Joseph Pearce responds with understandable frustration to the chief problem of our time: the combination of arrogance with lack of real education.
Recently, sitting in traffic, I saw this .. bumper sticker on the car in front of me… which declared the following: â€œWhat you call the Liberal Elite, we call being well-educated.â€ …
Clearly designed to offend other motorists, it is supremely supercilious and extremely arrogant. We, the average Joe, whoever we may be, are not as â€œwell-educatedâ€ as the royal â€œweâ€ driving the car in front of us. This pompous â€œwe,â€ who is presumably a she, presumes that anyone who disagrees with her is poorly educated, whereas she, of course, is well-educated. If we were as well-educated as she, we would agree with her.
To be fair to her, she is basing her presumption on data that shows that those who are â€œwell-educatedâ€ tend to vote for the Democrats whereas those who are less â€œeducatedâ€ tend to vote Republican. She votes Democrat because she is well-educated. We, who are presumed to be Republicans (because we are presumed to be stupid), complain that those who are better educated than us (and are therefore better than us) are part of an elite.
The problem is that her education is not as good as she thinks it is. …
If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of history, or, if she does, she will know it only from her own twenty-first century perspective, or from the twenty-first century perspective of those who taught it to her. History is not about learning from the people of the past, their triumphs and their mistakes, but is about sitting in judgment on the stupidity of our ancestors, who are presumed to be unenlightened, or at least not as enlightened as she is or her teachers are. â€œWhat the people of the past believed to be immoral, we call being well-educated.â€
If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of great literature, or, if she does, she will have misread it from the perspective of her own twenty-first century pride and prejudice, or from the proud and prejudiced twenty-first century perspective of those who taught her. She would not think of trying to read the great authors of the past through their own eyes because, living in the past, such authors lack the sense and sensibility which she has.
The usual argument over free enterprise versus the regulatory administrative state economy erupted over the weekend on my Yale class list. The usual three classmates who’d operated businesses defended freedom against the larger group of lefties who’d spent careers in academia.
The left-wing arguments were, as usual, actually embarrassing expressions of relativism combined with glib attempts to deflect substantive points by simple word-play. Reading the leftists’ efforts at debate, it is impossible to avoid noticing that what they really believe in is the absolute reliability of the consensus opinion of the community of fashion. The common culture of the establishment elite cannot possibly be wrong.
They fail to recognize at all just how dramatically that consensus has changed, even within their own adult lifetimes, because the accepted narrative is everything, History and Reality are nothing.
Their Cliff-Notes-based education has merely trained these people in the skillful manipulation of numbers, symbols, and ideas. Each of them is, of course, competent, even excellent, in some professional specialty, but if the gods of fashionable opinion decreed that college professors should go around barking like dogs, our universities would sound exactly like hunt kennels. They could be persuaded to accept anything, and they view with bitter hatred and disdainful contempt anyone daring to dissent.
Megan McArdle notes that Barack Obama’s Free Community College scheme is really just one more example of the pseudo-intelligentsia’s typical attempt to make the world better by making everybody more like themselves.
I would argue instead that what’s elitist is our current fixation on college. It starts from the supposition that being good at school is some sort of great personal virtue, so that any suggestion that many people aren’t good at school must mean that those people are not equal and valuable members of society. And that supposition is triple-distilled balderdash.
My grandparents had perhaps ten adult books in their house, most of which were either Bibles or biographies of presidents. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of in not regarding reading as great recreation. Bookishness has added greatly to society. So has the ability to run a business well, which my grandfather did for many years, employing dozens, maybe hundreds, of people over his lifetime. So has community service, which both my parents did with great distinction, and being kind and decent and generous. I don’t need to hide the fact that neither of my grandparents much cared for books or school, because I don’t think that made them some sort of lesser class of person. Pretending that everyone has the potential to be like the tiny class of educated people who run policy in this country is not egalitarianism; it is the secret snobbery of a mandarin class who really do think that being good at school made them more worthy and important than everyone else. …
Higher education is becoming the ginseng of the policy world: a sort of all-purpose snake oil for solving any problem you’d care to name, as long as we consume enough of it. Education is a very good thing, but it is not the only good thing. An indiscriminate focus on pushing more people into the system is no cure for society’s ills–and indeed, often functions as a substitute for helping the people who are struggling in the current system.
