Or maybe just I am? :-) (*)

The most insightful thing I ever heard at lunch at a research lab: "We hire the most competitive students from the most competitive schools, and then we wonder why they have trouble working together." So the competitive myths guiding Princeton University, flagship brand of global capitalism, are a problem even now, and have been for a long time, at least as far as innovation is concerned.

Can the PU brand mean *anything* in a world wealthy enough through advanced automation and (someday, I hope) global disarmament, to give diverse apparent slackers (like PU's Andrew Wiles :-) and their families a free ride on the basics out of at least "pity", instead of inventing all sorts of ways (including grades and money and performance reviews) to compel them to "work"? If so, can the Princeton University brand then be somehow renewed to fit into such an emerging post-scarcity society based mostly on abundance and cooperation? As the Zen Farmer said, "Maybe". But these are certainly issues for the PU community to think about IMHO.

And ironically, that changeover might even help produce more successful alumni to be tapped as donors (not that money might matter much soon anyway :-):

Scientific American has an interesting article
on the secret to raising smart kids that says that more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings. In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of ability depresses motivation more than does the belief that lack of effort is to blame. One theory of what separates the two general classes of learners, helpless versus mastery-oriented, is that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different "theories" of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount. Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. Mastery-oriented children think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating offering opportunities to learn.

As a beginning towards restorative justice from PU for the alumni and indirectly others it has harmed, I suggest the PU alumni classes be expanded to include topics related to post-scarcity and the value of cooperation. When people have car wrecks they often have to take a driver's ed class before they get their license back. Perhaps any "successful" alumni (financially obese or not) should be required to at least attend one of these courses (on campus or via the internet) before they receive any more issues of PAW? :-) Or maybe we should just hope they come around after reading enough issues of PAW about all the new exciting and "Risky Business" changes happening at their old and yet renewed alma mater?

Maybe we can get some other ideas here, BTW:

Maybe you will eventually start asking, who misled you or misinformed you and why? The Gatto quote at the start has a lot to say on that. But in the end, maybe the answer to that question doesn't matter -- and Gatto also suggests it was in a sense a "conspiracy against ourselves".

We need to understand the degree of our own complicity in this school trap and the hidden payoffs that allow it to happen so effortlessly. For instance, we are promised we needn't trouble ourselves with thinking about what having an "education" would mean; we are promised freedom from the weighty responsibility of rearing our own children; we are promised freedom from the responsibility of making ourselves really useful to others in our youthful years so that we can earn a living later being useful. (Instead, the promise says, "Get good grades by being obedient in school and jobs or professional licenses will be reserved for you later on.") When we accept these promises, we enter the conspiracy and conspire against our own best interests.
For most people the bribes listed above, and others, are lies. ... When the result is lifelong dependence on newspapers, radio, TV, or computer programs for direction, bad families whose members are indifferent or disloyal to one another, and workplace instability and lifelong scrambling to hold on to a rung of the overcrowded job ladder, we must pronounce ourselves "losers" in the great race -- as most of us eventually conclude.
The trick is to see that all overorganized systems, whatever their surface justifications, steal our possibilities to become whole people, and by leaving us permanently incomplete, as functions in the system, rob us of our lives.

But that all is mostly in the past, or soon will be, like when most people thought the Earth was flat, and then more and more learned they lived on a sphere, and could even maybe leave it for other spheres and such. Time to move on past conventional finite scarcity economics to potentially infinite post-scarcity economics. Even the Roman Catholic church came around eventually on the whole "the Earth is the center of the universe" thing.
So, I still hold out some hope for even the PU economics department in relation to the whole "money is the center of the universe" thing (instead of perhaps the seemingly inexhaustible human imagination. :-)

But we may have to go through a decade or two of this first:

In 1616, a board of theologians for the Roman church discussed the new Copernican theory. The result of that deliberation was an official decree stating that to say the sun is at the centre of the world and immovable is 'foolish and absurd' and 'formally heretical'; and to say that the Earth moves is similarly foolish and 'erroneous in the faith'. Sixteen years later Galileo Galilei faced the Inquisition on charges of heresy because of his belief in that same theory. He was ordered to renounce his heretical opinions - that is, to state that he firmly believed that the Earth did not move - and was sentenced to a prison term with penance.

Or, as satire, :-)

In 2008, a board of [trustees] for [Princeton University] discussed the new [Post-Scarcity] theory. The result of that deliberation was an official decree stating that to say the [human imagination] is at the centre of the world and [inexhaustible] is 'foolish and absurd' and 'formally heretical'; and to say that [money and most rationing is no longer necessary] is similarly foolish and 'erroneous in the faith'. Sixteen years later [Paul Krugman? :-) ] faced the [Faculty Senate] on charges of heresy because of his belief in that same theory. He was ordered to renounce his heretical opinions - that is, to state that he firmly believed that [money was the center of all things] - and was sentenced to [loss of his parking permit, assuming he has tenure? :-)] with penance.

A change of heart is always possible (at least, metaphorically)

And to end on a positive note, it is not too late for even Donald Rumsfeld '54 to have a change of heart and become a better person. Consider the recent comments by an architect and overseer of the Vietnam War:

Their main focus would be defined by McNamara's growing conviction that ''each of us could have achieved our geopolitical objectives without that terrible loss of life,'' that both sides missed concrete chances to end the fighting during his tenure as Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968.

And the original namesake for the highest office of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) is Tadodaho, whose names means "snakes entangled". Tadodaho committed murders of the Peacemaker's daughters before he reformed and became a great leader of the people, working for the common good. So, I can still have hope for Donald Rumsfeld as a person, even as I can have hope for a new Princeton University brand, with all the same old buildings and alumni but operating according to post-scarcity myths.

This book on a recent Tadodaho has a great paragraph on the difference between celebrating peacemakers like Marty Johnson and warriors like Donald Rumsfeld:
  "To Become a Human Being: The Message of Tadodaho Chief Leon Shenandoah"

Warriors are held up as heroes. They are praised for their gallantry, exalted for their conquests, and used as symbols to inspire patriotism. Monuments are built for them as reminders of past victories and to prepare citizens for the next campaign. Leon Shenandoah was no warrior, yet no warrior could stand up against his power. He carried no weapons, used no harsh rhetoric, and made no demands. His strength was in gentleness. When he spoke, those around him listened. His words were always soft, his kindness evident. He was a spiritual man.

So I still have hopes the Marty Johnsons will outweigh the Donald Rumsfelds in the end. But it's going to take a change of heart to do that, likely preceded by a change of PU mythology.

To any PU prospectives who stuck with this essay all the way -- in the end, "Good luck" is all I can say, since as I outlined we live in "interesting times".
Yet, I remain hopeful for abundance for all someday -- and a bit more abundance for all every day thereafter.

Even if Princeton changes not at all and ends up in a nursing home for old infirm universities, I'd still visit. :-) I proposed to my wife in Prospect Garden by the statue in the fountain (we're both Sagittarius, and we were driving through New Jersey by chance :-),
and she's the best blessing that ever happened to me. She went to Clarion as an undergrad by the way,
and worked her way through school. :-) I am thankful for all the gifts she has given me, including time to write this essay. So if Princeton becomes a better place from this essay, don't thank me, thank my wife, thank Clarion, and thank her parents (who raised seven great kids, she being next to last, all of whom they gave the gift of chores and who all felt proud to help out). Next time you see someone whose parents had to pick which child got braces (my wife wasn't picked), think that maybe they'll be the person to save you from yourself. Or your own personal mythology.

There was that one myth left. And see what a better person I am for having gotten past the same quest for "perfection" to arbitrary standards that got me into Princeton in the first place? And, thus, I can also accept that Princeton University is an imperfect institution run by imperfect people often trying very hard under difficult and ambiguous circumstances to do good things along the lines of the myths they believe in, and that the imperfect university and imperfect alumni communities do indeed manage to do some imperfect good in an imperfect world. My thanks go to the PAW staff for no doubt working very hard to provide something imperfect for me to chew on, the same as I hope this imperfect essay written by an imperfect person will provide something for others to chew on. :-)

Still, it has taken me to this fifteenth year of marriage, and many years after the death of my own loving father whose actions annoyed me sometimes, to begin to see each dirty dish she leaves on the kitchen table not as cause for annoyance but as a reminder of how lucky I am she in is my life. :-)

For the record, this is all part of why I always politely decline interviewing prospective students in my area. :-)

--Paul Fernhout, Princeton '85 *88
May 2008

(*)P.S. But even as to my own aging, "hot for WordNet" George Miller is still an inspiration -- starting new world changing things like WordNet in his 60s and seeing them through via hard work well into his 80s. Maybe he takes his own inspiration from something like this:
    "Aging innovators know it: Amazing ideas aren't the only way to go"

The ability to come up with brilliant new ideas tends to decline with age, but that's no problem for people whose innovations aren't dependent on brilliant ideas. They're innovators who are experimental, rather than conceptual. For them, aging isn't such a handicap, since they typically improve with experience. But they do face a particular problem of their own: People tend to forget that they exist.
So even for older alumni, it's not to late to begin something new that is a world changing gift. And not with me (I'm too busy raising my kid for "free") -- think of your own free gift to the world and just do it with all the talents you still have to offer. Take something you care about (music, dance, wine, food) and make at least some part of it free somehow, either the related knowledge or the related training or a related physical object. Or, if you are not that creative, make it "cheap". :-) Help change the world (back) to an "Imagine" society one myth at a time.

P.P.S. Coincidentally, from the advertising on a bag of dog treats I went to throw out the other day early into this essay:
"PAWS Chews promote dental hygiene while satisfying your dog's natural urge to chew."
Maybe "PAW" the magazine serves a similar intellectual hygiene purpose for people like me. :-) And for that, I am thankful to all of you who volunteer your free time at PAW. And I am also thankful to any greater force or forces that may on occasion help guide your hands and minds at PAW, as well as to such forces if they exist that may sometime guide me too, by coincidence, whether the same or different ones, :-) to enable all of us be of voluntary service to a great mystery. In any case, thanks for the inspiration.

P.P.P.S. I knew the web-centered IM generation would read to the end if it really mattered to their future lives, whether or not there was sex and money and death discussed here. I know many of them are not that shallow. I wish somebody had written something like this for me when I was contemplating college. I just could not discuss post-scarcity Princeton without also discussing sex, money, and death. The teasers were gratuitous and purely for my own amusement, sorry. :-( Or maybe for the amusement of the faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni, who have enough dry stuff to read already. :-) Well, except the murder mystery stuff, which is not intended to be amusing. :-( But that is why it is a "tragicomedy".

P.P.P.P.S. OK, maybe I'm also getting even with my undergrad advisor for having given me grades, by bringing up my past student association with him, and embarrassing him with praise -- although probably not embarrassing him by a discussion of his sex life, given he *was* the President of the American Psychological Association. :-) (When I asked just to be sure, he said he and his late wife would not object to such references anyway. :-)

I'm not complaining about the specific grades he picked for me (which were generous, especially as a less imaginative professor might have flunked me. :-) I'm referring more to the act of participating in the entire (de)grading process itself of turning people into numbers:
as opposed to the narrative and conversational evaluations he did of my work, which I have no problem with and were very helpful. :-) Giving grades to people is kind of like when someone else talks about your sex life in public -- the whole process creates anxiety. And psychologists have shown that anxiety beyond a certain amount (depending on the task and the degree of expertise) harms performance, especially creative performance.

Research has found that different tasks require different levels of arousal for optimal performance. For example, difficult or intellectually demanding tasks may require a lower level of arousal (to facilitate concentration), whereas tasks demanding stamina or persistence may be performed better with higher levels of arousal (to increase motivation).
Still, I should cut him some slack considering how his career as an experimental psychologist showed a progression from associating numbers with human subjects and students like me :-) to building free content and free software for the world as WordNet. That is something that happened mostly during his "retirement" which goes to show the value of free time for personal growth, doing good deeds, relaxed sustainable progress, and sidestepping hard ethical choices -- if an imaginative guy like George Miller didn't give me a "grade", who would instead? I'm going to make a wild speculation here -- and some might call even the idea of such a comparison unfair, and I'd agree -- but what if there were people in the academic system, who like in Underground Railroad days, moved creative people through at personal risk even when those people deserved by the system's rules to flunk? What if the very success of academia is due more to this underground process than all the grades ever handed out put together? :-) But in the end, the Underground Railway did not abolish slavery by itself.

And I too, unfortunately, have done too much (de)grading myself, as when I taught programming to Biology majors at SUNY Stony Brook as a graduate student, which will no doubt come back to me someday too as bad Karma. :-( Which maybe I am trying to work off in advance. :-)

P.P.P.P.P.S. I hope I'm not giving away the world's most closely guarded secret with next speculation, but as Princeton is one of the few universities where the student body as a whole is more conservative that the faculty, perhaps Princeton's whole reason to exist up to now is actually to attract and reform conservative, competitive, money-driven and status-driven people (as I was to an extent when I came) into people more like I am now? :-) Even at a risk of suicide? :-( But, maybe it is time to move beyond that finally and let, say, Swarthmore, pick up the slack? :-) Since, obviously, if Princeton transcends, then the applicant pool might change. And the faculty, quoting Manuel de Landa, will have then spend all their time saying:
    "Meshworks, Hierarchies, and Interfaces"

To make things worse, the solution to this is not simply to begin adding meshwork components to the mix. Indeed, one must resist the temptation to make hierarchies into villains and meshworks into heroes, not only because, as I said, they are constantly turning into one another, but because in real life we find only mixtures and hybrids, and the properties of these cannot be established through theory alone but demand concrete experimentation. Certain standardizations, say, of electric outlet designs or of data-structures traveling through the Internet, may actually turn out to promote heterogenization at another level, in terms of the appliances that may be designed around the standard outlet, or of the services that a common data-structure may make possible. On the other hand, the mere presence of increased heterogeneity is no guarantee that a better state for society has been achieved. After all, the territory occupied by former Yugoslavia is more heterogeneous now than it was ten years ago, but the lack of uniformity at one level simply hides an increase of homogeneity at the level of the warring ethnic communities. But even if we managed to promote not only heterogeneity, but diversity articulated into a meshwork, that still would not be a perfect solution. After all, meshworks grow by drift and they may drift to places where we do not want to go. The goal-directedness of hierarchies is the kind of property that we may desire to keep at least for certain institutions. Hence, demonizing centralization and glorifying decentralization as the solution to all our problems would be wrong. An open and experimental attitude towards the question of different hybrids and mixtures is what the complexity of reality itself seems to call for. To paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, never believe that a meshwork will suffice to save us.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. It was really serendipitous (or not, depending on your perspective) that that particular issue of PAW had so much good material to draw from coincidental with writing this. Of course, now that the next issue of PAW has arrived as I continue to tinker here and there, this essay is completely obsolete. :-) The next PAW would have suggested a different organization as the president's page is "Coming to Grips with High-Risk Drinking".
Not as good a topic to organize around as "Jumping From the Ivory Tower", but still lots of room there for an exploration of the PU collective unconscious, unfortunately. :-( I'd probably ramble on about how PU was denying the problems it had as an institution given Goodstein's Big Crunch and an emerging post-scarcity society and the fundamental PU mission of alienation to forge an elite. I'd suggest PU was "projecting"
by instead saying the problems with drinking were entirely the fault of the individuals who drank too much or some anomalous "high risk drinking culture" as President Tilghman references in her letter or a committee brings up in a referenced report:
    "Alcohol Coalition Committee Strategic Plan"
The report discusses some aspects of the "how" of the drinking problem (including "Students regularly report consuming alcohol because of strong pressures to succeed socially"
as if falling over in your own vomit somehow was a good thing socially.) But the deeper "why" of the self-destructiveness of the drinking individuals as caused by the entire PU institution and its even larger social context is not discussed, of course. As in the old USSR, you can criticize individuals, but you can never criticize the system. Again I'd harp on "elitism" == "alienation", "competition" == "destructiveness", and "excellence" == "dissatisfaction" (as well as "perfectionism" and "excessive self-criticism"). I'd ramble about what I had seen of excessive drinking on campus (including young women staggering drunk across campus alone) and how sad it was so much club money went to alcohol (for example, the only way a new high quality ping pong table could be justified for one club I was in was it had a better waterproof surface for "beer pong"). I'd draw parallels to the drug war in the USA as a "blame the victim" thing for all the depressed kids (and also talk about the oil industry and publishing industry tie-ins to banning hemp). I'd talk about how it was gin, not oil, that was the real "lubricant" of the industrial revolution that incidentally or on purpose destroyed communities. If I had more time and energy, I could probably do this analysis for every issue until they stopped coming. :-) Or until PAW and PU changed to be more self-reflective and to embrace more up-to-date and life-affirming ideals in these times of rapid change. But the first essay is fun to write (even if saddening too), the rest are probably not fun, and probably unneeded. Less is also more -- a better improvement would be to take the core ideas in here and produce shorter works around individual themes or to re-conceive of their presentation as song, poetry, fiction, movies, half-time shows, public service commercials, and so on. But then maybe we are back to all the things I have already seen that helped inspire this essay? :-) Although maybe there is always room for more, and attempts to say old things in new ways, or at least, culturally current ways. Good luck, PU people; what few bridges I still had to you are probably now burned, sadly, as that was not my intention, but you can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. :-( This essay in that sense in just one more leap of faith (faith in the potential value of long-term prosperity for humanity and maybe even PU too. :-)


This essay is dedicated to the bravest faculty member I ever met at Princeton, and the only one without a PhD: Professor Steve Slaby.

Steve M. Slaby, professor of engineering at Princeton, 1953-1991, served as the second (and final) chair of the Graphics and Engineering Drawing Department, 1962-1968. Slaby was also one of the University's few political activists, opposing U.S. involvement in Vietnam and University investment in South Africa, and promoting student and faculty liberties.

OK, so I met and liked Freeman Dyson too, and he also doesn't have a PhD, but technically he is not a faculty member at Princeton University. :-) In his words:

Your precious PhD or whichever degree you went through long years of hard work to acquire may be worth less than you think. Your specialized training may become obsolete. You may find yourself overqualified for the available jobs. You may be declared redundant. The country and the culture to which you belong may move far away from the mainstream. But those misfortunes are also opportunities. It's always open to you to join the heretics and find another way to make a living. With or without a PhD there are big and important problems for you to solve.

But I would think both would say people such as themselves would never get the chance now that they got way back when, before the "Big Crunch" of academia in the 1970s David Goodstein, Vice Provost of Caltech describes:

I'd also dedicate this to my undergraduate advisor, who does have a PhD, just for being a good human being in the end anyway, and for doing his best for me as a troubled student, but I think that might embarrass him. :-) Or George's assistant, Pamela Wakefield, who was always a joy to talk with, and so also enabled both George's career and mine. :-)

I'd even also maybe dedicate it to my graduate advisor, who was brave to take a chance on me a couple of times, and who I still think is an overall good guy with great plans for making the world a better place one car at a time. But again, that would probably just embarrass him. At least he has tenure, so you can't fire him for taking me on if you figure out who he is. :-)

None of these people should be considered in any way responsible for these opinions (even though in a sense they and many others probably all are, in one way or another. :-)

But maybe I should really most dedicate this essay to my loving and beloved father, who died six years ago in his sleep in his mid 80s of an enlarged heart; I still think of him and his love every day, especially now that I have a child to love and learn from in my own life. And I also think on the loving care my father provided at home for more than a decade to my mother as she slipped into dementia, while needing three or four insulin shots a day (and while she denied she had diabetes). As one doctor said about my mom not having major diabetic complications during all that time, "You can't pay for that kind of care". Right after he died, I couldn't even last three weeks filling his shoes taking care of my mother (she would get up frequently in the middle of the night and need assistance walking to the toilet) until I essentially collapsed from exhaustion (and even given I had some help from a sibling). It's still amazing what old sailors can do "for free" when they care.

About the Author

Obviously, in some ways, this entire essay is "about the author" as I'm sure critics will gleefully point out, and they would be right. :-)

Still, as John Taylor Gatto suggests here:
    "The Underground History of American Education"

I want to open up concealed aspects of modern schooling such as the deterioration it forces in the morality of parenting. You have no say at all in choosing your teachers. You know nothing about their backgrounds or families. And the state knows little more than you do. This is as radical a piece of social engineering as the human imagination can conceive. What does it mean?
I won't answer Gatto's questin here (though the rest of the essay in a sense does explore that question of meaning, as does his writings which inform this essay), But, I will say a little more about my own educational and philosophical/religious background and other life-transforming experiences.

My affiliation with PU? I was class of 1985 as an undergraduate majoring in Psychology (but a transfer student from SUNY Stony Brook, so I got through Princeton in three years, which is regrettable in many ways, but maybe saved some money. Or maybe my life? About a year after graduation, I was a staff member for about a year helping run a PU robotics lab. It was the best "job" I ever had, but I did not appreciate it at the time. And I was a graduate student starting in 1988 in CE&OR, but that lasted only one tumultuous year, and I have no degree from that. I was also a town resident for a year or so afterwards. And, now, long away from campus, I even see PU from new perspectives -- those of citizen and parent. So, I am used to seeing PU from multiple perspectives.

My qualifications for writing this essay? None at all, really. :-) Maybe that's why it was fun to write it? :-) And if it turns out to be useful, my lack of qualifications will also be part of the point. :-)

What you really need is, say, an experienced cultural anthropologist to write this for you. :-) Or maybe even an insightful minister. :-) Or maybe even a world famous historian of technology and politics like PU Prof. Lynn White III (how I regret never taking a course with him or following my original plan as a transfer to be in the Woodrow Wilson School, letting myself be dissuaded by long history reading lists and a competitive application -- in a sense this essay represents the Woody Woo thesis I never got to write :-).

But do you think any of those smart people would be dumb enough (career-wise) to write this? Of course not.

Prof. White's late father (also Lynn White, but Sr., and at PU for a time) could no doubt have written something much better too, perhaps as an extension of his work on technological invention in the Middle Ages. :-),_Jr.

[Lynn White Sr.] believed that the Middle Ages were a decisive period in the genesis of Western technological supremacy, and that the "activist character" of medieval Western Christianity provided the "psychic foundations" of technological inventiveness. He also conjectured that the Christian Middle Ages were the root of ecological crisis in the 20th century, and wrote a highly influential article, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis", published in the journal Science in 1967.
He argued that Judeo-Christian theology was fundamentally exploitative of the natural world because:
      1. The Bible asserts man's dominion over nature and establishes a trend of anthropocentrism.
      2. Christianity makes a distinction between man (formed in God's image) and the rest of creation, which has no "soul" or "reason" and is thus inferior.
He posited that these beliefs have led to an indifference towards nature which continues to impact in an industrial, "post-Christian" world. He concludes that applying more science and technology to the problem won't help, it is humanity's fundamental ideas about nature that must change; they must abandon "superior, contemptuous" attitudes that make them "willing to use it [the earth] for our slightest whim." White suggests adopting St. Francis of Assisi as a model to imagine a "democracy" of creation in which all creatures are respected and man's rule over creation is delimited.
Though in this case, he would have to explore how a new mythology of abundance (or, actually, a return to an old mythology of abundance but with new technology) is beginning to reshape the technological landscape, starting with people like Richard Stallman of GNU and Linus Torvalds of Linux and George Miller of WordNet. Or others going back even further, like Michael S. Hart of Project Gutenberg:
Yet, these people also echo those who contributed to free technology and free content through the ages.

So too perhaps could the late PU Prof. James T. C. Liu write this much better. I took his course on "Chinese Lifestyles and Values", and he certainly understood the changeability of societies over time even as social structures might frequently revolve around common themes. He cautioned us that in most history classes you could afford to stare out the window and miss a few years, but in his, if you stared out the window you might miss a few centuries. :-) He tried to teach his students to make intelligent generalizations. I hope this essay respects what he tried to teach me and his other students, even as I don't think I got an A in his course (nor am I saying I deserved one if they were sensible to hand out. :-)

But sadly, neither of those two people are still with us, except through their past teaching and published scholarship. But I doubt either of them would have been dumb enough to write this either, if they were still alive. :-( It's (usually) much safer, career-wise, to publish about things that are history. Still, when does "history" begin? A thousand years ago? A hundred years ago? Ten years ago? One year ago? Or, yesterday?

So, you're stuck with a muckraker and long winded person like me for now, as I try to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable". :-)
That used to be the mission of newspapers, but somewhere along the line as they were bought up one by one, they mostly stopped doing that.

From Wikipedia: (not a good enough source for an academic paper perhaps, but this isn't one :-)

The term muckraker most associated with a group of American investigative reporters, novelists and critics from the late 1800s to early 1900s, who investigated and exposed societal issues such as conditions in slums and prisons, factories, insane asylums (as they were called at the time), sweatshops, mines, child labor and unsanitary conditions in food processing plants. Muckrakers often wrote about impoverished people and took aim at the established institutions of society, sometimes in a sensationalist and tabloid manner. ... Muckrakers were often accused of being socialists or communists.

See also:
  "Living Sideways: Tricksters in American Indian Oral Traditions"

Native American tricksters can be buffoons, transformers, social critics, teachers, and mediators between human beings, nature, and the gods. A vibrant part of American Indian tradition, the trickster has shown a remarkable ability to adapt into the twenty-first century. In Living Sideways, Franchot Ballinger provides the first full-length study of the diverse roles and dimensions of North American Indian tricksters. While honoring their diversity and complexity, he challenges stereotypical Euro-American treatments of tricksters. Drawing from the most influential scholarship on Native American tricksters, Ballinger shows how many critics have failed to consider both the specifics of trickster stories and their cultural contexts. Each chapter concentrates on a particular aspect of the trickster theme, such as the trickster's ambiguous personality, the variety of trickster roles, and the trickster's role as social critic. Ballinger further considers issues of sex, gender, and humor, the use of trickster tales as instructions on social values and community control, and the trickster as an emblem of modern Indian survival.

I mentioned the sci-fi movie "Silent Running" at the beginning which I saw at the impressionable age of around age ten or so, and which contains multiple murders and a suicide mixed in with robots, biospheric space ships, organic food, gardening, ecology, and politics.


Silent Running is a 1972 ecologically-themed science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull which depicts a future in which all plant life on Earth has been made extinct, except for a few specimens preserved in space in greenhouse domes. When orders come from Earth to jettison and destroy the domes, the ship's botanist (played by actor Bruce Dern) opts instead to send the domes into deep space to save the last remaining plants. In addition to Dern, the film starred Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin and Jesse Vint.

Let's see, I worked in a PU robotics lab, I ended up with a graduate degree in Ecology and Evolution (SUNY Stony Brook), and I've long been a fan of space stuff. I administrated an organic farm certification program (NOFA-NJ), volunteered on an organic farm (the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association), and worked as a Saturday cashier in the Whole Earth Center in Princeton (health foods) for a time. I worked on a garden simulator (along with my wife). Now I live in the middle of a forest with my wife (also an E&E grad) and kid and a couple of dogs (the robots were also dog-like in a sense) and via this essay make political statements, and my life is otherwise devoted (besides to my family and community) to making space habitats and helping with sustainability on earth.
Was that a typical career path in those days? Maybe it could be now for more than try it? :-) And maybe, sadly, maybe I even had a role to play in a PU-"mediated" murder or two as above, :-( through my youthful inability to direct my competitive instinct in better service of life and happiness for all. I had then a total inability to see a more compassionate way and then act on that vision (as Freeman Lowell fails at in the movie, and then takes his own life at the end in some thought that might atone for it or that he could not go on). :-( Maybe I'm still trying all these years later to rewrite the bittersweet ending to that movie to a happier one? Maybe the "wife and kid" is also a lucky part of the difference? Or maybe it is my heart felt belief belief that Freeman Lowell should have just got in the last dome with both the crippled robot and the working one and made the best of it, and tried to make amends for the evil he did, even if just one seedling at a time.

Maybe like I try to do with this essay, one idea at a time?

From the music by Joan Baez:

Fields of children running wild in the sun
Like a forest is your child growing wild in the sun
Doomed in his innocence in the sun

Gather your children to your side in the sun
Tell them all they love will die,
Tell them why in the sun

Tell them it's not too late
Cultivate one by one
Tell them to harvest and rejoice in the sun

Heavy stuff for a ten or twelve year old to process.

The movie "The Day After" came out when I was at PU (a PU prof helped with the special effects). That echoed the theme of blowing up Silent Running biospheres, and watching it at PU with others was another formative experience.
I and many others at the dorm called Princeton Inn College (PIC, or was it renamed "Forbes College" by then?) watched that movie about collective suicide together in a PIC TV room. Many were in tears after we saw just the smallest implications of the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine (and other consequences of being a "capitalist tool", or for that matter a "one-type-of-communist tool").

I remember meeting Malcolm Forbes and his son. I raised an issue of the designs for certain parts of the PIC rennovations ignoring great aspects of the old dining room that promoted community, like the central salad bar to pause while deciding where to sit, or the heavy curtains or ceiling sound baffles that reduced noise. They said to talk with the architects. I went and talked with an architect at a public meeting, who said it was all the Forbes' idea, and nothing could be changed. And so, after giving up on that runaround, after millions of dollars of "rennovations", PIC ended up with a noisier dining hall and one with less community. (I'm not saying PIC did not need other rennovations that were done well.) Of course, like many others rennovated on campus, the new dining hall looked great in photos with all the gleaming hardwood and bare windows, it just was disfunctional in practice in a humane sense. It was my first deep personal experience with people saying they wanted feedback, but feedback being ignored given our core values clashed (or, perhaps more charitably, they just didn't have a clue about creating humane community-promoting spaces, even when starting with a working example that was decades old).

That's not the first time that has happened, of course. An archictecture major at Temple University I met by chance (as a grad student when she visited PU to look at the achitecture) recommended I read Jane Jacobs. See for example:

Jane Jacobs ... was an American-born Canadian urbanist, writer and activist. She is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), a powerful critique of the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. The book has been credited with reaching beyond planning issues to influence the spirit of the times. "Jacobs came down firmly on the side of spontaneous inventiveness of individuals, as against abstract plans imposed by governments and corporations," wrote Canadian critic Robert Fulford. "She was an unlikely intellectual warrior, a theorist who opposed most theories, a teacher with no teaching job and no university degree, a writer who wrote well but infrequently."
Malcolm Forbes claimed to celebrate the individual as a "capitalist tool", but what he and his magazine really celebrated (I say on reflection as someone who read it for years growing up) was the corporation and corporate power (managed by some in the elite often as an exercise of ego).

Maybe the only thing to combat fear and obsession (either from MAD or capitalism) is love and laughter on all sides? As I wrote here:
    "When life gives you lemons..."

And after having the "best and the brightest"
in *just* the USA launch dozens of wars:
and devote more total land area than the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey combined to U.S. nuclear weapons bases and facilities:
(not to mention more than $5.8 Trillion on Nuclear Arms Since 1940) all because supposedly "There Is No Alternative -- TINA":
then, *yes*, proposing anything else but "more of the same" in going to seem a bit "funny" at first. :-)

Still, maybe, on feeling guilty and planting one idea at a time, I'm just still too much like Arnold Rimmer? :-)

Kryten proves to the Justice computer Judge that Rimmer's immense guilt stems from his own inflated sense of importance; a man as incompetent and insignificant as Rimmer, he argues, would never be given tasks that might put the whole crew in danger. Rimmer, although deeply offended, is found not guilty.

I left high school in the middle of 11th grade when I turned 16 for a local state school (SUNY Stony Brook). While I thought that place did not have a sense of community, I later realized in some ways it had a different, and perhaps even better one than PU. I had also been at a big campus at an impressionable age where people had jumped around then from the health sciences towers. And I and others restrained my roommate once my last semester there, when, while drunk, he tried to jump from the hall common room -- although as it was only a couple of stories up, it was probably more transient emotion related to his family history than long standing seriousness. (He seemed happy enough helping run a transit system when I last talked to him a decade ago or so.)

As a transfer student to PU, I came in as a sophomore at age 17 (but of course pretended I was older).

One of my motivators over the years has been an experience I had at PU my first year there. As I came in as a sophomore I graduated with the class of '85, but many of my friends there were '86. A friend from the first year (our father's worked together coincidentally) gave me a book to read that had disturbed him. It described "Urban Monads" or "Urbmons" which were huge white towering skyscrapers housing millions of people. A key character is a social climber and literally makes his way up the tower socially (higher status classes are higher in the tower). After proposing the basic systems be automated to free the lower classes from drudgery, that character learns that the higher ups knew that was always possible but chose to lie about it to give the lower classes something to keep them occupied. As a spoiler, ....... at the end he can't take having the mythology he grew up with so cynically dismissed and he jumps from the top of the tower. This raised many issues that bothered my friend (as they would almost anyone who read it) and we briefly discussed it. He later fell in with campus evangelicals and when I saw him last seemed happy enough but wistful. That wistfulness probably has more to do with the lack of more people doing space exploration more than anything, probably. :-) He's stuck on the ground in the outskirts :-) of academia (and without a PhD) when he'd rather be traveling to places like Mars (though none-the-less, to his credit, he has found an important space-related job to do that he enjoys, and no doubt does to the best of his extensive abilities and is thankful for). He may well have long forgotten this Silverberg novel, but the irritating story he put into my life has persisted in my memory. :-) As with the robot video, I am not going to link directly to the novel. But, as with anything related to suicide, both are probably not that hard to find if you really want to know.

For me, falling (or "jumping") in with evangelicals at PU was not an option, as I had already been down that road in a sense. :-) So, I was looking for building meaning some other way than my friend pursued at the time. I can think of one smart female student who invited me to a religious bible-study-oriented gathering and said they discussed all sorts of things, and maybe they did, but by then I was not very trusting of those groups, nor did I want to risk "infecting" (as I saw it) others with doubt or nihilism. I was surprised to see so much religious belief on a campus I thought was supposedly filled with intelligent people, as I had a couple years earlier painfully rejected the Protestant dogma I had been raised with (though, as I came to realize later, I did not reject the core positive values of service, compassion, and tolerance which I now see in the Jesus story, even if that was not exactly how it was taught to me. :-) I had already felt betrayed by Christianity, or rather, specific Christians who at the time I felt had lied to me (or at least, in the case of ministers, told me self-serving things to have a job). That had been a difficult time, putting me in some sense in the metaphorical position of that character in the Urbmon book, realizing that the dogma I had been raised in was a fraud promulgated in part for purposes of social control (as opposed to "spirituality" which I now feel is an essential part of daily life and just being human, even for secular human scientists. :-)
    "Religion versus Spirituality"
    "Einstein's letter makes view of religion relatively clear"

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." So said Albert Einstein, and his famous aphorism has been the source of endless debate between believers and non-believers wanting to claim the greatest scientist of the 20th century as their own. ... "Like other great scientists he does not fit the boxes in which popular polemicists like to pigeonhole him," said Brooke. "It is clear for example that he had respect for the religious values enshrined within Judaic and Christian traditions ... but what he understood by religion was something far more subtle than what is usually meant by the word in popular discussion."

One thing that bothered me, among many, even by age fourteen or so, was the anti-evolutionary tracts available for handing out in the religious education building
of the church I had attended from birth.
Ironically, as I came to see later, religious ideas can propagate and change for memetic evolutionary reasons apart from specific human desires, as the ideas are passed on and sometimes change moving through human minds and human speech.
So, by this view, even religious ideas against evolution may themselves be the product of memetic evolution. :-) Unless the evidence of all evolution everywhere, both in fossils and even ongoing now, is all a very convoluted test of faith. :-( I can not believe a God would be so cruel as to require people to reject the continuing evidence before their eyes:
    "Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab"
But I can sadly accept it is possible there is a God who is so cruel and insecure (or for whatever other mysterious reasons) as to continually test faith and loyalty in extreme ways, like putting fossils there to test faith or making flu virus change annually to test faith. Saddam Hussein was reported to do that too, with his secret police asking people to ask colleagues to be involved in a plot against Hussein, and if the colleague did not turn in the supposed plotter, the colleague were tortured and killed. If that is "God's" plan for this world, then, in that case, as Robin William's version of Patch Adams says at that cliff, I too would hopefully say, "You know what? You're not worth it." But I can accept that is too hard for many people to say whose social and religious lives revolve around others who also disdain evolution, and maybe, in that sense, they are personally better off with community and without an understanding of evolution, even though things like phage therapy (selecting phages to combat an evolving bacterial strain) may be the only good way to deal with hospital superbugs or perhaps Lyme disease.

By the way, my wife and I were married in that church in part to make parents happy. :-) I would have preferred, say, a Unitarian Universalist ceremony, but the one UU I went to a few times near SUNY SB had a divorced minister, who was an excellent sermon giver, but I had reservations about her presiding over our marriage ceremony. My wife and I still treasure the (interim) Pastor's advice on marriage and it has helped sustain us as couple. Some religious communities do get some things very right. :-)

These days, I can only wonder if my own religious crisis of "faith" (which started before college, and was probably deepest at SUNY SB) might have gone more pleasantly with today's internet. I could have easily searched for other perspectives from other religions including deism and humanism (which are easy to find through Google). I could have learned about the ideas of "Ethics without God".
I might come to have had a broader view of the difficulties of being part of the clergy. I could even have found a broader view of the specific religion I was raised in, and come earlier to see and accept the good parts of First Presbyterian Protestantism in a sense as an illuminating story in a broad historical context. Here is an example of a questioning soon-to-be-ex-Christian with a typical problem: :-(
    "Help, My Husband Thinks I'm the Devil's Puppet"
Which quickly has someone post the link:
    "Solar Mythology and the Bible"
Anyway, this isn't intended to cause people directly to question their current faith, as we all need faith of one form or another. Ignoring horrendous things like gay-bashing and pro-militarism and so on promulgated in some sects, most mainline religions try to build a workable lifestyle that doesn't hurt many people. They provide social clubs and so some community nearly everywhere in the USA (even if I just can't go through those motions myself anymore, even feeling mentally allergic to the Unitarian Chalice lighting ceremony these days).
    "Hey, Just A Minute, I Can Explain: The Joys And Concerns Of Nominal UU" by Kathy Hamill
Changing faiths is not something to be done lightly, because, frankly, they all have problems. :-) That's part of the issue of "faith" being essential to human existence. :-) There are problems with, say, deism and humanism and agnosticism and paganism and Buddhism and Taoism and so on (which nonetheless maybe are somewhat more my mix of beliefs these days than mainline Christianity, even as I still like aspects of Christianity too, mainly in a Unitarian-Universalist way. :-)
    "Liberals like Christ"

Still, some people also approach religions more as sports they learn the rules of and then just have fun going through the motions, so changing faiths may not be any more painful to them then, say, switching from baseball to soccer. :-) A little tough at first as you use muscles you didn't know you had, but after a while you get the hang of it and start having fun again with a new range of motions and a new community. And as humans, we all need to have community and we all need the basics of a religious experience of joy and awe and wonder and connectedness and so on, whether we find that singing inside a physical cathedral or walking amidst green nature or just contemplating abstract number theory in an attic.

