every few months for ten years or more, i've been checking itunes for the van morrison live album it's too late to stop now, which is my candidate for best live rock album (but really, if i were assigning it to a genre, it'd be soul, though soul and rock aren't perfectly distinct by any means). i have it on lp, but i wore it out in the 70s so bad that's it's mostly unplayable. anyway, it is up, the original two-record set along with multiple further volumes. i'm not sure just what those are, but will explore.
the thing is just great: it's a big band with horn section and strings, recorded with no overdubs. van is wildly improvisational and eccentric, but also working perfectly with the band and the arrangements, and there are so many great songs, some of them in quite their best versions, like this:
it was released in '73, and i have always speculated that the early springsteen albums would be impossible without it; the instrumental configuration is similar, as also the street-corner symphony of the lyric themes and even the vocal style. only, van is so so much better: there's always a lilt, a subtlety, an idiosyncrasy, a change of tempo or emphasis, a sense of play. in contrast, i hear springsteen as pretentious, big for the sake of big, with a bludgeoning and unsubtle rhythm and bellowing vocals that i associate with my chronic headaches from the era. bs might get whytheysucked pretty soon by the way.
i feel both ways about brexit. i do love it when people sneak up and nip pollsters, not to speak of technocrats, elitists, professors, and such. and the bigger the system, all else equal, the less democratic: the further from any particular person's or community's input. i think these same professors and technocrats expect the whole world to unify into a super-state (habermas is in this spirit, for example), which would leave every particular situation so distant from power that no one could have any self-determination at all. i like localism: local cultural differences, vernaculars, folk arts, funky customs, and so on. a world where those things are being expunged in favor of standardized tests is a world i'd prefer to depart. so i am viscerally sympathetic to almost any secessionist movement anywhere; i'd like to see us fragment.
on the other hand, i'm no fan of nationalism, anti-immigrant fever, border walls, and the like. i want a spontaneous localism confident enough in itself to be happy with other localisms and to shift with new members and generations. nationalism has been an element in terrible wars and oppressions and exclusions, and it's not natural or inevitable; the nation-state emerged in history.
i'm unimpressed by the technocratic freak-out now in progress, which has plenty to do with sudden shocks in stock markets. this too will pass. this is not as wild or unaccountable a change as people are making it out to be this morning. this too shall pass.
obama's press conference on the supreme court non-decision on his executive orders on immigration was a good example of what's wrong with american politics. first of all, the relentless focus-grouped yipyap: "commonsense commonsense commonsense; dreamers dreamers dreamers; hardworking hardworking hardworking.' then, immediately using the whole thing to bash republicans and turning straight to electioneering. so, he's blaming republicans for the partisanship, and offering a dem congress and white house as the solution. how has that worked before? they'll just spend the next years running again, by bashing the republicans with a collage of robotic phrases and of course vice versa. there is no way out within the two-party system and all anyone on either side cares about is aggrandizing themselves by vilifying others. that's not a decent way to live; these are not good people.
concentrating on david walker and frederick douglass's american defiance. also: why w.e.b. dubois is overrated.
nice thumbnail! my insane look. let me elaborate on a couple of things. walker is a protestant individualist of the same sort as william lloyd garrison or lucretia mott is (or, in a secularized version, thoreau). what he asserts in the first passage i quote is that to claim to be the master of a human being is to usurp the prerogative of god: it is blasphemous among other things. he asserts that human beings have only one master, only one ruler. many of these figures held that the political state is a form of slavery, by the way.
on dubois. his best writing is in the souls of black folk. getting out into his literary material is really a slog through some terribly over-written stuff that doesn't really amount to a clear point of view. his early essay 'on the conservation of the races' takes race differences and race destinies extremely seriously in the 19th-century german mode, even if it emphasizes the positive aspects of blackness. douglass and many others are so much better in that they attack race itself as a self-serving ideology, not a basic human reality that cosmically drives history. dubois is characteristically back-and-forth and characteristically woolly at key junctures, often substituting mediocre poetry for definite assertion.
