Blog post of the month. Not actually this month. This blog post is from July 20th. I only just had it brought to my attention. As usual, I'm behind with these things. Was it not from self-awareness that I once wrote under the alias The Straggler? It was.
The blog post's author, Michael Huemer, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. The heading on the blog post is "Intellectual Conformity Is Adaptive."
The subject of the post, as best it can be squished down to a single word, is thinking. The link to it was forwarded to me by a friend who said it reminded him of a piece I'd written back in my National Review days, aguing that hardly anybody actually thinks very much in any coherent way.
Sample quote from Prof. Huemer's blog post. (The asterisked footnote is part of his post, not mine):
Intellectuals are a danger to society.* Why people constantly get things wrong when they reason abstractly is a topic for another time. But the evidence is pretty overwhelming that they do. They are then in danger of doing crazy stuff, or convincing other people to do crazy stuff.(*Not me, though. Fortunately, I, unlike the other intellectuals, am generally right about things. But that is rare. Also, in modern times, people who work in the sciences generally advance useful knowledge. But people who think about the big philosophical, political, and religious issues generally get approximately everything wrong.)
For a professor of philosophy, I think that is an instance of what military types refer to as "calling down fire on your own position." Prof. Huemer has, though, I think, attained a well-nigh Derbian level of self-awareness. He has no illusions about his role in the grand scheme of things.
Let's keep up the inaccessible, jargony works that no one reads. Higher education is not teaching much to students or anyone else. But at least it keeps intellectuals off the streets.
I urge you to read and savor the whole thing.
Nonfiction book of the month. Prof. Huemer's post struck me with more force than it otherwise might have because at the time it was brought to my attention I had just finished reading Michael Rectenwald's memoir Springtime for Snowflakes.
Rectenwald taught Liberal Studies at New York University until January this year, when he retired. He was in the news, at any rate locally, three years ago, after starting up an anonymous Twitter account critical of Political Correctness. Sample tweet:
I'm an NYU prof who's seen academe become a sham bc of identity pol & liberal totalitarianism. I'll tell all soon.
He was soon unmasked by the NYU student newspaper. After overcoming some misgivings, he gave them an interview under his real name. Sample:
Frankly, I'm not really anti-pc. My contention is that trigger warning, safe spaces and bias hotline reporting are not politically correct. They are insane.
That got him hauled up for a meeting before the Dean of Liberal Studies and the Director of Human Resources. On Rectenwald's account (which, to be perfectly fair, they have disputed), these are exactly the kind of shifty enforcers Amy Wax came up against in her own Two Minutes Hate. Let their names be recorded: the Dean is Fred Schwarzbach, the Director Shabana Master. I can't find an unambiguous picture of Ms Master, but "Shabana" is most commonly a Pakistani forename.
With the weasely cowardice typical of these academic apparatchiks, instead of having the guts to fire Rectenwald for his dissidence (he did not have tenure), the Dean and the Director simulated earnest concern for his mental health and insisted he take paid medical leave of absence for the remainder of that semester.
Springtime for Snowflakes covers these events in its first fifteen pages. The following ninety pages are memoir, describing Rectenwald's intellectual journey.
From a working-class background in Pittsburgh he proceeded to a late-1970s apprenticeship with the poet Allen Ginsberg at the Naropa Institute, now Naropa University, a countercultural offshoot of the Beat Generation. Rectenwald: "That Allen Ginsberg was the least bizarre person around should tell you much about Naropa Institute."
There followed years of accumulating academic credentials in literary and allied fields, leading to a 25-year career teaching Liberal Studies at American universities. Our author became steeped in postmodern theory, and is lucid at describing how the current "social justice" movement emerged from that intellectual background. Try his 160-word explication of the term "phallogocentrism," for example (page 68).
For all that lucidity, Rectenwald seems to have been slow on the uptake in matters political.
