|Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson discusses preservation of of public assets, our public universities with WNYC's Leonard Lopate|
. . . . . March 2nd The Leonard Lopate Show broadcast an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning, and National Humanities Medal recipient author Marilynne Robinson about saving our public universities from attack. Almost everything Ms. Robinson said sounded as if she was also speaking directly to the way our publicly endowed, publicly financed New York City Libraries are similarly being targeted for senseless, society-destroying attack.
We wonder if Ms. Robinson's knows with what exquisite perfection her critique and almost all her remarks also apply to the defunding and selling off of our NYC libraries, as we turn them into real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public. Here is a connection: Iris Weinshall, Senator Schumer's wife, who was at CUNY to "leverage" its real estate assets has now gone on to the NYPL to pick up where former NYPL COO David Offensend left off similarly selling NYPL libraries like SIBL which, in turn, means that Mid-Manhattan (previously slated for sale) will still have to be shrunk.
now in the spotlight because of the budget fracas between Coumo and de Blasio (a manufactured one?).
You must listen to this interview!
Here is the WNYC blurb for the show:
The Leonard Lopate Show: Why Affordable Public Universities Are Vital to Our Democracy, Mar 2, 2016.Ms. Robinson's talk with Leonard Lopate is almost better than her Harper’s essay they were discussing:
At a time when government funding of public universities is at an all-time low, shifting the cost burden onto students and families, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson explains why maintaining affordable higher education is vital to the survival and success of our democracy in, "Save Our Public Universities: In Defense of America's Best Idea," her cover story for the March issue of Harper's magazine.
Harper's Magazine: Essay - Save Our Public Universities- In defense of America's best idea, By Marilynne Robinson, from the March 2016 issue.
Here, is a sample from that essay:
The Citizen has become the Taxpayer. In consequence of this shift, public assets have become public burdens. These personae, Citizen and Taxpayer, are both the creations of political rhetoric. . . . . While the Citizen can entertain aspirations for the society as a whole and take pride in its achievements, the Taxpayer, as presently imagined, simply does not want to pay taxes. The societal consequences of this aversion - failing infrastructure, for example. . .Here are transcribed remarks from this important interview, the transcription of which we hope will make it easier for people to stumble across these thoughts in their searches. Nevertheless, please enjoy listing to the interview to appreciate Ms. Robinson's soft tones and gentle wise sense of humor.
As you read all the statements below, ask yourself: Isn't this exactly the same as with the attack on our libraries?:
• There was an amazing period of institution building in this country. . many still thriving, a very successful episode in our culture. And I think the sort of zeal for Democracy that was characteristic of this country in its early period expressed itself for all sorts of reason as a great energy toward education.Ms. Robinson talks about the blindness to cultural value of people who think only in terms of what is "monetizable," something that ties in with what has been called "the politics of greed," but the math of bean counters swarming in from Wall Street gets things wrong for other reasons as well. Their bean-counting math is deliberately skewed to justify the few companies that they work for making selfish profits at the expense of the rest of us. . .
• There was a great confidence about what might be discovered about human possibility if people were simply given the tools, given access . . . It was a desire to outgrow colonial heritage. . . . it was extremely ambitious, in terms of the assumed capacities of people whose families might never have encountered education before.
• People talk now as if they were terribly shrewd about financial things, you know, but if you look at the landscape or if you look back historically, the value of these institutions to the economic of any place is astonishing. They generate an active economy around them. It’s so obvious that it seems amazing to have to make that defense. And, of course my notion of the value of the universities is not based that they produce prosperity and wealth, but I think that certainly ought to be a defense of them for people who want to think only in economic terms.
• [There is a view that] it’s almost as if these institutions have just been loitering around, people passing each other paychecks.. . . This impulse that’s part of the economics that’s dominant now, to try to train people to be functionaries in what is imagined to be the emerging economy about which they are very unspecific . . . they, you know, have no humane conception of the future,. . and therefore they can’t imagine what the universities are for. .
• And now we have this odd erosion which, frankly is harder on the arts than on whatever is considered to monetizable.
• I think that a strange thing has happened. It’s part of the attack on the public universities. I think they are being talked down, like their stock is being depreciated by the way that they are spoken about . .
