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October 21, 2012

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sk60

“a weekend festival - shaping the future through debate.”

A hall full of lefties doesn't sound very festive.

David

sk60,

“A hall full of lefties doesn’t sound very festive.”

There were, I gather, some dissenters. But yes, I think that’s how these things often work. The predictable assumptions and near-uniformity are, to many of us, quite tedious and don’t suggest a good use of one’s free time - especially for those of us who aren’t particularly interested in imposing our views on others. Leftists, however, tend to be more interested in exerting some influence on how others behave, or in talking about how to exert such influence in various scenarios. Improving the species, I’m sure.

Jason Bontrager

So when do they officially change the name to Airstrip One?

Ian

@David, most of us only go to political meetings when there's a crisis or when we've had enough. Socialists have political meetings because they like it.

David

Ian,

“…most of us only go to political meetings when there’s a crisis or when we’ve had enough. Socialists have political meetings because they like it.”

Heh. There may be something to that. For instance, student political organisations are more often than not left-of-centre or very left-of-centre. Yes, there are some talking shops for libertarians, conservatives, classical liberals, etc., but the urge to exert power over others is a big motivator in terms of organising, meeting regularly and being sufficiently excited by hours spent talking about how one might use that power over others. It’s rather like how the increasingly politicised bureaucracy of academia – hiring committees, committees for pretty much anything – tends to attract people on the left, especially those with dogmatic tendencies. Other faculty often have better things to do. The left doesn’t have a monopoly on obnoxiously bureaucratic and meddlesome people, not by a long chalk, but it does offer enormous license and potential for those so inclined.

And for some, insufficient socialism is itself an ongoing crisis.

Tom

"And for some, insufficient socialism is itself an ongoing crisis. "

So it seems. Having been distracted by a minor road accident on the way home from the second day of the event tonight, I have yet to write it up. But the post, when written, will be titled with a quote from a whey-faced authoritarian on the subject of parents who feed their children the wrong diet - "Compulsion works". So it does. But when we have demoralised and institutionalised the entire population so that it stands around waiting for its next order from above, we will discover the costs of undermining personal initiative.

Remember the puzzlement of the visiting Soviet official who, when he asked who was responsible for ensuring the delivery of bread to London, was told "no-one"? To the extent our over-confident leftist elite ever looks puzzled, it's over questions like that.

My thanks to David for the links to my previous posts.

David

Tom,

“Compulsion works.”

The urge to fix people – or control them – is, for some, so pronounced and so urgent there isn’t time to acknowledge even the most obvious practical consequences. After all, these people care so very much; what could possibly go wrong? As Theodore Dalrymple noted, “Very rarely do we find someone who is a university intellectual saying that ‘X is indeed a desirable goal, even a highly desirable goal, but the cost to freedom of achieving it is simply too great.’”

Or, in the words of the Guardianista and “social justice” activist Zohra Moosa,

I’m a little bit tired of spending so much of my time defending the most basic principles of what I stand for. It serves to distract. What I need is a safer space where I don’t lose so much energy justifying why social and environmental justice are worth spending a lot of society’s money on. What I want is a space where these ideas are a given and the debate is about how best to actualize them.

Mustering argument and evidence is so very, very tiring, especially among people who dare to disagree. Her ideas should be “a given.” Just hand her the launch codes, goddammit.

JuliaM

" But when we have demoralised and institutionalised the entire population so that it stands around waiting for its next order from above, we will discover the costs of undermining personal initiative."

Ah, but Tom, you see that as a bad thing, I see it as a bad thing. To the progressives, howver, it's an opportunity! A population unable to think for itself will - of necessity - need people to think for it, and so, they'll have guaranteed jobs for life!

David

Re Ms Moosa and her fatigue, this came to mind. The Guardian’s Joseph Harker, at the time the paper’s deputy comment editor and race-monger-in-chief, found even his own readership too quarrelsome for comfort. After making some typically bizarre claims and then being challenged on them, for the most part politely, Harker wrote,

Some time ago I wrote saying that all white people are racist. I didn’t mean in-your-face, BNP-style racism, but the subtle, unthinking, subliminal kind. Now I think I was being too kind… If we want to have a sensible discussion about race, or racism, is it possible on a general-access website such as this? Or do we need to find a new corner of cyberspace, and boldly go where no stupid white man has gone before?

You see, to disagree with Joseph Harker, even on points of fact and basic logic, is to be racist, at least subliminally. And rather than address criticism and factual corrections from his own readers, Mr Harker wished instead for a more compliant audience.

Greg

'...who was responsible for ensuring the delivery of bread to London..."no-one"..'

As it happens, that same person was responsible for ensuring the delivery of bread to Moscow, Havana, Pyongyang etc.

