Once upon a time, the world was run by rich men.
And all was good.
But then the world was conquered by other rich men.
And that is something the first group of rich men could not allow.
That is the reason behind Netflix’s new film “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates.”
The three-part documentary goes live on Sept. 20. But the film’s aims are clear from the trailer.
It’s a vanity project about Bill Gates, the second richest man in the world.
By examining his mind and motivations, director and executive producer Davis Guggenheim will show us how Gates deserves his billionaire status and that we should allow him to use his philanthrocapitalist ventures to rule the world.
After all, shouldn’t the best and richest among us make all the decisions?
It’s a cry for oligarchy in an age of idiocracy, a love letter to neoliberalism in a time of neofascism.
The pity is that Donald Trump and the “Make America Great Again” crowd have goose stepped all over their new world order.
But instead of showing the world why we need to return to democratic principles, strengthen the common good and empower the people to govern themselves, some would rather continue the same plutocracy just with a different set of plutocrats at the wheel.
In the days of Obama, the Bushes and Clinton, it wasn’t membership in the same political party that defined the ruling class. It was holding the same ideology.
It’s not that neoliberals were so much wiser, ethical or empathetic than Trump. They just kept their greed a secret or tried to make it seem a virtue. They told better lies and didn’t incite as much violence on our shores, and they were better at manipulating markets to make themselves richer while keeping the rest of us relatively poorer.
The MAGA insurgents are also rich men, but their greed is transparent. They lie and no one expects them to tell the truth. They can freely dismantle the social safety net because they stoke our prejudices and keep us fighting over race, gender and abortion so much we forget they’re robbing us blind. And when the market crashes, they don’t have to care because they’ve stolen everything of value and can weather the economic depression that will destroy the nation.
Neofacism is certainly worse – but it’s only a difference of degree, not of kind.
It’s no wonder then that the neoliberals want to make us nostalgic for their brand of simmering destruction instead of Trump’s rapid boil disasters.
And Gates is the perfect poster child for old style neoliberalism.
He’s the former CEO of Microsoft and – together with his wife – the founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In the trailer, Gates confides that his deepest fear is that one day his brain will “stop working.”
Gates is a “multiprocessor” says his wife Melinda. “He will be reading something else but then processing at the same time. It’s chaos!”
Gates “thrives on complexity,” Melinda says. “He makes a framework in his mind, then he starts slotting in the information. If something doesn’t line up, he gets really frustrated.”
“It’s scary,” says Melinda. “But when Bill stills himself, he can pull ideas together that other people can’t see.”
Thus we gain a picture of a brilliant man striding over a world populated by intellectual inferiors. How foolish we would be to question his authority!
And since his intelligence has enabled him to hoard more money than almost anyone else in the world, why shouldn’t we let him use this economic power to change it for our benefit?
It’s truly one of the most patronizing, paternal and insulting pieces of propaganda I’ve ever seen in my life. And that includes Guggenheim’s previous movies.
Guggenheim is, after all, the man behind the most notorious propaganda film of modern times, “Waiting for Superman.” Back in 2010, he popularized the school privatization of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He made charter schools cool until Betsy DeVos came along and made them uncool again.
Though I can’t imagine what could possibly be cool about for-profit schools run by appointed bureaucrats that can discriminate against students in enrollment, skimp on special education services and cut academic programs for students while pocketing the savings! All while gobbling up funding for the public schools that try to educate everyone!
More recently, he tried to pull the same sleight of hand for education technology firms in 2013 with the film “Teach,” but by then no one was really paying attention to him.
And for all that time his ventures have been backed by the richest neoliberals out there – Netflix CEO Reed Hasgtings, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, eBay founder Jeff Skoll, and Salman Khan of Khan Academy.
Sure these folks are usually identified as Democrats, but their philosophy is completely in line with The Walton Family Foundation, Charles Koch, Walden Media (run by creationist Philip Anschutz), and lobbying groups such as the Lumina Foundation, the New American Foundation, and others.
Oh! And let’s not forget Bill Gates, himself, who has bankrolled a number of Guggenheim’s projects including “Waiting for Superman.”
It’s no wonder Guggenheim is making a fawning tribute to Gates. He owes the man!
It’s time to pay back his sugar daddy with what he does best – agitprop public relations.
Yes, Gates is a very intelligent person.
But he is also a very stupid one.
