F–k Ken Griffin

Ken Griffin’s concerned about Harvard, his alma mater. And also about higher education in the US more generally.

Specifically, Ken’s worried the country’s curriculum has “lost sight of education as the means of pursuing truth and acquiring knowledge” during what he’s calling a “cultural revolution” in America.

Let’s be clear about something because frankly, I’m tired of listening to the “other side” of this “debate” (and do note the scare quotes, because there aren’t two sides and there’s no debate): America was founded in genocide and forced labor. Period. Those are incontrovertible facts. They aren’t malleable.

Maybe you don’t have to use the word “genocide” when you teach the history of “Manifest Destiny” to school children, but there’s a reason we call it “The Trail Of Tears” not “The Trail Of Cheers.” They weren’t tears of joy. And slavery’s just slavery. You either held men and women in bondage, as property, or you didn’t. And we did. The Founders and the Framers did. Here’s how I put it in the latest Monthly Letter:

When we grapple with the legacy of historical figures, we tend to contextualize otherwise unpardonable personal shortcomings by reference to the customs, conventions and social mores which prevailed “at the time.” Almost as a matter of course, we employ that logic to grant reprieves for contemptible character flaws, many of which would be utterly disqualifying in modernity.

In America, the most obvious example of such context-based grants of blanket immunity is the amnesty afforded the authors and signatories of the country’s founding documents, many of whom declared all men equal and possessed of inalienable, God-given rights, while holding other men in bondage, as property.

Again, that just is what it is. Any history which tells the story differently is a revisionist history, which is to say a lie. Or a collection of lies.

Griffin’s concerns, expressed during an interview with the FT, are tied to protests on US college campuses, where students are keen to express their dismay at the conduct of the war in Gaza and, more specifically, the Biden administration’s alleged complicity in the slaughter of civilians.

Griffin, like a lot of wealthy, aging, privileged white men, doesn’t seem enamored with the characterization of the Israeli state as a colonial project, and to the extent that’s accurate, he’s probably even less excited about the application of the colonizer label to… well, to the 13 original colonies which became the United States.

During the FT interview, Griffin lamented “the paradigm of the oppressor and the oppressed,” which he contextualized as a product of the much-maligned “diversity, equity and inclusion agenda.”

Again, I think we need to be honest, because if we have to lie to ourselves about our own history in order to be proud of who we are, that’s not real pride. We were the oppressor. African Americans and Native Americans were the oppressed. In Palestine, the Israeli state is the oppressor and the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are the oppressed.

Once we concede those indisputable, inescapable, incontrovertible realities, the real discussion and debate can begin. But not until then. It’s only once we state the facts, without qualification, that we’re free to add context, caveats and nuance. If we’re unwilling to state the facts, we shouldn’t expect the historically oppressed and other marginalized groups to take us seriously.

Importantly (and this is, in my opinion, under-appreciated by people like Griffin and Bill Ackman) if we insist on suppressing the truth about American history (or, in the context of the war, in suppressing the Palestinian perspective), all we’re doing is stoking distrust.

The harder you crack down with, for example, legislation to limit the teaching of African American history to high school students, or suspensions for student protesters, or the more faculty members you subject to coercion or the more university presidents you bully out of a job, the more desperate you’re going to seem.

In other words: When governors leverage their office (a euphemism for abusing the powers of the state) to ban books and alter curricula deemed insufficiently deferential to notions of Anglo-Saxon, Christian superiority, or when billionaire donors leverage money (a euphemism for blackmail) to demand the suppression of viewpoints they find inadequately reverential to “Western” ideals, they’re undermining their own cause by sowing suspicion.

Note that Griffin was an avowed supporter of former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who liberal critics identify as an architect of what became a national effort on the part of state GOP lawmakers to disenfranchise African Americans and otherwise curtail voting rights in order to delay Republicans’ date with demographic doomsday (see Ari Berman’s Minority Rule).

Griffin also supported Ron DeSantis’s ill-fated bid to supplant Donald Trump at the top of the Republican presidential ticket. DeSantis is among the nation’s most aggressive culture warriors, and is considered, in Democratic circles, as a kind of existential threat to the teaching of African American history, a characterization he denies. (DeSantis has claimed, among other things, that AP Black history is tantamount to “indoctrination.”)

In his interview with the FT, Griffin complained that, “The narrative on some college campuses” says “the system is rigged and unfair, and that America is plagued by systemic racism and systemic injustice.”

Guess what, Ken? It is. The system is rigged and unfair. And America is plagued by systemic racism and systemic injustice. That’s not to say there aren’t examples of meritocratic achievement. It’s just to say that there are (more than) enough examples of racism and injustice to support the claim that the system’s rigged (or “broken” or whatever adjective you might care to use to convey the same point).

For what it’s worth, Ray Dalio generally agrees that American capitalism suffers from systemic problems which, if not rectified, could result in the dissolution of the system.

Griffin also accused college students of overstepping their free speech rights, noting that the First Amendment doesn’t “give you the right to storm a building or vandalize it.” That’s true, but it does give me the right to say this: F–k Ken Griffin. So, f–k Ken Griffin.

Oh, and Ken: Whining to the FT isn’t going to change the fact that America’s undergoing an inexorable transition from an exclusionary experiment in limited democracy to a multiracial, pluralistic society which, with a little luck, can one day become a paragon of participatory government. You know, government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” not just “of the white, by the men, for the billionaires.”


