[Although I don’t remember doing this, I might have submitted this piece to the UCLA alumni magazine. I found it in my e-mails with this heading:
From: “Paul Stephens” <greateco@xxxxx>
Subject: My UCLA Story
Date: Monday, May 17, 2004 12:26 PM]
Phil Salin’s legacy
I hadn’t heard from my college room-mate (and fellow econ major at UCLA) for a long time. He had later enrolled in the Stanford MBA program after working for Bechtel for a short time, which was not to his liking, but it probably helped him get into Stanford. Just for the heck of it, I did a Google search on him. Sad to say, I discovered that he had died of stomach cancer in 1992, but not before making a considerable contribution to the realization of science fiction visions which were his passions from boyhood. He wrote a seminal paper, widely quoted, against patents (but not copyrights) in software (in other words, in favor of “open source” programming, and one of his friends and colleagues seems to have coined that term). You can read some of these articles on http://www.philsalin.com.
[Note: This website is itself a ripoff, created to sell his name in this domain to someone, but I think the texts – there are only a few – are accurate. I also posted an article on Phil on Wikipedia, which got taken down and changed, but may have been put back, or it is in the archives. I wasn’t in touch with Phil’s siblings in 2004, but I have reconnected with them c. 2015 via Facebook. I had hoped that they would edit the Wikipedia post (since I didn’t have much of the statistics or other information about his life). I’ve also suggested writing a collective memoir and biography with them, but that hasn’t happened yet. Sierra (George), Patricia, and Doug Salin are all FB friends, and I’ll post this, or the link to it, there. – PHS 4-14-18]
Upon reading some of Phil’s later work, I experienced that rare satisfaction for a hermit-intellectual of having one’s own mindset expanded and elaborated to perfection by one’s (former) friends and colleagues. I was a couple of years older than Phil, and sort of adopted him as a big brother might when he was still just a college freshman. He was a gangly, nerdy science-fiction fan from the backwaters of San Rafael (“Marin County before Marin County was cool,” one might say).
Besides a strong mutual interest in the literature of science fiction and being Econ majors, we developed several further and important intellectual congruencies. One was that both of our fathers were involved in the General Semantics movement, so we were both raised with a heavy diet of Etc. (For those who never knew of this publication, “Etc., A Review of General Semantics”, practically every important ’60’s intellectual got his start, there, or had his or her work recognized by this august group. And who was the “main man?” Would you believe, S.I. Hayakawa, the late and unlamented sleepy Senator from California, and enemy of free speech while president of San Francisco State College — otherwise a hotbed of radical and Marxist thinking.)
Our other common loves or interests were classical music and Ayn Rand’s “vision” — which direct experience with the cult soon dulled or sublimated into better things. But we retained and expanded upon the libertarian ideas of people like Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper, and this became Phil’s life-work, both intellectually and entrepreneurially. I was the more serious student, and introduced those thinkers to him, although Phil’s grandfather was a famous Swiss (Basel) economic historian, Edgar Salin, and knew Hayek, Schumpeter, and other contemporaries from the German-speaking world as well. The elder Salin was also trained as a philosopher, and was apparently some sort of Platonist. I remember Phil telling me that his grandfather had gone to Karl Jaspers’ funeral (I was then a philosophy grad student). Later, I came to wonder if he had also known Heidigger and Hannah Arendt.
That was the way our academic discourse and development proceeded. We tried to share and learn everything that would be of interest to the other, while constantly advancing the frontiers of our shared awareness. What happened to our friendship, though, was the same as many other great male friendships: he married a woman whose lifelong ambition was to be a Partner at Price, Waterhouse (a goal I see from the UCLA Alumni book she achieved). They did not stay together long, but by that time, I was back in Montana working the logging camps, harvest crews, firewood sales, and other “hardscrabble” occupations, including 90 days in jail for possession of home-grown marijuana. (I was, after all, an economist advocating free trade and minimal government regulations and restrictions on personal freedoms).
That was also the time I began reading Hermann Hesse, eventually completing most of his novels in translation. I thought it must be like Phil’s hereditary culture — the bourgeois Austrian, Swiss and German cultural milieu of the present, past, or future. Neither of us was urbane or socially successful — we were nerds, in the current parlance, although Phil was a much happier and fun- loving person than I was in those days.
