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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Neoliberal Freaks

I don’t know who’s a bigger freak, a 94-year-old who is “setting the industry ablaze with his creativity” or a 12-year-old who “received venture capital funds to start his own company.” 

The kid, at least, has the time to find a doctor to help him. The old man doesn’t. 

P.S. The capacity to live in accordance with one’s age is one of the most reliable markers of psychological health. The utter incapacity to resist the demands of neoliberal economy is a sign of non-existent individuality. 

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39 thoughts on “Neoliberal Freaks

  1. What is wrong with 94-year-old? He has a relevant academic education ( physics) and, most importantly, “has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.”

    Why are you so sure his newest battery is useless? Also, since he is a part of the “team at the University of Texas at Austin,” it would mean other team members are mistaken too.

    If your post is unconnected to the quality of this invention but only to his age, what is meant by “to live in accordance with one’s age”?

    I have a situation now in my family in which 50+ woman in Russia is a pensioner, while my 60+ mother is working and intends to continue to do so. Another teacher I know is working part-time at the age of 70+ and says that going on a pension is dangerous at his age. 🙂 I heard that according to some studies quite a few people tend to die soon after stopping to work not only because of age / health, but because their lives become emptier and it has horrible psychological effects. I do not think neoliberal economy is the main reason here.

    Also, some people would claim that one should live in accordance with one’s gender / ethnic origin / etc. If we are casting aside every limitation, why stop at age? Especially when people live longer than before, fertility is falling in Europe (don’t tell me Muslim migrants will support all those old Europeans) and there is a necessity for old people to continue contributing as long as they can.

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    • Man, it’s really something how you manage to bring Muslims into every conversation. ☺☺☺

      People whose lives are “empty” without work haven’t managed to fill their own existence with any other sort of meaning. I love my work but only dire financial need will induce me to work 1 day past retirement age. Because I’m so much bigger than any job, I’m so filled to the brim with meaning that I don’t need a job to make me feel valuable.

      I’m not speaking of or judging anybody’s relatives, of course. I’m talking only about the pathetic old fellow who can’t stop producing even getting close to being a century old.

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      • \ I love my work but only dire financial need will induce me to work 1 day past retirement age.

        May I ask how do you define retirement age? You once said that you could stop working in your 50ies but do not plan to do this immoral thing.

        Also, what do you mean by “working”? Teaching, publishing, keeping up with new developments in your field, all of the above?

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        • Rauner is killing our pensions, so I might never be able to retire. But I hope I have enough self-awareness to notice when I start using recycled courses and recycled ideas and become a burden on everybody who is forced to pretend I’m still all with it.

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    • “Also, some people would claim that one should live in accordance with one’s gender / ethnic origin / etc. If we are casting aside every limitation, why stop at age”

      • Age is real. Ethnicity and gender are not. Biological sex, however, is real, and trying to “cast is aside” is not a sign of great mental health either. Imagine a woman who tries to cast aside the limitations of menstruating and doesn’t use a pad or a tampon. Or a man who casts aside the limitation of shaving and never does anything to control facial hair in any way. Or either of them not going to a gynecologist / urologist ever because they want to cast aside the limitations of biology. We’d all agree they are not psychologically healthy, right?

      This is why nobody thinks it’s a good idea to marry off 11-year-olds or have sex with underage kids. Age is real, biology is real. Only consumerist mentality suggests that they can be chased away if we “choose” to.

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  2. Shimon Peres also did not act according to his age:

    Shimon Peres (August 2, 1923 – September 28, 2016) was an Israeli politician who served both as ninth President of Israel, (2007 to 2014) and Prime Minister of Israel, as well as Interim Prime Minister.
    […]
    At the time of his retirement in 2014, he was the world’s oldest head of state.
    […]
    In July 2016, he founded the ‘Israel innovation center’ in the Arab neighbourhood of Ajami, Jaffa, aiming to encourage young people from around the world to be inspired by technology.
    […]
    On September 13, 2016, Peres, aged 93, suffered a “massive stroke” and was hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel. He died two weeks later.

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    • “At the time of his retirement in 2014, he was the world’s oldest head of state.”

      • Such a long life, and only two years to reflect, be quiet, not rush, ponder, stare at the sky. . . To me, that’s absolute horror. I won’t live this long but if I did, I know I wouldn’t waste my golden years like that.

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  3. Shakti on said:

    Of course they’re anomalous. Geniuses very often are. :p But I’m not sure what these particular people being able and willing to invent and be productive has to do with the neoliberal economy and a lack of psychological health any more than being average and following societal time lines does.