What if people in the policy elite stopped assuming that the ideal was to make everyone more like them, and started thinking about making society more hospitable to those who aren’t? My grandfather graduated into a world where a man with a high-school diploma could reasonably hope to own his own business, or become someone else’s highly valued employee, a successful pillar of a supportive community. His grandchildren graduated into a world where a college diploma was almost the bare necessity to get any kind of a decent job. Why aren’t we at least asking ourselves if there’s something we can do to create more opportunity for people without diplomas, instead of asking how many more years we can keep everyone in school? Why do all of our proposed solutions essentially ratify the structure that excludes so many people, instead of questioning it?
I have some ideas about what those policies might look like: broad deregulation, especially at the state and local level, to ease things for business creators and make it easier to get various sorts of jobs that are currently protected by licensing requirements; more co-op and apprenticeship programs; wage subsidies for entry-level workers, and perhaps a broad system of government internships that could help people gain experience outside of the classroom. I’m sure that there are many more I haven’t named. But we won’t find them as long as the only politically interesting solution is ever more years in school.
Same Sex Marriage, in the typical way culture war victories are won, is on the way to becoming the law of the land by the well-worn route of advocacy by a left-wing avante-garde, followed by conversion into a class indicator by the community of fashion, with a final victory effected by legislation from the judicial bench.
When the powers-that-be at Mozilla proceeded to defenestrate newly-appointed CEO Brendan Eich for the thought crime of having previously donated $1000 in support of Proposition 8, it all began getting a bit too heavy-handed for Andrew Sullivan, the formerly conservative Limey poof who more or less invented the notion of Gay Marriage, who quickly editorialized against black listing dissenters.
Having, somewhat unexpectedly, found themselves effectively getting their way, bursting through ineffective opposition to obtain complete control of the levers and handles allowing revolutionary alteration of the basic foundation of civilization, being now able to pillage, loot, vandalize, and profane at will the sacred inner sanctum of human society, the more reflective fashionistas are disposed to be gracious in their victory.
The rural paganes, it was recently proposed in a manifesto from liberaltarians (and Mr. Sullivan) ought to be accorded the privilege of grumbling, without penalty!
Merina Smith, at Ricochet, finds the condescension of the victors a little hard to take. And she’s perfectly correct. A massive propaganda wave of slogans, followed by a series of judicial coup d’etats is really not the same thing as “winning a debate.”
It is admirable that the well-respected signatories are calling for tolerance, but I am less than impressed with their statement. First, they repeat that deceptive little slogan â€œmarriage equalityâ€ in a celebratory way, as if it really explained or illuminated anything. Can these smart people be unaware that equality simply means treating like things alike? The question, which has never been answered satisfactorily by anyone on that side of the debate, is what is the significance of the differences, particularly for children? Might there be a good reason why sexual unions that produce children should be treated differently than those that canâ€™t? That nasty little question-begging slogan â€marriage equalityâ€ has in fact been a means of preventing discussion about the real issues at stake.
I do like their next point, that diversity is the natural consequence of liberty. They also say that this entails paying serious attention to the arguments of those they oppose. Thatâ€™s good. Would that they would do so.
But since they assert unequivocally throughout the piece that they all support redefining marriage and are certain that this course is correct â€” without ever acknowledging that there might be some good reasons that marriage has always been limited to connecting males and females â€” one has to doubt that they have taken their opposition seriously, especially when they claim that â€œfree speech created the social space for us to criticize and demolish the arguments against gay marriage and LGBT equality.â€ Uh, might there be some hubris going on here? The term â€œmarriage equalityâ€ demolished no arguments, just avoided them.
Similarly, their use of judges to force their will on people who had voted against their side is not â€œdemolishingâ€ any sort of argument. In fact, Justice Kennedyâ€™s shameful claim that there can be no reason besides animus against gays (read: â€œhate,â€ the queen of all delegitimizing words) is similarly a way to avoid dealing with objections and arguments.
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 donâ€™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 â€” purposes like increasing their standing in their community, or ensuring they donâ€™t piss off the leaders of their tribe. If this hypothesis proved true, then a smarter, better-educated citizenry wouldnâ€™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.
Bruce Braley (D) demonstrates how to lose a race for the Senate in Iowa in 37 seconds. Posing next to all the booze (with no necktie) while delivering this condescending plea for support adds extra points.
It’s awfully nice when your opponent writes your most effective campaign ad for you and then delivers it.
George Washington was a farmer who never attended college, let alone law school. So was John Marshall.
Manhattan Upper West Side brownstones
William Deresiewicz has an uncharacteristically self-critical commentary on the aesthetic sensibilty of the urban-based community of fashion elite.
