Tuesday, November 27, 2012
What Skills Do You Have? Kelvin Doe is 15 Years Old and a Self-Taught MIT Prodigy from Sierra Leone
This young man is an inspiration.
If the system falls down, and the big Reset comes, he will be running Bartertown. I doubt he will need a version of Masterblaster to keep control: Kelvin Doe is so sharp, he may invent a cyborg or some type of improvised power armor to serve as his enforcer(s).
Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Fukushima event, and other disasters, both man made and willed by Mother Nature, are reminders that most of us do not have the skills necessary to rebuild following such near cataclysms.
We have skills that are "practical" and "useful" for life in an information based economy where we can rely on either other's specializations.
For example, as suggested by the grand social theorist Emile Durkheim, societies are organized around systems of either "mechanical" or "organic" solidarity.
The former are highly regimented, very hierarchical, "traditional," and where individuals are not highly differentiated from each other in terms of their skill sets.
The latter are post-industrial and modern. They consist of highly specialized types of laborers, living in a culture that is more individualistic, and where the members are dependent on one another. These relationships (and the resulting social cohesion) are ostensibly enforced by means that are less coercive than those used in tribal and traditional societies, where clan groups, religion, and kinship networks are used to tie individuals together.
Watching this young autodidact and engineer from Sierra Leonne, I am forced to do my own skills assessment. I can fix some things, but not anything highly technical. I have a loose understanding of the principles underlying how electricity works in the abstract. But, I could not build you a generator. I can explain how a combustion engine works. I could not build one or do major repairs without a shop manual. At best, an academic type like myself would be taking lessons from young Mr. Doe to avoid being a mere laborer. Maybe, I could be a scribe, or a senior adviser, if I were lucky and proved my worth to him as someone wise, manipulative, contemplative, and devious when necessary.
Our post-industrial, service based, information age society is so very fragile: it is built upon the premise of disposability and "creative destruction. Do the folks who keep its computers and networks running, even know how to build a vacuum tube based or analog computer from scratch? Where would they find the parts? Could these wizards of information fix the very machines which they use on a daily basis?
Paper and books last for centuries or millenia. Digital files and "The Cloud" are ephemeral. What to do in a mass crisis, with a society that is built to disappear, where information is simultaneously both omnipresent and diffuse through the Internet, but where it does not actually exist in a real, tangible sense (except in archives, libraries, and the Government Printing Office repositories where we would all have to go in order to dig up some Cold War era pamphlets to restart our world)?
Kelvin Doe is an inspiration. His personal strength reinforces my deep commitment to always be unapologetic in how I call out and expose the deleterious impact of social inequality in the United States. How many young geniuses are wasting away in our failed public schools? What of the children who could change the world, but they are stuck in impoverished communities in our cities, rural communities, and out on the rez?
Racism, classism, and sexism are human productivity problems. Their great crimes against the Common Good, were of course, the micro and macro level assaults on human dignity, agency, and freedom. This was not the full extent of the offense. All of us suffer(ed) when talented people are not given the opportunity and resources to succeed, and where systems of privilege allow human mediocrities to do extremely well--e.g. the United States government's long history of subsidizing the upward mobility of white men, regardless of their skills or abilities--when they should be allowed to fail on their own merits.
Economic policies which encourage extreme wealth and income inequality help to perpetuate this system as well.
As we have seen in the Great Recession, inherited money becomes an entitlement where its beneficiaries believe that they are "innovators," "job creators," or especially "talented." In reality, the vast majority of the 1 percent are sitting on money made years ago and have confused their rent seeking behavior, and financial gambling, with economically productive activities. The gangster capitalists and the plutocrats are economic vultures who want the American people to believe that sacrificing their literal and metaphorical bodies to the financial carrion eaters is an act of noble sacrifice for "freedom" and "democracy." The Ayn Randians in the Tea Party GOP and their Right-wing talking point minions want you to die for them...and to be happy while doing it.
Some practical questions.
What can we do to support prodigies like Young Master Kelvin Doe in the United States? Why must the American leadership and elite class look abroad to Africa or Asia to find such talent, when it is right here in this country?
The global elite class is multicultural and multi-ethnic. What are we doing, if anything, to prepare all of our young people for this reality?