when garvey accused dubois of running the naacp at the behest of white liberals, he had a point, even if his statements were too emphatic. and there is an element of 'natural aristocracy' or enthusiasm for hierarchy (implicitly correlated with skin tone) in duboisian notions like 'the talented tenth,' which i regard as extremely unfortunate. his later pan-africanism and marxism took him in more radical directions, but didn't basically solve the intellectual problems or improve the writing.
however, his early sociological work, such as 'the philadelphia negro,' is excellent and important.
the new brandy clark album, big day in a small town, is certainly the best country album so far this year, and brandy is the best songwriter working anywhere near mainstream country music, and one of the very best singers. it might be better than twelve stories, which is saying something. there are no weak songs. the specificity, realism, narrative structure,and phrasemaking are incomparable. what would she charge to write the whole next kacey musgraves album?
the biggest shift from 12 stories is the production. that one used a very stripped-down acoustic frame; she sounds great like that. believe it or not, i think she's been listening to taylor swift and stuff. well, she wants some hit singles, and if anyone should have them, she should. and i think that all the different production styles work beautifully with the songs, and it is all country no matter the frame.
i've been on the other side of that, which is a long hard road, so to speak. perhaps i should write a reply, or maybe joe maphis already did. but don't think that it's all that poppy; she uses a variety of approaches, including more trad things (but it is all more 'produced' than the last album). how about this lyric?:
anyway, just great song after great song; i'd like to post them all.
i'm spliced today, trying to figure out what to think and what to feel after orlando. it's a moment of reverse-punditry: i am trying to register the bewilderment, the numbness, the conflicting emotions, my own incoherent ideas, my attempt to believe in something. what i'm hoping is that this expresses other peoples' experience too. (correction: i've argued that the government shouldn't control all the weapons.)
trump was horrible today, and i wish in general politicians and everyone else would pause for a human, confused, self-reflective response rather than just dropping an event into whatever bucket they've got. but that too is human: we want to comprehend. but we are satisfied with ersatz comprehension, instant categorization. this is a way the intelligence with which we continuously congratulate ourselves, our great adaptation, the miracle of consciousness, and so on, go terribly wrong. it's what might extinguish us eventually. it's the intellectual form that is part of what leads us to war, bigotry, slavery, and, in short, killing.
i really don't have any twitter skills. i'd like to launch #whytheysuck, though. and in any forum, i'd like to hear your candidates: people who are more or less universally adored and horribly overrated, or who face untreated sucking issues. it's like an intervention; we're doing it because we care, for the suckers' own good. they will never stop sucking and start blowing until they admit they have a sucking problem
now, perhaps it's not clear whether hawking (or if he's getting feynman right, feynman) is actually asserting that every possible universe is actual, that is, asserting, for example, that all possible incompatible physical theories are simultaneously true, or that the universe is exhaustively described by newton's physics, and is not, or that stephen hawking both does and does not exist, and so on. (these would be entailments of the view.) going to need a long run at 'possible,' i think. but what hawking asserts is that each possible universe exists 'each with its own probability.' now i would really, really like to see him or someone pay off on that.
i know what might be meant by, say, 'santa claus probably exists.' this is epistemic probability: we have more reason to think he exists than not (as of course we do). but then, to say that he exists, but exists with a certain probability, or that he or indeed the universe, exists 72.3%: i don't know what that can mean. i wonder whether the sort of existence that this universe has is probable existence rather than actual existence? or is probable existence actual existence or actually not? whatever probable existence is, could something probably exist and not exist at all?
anyway, 'existence' seems to me bivalent: one either exists or one does not. probably existing just isn't existing, probably? no idea what could be meant. but the formula is this: all possible alternative histories do exist, but each exists with a certain probability. good heavens! that they do exist entails that the probability that they exist is 1, doesn't it? for example, before the race, we might assign a probability of 5-2 to secretariat's winning. but after secretariat does in fact win the race, the probability that he won the race is 1. so if each possible universe does exist, then the probability that it exists is 1 (on a 0-1 scale). anyway...
on splice today: why they suck (2): stephen hawking. really the topic is contemporary physics, which i've been attacking on and off for years, with mixed success. hit the 'science' tab, below right, and scroll down for some of the discussion.