Speak your mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

21 thoughts on “F–k Ken Griffin

  1. Profound. I have surmised what is different about the USA culture is the words, ‘all Men are Created Equal’. Much like the word ‘Arms’, these words mean something different to us today than did when written. Not only were arms: cutlass, bowie knife and muzzle loader, but Men did not include: Women, blacks, Non-landowners, Native Americans or or any other brown. However today Arms includes: nuclear weapons, F-15’s, F-22’s, M-1 tanks, and M-16’s. Men includes all those other people and children.

    So if common meanings change should be selectively expand definitions or should we leave it that the Founders were capable of predicting the future with the words?

    Or do we say only my interpretations rule and all others are worthless to the point of being contemptable?

    Failure to reconcile how to approach the evolving meaning of words can cause failure of our way of life. Ray Dalio is correct in this regard, lack of communication and consensus is an empire threatening risk event.

  2. Citadel and Jane Street account for an alarmingly high percent of equity trading. And other market making too. Becoming “too big too fail” entities?

  3. These guys are clueless. On the same day Ken Griffin was compelled to share his wisdom with the world, Barry Sternlicht stepped up and said the only thing keeping Miami from being a world-class financial center is the lack of…wait for it…private schools.

  4. I’d venture most readers and subscribers come for the finance content. I’m here in large part for the social science and snark. So, I really enjoy these corrective exercises. And yet as I read the essay, I found my self wondering, what is wrong with a system in which billionaires–BILLIONAIRES!!–are aggrieved victims?

    What American higher education–especially the B schools– might benefit from is a bit more Hegel and a lot less Friedman, Hayek, Drucker, ….

    1. “I’d venture most readers and subscribers come for the finance content. I’m here in large part for the social science and snark”

      Yeah, honestly (and I’m sure this is apparent to everyone by now) I can write the market/macro commentary in my sleep. There’s nothing to that stuff. As you say, it’s the socioeconomic commentary that’s interesting.

      1. And as always in America, and Israel, the reeking of religiosity. And of course almost everywhere else on the planet.
        So, another truth; we cannot learn. I used to think it was that we don’t want to learn. Now I’m pretty sure it’s that we cannot ( as a species, enough of us cannot, learn to prevent being manipulated).

      2. I was already transitioning from putting 100% of my money in 1 or 2 stocks at a time to being an index “buy and holder” when I discovered you on SA (I found what I was looking for in your writings- affirmation 🙂 ) I continue to value this part of your work because I still like to make money!

        However-reading your socio-economic musings is the (not so) hidden gem of your posts. These pieces have really expanded my universe and changed how I see the world. I truly look forward to them and also enjoy reflecting on them after reading.

  5. Finally, some truth to power! It is what it is – we are the product of genocide, colonization, and slavery. Why is that even controversial? In fact, Israel is using our own sorry history as a model in its own efforts to exterminate, colonize, and oppress the Palestinian people as if they were Native Americans or black people in American history. This is the FACT we keep ignoring, which does make us complicit in Israel’s actions if we continue to provide financial and military support to the country.

  6. Denial is a very important survival mechanism. Being blissfully unaware is very helpful in our denalism.
    Whether Ken Griffith or anyone else such as himself thinks that accepting a simple reality is less preferable than accepting a new perspective should understand that their “good “ is likely Enemy of Best. Something that such people are almost always in denial of.

    1. Denial can trade short term survival for long term risk. Which is the fallacy of those who want to out radicalize conservative into fascist philosophy. The risk longer term is a near perfect catastrophic failure probability in the medium term. Long term, fascism has a perfect failure probability. Only long term survivable governance model is a government that provides for it’s people and is perceived as fair.

  7. It’s important we acknowledge plain facts about the past. It’s history. History should be taught. All of it. For example, we should teach about historical slavery (distinct from modern slavery, which continues in many regions). There are 100 chapters in the book of historical slavery. The 99th chapter is the chattel slavery practiced in the early US. The 100th chapter is the abolition of slavery in Britain and the US. Chapters 1-98 isn’t just “context, caveats, and nuance.” Chapters 1-98 is 1) ALSO a plain statement of historical fact and 2) MOST of the story of slavery. It’s not academic bravery to ask kids to read chapter 99 to the exclusion of the rest of the book, or to then demand as a polite-societal litmus test that we atone for chapter 99 before it becomes appropriate to color it with context (i.e., the preceding 98 chapters). It’s only by reviewing all the historical facts do we see that the US Government is both guilty of perpetuating slavery while going to war to end it, with the abolitionists using, among other documents, the Declaration of Independence as justification for their cause. So, in the end, we agree that we should state all the facts.

    The Oppressor/Oppressed metanarrative is from the post-Marxist Critical Theory out of the Frankfurt school starting in the 30s, which believe it or not was central to my senior thesis in undergrad. Horkheimer, Marcuse, Fromm, Adorno, all those guys. All the words we here like “deconstructing” and “dismantling” is in this school of thought. These guys weren’t simply advocating for the plain speaking of historical fact. Their argument is the “oppressor/oppressed” dialectic is the BEST lens through which to view history, and it’s overly simplistic by design, as it can be repurposed for various cohorts (race, gender, and so forth). The idea being it’s explanatory and predictive to the point where folks today should consider themselves to be part of one of the two categories. This is where grievance politics comes in. An agenda. In the end, there are reasonable people who can both advocate for the plain speaking of historical fact while not embracing any particular political agenda that uses academic metanarratives to explain history.

  8. My daughter is fond of telling me that all life is a story (Shakespeare said it long ago) and we all have to tell ourselves (and others; see Facebook, etc.) our stories. There is at least one Griffin type story daily in the sadly perverted op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

  9. Bravo. So well stated. I really appreciate your talent for seeing and articulating that which I only intuitively half understand. I’m saving this post.

NEWSROOM crewneck & prints