"No amount of charity in spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them" - Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve been trying to not write recently — or rather, not write too many essays on Hack Education or elsewhere. I’m focused on the book and as such trying to spend more time thinking about cybernetics in mid-20th century America than the mythologies of machines being cultivated today. I don’t check Twitter or Facebook on my laptop; those apps are only on my phone and if I can just keep that device out of arm’s reach, then I do much better paying attention to my writing. (I do much better period.)
But I saw the news about Jeff Bezos on Wednesday morning, dammit — about his $2 billion philanthropic fund. And it ate at me all day — I’m still mad, to be honest — until I rage-typed something in response: “It’s Like Amazon, But For Preschool.”
The world’s richest man has often been chastised for his failure to be as “charitable” as his fellow multi-billionaires. (He hasn’t signed Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge, for example, promising to give away half his wealth.) Bezos had asked Twitter last year to give him some suggestions on how to be more philanthropic (and curse you if you responded excitedly “education!” — have you learned nothing?!), but more recently he told one interviewer that he couldn’t imagine investing his money in anything other than space travel.
Related: The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos profiled Mark Zuckerberg. Among the topics the article covers, the philanthropic efforts of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, whose LLC structure allows “wealthy individuals to orchestrate large-scale social agendas behind closed doors.” Arguably, the doors are only slightly ajar with all types of philanthropy.
Related: “Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Anymore,” Yoni Applebaum argues. Somewhere along the way (and not so recently, I’d add), we decided to trust billionaire philanthropists more than we do the government. That is, we decided to trust billionaires more than we trust one another.
Patrick Blanchfield’s withering review of Bob Woodward’s latest book on Trump opens with this sentence: “It is a bleak fact of American life that a brilliant woman can publicly speak the devastating truth about a prominent man for decades without his success being affected much at all.” And my, how I feel that sentence in my bones.
In the midst of all this nonsense, it’s back to school for folks in the Northern Hemisphere, and as such a good time to read and re-read some José Vilson and some James Baldwin. See also: An Urgency of Teachers, a new book by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, for which I was honored to contribute the foreword.
Yours in struggle,