the point of 'why they suck' is to attack people who have been placed above criticism, people who cannot be attacked (or their ideas, or songs, etc). i want to do critiques on things and people that provoke the 'you can't say that!' response. i think really we often engage in apparently-unanimous idolatry of members of our species that isn't good for the people treated that way and definitely isn't good for ourselves or our art or our ideas. sheer peer pressure is not a good way to form tastes or figure out what to believe. and when the whole world gets unanimous, it really is extremely likely that everyone will pretend not to notice or really will not notice the sucky part.
so, because it's hawking, or just any apparently super-genius physics professor, people happily swallow things they cannot and should not possibly believe: the universe has every possible history, all of which we produce by observation. you can't even begin to make that anything like coherent. and yet you're flummoxed by the blackboard of scribbled equations.
ok, just to nail a couple of things. 'the universe has every possible history' is a pretty crisp formulation, but it nevertheless runs maximally afoul of occam's razor: it postulates as many entities as any theory of anything can possibly postulate: every thing that could possibly exist has existed. i am not sure myself whether or to what extent the razor is a good principle of theory choice; it would be, in my opinion, only if more ontologically economical theories were more likely to be true. i don't see quite why that should be the case. but i know that hawking makes it his first principle of theory choice and then commits the strongest possible violation of it a few sentences later. that's a mistake by anyone's standards.
well, he doesn't say these are criteria of theory choice; they are standards for generating a 'real model'; if the 'model' is 'real' then it will have these features. just to quibble: by real he means 'true': the model is real, i suppose; there it is, expressed in the text or the equations. only it's incoherent and false. i would prefer to formulate this by asking what is a good explanation, which would also mean a true explanation. these are very vexed and complex issues, but they are handled by people like hawking in, let's say, a stunningly cavalier fashion. even the standards of theory choice he gives are sort of an eclectic checklist from the history of answers to these questions, giving you a little occam, a little logical positivism, and a little popper, along with that utterly vague and arbitrary thing about arbitrariness and adjustments (2).
i am aware that the book i'm reading is 'popularized': good heavens i'm choking on the sub-atomic particles as soccer balls etc.: a lot of this sort of writing has a very condescending quality. maybe there is much much more sophisticated thinking about explanation, theory choice, modeling, etc. underneath? but if there were, it wouldn't look this bad on the surface i think. hawking has argued - and many people, even philosophers, take this stance implicitly or explicitly - that science has replaced philosophy. i don't think so, because hawking and such so desperately need much more precision about basic terms, categories, and the ground-clearing assumptions. like: 'how do we recognize a good theory?' being a killer mathematician or a good collider of particles doesn't necessarily help you with these tasks.
but really it's the crazy, casual apparent subjectivism that i would most viscerally reject, and which is also incompatible with everything else (such as stating that the universe begins with a bang). it's just german idealism again, i tell you; dead as a doornail in philosophy, for extremely good reason.
the world's most unreadable magazine is artforum. obviously, i am interested in the relation of art and politics. but artforum is exclusively obsessed by it. well, it's particularly insanely bad in the summer 'art and identity' issue. look, whatever your admirable ideals, the magazine you're publishing is unreadably boring, hectoring, unbelievably repetitive. the politics is apparently entirely unanimous, the range of voices a millimeter wide, and it consists mostly of repeating the same words over and over ('neo-liberalism,' for example). it reads like the writers are all parodying each other and plagiarizing frederic jameson or something. for god's sake i can read actual political theorists; i don't need art and art criticism that is nothing but semi-competent expressions of other people's ideas. and just sayin: i've been bludgeoned by identity politics and neo-late-post-marxism in art galleries and museums for decades, and that's not really why i go. it is so, so tired, so uncreative, so boring, so self-righteous, so grim, so stupid.
i think when paul ryan says, roughly, that donald trump is a racist, and i (paul ryan) support him, he needs to gaze at himself in a mirror for several days and ponder what he has become and how. moral black holes, i tell you.
