the conservative critique of the academy

The poor university.  Conservatives are always accusing it of teaching students to hate their people and their ancestral culture.  Which is completely a figment of our imagination, of course.  Thus, Prof. Phillips-Fein at The Chronicle of Higher Education sees no point in actually addressing the conservative critique, but merely suggests that others might be less receptive to conservative polemics if universities could be a bit less nakedly financially predatory toward students.

One should always be wary of advice from enemies, but I think the academy should try engaging with the conservative critique.  One must, of course, start by understanding more accurately what the accusation actually is.  To begin with the obvious, the claim is not that open investigation naturally leads those who engage in it to despise Christianity, the white race, patriarchy, etc.  Whether or not this is actually true, conservatives never accuse academia of successfully embodying an ideal of open-minded inquiry.  Although they will sometimes claim that universities indoctrinate students in Marxism, feminism, etc, this is not the heart of the critique either.

The true heart of the conservative critique is that university life is a giant exercise in begging the question.  There is a facade of open inquiry, but the truth of liberalism and the illegitimacy of illiberal practices is always assumed from the outset.  Thus, gender studies never begin with neutral biological facts or measures of social utility and then prove that normative sex roles are bad.  The latter is assumed from the beginning, so the only question to study is what is wrong with traditional cultures that they fail to recognize it, what devious artifices they employ to keep people from recognizing the obvious truth of sex interchangeability.  Racial grievance studies do not begin from a neutral standpoint of group good behavior and then show that the white race engages in X bad behavior Y percent more frequently than the pan-racial median.  Nor is the claim that piety toward ancestors is sinful when practiced by whites argued.  Both the empirical claim of unique white perfidy and the deontological cosmopolitan claim (and its particularist application) are presumed rather than proved.

Even this wouldn’t be so bad if the assumptions were conscious and acknowledged.  There is valuable intellectual work of the form “If one assumes X, then Y follows”.  But liberal academy does not admit that its beliefs are taken on assumption or faith.  Failure to spontaneously hold them is simply presumed to be a moral defect.  Worse yet, anyone who does bring them into question can expect retaliation from both superiors and peers.

That is what I take to the be heart of the conservative critique of academia.  No doubt, like all critiques by hostile outsiders, it is an uncharitable account and can probably be shown to be exaggerated or unfair in various ways.  But it is certainly worth academics’ time to address it, since unrecognized assumptions, unconscious bias, uncontrolled approximations, circular argumentation, etc are regarded as among the greatest dangers in intellectual work, so surely intellectuals would always want to be on the lookout for these things anyway.

Now, if academic studies, Grievance and other, are in a truly healthy, self-critical state, it should be no problem to decisively refute the conservative critique.  I’m not asking them to give a “platform” to “hate”, just to show us the sort of safeguards against epistemic closure and confirmation bias (certainly including the respectful investigation of alternative view) that they must surely already be taking.  Such a demonstration couldn’t be a problem for them, could it?

Book review: What is intelligence?

What is Intelligence?  Beyond the Flynn Effect
by James Flynn (2007)

Two paradoxes:

  • Studies of separated twins prove that genes are much more important than environment for IQ.  The fact that the population’s IQ is increasing at a rate of 0.3 points per year proves that environment must be more important than genes.  Which is it?
  • If the “Flynn effect” is taken seriously, our grandparents are retarded and our grandchildren are geniuses (both compared to us).  Why don’t we notice this?

What does The Man Himself have to say?  First, that environment can amplify small genetic differences.  Those with higher aptitude tend to be put in (and to enjoy and hence seek out) more stimulating and challenging environments.  Thus, environmental effects may be very potent while genes still predict IQ within a single generation / social context.  Second, we prioritize abstract over concrete thought much more now than in the past, and IQ and other psychometric tests tend to take abstract thought as normative.  Third, IQ gains are not even across all subtests; nor do the gains match the g-loading of each subtest as determined at one moment in time.  Our grandparents had roughly as good vocabulary as us, and hence comparable ability to appreciate literature.  On the other hand, they may not be as good at solving meaningless abstract puzzles, such as the Raven’s Progressive Matrices.

On the other hand, they might be.  Although I don’t recall seeing it suggested in the book, if socially-evolving environmental forces are as potent as Professor Flynn believes, perhaps our grandparents’ IQs have been drifting upward with the population as a whole.  Flynn also does not consider that there might be some downside to over-reliance on abstract thought, which would also complicate the supposed superiority of our time.

