I am so excited about this. Join us! The speaker series is open to anyone who wishes to engage with critical insights on the intersections and implications of digital dependencies with democratic norms and civil society values and actors. It is ...
The speaker series is open to anyone who wishes to engage with critical insights on the intersections and implications of digital dependencies with democratic norms and civil society values and actors. It is structured a as hybrid experience, allowing you to choose whether you’d like to attend in person or join us virtually. Light refreshments and snacks will be provided.
Democracy in Chains is about the fueling of libertarianism and a political economy that favors the wealthy few - an undemocratic project based on perverting majority-based systems to serve a very rich, very determined self-interested few. It goes further than Jane Mayer's brilliant Dark Money to show the intellectual history and the broad reach of the nonprofit/think tank/university (in other words, nonprofit) infrastructure for turning ideology into public policy. MacLean's book was published in 2017 and it centers on the Koch brothers - an updated version could factor in a wide range of philanthropic/funder/investor actions from younger billionaires and include otherwise-inexplicable actions such as Musk's purchase of and destruction of Twitter, and the general weirdness (horror) of First Amendment jurisprudence (FAIR v Harvard, UNC). When we are searching to make sense of a present moment it is helpful - extremely so, in this case - to look to both short and long-term historical precedents.
When it comes to our current moment (in the U.S.) in which Supreme Court decisions seem to abandon procedural and substantive norms from one day to the next and we're all rapidly trying to learn to distinguish AI-generated text/photos/videos from those made by humans and everything from the weather to the role of elections in this democracy seem up for grab these historical events are helpful. It's not quite rhyming (as historians will remind us), but there are patterns to see that can be helfpul. Maclean shows a 50+ year arc of an ideologic project built around a minority-viewpoint that has yielded extraordinary, stealthy success. It's worth understanding those past patterns to understand our current setting.
It's no coincidence that today's funders focused on existential risks of AI are using the playbook of scholarships, fellowships, and academic centers to build cadres of like-minded thinkers. It focuses your attention downstream, away from the present. This funding model works - especially if you take a multi-decade time frame.
Just because it "works," however, doesn't mean it is in the best interest of anyone but those funding and being funded. The Kochs' and their allies were very clear that their project benefitted a minority (wealth owners). What they needed to do was bend the systems of a majority-based democracy to serve minoritarian ends. This was not hard to do, since the U.S. Constitutional system has numerous minoritarian run-arounds (e.g., Senate apportionment, electoral college, voting rules) built into it. We should be on the lookout for similar motivations and efforts as we think about our now AI-dominant online information sources, systems, and messa
Some of those engaged in discussions and training about existential AI risks will note that human extinction is likely to come faster from climate change, weaponized nuclear facilities, and perhaps the next pandemic then from man-hating robots. Focusing scholars and the media's attention on the potential long-term harms to all of humanity is a slick way of distracting those same communities and others from the here-and-now harms of AI-enabled disinformation, discrimination, and economic harms for people already marginalized by race, religion, identity, and/or income. Each moment that goes by in which near-term harms are ignored is another chance for the current powers to further implant, strengthen, and reap the rewards of the very path dependencies that lead to the future they claim to be fighting against.
In short, beware the arguments of those who direct your attention to far-away catastrophes while they benefit by building those very systems now. Better to refuse, redirect, or rebuild systems that cause no harm now, for they will also cause less harm later.
You know that the PGA Tour is a nonprofit, don't you?*
I'm also sure you've heard the news that the Saudi government (via its public investment fund, with $600+ billion in assets) launched a new tour (called LIV) which has announced a merger with the PGA Tour. Details are being worked out (and investigated.)
Why does this deal stink so much? Sport washing by a country with a dismal human rights record is pretty obvious - especially as the country is unabashadly trying to buy soccer talent also. Certainly, families of people who were killed on September 11, 2001 are disgusted (my own included). There's a lot of media on this story about the players, the fans, the public, the sport-washing, human rights, and, of course, Trump Sr., Kushner Jr., and Mnuchin. I'll let you read all that elsewhere.