it's worth saying every so often - though it never seems to help at all - that we have no idea what we're talking about when we're talking about race. 'mexican' is not a race, and even back in the day when people such as, say, carleton coon (actually, my great step-uncle by marriage or something) were enumerating races, 'latino' or 'hispanic' were definitely not among them. well, the child of a black person and white person in the usa is a black person; black/white is also conceptually indefensible; these are political/economic categories all the way down, and they could disappear. anyway, brazil is a multi-racial society, or cuba, right? or they would be if there were such things as races. they don't speak spanish in brazil. a lot of mexican folks look very 'indigenous' to me. watching the copa america, all the teams seem to have multiple colors (except perhaps haiti and jamaica).
so maybe the categories are important or something, or could be positive in some uses or in some respects. but i really do think that it's a serious problem that the terms are just meaningless but that we're obsessed with them anyway, on both ends of the political spectrum. or we're organizing the real world around them like we still believe in fairies. seems like if you realized there are no demons, you'd stop performing exorcisms. i think when you realize you're talking nonsense, you should try to talk differently.
this applies at least to some extent even if races are "mere" social constructions and not biological or genetic categories. first of all, the genetics was part of the social construction: we were supposed to biologically different. and second, we can't even coherently state the content of the social construction 'hispanic' qua race. we seem to know what we mean, we feel like we mean something. alright, then what do we mean, exactly? skin tones, hair colors, language groups, nationalities, hemispheric regions (of current residence or of [some of] your ancestry), cultural identifications, even economic statuses (statusae? stati?) and religions: they're all scumbled up in our alleged minds.
the debut of sister sadie is the best bluegrass album i've heard in some time. beautiful singing and virtuoso picking.
just like the original runaways, one of them's a banker and one is the director of academic advising at belmont university. and just like the original runaways, they love jesus and feature the great dale ann bradley.
the mandolin is killer; watch her chop the rhythm on the one below. these vids don't give you the quartet vocals, which are so lovely.
coming next will be a collection of black power scriptures, including the holy piby (robert athlyi rogers), the royal parchment scroll of blacksupremacy (fitz ballantine pettersborough), the promised key (leonard howell), the holy koran of moorish sciencetemple (noble drew ali),and spiritual writings of marcus garvey.
when people are trying to explain why 'classical' or art music is so much better than popular music, they often focus on relative complexity: pop is simplistic; classical not. alright, first of all, sheer complexity is of no aesthetic value in itself, correct? compare, say, high renaissance to rococo painting. lately i have been receiving more sympathy for the rococo than i ever had before via la irish, but if someone were to argue that fragonard was better than michelangelo on the sheer grounds that his compositions were more complex, that would be a bad argument. you'll have to bring something else to make your case. your'e not going to show that de kooning is better than judd just because there are more lines and colors in de kooning. judd (as michelangelo, also mozart, for that matter) were not dedicating themselves to maximum complexity.
also i think that the point is both false and question-begging. so, if you were representing a schoenberg composition and an aretha song on scores, it may be that the schoenberg would bristle with more notes, though perhaps not. but you could not possibly represent a performance by aretha, or janis, or tammy wynette in a score: they far exceed the capacities of notation. if you actually took your very best shot at capturing all of aretha's dynamics, textures, or even actual notes in a score, it would bristle indeed, and you'd quickly realize that what's going on utterly exceeds any notational representation. that there is complexity. show me the libretto that compares in complexity to the next eminem album, etc etc. it's question-begging because what can be adequately represented in notation is the measure of classical but not of popular music.
so, you're going to need another argument. or maybe ditch the arguments and just listen to whatever turns you on. that would lead me - it has led me - to avoid schoenberg and the places where i might run into schoenberg, while listening to a lot of tammy and eminem. but that's just me. that classical stuff is just too simplistic for my tastes. also i've noticed that europeans just don't understand this music thing.
this is really unbelievably disturbing. eventually, i am going to circle around to a critique of american higher education. one term that that should be forever retired is 'meritocracy'; the whole thing is profoundly infected with elitist mediocracy. also rape.