In the end, when you roll up all of the leftist banner issues into one giant ball, (equality, health care, bread, jobs, etc) they couldn't care less if their utopia actually provides any of it. All they care about is that there is a sign above the door that says it is so.

David

Tom,

“…a quote from a whey-faced authoritarian on the subject of parents who feed their children the wrong diet – ‘Compulsion works.’”

It’s not at all unusual to find Observer articles telling us, quite firmly, that “the challenge of obesity” may necessitate “radical action,” including “limiting individuals’ freedom to consume junk.” (As Anna pointed out in the comments, it makes perfect sense, provided you regard people as livestock.) And flicking through the Guardian reveals similar sentiments on an all but weekly basis. As when Professor Boyd Swinburne unveiled the notion of “passive overeating,” the solution to which is, of course, to “intervene more directly.” According to our crusading academic, the issue of diet must not be left to the individual, who is at best a victim and simply can’t be trusted. Instead, state intervention should take the form of “junk food-free zones” and the banning of adverts for food that the professor deems unhealthy, such adverts being “unethical.” Foodstuffs of which the professor disapproves should – of course - be taxed heavily. Making food more expensive is, we’re told, “a benefit.”

And remember, both of these newspapers describe themselves as liberal.

Jonathan

'... and boldly go where no stupid white man has gone before?'

Unfortunately for Mr Harker, we stupid white men are getting smarter: we're now using special secret codes to try and disguise our hideous racist thoughts. But not to worry, the ever vigilant press are on to us:

http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/juan-williams/207295-2012-racial-code-words-obscure-real-issue

Stuck-Record
Mr Harker wished instead for a more compliant audience.

As always. The end result of leftist thought.

Fascists are happy with a population that will do as they are told. That's not good enough for leftists. They want to control the way you think as well.

Messers Harker and Milne are the kind who would happily run re-education camps.

Mr. Saturn

That 2nd paragraph might be the one of the most frightening things I've ever read. Seriously.

David

There’s more to raise the eyebrows in part three:

Both Rob Riemen and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett were visibly disturbed by the notion of freedom as a primary good.

And in a way you can see their point. After all, what do they, our betters, get out of your freedom? And whatever pretensions to the contrary, it is all about them. If a person’s blueprint for a better world casually dismisses individual autonomy and actively seeks to shrink it, forcibly, I don’t think one should assume that person is actually interested in other people’s rights and well-being. One might, though, assume that such a person thinks of others not as people at all, not as individuals, but as something akin to furniture, to change and reposition in accord with their own tastes. As Tom says, “A weekend spent listening to [public intellectuals] discussing how best to command and control a population they openly despise for its stupidity and ignorance was not my idea of fun.”

rjmadden

not as people at all, not as individuals, but as something akin to furniture, to change and reposition in accord with their own tastes.

Or pets.

Smudger

Stupid, stupid, intellectual bastards. Why can't they see that, when their socialist utopia (nightmare police state) is realised, they will be declared surplus to requirements by the nasty people who take the top jobs (by force) and promptly lined up against the wall and shot?

Or is the next implementation of a socialist state somehow going to be different to all those that have gone before?

Stuck-Record

Smudger

Socialism is the equivalent of a group of children convinced they can fly by throwing themselves off a four story roof. As each child hits the ground with a sickening crunch of blood and gristle the next one steps up and says, "But it'll be different this time!"

Matt

Smudger, these days I'm pretty sure the intellectuals have every intention of being the nasty people taking the top jobs. Though it may not turn out that way in practice...

David

rjmadden,

“Or pets.”

At best it seems they imagine some kind of quasi-parental relationship, with other people – other adults – in the role of children to be supervised and corrected. Which implies that they or their proxy would have power over you. It’s the egalitarian way. And when people spend a lot of time thinking up ways to treat you as a child and have power over you, it’s probably best to make sure they never do.

Henry

I wouldn't want to start using the word 'intellectual' as a contemptuous byword for a certain kind of leftist. That's too simplistic (perhaps Thomas Sowell does so too carelessly)

Surely the point about these people is that they are not intellectuals but politicians and propagandists - you'd never trust such a person to give a nuanced understanding of the different sides of an issue

Take just one observation (albeit secondhand) from reading Tom Paine's post. One of the big problems with ideas of equality, in my opinion, is how you define it. Are we talking about equality of opportunity in the workplace alone? Equality in school assessment? In sporting achievement? Should dustbin men, CEOs, and MPs be paid the same "equal amounts" per hours work?

It soon becomes obvious that equality is not a simple concept, and some types of equality can never be achieved. Yet the debate has been dumbed down to the simple word itself.

It doesn't take much of an intellectual to see this - yet from Paine's post it would appear that the balanced arguments have not been given, so we may as well say that the speakers simply don't deserve to be called intellectuals. At least without quotes and heavy irony

It's quite easy to find 4 leftwing academics who will pontificate on "equality". Some academics are, quite simply, stupid. Not all, though, I think that's a mistake.

