Sunday, November 12, 2017

a Baffler piece "on the liberal cult of the cognitive elite" made it pretty easy to remember a few pieces from in advocacy of things that only make sense to self-identified cognitive elites
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was an intellectual sophisticate par excellence, and one of the titans of the early twentieth-century Progressive movement. In 1927 he wrote for an 8-1 Supreme Court majority that included another Progressive titan, Louis Brandeis. In this landmark ruling, the court found that the surgical sterilization of a woman named Carrie Buck was constitutional. The 1924 state law under examination in the case of Buck v. Bell affirmed, as Holmes summarized, that “the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard.” That was because “the Commonwealth [of Virginia] is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who, if now discharged, would become a menace, but, if incapable of procreating, might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society.” Buck, you see, was “the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child.” “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Holmes concluded in the most infamous sentence in the history of American jurisprudence.
Holmes ruled as a liberal. As he explained, the welfare of Miss Buck, who, according to the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded, had a mental age of nine, “will be promoted by her sterilization.” After all, now that she could no longer become the parent of another “socially inadequate offspring,” she could be released from the state institution. Although Holmes, good liberal that he was, regretted the necessary unfairness of his decision, constitutional principle demanding he rule narrowly, which meant that he could grant this magnanimous gift only to imbeciles domiciled in Virginia. He sighed, “the law does all that is needed when it does all that it can,” adding that he hoped “the equality aimed at will be more nearly reached” once other state legislatures took advantage of the sanction of the highest court in the land to follow Virginia’s example. They did; in short order, dozens of states passed statutes modeled upon Virginia’s, and the golden age of American eugenics was upon us.
Stupidity, Holmes explained, was a threat to national security. And the state had the power, nay the duty, to respond to national security emergencies. For example, the government sometimes compels its citizens to fight and die in wars. “It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.”

This piece at The Baffler reminded me of two of the more idiotic pieces I read at

The first one was a proposal that if we re-assigned babies to be raised by people of different races and ethnicities than that of the birth parents that racism could be wiped out and that genetic chauvinism should not impede our consideration of what the authors apparently regarded as a rational social policy.
Imagine a world in which all the babies born each day were randomly redistributed among the biological parents. The infant assigned to any given set of parents could be white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or any combination thereof (and that’s just the US); the baby could be perfectly healthy or grossly deformed. Parents would know only that their child was not their biological child. Let us call this social mixing.

This plan is of course politically impossible, perhaps even repellent. Our goal, however, is to engage the reader in a thought experiment, to examine why it stirs up such uncomfortable feelings.

Now you might think that the first reason to object to such a plan for social mixing is that there's no assurance it would even work and the second reason to object to such a plan for social mixing is that to even implement such a stupid idea requires a functionally totalitarian apparatus.  But, no, as if to confirm a quip someone made about how some ideas are so idiotic only intellectuals can believe in them ...

Is the idea so frightening? Yes it is. It is a frightening thought that your own biological child, the one sitting there now doing her homework, might have gone to an impoverished mother or a drug addict, perhaps have been beaten, perhaps starved. But why, save for genetic chauvinism, do we view with comparative equanimity the everyday reality of other people’s children subject to the same treatment by their own biological mothers?

the superficial connection between colour and culture would be severed. Racism would be wiped out. Racial ghettos would disappear; children of all races would live in all neighbourhoods. Any white child could have black parents and any black child could have white parents. Imagine the US president flanked by his or her black, white, Asian and Hispanic children. Imagine if social mixing had been in effect 100 years ago in Germany, Bosnia, Palestine or the Congo. Racial, religious, and social genocide would not have happened.
Genetic chauvinism lives on very strongly in our culture. Modern fiction and cinema often present adoptees’ searches for biological parents and siblings in a highly positive light. The law in child custody cases is biased towards biological parents over real parents. You might claim that this bias itself is ‘natural’. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.

So wholesale ignoring the possibility that this kind of social mixing violates the spirit and aim of the Fourth Amendment, and likely necessitate an exemption clause in order to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment  notwithstanding ... .

The superficial connection between color and culture "might" get severed but does anyone really believe for a minute that the conflicts in the Middle East that have spanned millennia were just about skin color?  Even if racism were wiped out slavery would not be, and since a great swath of slavery was socio-economic in nature and established on the basis of class there's no reason to suppose that eliminating racism, if we even grant that social mixing could eliminate that, would eliminate the majority of the most egregious forms of injustice. 

The idea that if social mixing were enforced racial, religious and social genocide would not have happened is so patently idiotic on its face it's hard to understand why any authors would imagine that social mixing would even be plausible.  Wanting to eliminate racism is praiseworthy but it's not praiseworthy if professors can seriously think that their proposed social mixing would do anything other than establish a state that can enforce social mixing.  The idea that a technocratic administrative system could eliminate racism seems too stupid to be believed but there are two authors who proposed it, perhaps in one of the drier forms of satire ever implemented on a website ... because if the proposal were made in earnest it's a stupid one. 