well, i guess i'm circling right now. higher education in this country is dedicated to reproducing structures of privilege, generation after generation. the 'merit' in meritocracy at this point consists of performance on standardized tests. this reflects economic and racial hierarchies in a very raw way: your white middle-to-upper-class kids have a thousand resources for improving testing performance, from helicopter parents to tutors to resource-rich schools dedicated essentially to nothing else. intelligence and creativity have nothing to do with it.
that's what this whole structure is for, and the amazing thing is that people manage to repress their consciousness of that fact; they think they're egalitarians; they think they are measuring ability; they think, in short, that they are on top in virtue of the fact that they deserve to be. and then the hyper-aggressive multi-strategic affirmative action characteristic of elite institutions is fundamentally designed to assuage the conscience, or to affirm the self-delusion. overall, it is miserably failing to serve the students it uses as badges of goodness. and in a number of ways it reinforces rather than ameliorates racial and class hierarchies, among other things because it breaks communities in a way similar to incarceration: yanks successful kids out of south central and puts them in the ivy league and ivyleague wannabe institutions, for example, where they are often miserable, but from which they often never return.
also these integral little bubbles of young people reproduce in hyper-intense form the hierarchical cultures that they are dedicated to perpetuating. i've had enough beer-soaked frat boys to last me several lifetimes. but that rape thing seems to be even worse than i thought. i think a lot of the point for the young people is to stay drunk and have really, really bad - or literally evil - sex. apparently that's the meaning of life. and then it's kind of a eugenics program, so that the children of privilege can produce grandchildren of privilege.
somehow, we've got to integrate higher ed much more into communities, make it much more open, and break down the hierarchies among the institutions and within them. the institutions are status and prestige-obsessed, and our culture is too. they are not dedicated to learning or scholarship, but are pecking orders that reward simulated merit. i think this is actually more or less destroying learning in multiple directions; for example, i don't think academic philosophy right now has anything to do with truth or wisdom; it has to do with the prestige of institutions and professorships, angling for the sinecure that makes you more or less immune to criticism.
by athletes, presidents, sports anchors and so on, ali is being presented as a hero and an example for us all, specifically in virtue of his resistance to the draft. he changed us, showed us what we could be, etc. but let me ask you this: how many americans, in any walk of life, have followed that example, or are capable of following that example, or have tried, or would not capitulate under far less trying circumstances or at far less cost or with far less incentive? if we are not capable - and i would say that barack obama among many others is not - then i think we should shut up about that part, or simply say that in our actual lives he is an example of what not to do, or what we would advise people such as our children not to do. i think we should feel attacked by that example, upbraided, shamed. that he is a hero shows that we are cowards. he may be an example to someone somewhere, but he is not our example.
let me ask you even this: for what principle, or for what people, would you risk your health insurance? reflect and answer that to yourself as frankly as you can. alright then, who are your actual heroes? i fear that, on reflection, it will be clear that your actual heroes are successful bureaucrats. we are pretending to live with commitments and to admire courage, but these are fictions.
there's a real simple reason that poor folks get smashed more than rich folks by natural and unnatural disasters, as in texas right now: because political power coincides with economic power, everywhere, through all of human history, and history has given us no more obvious, consistent lesson. people can only be blinded to it by ideology. that's why some people get levees, but a million other things too. and that is why the whole history of leftism since marx, which with the exception of brief fizzings of left anarchism, is really really wrong: using the state as a mechanism for equality is just counter-productive overall and in the long haul. it is what it purports to cure: hierarchy, political and economic. and it really, really has not worked out, in public education, housing programs and a thousand other projects. this is just obvious, but is evidently non-reconsiderable.
the usual, rather half-assed explanation of 'the trump phenomena' is 'fear and anger.' but everyone on both sides seems to be fearful and angry these days. what these things denote in relation to trump is 'the fear and anger of white men,' which is a way not to just say 'racism.' actually, i do think that's in there.