When it comes to computers, few people can beat him. But like so many overprivileged people, he takes excellence in one area to mean excellence in all areas.
And that’s just not how things work.
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates famously bragged that he was the wisest person in Athens – not because he knew so much more than everyone else but because he was the only person who knew that he didn’t know anything.
Gates could have learned something from that humility, because it’s the trait he is most lacking.
Take public education.
No one has had a greater negative impact on public schools than Gates. With his so-called philanthropic contributions, he has steered the course of education policy away from research-based pedagogy to a business-minded approach favored by corporate raiders.
He didn’t come up with Common Core State Standards, but he did bankroll them. He bribed the state and federal government to force their schools to adopt the same or similar academic standards for all students. Not good standards. Not standards developed by classroom teachers, psychologists or experts. But standards created by the standardized testing industry.
The result has been more high stakes standardized tests, narrowing the curriculum, shrinking education budgets for the poor and minorities, and an increase in developmentally inappropriate approaches to education. Nearly every parent with a school age child will tell you horror stories of attempting to do homework with their children and having to relearn basic math and English skills just to untwist the needlessly complex knot that children are expected to unsnarl in order to grasp the bare basics of academia.
Gates poured billions of dollars into that failed initiative, spent hundreds of millions of dollars for development and promotion and influenced trillions of taxpayer dollars to be flushed down the drain on it. All to no avail.
But it’s not his only education policy failure.
Gates now admits that the approximate $2 billion he spent pushing us to break up large high schools into smaller schools was a bust.
Then he spent $100 million on inBloom, a corporation he financed that would quietly steal student data and sell it to the corporate world. However, that blew up when parents found out and demanded their children be protected.
He also quietly admits that the $80 million he spent pushing for teachers to be evaluated on student test scores was a mistake. However, state, federal and local governments often still insist on enacting it despite all the evidence against it. Teachers have literally committed suicide over these unfair evaluations, but it hasn’t stopped Gates from continuing to experiment on the rest of humanity with his money.
And he’s still at it.
His new plan has been to spend $1.7 billion over five years to develop new curriculums and networks of schools, use data to drive continuous improvement, and give out grants to high needs schools to do whatever he says.
There’s nothing wrong with someone wanting to help improve public schools. But the best way to do that is to listen to the people most knowledgeable and invested and then give them the tools they need to succeed.
But Gates doesn’t play that way. He reads up on a subject and then comes up with his own harebrained schemes.
“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade,” he said during a speech at Harvard in 2014.
Lots of people know, Bill. Teachers, students, parents, psychologists, professors. You just won’t listen to us.
You just insist the rest of us listen to you despite the fact that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
You’re rich and you think that makes you better than us.
And Guggenheim’s documentary purports to support this position by reference to Gates’ incredible brain.
He is a smart guy. No one would really contradict it.
He was a National Merit Scholar who scored a 1590 out of 1600 on his SATs. But he also comes from a very privileged upbringing.
He didn’t grow up on the mean streets of urban America while attending a neighborhood public school. He went to an elite preparatory school since he was 13.
At Harvard he wasn’t a polymath. He excelled in subjects he cared about, but neglected others that weren’t immediately interesting. According to a college friend:
“Gates was a typical freshman in many ways, thrown off pace by the new requirements and a higher level of competition. He skipped classes, spent days on end in the computer lab working on his own projects, played poker all night, and slept in a bed without sheets when he did go to bed. Other students recall that he often went without sleep for 18 to 36 hours.”
Gates was no genius. He earned good grades in the subjects he liked and significantly less so in classes he didn’t. Nor was his heart in his studies. Gates joined few college activities unless someone dragged him off to a party.
School was of little interest to him. He dropped out of Harvard before getting a degree to start his computer software company.
Imagine how privileged you have to be to feel empowered to do that!
Nothing much was at stake for him at school so he could do whatever he liked with little to no real life consequences.
You want to decode Bill’s brain? Look at his family’s wealth. Look at his upbringing. Look at his medical records.
But the moral of the story of Bill Gates is not that rich elites should rule the world.
It is that everyone – EVERYONE – should practice humility and not deign to think they have all the answers.
It is a paean to the need for collaboration to solve problems, the need to listen to all voices and decide the best course together.
And more than anything it is a desperate cry for democracy and social goods – not to defeat Trump through Gates’ example – but to lead to real human flourishing by smashing through the fallacies supporting Trump and Gates together.
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