As a result of the fallout from my outing as the "'Deplorable' NYU Prof," I found myself besieged and attacked by leftists of all stripes. Likewise, I inevitably questioned my political commitments. Could a political isolato such as I had become be a committed communist? The communists that I had known now resembled tyrants more than anything else. I now saw the authoritarianism and embryonic totalitarianism that had been hidden beneath a thin veneer of egalitarian rhetoric. Could I be numbered among a tribe whose members were so monstrous? No, I could not call myself a communist.
Well, well: Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. In any case, nobody who declares himself a lover of Tennyson's verse can be altogether bad. I'm willing to forgive even communism in a guy who, after forswearing that foul creed, can tell us that "SJW" stands for "Stalin, Just Weirder" (page 126).
I therefore welcome Michael Rectenwald to the Honorable Company of Stone-Kickers — and indeed, at least as a review subject, to VDARE.com. For a full engagement with Springtime for Snowflakes, though, I recommend you read it alongside, or immediately after, Michael Huemer's July 20th blog post.
Fiction book of the month. On a friend's recommendation I read Lionel Shriver's 2016 novel The Mandibles. Ms Shriver — yes, she's a gal — is a seasoned literary veteran from way back: novels, reviews, opinionating … Her literary career somewhat resembles mine, although she has been much more successful in fiction and is less politically incorrect than I am. (But not much less.)
The Mandibles is a near-future dystopia novel about the U.S.A. from 2029 to 2047, after the national economy has gone into total collapse, followed by partial recovery. The story is told through the fortunes of four generations of a family, the Mandibles, who start out comfortably upper-middle-class — Georgetown economics professor, novelist, New York Times journalist — with an assist from some inherited wealth, but are dragged down to destitution by the general misfortune.
It's nicely done, and all too believable. Some of the social observation is almost at a Tom Wolfe level of painful accuracy.
Things that we warn about here at VDARE.com have actually happened. Here is the novelist of the family, returned from France.
"The whole Muslim thing is out of control … If I walk down the Champs Élysées, I'll get thumped for being a deadbeat. If I walk anywhere less central, I'll get thumped because I'm not wearing a trash bag. Even in France, they've given up on the assimilation shtick, and gone for slavish appeasement instead. Whole tracts of the country are effectively no-go areas for actual French people. It's the same all over Europe now, so there's nowhere to go."
"I'm getting a feel for how popular you must make yourself over there."
"Oh, it's just like the US. Everyone's resigned. America is now Greater Mexico, and the Continent is an extension of the Middle East."
There are some neat reversals of the familiar order. By the mid-2040s the U.S.A. is in such bad shape, people are desperate to leave. To Mexico, for example, although you have to hire coyotes to get you across the border into Mexico. Plus, it's best to be Latino.
"Esteban slipped across before they [i.e. the Mexicans — J.D.] finished building the fence," Savannah said. "Which is electrified, and computerized, and 100 percent surveilled, from the Pacific to the Gulf. Esteban has a pedigree, too. He'd have a chance at naturalizing. They don't naturalize any 'non-Lat whites' down there. We're a pest species."
You can't help but smile. Shriver has a nice way with the slang of younger people in the 2040s, too. The word "treasury," for instance, is a synonym for "b-s," in spoken constructions like:
"There's none of that 'human rights' and 'due process' and 'claiming asylum' treasury."
As I said, all too believable.
The language of politics. Commenting on a Democratic candidates' debate in my November 22nd podcast, I grumbled about Elizabeth Warren's employing the Superfluous "So …" It wasn't the first time I had deplored this speech mannerism. In the podcast transcript I included a link to my February 2010 Diary, where my grumbling started, though at that point it was directed at the world in general, not at Senator Warren in particular.
A reader of the transcript noticed the previous segment in that same diary: my interview with Mr Arbuthnot the cliché expert. My reader wondered whether there had been any further encounters with Mr Arbuthnot.
Alas, no. Mr Arbuthnot is still active, though. I have heard from a reliable source that he is working as an adviser to one of those same Democratic candidates.
Which one? My source did not know. I thought I might be able to figure it out from a careful scrutiny of the candidates' recorded remarks, but … it proved impossible to tell.