One of my co-workers is Chinese American and he told me that when he's visited China he's discovered that  mainland Chinese are some of the most racist people he's ever met in his life.  Any culture that is sufficiently monolithic or homogenous will be virulently racist.  The paradox, in connection to the aforementioned aeon piece is that the fuel for racism is actually social cohesion.

A way to sum things up about in general would be a piece like this one.

Who should hold power: the few or the many? Concentrating power in the hands of a few – in monarchy, dictatorship or oligarchy – tends to result in power for personal benefit at the expense of others. Yet in spreading power among the many – as in a democracy – individual votes no longer matter, and so most voters remain ignorant, biased and misinformed.

We have a dilemma.

Republican, representative democracy tries to split the difference. Checks and balances, judicial reviews, bills of rights and elected representatives are all designed to hold leaders accountable to the people while also constraining the foolishness of the ignorant masses. Overall, these institutions work well: in general, people in democracies have the highest standards of living. But what if we could do better?
Consider an alternative political system called epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power, by law, according to knowledge or competence.

The idea here is not that knowledgeable people deserve to rule – of course they don’t – but that the rest of us deserve not to be subjected to incompetently made political decisions. Political decisions are high stakes, and democracies entrust some of these high-stakes decisions to the ignorant and incompetent. Democracies tend to pass laws and policies that appeal to the median voter, yet the median voter would fail Econ, History, Sociology, and Poli Sci 101. Empirical work generally shows that voters would support different policies if they were better informed. [emphasis added]

Voters tend to mean well, but voting well takes more than a kind heart. It requires tremendous social scientific knowledge: knowledge that most citizens lack. Most voters know nothing, but some know a great deal, and some know less than nothing. The goal of liberal republican epistocracy is to protect against democracy’s downsides, by reducing the power of the least-informed voters, or increasing the power of better-informed ones.

There are many ways of instituting epistocracy, some of which would work better than others. For instance, an epistocracy might deny citizens the franchise unless they can pass a test of basic political knowledge. They might give every citizen one vote, but grant additional votes to citizens who pass certain tests or obtain certain credentials. They might pass all laws through normal democratic means, but then permit bands of experts to veto badly designed legislation. For instance, a board of economic advisors might have the right to veto rent-control laws, just as the Supreme Court can veto laws that violate the Constitution.


Of course, any epistocratic system would face abuse. It’s easy to imagine all the things that might go wrong. But that’s also true of democracy. The more interesting question is which system, warts and all, would work best. In the end, it’s a mistake to picture epistocracy as being the rule of an elite band of technocrats or ‘philosopher kings’. Rather, the idea is: do what democracy does, but better. Democracy and epistocracy both spread power among the many, but epistocracy tries to make sure the informed many are not drowned out by the ignorant or misinformed many.

If academics wonder why there could be even a possible groundswell of loathing and resentment against college professors and instructors as having elitist and essentially anti-democratic convictions might be an illuminating slice of a larger pie of pseudo-academic elite think-piecing toward antidemocratic societies.  

Perhaps the most savory irony of contemporary academics who advocate for liberal policies now is that a good chunk of them will imagine that their ideas and ideals are steps beyond medieval notions but ... this would not necessarily be true.  The priests were the academics of the medieval period and at least some priests felt, at the time, that there was a risk of too many people breeding too many babies.

A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages
Walter Ullman
Penguin Books
first published 1965
 ISBN-10: 0140207783
ISBN-13: 978-0140207781

The continuator of his commentaries on the Politics, his [Thomas Aquinas'] pupil at Paris and later Bishop of Claremont, Peter of Auvergne, struck up quite radical naturalist chords, particularly in connexion with social and economic questions and problems connected with marriage. For instance, he held that, since the State had to be self-sufficient, it was imperative to limit the number of citizens, otherwise poverty would follow. Hence he advocated limitations in the size of families. Aristotle's suggestion of abortion was not endorsed, but in order to avoid over-population he suggested restrictions of procreation between the ages of 37 and 55 with men and 18 to 37 with women, because then fewer children would be born. Beyond these age groups there should not be sexual intercourse with a view to procreation, but simply for the sake of health or some other valid reason.

When American academics advocate for some kind of epistocracy do they know whether or not they aren't just replicating the elitism of priestly academics whose ideas and assumptions, looked at from the remove of ten centuries, seem repressive? 

If American academics wonder why there seems to be such an anti-intellectual streak (as some of them like to call it) the seeds of that anti-intellectual streak might not be animus against the life of the mind but against elitist proposals that the unwashed ignorant masses be denied the franchise because people in academia don't like the idea that people dumber than them could decide the future of a nation-state. 

Fortunately none of the names I've seen published at that I can recall have popped up as ever having actual spots from which policy could be influenced.

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