Ragged University Has No Funding: Anyway, It Is Not About Money
Recently I was met with disappointment when I had to inform someone that there was no money to pay for expenses so that they could talk at a Ragged University event. I got the sense that they wanted a token, a symbol of worth, that they were appreciated such as some petrol money or the like. It was uncomfortable. The point I had to make was that Ragged University has no funding – there is no money to offer as every last penny, moment or resource (that I have) is set out to create the platform and social setting so that all individuals can share their knowledge in a warm community space.
One day I hope that there will be funding – once the labyrinthine outcomes and measurements culture is negotiated, and a humanised way to illustrate the reality of the project is acceptable to those who hold the purse strings. Just now outcomes and measurements bureaucracies appear as a deadweight costs which starve the project of the elements needed to create the educational setting. When funding is attained – without putting individuals under microscopes and without imposing on people’s fragile personal space or thought processes – the money will still be channelled solely to creating educational opportunity.
The aim of the project is to walk in the footsteps of the best examples of the Ragged Schools movement such that learning, teaching and the power to create in various fields become available to everyone. In the Victorian times communities banded together to create the world which they needed – the best examples were situations where wealth and profit were shared, and ‘education’ was not an opportunity to make a financial gain but to gift. Thus, when money is gained in the project – just as resources – it will be allocated to opening out further opportunities for people to philanthropically share their knowledge from a locale.
People will not be paid to do talks, and the idea is to garner local knowledge and value people who are all around us all of the time. The idea of celebrity has little truck here; what defines a speaker is a passion for their subject. Also, the idea of authority is diffuse as everyone has domain and each is the author of their own domain. We respect each other’s lives and the experience they innately hold. Everyone is at a different stage of knowing, and everyone has something unique they can share that enriches the collective – it amplifies the gestalt…
The notion of reducing value to money is a misunderstanding of what is going on in Ragged University as a project. Our human society is making the mistake of viewing people narrowly through the lens of money – the abstraction of currency which represents our promises is controlled far far away from where the action takes place in our lives. In context with the Ragged University philosophy, the money is not representative of what is going on. It simply does not have the capacity to hold the richness and wealth that goes on within these personal interactions.
It is a different type of economy; rather than one of banks and bureaucracies, it is one of gift. Pieces of paper which say ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand’ are foregone for face to face conversations, the giving of time and effort, the building of inclusive opportunity. These are familial relationships which go on – informal and personal – and just as it would be out-of-sorts to ask for expenses if you were to go on a date, so it is with the Ragged University. The nature of financialising interactions changes the activity; it no longer has the secure connection with the gift that is the drive of the project.
This is not to say that business and finance have no place in human society – this would be absurd. However it is to say that it is a different kind of activity and interaction. The choice here is to build a culture of developing a public good – engendering activities which promote positive externalities and public value. Our world has become overly regimented, overly financialised, increasingly estranged from its authentic possibilities. Our communities are becoming lost from their kinship relations via a process of abstraction through money. We are in danger of seeing the demarcated financial value of something/someone and missing the inherent qualities and universe that actually exists before us.
To illustrate the economy of the Ragged University: If two people meet, each who have a coin, and they each give each other the coin they have; they part and each will walk away with a single coin. If two people meet, each who has an idea, and they each give each other the idea that they have; they part and each will walk away with two ideas. We are interested in the economy of the generative gift as a commons; I give – not for a teleological reason (a means for an end), but because I have come about because of gift.
The economy of the Ragged University is about the action of a promise – not a ledger and record of a debt. It is an economy which is inherent in our mutual reciprocity. I spend my time, energy, and resources opening up opportunities and spaces where anyone can come, eat food, and get the chance to connect with knowledge through people.
I believe our world is suffering from creeping desertification of our social spaces – just like we are witnessing a desertification of our natural environment. This is why I choose to give my time, my energy, my thought and care to set up events that everyone can come to without cost. It takes a lot of time and it requires me investing in the community setting by covering my own transport costs, by buying materials for the events, equipment, food…
…also, conversations with people need to be had to find venues who are happy to share their place without cost, advertising needs to be done via social media and the creation of websites – which require money for hosting and domain names, as well as software. The time and learning costs are considerable for creating and running a website, but they are not so much when I consider what comes out of all of this effort. I witness people connecting with each other and building new possibilities – new infinite futures.
The moment I start to reduce everything to money and finance I lose sight of the value which I am concerned is becoming more scarce in our society – the immeasurable magic which comes out of a room full of people mutually interested in each other and learning what they did not know before. It has been said to me many times, ‘why do you not charge some nominal cost for the events because unless people pay for something they do not know its value’…
My response to this is that I am interested in the person who can see beyond the financial value. Our world is filled with easy perspectives where we can look at the price tags and decide that something is better because it is in greater demand, or that it costs more. I think that these perspectives are deficient. I am interested to find and connect with the people who can listen to someone make a proposition in knowledge and analyse it themselves to decide upon its qualities. I am not interested in the person who looks for the pedigree of the institution where a person got awarded their degree – this is bland and stunted; it is an attitude which is devaluing vast stretches of humanity for the simple fact that they dont fit within a certain narrow bandwidth that is recognized.
It is vital that we get back to the first principles of our experience, and encourage the questioning of how we value the world around us – the people around us.