The article includes this:
There was much hand-wringing about China at this conference, but no one pointed out that it has already passed stiff laws that prohibit criminals and defectives from having children (they will no doubt be the next groups to be granted asylum in the US and Canada). As soon as the cost of embryo selection goes down, the Chinese will have no scruples about using it, and if they build up to an average IQ of 115 while we drop into the 80s, they will dominate us in every way. ["What the Non-Racial Right Thinks" by Jared taylor; American Renaissance, April 2004.]
Embryo selection there refers to the technique of fertilizing a bunch of eggs, DNA-typing the embryos, picking the ones with fewest bad / most good SNPs, and discarding the rest.
Are the Chinese really into eugenics like this?
Oh yeah. The Chinese for "eugenics" is 优生学 (yōu-shēng-xué). It's spoken of and written about, e.g. in newspaper op-eds and Party documents, with none of the shrieking or neurosis that surrounds the topic in the West.
See for yourself. If you cut'n'paste those characters into the Google search box, then cut'n'paste one of your results into Google Translate, you can get the flavor. Sample, from a sort of Chinese Wikipedia:
Eugenics is a science that specializes in human genetics and improves human race. The purpose of eugenics is to improve the quality of the population. It includes two aspects: one is positive eugenics; the other is negative eugenics. Positive eugenics is an excellent individual eugenics that promotes physical and intellectual well-being. That is to use molecular biology and cell molecular research to modify and transform genetic material, control individual development, make future generations more perfect, and truly operate and transform human's own purpose. Negative eugenics is the prevention or reduction of the birth of an individual with severe hereditary and congenital diseases, that is, the reduction of the birth of a bad individual. The latter is the most basic and preventive eugenics with real value.
Puppy love. The great event in the Derb household this month has been the arrival of our new puppy.
Toby, our previous dog, left us in August 2018 after ten years of faithful, loving companionship. By summer this year we had drained the cup of grief and were ready to go looking for a new dog. However, we had our September trip to China already planned, and didn't want to leave a new acquisition alone for three weeks while we were away, so we delayed the search.
Back from China, Mrs D got on the internet looking for puppies. She fell in love with one advertised to be available at a November 16th adopt-a-puppy event in upstate New York. We drove up there early that morning.
Not early enough, though. The way these events work, you get to the pet store where the event is held and wait for them to open the doors, in this case at 9am. Doors open, you enter in the order you showed up, and sign a sheet. The organizers then let you in to the area where the puppies are, one or two at a time, reading from the sheet.
We were tenth in line, and the puppy Mrs D had fallen in love with was really cute. My lady had to suffer seeing him taken out by the number two couple on the list. She was close to tears. I spent the long drive home trying to cheer her up, with not much success.
Back to the internet. Mrs D found another adorable puppy, advertised for an event in upstate Connecticut on November 23rd. This time we determined to be at the head of the line. We drove there the night before, booked into a Holiday Inn, and showed up at the pet store an hour and a half before opening time.
We still weren't head of the line, though. There were two couples ahead of us. We found out, by asking them, that the first on line had shown up at four thirty that freezing cold November morning. When people really want something, they'll go to any lengths. Mrs D was plunged into anxiety. Would one of those couples walk off with her treasure?
She got lucky: neither did. We brought the little fellow home with us: a terrier mix just two months old, weight four and a half pounds. As I write this, he's been with us a week. He seems happy and healthy, and apparently likes us as much as we like him. Welcome …
King of our hearts. … Basil. That's the little guy's name, from a Greek root meaning "king."
The name came out of a family conference: me, Mrs D, and our daughter Nellie. Our son was absent. Nellie proposed "Basil" with hearty conviction; my wife assented, and I was outvoted, the voice of Sybil Fawlty of course echoing in my head.
I'm getting used to it. Introducing Basil around the neighborhood, though — we've already had several walkie-walkies — I've been a bit surprised to find that the name Basil is unknown to many Americans. Three or four neighbors have already looked puzzled and said: "Don't you mean Bay-sil?"
