The tragedy of the Hapsburgs was that they wanted things to get better, but couldn't bear the thought that anything might actually change.
— Frederic Morton
George Orwell said something similar in his landmark essay on Dickens. Poverty, filth, hopelessness: Dickens raged against them all, but in every one of his books, the plucky hero is saved by a bequest from a long-lost uncle or some other deus ex machine. Dickens could see that his world was broken; what he wouldn't allow himself to see was that the problem was structural, and that the only way to fix it for everyone was to re-structure the world by taking power away from the haves and giving it to the have-nots.
I was reminded of this when a friend pointed me at the so-called "Effective Altruism" movement. As Amia Srinivasan pointed out last year, its members undoubtedly want to do good, but like all utilitarians, they're only willing to do so within the framework that has made them affluent. Elsevier's acquisition of Mendeley and the SSRN is similar: they're happy to see scholarly publication disrupted, just as long as it doesn't threaten their hold on power. But to paraphrase something else Orwell wrote, the purpose of change is change, and anyone who's not willing to embrace all that implies is just trying to sell you something.comments powered by Disqus