• It’s as if some strange unnamed crisis is passing through Western Civilization and we are trying to impoverish ourselves
• Mr. Lopate paraphrased and read from her article about what she referred to as a fundamental shift in American, possibly world, consciousness: The citizen has become the taxpayer and while the citizens can entertain aspirations for the society as a whole and take pride in its achievements, the Taxpayer, as presently imagined, simply does not want to pay taxes.
• The word taxpayer does not imply obligation, because the understanding of the term is really that the taxpayer is some sort of victim of the fact that society might make certain claims on his or her wealth in exchange for the fact of doing everything society does in order to sustain and enhance the wealth of individuals within the community, everything the society does to enrich the experience of life in community.
• It just seems that every time someone tries to make an argument for, not only an enhancement of the life of the society, but even something that will sustain an old privilege that was given to us by the generations that came before us and were generous. . Every time that sort of thing is mentioned the answer is `it’s a burden on the taxpayer’ without any suggestion that the taxpayer is really getting a lot in return. . . that it has been historically and is now a very good investment.
• What’s being curtailed . . .is freedom.. . .I know many people who go to university, get a degree in philosophy, never are able to use it professionally, in the narrow sense, but take a tremendous amount of interest in what they’ve learned, think in its terms, feel that their life is enormously enhanced by the fact of letting their minds move over, you know, larger than utilitarian spaces. I think it’s a huge condescension to people in general to try to limit their options, which is what this comes down to.
• I think that trade schools are wonderful for people who want to learn a specialized trade: That should not, by any means, preclude them from learning anything else. It’s a sort of termite thinking that people should have one function exclusively. I think it would be wonderful to give people every opportunity to develop any skill that interests them, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also read Moby Dick.
• I think that de Tocqueville is quite correct in seeing that the more information that people have and the more critical capacity they have, the likelier they are to assert their own rights, you know, feel the legitimacy of their own view of things. I think it is very hard to control an educated population. . .
• The states are simply impoverishing themselves, and these kids come out of these colleges that their grandma has been paying taxes on forever thinking she was subsidizing their tuition- they come out with these debts that drive them into work that they are not trained for, anything they can get, which is a completely inefficient use of the whole experience of education economically speaking.
• The point is that there have to be people that live out human life in a way that equals civilization- You know, we should not become robots, because there is a possibility that there will, indeed, be very clever robots.
• It’s amazing, the people into whose clutches our civilization seems to have fallen are people who, if they had to basically define their response to the arts and education would say, `I don’t get it.’ It’s sort of like turning over our whole aesthetic sense to people who are color blind. It’s just `they don’t ‘get it,’ and that, in their opinion, who will purge this unnecessary thing out of the experience of all of us.
• There is a sort of conversation that people engage in and hear, and so on, and are very vulnerable to, and I think that things like the fact that people are thought of primarily as taxpayers, rather than citizens or that public assets have been reinterpreted as public burdens, you know, these are things that people assimilate, like a dialect or something, and think in those terms.
• All these people talk as if the mere fact of being magnates of one sort or another meant that they understood the world better than other people do, you know that it should convey some authority. And what have they done? . . . It’s a great display of something very different than shrewdness, very different from insight. But nevertheless they’re extremely confident and they are extremely ready to be active to remake the world into something that they think it should be.
• It’s almost as if the genius of that particular side of the culture at this point is to undermine institutions, paralyze congress, paralyze the supreme court, you know, underfinance education, make everybody scared of everybody else. . . .
. . . That's what is going on with the weird climate change calculations offered by the Koch brothers that deliberately avoid internalizing the economic harm that is done to others by their environmental degradation. Similarly, we see Mayor de Blasio, a goon for the real estate industry, with fractured math selling off the Brooklyn Heights Library to a developer offering a very inferior bid because that developer is a friend and de Blasio contributor- But, on top of that, all the so-called "bidders" were bidding only on the value of the library as a vacant lot, which the library certainly isn't: It's a library that was only recently expanded and fully upgraded at considerable public expense.
To learn more about the way we are destroying ourselves by destroying our libraries (like our universities), visit us at Citizens Defending Libraries.
And please sign our petition too!: