THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 659, February 26, 2012
"The recent financial collapse, generated by
the fascist economic policies under Bush and Obama"
Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Earlier today, one of the people who has been following the progress of Individual Sovereign University since we organised our Yahoo group back in July 2009 asked me a series of very interesting questions: "Why are you raising funds through Kickstarter? Why isn't the new education centre being called a campus of the university? Why do it that way?"
Naturally, I thought, if one person in our network who is as fully briefed as he has been is unable to understand the thought process that went into this approach, I've probably failed in some basic ways to convey an understanding of what's going on, why it matters, and, in summary, why do it this way. The present note is my attempt to remedy this situation.
Why a University?
The university concept has been around for a long time. Horace writes of "the groves of Akademos" about two thousand years ago. Universities as we know them were developed in the early Middle Ages as places for scholars to learn to become priests and clerics. Some of the most famous places of learning, such as the Library at Alexandria, or the House of Wisdom in Baghdad were destroyed in various conflagrations (fire at Alexandria on several occasions) and sackings (by the Mongols in the case of the House of Wisdom). Yet, other than religions, the oldest enterprises we know about on Earth are universities. The University of Bologna, for example, may date to around AD 980.
That fact is handy, in that the fight for freedom, which is the fight against slavery, against fascism, against war, and against legislating morality, among other things, has been going on for thousands of years. Certain efforts to make freedom more available through, say, documents like the Magna Carta, date back to around AD 1215. The great writ of habeas corpus which is closely identified with individual liberty from unjust judicial restraint dates back to roughly the same era, about AD 1305. Since the remnants of Magna Carta have been eliminated in recent decades in England, and since habeas corpus has been suspended, again, in the United States, it is evident that we've needed many centuries to get the concept of freedom across in a lasting and convincing way.
My own interest in a university dates back to 1993 when my friends in the Houston Space Society and I conceived of a Houston Space Institute. Again, looking at the length of time between the idea of travelling in space and the implementation, we figured some enterprise of great longevity was needed. In 1610 or thereabouts, Johannes Kepler wrote to Galileo with the comment, "Create ships and sails capable of navigating the celestial atmosphere and you'll find men to man them, men not afraid of the vast emptiness of space." Now four hundred years later, a total of 12 men have walked on the Moon, but it has been 40 years since the last one did. Very evidently the project of opening the Solar System to human settlement is going to take hundreds of years. Universities have the right focus, on education and research, and the right time scale, to match an activity of that time frame. I've written about the topic elsewhere at some length.
Why a Founding Conference?
One of the people who was instrumental in organising the international space development conferences of 1981 and 1982, Jerry Pournelle, once said that "the reason we get together at science fiction and space conferences is because what we're talking about doesn't live out there in the rest of the world." It isn't "painted on the walls" the way it gets to be when we're around each other. Rather, it sort of fades away into insignificance as we focus on surviving, paying bills, dealing with bureau-rats, and wondering when anyone else is going to "get it."
Through the very kind offices of Nik Ludwig, a team of people came from Minneapolis to join our conference. We brought in Harry Felker in person and Gary Chartier by remote video feed. Some of the results are now available on our Youtube channel.
As a result of the conference, we began to organise and teach classes, through our web site. And so we got the university started. One of the most important questions was one that I borrowed from Jerry Pournelle, "what are you going to do tomorrow?" And what several conference attendees did was organise classes.
Why Mutual Aid?
Since then, about 275 people have joined our Facebook group, "Mutual Aid Response Teams," and dozens of people have received help with various problems. We've become fairly good at crowd sourcing funds to solve financial problems, finding good reasons for probation officers to reduce probation costs, and getting effective legal remedies to various problems.
A few months after we started our project, Adbusters Foundation and a bunch of seasoned anarchist activists assembled in Liberty Square Park in New York City. Occupy Wall Street began in September 2011 and was promptly emulated by other efforts around the country. Several of the people we were helping got involved, and some of them got in trouble. We have been working to help people with the Occupy movement in various ways ever since.
Why Emerald City?
A history of the area would be worth reviewing. In brief, it was conceived around 1907 as a middle-class neighbourhood. At the time, the minimum value a house was supposed to cost to meet the covenants and deed restrictions in the area was $3,000. Those were 1907 dollars, twenty of which would buy an ounce of gold. Today $1,772 buys the same ounce of gold. That means that a $3,000 house of 1907 dollars would be about $265,800 in today's dollars. So, a good middle class home.