The biggest challenge I faced in converting Phil to a more practical version of “the truth” (after our liberation from Objectivism, we had great fun demolishing intellectual authoritarianism) was getting him out of a Platonic mindset, and into Popper and Hayek’s “critical” or “evolutionary” Rationalism. I don’t know if Phil ever read Hayek’s The Counter-Revolution of Science (he doesn’t refer to it in his notes to these articles), but that, to me, was perhaps the most interesting of all Hayek’s works. Phil did read The Sensory Order, though, and he’s the only person I ever discussed it with besides Hayek, himself. (I wrote a paper for one of Hayek’s classes at UCLA on that book). But all in all, his grasp of Hayek and Popper’s thinking finally became exemplary, and I could not improve either on his thinking or on his expression in these articles. I wonder if he ever met George Soros? They would have had a lot in common, Phil’s family background being merchant-banking as well as academics (he was related to Jacob Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb fame).
I once read one of their commissioned family histories which verified that they were brokers for both Allied and Central Powers war bonds in the global markets during World War I. This is a charge which was often levied against “Jewish bankers” by populists and anti-semites of all stripes — that “they financed both sides of every war.” Literally, it’s true. That was their business, and the source (or a consequence) of their political influence. They were also very patriotic for their native countries of Germany and Austria, and often persecuted — both in England and the United States for being “pro-German” — a very different reality than what pertained during World War II. Phil told me that his father, Lothar, spent the (2nd) War in Switzerland with a bomb of some sort under his bed.
For these and other reasons, Hayek should not be thought of as the conservative demon (or saint) he is claimed to be, respectively, by both progressives and conservatives in the English-speaking world. He fled Austria before the Nazis came to power (originally to study and teach at the London School of Economics, then part of the University of London), and sent his kids to live in America “for the duration” of World War II. To us, Hayek should be best-known as the author of The Road to Serfdom (which he was warning against, not advocating!). He also edited John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor’s correspondence — Hayek was a thorough Millian, as well as a great admirer of the Scottish Enlightenment and its leading figures of Hume and Smith. (Hayek would probably not have cared much for Boswell, though, and he occasionally railed against the “immoralism” of people like Russell and Keynes, meaning Russell’s heterosexual promiscuity, and Keynes’s gay liberation, I would imagine. I later learned that Wittgenstein and Hayek were cousins — their mothers were first-cousins, as I recall).
In any case, check out Phil’s quite serious essays entitled “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Kitchens” (apparently written while he was dying of stomach cancer) at http://www.philsalin.com/kitchens/index.html
and “Freedom of Speech in Software” http://www.philsalin.com/patents.html.
The latter pretty much “puts paid” to the whole idea of “intellectual property” in science or nature. It should be entered as an Amicus brief in many cases of this kind. Yet, the “neo-liberals” have seen in his work a justification for every sort of “deregulation” and (corporate) “property rights” fallacy imaginable. I was amazed to find Phil as one of the very few thinkers referenced in the highly-influential “Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age” written by some of the legends in the field. Phil also started a company called American Information Exchange, or AMIX, which seems to have been a precursor of both E-Bay and Google, as well as the Open Source movement.
Cyberspace and the American Dream:
A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age
by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler
Release 1.2 n August 1994
The Progress & Freedom Foundation – Publications – E-Commerce
[here are the relevant paragraphs]
The late Phil Salin (in Release 1.0 11/25/91) offered this perspective:
“[B]y 2000, multiple cyberspaces will have emerged, diverse and increasingly rich. Contrary to naive views, these cyberspaces will not all be the same, and they will not all be open to the general public. The global network is a connected ‘platform’ for a collection of diverse communities, but only a loose, heterogeneous community itself. Just as access to homes, offices, churches and department stores is controlled by their owners or managers, most virtual locations will exist as distinct places of private property.”
“But unlike the private property of today,” Salin continued, “the potential variations on design and prevailing customs will explode, because many variations can be implemented cheaply in software. And the ‘externalities’ associated with variations can drop; what happens in one cyberspace can be kept from affecting other cyberspaces.”
My narrative, cont.