i'd like to centralize another dimension, however: the utter emptiness, repetitiveness, safety, and stupidity of american political discourse over the last few decades. i might call the way politicians such as the clintons, gore, kerry, the bushes, and damn near everyone else expresses themselves mechanical, primitively manipulative, and cowardly. a lot of it emerges from university communications programs, and orbits around focus-grouping words or phrases and polling both positions and formulations, and its effect is to conceal the human beings doing the uttering, to create an utterly impersonal form of expression divorced from humanity, the experience of the person doing the uttering, and individual differences. the latter effect has been central both to apathy and hyper-polarization: on each side, people say exactly the same words in exactly the same order, over and over, and in the ideological 'echo-chambers,' non-politicians come to sound just like politicians.
i have never seen a worse example of this than the professoriate, all of which mumbles leftesque talking points in unison. but it is also almost incredible what it has done to opinion journalism; it has made the new york times opinion section empty and unreadable and redundant, for example. also, in both these cases it is quite pointless, as people aim to manipulate audiences that already agree completely. central to it is vilifying the other side, which isn't even there to hear, and for good reason. it is central to our division into two realities, both of which are simplistic, dishonest and robotic.
i believe that this sort of thing makes the people who utter it, whether 'leaders' or followers literally stupid: people with nothing at all to say for themselves, with no point to make or flair with which to make it. but it is the easiest thing in the world to break through. all you have to do is say what you think in sentences you compose yourself; just the minimal standard of human communicative competence and a tiny dose of social courage. trump is very very good at this, and it takes guts to do what he's done in this nation led so long by cowards. it looks instantly like strength and leadership and ability, because mechanically repeating what other people are saying is a kind of retardation. i think anyone with minimal linguistic competence and some sort of decent values could do this simply by resolving to do it, and i hope that trump, whether he wins or flames out right now, has taught everyone some lessons about that.
i have to say that that was a good speech by clinton yesterday; she finally seems to have found a writer. and i do think trump is jumping the shark right now, though i've thought that before. if you're wondering, i will mention again that i do not want that man ever to be president of the untied states.
my sweetie jane irish, who's in sicily at the moment painting interiors, was living and working on the lower east side in the 1980s, contemporary with, you know, nan goldin and robert mapplethorpe, cindy sherman and barbara kruger, basquiat and haring, koons and schnabel. i feel that her work in that period has been severely under-recognized. she was calling the style 'post-painterly nihilism' (her current work might be termed 'post-colonial rococo'). it is conceptual yet painterly, highly political and highly optical, beautifully rendered and hilarious, very of its moment and also traditional: it should be a paradigm of high post-modernism.
a number of works juxtaposed brutalist or banal american architecture rendered in egg tempera, with parodic yet lovely renoirish oil surrounds. it's a commentary at once on the history of painting and contemporary american culture, making you see both differently.
['It was the best of times,' 1989 36"x36"]
she was particularly obsessed with shea stadium (having gone to school at queens college), though i don't seem to have those images. i think one reason for the neglect is that she is a rather shy and unassuming person, though an incredibly bold artist. but she might have beeen a little hard to notice in a world of wild boys and girls and their big problems. still i think we shouldn't be narrating this segment of art history - now so central, the big figures sainted rock stars - without these paintings.
she used appropriation, text, grid forms, and so on - many elements that came to be understood as central to post-modernism - but folded them all into something resembling traditional painting, which might have been another reason people missed her perfect contemporaneity.
['Penn centre,' 1986. 5'x6']
she was often read through a half-assed freudian structure of phallic and vaginal symbols, masculine and feminine elements. gender is there - fundamentally in a comical way, though also feminist - but this was a sad simplistic distortion.
"Depart from me this moment" I told her with my voice Said she, "But I don't wish to" Said I, "But you have no choice" "I beg you, sir", she pleaded From the corners of her mouth "I will secretly accept you And together we'll fly south".
Just then Tom Paine, himself Came running from across the field Shouting at this lovely girl And commanding her to yield And as she was letting go her grip Up Tom Paine did run "I'm sorry, sir", he said to me "I'm sorry for what she'd done".
if you need me to start explaining why that sucks there's no hope anyway.
Winterlude, Winterlude, my little apple Winterlude by the corn in the field Winterlude, let's go down to the chapel Then come back and cook up a meal Well, come out when the skating rink glistens By the sun near the old crossroad sign The snow is so cold but our love can be bold Winterlude, don't be rude please be mine.
