Ever since Socrates’ ranting against the “Sophists”, the subject of the intellectuals thinking for money instead of thinking for intellectual superiority’s sake, has been of the highest intellectual lineage.

(Although Socrates mostly eschewed the problem, the massive failure of Athens’s intellectual class was the main cause of her catastrophic failure, and near annihilation, with enormously adverse consequences for democracy and civilization in the next 26 centuries. Just as the success of intellectuals, in generations preceding, had led to Athens’ superiority (in many dimensions) by the time of Pericles.)

The Internet has provided with a new twist in this debate. And that twist has provided excessive money with a new opportunity to exert its power.

Recently, only personnel of rich universities have been allowed access to scientific and intellectual research product. This is done by requiring the public to pay hefty fees to just have a glance at an article (see P/S 1).

It’s outrageous that scientific research would be withdrawn from public scrutiny and access. Most scientific research is funded by the PUBLIC. Thus the public ought to be the ultimate owner of the information gathered by scientists. In Britain, for example, the universities are now all public (Oxford and Cambridge are not private anymore). So it is in continental Europe. US universities, even private ones, are hugely financed by taxpayer money in various ways. To grab other people’s property for one’s profit is thievery. To do it to the public defiles and attacks the REPUBLIC (Res Publica).

Besides, science, and intellectual activities, are public utilities, thus should provide with public access, just like the high seas, the moon, or the air one breathes.

Should this grabbing of collective resources by a small self-selected elite and rich universities be allowed to go on, it is to be feared that a new priesthood will rise. Meanwhile, most of the public will get ever more ignorant, antiscientific, anti-intellectual, and resentful (of that new priesthood). New Dark Ages would be here. (Apparently, even the present administration has expressed alarm, and took corrective action in some biological areas.)

In a way, allowing only members of rich universities to have access to intellectual product, is similar to what happened at the criminal root of the present financial crisis: a small elite grabs for itself, and its personal enrichment, vast global, public resources. In the case of the financial crisis, money of the public deposited in banks was lent to the plutocracy to use as leverage in unregulated pyramid schemes involving the big and obscure concept of “derivatives” and “swaps”. Same idea; take public money, give it to a few to enrich themselves.

Enrichment can be financial, but also intellectual, or scientific. Capital does not have to be financial only.

Fairness and the equality clause of the republic are involved. Indeed, more globally the question is that, if it takes several hundred dollars to look at a just one issue of one journal financed by the public, who has that kind of money? Who has that kind of access? The plutocracy, those at the root of the world financial and economic mess.

As Obama claims that he wants to provide better Internet access to the population, one guesses that he means better access to information, and, in particular, to publicly financed information. So he should look at this injustice. The web is nothing if it is content empty.
Patrice Ayme

P/S 1: Here is how Dr. Olivia Judson describes the access-to-intellectual product problem in the New York Times (December 16, 2008):
“One caveat. I say “access to information is easier and faster than ever before.” With respect to scientific information, this is true for people within universities, but not for those without them. One of the consequences of the scientific journals going digital is that it has become harder for members of the public to get access to original scientific information. It used to be the case, for example, that anyone could get permission to spend a day at the library at Imperial College; once there, they could read any of the journals on the library shelves. Now, subscriptions to the paper editions of many journals have been stopped — the journals are no longer physically there — and only members of the university are allowed access to the online versions. Some journals give free access, at least to back-issues; but many do not. Then, if you are not a member of a university and you want to read some articles, they may cost you as much as $30 each. I think this is a pity. Perhaps not many people want to read original scientific research; but somehow, it seems against the spirit of the enterprise.”

P/S 2: Some university professors from rich institutions are sure to scoff, and claim they are not responsible about university and journals’ behaviors. But of course they are. “Spondere” in Latin means to pledge. The most intellectually worthy should become conscious that  intellectual exploration is a civilizational class adventure in which the entire population of the civilization (in this case, Earth) is involved. By cooperating in a massive theft, they pledge back to that global organization of rich universities, plutocrats and for profit publishing tycoons… Instead of pledging back to the “People”, in other words, the public of the republican Constitution.

P/S 3: As we said, the failure of the intellectual class in Athens brought her failure. Socrates was trying to say this. Less well known, but even more drastic, was the failure of the intellectuals under the Roman empire of the Antonines (Gibbons’ apogee of imperial Rome, 138-180). They were probably, by far, the most paid intellectuals that ever were, and their influence was considerable. No large building could be inaugurated without a billionaire philosopher coming, highly paid by public authorities to give an edifying discourse. They had the ears of emperors (a tradition going back to the imperator Pompey the Great, who had his own top notch pet Greek philosopher). But those intellectuals also were like very expensive prostitutes, billionaires in charge of feeling good, and celebrating Roma as the best of all possible worlds, to the top dignitaries’ delighted ears. By reserving full access to top cultural information only to the rich, the present system insures the restriction of the elite’s selection only from a tiny reservoir of talent, insuring its long term mediocrity.

P/S 4: The interactions between a civilization and its intellectuals are always very close. Thus, as a kleptocratic plutocracy took command of world finance, if not the world economy, the intellectual sphere, far from guiding (as is its proper role), has been gaily emulating on its own silly scale. But the consequences are dreadful: increasingly high education has come to mean high access for the chosen few inside the USA.


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  1. markus Says:

    interesting article money corrupts the spirit and clouds your brain –


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Markus: thanks.
      Evolutionary survival came first, followed by the safety cushion the will to power provides with, and from there the obsession with money. Intellectual pursuits are less deeply anchored in evolutionary psychology.


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