Phil and I both worked at the UCLA computer center as students (he got me the job, there) at the time which is generally seen as marking the beginnings of the Internet — the delivery of the BBN box from Cambridge, Mass. which constituted the first primitive server (actually, more like a router. There was nothing to “serve” in those days). I also later worked at UC Santa Barbara, which had the first scientific, academic nationwide network of linked computers out of a slightly improved (by California hippies) BBN box. (John von Neumann, as in “von Neumann architecture,” the basis for all digital computers, was the Neumann of Bolt, Baranek, and Neumann).
Over the 2 years or so of daily conversations and shared reading, we covered virtually all this material (in his essays, above) as undergraduates, and it was, as I mentioned, myself who introduced him to the works of Hayek and Popper. Upon further reflection, though, it could have been his family’s intellectual connections that brought Hayek there at that time. I’d already read much of Hayek, and was anxious to take advantage of that opportunity. Many of the other great “Chicagoans” also visited there, and I heard all of them, although I didn’t necessarily take their classes. I loved Milton Friedman’s popular works like Capitalism and Freedom, but in a classroom situation, he seemed an angry, intolerant person — much like the Ayn Rand people, in that respect. They seem to have had some sort of secret, “smart partnership.” If one includes “the other Chicagoans,” the Leo Strauss school of Imperialist Fundamentalism (also labeled “Trotskyist”), the picture becomes much more complete.
Now, from the UCLA Economics website, I see that UCLA is more recently known for something called “Imperial Economics” — a slightly different but related concept which proclaims that the tools of economic analysis are equally applicable to esthetics, social relationships, and other aspects of everyday life — in short, the “kitchen” of Phil’s essay, above. QED
Curiously, I met another libertarian activist at about that time, and he audited the Hayek seminars just by walking in off the street and introducing himself. (I was never able to do that in Missoula, but in Bozeman, while employed as a teacher, I was. I also successfully “crashed” the philosophy department at Colorado, Boulder, after attending a public lecture by John Wisdom, Wittgenstein’s heir at Cambridge.) He was later known as Leif Smith, the creator of the Denver Open Network (of which I am a Founding Member, as well), one of the earliest examples of a cyber-based community network for all kinds of serendipitous purposes. Hayek’s ideas and elaboration of the theory of “spontaneous orders” deeply informed all our work and thinking. Phil and Leif also knew each other slightly, I thought, but upon inquiry, I found that Leif and Phil kept in touch and visited each other when Phil was in Redwood City. They are also mentioned in the same paragraph in one of the articles I found from the Google search.
I thought, what the heck? I’ll check my own name. I’d just as well have checked “John Smith”. There were millions of entries for Paul Stephens, and I couldn’t find anything about me. I guess I’ve become very good at keeping out of the spotlight, which may be a survival trait in this day and age.
Another famous person who preceded Phil and I at the UCLA Ayn Rand Society (and thus missed the Hayek bonanza), but was known by people we knew, is the life-extension guru Durk Pearson. I had a couple of long conversations with him, but I didn’t care much for his personality. An MIT graduate, he seems to have stayed very loyal to the Ayn Rand thinking, as did most of the other people I knew from that time. Charles Ullery, the bassoonist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra since its beginning, was also part of our group, and I talked with him when they played in Great Falls a few years ago. He, too, still seemed loyal to the Ayn Rand movement. Another member I encountered years later was Louisa Poulin, through Mensa in the 1980’s. We exchanged a few letters.
I was the first to totally repudiate Ayn Rand’s capitalist mythology (due mainly to Hayek’s influence), which didn’t make me very popular in Libertarian circles, then or now. I basically confessed my newly-learned doctrinal heresies to the group at UCLA, and resigned my position as Chairman. Basically, a Hayekian criticism of “Objectivism” would be that it’s a species of “constructivist rationalism” and thus non-empirical and intellectually authoritarian, among other things, which it surely was (and is).
UCLA already had the Vienna Circle philosophers, some of whom came as refugees before World War II. And Logical Positivism was considered a precursor of General Semantics. These were logicians and “metamathematicians”, for which UCLA was, for a time, ranked first in the country for graduate study. Every student of logic studies “Church’s Theorem.” Alonzo Church’s office was right down the hall from the Campus Computing Network facilities where Phil and I worked, and I often passed him in the hallway. In general, my contemporary understanding of what was happening in “real time” was very fragmented and convoluted in my mind — even with benefit of hindsight and the subsequent Austrian conquest of the hearts and minds of Californians.
