The 2019 college admissions scandal (sentencing underway) brought a wave of thinkpieces and cheeky tweets on the meritocracy, with the consistent message that America isn’t one. Two critics of meritocracy got a lot of name-checks: Michael Young, who invented the term in Rise of the Meritocracy, and Chris Hayes, whose more recent Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy now seems shockingly prescient. Both warn that meritocratic ideology is dangerous, but the dangers they each point to are quite different.
- Washing dogs.
- Delivering pizza at night.
- Corporate law.
- Academic and health administration.
- Human resources.
- Public relations.
- Professional work.
- Managerial work.
- Clerical work.
- Sales work.
- Service work.
- Frying fish.
- Whatever the verb is for what bailiffs do.
Jobs David Graeber thinks aren’t bullsh*t:
- Factory work.
- Making cabinets.
- Composing unsuccessful poetry and music.
- Dock work.
- Writing science fiction or playing ska music (presented as edge cases.)
- Being an anthropology professor (implied.)
I’m almost certain that some of his opinions are defensible.
The political theory of pluralism holds that power in liberal democracies is distributed among many different groups, whose interests conflict or align in ways that shift over time. It’s partially a descriptive theory, meant to explain how liberal democracies actually work, but also a prescriptive theory, in that most people who believe that pluralism is how things work also believe that pluralism is a good way for things to work.
Pluralists are often accused of ignoring the fact that some groups are consistently more powerful than others – in particular, Marxists believe that Capital is significantly more powerful than all other groups, and that Labor is the only other group powerful enough to challenge it. While not all Leftists are Marxists, most nevertheless believe in some similar “bipolar” model of power (in some specific cases called a “Power Elite” model): Corporations versus the People, the Kyriarchy versus the Oppressed, and so on. Far-right theorists don’t participate much in mainstream political science, but if they did, they would probably criticize pluralism using similar models – Secular Humanism versus Christianity, Jews versus Aryans, the Cathedral versus whoever neoreactionaries think the good guys are, the West versus the Caliphate, the Caliphate versus the West, and so on.
Epistemological Status: A little out of my depth.
Kevin Mitchell’s blog came to my attention because of his skeptical posts on epigenetic inheritance in humans. Even more interesting is his recent post on race and IQ, and the likely lack of genetic differences between races.
I think this is an extremely important argument. The strongest arguments for innate racial IQ differences generally run like so:
- We observe large differences in IQ between racial groups in the human population.
- No known environmental factor could explain such large differences.
- Genetic differences between races are large enough to explain the differences.
- Therefore, we should assume that most racial IQ differences are due to genetics.
In my posts on the Flynn Effect, I showed that Flynn and Sowell have disproved premise (2) – it’s true that no family-level environmental factors can explain such large differences, but that environmental factors at the level of culture and subculture have demonstrably explained large differences in the past.
A post last month on /r/slatestarcodex asked whether professors who believe in conspiracy theories should get to keep their jobs. That question seems pretty easy to me – if their beliefs interfere with their teaching, then firing or some other kind of discipline is appropriate, otherwise not. What’s more interesting to me is one of the follow-up comments:
“MKUltra, the Gulf of Tonkin, Bohemian Grove, CIA involvement with the Dalai Lama, Cigarettes causing cancer, the testomony of ‘Nayirah’ before the Gulf War, Operation Mockingbird, CIA involvement in the importation of Cocaine, The Iran-Contra affair, even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster all started as conspiracy theories.”
“The Toxoplasma of Rage” is regularly cited as one of Scott Alexander’s best essays, and I think it’s fundamentally mistaken, at least about the high-profile incidents it showcases.
He calls it “toxoplasma” because – like toxoplasmosis in rats and cats – there are supposedly two stages to how a story goes viral:
- Activists promote dubious stories because that demonstrates their zeal to their fellow activists.
- Counteractivists promote the same dubious story to demonstrate how dumb the original activists are.
I have a different theory: Continue reading
From comments at Thing of Things:
There has been some criticism recently of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. See, for example, Vox:
However, Brookings (and Ozy) points out that if you reframe the problem from “mass incarceration” to “mass exposure to prison”, the War on Drugs retakes primary importance: