systemic disparity

All posts tagged systemic disparity

Kirsten and I spent the week between the 17th and the 21st of September with 18 other utterly amazing people having Chatham House Rule-governed conversations about the Future of Artificial Intelligence.

We were in Norway, in the Juvet Landscape Hotel, which is where they filmed a lot of the movie Ex Machina, and it is even more gorgeous in person. None of the rooms shown in the film share a single building space. It’s astounding as a place of both striking architectural sensibility and also natural integration as they built every structure in the winter to allow the dormancy cycles of the plants and animals to dictate when and where they could build, rather than cutting anything down.

And on our first full day here, Two Ravens flew directly over my and Kirsten’s heads.

Yes.

[Image of a rainbow rising over a bend in a river across a patchy overcast sky, with the river going between two outcropping boulders, trees in the foreground and on either bank and stretching off into the distance, and absolutely enormous mountains in the background]

I am extraordinarily grateful to Andy Budd and the other members of the Clear Left team for organizing this, and to Cennydd Bowles for opening the space for me to be able to attend, and being so forcefully enthused about the prospect of my attending that he came to me with a full set of strategies in hand to get me to this place. That kind of having someone in your corner means the world for a whole host of personal reasons, but also more general psychological and socially important ones, as well.

I am a fortunate person. I am a person who has friends and resources and a bloody-minded stubbornness that means that when I determine to do something, it will more likely than not get fucking done, for good or ill.

I am a person who has been given opportunities to be in places many people will never get to see, and have conversations with people who are often considered legends in their fields, and start projects that could very well alter the shape of the world on a massive scale.

Yeah, that’s a bit of a grandiose statement, but you’re here reading this, and so you know where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

I am a person who tries to pay forward what I have been given and to create as many spaces for people to have the opportunities that I have been able to have.

I am not a monetarily wealthy person, measured against my society, but my wealth and fortune are things that strike me still and make me take stock of it all and what it can mean and do, all over again, at least once a week, if not once a day, as I sit in tension with who I am, how the world perceives me, and what amazing and ridiculous things I have had, been given, and created the space to do, because and in violent spite of it all.

So when I and others come together and say we’re going to have to talk about how intersectional oppression and the lived experiences of marginalized peoples affect, effect, and are affected and effected BY the wider techoscientific/sociotechnical/sociopolitical/socioeconomic world and what that means for how we design, build, train, rear, and regard machine minds, then we are going to have to talk about how intersectional oppression and the lived experiences of marginalized peoples affect, effect, and are affected and effected by the wider techoscientific/sociotechnical/sociopolitical/socioeconomic world and what that means for how we design, build, train, rear, and regard machine minds.

So let’s talk about what that means.

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As a part of my alt-ac career, I do a lot of thinking and writing in a lot of diverse areas. I write about human augmentation, artificial intelligence, philosophy of mind, and the occult, and I work with great people to put together conferences on pop culture and academia, all while trying to make a clear case for how important it is to look at the intersection of all of those things. As a result of my wide array of interests, there are always numerous conferences happening in my fields, every year, to which I should be submitting and which I should anyways attempt to attend. Conferences are places to make friends, develop contacts, and hear and respond to new perspectives within our fields. And I would really love to attend even a fraction of these conferences, but the fact is that I am not able to afford them. The cruel irony of most University System structures is that they offer the least travel funding assistance to those faculty members who need it most.

To my mind, the equation should be pretty simple: Full-Time Pay > Part-Time Pay. The fact that someone with a full time position at an institution makes more money means that while any travel assistance they receive is nice, they are less likely to need it as much as someone who is barely subsisting as an adjunct. For adjuncts who are working on at least two revenue streams, a little extra assistance in the form of the University System arranging their rules to provide adjuncts with the necessary funding for conference and research travel, could make all the difference between that conference being attended or that research being completed, and… not. But if it does get done, then the work done by those adjuncts would more likely be attributed to their funding institutions.

Think: If my paper is good enough to get accepted to a long-running international and peer-reviewed conference, don’t you want me thanking one of your University System’s Institutions for getting me there? Wouldn’t that do more to raise the profile of the University System than my calling myself an “Independent Scholar,” or “Unaffiliated?” Because, for an adjunct with minimal support from the University System, scrabbling to find a way to make registration, plane tickets, and accommodations like childcare, there is really no incentive whatsoever to thank a University System that didn’t do much at all to help with those costs. Why should they even mention them in their submission, at all?

But if an adjunct gets that assistance… Well then they’d feel welcome, wouldn’t they? Then they’d feel appreciated, wouldn’t they? And from that point on, they’re probably much more willing and likely to want everyone they talk to at that conference or research institution to know the name of the institution and system that took care of them. Aren’t They?

My job is great, by the way, and the faculty and administrative staff in my department are wonderful. They have contributed to my professional development in every way they possibly can, and I have seen them do the same for many other adjuncts. Opportunities like temporary full-time positions provide extra income every so often, as well as a view to the workings (and benefits) of full-time faculty life. But at the end of the day we are adjuncts, and there is, in every institution where I’ve studied or worked, a stark dichotomy between what rules and allowances are made for full time employees (many) and those which are made for adjuncts (few). This dichotomy isn’t down to any one department, or any one college, or even in fact any one University. It’s down the University System; it is down to how that system is administered; and it is down to the culture of University Systems Administration, Worldwide.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re a part of that culture, let me just say to you, right now: There are a lot of good people toiling away in poverty, people doing work that is of a high enough quality to get them into conferences or get them published or get them interviewed for comment in national publications. There are good people working for you who can’t (or who are simply disinclined to) raise the profile of your universities, because the funding system has never been arranged to even the playing field for them. They would be far more inclined to sing your praises, if you would just give them a little boost into the choir box.

Simply put, by not valuing and helping your adjuncts, you are actively hurting yourselves.

If you are an administrator or a tenured or tenure-track professor, do know that there is something that you can do: Use your position and power as leverage to fight for greater equality of University System support. Recognize that your adjunct faculty is no longer only focused on teaching, without the responsibilities and requirements of a research-oriented career. Many of them are trying to write, to speak, to teach, and to engage our wider cultural discourse, and they are trying to do it while working for you.


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And thank you.