Stuck-Record

Equality is, as Henry says, easy to say but hard to define.

Have our intellectual betters ever done any work on sexual equality? I mean: How will they ensure that everyone, regardless of appearance or charisma gets as much sex as each other? Surely it's not fair that your lifetime romantic and sexual prospects are limited by the accident of birth? How very 'unfair'. How very un-socialist. Surely the planners will correct this.

Will there be state brothels to compensate (and who would be assigned to work in them by Central Planning? Or is the solution compulsory disfiguring facial hair/warts/scars/BO perfume, instead?

David

Henry,

In his books and interviews (see here and here), Sowell defines his terms fairly carefully. As he writes in the introduction to Intellectuals and Society,

Here “intellectuals” refers to an occupational category, people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas – writers, academics and the like. Most of us do not think of brain surgeons or engineers as intellectuals, despite the demanding mental training that each goes through, and virtually no-one regards even the most brilliant and successful financial wizard as an intellectual… Engineers and financiers deal with ideas at least as complex as those of sociologists or professors of English. Yet it is these latter who are more likely to come to mind when intellectuals are discussed. Moreover, it is the latter who most exhibit the attitudes, beliefs and behaviour associated with intellectuals.

He offers further clarification, at length, including the inclination to ‘self-exalt’ by airing certain political assumptions (which may not actually work and may even be disastrous). His examples tend to be people who rarely implement - and almost never suffer the fallout of - their own ideas, their own Plans For The World, and who therefore persist in making errors about very basic things – often economics, autonomy and human nature. Surgeons, for instance, tend to be clever people, often very clever indeed, but they tend to see the consequences of their mistakes and, one hopes, learn from this. An English lecturer, however, can spend decades extolling the virtues of communism and the goodness of Marx, despite all evidence to the contrary and with little risk of losing his job or even being called on his hokum.

Henry

David

Sowell quote: 'Here “intellectuals” refers to an occupational category, people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas – writers, academics and the like. Most of us do not think of brain surgeons or engineers as intellectuals, despite the demanding mental training that each goes through, and virtually no-one regards even the most brilliant and successful financial wizard as an intellectual'

I still hesitate to use the word so freely. I guess if you define (for yourself) a word already in common use - you can claim the right to use it as long as it's always understood that you're using that definition. Better to invent a new word, though.

One problem comes when others forget that particular definition of intellectual and start using the word with our own. The same criticism, after all, applies to the 'equality' debate, where someone could pop up here (I don't know why they haven't :)) to say that the definition of equality they were using was defined quite clearly.

There are still problems: if you take "people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas" you'll need a proviso to rule out mathematicians and physicists, also himself come to think of it. We too are discussing ideas, though not as a profession. His real beef, I'd suggest, is the number of supposedly intelligent academics - people who should have known better - who have fallen for easy leftist rhetoric. You can't blanket-criticise people whose professions deal with ideas.

People never use words carefully enough (I'm often guilty of it), and don't stop to think when you point this out to them. But to do so is as much an error of argument as "affirming the consequent" which you picked up on a couple of months ago.

I couldn't agree more about the army of English/History lecturers, even psychologists and certainly sociologists who misuse their position to go on about simplistic Marxist nonsense.

David

Henry,

“…if you take ‘people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas’ you’ll need a proviso to rule out mathematicians and physicists, also himself come to think of it.”

Well, I can’t offhand think of a better term, at least not one that fits easily on the jacket of a book. And I very much doubt anyone could read Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society believing that he’s talking about mathematicians, physicists, structural engineers or IT technicians. Throughout the book, it’s pretty clear who he’s talking about. (Of course some may contrive to dismiss his critique as “anti-intellectual,” on grounds that he’s showing us just how foolish and conceited some Socially Accredited Thinkers are, and why this may be so.)

“His real beef, I’d suggest, is the number of supposedly intelligent academics - people who should have known better - who have fallen for easy leftist rhetoric.”

Those do tend to be the juiciest specimens. In terms of self-flattery, Professor Jere Surber is hard to top. And of course there’s Nina Power, whose status as a philosophy lecturer – supposedly a clever person - helps give her the illusion of gravitas and a media platform for her politics, which are juvenile and unmoored from reality.

“You can’t blanket-criticise people whose professions deal with ideas.”

