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Is Bill Gates Our Savior or the Antichrist?

He has enough power to directly affect all of our lives, but can we trust him?

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we’ve been hearing a lot about Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates. For the past few weeks, he’s been interviewed dozens of times and has offered opinion pieces advising the public on how their governments should mobilize to mitigate the spread of the virus. His 2015 TED talk, in which he predicted that an airborne flu-like virus would wreak havoc around the globe, has been watched 28 million times. He’s also committed $250 million of his own foundation’s money to facilitate the discovery of a Covid-19 vaccine.

These actions have increasingly turned Gates into a polarizing figure. On one side of the spectrum are people who view him as a savior. They argue that he’s one of the few powerful individuals who’s taking the global pandemic seriously and is using all of the tools at his disposal to protect us.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who think he’s the antichrist — and I do mean the antichrist. Florida preacher Pastor Adam Fannin defended this claim in a recent YouTube video by explaining, “The Bible says there will be an Antichrist, a man that proclaims to be God, who will try to unite the world in a one-world government with a one-world financial system and establish a one-world religion.”

Granted, the number of AntichristGate believers is small, many more people have expressed deep suspicion of his altruism. Currently, the most popular Covid-19 conspiracy theories all involve Gates. Of those, there is another whole spectrum of opinions. From those who think he’s trying to profit off of the situation to those who argue that he’s trying to control the human population.

While it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the logistics and mechanics of how Gates could pull off developing a vaccine that includes micro-digital trackers and then secretly disseminating them into the entire human race, it’s not as difficult for me to be skeptical of his altruism. After all, we’ve all heard stories of billionaires who seem to be insatiable in their quest for more money and power (Did Zuck need to sell all of our data to Cambridge Analytica?). We also know that while for many of us crisis means an inability to sustain our wellbeing, for capitalists it often means opportunity. Buying up land, businesses, and housing when the market hits rock-bottom has earned these investors the name “vulture capitalists.”

I must admit that I rarely swim too far out in the conspiracy theory waters, but when it comes to Gates even I felt my distrust start to rise just a few weeks ago when in just the first 5 minutes of an interview he mentioned more than once how much he was relying on Microsoft’s video conference software Teams. But just as soon as I thought “ah-hah! Evil capitalist!”, I also thought, maybe he’s just proud of this thing he helped to create and how useful it’s become in this moment.

The truth is that only Bill Gates knows Bill Gates’s intentions. That’s the problem with building a whole theory around someone’s intention; often there is no proof, but yet it’s put forth an undeniable reality.

The good news is that we don’t need to know Bill Gates’s intentions to decide how we feel about his actions. When we take ‘intention’ out of the equation and simply look at his actions within the context that allowed him to take these actions, we can come to even more meaningful conclusions.

Let me explain by providing a concrete example.

As a scholar of kindergarten-through-12th-grade education in the United States, I have spent the past five years tracking the enormous effect that Bill Gates has had on reshaping the nation’s educational landscape in ways that have directly impacted the lives of over 30 million children. In 2010, the Obama administration’s federal grant program “Race to the Top” included new standardizing testing and teacher accountability measures called the “Common Core Academic Standards,” which was developed and promoted by the Gates Foundation. In a little more than a year, the new testing and accountability regime was adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.

During this time many people concluded that Gates was investing so much money to digitize lesson plans and tests so that Microsoft could tap into the $600 billion in yearly funding that’s spent on k-12 public education. The logic was that it might seem like he’s being a philanthropist, but this money will come back to him tenfold. This narrative got taken up on both the right and the left in a nation-wide backlash to the Common Core.

The problem became people’s inability to prove it. As the memes about Gate’s got stranger and stranger, with some exclaiming “he wants total control over the minds and hearts of America’s children,” Gates continued to deny even the most obvious claims that through providing the educational products for the Common Core, Microsoft would indeed stand to make a profit.

Also, in vilifying Gates, his staunchest critics prevented themselves from seeing his actions as anything but nefarious. As facts were presented that would seem to disprove their theories, the new revelations were largely ignored by those who already came to their conclusion about Gates.

It seems to me that those who felt to their core that Gate’s actions weren’t right, could have made a more convincing point by just stating the facts, which were the following:

  1. The idea for developing annual standardized tests and assessments that could be adopted nationwide was proposed to Gates by two men, Gene Wilhoit and David Coleman.

  2. For decades, scholars of education have found little to no correlation between “quality standards” and higher student achievement.

  3. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $200 million on the development of the Common Core State Standards.

  4. The foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

These facts are undeniable. Taken together they reveal a reality in which an unelected individual has the power to determine what almost all students in the US will be taught and how our teachers will be evaluated.

To have that amount of power concentrated in any individual should scare the living daylight out of all of us. It’s the ultimate hackable social system. All you have to do is convince one person to do something and you can reshape entire national institutions. So even if Gates isn’t self-serving, he could theoretically be influenced by someone who is.

Of course, this point may seem ironic since Gate’s entire career and philanthropy centers around using “R & D” (research and development) to build stronger and more efficient systems. But, then again, it would be rare for a person who has benefited extraordinarily from a particular system to see that system as the fundamental problem. Instead, Gates and many other philanthrocapitalists center their solutions on trying to ease some of the disparities caused by capitalism, while leaving the engines of inequality intact.

When we stop focusing on Gates as the individual and place him into context within the system that allowed him to become one of the richest and most powerful people in the world, we see a much more disturbing reality than even the most alarming Gates-Covid conspiracy theorists have posed. And if we want to have control over our own lives, that’s the reality that deserves our attention.

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