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Here’s a thing that happened. Other things have happened in between then and now, but this thing happened and at the time it was pressing and I wanted to get mad about it, but then I got distracted by other matters & bullshit. Anymore I am pretty under-the-gun about bullshit and not at all on-point about make/do/be.

At the town hall…

There’s no discussion technology – not really. Ostensibly this is the topic on offer for discussion, but it isn’t spoken of in a meaningful way. Rather, it’s invoked as a kind of mantra- a puzzle-piece intended to make wise any dubious statements. A cure for lack of exciting rich technologists, that’s the actual point of discussion, the real matter at hand. “How can we attract & capture the bright new billionaire?” This the subtext, the matter discussed obliquely. If only we had more of them. If only.

Coincidentally the next day at the office a coworker is talking about Rockefeller. Strange correlations no? I show him my recent photo of the grave of the plutocrat & he’s amused & surprised. He mentions Rockefeller being driven out by the ungrateful mass-media (then only new, just beginning – then only fresh & the wounds it scored seemingly real). The coworker is a lover of plutocrats & laments Rockefeller’s departure, speaks of it as a shame accrued by an ungrateful populace. I think of it another way – I think of Henry VIII – upon whom all his country’s cares & hopes rested – and he couldn’t make a son and so changed the whole religion of his country – bloody wars for a century. This is my answer for the plutocrat – put all your eggs in one basket & what if he’s a basket case? What if he runs out of town because a newspaper isn’t nice enough? So here’s my position – your spread around the wealth, the talent and the responsibility & you have an equitable society where one person’s bad gambles or shitty attitude can’t fuck it up for everyone.

Then of course you go to the Town Hall…

There, they don’t care about this – they’re looking for a guiding light, a shining beacon to tie all our fortunes to. The moderator, perhaps in sputtering confusion, perhaps in just an addled anxiety of being on stage & trying to provoke a discussion among 4 people all agreeing in lockstep says – without irony “How can Cleveland become the next Beijing.” Demonstrating once & for all that the worst thing about this place is the aspirations its people have for it.

So I thought about the question – I thought about it so hard I didn’t pay attention to the 4 panelists. By this point the discussion had been about halfway commenced & I was tired of waiting for one of them to disagree with one of the others. I thought about how you could make Cleveland like Beijing & came up with a fair version of how you could, if you’d be happy with the ’89 edition.

First – focus on STEM education. Tell children that their cultural & political needs are irrelevant, already accounted for. Tell them that by studying hard, learning engineering & science that they will be all but guaranteed high paying, useful jobs.

Once you have a few million kids trained like so – hire a few hundred. Maybe a few thousand – if things are going well.
Make sure that the finance & commodities trading portions of your economy are the focus of all attention. Be certain that your wealth is concentrated in service to a small group of people who are able to increase that wealth without producing anything.

Now, tell all the unemployable scientists & engineers that they are unemployable – tell them that its their fault for not being smart enough.
Make sure that anyone who does find work in the STEM fields are closely connected to the hierarchies that have already been established.
Now, insist that this circumstance is called Meritocracy & Justice. Insist that any dissent is rebellion. Shoot them accordingly.

At the Town Hall all the panelists agree. I don’t trust agreement. Particularly when people who wield influence agree. We Must invade Afghanistan. We Must invade Iraq. We Must carry forward TARP. We Must make sacrifices. The things We Must do are never quite in our favor, the favor of the mass of folk. We Must change our religion, We Must appease the plutocrat. We Must, we are always told, do everything in aid of the mighty at the expense of ourselves. I mistrust agreement among the influential and the powerful - because their agreement is always at my expense. The interests of the Establishment prevail, because They Must.

So the Panelists are asked – what makes Cleveland Great, or Unique, or Powerful – but the questions are really flattering ways of asking – “What Makes Cleveland Relevant?” And the questions are answered by everyone in turn in the most uninspiring way you can imagine – “The People.” “The History.”
There are no people, not enough that it’s competitive as a place. There is no history. It’s 200 years old, there are animals, living animals older than this city.

So here are the things I wanted to hear:
1) Fresh-water. We have the water even while the deserts are expanding
2) Cold winters. When malaria starts to aggrieve the south again, we’ll have some relief
3) International port. We’ve got Canada and the Seaway just beyond and aren’t menaced by any alteration of sea-levels
4) Industrial capacity. We make things here & there’s a culture of people who can do factory work. This is rarer than you think
5) Local agriculture. We can grow the food to feed our population within a confined radius

And so on – you see my opinions are based around an expectation of calamity. What makes the city? Is it it’s tolerance of a gamble, a lucky streak that keeps the money flowing? Or is it its capacity to provide for its citizens, even in times of crisis? This is, if not now, then soon to be the principal consideration when considering the role of the city in our society.
But the panel doesn’t think in these terms, they want to talk about the totem ‘Technology” – the great spirit of our time, a balm against want, the great fortune that will abide. It’s a fleeting, meaningless concept, just a name for the same-old thing, which is the true god, the real target of municipal worship – The Job.

A city needs Jobs because a city is funded by income tax. A city is funded by income tax because they all hitched their wagons to Jobs early last century. Employment – the many hired by the few – turned out to be a short-term boon that was calculated as a long term strategy. The Job creates new taxes, new revenues for a city to create, in turn, more Jobs. These municipal jobs aren’t enough, it turns out, to sustain the place, they’re cut back, their benefits reduced and soon enough the migration out is increased again. Jobs. We need them because of institutional organization, an institutional organization based around the worship of elites, singular mean, not of vision but moneyed, and thus seemingly exploitable – right up until they don’t care to be exploited further, just up until they’re called away by another city, willing to compete for their affections.


So the Panel agrees – STEM training – ignore the lingering thought that not everyone is cut out for the sciences, ignore the hard reality that no amount of engineering background will make you competitive against software, or that it doesn’t need a thousand people to make your software billions. Ignore that nagging voice that says people should be trained to be citizens, and not merely atavistic workers, desperate for a few crumbs in exchange of their labor surpluses. In the end we’ve always been manufacturers here, so manufacture people, according to the specs provided by the HR department. Ignore the lead-time & the retooling required – build a new class of people entirely on spec, don’t even consider that you’re going to invest the diminishing tax revenues on subsidizing a labor force for businesses that may not even exist, let alone exist here in a decade or two.

The whole institutional breakdown of the social order in service of the few with money, with influence is supported by a panel of 4 who all agree, all with one voice, that we have to capture these few, these valued, exceptional folk upon whom the whole of the polity must depend. Not a single voice of disagreement or dissent can be allowed, lest we alienate Rockefeller, lest we drive off the one-true-god who will save us from ourselves.
It’s depressing, is all, that the city wants to be saved and can’t muster the slightest bit of forward momentum, of thoughtful hope that we could make something of ourselves on terms that we dictate.


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