What Happens to the Eloi When the Morlocks Leave Town: A Lesson for Jim Prentice from H.G. Wells

    “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” — H G Wells

HG Wells may not have had a time machine, but he was certainly prescient.

In The Time Machine the narrator, known simply as the Traveller, invents a contraption that takes him to 802,701 AD. There he finds a world inhabited by waif-like Eloi who loll around doing nothing and ape-like Morlocks who eat them. The Traveller temporarily upsets the balance of this efficient economic system when he accidentally starts a forest fire.

Wells’ premise is simple. Humans without intelligence evolve into Eloi; those with intelligence evolve into Morlocks who provide food, clothing and shelter to the Eloi—right up to the time they’re slaughtered, rather like a rancher harvesting his herd.

I was reminded of the simple-minded Eloi when I read this newspaper headline: Oil Slump brings diversification back into view.

Let’s diversify!

In recapping the impact of the precipitous drop in oil prices The Globe noted, “When oil booms end, revenue disappears, leaving large and unexpected deficits”.*

Well, okay, $7.5 billion is a large deficit, but even Premier Prentice wouldn’t dare characterize the deficit as “unexpected”.  

In fact he has a solution. It’s time to diversify around energy, agriculture and tourism.

Details of this diversification plan (one of dozens that have been commissioned by the Alberta government over the last 40 years) are non-existent, but Premier Prentice says it will include the “commercialization” of university research.

“I’m quite passionate,” he says, “about this whole notion about our inability to commercialize our university research. I’m focused on that. We need to be successful at going from primary research to the building of companies and the commercialization and capitalization of companies that can take advantage of that research”.*

And how do the universities feel about Mr Prentice’s unilateral directive (which was last trotted out by Mr Lukaszuk when he was Minister of Advanced Education)?

The U of A responds

The University of Alberta is undoubtedly Alberta’s premier university. Indira Samarasekera (known as IS to her colleagues) became its president in 2005. She was determined to make the U of A one of the world’s top research universities.

She failed.

Ms Samarasekera

She says the U of A is not “…attracting the kinds of brainpower that would help us with the best ideas and the drive to commercialize them.”**

She blames the government’s lack of long-term vision and its failure to provide stable funding for basic university operations.

She says that Mr Prentice’s 9% cut on top of Ms Redford’s 7.2% cut will create an impossible situation, pointing out that there’s a need for more investment not less, particularly in the areas of environment and energy research.

While all this is true—incidentally it would have been nice if Ms Samarasekera voiced these concerns to Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and Jim Prentice before she left the U of A, instead of raising them now as she’s breezing out the door—it does not address the fundamental issue underlying the commercialization of academic research, namely how much should funding be tied to commercialization?

(Sure, funding research to eliminate tailings ponds and commercializing the result is a good thing, but funding basic research that eliminates our reliance on fossil fuels or cures cancer is even better.)

Out of the crisis

Thomas Friedman (writer and three time Pulitzer Prize winner) and Ms Soapbox (blogger and one time Clawbie winner) disagree on virtually everything, but they do agree on this: education is the key to solving the current economic crisis.

Friedman says we must develop new approaches and new technologies that will become the foundation of future economies.*** This makes sense given that repeating the existing approaches and fine tuning existing technologies aren’t getting us very far.

If we applied this principle in Alberta, our government would provide stable funding to universities not just for research geared to commercialization and the generation of profits, but also for pure scientific research intended to increase our understanding of phenomena which may or may not be commercialized at some point in the future.

A place to learn

What would such a university look like?

Professor Jeremy Richards puts it best in the excellent University of Alberta blog Whither the U of A.

He says universities should provide a high quality traditional education to students “who are here to learn, not just to get a piece of paper”. Instead of pushing so-called innovative learning techniques, he suggests going “retro” and showing students how to learn for themselves. He’d like universities to halve the minimum number of instructional hours and double the amount of homework or lab work because that’s where “real learning occurs”.  Not once did he mention “commercialization”.

HG Wells

It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

Which brings me back to H G Wells. He said “In England we have come to rely upon a comfortable time-lag of fifty years or a century intervening between the perception that something ought to be done and a serious attempt to do it.”

In Alberta we have the same problem. The Tories have been talking about diversifying our economy for 44 years. It’s time to stop talking about it and make a serious attempt to do it so that the next time the Morlocks pack up and leave town the Eloi won’t perish.

*Globe & Mail, Feb 21, 2015 S1

**Globe & Mail, Feb 13, 2015, A10

***Doomed to Repeat: The Lessons of History We’ve Failed to Learn, by Bill Fawcett, 268

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18 Responses to What Happens to the Eloi When the Morlocks Leave Town: A Lesson for Jim Prentice from H.G. Wells

  1. Jim Lees says:

    What’s a Clawbie? Sounds very prestigious…..