I feel the biggest danger of mainline religions is that, especially to the true believer, in both philosophical terms and social terms mainline religions are essentially self-contained "freeway" systems traveled in beautiful deity-powered religious cars at high speed -- but without off-ramps or even emergency lanes or pull-off areas on the side. Or maybe there are some off-ramps and emergency lanes, but they are unmarked and invisible. :-) And those cars and roads are essentially built and maintained by others and given to you, which is a great gift perhaps as long as everything works and you like driving on freeways (since there is really nowhere else to go). But going off the road at 60 miles per hour is never a fun experience if you suddenly discover part of the road ahead is under construction, or someone else swerves in front of you, or you suddenly discover there is a bee in your car. And it is certainly no fun when going over a difficult roughly-surfaced bridge in life your beautiful religious car might suddenly have a blowout in a worn-out conceptual tire, running the risk that beautiful religious car will then roll over a bridge guard rail at speed taking you with it before you even know what is happening. :-( I feel it likely that "going off the religious road at high speed" may have caused more suffering to individuals than all the religious wars through time.

Still, building and maintaining your own car is fraught with peril, too. Yet, there are some design philosophies that produce vehicles better at protecting occupants in a crash:
    "Volvo Crash"
But this is not to say it is impossible, maybe, as in that video, you get lucky with another hand on the wheel sometime too. :-) Good thing the driver was wearing his seat belt which allowed the cars crumple zones to decelerate him
    "How Seatbelts Work"

Of course, crumple zones will only protect you if you move with the cab of the car -- that is, if you are secured to the seat by your seatbelt.
Or as an analogy, the driver had some lasting core values to hold him in place as the car sacrificed itself to protect him. Still, some things like crash safety are deemed by some people as too expensive as a trade-off against other things, since obviously, you can always hope you won't have a crash.

There are also other ways to get around -- walking, bicycles, riding horses, boats, buses, subways, trains, airplanes, spacecraft, and even now in a sense the internet. So cars and freeways are not the only option, and they never were.

With a better understanding of religion and society than decades ago, I now see why there was more religion at Princeton than at SUNY Stony Brook. The good reason was that religious ideals can help people be more successful in life. The bad reason was that religious ideals especially among leaders are often used to justify exploitation of others, whether other people, other animals, or any aspect of the natural world (see also Lynn White Jr.'s writings as above on Christianity and environmental destruction, something that is thankfully changing).

So, this idea of "Jumping from the Ivory Tower" has a lot of resonance for me from those experiences, and others. Maybe, like an oyster, I have built layer after layer of protection around that irritation that the "Jumping from the Ivory Tower" issue presents. And this essay is one more layer on top of all that. And, a quarter century later, it is a bit of a better answer than I had then to issues my friend and that book raised. Still, many of those questions will likely never have definitive answers, because, as I mention, you can't do anything in life without taking one or more leaps of faith. The real issue is, what do you have faith in? And that is not a question anyone else can ultimately answer for you, even if others can suggest life-affirming possibilities (as well as others).

And no, this is not an attempt at dogmatic religious persuasion. What I have to say here applies to people of most any faith, even the faith of science and/or atheism. The myths I focus on here are more Earthly ones, even though there are often religious overtones to any sort of profound psychological change:
    "Spiritual Healing"
Whether there is an afterlife or not, we are all here now, and so making things work here now better is a good thing. And even if you religiously believe in the likelihood of the "Rapture" or alternatively, as I, lean technologically towards the secular "Singularity", it's still true that there remains a lot to be done even now (even as much has been done and there are many positive trends in global consciousness):
    "No Time for the Singularity"

We have the social stability, the resources and the technology now; all we need is the will. We will still need all three of these things 25 years from now, and we're likely to be seriously wanting in at least two of them if things continue as they are. The technological singularity may be real, but who cares? By the time it happens, we'll have won or lost our grand battle with fate.

As with the Urbmon story, taking down someone's mythological scaffolding is not something to be done lightly, and not something to be done without offering something to potentially replace it (or at least showing them what livable place the scaffolding concealed). While I take on a lot of old PU myths and even other myths here, I also provide some new ones, as well as one example action plan for the university and one plan for individual alumni (none of which involves me. :-) So, perhaps I should warn people that this essay could be dangerous to your mental health if you start it but then stop reading in the middle? :-( Like exploring Nihilism, before you realize it is mostly just a variation of the "Liar's Paradox". :-( Faith in the denial of faith. :-(

When I was at PU, the stock response (as I was told by another student who had it happen to a roommate) was rumored to be that anyone mentioning "jumping" etc. would be whisked out of the university immediately, at least for a semester or two, on the theory PU added to their stress. And it was reasoned the benefits (to whom?) outweighed the stress that uprooting itself might cause to the individual. I'm not saying whether that policy was good or bad (though it obviously may discourage some discussions if known), but I am saying it ignores possible deeper institutional problems. If attending a liberal arts institution should indeed (in the rumored 1980s administration's view) make suicide more likely then less likely, should that not call into question the entire value of a liberal arts education? And even if the rumor was wrong (and I tend to doubt it was), why would such a rumor exist and not be countered? This is not to dismiss the value of any crisis programs PU no doubt currently has (whether they patch over deep cracks in its mythological foundation or not), or to diminish the need just to help specific people whose problems may indeed have no relation to PU.

In PU's partial defense, I remember some students carrying a huge red book that had "Suicide" written on it, which was part of the assigned reading of one class or another. I'd expect it was related to this guy's writings:

Durkheim used official statistics to carry out a study into suicide. He found that people who are not integrated into the society that they live in are more likely to kill themselves. ...
So, that might lead us to ask an important question: if a post-scarcity society is emerging, is PU helping prepare students (and alumni) to be well integrated into it? If not, why not?

And you are probably expecting something about me and jumping from a PU building, so I won't disappoint. :-) During the time near or during reunions after my second year at PU, I stayed in the Princeton Inn Annex for a couple weeks (I stayed at PU both summers, to work and do research, and also did some band related things at Reunions, and housing gets shuffled around a lot then, as I had otherwise been in the main part of the Inn). A female student I knew got locked out of her room around midnight by accident (wearing only a t-shirt and underpants, and she was also with another male friend I knew). Normally getting your room unlocked was easy, but during Reunions it was harder, as it was after the end of the regular semester and rooming arrangements were complex. I liked her a little (she was "hot" of course), though who I really liked was her first year warm-hearted roommate, who I said some stupid and mean things to which were mainly to protect her from my own nihilistic philosophy at the time. :-( I proposed (recklessly, and inspired by Luke Skywalker) that I swing from a rope they held (along with another person I think) on the roof -- my plan was to jump from a second floor bathroom window to swing to her open window, holding onto the rope. Well, it might have worked except I wrapped the rope around my right hand -- which was promptly crushed as soon as I put my weight on the rope after jumping out the window. In reviewing the movie since, I see Luke did not do that, :-) and now I know why. :-( It took a minute or two to extricate my hand with my full weight on the rope and then slide down (they could not lower the rope much as it was tied to something on the roof I think, and it had stretched past my going back in the window). Naturally, I could not go to the infirmary (being on the roof was a cause for disciplinary action, maybe expulsion, now I know another reason why). It was perhaps only because the male friend went to Wawa unasked and got some ice for my hand that I can use it today (thanks M, I may literally owe you my right hand). I still have a scar, and my hand has been weaker ever since. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention to "The Empire Strikes Back"? :-) And it may, in petty and cruel ways. :-( The two of them just went and slept in other friends' rooms after that (I think it was a platonic thing anyway, Reunions housing always being iffy, especially in PIC with the 50th), which they could have done in the first place but I dissuaded them from.

What a terribly stupid thing I proposed and did, both for myself and other people. :-( Still, as with Star Trek TNG's Captain Picard as a cadet fighting with those Nausicaans, maybe if you took that scar away, I'd be less of a person.
    "5 dangerous things you should let your kids do"
It's the kind of stuff young people do. They flirt with danger to prove something to themselves or others. Then they maybe even cover it up when it goes badly, to protect themselves or others. *Nothing* the university does is going to stop that. *Nothing*. Except maybe lock all the students in padded cells when they arrive for orientation. Or maybe make PU's "Outdoor Action" mandatory. :-)
    "Outdoor Action Home Page"
    "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder"
But, sometimes the only thing you can do is be prepared to help afterwards however you can, like my friend was, even as I said I did not need any help, and I will always remember that.

If PU wants a good reason for impeaching my diploma, even now, that is it -- I recklessly endangered the lives and careers of my fellow students at PU (as well as my own) by trying to engage in a fantasy. Like a certain president we currently have. But I was only about 18 at the time. You expect more from someone who is a lot older. A lot more.

Hopefully my proposals in this essay are not equally as stupid and dangerous as that one involving swinging like Luke Skywalker that I myself made at 18. Well, maybe they are dangerous, but what great tasks are not? :-) Still, sometimes, people can have too much charisma for their own good. Thankfully, that has never been too much of a problem in my own life. :-) If this essay only makes some at PU think a little, it will have been a great success in my own mind, beyond the fun I had writing it.

Another motivator was probably a program I was in at SUNY Stony Brook (before perhaps foolishly transferring to PU, and leaving my good friends behind, one of whom later died of what may have been suicide) called a "federated learning community":
    "Learning Communities: Reforming Undergraduate Education"
    "Learning Communities FAQ"
The the topic that year was "Human Nature". Nothing I saw at PU could touch that as a formal process that created a wonderful community. In relation to that, I still remember the surprised (maybe even shocked) look on the related faculty's faces when my learning community presentation about the future was about how we had to work hard to create a learning environment where maybe the next generation might solve all our problems. :-)

There was also a course I took at SUNY Stony Brook with Professor Patrick Hill when I was just turned seventeen called "Alternative Higher Education".
    "Rate My Professors: Patrick Hill"
The comments there:

I still think about the poetry I learned and apply it to my life, even today. Wild Geese anyone? He makes poetry, philosophy and finding the beauty in ugliness absolutely relevant and critical.
BEST TEACHER I'VE EVER HAD!!!!! Life-changing is an understatement.
Patrick's class was incredibly human and real and fun. He created an amazing classroom atmosphere, with much better than average participation and dedication by the students. Discussions were deep and lively and intense. An amazing class for self-reflection and growth for anyone willing and wanting to learn. He's a really great guy!
Changed my life!
I, of course, did not appreciate the course or Pat's work at the time. :-( Thanks for trying with me anyway, Pat. Maybe this essay is also a better answer that whatever I wrote then in relation to the learning community issues you raised in your course and I otherwise left Stony Brook to search for (and perhaps find worse) at PU? This isn't meant as a slight against any *individuals* at PU in any capacity, who were some of the finest people I met -- even as many (including ones in the administration) seem to act as if they were chained in a Titanic (intellectual) slave ship of disciplined minds heading straight for an iceberg. :-( Or maybe a better analogy would be that our academic-influenced society is more like the 1970s "Starlost" Earthship Ark drifting towards a thermonuclear sun?

Anyway, I outline all that -- the music, the movies, the books, the professors, the friends, my family -- to show that there have been many, many, many life-affirming experiences in my life that lead me to writing this. I thank you all. And there are more:
And there are many more unmentioned.

Maybe the Woodrow Wilson School is a lot like a federated learning community? But I alas let myself be intimidated out of applying when I was at PU, even though that had been my original plan in transferring there. So maybe that is another place to look on campus for ideas for a way forward. Still, I think "federated learning communities", while a vast improvement over what we have now, may ultimately be a bit like rearranging deck chairs, if you know what I mean? :-( But sometimes, all you can do is rearrange chairs and have the band play on.

The names of Brailey, Bricoux, Clarke, Hartley, Hume, Krins, Taylor and Woodward were permanently inscribed into the history books on the night of April 14th, 1912, and their totally unselfish deeds during that night serve as a constant reminder of the devotion to duty many people displayed during the sinking. Shortly after midnight, as the lifeboats had begun to be loaded, Hartley assembled his band in the First Class Lounge, where many of the First Class passengers were now assembling, and began to play. Many people later commented on how strange it seemed to be wearing a lifejacket, awaiting orders to get into the lifeboats, whilst the band continued to play away as though nothing had happened. Later, as more and more people began to realise the seriousness of the situation, and began to file onto the Boat Deck, so too did Hartley, reassembling his band on the Boat Deck close to the entrance of the Grand Staircase.
What went through their minds as they played together on that night can only be guessed. As the slant of the decks increased more and more, did they even consider that this was their last hour alive, or did one or two of them hold out a slight hope that eventually, one of the officers would amble over, and instruct them into a lifeboat? Whatever their thoughts were, we will never know. All eight bandsmen were lost.
Band, I can only still hope you did not play and satirize in vain. Even while PU may pay no attention, I can hope this "message in a bottle" (or some internet packets :-) will find someone, somewhere. Sometimes that's all you can hope for, as you throw something into the great internet void out of a deep and abiding faith (in humanity's better side, or maybe something else).

In the end, what I have learned about suicide is that it is ironically a hopeful act and a sign of great faith. It is hope things could get better, and faith that one's actions can make one's world a better place. Anyone even thinking of it has the seeds within themselves for something much more life-affirming. Still, as Bruce Dern portrayed in Silent Running, and as Emile Durkheim wrote on, it is ultimately integration into a life-affirming community that best sustains us. There is only so much a life led in isolation can get you, even if it is the protective isolation against an seeming obviously suicidal society built around unilateral dominance, mutually assured destruction, and a codependency of an administration and the terrorism it has built its power on.

As for me, I've ironically been protected from suicide by my cynical pessimism. :-) [$]

But that is sometimes tough on people around me. :-(

In case people can't figure that out how "cynical pessimism" protects along these lines, consider this self-dialog: "What's the point of suicide? Do I really think anything I do could make anything better? And it takes too much commitment and energy, anyway. And there is always Murphy's law, too."
    "The Extended Murphy's Law: If a series of events can go wrong, it will do so in the worst possible sequence."
    "O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy's law: Murphy was an optimist."
Maybe that is why there is so much cynical pessimism in our often gloomy seeming world news today? The optimistic and methodical engineers have all "jumped"? :-( And we are the ones who have been left behind to carry on as best we can? This also helps explain why suicide sometimes only happens after people are put on mood enhancing drugs in the absence of more human interventions (as happened with the brother of a landlady, so sad, he was trying to get help for himself and his family). But the drugs seem cheap -- talk, and building an integrated community with a mythology that works for everyone through talk and more, now that seems expensive. Or is at the moment. If you ignore the human and societal price of apparent cost-cutting.

Still, I can hope that there are a few optimistic and methodical engineers still out there, to consider these conceptual sketches and make them into something that might be useful at PU, or even elsewhere, even Yale. :-) While this essay was quickly thrown together, it is in a way the culmination of twenty-five years or more of research that my friend with that Urbmon story directed me towards in my early college years. Or the movie "Silent Running" several years before that. As well as the culmination of other experiences, including ones I don't mention here.

And maybe, just maybe, since becoming a parent, and also interacting with other parents, especially homeschooling and unschooling parents, even I myself can begin to see there is more to life than cynical pessimism. (Thanks, especially, Jeff. :-) But maybe that should worry me? :-)

"You cannot always *have* happiness,
but you can always *give* happiness." --- Anonymous

As any physicist can tell you, black holes might make someday be essential components of stardrives or stargates. :-) It's what we do with the nothingness and randomness in our lives that counts.

Or maybe...

[$] Or maybe, I've also been protected by all the other positive life-affirming forces that have been in my life, some listed above, including now my wife and child and the F/OSS internet community and others related to the pro-peace movement.

And maybe black holes are too dangerous to mess with? :-)

And something positive to imagine for the future:
    "President George W. Bush singing John Lennon's Imagine"

In memory of Robin Rochlin Cooperman '86

Postscript written a decade later (2018-10-10 to 2019-01-14): I am re-dedicating Post-Scarcity Princeton in memory of Robin Rochlin Cooperman, Princeton '86, October 7, 1963 - June 2, 2010, whose death I only learned about just before noon ET on September 21st, 2018.

Key points reflected in many books I have read on Health and Wellness that I wish I could discuss with Robin but at least I can still share such ideas with others in her memory to reduce pain and to increase coping resources and joy in the world:

  • It does not take very long to tell someone how much they mean to you -- but it may make a huge difference in their life and your life.
  • Searching for "perfection" in relationships or other people is a recipe for unhappiness compared to investing in "good enough" relationships and appreciating imperfect-but-wonderful people we find ourselves lucky enough to be with.
  • In order to have healthier relationships with others, it helps to have a healthier relationship with ourselves first.
  • Undestanding Asperger's and how it affects relationships is increasingly important -- especially since women can get good at camouflaging Asperger's while still struggling with it.
  • When people -- especially people with Asperger's -- self-medicate with recreational drugs, it may not mean that they are choosing self-indulgently to be "different" but instead it may often mean they are trying hard to manage anxiety to fit in as "normal". Understanding that difference can help someone begin to see ways to help someone else grow in healthier directions.
  • The lack of holistic thinking in our modern health system and the surrounding socio-economic system harms not only the health of patients but also the health of health-care professionals.
  • Suicide is best seen as an involuntary action that occurs when pain exceeds coping resources -- because this de-stigmatizing morally-neutral view of suicide suggests many possibilities for suicide prevention by either reducing pain of all sorts or increasing all sorts of coping resources, while also making it more likely people will ask for help without fear they will experience even more pain as a result of such a request. We can be an important coping resource for someone else by just listening.