The exact timing hasn't been made clear to me, but during the period between the area's hey-day in the early 1920s and its current situation, probably in the 1940-1960 period, the Manheim was targeted by unscrupulous banks and real estate companies. It was red-lined, block-busted, and white-flighted. What that all means is that racism was used to motivate home owners to sell their properties cheap, which were then sold to other families at a much higher price.
Subsequently, many of the businesses in the neighbourhood have failed. The recent financial collapse, generated by the fascist economic policies under Bush and Obama, has exacerbated the difficulties in the area. Some of the abandoned houses have been set ablaze, either by arsonist-vandals or by insurance beneficiaries. Yet the area has great promise.
Many families continue to live in the neighbourhood. Many of the homes are beautiful. Much of the interior wood work is of a very high quality. The stone foundations are well made in many cases. Where roofs and foundations have survived the decades, the high quality of construction is evident. Even where roof repairs have been neglected for years, many of the hardwood floors have survived.
As well, the area has come to the attention of several charities. Brad Pitt's charity "Make It Right Foundation" has acquired the Bancroft school. They are developing a low income housing project for that site. Habitat for Humanity has acquired three lots along 44th Street. They are planning some educational and demonstration buildings there. Several churches operate homeless shelters in the neighbourhood.
So the idea of the Emerald City artists collective to bring artists into the neighbourhood seems to be quite sound. Already, about thirteen properties have been acquired and are being operated in the spirit of this purpose.
And, at the end of 2011, one of those properties was donated to Houston Space Society, Inc., a 501c3. Which is how we came to be involved in developing a new education centre at 4337 Troost.
Why a New Education Centre?
In particular, the universities and colleges in the United States have for the past four decades been increasingly focused on working as the marketing department of the big banks. They are marketing not education, but student loans. Since 2005, it is impossible to get a student loan removed through bankruptcy. The only way to get "out of" a student loan is to claim fraud, which is why the banks are very motivated to have state regulatory agencies control who can use the term "university." Since we've never wanted student loan money, nor any other sort of government money, we're not really concerned about the problems of grade inflation, the promotion of college degrees to people ill-suited to make use of them, the dramatic bubble in education and housing that followed World War Two, the economic collapse associated with the bursting of the housing bubble after decades of low interest policies (Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration loans, e.g.) and the evident coming collapse of the education bubble.
So, we're focusing our attention on this particular building because we can use it in concert with our Mutual Aid work to be helpful in many areas. We're developing an adult literacy programme, an after school programme for at-risk youth, a tool library for the Manheim neighbourhood which would lend tools rather than books, a group of classes on home repair to help renters and owners keep their homes in good repair, telescopes for astronomy classes, a computer centre, and a roof-top garden.
The way Kickstarter works is you join the site, find a project to support, and pledge funds. The funds you pledge are not taken from you bank account card or credit card right away. Rather, you give that information to Amazon card processing, and they *authorise* the charge, to ensure that you have the funds available. If we raise the funds we seek, in this case about $26,000, then the cards are charged, and the funds are distributed. If we do not, then nobody's card is charged, and we get nothing.
Owing to the success of some of the award-winning films and other art projects funded through Kickstarter, it has an exemplary reputation among the people who fund films. So, the intention is to use it as a way of gathering in funds for two aspects of our project. One aspect is to create a roof and a roof-top garden for the New Education Centre, so we can begin our work there.
The other aspect is to create a documentary film "The Roads of Emerald City," to describe the Manheim neighbourhood, the Emerald City artists collective, and the ideas involved in making this project work. With a documentary film, we believe that other neighbourhoods can also be the focus points for revitalisation efforts. We've already been approached by people wanting to do similar projects in other cities, notably Detroit.
My own particular motivation is to get to Mars. I believe that this project fits into that intention by helping to create a reticulum of interested and activist groups, all over the world, working to make a sustainable culture on Earth that thrives, grows, and eventually bursts out into the Solar System.
You can help our work by contributing to the Kickstarter project for our work. Obviously, there are other ways to contribute to our efforts, found on our web site. If you don't have any money of your own, please tell your friends about this effort. Please share this link:
We are committed to the success of our work. Your help is vital. We thank you.