Let's go to back to the role of the Tour as a nonprofit organization. If you check on Candid.org (screenshot above) you'll find the PGA Tour with its $4 billion in assets as well as about a dozen other PGA-named nonprofits, including a 501 (c) (3) foundation with$10,000 in assets and an organization for and by the wives of PGA players.
The new entity ("NewCo" to be born from PGA + LIV) will be a commercial enterprise. Owned by the nonprofit PGA. I'm not a lawyer but I can read these signs - that means no conversion foundation or tax payback from the nonprofit. Massive commercial investments plus a nonprofit structure that will enable anonymous financial flows. A set of nesting doll organizations ripe for funding abuse by anyone, anywhere interested in political influence, but particularly convenient for foreign governments. Given the timing, expect big concerns about funding and influence in the 2024 Presidential election.
Given the cast of characters involved, I'll say it out loud now: this deal looks like the biggest money laundering machine yet to be carved out of the nonprofit tax code. I'll put my bet down now - If the deal goes through, this will become a story of campaign finance violations. And we're watching it being put together right in front of us. It may never happen due to antitrust and other reasons, but still, it's important to see what this deal intends, and realize if not this, then somewhere else.
“Miriam was one of those rare people who could remember reading about her cause of death before it happened. It wasn’t the reading that was rare - the warning had been printed in The New York Times, page A9. It also wasn’t the dying that was rare - hundreds of thousands of people would die of the same cause. It was the remembering that was rare.”
Yes, that’s fiction. I just made it up. Because I just read this story in today’s New York Times: record heat between now and 2027 due to climate catastrophe and El Niño weather patterns. It’s likely that one of the years between now and then will cross the mark of 1.5 degree celsius hotter than 19th Century average.
So, there’s the science. The article goes on to do the work - “This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food, water management and the environment.”
Keep going - do the rest of the work: Those far-reaching repercussions mean fires, droughts, floods, food shortages, hunger, water wars (term used deliberately). These things mean death. I made up Miriam and I interpolated from the global recent past to get to “hundreds of thousands of deaths.” (We’ve passed the tens of thousands marker). Here’s what’s happening now - four years after devastating 2019 Australian summer.
If you have children starting elementary school this Fall, 2027 will be here before they go on to middle school. If your child was accepted to a four-year college this Spring, they’ve just been welcomed in to the class of 2027. If you’re writing a five year (?) strategic plan for your foundation/nonprofit you’re planning this precise timeline of these disasters - how are you fitting them into those plans?
I wrote a wee bit of fiction from this news. (I’ve done some other things, actual prep. Which given the global nature of the prediction is challenging) How do we respond to predictions like this - Action? Stasis? What are you doing? What can we do together?
We're in an incredible moment. After decades of research and advocacy and warnings we are now living through the weather and natural disaster effects of climate collapse. We're also more than a few meters down the pitch of living with pervasive artificial intelligent systems.
Ways of life from agriculture to writing, architecture to transportation are transitioning. The practices for adapting to more sustainable, more energy efficient, lower impact methodologies are being refined, shared, modeled and implemented at scale in some places.
And then there's this (which I reprinted with permission in the Blueprint 2022)
My question is are there examples of philanthropy that are clearly rooted in a sense of transition from one state to another? There are funds named for transitions - or at least there is the Just Transitions Fund - but are there others? If there are, what defines them? What are they transitioning to? Where are the experiments, innovations, regulatory reconsiderations, imaginaries, and alternatives in philanthropy and civil society that make use of (but don't venerate) our current capacities (for almost instant global communication, for example) and that pursue a vision of human thriving on a climate-damaged planet? How would such philanthropy work, what would it look like, what would it do differently from now, and how would it change itself in order to justify its continued existence?
That last question is not meant to be rhetorical. The time frame for irreversible climate collapse is now about the length of time an American child spends in elementary school or just barely longer than the term of an elected Senator. The time frame for harms from badly designed AI to manifest has passed, it's already underway and we're well down that path.
We're on the path to both realities. We can see them up ahead and are already experiencing the harms we know will grow. It's illogical to do things the way they've been done during a transitional moment, unless your goal is to maintain the status quo. I've yet to meet the foundation or philanthropist who (explicitly) states such as their goal so this should be a time of tremendous experimentation and hopeful innovation. I'd love to see it - please point me in the right direction.