Category Archive 'The Cognitive Elite'

08 Apr 2014

Ezra Klein and the Identity-Protective Cognition Syndrome

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Little Ezra Klein published on Sunday, in Vox, a must-read article making the intelligent point that political arguments are commonly not decided on the basis of facts and evidence, and that even intelligent people, when faced with information contrary to their preferred beliefs, tend to use their intellectual skills to manipulate or evade in favor of preserving their positions, rather than revising their own opinions on the basis of better arguments or the facts.

[T]here are some kinds of debates where people don’t want to find the right answer so much as they want to win the argument. Perhaps humans reason for purposes other than finding the truth — purposes like increasing their standing in their community, or ensuring they don’t piss off the leaders of their tribe. If this hypothesis proved true, then a smarter, better-educated citizenry wouldn’t put an end to these disagreements. It would just mean the participants are better equipped to argue for their own side.

Quite amusingly, Ezra then proceeds, quite unconsciously, to demonstrate the truth of all of this in the real world by selecting as examples of “identity-protective cognition” classic current left-right controversies like “climate change.” Ezra then proceeds to treat the left’s side of the argument as factual and decisive, diagnosing people on the other side, like Justice Antonin Scalia, as afflicted with delusional infatuation with identity precluding perception of the force and authority of the other side’s arguments.

Poor Ezra is hilariously oblivious to his own delusion-inducing investment in his identity as an elite member of the enlightened community of fashion, which his own belief system supposes inevitably knows the truth about matters of fact like Anthropogenic Climate Change and every issue of public policy.

Hat tip to Bull Dog.

11 Mar 2013

The Particle Physicist, the 34DDD Bikini Model, and the Suitcase Full of Coke

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Denise Milani

68-year-old Particle Physicist Paul Frampton was divorced and in the market for a new wife, hopefully a woman “between the ages of 18 and 35, which Frampton understood to be the period when women are most fertile.”

And what do you know? The lucky guy had only to log onto the Internet and start playing with one dating site, and he ran into the internationally-famous-for-her-enormous-upper-endowment supermodel Denise Milani. The couple exchanged texts and photos, and fell madly in love, though the apparently-shy model kept refusing to speak to him on the phone.

Finally, Denise Milani agreed to meet the professor in person… in La Paz, Bolivia. Alas! when he got to Bolivia, the lovely lady had been unexpectedly called away to another photo shoot in Brussels, and would he do her a favor and bring her a suitcase she’d left behind in La Paz?

Peter Frampton was arrested in Buenos Aires and received a 4 year 10 month sentence for smuggling cocaine. The real Denise Milani could not be reached for comment.

Maxine Swann tells the whole sad story in the New York Times Magazine.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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Denise Milani’s breasts web-site.

14 Jul 2012

Why Today’s Meritocratic Elite Behaves So Badly

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David Brooks is just one of several writers recently identifying the character of our contemporary elite as a grave problem, and he has a theory about the source of members of the modern meritocratic elite’s extreme sense of self-entitlement and personal exemption from any and all rules and standards.

The corruption that has now crept into the world of finance and the other professions is not endemic to meritocracy but to the specific culture of our meritocracy. The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.

Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.

As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership.

The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.

Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this.

If you read the e-mails from the Libor scandal you get the same sensation you get from reading the e-mails in so many recent scandals: these people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.

11 Feb 2012

Barack Obama’s Idea of Compromise

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The Obama Administration wants to affirm its commitment to the secular progressive religion of Dionysius and D. H. Lawrence by mandating provision of contraception and abortion even at the cost of violating the freedom of conscience of religious institutions but, oh, me, oh, my! it encountered totally unexpected pushback and faces possible electoral consequences. Whatever to do?

As the Wall Street Journal explains, in an editorial delightfully entitled “Immaculate Contraception,” Barack Obama proposes, quite characteristically, to conceptually manipulate his way out of the consequences of his policy simply by telling those insurance companies to cook their books a bit.

Here’s a conundrum: The White House wants to impose its birth-control ideology on all Americans, including those for whom sponsoring or subsidizing such services violates their moral conscience. The White House also wants to avoid a political backlash from this blow to religious freedom. These goals are irreconcilable.

So you almost have to admire the absurdity of the new plan President Obama floated yesterday: The government will now write a rule that says the best things in life are “free,” including contraception. Thus a political mandate will be compounded by an uneconomic one—in other words, behold the soul of ObamaCare.

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Ace analyses Obama’s compromise this way:

So here’s how this works.

I’m an insurer. Here were your two options, before Obama’s brilliant solution:

I could cover your employees for x dollars.

If you want birth control/abortifacient coverage, we’ll add that rider for y dollars. So this option is x + y dollars.

Obama’s genius solution is:

Hey, we’ll cover your employees for x + y dollars as a baseline. But we’ll toss in abortifacient coverage for 0 dollars.

Uhhh… That x+y is what it cost to have base insurance + birth control/abortifacient coverage. All that’s being done here is that people are lying about the costs — now the insurer and the contracting party lie and pretend the base insurance cost is x + y (which it isn’t; it’s x) and also pretend the cost for the birth control coverage is 0 (which it isn’t; it’s y).

All Obama’s doing is mandating that employers enter into a contract with insurers in which both parties pretend that the base cost of the service is higher than it is, and that abortifacient coverage now costs zero dollars.

Obama’s mandate solution is now just to force the conscience-objectors to lie about it.

Barack Obama demonstrates once again two key features of his identity and outlook. He is, first of all, an absolutely intransigent representative of the progressive elite, dedicated to enacting and enforcing his class’s social, political, and economic agenda without limit, mercy, or remorse. Intellectually, he is also a paradigmatic representative of the cognitive elite, trained in the best schools in the manipulation of words, concepts, and ideas. Which is to say, Barack Obama is the living model of the man professionally schooled in rhetoric that they used to call a sophist in Classical Antiquity.

He is definitely and absolutely committed to getting his ideological way, and his method for dealing with legal, moral, and theoretical objections to his agenda is simply to find a linguistic formula that redefines those obstacles out of existence.

08 Jan 2012

Class Separation in America

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Charles Murray, in the New Criterion, discusses the threat of American upper middle class arrogance and provincialism to American exceptionalism.

As recently as half a century ago, Americans across all classes showed only minor differences on the Founding virtues. When Americans resisted the idea of being thought part of an upper class or lower class, they were responding to a reality: there really was such a thing as a civic culture that embraced all of them. Today, that is no longer true. Americans have formed a new lower class and a new upper class that have no precedent in our history. American exceptionalism is deteriorating in tandem with this development. …

The members of America’s new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don’t go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don’t share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class—or, better yet, of the new upper class. They take their vacations in different kinds of places than other Americans go and are often indifferent to the professional sports that are so popular among other Americans. Few have served in the military, and few of their children either.

Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn’t have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor’s monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase “all of the children are above average,” but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.

When people are making decisions that affect the lives of many other people, the cultural isolation that has grown up around America’s new upper class can be disastrous. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale law professors. It is a problem if Yale law professors, or producers of the nightly news, or CEOs of great corporations, or the President’s advisors, cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. …

Tocqueville, when explaining why the American system ensured that a despot could never successfully divide Americans against each other, wrote that “local freedom . . . perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them. In the United States, the more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people. On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: they listen to them, they speak to them every day.” That’s not true any more. Our propensities do sever us, and the new upper class shows no inclination to reach out across the widening divide. And so the unraveling of the civic culture in Fishtown occurs without the knowledge or the concern of Belmont, let alone with any attempt by Belmont to assist the people of Fishtown who are still trying to do the right thing. Fishtown is flyover country, or those ugly suburbs that the people of the new upper class view from afar as they drive from their enclave in Greenwich to their office in midtown Manhattan.

01 Dec 2011

Tina Brown: President Obama Doesn’t Like His Job

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Why should he? People only enjoy doing what they are good at. Barack Obama obviously finds himself lacking the leadership skills and temperament needed to be a successful president. He isn’t good at his job. He isn’t successful at it, so it is consequently no fun.