  2. Jim, how nice of you to ask! A Clawbie is an award for the best legal blog in one of 14 categories. The Soapbox was nominated for an award by the University of Calgary Law School blog, ABlawg, and won for best blog for a non-legal audience. ABlawg also won that year, for the second time, in the best law school blog category. And while it’s not quite as as prestigious as a Pulitzer Prize, it’s still a tremendous honour to be nominated, let alone win.

    The really neat thing was how the Clawbie people described my blog: [It] will not be everyone’s cup of tea politically; but blogs like this deserve to be singled out for their passion, dedication, and most importantly, their interest in enlightening their readers and advocating their positions, which ultimately is what lawyer blogs should do.

    That’s why we’re all here, right?

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    It only takes a certain amount of true interest and good will to do what has not been done in the last 44 years. If I was one of the politicians that has been in the Alberta legislature in the last 3 decades I would feel ashamed of how little has been accomplished in this province other than billions and billions of oil dollars that flew out of this province faster than the blink of an eye. Government after govenment have failed to protect our resources, our dreams and possibilities.

    Good education is crucial. Teaching our kids how to learn and research is what creates true knowlege and wisdom, not just a paper to get a job. If they can truly learn, they will create their own jobs. I actually feel sick when I realize that we are being governed by the worst possible people we can get to resolve the real issues of this century. While Jim Prentice and Alison Redford before him spend millions trying to convince the Americans to build a pipeline, not an hour or a dollar is spent on what we desperately need for our future, like wind energy, solar power better food products developed in Alberta. We have the most days of sun in Canada and there are already great houses build with Alberta know how. Landmark homes, for example is on the verge of their standard homes being net zero.
    Our biggest problem is that we are locked in a vicious circle of irresponsible politicians, crooks and money takers that get scotch free even when they commit fraud like Alison Redford did. The RCMP may not think so but I personally have serious doubts that this investigation was not tampered with.

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    I just want to add that a strong investment in the University of Alberta and a strong commitment to the research and the results would do marvels for this province, like you have said but that requires people that believe in education and at minimum believe in Evolution. Unfortunately our leaders are believers in markets and have very little interest in human beings that work. They are too busy spending time with elites and those that fund their careers.

    • Well put Carlos. Albertans find themselves in the centre of a maelstrom. Trial balloons are flying everywhere and the only thing we know for certain is that public services will be cut by 9%. The impact of this short sighted decision is becoming clearer every day. In addition to the comments of the U of A president (“We have no capacity to take a nine percent cut. None.”) the head of the Alberta Teachers Association, Mark Ramsankar, said the cuts will result in 2,500 educators losing their jobs and parents across the province will feel the pain inflicted on their children who are trying to learn in this harsh environment because “There is no place to hide”. Jim Prentice will have the “honor” of completing the destruction of Alberta’s education system started by the man he is emulating, Ralph Klein. Meanwhile corporate subsidies to oil and gas and agriculture will continue. Anyone who votes PC in the next election should have their head examined.

      PS Did you notice that once again the Education Minister Mr Gord Dirks is “unavailable to comment”? No surprise there, Mr Prentice’s cabinet ministers do what Mr Prentice tells them to do and apparently Mr Prentice told Mr Dirks to button up.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        They will let the teachers go and they will damage the University even more. They will cut the Health Care System and whatever else in the name of their God the market. Sounds like the Alberta ISIL.
        Corporations now pay less taxes here than in China. They basically do not pay royalties as compared to places where there are any real ones, and for new projects they only pay royalties when production starts – wow I wished I was treated that way as a citizen.
        What is it that takes these people to this extreme of not even caring for their own citizens versus the masters that pay for their greedy careers. It is disgraceful and it is getting to the point where we will have to invade the Legislature and take them out of there.
        Oh gee I forgot that C51 is just around the corner – I may be on that list already.

      • carlosbeca says:

        I forgot again. I am sorry I am getting old. 🙂
        Jim Prentice told Dirks to button up! Well that is the only positive thing he has done so far. We certainly do not want to hear that the gays in the schools should go to newly built residential schools to get homosexuality out of their systems.
        This is bizarre really. We do not even notice how slowly these absurd situations are becoming the norm. One of these days they will announce that elections have been cancelled for the foreseeable future and Albertans will continue in their merry ways because really do they make any difference to our lives? We can allow the PCs to choose the successor. 🙂

  5. Carlos, you’re in good company. I just posted Ralph Nader’s open letter to Stephen Harper, chances are I’m right there on that list with you!