Robin was a wonderful, beautiful, smart, funny, kind, and caring person. We were friends at Princeton but we lost touch a few years later after she got engaged to someone else. As I learned only recently, after her husband died of cancer after about ten years of marriage while Robin was in medical school, she finished medical school and began a career in Psychiatry even while being a single mother. Sadly Robin also died young in 2010 at age forty-six after a life-long struggle with depression and anxiety -- but only after years of service helping others deal with the same as a psychiatrist. One thing I realized reflecting on all this is that both Robin and I both likely had Asperger's Syndrome (or similar) to some extent and it both drew us together and also pushed us apart in various ways. It drew us together through common interests and concerns like how the mind worked, about the nature of physical reality, poetry in music, and hopes for space habitats. But one way it pushed us apart that I regret now is that I now see her recreation drug use -- mostly marijuana but some other stuff like psychedelics -- as a way to self-medicate for the depression and anxiety from life-long Asperger's struggles. Essentially, while I then though Robin's drug use was a self-indulgent character weakness essentially to be abnormal in the pursuit of pleasure and hang out with a "different" crowd, I now see her recreational drug use more as a desperate attempt to be more "normal" when she felt different (and had been depressed her entire life). If I had understood that then, it would have been easier to reconceptualize my then intellectual "just say no" thoughts to align with my "just say yes" feelings about Robin. It is too late now to change the past, but I can hope others can learn from my mistakes as well as from all I have learned since then about approaches to health and wellness that go beyond pharmaceutical interventions.

While it is not possible for me to change the past with Robin like by going back in time and, say, hit my younger self over the head (lovingly) with a cluestick, a subtext in this postscript is a hope for the future that the Princeton University community someday will broadly recognize the potential for global abundance for everyone -- and then act differently based on faith in the idea of global abundance despite widespread fears about scarcity, whether pursuing that as outlined in the above book or some other way. So, in that sense, my failure to appreciate Robin back then and build a wonderful life together with her is a metaphor for how I feel the extended Princeton University community (including alumni) relates to the rest of the world today.

Robin and I met the first few days in September 1982. I was a seventeen year old sophomore transfer student, she was eighteen as a sophomore originally from the class of 1985. I met her in a neighbor's dorm room (someone also named Paul). I think she was sitting or even sprawling on his bed (which was not that unusual, as college students tended to treat beds as couches). I vaguely remember, when asking later if they were dating then he said no, and he said something like take good care of her, she is a special person, or something like that, and maybe more. I think I also heard later from Robin he was the person who first got her started using recreational drugs at PU? They might also have dated a little her first year? I'm mentioning that all to be clear I am not that Paul... (Although, now that I think on it much later, I think it was that Paul's roommate David who was in the room when I met Robin and who introduced her to recreational drugs etc. and I had confused their names when I first wrote this...)

In just the first week or two we knew each other, Robin got me to join the PU Band (where she was a drummer) and also to take a course with Gerry O'Neill (of space habitats fame) -- both of which greatly shaped my Princeton experience and career. Robin of course made jokes about herself as "Rockin' Robin" (from the 1957 song) which made her name memorable. (I wish now we had swing danced to that song, but we never did -- I can't even remember ever dancing closely together, sadly.) I think Robin may have originally suggested I become a drummer in the band alongside her even as just "trash" percussion as it was called for those who could not play well and as I knew next-to-nothing about drumming. But I foolishly decided instead to play my flute in the band -- which I was not that good at, and so became, in a way, a "trash" flute, even as I improved over that year from taking lessons. I can wish now I had played drums alongside Robin as she suggested -- my life and hers might have been very different if I had followed all of her great advice and also more closely followed the example she set in so many ways. And as Robin brought me into the Band, it would have been far more respectful of "dance with the one who brought you" to march by Robin's side with a drum than alongside about seven female flute players with my flute and piccolo.

Robin had gone to the Northeast High School which had a (mock) space program called "Project Space Research Center (SPARC)" started by Robert Montgomery, Jr.. I had spent much of my childhood building model spacecraft and moonbases out of Togl's (a 3D Lego competitor) -- inspired by TV like Thunderbirds, Star Trek, Space 1999, and Starlost. In particular, my early robotics work was inspired significantly at around age ten by seeing the movie Silent Running about biospheres in space maintained by cooperative robots where by contrast all the humans want to blow up the biospheres with nuclear bombs -- except for one lone guy who thinks blowing up the domes with the Earth's last forests is "insane" when everyone else around him thinks "it makes sense". That mutual interest in space was something that connected Robin and me early on -- even as we both had a variety of interests including about how the mind works and more mystical aspects connected to that about the fundamental nature of the reality. I had long been interested in space-related sci-fi -- which like in Silent Running was often dystopian and alienated -- but it was Robin who told me about Gerard K. O'Neill and his "High Frontier" book on building actual space habitats where he was someone who cared about building a better future (and she was surprised I had not heard of him). She suggested I take his physics class with her. That "Physics for Poets" course (also taken by Jeff Bezos) was a large class with assigned seating where you were supposed to sit in your same chosen seat the whole semester (the only such one that I ever took at PU). Robin and I sat a bit away from other students in the back in an upper seating level. As an example of Robin's playful nature, looking back on my notes from the first week of classes in that course, for fun I wrote "Fritag" (Friday in German, which I was taking as a language requirement) when noting the date at the beginning of that lecture's notes. I see Robin circled that word and wrote "deutsch" above that. On the next page of notes near the top I wrote "Deutsch!", and she wrote below that "ENGLISH!". (I wish now instead of German I had taken Spanish like Robin did in High School -- or even taken Spanish up at Princeton -- as then we might have had fun conversations in that language.) On the top of the next page I wrote "Waves Silly - negative light!". Below that (but I think more in response to the lecture on light waves and how to characterize them) she wrote "ZZZZZz~" (implying boredom and falling asleep). Wow, it was so thrilling to be in such a course with such a professor with big ideas -- and to have a cute and smart girl leaning over me to write in my notebook, her beautiful black hair brushing against my neck. I was definitely looking forward to a lot more of that. I had never finished my high school physics class as I had left in the middle of that academic year to go to college, so I found the course material on waves interesting -- but I don't think Robin did as I assume she probably had learned such already in high school. Sadly, Robin soon afterwards dropped that class and took a different one. I think she said it was too lightweight a course for her as she had been thinking about majoring in Astrophysics. I did not drop Professor O'Neill's course though, which left me sitting by myself that entire semester (given assigned seating), as well as always scrambling for a physics lab partner who otherwise would have been Robin. In general, I knew by then to avoid large lecture courses when possible and I never would have taken such a course except for Robin unless it was a core requirement for a major. In retrospect, I should have dropped that class myself and followed Robin to whatever class she switched to. Professor O'Neill was not that great a lecturer for that level of physics -- even as his books were interesting and even inspirational. Robin was *way* more interesting to me in person than Gerry O'Neil. And other friends from PIC who were planning to be engineering and physics majors were also taking more advanced physics courses.

Robin and I had dinner almost every day for the first few weeks at the Princeton Inn College (PIC, now "Forbes") dorm, as well as sitting on the band bus together. That lasted until I said something like I felt like I needed some more space -- everything being new to me at PU as a transfer student. I said something about it on the band bus (if I recall correctly). Robin was sitting in the window seat next to me. She reacted swiftly to what I said, literally jumping from her window seat over the bus seat in front of us to an empty seat next to someone else. We would joke around a lot, and at first I thought she was doing some physical comedy. It gradually dawned on me this was a far more serious situation, as she would not talk to me at all although with someone else next to her on a noisy bus it was not easy to talk to her anyway where she was now sitting. She later told me that was the same thing a previous boyfriend had said when he broke up with her. (Frankly, until writing this, I never occurred to me she might have also been implying I was somehow then a "boyfriend" by saying that.) But, whatever my choice of words, I had meant it differently -- still really liking her, just being a bit overwhelmed by so much togetherness so suddenly (on top of everything else new to me my first semester at PU, including a work/study job at the computer center). It probably did not help that the rest of the flute section I might sit with otherwise on the Band bus was all female. She later told me with a laugh that she split her pants doing that leap -- which explained why she wore a sweatshirt around her waist when she left the bus -- as she went off with the trombone section. I think I spent most of that overnight away-game trying to find Robin and talk with her while she avoided me and would not talk to me even when I caught up with her. She also slept somewhere else that night instead of us finding a place to have our sleeping bags near each other as previously (these were always places PU band members slept with a lot of people around, like lounges or big dorm rooms with the other side's band or such, but it was the first time I had to find such for myself as Robin found a space for us otherwise). Eventually things got patched up as I explained better what I had meant. I think Robin dropped O'Neill's physics class before all this happened, but I am not sure anymore (it might have been after, but I think not). That interaction did not end our relationship, but it did change it. Before that our relationship might well have been heading for romance perhaps, but afterwards it seemed like we were more just friends. It also seemed like she never asked me to do anything afterwards or called or came by my room as she had before, but she still did things with me and spent time together when I called her, or stopped by her room, or ran into her crossing campus -- so the opposite extreme of when she had been calling me or stopping by my room almost every night for dinner the first few weeks. As I think on it now, I'm not sure Robin ever said "no" to anything I proposed -- except, perhaps, and even then only indirectly, the very last time I spoke with her about nine years later. I never pushed that agreeability though -- even when perhaps I should have, especially early on, maybe to both our benefits.

In the sci-fi novel "Protector", author Larry Niven writes that the first thought of a smart Pak "Protector" after they transform from an earlier less-intelligent "Breeder" stage is always the same -- essentially, "What a dumbass I have been all my life." While my life is full of many regrets with 20/20 hindsight for things said, things unsaid, or things said badly, for things I did, or didn't do, or did badly (admittedly, it is not a healthy way to look back on time from a "past negative" perspective according to psychologist Philip Zimbardo, author of "The Time Paradox") -- of all those thousands of such moments, that moment on the Band bus has to rank up there in the top three, probably even surpassing missing what turned out to be the one last time to see my father before he died (unexpectedly from a sudden heart attack at 85) because I had hurt my back walking our two dogs down some steps and did not want to drive the two hours there and back just then like I had previously planned and he was looking forward to -- back when I thought there would always be next weekend after about 80 previous weekend visits in the previous three years. I can wish now, with 20/20 hindsight, I had instead said to Robin on the band bus, equally truthfully to what I really said, how beautiful I thought she was in body, mind, and spirit, how lucky I was to meet someone like her right away at Princeton, how thankful I was that she chose to spend time with me when she could have her pick of guys on a campus with twice as many guys as gal, and how much I enjoyed spending time with her, and maybe even how I wished that time together would never end (even if it all felt so overwhelming just right then). But alas, I emphasized a different part of the truth and chose the wrong words -- choosing some especially wrong words to say to someone who, I had not realized then, had a fragile self-image and related fears of rejection over it.

I recall feeling then that there was a bit of a power struggle somehow going on in our relationship somehow about how we spent time together and how much -- not that I knew how to deal that well with that then. I had friends at SUNY Stony Brook who took a sociology course on courtship and marriage and who spoke highly of it. I can wish now I had taken that too when I had the chance. I had taken a more general philosophy class on friendship and love at SUNY SB when I was sixteen, which was helpful including in small group discussions about relationships often with people many years older than me. I was surprised to learn how much people talked about arguments within their relationships. But putting theory into practice can often be challenging -- especially abstractions handed down from Aristotle -- although a distiction of different types of love is always useful especially for anyone with Apserger's.

There were no websites around then like this one called LovePanky full of relationship advice. But my first year roommate (also a sophomore transfer student, with much dating experience, and also having heard lots of stories about women and relationships at a Bermuda golf club) tried to give me advice to talk to Robin directly about our relationship (I think he used the word "confront") on moving it to a next level beyond friends. He may also have suggested I could invite Robin to visit Bermuda together with me over winter break as a togetherness experience and he could host us and show us around -- with the added bonus I'd probably get to see her in a swimsuit -- as even as it would be too cold to swim, people still would sit out in the sunshine. But I did not follow well-meant his advice for whatever reasons. Maybe part of it was reading "Very Far Away from Anywhere Else" by Ursula K. Le Guin and not feeling things needed to be rushed -- but in retrospect, maybe some relationships should move faster, given every one is different? Not sure if I ever discussed that book with Robin (I might have). The song "Separate Beds" by Squeeze also was in my mind about waiting to be physical. That was also the time when AIDS was a new and unknown disease -- and I am a bit of a germaphobe on top of all that (though not anywere as bad as, say, in "As Good as it Gets"). I also sometimes got canker sores back then and worried they were contagious (turns out they are not, but I was not sure then). Even as I had left a lot of the religious dogma I grew up with behind, I also still strongly believed in the old-fashioned idea that sexual intercourse was something you did after you got married -- or at least got engaged or otherwise seriously committed. I also liked the friendship Robin and I had and did not want to mess that up by putting pressure on it (a major theme in "Very Far Away from Anywhere Else"). Still, not following my roommate's advice then to discuss moving the relationship beyond friends is something I can deeply regret now -- especially that first year at PU when it might have made the biggest difference. Not having followed my roommates advice, I guess I really just don't know what Robin might have wanted that first year? It was not until two academic years later (after a year apart from her year off, and a relationship she had with someone else then) that a somewhat more physical aspect entered our relationship occasionally. That first year was when we spent the most time together, and that time anchored our friendship even with later ups and downs.

Robin would usually only answer the phone after four rings. I asked her about that once when we were sitting in her room and she let the phone keep ringing. She told me it was something her mother taught her -- to not appear too eager. I picked up that habit too of not answering on the first ring -- and sometimes think of Robin and that discussion when a phone rings. While I very much liked Robin and liked being with her, I never was really "in love" with her in an obsessive "limerence" sense. Falling in love (limerence) like that usually requires some uncertainty. But with Robin, unlike her phone-related habit to increase uncertainty, there never seemed uncertainty about her liking me -- even if to whatever extent she liked me always remained unclear, at least to clueless me. It was a long time before I was in a relationship as good as that relationship with Robin was in many ways -- or at least could have been with Robin long-term with rose-colored glasses about a future that never quite was. That was in part out of my own disabling level of perfectionism plus other failings and worries -- even sadly and unintentionally breaking some hearts along the way of some fine women I did not deserve to have in my life (I am truly sorry). My own heart also got broken from an unrequited love at PU -- plus before at SUNY SB which had left me wary of feeling "in love" with "limerence". So much of that pain and suffering in my life and the lives of others could have been avoided with a commitment to Robin early on, although I did not know that then.

So, there Robin and I were together my first days on the PU campus when maybe anything was possible as we held hands walking to or from dinner each night together. In some ways, it's almost like we had somehow jumped past all the early stages of courtship to feel like a comfortable long-married couple from the start? I did not appreciate Robin enough then -- or anticipate the years of emptiness that would be in my life that might have been avoided with seriously pursuing her as a life partner from early on. Assuming that such a pursuit would not just have fizzled from whatever new pressures that created...

Growing up with three very different older sisters (about 4, 8, and 12 years older than me), I found it easy to talk to women -- even if I was mostly clueless about how to move beyond talk. I had read "The Joy of Sex" (one of my sisters had a copy on her bookshelf), but I knew next to nothing then about navigating the relationship gulf between smalltalk and sex (even ignoring how book learning about a physical thing like sex is also problematical). I really needed a book more like (a hypothetical title) "The Joy of Building Good Relationships With Yourself and Others". I had several substantial platonic friendships with women over the years. Some of those relationships were even perhaps more substantial as pure friendships than what Robin and I shared as a more complex mixture of friends plus eventually some physical aspects. There were flickers of romances in other relationships over the years too -- including with a devout Catholic girl I had a crush on in junior high and whose family had moved from New York to Colorado after 8th grade, where we kept up a letter-writing correspondence through our college years with frustration over not being physically together (eventually she found a local boyfriend, which I had encouraged her to do). I read recently the typical heterosexual college student has three male/female friendships going at once. But looking back (maybe with rose-colored glasses), until I met my wife many years later in (me still a virgin), I never had a long-lasting intimate relationship as comfortable as with Robin or which brought me as much joy in just spending time together with someone else. Sadly, I did not appreciate at the time how rare and special that time with her was.

That first year we were friends was essentially platonic with probably no substantial physical contact. According to "Love, Sex and Long-Term Relationships: What People with Asperger Syndrome Really Really Want", men with Asperger's tend to be more passive in social relationships and so they tend to have sex later in life -- while women with Asperger's tend to have trouble enforcing their sexual boundaries at first and so sometimes tend to get involved with sexual activity a lot sooner as men hit on them (Robin seemingly had multiple relationships with guys in High School). And of course when a male Aspie meets a female Aspie -- with passive meeting passive -- there is always an issue of who might do something first. At some point during that first year, as the irresistible force of Robin's cute sexiness met the immovable object of a legacy-Christian over-controlled sexually-shy seventeen-and-soon-eighteen year-old boy by then in his third year of college who had not made a pass at her but still spent so much time with her, Robin decided the answer to that paradox must be that I was gay. I don't recall exactly what she said to convey that impression (maybe kind things about male gay acceptance), but I thought it was kind of funny, so for a while I did not go out of my way to contradict her. (Probably a very dumb idea in retrospect.) In her defense, I certainly had some effeminate gestures copied from my sisters like a limp wrist (took me years to break that habit) and crossing my legs when I sat down (still a painful bad habit I try to break). Men with Asperger's (to any extent I have it or something similar) also often seem more effeminate because they are not as into following social conventions -- just like women with Asperger's often do more masculine-seeming things (as Robin sometimes did like with an interest in math, drumming, and outer space). I played the flute (after being a double bass player for years, but Robin never saw that) -- and the flute is a girl's instrument in the US (though not in some other countries). I had grown up reading magazines like Cosmopolitan and Vogue because those were around the house from my sisters and as a voracious reader I read *everything* (and plus they had pictures of scantily-clad women which were not easy to find in pre-internet days as well as discussions about sex). I also read Manufacturing Engineering magazines from my father, but most women are not interested in discussing feed rates and the pros and cons of various lubricants -- at least as regards to improving turret lathe productivity. I also knew how to sew -- because my father knew that from when he was a sailor and had to repair sails and uniforms and such, so sewing seemed a manly thing to me (even as my knowing how to sew really freaked out my second grade teacher when I showed her a stuffed animal I had sewn based on watching that on "Zoom", and really liking how the form changed when you flipped what you had sewn inside out to hide the seams, and she wanted an immediate parent-teacher conference, with my having to explain my father knew how to sew, etc.. I always liked stuffed animals too, which probably did not help either...). And even though I was only 17, I was probably foolishly lying about my age and saying I was 19 or 20? (Having a mustache helped carry the lie.) So, she might have assumed otherwise I would have more experience at all sorts of things than I did. It also just occurred to me that maybe, seeing me around lots of other women in the flute section of the Band who I also was not hitting on, that Robin deciding I must be gay might have also been a way she could protect her own ego? Surprisingly, her mistaken belief actually improved our emotional relationship, as she got more relaxed around me and started to confide in me more -- so it made a crazy Yentl-in-reverse kind of sense to me to just go with her mistaken belief and not contradict her. I might even have protested once or twice at the start which may have only cemented the idea in her mind? As a parallel, in High School, my drafting instructor called me "Peter" instead of "Paul" the entire year, and after correcting him a couple of times early on I stopped correcting him, and just responded to "Peter" and even started putting "P. Fernhout" on my drawings. If Robin wanted to role-play, I was up for it -- especially if the alternative might be no role in her life at all. The end of that was after Robin started using me as her fashion consultant to decide what to wear -- probably to some Eating Club event like Houseparties some other guy had invited her to. After she had spent half an hour or so prancing around in front of me in her underwear as she tried on different outfits (she changed her bra in the bathroom though) asking me for my opinions on them, I just could not take the charade any more and said as I was leaving -- after she had decided on an outfit -- something like, "Robin, just so you know, I'm not gay." She acted really surprised. Somehow that emotional closeness we had been developing still remained even after that revelation -- although without any more fashion consulting.

