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Not worth discussing March 23, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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This struck me as particularly clear headed – an explanation for the protests against Charles Murray in the US in Slate.com and the attempts by some on the right to paint these as intolerable political correctness. I’ve a fairly strong adherence to free speech, one can say what they like but don’t expect to be given the license to say it everywhere and at all times, particularly outside the privacy of one’s home, but what is genuinely intolerable is the reality of what Murray supports. As Osita Nwanevu says:

The fact that the research Murray has endorsed is regularly deployed by racists to argue that the education of black students is futile went unacknowledged. And in the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote that the incident reflected the “dangerous safety” of higher education and endorsed the view that Murray’s critics can only learn he is wrong via engagement with his ideas. The millions who’ve found good reason to reject the notion of black inferiority without even an awareness of Charles Murray’s existence evidently have yet to be truly educated on the subject.

One doesn’t even have to go to those who have deployed Murray’s work. His own words paint him as believing in concepts that imply racial distinction in relation to intelligence that are profoundly negative. And he likewise speaks in terms of gender in a similar fashion.

What is striking to me is that this isn’t regarded as not politically incorrect but simply incorrect. Take his four precepts of education.

1. Ability varies.
2. Half of all children are below average.
3. Too many people are going to college.
4. America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.[32]

It takes but a second to poke holes in all of that. For a start who would disagree with 1? But the evidence for 2 appears shaky at best. And the policy implications that he then sees as flowing from that (3 and 4) are absurd. Nothing there about the genuinely transformational changes taking place in terms of automation, the nature of work and so forth. Indeed if, as seems likely, so much of human endeavour is about fighting the last war or the one before that it’s not difficult to see Murray’s contributions as utterly beside the point.

This is the level of thought that meant to be taken so seriously that freedom of speech is only upheld by engaging with it? Hard to believe that is the case.

There’s a further thought which Nwanevu notes in the piece on political correctness more broadly.

When you pare away the sensationalism that characterizes much of the reporting on the campus scene, political correctness doesn’t seem to be as powerful a force as its critics want us to believe. Take the panic over trigger warnings. In 2015, the National Coalition Against Censorship released the results of a survey of more than 800 professors in the Modern Language Association and the College Art Association—professors who, as teachers of literature and art, would be among the most likely to use warnings. More than 92 percent said they were unaware of any student efforts on their campus to require trigger warnings, 85 percent reported their own students had never asked for them, and 88 percent of those who did not offer trigger warnings said their students hadn’t complained about their absence. The report concluded that reports of a trigger warning epidemic were “difficult to substantiate.”

That strikes me as likely – having some experience myself teaching in third level. There’s always a froth of high profile incidents but usually matters proceed much as they have away from the headlines.

And Nwanevu makes a further point well worth considering. The idea of unlimited freedom of speech is a crock.

Naturally, these findings were mostly ignored—the anti-PC narrative admits precious little change or nuance. Its central argument, after all, amounts to little more than a knuckle-dragging grunt: More speech good. Those who disagree—those who dare suggest that the utility of speech may in fact be dependent on content, context, speaker, and audience—have unfailingly been deemed oversensitive and closed-minded. They are beholden to, in Jonathan Chait’s words, “philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism.”
Incompatible? Really? As of 2014, laws criminalizing offensive hate speech were on the books in 89 countries, including 84 percent of European nations. Is Spain, which bans racist speech, not a liberal state? Should we consider the state of Israel, where one can face criminal penalties for denying the Holocaust, intellectually stunted and fragile?

It has been said before – it is difficult in a world of social media to believe freedom of speech is under any great assault. But it is entirely reasonable to curtail it in certain contexts (as has been evident on this site). And there’s little point in nailing oneself to the cross of freedom of speech as if that is the only absolute in human affairs. Moreover some speech should be curtailed in serious academic areas. The idea of racial superiority or inferiority, the idea that women as less intelligent, the idea that class distinctions are genetically pre-programmed. Check out this from the Souther Poverty Law Centre to see how anti-working class his ideas are – “In Murray’s world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a “cognitive elite” made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male, and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an “underclass” whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence.”

Nice.

But these aren’t dangerous ideas. Frankly, they’re stupid ideas (for example what on earth would gift ‘white’ people superior intelligence over ‘black’ people? Why would intelligence pool in actually rather ephemeral groups of the ‘well to do’ across – in terms of historical time – stark political/social/economic ruptures including mass democratisation, expansion of the middle and upper working class, etc etc) and the notion they have to be taken seriously to the extent that those making them should be given equal time and combatted in the way that some who adhere to ‘freedom of speech’ argue is absurd. And that view is shared wider afield:

Middlebury alumni had expressed disappointment and alarm that the conservative academic had been invited to the campus. Though they expressed their support for free speech in a letter to college authorities, they stated that they believed the principle did not apply to Murray because of what they described as the “questionable” quality of his research.
“The Bell Curve … has been roundly refuted and criticised by sociologists, psychologists and political scientists alike,” more than 450 alumni wrote. “Yet Dr Murray does not seem to be the kind of scholar who responds thoughtfully to criticism of his findings, biases or methodology. He has only continued to produce more work distinguished by the same disregard for basic standards of research and peer review.”
They added: “Since Dr Murray’s views are not worth engaging on these grounds, this can hardly be called an occasion for open, rigorous academic debate.”

Exactly.

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Comments»

1. Dermot O Connor - March 23, 2017

Actually, Murray’s point (1) can be challenged, in that it smuggles in an invisible premise: that ‘ability’ is a unitary thing that can be measured or quantified. In reality, it is not unitary (how do you compare musical ability, a craft skill, athletic skill, writing ability, dexterity with numbers, etc). Charlatans like Murray frame the argument as though there was a universal quantum of intelligence, and that we’re intelligent enough to measure it. So premise 1 should not be accepted without massive caveats.

I’ve just received ‘Rise of the Meritocracy’ by Michael Young (a socialist from the Labour Atlee govt)., who wrote about meritocracy as a dystopia. To his horror, most readers thought a meritocracy was a good thing, and that’s how the word has been used in the modern era by the typical liberal types and Blair himself of course, who loves the word. Young’s fear was than an elite would rise based on the needs of the current society (having sufficient ability to thrive in the bureaucratic system); this new group would ossify into a privileged class; they would then use their ‘merit’ to justify their newfound position in society. At least the aristocrats of old knew that their unfair place in life was due to lucky birth and no more, whereas the new -crats would delude themselves into thinking that they deserved their position through some moral virtue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rise_of_the_Meritocracy

There’s a quote from John Ruskin in the early 19th century which gets the ball rolling:

“What then! Do you think the old practice, that ‘they should take who have the power, and they should keep who can,’ is less iniquitous, when the power has become power of brains instead of fist?”
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/is-the-premise-of-meritocracy-immoral/397106/

Rick Perlstein (who realised that Murray’s premise 1 was unsupportable when he went from being ‘low ability’ to ‘high ability’ back to ‘low ability’ in a very short span of time:
https://thebaffler.com/salvos/outsmarted-perlstein

Down with meritocracy:
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

Elites & their love of ‘merit’:
http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/multi_3/documents/04731992.asp

Intelligence used to justify oppression:
https://aeon.co/essays/on-the-dark-history-of-intelligence-as-domination

Perlstein again on ‘the politics of smart’:
https://thebaffler.com/blog/experts-baffled-1-smart

Another Perstein quote:

“… the bottom line here is fundamental decency … even as we moderns spend enormous amounts of our conscious energy making evaluations about who is sophisticated and who is simple, who is well-bred and who is arriviste, and who is smart and who is dumb, these are entirely irrelevant to the only question that ends up mattering: who is decent and who is cruel…

…About a decade ago, in my younger and more vulnerable years, I read a quote from William Jennings Bryan that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since: “I fear the plutocracy of wealth, I respect the aristocracy of learning, but I thank God for the democracy of the heart that makes it possible for every human being to do something to make life worth living while he lives and the world better for his existence in it.”

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - March 25, 2017

Apologies D this post was stuck in spam due to links – very fair point re 1

Like

Michael Carley - March 25, 2017

And this is Michael Young’s son:

https://mobile.twitter.com/toadmeister

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