[N]ow I wonder if thereâ€™s also something new. Not middlebrow, not highbrow (we still donâ€™t have an avant-garde to speak of), but halfway in between. Call it upper middle brow. The new form is infinitely subtler than Midcult. It is post- rather than pre-ironic, its sentimentality hidden by a veil of cool. It is edgy, clever, knowing, stylish, and formally inventive. It is Jonathan Lethem, Wes Anderson, Lost in Translation, Girls, Stewart/Colbert, The New Yorker, This American Life and the whole empire of quirk, and the films that should have won the Oscars (the films youâ€™re not sure whether to call films or movies).
The upper middle brow possesses excellence, intelligence, and integrity. It is genuinely good work (as well as being most of what I read or look at myself). The problem is it always lets us off the hook. Like Midcult, it is ultimately designed to flatter its audience, approving our feelings and reinforcing our prejudices. It stays within the bounds of what we already believe, affirms the enlightened opinions we absorb every day in the quality media, the educated bromides we trade on Facebook. It doesnâ€™t tell us anything we donâ€™t already know, doesnâ€™t seek to disturbâ€”the definition of a true avant-gardeâ€”our fundamental view of ourselves, or society, or the world. (Think, by contrast, of some truly disruptive works: The Wire, Blood Meridian, almost anything by J. M. Coetzee.)
There is a sociology to all of this. As Clement Greenberg pointed out in â€œAvant-Garde and Kitschâ€ (1939), the predecessor to Macdonaldâ€™s essay, high culture flourished under the aristocracy. Mass culture came in with mass literacy, while Midcult is a product of the postwar college boom, a way of catering to the cultural aspirations of the exploding middle class. Now, since the â€™70s, weâ€™ve gone a step further, into an era of mass elite and postgraduate education. This is the root of the so-called creative class, the Bobos, the liberal elite as it exists today. The upper middle brow is the cultural expression of this demographic. Its purpose is to make consciousness safe for the upper middle class. The salient characteristic of that class, as a moral entity, is a kind of Victorian engorgement with its own virtue. Its need is for an art that will disturb its self-delight.
California is a kind of laboratory in which the bacilli of modernity germinate and grow at a preternatural pace, giving the rest of us a glimpse of our own dystopian future.
Norman Rogers takes a shot at describing life in the particularly lush Petri dish that is Northern California’s Marin County.
The population of Marin is overwhelmingly white, Democrat, and financially well-off. In 2008, nearly 80% of the vote went to Obama. The main minority consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants who prosper by providing services such as gardening, house-cleaning, and child care. The going rate for babysitting is close to $20 an hour. Although official statistics say that the Hispanics have low incomes, those statistics are based on the assumption that landscapers and babysitters, often in the country illegally, carefully report their earnings to the government. …
Marin is a refuge for upper-income people. It is a place where they can escape the crime and congestion of San Francisco or Oakland. Above all, it is a place where their children can escape the generously funded but abysmal public schools of San Francisco and other urban cities.
In Marin there are shared values, and it is expected that the residents will toe the line. One of those shared values is a kind of make-believe tolerance. The reality is that the inhabitants of Marin are just as conformist and narrow-minded as are the inhabitants of flyover small towns ridiculed by Hollywood or Ivy-League sociology professors. Deviations from expectations will usually generate silent disapproval rather than verbal correction. However, if you depart too far from expectations, you may experience vigorous disapproval. …
Charles Murray, in his new book Coming Apart, points out that a new social class has been created due to the greater economic value of brains, a consequence of the impact of new technology. These workers tend to be in the high-tech industry or the financial industry. They have a privileged position and are isolated from the rest of America. They tend to marry each other, and they cluster in certain places like Marin County. Because their skills are in great demand, they are unacquainted with economic hardship. The idea that, for example, environmental goals have to be compromised for economic goals is foreign to them because such difficult compromises are not something they have had to face in their personal lives. Since they have led such charmed lives, they see no reason why everyone can’t have similar advantages. So Obama’s message that he is going to fix everything resonates with them. Many members of this new class went to universities where doctrinaire and anti-capitalist ideology is rampant. Thus, they lack historical perspective, or even basic historical knowledge.
Smart people lacking a solid education are susceptible to crackpot ideas, be they global warming, the evil of plastic bags, radio waves making people sick, or Steve Jobs’ theory of healing cancer with nutrition.