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    • There is a reason why the article presents them as admirable and not as what they are – sad, pathetic freaks. Neoliberal philosophy posits that humans are only valuable, their existence only makes sense if they are productive and adding to the ever-growing stockpile of goods and services. Rush, rush, rush, grind, grind, grind. Start working in the cradle and don’t stop until you have one foot in the grave. That’s the ideal of human existence. If you are not making money, you are a waste of space. Let’s monetize babies, shall we? What’s the use of them if they are not making money? Let’s make elderly people in retirement homes work for their keep. If this 94-year-old is doing it, why are they just sitting there aimlessly at 65?

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      • Shakti on said:

        A kid who invented a low cost Braille printer is a pathetic freak because he’s a kid and a dude filed a patent for an electric car battery that could kill off petroleum vehicles is a freak because he’s 94?
        Without other facts, I cannot buy this reading of them. I read these people as exceptions, not rules or some exhortation to be productive at all times of my life from birth to grave. I’m not sure geniuses have the exact same psychological needs as most of the population. You’re inferring other facts outside the article, I think. Although I do feel bad that I’m not a super productive genius at any age. :))

        (An aside: the fact the 94 year old is called Dr. Goodenough is pretty funny, if damning with faint praise.)

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        • “Although I do feel bad that I’m not a super productive genius at any age.”

          That’s precisely the goal of such pieces. I look with horror at all these sad little kids who come to Shark Tank and recite, with the faces of eager little maniacs desperate to please, how they spend their breaks at school taking orders and doing customer service. And instead of spitting in the stupid faces of their disgusting parents, everybody goes, “Oh, how cute! How admirable!” Something is deeply wrong in a culture where everybody is so sated yet these things are not seen as monstrous.

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  4. The freakiest are the 12 year old’s parents.

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  5. https://news.utexas.edu/2017/02/28/goodenough-introduces-new-battery-technology

    First paragraph

    “A team of engineers led by 94-year-old John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, has developed the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices, electric cars and stationary energy storage. ”

    “LED by 94 YEAR-OLD John Doesn’t-Fuck-Enough, PROFESSOR”

    And we are supposed to find super genius this old rich brat with the Money Diogenes Syndrome who continues to exploit others’ labor. I want to vomit.

    I have no problem with a 94 year-old who continues invent things, but this is not the main point here.

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    • \ who continues to exploit others’ labor. … I have no problem with a 94 year-old who continues invent things, but this is not the main point here.

      If he were 30, would all be A-OK then? How is his age connected to it?

      Why do you think other members of this team of engineers are exploited? I thought working as part of a team to develop new technologies in physics or biology was more widespread than a lone genius sitting somewhere alone, but may be I am wrong.

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      • In my experience of working with people past retirement age – and they are wonderful people, I love them – but. . . But, but, but. How do I put it gently? It’s not ideal, so to speak.

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    • Well, David, at least in STEM graduate students get paid. Not true in other areas.

      As for 94-year old continuing to work… I am not presuming to know what is right and what is wrong here and if prof in question does not have any other interests in his life. What I know, though, as that certain age being “proper” for retirement was never determined based on any kind of psychological argument. It was purely a worker’s rights issue. It was about large masses of industrial workers, not about creative types. And the decision to make this age 65 (or whatever else it was in some other country) was made decades ago when the structure of the labor force was different and average life expectancy was different too. On average people lived just several years after retiring…

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      • In the UK, professors must retire at 65. For the longest time, I thought it was very unfair. And then I saw a department where every professor is over 70 and. . . Oy vey.

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    • Yeah, good point. Whether he’s making an actual contribution or feeding off underlings is a big question.

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  6. I checked “retirement age in different countries” on wiki, and turns out that in 2011 Israel had the highest one for men – 67 . No country in this wiki table had a higher age in 2011.

    As for women, it is 62 now, but till end of 2022 will be raised to 64.

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    • The welfare state is dying. Retirement benefits are going away. And I’m opposed to narratives that normalize this situation, which is what the linked article does. He’s 94 and he’s working! And we are supposed to feed your lazy ass when you are only 80? Not a chance!

