Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Fredrik deBoer has a simple checklist for how you can tell whether you or your kid is primed for academic success, be born upper-middle class or better without being born too soon



I sometimes get anxious emails from parents, wondering what they need to do to make sure their children are going to be OK academically. And because of networking effects and the nature of who reads this small-audience education blog, I can mostly tell them accurately that they don’t really have to do much of anything; they’ve already set up their children to succeed simply by virtue of having them. Here’s the real Academic Success Sequence:
  1. Be born to college-educated parents.1
  2. Be born to middle-class-or-above parents.
  3. Be born without a severe cognitive or developmental disability.
  4. Don’t be exposed to lead in infancy or early childhood.
  5. Don’t be born severely premature or at very low birth weight.
  6. Don’t be physically abused or neglected.
There's more but the checklist is the salient thing. 

Now unlike deBoer I don't think there will ever be socialism and I don't believe it's worth attempting. I side with Ellul in believing the evidence of the entirety of human history so far indicates that there is ultimately no solution for the plight of the working class and that the very idea of collective ownership of the means of production is pure fiction.  Now I'll grant that in some sense a highly decentralized distribution of participation in the means of production might be feasible but in this respect the socialist and the libertarian might be on the same page ... potentially.   The workers will never own the means of production, there will always be grotesque inequality that cannot be ameliorated at more than a remedial level at best.  Imperialism is the baseline of all human civilizations in the end. 

We can't even legitimately say that all hunter gather societies were egalitarian because there's a wealth of information about the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest region that indicates that despite the fact that they were hunter gatherer societies they had complex codes regarding property ownership and they even had a caste system of chiefs, free people and slaves.  Our best shot at a better civilization is not pretending that humans have not been commodifying themselves since the dawn of humanity but by recognizing how prevalent this tendency is across human history and taking steps to curtail excesses. 

Thematically that might lead to an idea that deBoer mentions, that there are student activists who are demonstrating that what they want is to shut down views that, while conservative and perhaps objectionable to many on the left can be considered mainstream.


His concern, which seems like a fair one, is that if people on the left want the Republicans to stop having ideas that it would be just as well to dismantle the education system as we know it to stop giving them ammunition by agitating against mainstream views in ways that inspire retaliation at a legislative and budgetary level. 

John Halle, over at his blog, was noting how some folks seem ready and able to exploit cycles of outrage


Over the past few years, the following sequence has occurred often enough to have become a familiar pattern.

1) Professor X, a relatively obscure academic (as most academics are), shares an incendiary statement on social or broadcast media. While recognizable as a left position on racial justice, Palestinian rights or the Trump administration, it is conspicuous for implicitly or explicitly condoning violence. Furthermore, its tone is emotional, overheated and hectoring. Few regard it as highly effective as it is more likely to antagonize rather than convince those not already inclined to agree.

2) The right seizes on the most extreme interpretation of the statement, calling for X’s firing, sometimes being able to recruit elected officials in their support (particularly if X is at a public university). Whatever the subsequent outcome, it is mostly irrelevant as the main purpose is to fan the flames of right wing vitriol. The story is invariably entered into wide circulation at Breitbart, Fox and talk radio, likely (though this can’t proven) advancing both the right agenda and the range and intensity of its influence .

3) The left responds (reasonably) by strongly defending X’s first amendment rights. Letters are circulated with hundreds of signatures, including from those who have serious reservations about the original statement. For so-called free speech absolutists, the content of the statement is irrelevant as the right to free expression should always be defended. These and other statements of support are widely reported on left wing media such as Democracy Now, the Real News, Jacobin, etc. X is a frequent guest on these and other outlets.

4) As a result of 3), X is no longer obscure, rather the opposite: having made the rounds of left wing media X is now a bona fide left celebrity, a status which is maintained after the commotion resulting from 1) has subsided. They go on to become go to sources for a left perspective on their own areas of expertise, race relations, Middle East politics or Central American liberation movements and sometimes even outside of these.