I’m going to write an intellectual memoir about this, and perhaps get it posted on Phil’s posthumous website. I might even offer it to The American Scholar, which should be interested in some other memoirs I have, as well. [Nothing further in those directions to 3-21-18]
On a lighter note, Phil was a great fan of The Lord of the Rings, and an original Trekkie. He knew many of the great science fiction writers and special effects people of the time, and greeted each new film or novel by his California friends like the insider he surely was. And like me, he was stuck on Heinlein, and actually did quite a bit of research in the Heinlein archives at UC Santa Cruz. I’m sorry he didn’t live to see either the New Zealand “Rings,” Heinlein/Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers,” or “Star Trek: First Contact”, with the “Next Generation” cast, featuring the development of the warp drive out of Minuteman missile parts in mid-21st century Montana! Perhaps I could have finally gotten him to visit Montana — a place he probably regarded with some fear and suspicion after knowing me and some of my family.
I have known only a few people on Phil’s level in my lifetime, and I always treasured the experience. When I left “the movement”, I gave him the set of Ayn Rand tapes we’d ordered from Columbia University, my Objectivist Newsletters and journals, and the first 8 or 9 volumes of The Journal of Law and Economics, which was sort of our Bible in those days. After reading over some of the 19 letters I still possess from Phil and his first wife, Barbara, I have to take responsibility for the unraveling of our friendship. I sent him books occasionally, and sort of used him as a focal point for my own growing resentments against the prevailing “MBA culture” which I thought (and still think) is irrevocably destroying the America we knew and loved.
But Phil was not in any sense a dogmatist, or intolerant of my views or revisions, which he knew were very similar to his own. Reading some of his letters from c.1972-75, I am amazed at how much he seemed to respect my advice and and guidance, and how much he valued our friendship — one which I was all too quick to abandon when the going got rough. The real issue for us was politics, and navigating the heavy seas of the late 60’s and 70’s while trying to validate and perfect our own world-views was probably the real “stressor”, here.
Phil was not an academic, yet he was always extremely “academic” in the sense of surrounding himself with a circle of highly creative and original thinkers. When he told me he’d been accepted for the MBA program at Stanford, I suggested he specialize in arts management. He was somewhat puzzled at that suggestion, but I’ve always encouraged people to follow their passions, not seek financial gain. As Joseph Campbell put it, “Follow your bliss.” If science fiction is an art-form, he followed that suggestion to the letter. He was also a comic book collector, and one of his proud accomplishments was finally having acquired the complete Donald Duck — proof, I’d like to think, of latent environmentalist tendencies. (Actually, he told me that his father, Lothar, played a major role in preserving the Pt. Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco.)
I wonder, now, if we would have agreed about the subsequent directions of science fiction films. We certainly would have had a lot to talk about. I think he would have liked Spielberg, but not Lucas — that is my own bias, anyway. But being from the Bay Area, he might have been a Lucasian after all. He had a great love of fantasy of all kinds, whereas I was always a “hard SF” fan, an empiricist, and a student of the philosophy of science, as well. Believe it or not, I’ve still never read The Lord of the Rings, which he had read in its entirety, as I recall, twelve times. He also loved Wagner — one of those strange contradictions which is not all that rare among Jewish people. The origin of the Salin name, he liked to tell me, was Solomon.
There’s something about an economist’s training which sets them apart from other thinkers. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I once described it as being “masters of secondary and tertiary consequences.” It’s like thinking several moves ahead in chess, and being able to make dynamic analyses with many different “colors” and “spins” simultaneously. It begins to sound like particle physics, after awhile. Except that it’s real things we see and deal with in our everyday lives and in our professional exercises. Phil had the “knack” and made a career out of what was, for me, merely an academic exercise, or “platform” for informed commentary of various kinds. And he was a great teacher, apparently — another “latent” capacity which I recognized and encouraged in him early-on. Teachers’ kids and grandkids really have an exceptional advantage over those who are merely “schooled” by “professionals” rather than their own families. But most of us consider every possible alternative before we finally settle on teaching, mentoring, and otherwise advancing intellectual culture. It is only when we learn that following in our parents’ footsteps is easier than breaking a new trail of our own, but the experience of “schooling,” which Hesse described so well in Beneath the Wheel, and Orwell echoed in “Such, such were the joys” still makes me wonder why we do this to ourselves and our children.