Over the years, Robin and I remained friends as we both pursued other relationships. On-and-off during that time we metaphorically danced (with some limited physical intimacy) around the question of whether we might mean more to each other than friends despite some fundamental differences.

One big difference (to me) was that Robin smoked cigarettes and used recreational drugs (mostly marijuana) and I did not. Growing up with a mother who was a chainsmoker, I disliked Robin's occasional smoking even as I accepted it. But I was much more concerned and repulsed by Robin's illegal drug use in the "Just Say No" era -- and fearful for her future related to that -- even as I was attracted to Robin otherwise. There were also occasional drug busts on campus then. That drug use seemed to increase after she returned from her year off after her nervous breakdown -- including from hanging out with others in her eating club who did recreational drugs together in someone's room at club. I could not see then the possible connection between Robin's recreational drug use and her open-minded playful nature as a whole person -- or a healthy-in-some-sense decision on her part to find a reasonable way to cope with stress in her life better than some worse alternatives (including excessive alcohol use which was common then on campus). Nor was I clear then on the huge distinction between occasional recreational use of things like marijuana and psychedelics versus addiction to far worse stuff (which I don't think Robin ever used at PU). Nor did I know then about the historic profit-seeking and political motives behind banning marijuana, given how hardy the Cannabis family of plants is, how cheaply the related (and banned) hemp plant can be grown to produce a variety of products, and how people can prefer to use marijuana instead of pursuing a life of material acquisitiveness working long hours as a wage-slave. Robin was (what would be called then) a "city girl" and also interested in rock music, and so cigarettes and marijuana (and even LSD) were part of those cultures. I don't think we ever had an extended significant discussion on drug use though; I saw Robin's use more as a take-it-or-leave it fact about who she was and what decisions she made on her own. For example, one time my senior year (her junior), I stopped by her room when she was just getting ready to light up (or maybe had already), and she wanted to smoke marijuana while getting a massage, and I said I did not want to do that and left; my feelings were some combination of concern over taking advantage of someone who was in-a-sense intoxicated as well as feeling a bit rejected in the sense of my not being good enough without her using drugs (versus, say, instead seeing that all positively as a sign of her trust in me). I can wonder now to what extent my own uptight behavior ironically contributed to Robin's anxiety and whether being a lot kinder to her -- including helping her create or discover other ways of managing anxiety (beyond massage which I did for her) -- might have reduced her drug use significantly then? Although, back then I did not especially associate drug use with managing anxiety -- I just saw it as a dangerous form of pleasure seeking. Sadly, because of my excessive reaction to Robin's recreational drug use, I sometimes felt like giving in to my desire to spend time anyway with Robin was a weakness -- instead of seeing it, as I might now, as nonetheless a strength of wanting to connect with someone else regardless of perceived imperfections.

Another big difference (to Robin) was that she was raised Jewish and wanted to marry someone also was raised Jewish. I was raised Presbyterian -- although with some Jewish roots, including relatives who died in concentration camps. I was not at-all conventionally religious by that point myself and Robin being Jewish was a non-issue for me -- maybe even a plus given my interest in learning more about other faiths and my Jewish roots. I don't think Robin was especially religious either -- but certainly, as she explained, to her family it would have been a big deal for her to marry outside the faith. I think at one point Robin said her father sold bonds for Israel -- so I could imagine the extra family challenges for Robin to not marry someone Jewish. And in general it was not unreasonable for Robin to want to marry someone who shared experiences in a lot of of familiar rituals around holidays and major life events. As another possible face-saving option Robin might have accepted, I couldn't prove I was Jewish by matrilineal descent given some uncertainty (and likelihood not Jewish) about mother's mother's mother's religion/ethnicity even though I knew my mother's mother's father was Jewish. So, the religious difference in that sense was a huge stumbling block -- even as we talked of things like how many kids we each wanted. (Back then I said I wanted five kids, and she wanted two or three kids -- although it ended up we each only had one kid with someone else.)

No doubt there were other issues -- including my concern over her falling behind in one campus job processing (I think) photographs for a psychology lab and her covering that up a bit -- but those were two major ones. Maybe for both of us (certainly me) it was that our hearts and bodies wanted to say "yes" when our practical rationality said "no" for what seemed then like practical reasons? Or maybe I just flatter myself, given Robin, being so beautiful in a university then with a 2-to-1 male-to-female ratio, had many more and likely much better options. Perhaps, in a way, we became for each other a "back-up relationship" -- always someone there willing to listen and spend time together when other more-promising-seeming relationships had their ups and downs? And also always a shoulder to cry on when those other relationships did not work out...

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I did not have any idea of the pain that could have been avoided in subsequent failed relationships by "settling" for Robin's wonderful imperfectness early on -- and in then trying hard to get Robin to "settle" for me as well. I did not understand then how, say, Cindi Lauper's singing is so amazing in part because of the imperfections in her voice. I did not then appreciate the wisdom a high school friend, Paul Flores, would later impart to me, that a "perfect perfectionist" knows when "good enough" is perfection. Nor did I ask why should I aspire to a "perfect" girlfriend if I myself was imperfect in many ways? Nor did I appreciate the pain that might have been avoided in Robin's life with more support, acceptance, encouragement, and laughter from me at PU or afterwards -- whatever future we might have had together. I sure was an idiot back at age seventeen and for years beyond that -- even still now sometimes in various ways. I am so sorry, Robin.

As a PU alum about ten years my senior told me when I told him about all this, replying in part with wise words from the Beatles' last recorded song together "The End", "... And in the end, the love you take (get) is equal to the love you make (give)". Learning to both accept and give love -- including love with imperfections -- had been a difficult (and still ongoing) challenge for me.

Ultimately, we lost touch after 1991 or so when Robin got engaged to someone else who was raised Jewish; I married someone else about a year after that. It just did not feel to me like it would be a healthy thing for our marriages to stay in touch. Perhaps I was wrong about even that, and Robin could have been a good sounding board to have made my marriage better with relationship advice from a woman's perspective? On the other hand, as is said in a book I just started reading, "Making Love, Playing Power: Men, Women, and the Rewards of Intimate Justice" by Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio (on the perils to relationships from an attitude of "male entitlement"), sometimes the most loving thing you can do in a relationship is to let someone move on to new relationships that you hope will be better for them. I had hoped I was doing that for Robin.

I searched on Robin's name on the internet around 2008 when I was originally writing this memoir/polemic about Princeton University -- and it looked like she was doing well. I was happy for her. But I now think the information I found was for a different Robin Rochlin in New Jersey (a fundraiser on a parent's committee as a synagogue).

Around September 18th, 2018, a few days after learning about the death in a car accident of a previous neighbor who had been a bit like a grandfather to my son, my family watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager from 1996 called "Future's End" with Sarah Silverman (who looked then a bit like Robin at PU if you squint). Silverman plays a character, Rain Robinson, working in an astrophysics lab (astrophysics being an early interest of Robin's) at the Griffith Observatory. Tom Paris intentionally walks past a "staff only" sign and meets her. That coincidence with Robin's time at the Franklin Institute during her year off from PU -- where a man had done just that, met her, and she took that meeting as a mystical sign of fate and started dating him -- reminded me of Robin and prompted me to look her up again.

I was so happy for Robin to learn she had actually gone to medical school (as she has talked about after graduation) and become a practicing psychiatrist helping people. Psychiatry was a career fitting in well with Robin's interest in mood-altering chemicals as well as a deeper interest in the nature of consciousness -- as with her philosophy senior thesis on intentionality in reasoning systems. I remember affectionately calling her "Dr. Robin" at Princeton sometimes -- like "Dr. Ruth" (Westheimer) then on the radio -- as Robin gave out advice to me and others. (Robin would also sometimes have Dr. Ruth on the radio in her room.) It all fit, and it was more wonderful than I expected (given my earlier mistaken search finding the wrong Robin Rochlin, plus my long-ago concerns about Robin's future). For a moment, everything seemed right in the world.

But, when I searched a bit more -- mainly just curious to see if I could find a recent picture of Robin -- I was suddenly so shocked and sad to read Robin's obituary from eight years ago -- after seeing her listed as a deceased class member of 1986. I was saddened more to learn from comments on that obituary page how difficult the last decade of Robin's life actually was. Putting some of the pieces together from there, her husband died of cancer around 2001, with Robin finishing medical school residency while grieving her husband's death and raising a daughter on her own. A couple years later at age 40, she tried online dating as a single mother, eventually finding someone about six years older than her (divorced, with young kids) who she dated for about six months, but it did not then lead to anything more permanent, and she then moved to Arizona. (Apparently the online dating scene for women in their 40s is terribly harsh on the ego.) There was a mention in one tribute by a friend of Robin's from medical school about Robin's own personal "struggles" after moving to Arizona -- to a desert climate far away from her family and friends who lived in Philadelphia, a wonderful city she spoke glowingly of. She had been talking of returning to Philadelphia, but apparently never did.

I was very sad to read of Robin's death, especially since reading between the lines her death seems perhaps from suicide -- but I hope I am wrong about that. The lack of a PAW memorial also fits with that and Jewish customs around such. By coincidence, my wife has a female friend whose own mother was a psychiatrist who killed herself when the friend was about fourteen, so it can happen. (Some resources for dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one to suicide: Mayo Clinic, LifeHacker, a PubMed article on Complicated Grief, AFSP, and The Karla Smith Foundation -- but there are many others; try a search on "coping with suicide grief".)

Robin moved to Arizona to practice psychiatry in a mental health organization that treated addiction and other issues -- including apparently for Native Americans. Some Native Americans use psychedelics as part of their religious ceremonies, and I can imagine Robin might have been especially interested in that consciousness-expanding aspect of their culture.

But dealing with a parade of people's troubles day-in-day out, and perhaps even losing patients to such troubles including suicide, and even regularly facing the risk of physical assault by patients, is stressful -- especially if, like Robin, you truly cared about other people. Some more about that is explained in a Psychology Today article about Why Shrinks Have Problems which mentions a rate of suicide for female psychologists that's three times that of the general population.

On top of all that, you need to fight "the system" continually in various ways to do a good job as outlined in "Why I Quit Being a Therapist -- Six Reasons by Daniel Mackler". One key point Daniel Mackler makes in that video is about "Vicarious Traumatization" which no doubt Robin faced as a risk:

Vicarious traumatization (VT) is a transformation in the self of a trauma worker or helper that results from empathic engagement with traumatized clients and their reports of traumatic experiences. It is a special form of countertransference stimulated by exposure to the client’s traumatic material. Its hallmark is disrupted spirituality, or a disruption in the trauma workers' perceived meaning and hope.

Daniel Mackler talks about how the professional system does not provide support in practice for therapists and how he had to find his own support from a few friends, from clients, from extensive journaling, and from his own self-education. (My heart aches thinking how I wish I could have been one of those friends for Robin to provide support to her about her work...) He talks about how conventional training often turns people who are untrained good therapists into trained bad ones. He talks about how the intensity of providing therapy to so many clients made it impossible for him to have time and energy for a relationship. He outlines the pressure of responsibility for other people's lives where even a single poor choice of word by him or lapse of his focus from the therapy session could potentially spin a patient into disaster. He talks about the rules of the mental health system and the pressure they put on therapists related to managing suicidal clients -- including how, given a failure to acknowledge within the professionalized medical system that there is indeed still personal responsibility by a person for their actions if they choose to kill themselves instead of pursue other alternatives, even if you help almost all your patients avoid suicide through heroic efforts you still face legal liability and emotionally-draining lawsuits for the patients who killed themselves anyway. He says that if you are indeed good at what you do as a therapist, other professionals will notice and then begin referring all their difficult clients to you which then creates a difficult situation for you. And finally, after ten years, he said he found himself wanting to do other things besides sitting in a room all day listening to people talk about their trauma -- and he found that in trying to help clients move beyond endlessly swimming in grieving and pain and trauma to move on with their lives in positive directions, he found the same advice beginning to apply to himself. He suggests that in an ideal world, therapy is something everyone can learn to do for those around them and it can be integrated into communities through regular life instead of through professional-labeled roles. Because of liability issues and the typical lack of professional support Daniel Mackler reports for the field, I could expect that it would be hard for Robin's family and friends to have gotten any direct answers about what happened in relation to Robin's professional work experience?

One comment on that video from a retired nurse which generated agreement in replies:

The thing I learned about health care is that it’s not healthy and no one cares. If you do care it destroys your health.

Unfortunately, rather than address all these many valid concerns about the limitations of conventional mental health care, the field of psychiatry has become dominated by pharamaceutical interventions promoted by a profit-oriented pharmaceutical industry full of conflicts-of-interest where drug-based treatments may not work as well as advertised. I quote Marcia Angell in this essay:

"The problems I've discussed are not limited to psychiatry, although they reach their most florid form there. Similar conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine."

As mentioned in "The Body Keeps the Score", at least for trauma, talk therapy can identify problem areas, and drugs can blunt the worst of symptoms, but healing usually takes something else -- integrating the thinking and emotional parts of the brain, like through yoga, neurofeedback, hypnosis, writing to yourself, EMDR, acupuncture, massage, meditation and breathing, PBSP psychomotor therapy, theater/improv, and IFS. And, to the extent many personal problems reflect broader social stresses, broader de-stressing societal changes such as BlueZones or a basic income could make a difference too.

Of course, other approaches to care existed even in Arizona then -- like Andrew Weil's Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona -- but I wonder if Robin knew about that, either to consider working there or perhaps to find some broader social support? Andrew Weil even wrote a book about reenvisioning health care in a more holistic way called "Why Our Health Matters" published a year before Robin's death. If only I could have helped connect her with Weil's group in Arizona or a variety of other ones elsewhere which I knew about before she died like the Gesundheit! Institute or TrueNorth Health Center whose book on "The Pleasure Trap" sparked positive change in my own life. (I have spent the past couple of months recategorizing events and possibilities into "before Robin died" and "after she died"...).

As is suggested on the TrueNorth Health Center website:

The four major components of healthy living:
Diet — what and how we eat;
Environment — how we select and modify our surroundings;
Activity — how we exercise, rest, and sleep; and
Psychology — how we view ourselves and interact with others.

Yet, in practice, of the US$3.3 trillion the USA annually spends on "health care", the percent of that money spent directly to really help with any of those things (diet, environment, activity, psychology) from that budget rounds essentially to 0%. For example, health insurance focused on "disease treatment" will pay $100,000 for a heart bypass but will pay $0 for purchasing vegetables to quickly reverse heart disease as a shift towards holistic wellness. Some money is spent on those positive things in the USA like for example, the "Blue Zones" project, but such money generally does not come from a "Health Care" budget but rather through individuals buying things for themselves or for efforts woven into municipal public planning like for walking trails or sidewalks. So it becomes difficult for any health care provider, like Robin became at her own great effort and personal expense, to promote lasting holistic solutions to their patients. But, it is not completely impossible -- as shown by the TrueNorth Health Center -- and it might have given Robin hope to talk about such holistic possibilities and how she could use her MD in Psychiatry somehow to be part of those solutions and truly help people in the way she wanted to when she began her journey through medical school.

As another example, modern architecture and land use planning reduces friendships in our society and good friendships are important for mental health, as explained in "How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult":

"Our ability to form and maintain friendships is shaped in crucial ways by the physical spaces in which we live. "Land use," as it's rather aridly known, shapes behavior and sociality. And in America we have settled on patterns of land use that might as well have been designed to prevent spontaneous encounters, the kind out of which rich social ties are built. ... For the vast majority of Homo sapiens' history, we lived in small, nomadic bands. The tribe, not the nuclear family, was the primary unit. We lived among others of various ages, to which we were tied by generations of kinship and alliance, throughout our lives. Those are the circumstances in which our biological and neural equipment evolved. It's only been comparatively recently (about 10,000 years ago) that we developed agriculture and started living in semi-permanent communities, more recently still that were thrown into cities, crammed up against people we barely know, and more recently still that we bounced out of cities and into suburbs. So everything about how we live now is "unnatural," at least in terms of the scope of human history. Unnatural doesn't necessarily mean bad — our long lifespans are unnatural too — but it should remind us that the particular socially constructed living patterns common today have shallow roots. There's nothing fated or inevitable about each of us living in our own separate nuclear-family castles, with our own little faux-estate lawns, getting in a car to go anywhere, never seeing friends unless we make an effort to schedule it. ... As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added. ... Both these alternatives — walkable communities and co-housing — sound exotic to American ears. Thanks to shifting baselines, most Americans only know single-family dwellings and auto-dependent land use. They cannot even articulate what they are missing and often misidentify the solution as more or different private consumption. But I do not think we should just accept that when we marry and start families, we atomize, and our friendships, like our taste in music, freeze where they were when we were young and single. We shouldn't just accept a way of living that makes interactions with neighbors and friends a burden that requires special planning. We should recognize that by shrinking our network of strong social ties to our immediate families, we lose something important to our health and social identities, with the predictable result that we are ridden with anxiety and loneliness. We are meant to have tribes, to be among people who know us and care about us. ..."

These walkable healthier communities are the sort that Karl Kehde helped communities realize they wanted to build -- but he was ultimately a policy facilitator not a psychiatrist. Professor of Law at Harvard Lawrence Lessig wrote in Code 2.0 that there are (at least) four ways to shape human behavior -- rules, norms, prices, and architecture. A holistic view of health would investigate how all of these affect the health of society and how they might be used to make the world a happier, healthier, and more resilient place. But an individual psychiatrist, like Robin became, is essentially prevented by our "health" system from having any significant effect on any of these in her day-to-day work -- including by typically working long hours under stressful conditions providing little time for reflection, self-education, or activism.

Unfortunately, people graduating from medical school in psychiatry typically take on about $200,000 in debt, which then makes it essentially impossible to take a long break or to consider switching careers or in other ways rocking the boat in an established practice. If Robin had to take time off or repeat courses after her husband died, her debt load might have been a lot higher than average. And an indebted physician might also live in fear of losing their license to practice medicine and so losing their ability to repay non-dischargable-in-bankruptcy student loan debt if they are diagnosed with a mental illness. That ironically is still true even if such an illness was a direct result of caring about helping people and so making a heroic individual effort despite all the barriers put up for holistic healing by our current health care model -- but an effort sadly leading to burnout and emotional breakdown given lack of adequate support. Burnout is an especially high risk for single female physicians with children, like Robin, who don't have a stay-at-home spouse to make their daily lives easier and to provide empathic listening, encouragement, and renewal every day. So, medical school in psychiatry (especially for a woman) can become a trap in that sense if it does not work out as hoped for -- unless, perhaps, the psychiatrist is encouraged by friends to just walk away from such a trap and find a new way to use her skills that truly helps people that preserves her mental health regardless of other embarrassing social and financial consequences. If it were today, I would even point out a job for a Psychiatrist at Princeton University currently listed on Glassdoor as paying in the $200K to $300k range annually, and suggest she might want to apply for it to perhaps get back to a supportive university environment -- one where her own struggles during college would help her excel now. I wish now I could have been such a friend for Robin -- to help her see other options -- but sadly, I was not, including as I never knew she was in distress related to her work and other life circumstances. The best I can do now is write this postscript and hope it helps someone else in distress to see a better way forward.

