Quotulatiousness

March 27, 2017

2017 – the year of the Great Dissatisfaction

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Kevin Williamson says that “our world is full of wonders, but not everyone finds a place in it”:

Once, the question the ambitious and dissatisfied asked themselves was: “How do I climb that ladder?” Current tastes run more toward smashing the ladder and the hierarchies for which it stands in the name of … whatever: feminism or anti-feminism, black liberation or white nationalism, global justice or national sovereignty.

We spend our days surrounded by great miracles and minor irritations. My friend Jay Nordlinger recently recounted how Joseph Stalin allowed the film The Grapes of Wrath to be shown in the Soviet Union, believing that to see an indictment of capitalism from within the beast itself would be salutary for the proletariat. The proletariat took another lesson from the film: The Joads, apparently the poorest people in America, had a Ford, a luxury no working man in the workers’ paradise could dream of. A similar story is told about the television series Dallas: The Soviets thought their subjects would recoil from the mischief of J. R. Ewing and his Texas oil cronies, but all the poor Russians could see was that American servants lived better than Soviet doctors and professors. If we could share our daily tales of woe with our great-grandparents — e.g., my complaints about the Wi-Fi on airplanes — they would not take from that the conclusion we intended.

We do not have a problem of privation in the United States. Not really. What we have is something related to what Arthur Brooks (“the most interesting man in Washington,” Tim Alberta calls him) describes as the need for earned success. We are not happy with mere material abundance. We — and not to go all Iron John on you, but I think “we” here applies especially to men — need to feel that we have earned our keep, that we have established a place for ourselves in the world by our labor or by other virtues, especially such masculine virtues as physical courage and endurance. I suspect that is a big part of the reason for the exaggeratedly reverential, practically sacramental attitude we current express toward soldiers, police officers, and firemen. Of course they are brave and deserve our gratitude, but if we had felt the need to ceremonially thank everyone for their service in 1948, we’d never have done anything else with our time. In 2017, there are many more jobs for courtiers than for soldiers, and the virtues earning the highest return are not bravery or toughness but conversational cleverness, skill in social navigation, excellence in bureaucracy, and keenness in finance.

[…]

And there is the paradox within our paradox: The world is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, and many of us have trouble finding our place in it, in part, because it is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, so much so that we have lost touch with certain older realities. One of those realities is that children need fathers. Another is that fathers need children.

But these are what my colleague David French calls the “wounds that public policy will not heal.” Our churches are full of people who would love to talk to you about healing, but many have lost interest in that sort of thing, too. And so they turn to Trump, to Le Pen, to Chavismo (which is what Bernie Sanders is peddling), and, perhaps, to opiate-induced oblivion. Where will they turn when they figure out — and they will figure it out — that there are no answers in these, either?

And what will we offer them?

UBI as “trust-fundism” writ large

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In City Journal, Oren Cass discusses the suggested Universal Basic Income:

The UBI’s implications are clear from a family perspective. Imagine promising your child a basic income beginning at age 18. This is not just providing support — most parents already do that. Within the constraints of their own resources, they may give their young-adult children assistance with educational costs and even the down-payment on a first home; other government programs already seek to offer such support to those with lower incomes. But the UBI goes well beyond that, to an unconditional, irrevocable right to receive the cash for meeting basic needs: basically, the ultimate handout, not a hand up. A child would not receive payments himself, but he would grow up expecting them in a culture that endorsed them.

So if a parent wants the UBI experience for his children, he should not only promise the payments but also envision having “the UBI talk” with each one at least once a year, beginning no later than age 10. It could go something like this:

    Son, it is important to me that you not feel obligated to support yourself. That’s my job. Nor should you feel a duty to be a productive member of society. It is a central principle of this family, rather, that you feel entitled to everything you need.

    I hope you will get a job, because I think you will find it fulfilling, and it will allow you to buy nicer things. I also hope my support will encourage you to take some extra risks and pursue a challenging career, or become an entrepreneur, or dedicate yourself to helping those less fortunate. But none of that is a condition of my support. You can also backpack through Europe indefinitely or just sit in the basement smoking pot. In fact, as soon as we are done with this talk, let’s go watch one of the many movies Hollywood has produced recently in which they show the enormous benefits of those choices and viciously mock anyone who frowns on them.

    If you find a girlfriend, I’ll be happy to double your payment. If you have kids, the payment will increase further. But lest you feel tied down, rest assured that you can break up, abandon the kids, and I’ll continue making payments anyway. And we’ll start those payments as soon as you turn 18, at a critical inflection point in your future.

Of course, some parents do provide their children with a system of automatic support. We call the result a “trust-fund baby.” The term is not usually synonymous with “kind, well-adjusted, productive member of society.” The day when parents embrace trust-fundism as a child-rearing ideal is the day when the UBI will gain mainstream traction as a public policy.