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      • Yes, but not all changes in the world originate from neoliberalism. If your welfare system was designed assuming average life expectancy of 70 and your retirement age was set to 65, and then 50 years later the life expectancy increases to 80, this system will be unsustainable, neoliberalism or not…

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        • “If your welfare system was designed assuming average life expectancy of 70 and your retirement age was set to 65, and then 50 years later the life expectancy increases to 80, this system will be unsustainable, neoliberalism or not…”

          • Not to worry, the life expectancy in the US is dropping already. And once healthcare is dismantled, it will drop even further. But I have no doubt that it will make zero impacts on the gushy narratives of how amazing it is to work until they cart you off to the funeral home.

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  7. Anon on said:

    Jesus you guys, the dude is emeritus. He isn’t clawing onto a faculty position that would otherwise be open, he is on a state pension. Plenty of emeritus profs hang out and talk science, maybe write some papers. Its just that this guy happened to actually worked on something good rather than just annoying seminar speakers with crotchety questions like the other emeriti.

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    • ““A team of engineers led by 94-year-old John Goodenough”

      • This is a bit different from hanging out and asking questions at seminars, don’t you think?

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      • Anon on said:

        It is true that they say he leads the team but he really is retired, I doubt this guy is a PI on a grant. It might have been his idea and someone elses money and students, or the news paper could not understand how research groups work, or it might be useful for the research group to stress his name because he invented the lithium ion battery and it will get attention.

        This dude was emeritus
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Bethe
        in his late 90s even when he calculated the thing that could well be the next nobel prize in physics. At that time he didn’t have the workload of a full prof he didn’t teach or have a grant or grad students. Its just that they didn’t take away the keys to his office so he found something cool to do.

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        • That’s the philosophical difference we are having: I believe that chasing after cool things to do at 90 is evidence of some massive existential error. I’m at the age when people begin to realize the finite nature of human existence and the possibility of not getting at peace with it before my time comes terrifies me.

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          • It is an existential error only if one is dependent on others’ ideas of what is “cool”. It does not matter who those others are – “neoliberals” or “leftwingers” or “psychologically enlightened”… But why are you automatically assuming that he is using somebody else’s definition of what is “cool” and not his own?

            But I agree with you that some special person choosing and being able to work creatively till 90 should not be used to force others to work till 90 if they would prefer to choose differently.

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            • We all know that I don’t believe “choice” is sacred. Professors who inflict themselves on students and colleagues long after they are not much use can afford to make this choice. But students and colleagues are left with no choice in the matter. Don’t tell me you haven’t met scholars who are clinging to positions they haven’t been able to bring anything to for years.

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  8. I applaud both the 94 year old and the 12 year old. I am also glad that Picasso did not stop painting at age 65. Your point of view seems to be that children should not be taken seriously and that old people should not continue to do what they love. I disagree totally.

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    • Taking children seriously entails allowing them to have a childhood and not forcing them into adulthood prematurely. And old people should ask themselves why, in such a long life, they haven’t learned to love anything other than exchanging labor for money.

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      • Socal dendrite on said:

        My sense is that this particular person (Dr Goodenough) at his stage in life likely loves the intellectual stimulation rather than the exchange of labor for money (though I assume he liked being paid well enough earlier in life). Not that I know for sure, but then neither do you. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

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        • The department I graduated from is dying because every professor there is over 70. I have no idea why they can’t go get stimulated without being paid a quarter million dollars to do it. And this is not an isolated case. There’s nary a department that doesn’t have its own Dr Boomer Notenough who wouldn’t grow up and move on.

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      • Taking children seriously means listening to what they say and not ridiculing it. If a 12 year old wants to think about science, this is wonderful. Money need not be involved. Far too often, children are prohibited from doing such things.

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        • 12-year-olds “want” whatever will garner them the adults’ approval. The very lucky ones develop the capacity to assert their own will after the age of 15. Many never do that, though. Especially in patriarchal societies.

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  9. OK, my experience was different. I never wanted what would garner adult approval. I was always looking for things that were interesting to me, whether science, mathematics, or reading books. Mostly, the adults in my life did not approve, but I did not care. This dated back to about age eight.

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  10. “And old people should ask themselves why, in such a long life, they haven’t learned to love anything other than exchanging labor for money.”

    Most old people are not interested in exchanging labor for money, unless they are really poor. Mostly they want either to work on things that are exciting to them, or else work on things that will help the human condition generally. I recall that your favorite philosopher recently died at the age of about 90. Would you prefer he had stopped writing at age 67??

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    • That’s a great example. Bauman wrote about loneliness in such a poignant way that it’s clear that it wasn’t out of a fullness of his life that he kept writing.

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