I didn’t read Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” when it first came out, but those were my thoughts, exactly, and I welcomed the emerging “free school” and “community school” movements enthusiastically. I have tried teaching in various kinds of k-12 schools, and even the best of them proved unsatisfactory in meeting children’s needs. I’ve always felt that my public school experience was usually not good, and it got worse in junior high and high school. When I later taught high school, I had little consolation to offer the students except to try to stiff it out so they could get into college, where learning and intelligent discourse were valued and encouraged instead of being repressed and often punished. My undergraduate experience at UCLA was all that I could have hoped for. Infinite opportunities without control or externally-imposed structure.
But after a couple of terms of grad school, I knew the academic life wasn’t for me. My aspirations changed to being “a public intellectual,” and that is where I still am, although little-recognized or even able to make a living at it. I still prefer to do physical work to maintain my material needs. It comes from an indefinite number of generations of independent farming, craftsmanship, and organized labor. People who push papers are drones, not real workers. And the “professionalization of knowledge,” I’ve long believed, is responsible for almost every social ill and crisis. The people who really understand things rarely have a lot of academic training. Or if they do, it is because they were already following their “passions”, not because of holding an advanced degree.
I’m glad UCLA was there for both of us. In spite of knowing and having visited many of the greatest universities and liberal arts colleges in the country, I have never regretted my choice of UCLA. It was as good or better than I deserved and could afford, and I was able to fully assimilate and integrate the experience into whatever kind of future life I might have had. But if I were 18, today, and contemplating higher education, I would not go to UCLA. First, I probably wouldn’t be admitted. I would be less than qualified for several different reasons. Even my raw test scores, which make me eligible for Mensa, would not admit me to UCLA, today. And my highschool GPA of 2.8 and no extra-curricular activities (legal ones, anyway) would make you laugh that I had bothered to apply! I’d be lucky to get into an East LA junior college. (My older half-brother, Jon Krug, who eventually got a Ph.D and became Dean of a Vo-Tech, actually started his career at Glendale Junior College in the Valley, but we both graduated from Great Falls High School, Montana.) The 3-tier system has worked well for California, and is widely-imitated, now.
The economic difference between the 1960’s and now is reflected in the distribution of income, and the level of “class consciousness.” Then, students could easily “work their way through college,” working summers and maybe 20 hours per week. This was when tuition cost $80 a quarter, and even that was only “incidental fees”, not tuition charges as such. UCLA professors were paid at the highest level (equivalent to the Ivy League, Stanford, and Chicago), but other wages were higher, too.
There are lots of reasons why we’re nearly all poorer, now. Whether it’s “peak oil,” de- industrialization,” lack of leadership and planning, bad economics, or whatever, we’ve got some tough years ahead of us to even get close to where we were in the 1960’s. Unlike most parts of the U.S., California has boomed ever since the end of World War II. Its present difficulties may best be seen as the result of pillaging and degrading the environment. Montana has much the same problems on a much smaller scale (economically and demographically, at least. We are the next largest state in area after California, and predominantly an agricultural and “resource” economy for urban centers, in spite of the best efforts of economists to declare and enforce our independence.)
Phil didn’t live to see either the dot.com bubble, or the dot.com crash. I think he would have a lot to say about the current state of things. Unfortunately, that cannot happen until our biomedical technics have improved to the point that there is, say, a 90% chance that he can be revived and restored to health. Will his mental capacities remain? Can we experiment on Walt Disney and some other people, first, to make sure the process will be successful?
Believing in the physical resurrection is a little different from the spiritual one. Indeed, one wonders, what does the Catholic Church think about cryogenic stasis and restoration after a cure is found for one’s terminal disease? Phil Salin’s legacy will be a long one, and of much interest to scholars for generations yet to come. It must be strange to hear this from someone who has never been able to keep a decent job, or get more than 5% of the vote as a City or County Commissioner in his own home town.
Paul Howard Stephens