Winterlude, Winterlude, my little daisy Winterlude by the telephone wire Winterlude, it's making me lazy Come one, sit by the logs in the fire The moonlight reflects from the window Where the snowflakes they cover the sand Come out tonight everything will be tight Winterlude, this dude thinks you're grand.
Something there is about you that moves with style and grace I was in a whirlwind, now I am in some better place My hand's on the sabre and you've picked up on the baton Something there is about you that I can't quite put my finger on.
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your mouth Blowing down the backroads heading south Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth You're an idiot babe It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe
Old man sailin' in a dinghy boat Down there Old man sailin' in a dinghy boat On there Gonna pull man down on a suckling hook Gonna pull man into the suckling brook Oh yeah !
these five examples are drawn from the first seven songs i looked at. the other two weren't good either. 'overrated' doesn't even begin to cut it. there has never been a less competent lyricist.
150 years or so into universal compulsory education, we might ask: what was the justification for it, and how has it turned out? perhaps the justification was egalitarian. to what extent has it closed gaps of race or class in this country? i'm talking about reality, not yapyap. i attended dc public schools in the 1960s and '70s. they were an incomprehensible useless disaster then, and they are now. they're just about to get it right, though: have been since 1881. perhaps the idea was universal literacy? perhaps indeed, but the people who have tried to make that happen are at best semi-literate themselves. or put it like this: even if margaret spellings or arne duncan can, strictly speaking, sound out the words on their telepromters, they are under a terrible misapprehension about what literacy actually is. their vision is that by the time you reach 18, you should be able to mechanically produce a five-paragraph essay, like a parrot or an idiot. they've failed even at that.
i can't imagine that these are the actual motivations, because then people would register that the means are grotesquely incompatible with the ends, and that the results are nothing at all like the professions, over a very long trial. i think the purpose was subordination of populations; i think compulsory education is merely authoritarianism. it is explicitly authoritarian, for it is compulsory. i think you might want to consult your own statutes on child labor and kidnapping. to a great extent, we've done to everyone what we did to american indian children: snatch them and try to 'integrate' them into the dominant culture: to control them and reshape them, because parents and communities don't share the values of the dominant culture. the form that takes now is that we're not adequately filling cubicles, so let's let bill gates write a universal curriculum. i think the purpose is to shape and control minds, as in forced labor camps in the cultural revolution, to destroy sub-cultures, to make everyone as much like 'us' as possible.
i think the motivations are racism, classism, and cultural imperialism intended to result in cultural destruction or 'assimilation' or 'integration.' the other side is internment for the unassimilated, as in high-rise housing projects and mass incarceration. this combination is summarized by urban public education. i think the goal of compulsory education overall is to produce a uniform american child to feed into the maw of the state-capital octopus, dropping all others into the dark dimension where they can't be seen. other than that, though, it is a very inspiring vision.
i think you'll find that many of the same people who were pushing universal compulsory education were advocates of eugenics. one intended effect of 'universal literacy,' and of standardized testing, and of compulsory education, is to wipe out what deleuze calls 'minor languages': slangs, dialects, etc. language is central to culture; destroying vernaculars is cultural destruction. however, major languages are dead without them, as arne and margaret and hillary so vividly demonstrate. and in all this, the progressive people effortlessly, with no self-consciousness or self-reflection, took themselves to be obviously the normative people: just what all people should be, should be compelled to be. with little variations, they're still right there.
a couple of lessons from the obvious century-long failure: if you seek to produce egalitarian outcomes by authoritarian means, you simply produce more extreme hierarchy. that should have been obvious to everyone all along. the history of american progressivism has been a history of effortlessly deploying white bourgeois norms, regarding them as universally valid, and using them ('unconsciously') as instruments of renewed or more thorough oppression. race was at the heart all along, i believe. the idea was that black people and poor people (in appalachia, perhaps) were not capable of raising their own children, that they could not be trusted with their own children, that their communities and families were 'dysfunctional' or 'pathological' and that we could help. help=make them more like white middle-class people. this made it hard to distinguish between cultural uplift and cultural annihilation. even by the standards of the progressives themselves, the results have been disastrous.