Professor Flynn is fond of sports analogies.  One can become a better runner by training, although we each have different natural aptitude, and most of us don’t have the potential to be Olympic athletes.  So he believes it is with intelligence as well.  I have suggested before that low intelligence people like me must learn to be careful how we allocate our cognitive effort, but perhaps avoiding too many challenges is one of the things that is keeping us dumb.


asymmetry of political converts

Leftist scholar of the Right Corey Robin has been writing about us deplorables again, and I’d hate for him to think that none of us are reading.  He points out at the New Yorker that converts from the Left play a notable role in the history of Right (a largely baneful role, our paleoconservative friends would insist, but that’s an argument we needn’t take up), but there is nothing analogous in the history of the Left.  Notable Leftists are nearly always lifelong Leftists.

Robin tells the interesting story of Derek Black, who once embraced the horrible “white supremacist” idea that each group should defend its own interests and identity.  He was exposed in college, met with outrage and ostracism plus a few who decided to be nice to him with a view to his conversion.  The intensive good-cop-bad-cop routine eventually succeeded in breaking Derek’s spirit, and he was successfully reconstructed as a conventional Leftist twit.  As Robin points out, what has not happened is for converts like Derek to supply a creative force for the Left.

Stated this way, it’s pretty clear where the asymmetry lies.  Converts to the Right are breaking with the surrounding consensus.  They are consciously going off into “the wilderness”, to “the losing side”.  Converts to the Left are surrendering their dissent, conforming to the group consensus.  Clearly these are two very different social dynamics, and one suspects involve two rather different types of people.  One doubts that the latter, who gives up his dissent, is as likely to be the sort to push through an intellectual shake-up.  Even if he once was, the humiliation of having once admitted that the group was right and he was wrong has likely cured him of it.

I doubt Derek Black will ever again have an original thought, and I suspect he would be relieved to know that he won’t.

Catholic dogmas on status

Usually, it is heretical rather than orthodox positions that are given well-known names.  If the doctrine that grace is needed to be worthy of salvation has a name I am unfamiliar with it, but everyone knows the contrary position is called “Pelagianism”.  I am similarly unfamiliar with names for the components of Chalcedonian orthodoxy numbering Christ’s person and natures, but everyone knows the alternatives are called “Nestorianism” and “Monophysitism”.

So we should not be surprised that although Catholics have very definite doctrines on relative social and presumed moral status (henceforth simply “status” because status and moral reputation are always relative to others–“everyone is a sinner” completely negates the social force of “X is a sinner”), these doctrines do not have names, but their contraries do.  The doctrines are as follows

  1. Non-Catholic > Catholic
  2. Laity > Clergy

These statements are usually not given names, but their contraries are called “triumphalism” and “clericalism”, and they are excoriated as the worst enemies of proper thinking, just as Chalcedonian Catholics said about Nestorianism and Monophysitism.

People are always presenting “proofs” of the two laws.  They are always of the following form.  Some Catholics/priests do bad things.  Therefore Catholics/priests are inferior to non-Catholics/laity.  Absolutely never is there the slightest attempt to compare with a fair non-Catholic/lay control group:  an equal number of people over the same block of time in similar circumstances.  This is the sure sign of bigotry at work.  Never is an argument made against my tribe that couldn’t just as well be used to prove the inferiority of people whose last names begin with the letter “A”, or whatever.

The practical consequences of the first law (against “triumphalism”) are as follows.  Catholics must never claim to be always or as a rule better in any way than non-Catholics, but it can routinely be claimed that many (by implication, most) non-Catholics are better than Catholics.  When non-Catholics accuse Catholics of moral failure, Catholics may not defend themselves; they must always apologize.  Remember how John Paul II apologized for the Chinese Church to her very persecutors?

The very fact that non-Catholics reject the faith is said to be the fault of Catholics giving scandal against the unbelievers’ more finely-honed moral sensibilities.  Thus, even our virtue which differentiates us from the unbelievers (faith is a virtue–look it up) is taken as evidence of our moral deficiency.  What’s the matter with us that we’re not scandalized by each other enough to apostasize?  The practical consequences of the second law against “clericalism” are analogous.  As the most visible Catholics–those who have volunteered to let their lives become a living hell as punching bags for the anti-Catholic world–priests, bishops, and religious must be particularly wicked people.

As recent events indicate, clergy never stick up for the laity, and laity never stick up for the clergy.  We prove our faith in Christ by our faithlessness to each other.


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