No, for crying out loud, bay-sil is the herb. Our new family member is Ba-sil. What's the matter with people? All right, Fawlty Towers was kind of a Brit thing; but has Basil Rathbone been utterly forgotten? (In fairness to the neighbors, one came up with that name immediately.) Doesn't every visitor to Moscow get a picture taken at St Basil's Cathedral?
My son, when he came home, took a different approach. "It should be Bay-zel with a 'z'," he said. "That would sound more diverse." Junior has the same deplorably dark sense of humor I have.
I took that and ran with it, making it a joke around the house to address the pooch with: "Yo, Bay-zel muh n***a, what up?" until the ladies beseeched me to stop.
Math Corner. As a member of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), I receive print and digital copies of their monthly magazine, the Notices. There is generally something worth reading in the Notices, but to find it you have to leaf through dreary acres of Social Justice newsprint.
The "Education" section of the current issue, for example, includes six articles.
- Building the Alliance of Indigenous Math Circles
- Addressing Mathematical Inequity in Indigenous Education
- Modeling Competitions and Gender Equity
- Progressions in Reasoning in K-12 Mathematics
- Talent Nurturing in Hungary: The Pósa Weekend Camps
- The Number Line: Unifying the Evolving Definition of Number in K-12 Mathematics
That's three Diversity-Inclusion-Equity (DIE) articles out of six. (I'm pretty sure Hungarians don't count as diverse.)
The more astonishing, then, to find an opinion piece in the December Notices by mathematician Abigail Thompson, a Vice President of the AMS, arguing against the proliferating demands from university hiring committees that job applicants submit a statement describing their "contributions to diversity."
The campuses evaluate such statements using rubrics, a detailed scoring system. Several UC programs have used these diversity statements to screen out candidates early in the search process.
A typical rubric from UC Berkeley specifies that a statement that "describes only activities that are already the expectation of Berkeley faculty (mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc)" (italics mine) merits a score of 1 or 2 out of a possible 5 (1 worst and 5 best) in the second section of the rubric, the "track record for advancing diversity" category.
In other words, "treating all students the same regardless of background" is held in low regard by these committees. Prof. Thompson compares these mandatory statements to the loyalty oaths required during the Red Scare around 1950.
Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university. Not in 1950, and not today.
Prof. Thompson's mild classical liberalism is far removed from anything advocated by us on the Dissident Right. I'd be astounded to learn that she had ever read VDARE.com.
Her views are too much for the DIE crowd, though. "Treating all students the same regardless of background"? Heresy! Burn the witch! There have been protests and petitions against her. Science blogger Jerry Coyne has been giving the story full coverage.
After reading Springtime for Snowflakes, I wouldn't be terrifically surprised to hear that Prof. Thompson has been carpeted by her departmental Dean and H.R. Director, had her mental health questioned, and put on paid medical leave.
This story, though a bit dated, seems to fit in here, I'm not sure why.
Sangeun Lee, a pupil at St George's Grammar School in Mowbray, came top out of 45 participants in the Pan African Mathematics Olympiad in Senegal. She also won the girls' competition for the second successive year. ["Cape Town pupil named as Africa's top young mathematician" by TMG Digital; Port Elizabeth (South Africa) Herald and Weekend Post, May 3rd 2016.]
Oh, you want a brainteaser? Well, as a longtime Hungarophile, I naturally read that Notices article on "Talent Nurturing in Hungary" with keen attention. It includes the following problem.
A precious piece of treasure is locked up in a safe. The door of the safe is circular and there are four indentations on it. The indentations are positioned on the vertices of a square centered at the midpoint of the circular door. Each indentation hides a binary switch, which cannot be seen from the outside but its position can be identified if we put our hands in.
We are standing in front of the door and we can each put our hands into one of the indentations, and we can change their setting. However, once we pull our hands out, the door senses that it has been tampered with, and it starts rotating extremely fast until it stops at possibly a different angle than before. Unless of course all four switches are in the same position, in which case the door opens immediately and we win the treasure. Can we always win the treasure in finite time?