As should be obvious, 4) should be a matter of some concern. That’s because those who should be speaking for us are those who can be counted on not only to represent a left consensus viewpoint but to do so effectively. The paradox here is that they are being promoted to this status is for exactly the opposite reason: Having put the left on the defensive and provided the right with an issue to exploit for their own advantage is an indiction not of successfully communicating our message but of failing to do so.

I have to admit that given the way some leftists and libertarians go on about eschewing violence that it's as though they don't want to believe something biblical authors took for granted, that social order has always been enforced by the sword.  If that hasn't changed in twenty-thousand years what makes people think it's going to change in our lifetimes?  To believe that would be tantamount to believe that the Rapture's going to happen in a few weeks because Jack van Impe said something. 


Cal of Chelcice said...

I have to say that even though Ellul's pessimism is warranted, he never intended it as a form of quietism. The idea was that Christians ought not to be ruled by ideological currents, and instead work for peace (i.e. his story about Christians and the end of Vichy). So, you might reasonably support a sustainable form of anti-imperial socialism, though it's ad hoc and recognized as perishing. However, that's not even mildly realistic in this country. However, the problem is that many Christians wed themselves to a form of government and become worldly. I see that over at MereO, especially when they had that goofy "what political theology are you?" test. I scored Radical Anabaptist, with all the backhanded snark that came with it. It's either that or Gelasian Romanist if you reject the party-line of post-mil-lite Protestantism they push.

Also, I listened to a talk by Malcolm Muggeridge someone shared with me. He said the left is only good when they don't win. When they do win, they corrupt instantly and it's really a loss. So, the true vocation of leftist politics is to always be around, but never win and get power. He saw this as an image for how Christians should do politics. I thought that was rather amusing, but full of interesting thoughts to spend time with.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I admit I tend to being REALLY pessimistic. Yet it's hard to forget that I spent about eight years blogging regularly about the rise and eventual decline of MH because I felt obliged to give people a chance to make informed decisions about whether to stay or leave. This might be a variant of mid-life crisis or something for me, tending to pessimism but feeling like loving one's neighbor makes it important to try to be helpful where possible.

Given the panic Democrats have had about the possibility that we'll lose our world influence via Trump ... and given Clintons (H or B) hawkish record ... it's impossible that we'll pull out of NATO or the other places we're stationed. People who would otherwise want a more robust social safety net apparently also do not want the US to seem weak internationally in relationship to China or Russia or other countries. We've put ourselves in an inescapable double bind in terms of foreign and domestic policy, or at least that's how it seems lately.

Cal of Chelcice said...

All I was originally saying that even Ellul's rather intense pessimism was intended to spur prayerful action. I've recently been rethinking some of my own pessimism/optimistic pendulum swings. I've been pondering the question of whether holiness is/can be visible. This has no political application, but rather is a question of just acting in the world. In this way, Ellul was closer to Augustine than Luther, who dogmatizes bleakness in a way that only someone with a modicum of earthly comfort can fully appreciate. That's what I wonder at MBird sometimes. Their radical kind of pessimistic anthropology fits pretty well with social functionality and economic stability. I don't see too many homeless people who are utterly hopeless and self-castigating.

Anyway, one needs a healthy dose of pessimism to face the real world, even if that's not the whole story. When it comes to pessimism, I think things are about as bleak as you paint them though!

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Mbird's an interesting case and I learned of them through the original Internet Monk. Their Lutheran sympathies withstanding it's interesting how institutionally their roots are Anglican/Episcopalian. The low anthropology from within a context of social functionality and economic stability is, not coincidentally, possibly why one of their favorite filmmakers is Whit Stillman, chronicler of the decline of the simultaneously overly self-aware but unaware privileged classes of the American aristocracies.

Mbird seems as though they've already been doing, pretty much successfully, what Mere O aspires to about a third of the time. Plus Mbird's expressed interest in my proposal of a long-form critique of Francis Schaeffer's legend of WASP decline as something evangelicals need to get past in order to make more positive contributions to cultural life from within a Christian worldview. It's almost impossible to imagine Mere O getting behind a project like that. Plus, you know, Justice League. Still haven't gotten back to that one yet. The Ghost in the Shell project has been in progress and Mbird's interested in that one, too.