I know it is not traditional in Judiasm to have a memorial for someone who commits suicide (if Robin did). But as with Phil Goldman's death from heart failure likely caused in part by lack of balance encouraged by Princeton University to its own profit from extremely finanically successful alumni, I feel that essentially Robin was betrayed and murdered for short-term profit by a dysfunctional health care system despite her best heroic efforts to help herself, her family, and her patients. And someone that wonderful deserves a memorial -- and she deserves a much better memorial than this one, but this is the best I could do so far on my own.

Even when I was at Princeton in the 1980s, where you probably could not walk across campus without passing a woman who was pre-med (give PU's very high medical school acceptance rate), people whose parents were physicians were saying their parent generally did not recommend the profession for their child -- and the stress situation seems to have gotten worse since. I'm not sure if I ever mentioned that observation on physician unhappiness to Robin. Looking back now, certainly Robin's work as an imaginative researcher at universities studying consciousness must have been a happier less stressful job than going to medical school -- but who am I to judge as I too left a happy research job at PU for stressful PhD studies, somehow wanting something more and mostly never finding it there. Female physicians are especially at risk of suicide or other issues -- including from sexual harrassment in a male-dominated profession (something that triggered mental issues in my oldest sister in a pre-med "Doctors of Tomorrow" program at RPI, another thing I probably did not tell Robin of) and long hours taking a toll on family life and other social relationships (which tends to stress women more than men). Excessive stress can also then contribute to a downward spiral of poor eating, lack of exercise, lost sleep, negative thinking, social withdrawal, increasing drug and alcohol use, problems at work, and so on -- even as an upward spiral is possible too with the appropriate information and enough support. Although it is pure speculation without knowledge of Robin's last years for me to imagine something like all that contributed to Robin's death -- even as her life in 2010 does seem to fit a lot of the high-risk profile outlined in the "Depression and suicide among physicians" article...

Yet, even if Robin killed herself (or perhaps, say, had an accidental drug overdose) for whatever reason that might have seemed to make sense -- or not -- at the time, I can also be proud and happy for Robin for all she accomplished up until her death to help people even with so many challenges in her own life -- challenges that perhaps made her more sensitive to the experiences of others. As the last time we talked was around twenty-eight years ago, I just don't know how happy Robin was for most of the last twenty years of her life. I just don't know how much happiness her marriage brought her -- even if ended by her husband's death leaving her a widow. I don't know how happy she was to be a mother for about fourteen years until her own death -- even as being a single mom in medical school and then dating again must have been challenging. I don't know how fulfilling it was for her to help many people through the practice of psychiatry. I can hope for Robin that hers was a full (if short) life in all those ways -- whatever happened at the end. While it is difficult, I am trying to see and accept the Yin and Yang, the good and bad all mixed together, that was in Robin's life along with no doubt lots of personal growth -- as in everyone's life.

I can wish I could have been there for Robin as a friend that last decade of her life. Although, realistically, that might have been problematical for my marriage and/or maybe even for Robin's own happiness if we ended up with more mixed signals? Yet, we had previously managed to maintain a friendship for years even as she had various boyfriends, so it might have been workable. And sometimes even just one more person to talk to could make a big difference. In any case, I have learned so much about non-pharmaceutical ways of managing depression and preventing it that I would have liked to have discussed with Robin given both her work and her personal struggles -- as well as ways to move beyond those basics to create and sustain high-performance organizations full of healthy happy individuals. Likewise, I could have learned from Robin's experiences as a psychiatrist counseling others. But now I know, sensible or not, I never can converse with her again.

Here are seven key books from that reading list which provide several non-pharmaceutical options for addressing to depression mostly based on the latest neuroscience research or other scientific evidence -- all books I wish I could tell Robin about, but sadly can't anymore:

  • The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs
  • Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain
  • The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk
  • The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success by Emma Seppala
  • Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy by Bruce E. Levine (not much neuroscience in that one, but a lot on the perils of antidepressants)
  • Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

While writing this postscript, I learned Robin told someone else she had been depressed for most of her life up through Princeton, and when she had started an antidepressant she said it changed everything for her. For what it is worth, depression is frequently associated with Asperger's due to related social alienation -- not that that proves anything about whether she had Asperger's since depression is the common cold of mental illness in today's distressful society. Basically, as Tony Atwood points out in "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome", children with Asperger's generally use one or more of four coping strategies -- self-blame and resulting depression (as perhaps with Robin), escape into imagination (including about other worlds like outer space as perhaps with Robin), denial and arrogance (definitely not Robin), and/or careful imitation of others seen as successful (maybe for Robin). From limited reading in the area, it seems to me that most antidepressants are essentially placebos -- but a mind certainly can shift its mood a lot in certain circumstances (i.e. the placebo effect is very real and surprisingly getting stronger). Even when antidepressants seem to work, they don't address underlying issues like for dealing with the consequences of, say, Asperger's or trauma. Some anti-anxiety medications can be effective to a substantial degree on a temporary basis -- which I speculate is why Robin self-medicated with marijuana at Princeton, and which I sadly saw then as a character flaw instead of now as a virtue of self-care -- but likewise anti-anxiety medications don't fix underlying issues in people's lives (as described in the book by Bessel A. van der Kolk on trauma) -- unless people use the window of time while being less anxious to learn to approach and successfully handle the things that cause them anxiety. One thing some psychotropic medicines are good at though, sadly, is causing psychosis. We'll probably never know, but I can wonder to what extent medication might have even caused Robin's nervous breakdown in Summer 1983 or a worse problem at the end of her life? What I think I remember (perhaps incorrectly, since I am biased on this topic) is that before Robin's year off, she seemed more energetic, bright, and sharp -- while after her year off (when I presume she started taking antidepressants, though it might have been earlier) she seemed somewhat more lethargic, dulled, and foggy. Of course, I don't know if that change was from problematical antidepressants or from her increasing recreational drug use. Sadly, if Robin felt antidepressants worked well for her at Princeton, that may have led her down a problematical path as regards true long-term wellness for herself dealing with issues masked by prescription drugs -- and that interpretation of her experience may also have misled her as to providing sound medical advice to others. She had also talked about learning "coping skills" from one therapist after her nervous breakdown in summer of 1983 and also of taking psychedelics -- so like in many aspects of life, it is possible to attribute success incorrectly to one of several coincidental things. It usually seemed like Robin and I were happy in each other's company (when I was not otherwise pushing her away over fears and frustrations about her illegal recreational drug use) -- maybe not surprising as positive relationships with other people seem to be a natural antidepressant. Robin and I never talked substantially that I can recall about either of us having a significant depression; I can wish now we had talked more about all that back then -- even though it was likely obvious there was darkness lurking in the background for both of us. If we had said to each other, "You know, I'm usually depressed but for some reason I am much happier when I am with you...", our lives may have taken a very different turn together...

Shortly after learning of Robin's death, by chance, I watched a Dr. Who episode called "Vincent [van Gogh] and the Doctor". Vincent, with his unique powers of perception, is the only one who can see a dangerous monster which he draws for the others. Near the end, the characters try to save Vincent by using the Tardis to show him how much people appreciate his work in the future, and while they make his life happier for a time, Vincent still kills himself after making a bunch more of amazing paintings. (Perhaps the episode ending for the changed timeline might have been better if there was a mention that Vincent may instead have been shot by a teenager instead as the newer Naifeh and Smith's biography suggests, with Vincent covering up that fact to protect the boy.) Coincidentally, that episode originally aired three days after Robin's death. A line from that episode: "[Van Gogh] transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again."

While grieving Robin's death, I also stumbled across "On Being a Real Person" from 1943 by Harry Emerson Fosdick where he makes a similar point, among others, on how weaknesses sometimes lead to strengths depending on our spiritual response to genetics and circumstances. At one point Robin told me something about how the (degrading?) care she got for her nervous breakdown after her sophomore year (in part from acid flashbacks I think she said once?) had prompted her to start thinking about neuroscience and medical school instead of her original plan of becoming a banker making loans to Philadelphia small businesses to help them grow. As Fosdick writes, sometimes in the process of overcoming our greatest weakness, we develop our greatest strength. It seems that, for a time, like Vincent van Gogh, Robin accomplished just that -- being able to help others in new ways through psychiatry.

I can wonder how much higher and farther Robin could have soared with more emotional support in her life from others, including me? But we will never know.

Another friend of hers from Princeton posted this on her tribute page:

Robin was my beloved friend. Although a year has passed since her death, it is still difficult to imagine the world without her in it. She was such a sweet and wonderful soul, so intelligent, so strong, and yet so vulnerable. She was a truly loving person, and always hoped that others would love her in the same way. My life would have been very different had I not had the good fortune of meeting and knowing her when we were students at Princeton, and I am grateful for every moment we got to spend together.

Such true words as I understand better now, even if I may not have at the time. It is indeed difficult to imagine a world without Robin in it -- especially as I had thought of her as having a happy life with husband and family the last twenty years, and now I have suddenly learned that she did not. I can wish I had appreciated how vulnerable she was back then at PU -- as she usually seemed to me more like a tower of strength, wisdom, sophistication, and googly-eyed joy.

Robin was always a very loving, caring, and beautiful person -- even if I was often a depressed dumbass back then who did not usually appreciate her (or others) enough. Especially at seventeen when I met her, I did not appreciate enough how comfortable it felt to just be with Robin and laugh together, not realizing at how rare such a relationship can be (especially for someone like myself).

Robin brought an abundance of laughter, kindness, and affection into my life from the first day we met until the last day we talked -- even as I created an artificial scarcity of such by sometimes pushing her away out of various fears or from depression. I had been proud of the my email sig I composed about a decade ago as "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity." I don't think I may ever look at my email sig in quite the same way -- without thinking of my own mistakes out of my own misguided fears preventing me from fully accepting the abundance Robin brought into my life.

Robin had explained to me the meaning of the song "Drive" by the Cars as being about taking care of someone with mental illness (as we both sat on my bed my senior year). I choked up listening to that song when playing the video and singing along in memory of her shortly after learning about her death. I am sad I was not there for Robin in her final distress if that was the case -- just to chat together as a friend and make each other laugh. Even if, as I mentioned in the book, a loved one may be shortly taking a (Ghost World?) bus out of this world on some unknown schedule, you can still make the most every moment until then. That song just stuck in my head for a long time after learning of her death. I can only wonder if she was trying to tell me something more back then and I was too dumb to hear it. I can even wonder which way the support back then would have gone if we had truly talked deeply. There is such a thing as "codependency" -- but what is it called when two people with various different issues are helpful for each other?

Ultimately, unlike the fictional Dr. Who, I can't change the past. And as in the movie "About Time", even if I could, changing the past is problematical -- especially when people have had children. So, the best I can do is take my reflections on time together with Robin (and others), acknowledge my failings -- and successes -- in both things I did and things I didn't do, and resolve to continue to try to become a better person and build better relationships with those still around me (all much easier said than done). As a difficult challenge of "restorative justice" for someone like me, I can try to find joy in my heart, and use that to bring more joy into the world as best as I can for people here now or yet to arrive in this world. I feel that Robin, especially "Dr." Robin, would want me to do that. Thank you Robin for giving me yet another opportunity to change for the better -- even years after your death.

While writing this I bought a copy of a 1986 Princeton yearbook on eBay from a seller in Arizona (the only one available) to read Robin's senior quote and otherwise remember those times. By chance, the Nassau Herald I received was Robin's actual Princeton yearbook -- as indicated by a couple of inscriptions in it from friends. I had always wanted a copy of the Princeton 1986 yearbook since I had several friends from 1986 and felt connected to that class as I started the same year as a transfer student. But I would never have wanted to get a copy a result of Robin's death, so be careful what you wish for. Sitting outside when I opened the yearbook to her entry, a very tiny seed flew out of the type with a small wing -- in response to a gust of wind. The seed floated around, and for a time I thought it was gone, until I found it again settled back down on the page. I am not sure what to do with that seed.

One surprising thing about the yearbook was that the spine was looked like someone had bent it all the way around on the page with Robin's yearbook entry. Probably there is some story there...

Robin quoted from "Mad Man Moon" as her yearbook entry. Below is the quote and here is the full song for "Genesis - Mad Man Moon" and the full lyrics

Within the valley of shadowless death
They pray for thunderclouds and rain,
But to the multitude who stand in the rain
Heaven is where the sun shines.
The grass will be greener till the stems turn to brown
And thoughts will fly higher till the earth brings them down.
Forever caught in desert lands one has to learn
To disbelieve the sea.
I can vaguely recall (perhaps incorrectly) that Robin played that song for me at one point -- maybe in the bedroom she grew up in that one time I visited her family home some months after her graduation? But I no doubt missed any significance of it then if she did. Sad to think I foolishly missed a potentially life-changing chance to apply what I learned in a course I took at SUNY SB on poetry appreciation.

I can think the part in the song about "But a prison in sand / Is a haven in hell, / For a gaol can give you a goal / goal can find you a role" might have been seen by Robin about her nervous breakdown, treatment, and recovery leading to her goal of becoming a psychiatrist?

On the wall in my senior dorm room at Princeton I had a poster of a black-and-white sketch by Picasso of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza -- which I used to test the robotics vision system and rudimentary artificial intelligence I was working on as part of my senior thesis. No doubt Robin saw that poster. It was certainly an appropriate print in other ways too, given like Don Quixote, I have since spent a much time engaging in quixotic ventures. For example, I've advocated over the years on tech sites for a basic income, but it is hard to prove that had any influence on, say, an actual research project launched on a basic income by Y-Combinator. Likewise, Post-Scarcity Princeton has had no apparent effect on Princeton or the world. And my email sig on the irony of the tools of abundance used from a perspective of scarcity thinking -- intended in part to help transform future AIs decades from possible monsters to helpful friends when they process internet archives-- may well have no impact, and even if it does, probably not in my lifetime. For the longest time, most people could not even see those possible future monster AIs -- even if they show up in sci-fi often enough -- let alone think of helping them grow as sentient beings. (Of course, James P. Hogan saw that long before I did.) Even seemingly straight-forward potentially useful projects like developing an educational garden simulator quickly went off the rails and bogged down for several years -- it took a long time to learn to prioritize. So, that Picasso print was in a way my own parallel to Robin's choice of "Mad Man Moon"

My own senior quote was about some selections from a larger web of thoughts that mostly reflected my senior thesis:

A few strands from a larger web; I am, therefore I think, act, feel, breathe, live, die, change, and stay the same. A logical system needs assumptions; these assumptions can't be chosen logically, but they can be chosen intelligently, for intelligence is more than logic. The purpose of purpose can be self-perpetuation. Purpose, meaning, and seeking exist as part of a very stable pattern that is the phenomena of Man. Innovation is not incompatible with stability; it is central. Self-replicating space colonies may come to be.

I think I like Robin's approach to finding a choosing quote better -- connecting her life to a much larger existing tapestry of music instead of trying to make a new one.

Playing the drums was an indisputably healthy outlet for Robin's own stress and anxiety, and she had a set of drums in her dorm room. Robin would play the drums sometimes when I was over her room that first year. I can't say I appreciated her drumming enough then. I can wish now I had thought back then to learn enough about drumming to play a duet with Robin something like, say, this one from Genesis. I vaguely recall bringing a toy-quality bongo drum I had over to Robin's room once or twice, but I never really learned much about drumming or had a good musical drum.

I went by a music store while writing this, and I saw some drumsticks on sale and thought to buy some in Robin's memory. I was going to buy one set, but a second was only a little more so I got two sets of different sized ends. Among the change I got when I paid for them was a nickel from 1963, Robin's year of birth. I mentioned to the store owner, a long time musician, about why I was buying the drumsticks, and he said he too had had a friend die who was a drummer. He told me how he had put a pair of drumsticks in his friend's casket, and then bawled like a baby (his words) for a long time which everyone there understood. Sometimes when someone we cared about dies, we take on some of their characteristics for a time -- hopefully their better ones. I've been drumming a little around the house with those drumsticks -- and even just with a pair of pens as well -- just drumming on whatever is around and listening to the different sounds thing make (including the box Robin's yearbook arrived in). And I've also started drumming with those sticks on whatever is available sometimes when my son plays the guitar. I'm reminded that some happy times in my life have been in drumming circles a few times at some events.

I don't know in the end if the recreational *drug* use by Robin at Princeton overall was good or bad for her -- given it seems nicotine and marijuana can help some people deal with stress. Psychedelics also have been used to treat depression, with research showing they reduce "Default Mode Network" activity (similar to meditation) and also may help people move beyond PTSD. Psychedelics might have some of the same benefits as electroshock therapy in terms of rewiring or rebooting an obsessive brain but without random memory loss side-effect. LSD is even being cited as contributing to the success of people like Steve Jobs and also Kary Mullis (who won the Nobel prize for inventing PCR gene sequencing). The researchers who developed Smalltalk, local area networking, and the laser printer at Xerox Parc (which led to the Macintosh) were also said to have done a lot of drugs. But in any case, recreational *drum* use on her drum set in her dorm room and with the PU band certainly was a source of pure goodness in Robin's life. As was just listening to music, which we would often do together.

Surprisingly, in looking at the 1986 yearbook survey on recreational drug use, only about 1/4 of the class of 1986 had not used recreational drugs of some sort by graduation. So, I guess I was in a small minority there. While still feel it foolish to ingest illegal unregulated substances of questionable quality while supporting larger criminal enterprises, especially in the absence of a supportive social system in case things go wrong, I can now try to be open-minded enough to wonder if I was exactly the sort of uptight obsessive person at PU who might have actually benefited substantially from such substances at Robin used (had they been prescribed by McCosh infirmary)? Such drug use actually goes back thousands of years in human history -- even if anything that makes people happy without working for others or which helps people see beyond mental constraints is potentially dangerous to any authoritarian status quo (and so may well be outlawed).

While working on this postscript, recreational cannabis was just legalized in Canada. I now see from that article another connection for Robin -- given Carl Sagan wrote on the benefits of cannabis, and Robin had interest in astrophysics. Sad to think I judged Robin harshly for using that at PU. Really, of issues people have in relationships, that seems so small to me now. Sigh... And for an even more radical take on the issue, see 9 Reasons Why A Girl Who Smokes Weed Makes The Perfect Girlfriend.