I don’t think Sowell does. But he does highlight some trends and common patterns that often contribute to the kind of problems we’ve discussed here over the years. In chapter one, Sowell mentions some of the academics who championed Stalin during the purges and who continued to hold forth on a wide range of subjects, while being listened to with deference on account of their intellectual status, not whether they were factually correct, or even close to correct. Likewise, Paul Ehrlich, whose ecological doom scenarios were at odds with reality, and who nonetheless went on to receive acclaim, grants and academic honours:

An engineer whose bridges and buildings collapse is ruined, as is a financier who goes broke. However plausible or admirable their ideas might have seemed initially to their fellow engineers or fellow financiers, the proof of the pudding is ultimately in the eating… But the ultimate test of a deconstructionist’s ideas is whether other deconstructionists find these ideas interesting, original, persuasive, elegant or ingenious. There is no external test. In short, among people in mentally demanding occupations, the fault line between those most likely to be considered intellectuals and those who are not tends to run between those whose ideas are ultimately subject to internal criteria and those whose ideas are ultimately subject to external criteria. The very terms of admiration or dismissal among intellectuals reflect the non-empirical criteria involved. Ideas that are “complex,” “exciting,” “innovative,” “nuanced,” or “progressive” are admired, while other ideas are dismissed as “simplistic,” “outmoded” or “reactionary.” But no-one judged Vince Lombardi’s ideas about how to play football by their plausibility a priori or by whether they were more complex or less complex than the ideas of other football coaches… Lombardi was judged by what happened when his ideas were put to the test on the football field.[…]

The great problem – and the great social danger – with purely internal criteria is that they can easily become sealed off from feedback from the external world of reality and remain circular in their methods of validation. What new idea will seem plausible depends on what one already believes. When the only external validation for the individual is what other individuals believe, everything depends on who those other individuals are. If they are simply people who are like-minded in general, then the consensus of the group about a particular new idea depends on what that group already believes in general – and says nothing about the empirical validity of that idea in the external world.[…]

Intellectuals, in the restricted sense which largely conforms to general usage, are ultimately unaccountable to the external world. The prevalence and presumed desirability of this are confirmed by such things as academic tenure and expansive concepts of “academic freedom” and academic “self-governance.” …In short, unaccountability to the external world is not simply a happenstance but a principle… Not only have intellectuals been insulated from material consequences, they have often enjoyed immunity from even a loss of reputation after having been demonstrably wrong.[…] Constraints which apply to people in most other fields do not apply even approximately equally to intellectuals. It would be surprising if this did not lead to different behaviour. Among those differences are the ways they see the world and the way they see themselves in relation to their fellow human beings and the societies in which they live.

Which brings us back to the attitudes on display at the so-called Battle of Ideas.

There’s more, much more, but you’ll have to read the book. My typing monkey has overheated.

David Gillies

I think the Left regards the general population much more in terms of livestock than pets. People will go to heroic and costly lengths to care for their pets; livestock that threatens to consume more than a small amount of veterinary care is sent to slaughter. But no matter where on the spectrum hoi polloi falls, it is not consulted about its eventual disposition.

Thornavis.

Stuck- Record

I think I know what the egalitarians answer to your question would be. They might well say that our present notions of sexual attraction and that some have more than others is itself due to inequality and a deep societal malaise that regards sex as a commodity and places many people, usually women men don't really count, in a disadvantageous position. Consequently in a truly equal society conventional and power based views of sexual attraction will wither away, you know like the state, to be replaced with mutual respect and an appreciation of the true beauty in everyone. It's an essentially romantic and socially conservative view of the world and those of us who have spent a lifetime discovering that our inner beauty doesn't seem to quite cut the mustard in the way that external beauty does, may feel a little sceptical.

Stuck-Record

Thornavis.

Quite.

Then revolutionaries should be at the vanguard of shagging ugly people. Show us how it's done. I'm sure Laurie wouldn't pick her partners on any criteria as bourgeoisie as looks, or the size/shape of their tits/penis.

Henry

David,

"I don’t think Sowell does ['blanket-criticise people whose professions deal with ideas']”

Well I'm still left feeling uneasy about his use of the term.

Interestingly I was having a conversation with a primary school teacher the other day, and was making my (usual) point about boys and girls being quite different (I routinely argue against the faddish view that mere 'social conditioning' is what enforces gender roles and differences - and most parents agree with me)

She surprised me a little by strongly agreeing and saying that girls were far more "verbal and intellectual" than boys.

We'd clearly found a link to something she was quite passionate about - and I do wonder if I'm seeing a lot of mothers these days who want to think their daughters are "cleverer" than boys.

But anyway once again but in a different way we'd found another way in which people have different understandings of words like 'clever', intelligent, intellectual, etc. I don't think dictionaries or encyclopaedias help with this much. The noun "an intellectual" is the same, I think, as I think we'd all (if pressed on it) lump different groups of people in that category

"There’s more, much more, but you’ll have to read the book. My typing monkey has overheated"

okok. :) well I will read it - I too could go on talking (perhaps tangentially in my case) all day on these topics

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