Cal of Chelcice said...

I like some of MBird, but don't you find that brand of pessimism highly problematic? While I'm not a commonsense realist, I do think that the fact almost no one who is actually socially disenfranchised or economically destitute adhere to such a total pessimism when it comes to anthropology. I don't think it's just because they can't handle the truth, but overindulgence can lead to mutated forms of thought.

This is all to say, while I appreciate some of the work Mbird puts out, it has me rolling my eyes at times, and can be not only a distorted outlook, but actually toxic. As much of the past decade of dark and gritty tv has shown, the worst possible option is not always the case. Mbird has become a certain brand that revels in Human failure, even to the extent that some articles reflect less the truth than the self-indulgence of emotional flagellance. This actually fits pretty well with the contemporary mood, where I see and hear, all the time, a kind of ramped up "White guilt" complex that seems, at times, masochistic.

None of this helps get a handle on reality or the gospel. But I look forward to them publishing your JLA stuff.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

It seems like it's changed in the ten years it's been around. It's hard to know how to describe it.

The word "overindulgence" had me thinking of how shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are popular. I couldn't bother with either show and a friend of mine told me he gave up after just a couple of episodes of TWD but the reason was an interesting surprise. He said he couldn't believe that when a zombie apocalypse would hit that it would be all Americans doing Mexican stand-offs with guns when, with a few phalanx operations a lot of the zombies could have been taken out. It was then that I considered that a lot of what passes for gritty dystopianism is the failure of imagination of contemporary writers. I.e. we're not getting a dystopia in which the brutal but practical considerations of combat and medicine are considered but are instead getting prestige TV developed by liberal arts students who THINK that this is what things would be like and what they think it would be like is "worse" because they don't really understand what they claim to be looking into.

By analogy, I guess, a weakness some writing at Mbird can have is that the low anthropology can give off a ... I dunno, self-exonerating vibe. If bad is the most we can expect then we can cut ourselves some slack. I guess in the Reformed scene I kinda mingle in there'd be a concern that certain type of pop Lutheranism that ends up being anti-nomian in practice. I don't get that vibe from the core crew so much as it seems to crop up in some of the contributions more generally.

Cal of Chelcice said...

The weird thing about pop-Lutheranism is that is bizarrely triumphalistic and pessimistic at the same time. This fits certain arcs in Luther's own life and teaching. On the one hand, in Luther's debate with Erasmus, he takes some rather stark turns for the sake of his own coherence. Church history becomes a giant enigma, the lives of saints become highly questionable, and Christian righteousness is treated with skepticism. This is pretty pessimistic. But then there's a hopeful sense that God has acted and restored truth through raising up a prophetic voice. Pop-Lutheranism simplifies this account, and uses it for their understanding of grace.

I've been really stunned by a line in John Barclay's work on St. Paul. The summary: while all second-temple Jews had a functioning concept of grace, they weren't all the same. Thus, he says, since Paul is not 'the' theologian of grace, we are freed from thinking there is some essential definition of grace. Thus, pushing the envelope, arguing for a more extreme variety of grace, is a mistake, since we have no pure concept we have to dig into the core to extract. Rather, the real work is to not become ideological, and look for the actual contours of how the Bible describes God's speech and work.

This can be applied across the board, from grace to anthropology. Having a lower anthropology doesn't somehow make it truer, hence the frankly goofy plot developments in GOT and TWD (both of which I watched far too long, regretted, and abandoned). While I think your right about a lot of the stuff you comment on, I hope you find a way out of extreme pessimism. Though, it's at times better to err on that side, considering that fideistic, brainless, belligerent optimism tends to be the credo of most of Americana.

And, I don't know if it's worth saying, but all of my personal interlocutors exist in the Evangelical and/or Reformed world. While I have intellectual curiosity for some Byzantine figures (Maximus in particular), and I considered Orthodoxy, I'm not going that route.