One coincidence I wonder about is that the date of Robin's death (same as my mother's birthday) was just days after the class of 1985 25th reunions in 2010. I did not attend that reunion. I had asked to be removed from the PU Alumni mailings back in 2009 in part to protest the censorship of Harold Helm '68 on Tigernet. So, I don't know if Robin did attend that reunion (her 24th as an '86). At the repeated urging of an older alum, I wrote the class secretary of 1986 about Robin's death and also asked whether Robin attended that 2010 reunion, but I never heard back (going on a couple months now) -- but it's a complex situation so I don't blame her for sidestepping it if my email even got past some spam filter somewhere. In a way, maybe it is better for me not to know as my heart might break even further if I found out Robin did attend -- and especially if learned she had asked around if I was there. One problem with being a medical doctor is fear your license is going to be revoked if you admit a mental issue and ask for help. Female physicians also have a higher than average risk for suicide because, while they may attempt it less often than the average woman, they know so much more about potentially lethal drugs. Two years into the Great Recession, 2010 must have been an especially difficult time to be a psychiatrist given widespread social distress across the country and the beginning of the resulting opioid epidemic. Sad to think that if we both had attended the 2010 reunion, maybe we could perhaps have discussed all the things I have learned since about mental health myself. Maybe, as a friend, I could have helped Robin find other options to deal with her distress. And maybe she, from all her experiences, could have helped me become a healthier person too. But, sadly, too late now.

The book "Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain" makes it clear that just listening to someone who is in a lot of pain and having suicidal thoughts can make a huge difference just by itself because generally pain -- especialy emotional pain -- is usually reduced when people feel they are listened to. In fact, it is best not to try to "problem solve" the first time you talk to someone, even as eventually it makes sens to help a person find ways to reduce their pain or find new coping resources for their pain. Some of that is outlined in the Metanoia website page on "What can I do to help someone who may be suicidal?" which includes:

4. Listen. Give the person every opportunity to unburden his troubles and ventilate his feelings. You don't need to say much and there are no magic words. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it. Give him relief from being alone with his pain; let him know you are glad he turned to you. Patience, sympathy, acceptance. Avoid arguments and advice giving.

That said, eventually down the road one can talk about ways to get better. If Robin was still around now, I'd discuss with her how human happiness seems to come from having the basics like good food, clean air, clean water, exercise, sunshine, meaningful relationships, good work, laughter, music, community, and so on. The further we get from those basics the more likely we are to end up depressed or worse. As psychologist Philip Hickey writes, depression can even be seen as an adaptive response to an abnormal environment -- in the same way feeling cold outside can lead people to put on a jacket or go inside where it is warmer. I'd concede to Robin that it remains an open question how well any sort of drugs (or other trans-human technology) can fit into that prescription for happiness -- but I'd also insist drugs usually are not needed to achieve a baseline of happiness for most people if they have all those basics in their environment

Likewise, I'd mention the book "The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs" by Stephen S. Ilardi, and the related Therapeutic Lifestyle Changce (TLC) website, where he outlines how depression rates have skyrocketed because our bodies were never designed for the sleep-deprived, poorly nourished, frenzied pace of twenty-first century life. Inspired by the extraordinary resilience of aboriginal groups, Dr. Ilardi prescribes an easy-to-follow, clinically proven program involving supplementing with Omega-3s, avoiding excessive rumination by doing things, engaging in ant-depressant aerobic exercise, getting natural sunlight and supplementing as needed with vitamin D3 (sometimes needed even in sunny locations like Arizona where people spend a lot of time indoors), engaging in face-to-face social activities regularly, and getting enough sleep by following basic guidelines like avoiding screens later at night. He claims "over 70% of patients experiencing a favorable response, as measured by symptom reduction of at least 50%".

I'd ask Robin if she had read the essay "Addiction: The View from Rat Park" by Bruce K. Alexander which says:

"The view of addiction from Rat Park is that today’s flood of addiction is occurring because our hyperindividualistic, hypercompetitive, frantic, crisis-ridden society makes most people feel social and culturally isolated. Chronic isolation causes people to look for relief. They find temporary relief in addiction to drugs or any of a thousand other habits and pursuits because addiction allows them to escape from their feelings, to deaden their senses, and to experience an addictive lifestyle as a substitute for a full life."

So in that sense, addiction and depression and many other issues are not just a personal thing -- they are a community thing.

I'd say to Robin that, like her, I tried to help others in part out of what I had learned dealing with my own issues -- although maybe much less successfully than her with her patients. I'd tell her that in 2008 I wrote this book-length essay on re-envisioning Princeton University itself (and the larger world around it) as a less depressing place by thinking in terms of sharing abundance out of joy instead of competing over scarcity from fear. I wish I had thought to send a link to her back then (if I had kept in touch and had known she had become a psychiatrist). I am sad now that can never happen. Two key sentences from the above I would have emphasized: "I suggest [what Gatto suggests about school mainly as social control, not education] applies no matter how many nice people there are at PU, as long as its mythology for both undergraduate and graduate education revolves around scarcity and related themes... There is some hopeful news now and then in PAW (like more profiles of alternative alumni careers), even as the deep issues about "elitism" (alienation?), "competition" (destructiveness?), and "excellence" (dissatisfaction? perfectionism? excessive self-criticism?) usually remain unspoken." Interesting again how in the 1986 yearbook, elitism was mentioned as a problem of concern to many undergraduates. And I'd point out the two references to the Metanoia website which explains David Conroy's work on suicide prevention where he suggests suicide is generally best seen as an involuntary act that occurs when pain exceeed coping resources -- especially since that approach is a way to destigmatize suicide and encourage people to reach out for help without fearing getting even more pain in return for admitting their current pain and related suicidal thoughts.

I'd tell her that any rational reasonable person should be stressed out about 1980s Princeton (and many other issues in the world, including like worries of a nuclear war with the Soviets, like depicted in the movie "The Day After" which came out while I was at PU) -- even as we have a choice in how to respond to those stresses. As Mr. Rogers sings, "What you do with the mad that you feel?" Maybe he should have made a version around the word "sad" too. Like Mr. Rogers (also a Presbyterian minister), Fosdick makes the point in his book that, though genetics and circumstance shape the terrain of our lives, how we respond to that terrain is a choice we can make in various ways, some healthier than others.

I'd remind Robin that suicide causes so much pain for loved ones left behind, that an attempt can go wrong and leave people worse off mentally or physically, and that, ultimately, we don't really know what happens to consciousness after the death of the mortal body -- especially after suicide, even as there are many religious speculations about punishment, endless unhappiness, reincarnation, forgiveness, acceptance, growth, or something else. Since everyone dies eventually all too soon of natural causes if not otherwise (what is 100 years of life in a universe that seems billions of years old?), why not keep trying until then to make things as good as they can be for yourself and others? Especially given there are usually so many options for building some happiness in the world even in the worst of circumstances (like many I list here). I'd tell her about Howard Zinn's essay on "The Optimism of Uncertainty". I'd tell her, from the caption on a cartoon I long kept on my desk, "Even if you can't always have happiness, you can always give happiness." And I'd give her a hug if she wanted one to make her happier.

And having learned a lot about love since those days at PU (especially about unconditional love by becoming a father), I could hope I'd have had the courage to pass on another friend's gift to me at Princeton of life-saving words, by telling Robin that no matter what she did she'd always have a friend who loved her, reminding her of happy times, and saying it made me happy to know such a wonderful beautiful person was still in this world and that I would be terribly sad if she "withdrew" from it. While any one comment of connection and rootedness may often not make a huge difference by itself, the more such roots the tree of our life has, the less likely it is to topple over in the storms that come our way.

Writing Post-Scarcity Princeton and reflecting on my experiences at Princeton was also very stressful and left me in a bad state of mind in summer 2008. Thankfully I was able to attend a local Humor Conference run by the "Humor Project" shortly afterwards to help pull me back from the edge. One of the speakers, Brett Leake, was especially motivational with his "Say Yes" presentation and also advice on writing comedy by drawing out the irony -- another idea that contributed to my email sig on the irony of abundance misused in the hands of those still fearing scarcity. I keep the badge from that conference on the wall in my office to remind me of that time of healing and community. Thank you Joel Goodman and Margie Ingram (a married couple) for running those humor conferences for so many years! I wish Robin could have attended that conference too some year if she needed a boost. I always liked to hear her laugh.

As I look back, I see now that Robin was a source of abundance for me at Princeton practically from day one. She made Princeton a less depressing place for me. And I did not appreciate that abundance enough then. I paid a price of years of loneliness for that stupidity, short-sightedness, and poorly-handled fear on my part. But while I deserved to pay that price, I am sad to think Robin too might also have paid a price for my stupidity and short-sightedness. If I could, I'd tell her I was sorry, and thank her for making my life so much better than it would have been otherwise. The best I could do now as far as communicating with her is that I wrote a note to that effect and burned it outside in an outdoor chimenea.

Robin had so much abundance to give to the world, and that abundant giving came to an end on June 2, 2010. It may be completely true that even when you are a total ass in a relationship with someone, you are still generally not "responsible" if they kill themselves. People who complete suicide are making their own choice -- given there are always many other alternatives. But, for all that, our actions or inactions can still make a difference -- otherwise we would not see such a variation of suicide rates across different countries and in the same country across different times from changing socio-economic policies and other issues. And I can wish somehow I had made more of a positive difference in Robin's life -- whether for selfish reasons or ideally from a broader sense of compassion, joy, community, bravery, and true love.

No doubt I will continue to reflect on all this. As with other deaths I have grieved, one consolation is that the waves of grief get further apart as time goes by. And of course, despite the sadness about Robin's death, thinking of our times together have also brought some happy smiles to my face. I hope that as the pain and remorse recedes over time, the happy smiles come to predominate when thinking about Robin.

I hope my writing about this is helpful to others. In choosing what to say and not say eight years after Robin's death, I can ask, would Robin want me to write something? And not just the Robin I knew -- but also Robin the psychiatrist who to the end helped people with conditions like addiction, suicidalness, self-esteem, trauma, and relationship issues? It was not my intention to hurt anyone with these somewhat hazy and imperfect reflections from my perspective on a past long gone -- as problematical as it is to write something public about someone who, even though deceased, still has relatives and friends alive with their own feelings about Robin's life (and death) and what she meant to them. In particular, even if Robin's life ended tragically, that does not mean her life up until then was not worth living just as it was with her marriage, daughter, friends, and patients. While it is painful to me to imagine the years of suffering Robin may have endured after her husband's death (when all the time I thought she was doing well), that is still imagination, not reality. There is pain and suffering in all lives -- just as there is also pleasure and joy. As Fosdick says, we make our choices about which of our moods we will most identify with and how we will react to our genetics and circumstances. And, from a slightly different perspective, as has been said by others, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Although, we also all have our limits as apparently finite human beings...

After a minor success in my work, I did some drumming with those new drumsticks on the two boxes Robin's Nassau Herald yearbook and a companion Bric-a-Brac book arrived in -- out of joy instead of sorrow. That helped me realize how much joy -- and potential for even more joy -- there probably was in Robin's life just exactly as it was. If back in the 1980s I had said "Yes" to Robin being in my life long-term just exactly as I was myself back then with all my own issues and my own ignorances, it's always possible I just would just have made Robin's life worse in many other ways. While similar interests and similar backgrounds are useful in smoothing a marriage, ultimately a successful marriage is often based less on compatability and more on ability to negotiate differences and also based on charity and generosity in interpreting the behavior of the other person and similar such loving behavior -- things I did not understand well back then. So, I'll never know how such a marriage would have really played out with my own characteristics as I was back then. On the follies and ignorance of youth, Fosdick quotes Logan Pearsall Smith who said:

"I have no regrets for youth. Gladly would I go on living at my present age, and with my present interests, for uncounted years. To become young again would seem to me an appalling prospect. Youth is a kind of delirium, which can only be cured, if it is ever cured at all, by years of painful treatment. . . . When I think of that brother and sister fifty years ago at Harvard, -- endowed, it may be, with the grace of youth, but full otherwise of ignorance and folly, -- I cannot but prize more highly our present state. Our bones are ripening, it is true, for their ultimate repose, but how small a price, after all, is that to pay for the knowledge we have acquired of the world and men, for the splendid panorama of literature and the arts which years of travel and study have unrolled before us, and above all for those adequate conceptions in whose possession, according to Spinoza’s wisdom, true felicity consists."

Likewise, the Princeton University community itself continues to grow and change as all the people who make it up continue to grow and change. The book "Making Love, Playing Power" says "Critical consciousness is the state of awareness that results when we begin to examine relationships patterns that we previously accepted without question." This Post-Scarcity Princeton essay is ultimately, hopefully, about creating a "critical consciousness" about how Princeton University could change itself to reduce the amount of suicide on campus, the amount of suicide in our society, and also to reduce the risk of our entire society committing collective suicide. I can hope a reformed PU might lead by example and reduce the risk of nuclear war, bioweapons, slaughterbots, or other sorts of devastation that might be ironically unleashed accidentally or on purpose. I can hope a reformed PU might help reform a short-term-profit-driven military-industrial-academic complex which can't yet envision a better way forward that works for almost everybody in this abundant world other than mainstream economics celebrating artificial scarcity and increasing inequality. But right now, writing about such reform -- when so many people still think "there is no alternative" to hair-trigger Mutually Assured Destruction or mainstream economics -- is indeed about as crazy as when Opa Dorus decided to save people from sinking ships instead of just waiting for the people to jump into the ocean and drown first so he could salvage the cargo afterwards. But, over a century later, what seemed crazy before as regards saving lives instead of watching people drown so you could take their stuff is now the new norm -- as are much better lifejackets developed by other people who expressed their caring in a different way. Likewise, perhaps someday, as one example, instead of just researching and recommending exchange transactions, the Princeton economics department might, say, research options for a healthier balance between subsistence, gift, exchange, and planned transactions in an economy to help bring more joy into the world, or they might explore how a basic income might reduce rising inequality and how even millionares might benefit from that.

Perhaps a hopeful sign of change is in (as I write this paragraph) the latest issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (October 24, 2018), in an article interviewing Janet Rapelye, dean of Princeton admission for 15 years. In it Dean Rapelye says, "The part that remains the same at Princeton is that we are always looking for intellectual curiosity and academic excellence." It is indeed hopeful to see "curiosity" up there with "excellence" as a PU admission value. And it is true that in some very few K-12 schools or specific teacher's classrooms both excellence and curiosity are possible at once -- but such places are rare (as implied by John Taylor Gatto's writings like "The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher"). [Sadly, John Taylor Gatto passed away while I was writing this postscript.] So, unfortunately, in most modern schooling for most students, excellence and curiosity are to an extent in opposition -- and demanding both at the same time from a student from a mainstream school is potentially a crazy-making emotional double bind. To be clear, in the long term, curiosity and excellence do not have to be in conflict and may even be quite compatible; I am talking here about the specifics of how those two impulses relate to conventional schooling with grading and so on. Excellence in school is a proxy in general for obedience and conformity. Curiosity in school is a proxy in general for disobedience and individuality. While I might question if looking for both excellence and curiosity has truly remained the same about PU going back to the 1980s (from my own biased recollections of those times) -- perhaps that may have at least been true during Janet Rapelye's time as dean of admissions? In any case, I'd suggest there is likely to be a deep stressful emotional conflict in any student admitted to PU whose record shows a lot of both academic excellence and intellectual curiosity within a school setting -- stress that may manifest at PU as depression or worse. Still, like Yin and Yang, it is possible a student with both a lot of excellent conformity and a lot of curious individuality may do amazing things -- but perhaps at a great personal cost unless they have found a way to integrate and prioritize such opposites (like Fosdick writes about in his book)? Such conflicts between excellence and curiosity were present in my own time at PU (and one reason I almost withdrew from PU my Junior year) -- and likely such conflicts were present in Robin's time at PU as well. There is also no emphasis in what Dean Rapelye says on a desire for well-roundedness, emphasis on achieving general wellness (including getting adequate sleep, sunlight, exercise, and enough different colors in one's diet), or proven ability as a social connector like, say, Dwight McKay '84 exemplified -- so perhaps there is still progress that can be made in those directions? Or maybe Dean Rapelye just takes such for granted? Those sorts of broader abilities could help students at PU help themselves and others deal with that fundamental conflict between curiosity and excellence. To the extent that what PU demands of successful applicants is what many potential PU applicants and their families explore during K-12 years, perhaps PU could be supplying leadership here in regards to these emotional soft skills and health habits that might benefit any PU applicant's life even if they are not admitted to PU? Intellectual curiosity may also be a much narrower kind than more general curiosity about all of life (e.g. Robin's curiosity about expanding consciousness through mood altering drugs). And of course, the kind of diversity of ability and life experience (including various kinds of non-intellectual curiosity) one might find at, say, SUNY Stony Brook is generally going to be lacking at PU. Even if the PU campus may now sport many shades of skin tone and even many family levels of income, that lack of ability etc. diversity is on purpose at PU -- but what are the implications for PU students in terms of being able to relate to others who are not so far up various bell curves? It is a tautology that 50% of people are below average -- and that includes 50% of people scoring below the average 100 IQ score (even if, to be clear, people can score low on an IQ test but still be warm wonderful creative smart-in-other-ways human beings who contribute greatly to society). Of course, as I suggest in this book, and while I did not understand it at the time, it seems precisely the deeper implicit point of Princeton University to alienate people like Robin and myself from our earlier roots so we can presumably take a role as part of an elite based around a mythology of scarcity -- as opposed to become part of a larger inclusive global community based around a mythology of abundance. Robin -- being a more sensitive and more caring soul than I -- sensed and suffered from that PU-induced alienation from roots much sooner than I did (including with her unhappiness about all her high school friends going to Penn when she went to PU instead). Dean Rapelye also said PU had re-instituted the transfer student program to help increase diversity -- but perhaps that is not so wise an idea unless PU wants more over-the-top cross-college-comparative polemic essays like this one? :-) So, overall, maybe there is some hopeful progress at PU, even as a lot more progress is still possible?

But, as a counterpoint, here is a quote from a recent Daily Princetonian opinion piece about stress on the PU campus (emphasizing self-inflicted stress) by PU student Ashley Nurse entitled "Will I finish this degree or will it finish me?":

Nevertheless, the academic environment is toxic. The pressure Princeton places on its students is overwhelming and the amount of breakdowns I’ve witnessed — and had — is astounding. But we have to face the facts: most often, we are the ones to blame. I don’t typically eavesdrop, but one thing that stuck with me as I was eating lunch at Whitman was a conversation I overheard between two students. “It’s Princeton; this school is suffocating us.” “Yeah, but this school doesn’t force you to die; you do that yourself — there is a point where you have to decide to value yourself.” This illustrates the two sides of this situation — the push and pull of the blame game. At what point are we going to stop playing the victim? When are we going to begin to acknowledge that a majority of the stress we’re enduring is, dare I say, self-inflicted? ... Something must be done by both the University and the students. Both the University and the students have to acknowledge the toxic role we play and figure out ways of fixing it.