If the UBI’s advocates really believe in the policy, they should start with their own children. Granted, the “what about your own kids?” argument is usually a cheap rhetorical ploy. Advocates of foreign intervention don’t eagerly send their children into battle, nor do advocates of higher taxes voluntarily pay higher taxes themselves; they don’t claim that fighting wars or paying taxes benefits the individual, but rather that society as a whole would benefit. A policymaker might rationally enroll his children in private school while pursuing a public school model of education reform, or sign up his family for better health insurance than he believes the government should guarantee to all, without necessarily being hypocritical. What’s best for one’s own child need not align with the public policy one believes most appropriate for the government to adopt.

Do you believe the experts?

Filed under: Books, Education, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Reason, Noah Berlatsky reviews The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols:

Believe the experts! Experts are not perfect, but they are more likely than non-experts to be right. Experts know what they do not know, and are therefore more cautious and better able to self-correct. Sometimes, in small ways, non-experts may outperform experts. But in general, America and the world need more respect for expertise.

That is the thesis of Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It is also, as it turns out, a critique of the book itself. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is an expert on Russia and national security; he is not, however, an expert on expertise.* His hand wringing about kids today is not grounded in a scholarly background in education policy or the history of student activism. He is a generalist dilettante writing a polemic against generalist dilettantes. As such, the best support for his argument is his own failure to prove it.

There are two central flaws in The Death of Expertise. The first is temporal. As the title implies, the book is written as though there were once a golden age when expertise was widely valued — and when the democratic polity was well-informed and took its duty to understand foreign and domestic affairs seriously. “The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed,’ passed ‘misinformed’ on the way down, and finally is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong,'” Nichols declares. His proof for this statement is that “within my living memory I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As Nichols would ordinarily be the first to point out, the vague common-sense intuitions and memories of non-experts are not a good foundation for a sweeping theory of social change. Nichols admits that Americans are not actually any more ignorant than they were 50 years ago. But he quickly pivots to insist that “holding the line [of ignorance] isn’t good enough” and then spends the rest of the book writing as if he didn’t know that Americans are not getting more ignorant.

The myth of the informed democratic voter is itself an example of long-ingrained, stubborn anti-knowledge. In their brilliant new Democracy for Realists (Princeton University Press), the political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels explain that laypeople and experts alike have developed a “folk theory” holding that American democracy is built on an engaged electorate that casts its votes for rational policy reasons. Unfortunately, as Achen and Bartels demonstrate, decades of research have shredded this theory, stomped on it, and set the remains on fire.

Catherine the Great – VI: Succession – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Russia — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Mar 2017

The optimism that marked Catherine the Great’s early years turned on its head. She oversaw the partition and final dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. She also alienated her son in the same way her own mother once did, leaving him ill-equipped to succeed her.

QotD: The nursery school campus

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I wanted to ask you about that. If Emma Sulkowicz were a student of yours, in an art class you were teaching, how would you grade her work?

[laughs] I’d give her a D! I call it “mattress feminism.” Perpetually lugging around your bad memories – never evolving or moving on! It’s like a parody of the worst aspects of that kind of grievance-oriented feminism. I called my feminism “Amazon feminism” or “street-smart feminism,” where you remain vigilant, learn how to defend yourself, and take responsibility for the choices you make. If something bad happens, you learn from it. You become stronger and move on. But hauling a mattress around on campus? Columbia, one of the great Ivy League schools with a tremendous history of scholarship, utterly disgraced itself in how it handled that case. It enabled this protracted masochistic exercise where a young woman trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself as a victim, which will now be her identity forever. This isn’t feminism – which should empower women, not cripple them.

It’s yet more evidence of the current absence of psychology. To go around exhibiting and foregrounding your wounds is a classic neurotic symptom. But people are so lacking now in basic Freudian consciousness – because Freud got thrown out of mainstream feminism by Kate Millett and Gloria Steinem and company. So no one sees the pathology in all this. And for Columbia to permit this girl to carry her mattress onstage and disrupt the commencement ceremony was absolutely ludicrous. It demonstrates the total degradation of once eminent and admirable educational institutions to caretaking nursery schools. I prophesied this in a piece I wrote in 1992 for the Times Literary Supplement called “The Nursery-School Campus”. At the time, nobody understood what I was saying. But I was arguing that the obsessive focus by American academe with students’ emotional well-being was not what European universities have ever been concerned with. European universities don’t have this consumer-oriented view that they have to make their students enjoy themselves and feel good about themselves, with everything driven by self-esteem. Now we have people emerging with Ivy League degrees who have no idea how little they know about history or literature. Their minds are shockingly untrained. They’ve been treated as fragile emotional beings throughout their schooling. The situation is worsening year by year, as teachers have to watch what they say and give trigger warnings, because God forbid that American students should have to confront the brutal realities of human life.

Meanwhile, while all of this nursery-school enabling is going on, we have the entire world veering towards ISIS – with barbaric decapitations and gay guys being thrown off roofs and stoned to death. All the harsh realities of human history are erupting, and this young generation is going to be utterly unprepared to deal with it. The nation is eventually going to be endangered by the inability of several generations of young people to make political decisions about a real world that they do not understand. The primitive realities of human life are exploding out there!

Camille Paglia, interviewed by David Daley in “Camille Paglia: How Bill Clinton is like Bill Cosby”, Salon, 2015-07-28.

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