Ace summarizes and talks back to the commentators.

There is a little more to all this, which I think needs to be noted. Obama’s failure doubtless has several causes, but I think his presidency is particularly interesting because Barack Obama is really demonstrating the failure of liberal economic policies publicly and emphatically because he so firmly believes in them.

Barack Obama is a classic product and representative of elite American academic culture. He knows what the consensus of the best people is. He believes in, and in fact personally embodies, that consensus. The American liberal elite comprises the best people with the best educations occupying the top positions in the most prestigious institutions. How could they possibly be mistaken or misinformed about anything?

Barack Obama has done exactly what he was supposed to do, on the basis of the consensus of the best people, and it hasn’t turned the economy around or even resulted in the masses rallying to his cause. No wonder he is depressed and at a loss.

29 Oct 2010

The Elite Without a Country

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Mark Krikorian argues that Charles Murray‘s description of the alienation of the New Elite from the rest of America does not go nearly far enough.

Charles Murray is too generous in his Sunday piece on the elite’s disconnect from the rest of America. He’s spot-on in identifying how socially, culturally, politically, and geographically isolated today’s elite is, but he ends the piece this way:

    The bubble that encases the New Elite crosses ideological lines and includes far too many of the people who have influence, great or small, on the course of the nation. They are not defective in their patriotism or lacking a generous spirit toward their fellow citizens. They are merely isolated and ignorant. The members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.

While I’m sure this describes some people, much of the New Elite does not, in fact, love America and is, in Murray’s phrasing, defective in its patriotism. Today’s elites — not just here, but in Europe as well — are increasingly post-national. Murray writes that “the New Elite clusters in a comparatively small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities,” which is correct, but he doesn’t seem to get (or at least didn’t write) that these “comparatively small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities” are increasingly part of a distinct transnational community. Marx and Engels were wrong when they wrote that “the working men have no country” — but that description is increasingly apt for large parts of the post-American New Elite.

29 Aug 2010

The Oikophobia of the Elites

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In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto, responds to the recent editorial by Charles Krauthammer, to explore even further the pathologies of “the snobbery of the cognitive elite.”

The Ground Zero mosque is an affront to the sensibilities of ordinary Americans. “The center’s association with 9/11 is intentional and its location is no geographic coincidence,” as the Associated Press has reported. That Americans would find this offensive is a matter of simple common sense. The liberal elites cannot comprehend common sense, and, incredibly, they think that’s a virtue. After all, common sense is so common.

The British philosopher Roger Scruton has coined a term to describe this attitude: oikophobia. Xenophobia is fear of the alien; oikophobia is fear of the familiar: “the disposition, in any conflict, to side with ‘them’ against ‘us’, and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably ‘ours.’ ” What a perfect description of the pro-mosque left.

Scruton was writing in 2004, and his focus was on Britain and Europe, not America. But his warning about the danger of oikophobes–whom he amusingly dubs “oiks”–is very pertinent on this side of the Atlantic today, and it illuminates how what are sometimes dismissed as mere matters of “culture” tie in with economic and social policy:

    The oik repudiates national loyalties and defines his goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments, accepting and endorsing laws that are imposed on us from on high by the EU or the UN, though without troubling to consider Terence’s question, and defining his political vision in terms of universal values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community.

    The oik is, in his own eyes, a defender of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism. And it is the rise of the oik that has led to the growing crisis of legitimacy in the nation states of Europe. For we are seeing a massive expansion of the legislative burden on the people of Europe, and a relentless assault on the only loyalties that would enable them voluntarily to bear it. The explosive effect of this has already been felt in Holland and France. It will be felt soon everywhere, and the result may not be what the oiks expect.

There is one important difference between the American oik and his European counterpart. American patriotism is not a blood-and-soil nationalism but an allegiance to a country based in an idea of enlightened universalism. Thus our oiks masquerade as–and may even believe themselves to be–superpatriots, more loyal to American principles than the vast majority of Americans, whom they denounce as “un-American” for feeling an attachment to their actual country as opposed to a collection of abstractions.

Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.


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