    • carlosbeca says:

      Ho I have no doubts about that. You will be ahead of me. 🙂
      At least I will not be the first. It is not the first time that my name will make to such lists anyway. Better proud to be on that list than accept this garbage. If this situation continues and we evolve into something that challenges our democratic values, they will certainly have to deal with me on or off the list.
      Have to go read that letter.

  6. Shelagh Campbell says:

    Having been called out by name by “journalist” Yedlin in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal Business sections a couple of weeks ago for the audacity of signing a letter against the keystone pipeline, I guess I must be on that list too. Such is life on Planet Alberta. Sadly, we don’t have to wonder who pays “her” salary, their logo is right above the column (CAPP).

    • Carlos Beca says:

      How dare you Shelagh? 🙂 🙂
      Are you a left wing nut ? or better an ECO-terrorist? Well with bill 51 any of us can be called whatever they wish. If you are not on their side you are a terrorist.
      Watch out the list is going to matter soon. I guess we should be sent to the anti-radicalization program and have Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin run it.

      • Carlos, in her final shot against the 90 scientists and academics from Standford, Princeton, Harvard and Shelah’s U of A, who sent the letter to Obama urging him not to approve Keystone, Yedlin says: “It’s time to hold organizations that remain unencumbered by the facts to account and to stop the hyperbole and misinformation; it helps nothing, let alone allow for conversations that lead to energy policies that are realistic and consider all aspects of the industry that underpins everything that happens around the world, every day — including the U.S. and Canada.”

        So clearly the 90 scientists and academics are wrong and Yedlin, in her infinite wisdom and garbled grammar, is right. I think at this point we’re all supposed to fall to our knees in gratitude.

        Good grief!

    • Shelagh, I pulled up Yedlin’s piece. Wow. Starting with the usual nonsense (coal-fired electrical power is worse, California’s carbon footprint is bigger, it’s not “blood oil”) and moving to rail car derailments are our fault because we’ve impeded the pipeline approval process, she never once addresses the real concern, that continued expansion of the oil sands harms the environment and prolongs our dependence on oil. She betrayed herself at the end with the crack that you must not understand that energy revenues and taxes help fund U of A’s operations and your salary. What she really said was Big Oil bought you (and everyone else in Alberta for that matter) so stop complaining and fall into line.

      Alberta–just another company town. Pathetic.

      http://calgaryherald.com/business/energy/big-academic-brains-misinformed-about-the-world-of-oil-and-pipelines

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Yes Susan that is the right word pathetic. If you want to feel a bit better and want to see one of these pathetic idiots by the name of Ezra Levant get a bit of a lesson in free speech take a look at this

        http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/03/10/ezra-levant-noam-chomsky-the-rebel_n_6842800.html

      • Carlos, that was quite an interview! Noam Chomsky’s precision was a perfect contrast to Erza Levant’s calm but inflammatory language. The comments were a bit disturbing though, but I guess that’s to be expected given who this site is pitched at.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan, actually what you heard was not because of the site. I was going to guess that you are not familiar to Noam Chosmky. He is as precise with his mind as he his with is language. That is actually why I like him. He does not have any problem examining any situation the way it is. In this particular case I am quite certain that you were surprised with the word invasion of Iraq, but if you let down your North American mind and think about what happened there as a human being, you will see that he is rigth. I like Chomsky and I think that 99.9% of what he says I agree with. I have seen with my own eyes and was affected in my own life with the consequences of what both Imperial US and Russia did around the world – and continue to do as we speak – and I know for a fact that it is not just an interpretation of facts. It is a reality. Furthermore the war industry is way too important for both to worry about consequences. This by the way was first made public by no less than an American president in the famous speech in 1961 by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

      • Carlos, I agree with you. I read a little of Chomsky’s work when I was working on my Masters in Anthropology, but I haven’t read much of it lately. He’s a very intelligent man who looks at all sides of an issue dispassionately (unlike that idiot Levant). I wasn’t surprised by what Chomsky said, but rather what the commentators under the article said. I just went back to the link and see that more comments have been posted in favour of Chomsky (this is good). When I first looked at the site the comments were critical of Chomsky and in favour of Levant (who as I said, is an idiot). Thanks again for the link and your further explanation. 🙂

      • carlos Beca says:

        Oh I see what you mean. I misunderstood you. I am glad you know Noam Chomsky. Not many people do as you very well know.
        I did not read the comments. I assumed that being in Ezra’s site they could not possibly be constructive. Ezra is a very strange individual and I am sure that his intentions were to embarrass and humiliate Chomsky but that is not easy to do.He hates Chomsky because of his open criticism of the State of Israel.
        Noam Chomsky is 86 years old and his mind is as clear as ever. I agree with you that is a very intelligent man. His range of world politics is amazing.

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