Regarding global prosperity for all (and, by implication, also global wellness for all), I'm imploring the Princeton Community not to be like I was with Robin -- but instead to be like Zev Cooperman was with Robin. Be the ones who lovingly appreciate the beauty and spirit of global abundance (and eventually, interstellar abundance), see the potential for a happy life together for everyone on the planet, know that you want that, be willing to make a firm commitment to incrementally work towards global prosperity including to help everyone realize their own (healthy) dreams, and be willing to dedicate the resources and do the hard work in worthwhile ways to back that all up -- where, like Jimmy Carter has suggested recently for the USA, PU alumni, trustees, students, professors, and staff reimagine Princeton University as taking the lead to be "a different kind of superpower". And, just like I hurt others in later relationships by not appreciating Robin enough at the time, by making that commitment to global abundance, beyond the joy of a happy planet, you may also head off ironic horrors like slaughterbots, designer plagues, nuclear wars, soul-destroying bureaucracy, and worse. "Love" the idea of global prosperity -- and make it happen for all. Thirty years ago when I was a graduate student at Princeton, sustainability was a marginalized fringe movement and my interest in it created conflicts in the department I was in -- now Princeton has an Office of Sustainability and such concerns are woven throughout the curriculum and implemented across campus. Likewise, I can hope that in thirty years -- ideally much sooner -- Princeton will have an Office of Global Prosperity (even if it not called "The Lewis Center for Post-Scarcity Studies and Economic Transcendence") and likewise the curriculum and institutional practices and even the alumni network will be transformed -- and then eventually the world may transcend in a good way. After Robin reasonably rejected with anger my joking half-proposal, a year or two later I eventually got lucky and found another wonderful woman to properly propose to (in Prospect Garden) who (eventually) said yes. But while there are literally billions of women on this planet, there is only one Planet Earth itself. So the stakes for all of us are much higher in that sense of choosing to say "yes" to Global Prosperity. While it it always good to be prudently prepared for natural disasters, bunkers in New Zealand are not going to save global elites from slaughterbots, engineered plagues, global nuclear war, out-of-control militaristic bureaucracies, and so on (even ignoring pilots are not going to fly them there without their families and bunker employees are not going to be motivated by cash if the global economy collapses) -- as by then, like with my half-serious proposal to Robin, it will be way too late. Like Robin's senior thesis and my senior thesis -- both exploring Artificial Intelligence -- might have been better if we had discussed them in detail together with joy and humor, remember that our path out of an AI technological singularity likely will have a lot to do with our path into any singularity in terms of the amount of global collaboration and joy and humor we put into our AI creations -- as opposed to building AIs designed to kill people in other countries or designed see the world only in terms of short-term monetary advantage. Like my fears of Robin's self-medicating recreational drug use prevented me from planning a future with her, please don't let fears of global scarcity dominate our long-term planning -- as those fears may become a self-fulfilling prophecy creating both real scarcity and artificial scarcity as people scramble for individual advantage and hoard the results, with that then leading to global disaster. Please "say yes" to global prosperity instead -- like Zev said yes to Robin's overall wonderfulness which led Robin to say yes to be his partner for life.

I wrote Post-Scarcity Princeton two years before Robin's death, but never thought to tell her about it. Maybe I am just not qualified to speak about such topics, given my mistakes with Robin (and others)? Or maybe, alternatively, like with Robin and psychiatry, past pains and mistakes could potentially be turned into insights to help others? Ultimately though, love is the answer (or "Love is the fulfillment of the law" as my Christian namesake wrote to the Romans). Love is also something many others (as above) are much more qualified through their actions to talk about than I am.

People, especially younger ones, can change somewhat -- sometimes easily and quickly, and sometimes with great difficulty over many years. One important theme of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture is how Tadodaho changed from a mean person to a compassionate one through the Peacemaker correctly singing the song Jikonsahseh taught. There have been many positive influences in my life to help me become a better person over the past few decades. Through those influences and reflection on them, I have become a more thankful and appreciative person since my PU days. Part of that change is from learning more about Native American traditions of gratitude as well as the healthful aspect of daily thanksgiving for all the good things in our lives and the good things that happened that day. When I was a young boy I was taught to pray at night and ask God to do things (including to protect people I cared about from harm). Now before I go to sleep each night, instead I thank the Universe for all the good I already have (or have had) in my life (starting with my wife and son) -- honoring the Native American idea that the Great Mystery has already supplied us with all we need to be happy if we make good use of it.

A complex loving-in-some-senses relationship spanning years and interwoven around other relationships on both sides can't be easily quantified -- but sometimes numbers do provide some additional perspective. A total of, say, forty twenty-four-hour days (about 1000 hours) may seem like an insignificant amount compared to, say, 17,000 days (408,000 hours). But when I think of the time Robin and I spent together over the years -- talking in person or on the phone, having meals together, sitting together on the band bus, walking hand-in-hand, listening to music, and so on to some more intimate things -- it likely adds up in total to only (and perhaps even somewhat under) about forty twenty-four-days-worth of time spent together (or about 1000 hours of loving-in-some-sense connectedness). So, a tiny amount compared to all the other hours in our respective lives (most spent alone or with other people) -- but significant and unforgettable to me, even if I did not appreciate that time with Robin enough back then. Sometimes, I can wonder if we are all alotted by fate a certain fixed number on days on Earth -- plus the days some other people choose to spend with us? Those 40 "days" with Robin are also something I will always be thankful for -- even if there might have been many more joyful days with Robin had I not been such an ungrateful anxious depressed dumbass back then who thought Robin's sea of abundance was a mirage and instead that she would just be burdening me with bags of congealed desert sand. Instead, it turns out, I can now see I created the desert lands myself out of what otherwise was a fertile sea. I was fortunate to find another fertile sea anyway -- even though it was not what a dumbass like me back then deserved.

Rest in Peace, Robin. I hope you had a good life overall as a spiritual being on a physical journey on Earth lasting 17,040 days -- every day another victory against the darkness. Thank you for choosing to spend some of that time with me -- brightening my life back then and even now from memories of time together and your smile and laughter. I hope you are on to better things.

A note on the origins of Post-Scarcity Princeton

2022-05-22: In looking through some old email to a Princeton University mailing list on parenting, searching on comments related to college as my own son wrestles with the college question, I see that I posted on 2005-06-13 an email about the book "University Secrets: Your Guide to Surviving a College Education" by Robert D. Honigman. No one replied to that message on that list. I had also emailed my wife about that book.

And I then found another email from the same day sent to my PU undergrad advisor about that book, and we had some back and forth. There are many roots to Post-Scarcity Princeton -- like in links above such as David Goodstein's "The Big Crunch" on the larger socio-economic context of the collapse of the PhD pyramid scheme. I mentioned Patrick Hill's course on "Alternative Higher Education" in Spring 1982 at SUNY Stony Brook in that email to George. And I said reviewing some things on my records on that course led me to find that "University Secrets" book online. And it turns out Robert D. Honigman in that book mentions contacting Patrick Hill.

So, I should credit Robert D. Honigman's book as one of the seeds that led to Post-Scarcity Princeton. I think that seed from what I read in 2005 lay dormant until it and other ideas sprouted in 2008 reading that PAW article on "Jumping from the Ivory Tower". That sprouting was in the context of my participating in online communities related to technology, abundance, and education/parenting, especially Slashdot, Engelbart/UnRevII/Bootstrap, Squeak/Smalltalk, EduSig/Python, Virgle/OpenVigle, OpenManufacturing, P2PResearch, and some PU alumni mailing lists plus some other non-PU parenting/education mailing lists -- as well as thinking about alternative education issues related to my then very young son. While that "University Secrets" book has nothing specifically to do with post-scarcity or advanced technology, it has everything to do with why so many college students end up feeling alienated and in distress (even suicidal), especially at large public research universities like SUNY Stony Brook. And transcending such alienation is a major theme of Post-Scarcity Princeton.

In addition to looking at old PU-alumni-related emails from the 2000s, I did a search on the public Bogleheads forum. That website is mainly about investing following the advice of Jack Bogle (Princeton 1951, founder of the Vanguard Group, and champion of investing in diversified index funds over the long-haul). But they also discuss other topics -- and in any case college choice (and related forgone income) is the biggest single consumer purchases most families make. In this post by "dewey" I found a reference to Frank Bruni's book "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania" (and started reading that book). From one review he cites:

"Bruni, a bestselling author and a columnist for the New York Times, shows that the Ivy League has no monopoly on corner offices, governors' mansions, or the most prestigious academic and scientific grants. Through statistics, surveys, and the stories of hugely successful people, he demonstrates that many kinds of colleges serve as ideal springboards. And he illuminates how to make the most of them. What matters in the end are students' efforts in and out of the classroom, not the name on their diploma."

One thing I have learned from writing Post-Scarcity Princeton and reflecting on my own college days and more is that much of life success involves both good matches and good efforts. Life happiness is often much easier when you find a good match with other people given who you are right then and where you are heading. There is no abstractly single "best" situation for everyone because -- even with much in common -- people can be different in various ways and have different needs at different times in their lives. That can be true for matches in friendships, romances, jobs, churches, volunteerism, and also college. While it is true that a great match makes a lot of things easier, it is also true that many situations can be made to work good-enough with the good efforts (e.g. the Gottman "Art and Science of Love" method to improve a couple's relationship). So, it is also quite possible for a good match to still not work out without a good effort (and appreciation of the possibilities) because every match has its frictions and challenges and mismatches. As Alain de Botton says in Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person:

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.
So, if you can have only one of a good match or a good effort, the good effort is generally more important.

Also, opportunity often comes disguised as hard work -- and hard work can even then lead to something becoming good match and create a growing passsion for a growing opportunity, like a farmer improving the soil of a rocky field over years. The wonderful short story "The Man Who Planted Trees" is about someone who took a difficult situation and through years of hard work made it better for everyone despite problems in their own life.

A lot of happiness in relationships or environments is also related to how we feel before we enter them. I list many books on becoming healthier and happier here (dedicated in memory of Robin Rochlin Cooperman '86).

But it is true that everyone at a current state of health has their current limits (including in relationship negotiation skills). Even though we can learn and grow, a good match helps reduce risks of exceeding those current limits in a way we can't adapt to quickly enough (even if a good match is not enough by itself).

On finding a good match for college given a variety of human aspirations and circumstances, "University Secrets" has a table from a 1990 Carnegie report titled "Percentage of Presidents Reporting Campus Life Problems as Moderate to Major Problem", In the case of the concern about "Suicide/Attempts", the percent ranges from 43% at Research U's, 29% at Non-PhD U's, 23% at Lib. Arts Colleges, down to 8% at Community Colleges. Presumably that percent is a reflection of the levels of distress most students feel at each of those different types of schooling institutions (even if there might be other factors). For comparison, the concern around "Thefts" ranges from 63% down to 44%. Thirty years later, has anything improved with those distressing numbers? It sounds like it just continues to get worse due to not addressing the root causes of wide-spread social distress at colleges (and elsewhere).

One of the reasons I transferred from SUNY Stony Brook to Princeton was in search of more community (of course ignoring my widely-traveled father's insight about "wherever you go, you take yourself along"). Robert Honigman's book explains why community suffers at large research universities -- especially for the two thirds or so of undergrads who are not research-oriented. Patrick Hill was a force to make things better at Stony Brook and elsewhere, and I can thank him so much for creating the Federated Learning Communities (FLC) program that I benefited from. I did not appreciate at the time how wonderful FLC was or what an effort it must have taken to make it happen and keep it going. And there were other communities I benefited from at Stony Brook like the Science Fiction Forum (student-run library/lounge) and also an international student dorm for which my sister was a Residence Hall Director. And there was the fencing club and connections to high school friends who went to SUNY SB. I also especially connected with three professors who were mathematically and logically inclined from Math, Ecology&Evolution, and Philosophy classes (as a stand-out student in those classes). All these and more were communities at SUNY SB I did not appreciate enough at the time. Although they are also communities that most SUNY SB students did not take part in (even if there were no doubt some other good groups on campus I did not take part in). But if I think on those days now, I can see how many students might have felt lost at such a big research-oriented place if they had different interests.

Princeton is a somewhat different situation than SUNY Stony Brook given almost all the students going to PU are so focused on academics and research and the future. So they pretty much all fall into the 1/3 that Robert Honigman says feel OK about research universities (even if they have other issues like he mentions related to anxiety and status-seeking). Plus PU is more undergraduate-focused than most places that do a lot of research. PU also probably has many more clubs and groups and niche opportunities per student than SUNY Stony Brook. So what is available to only the most motivated, lucky, or research-oriented students at SUNY SB may be more available to every student at PU. (Of course, any student going to PU likely would likely take advantage of the rarer-per-capita opportunites at a place like SUNY Stony Brook if they found themselves there.)

Architecture matters too. SUNY Stony Brook had a potentially good Residential Quad system architecturally, even if it took a program like FLC to start to make it shine (where people in that program were suggested to live in one specific dorm). I -- somewhat by chance -- moved to the FLC-suggested Amman dorm for the semester I was in FLC (my last semester as an undergrad at SUNY SB before transferring to PU). Having a roommate there who was a great (and funny, social, caring, Beatles-fan) person who I knew from High School also made a big difference in that last semester being pretty good. Thanks Pooch! :-) "Quads" were generally clusters of typically four (thus "quad") low-rise buildings around a common green and dining hall. Probably a lot more would have been possible with that architecture in the early 1980s with a bit more resources to connect people in dorms, building on the Federated Learning Community ideas or other ideas to connect students and faculty with each other beyond just through individual isolated classes.

When I was at Princeton, PU was in the midst of creating a Residential College System to help create more community (indirectly acknowledging the previous PU approach emphasizing Commons and Clubs and isolated dorm entryways had deep issues). Architecturally, it was a lot like creating the equivalent of the Quads at SUNY SB, even if socially it might be much more integrated. Prof. Michael Mahoney was involved with that transformation, thanks -- even if that was another thing I did not appreciate at the time, especially as the class of 1985 bore the brunt of the shift for less desirable room draws with housing changes. I had been lucky enough to be assigned to live in the Princeton Inn College (PIC), and my staying there a second year also avoided some of the room draw issues for my class. PIC already was essentially a Residential College in one large connected building complex. I benefited greatly from that luck and that architecture of being in an old big Inn and its somewhat counter-culture community being at the physical edge of the main Princeton campus.

So, I guess I just got very lucky at both universities (even with other issues).

I knew higher education could be reflected on from Patrick Hill's 1982 course. Robert Honigman's "University Secrets" book presumably planted in my mind the idea that higher education could be reflected on *way* more critically and more fundamentally -- like I try to do here about PU. :-) There were many other influences (even just living in PIC somewhat away from mainstream PU), but rereading parts of the "University Secrets" book now, I can see a common spirit with Post-Scarcity Princeton of confronting alienation in college. That can be true even if the specifics are different -- both from the post-scarcity emphasis here and also because Princeton and large public research universities like SUNY Stony Brook have somewhat different issues given different histories, cultures, architectures, endowments, alumni networks, politics/funding, selectivity, and student bodies.

In looking further through my emails it turns out I wrote to Robert Honigman on 2009-10-24 (including on how his University Secrets website was taken over by a domain squatter) mentioning Post-Scarcity Princeton plus many related links critical of modern schooling, and saying "Thank you for your contribution to the choir of voices on this topic and helping inform my own." But sadly apparently I never received a reply.

One thing I mentioned in a followup email to George, related to a satirical commencement speech I quoted about the advantages of being a college dropout like Bill Gates and other billionaires, was that:

It's especially funny/ironic to me as I gave up writing video games to go to PU. On the other hand, I've often thought the computing world would have been a better place if Bill Gates had indeed finished Harvard. :-) So maybe encountering the book _Autonomous Technology_ in Michael Mahoney's [maybe really James R Beniger's?] class was worth it to keep me away from building killer robots and bureaucracies.
So, I can credit Princeton (and SUNY Stony Brook, and other influences) with at least with helping prevent me from becoming the next technocratic Bill Gates. :-)

George had replied (jokingly) to that satire and my comments on it:

Poor Paul! You've lost your chance to be a billionaire. But maybe your son will make it.
To which I replied:
Actually, even if I had a billion dollars, it would not last long as I would give it all away -- for example, hiring hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Indian engineers to make free software and free designs for sustainable technology, supporting R&D into cheaper photovoltaics or better home insulation, supporting various other causes (ending the drug war, promoting home schooling, etc.), or these sorts of things:
Rather than financial obesity :-), what I wish for [my son] is a world where the basics (pure food, clean water, general & preventive health care, reasonable shelter, digital communications, transportation, consumer goods, entertainment, and household energy) are produced with so little effort and in such abundance for everyone on the planet that they are no longer rationed -- so having a billion ration units (AKA dollars) would be pretty much meaningless. Sci-fi stories in that direction are James P. Hogan's _Voyage from Yesteryear_ (highly recommended) and Frederik Pohl's _Midas World_ (which has a few funny stories linked together on a theme.) [The "Skills of Xanadu" by Theodore Sturgeon is another.]
I also met James P. Hogan at PU in person via Infinity Limited (PU's sci-fi society then). So I have to admit I got something positive out of the PU experience (for all my complaints above).

And that can be true even if some of the positives may have been things that did not happen -- like in the tear-jerking Volvo Moments commercial.


Copyright 2008-2022 Paul D. Fernhout

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.

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Last major update: June 19, 2008

Fixed some typos and added "see also" below: March 8, 2009

Added information about vitamin D and heart disease: December 11, 2009

Added paragraph about Joel Fuhrman and healthy diets and balance and Phil: May 28-29, 2010

Added section "In memory of Robin Rochlin Cooperman '86": worked on from 2018-10-10 to 2019-01-14

Added content to section "Rethinking the mythological scaffolding of the Princeton community": 2018-11-13

Added note on origins: 2022-05-22

See also: :-)
    "Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life's Ordeals" by Thomas Moore
From the review there:

When it comes to spiritual growth, we humans are solar-seeking beings; eager for the bright lights of clarity and the bliss of illumination. Paradoxically, we all need to walk through the shadow of the dark night in order to discover a life worth living, according to psychotherapist and spiritual commentator Thomas Moore. Unlike depression, which is more of an emotional state, Moore calls the dark night a slow transformation process, which is fueled by a profound period of doubt, disorientation and questioning. Ultimately, a journey into the dark night will reshape the very meaning of your life. As a self-proclaimed "lunar type," Moore is comfortable leading his clients and readers into the shadows, where ambiguities and mysteries lurk around every corner. He describes the dark night journey in stages, starting with feeling distant from your life even as you continue to go through the motions. The second phase is "liminality," meaning living on the threshold between the known self and the unknown self. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable phase as the dark night may "take you away from the cultivation and persona you have developed in your education and from family learning," he explains. After dwelling in this murky darkness, there's a stage of "re-incorporation," in which one integrates the profound inner transitions into daily life. Like a tour guide to the underworld, Moore leads readers through all these phases, offering tools and rituals for making the journey more tolerable or at least more meaningful. He also speaks to the many arenas and stages of life in which we might find ourselves stumbling through the dark, with chapters on marriage, parenting, sexuality, creativity and health. The scope is ambitious, and at times the structure seems disjointed -- but this is perhaps Moore's best contribution since Care of the Soul, proving once again that he is a wise and formidable spiritual teacher. --Gail Hudson