Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I hate being right...

Today, one is more shocked that Niall Ferguson is allowed to teach at Harvard than that Elizabeth Warren is.

- Chlorian Theoreticus

The icing on the cake has been the attempt by some bloggers to demand that I be sacked not just by Newsweek but also by Harvard University, where I am a tenured professor.

- Niall Ferguson

Fire his ass from Newsweek, and the Daily Beast.

Convene a committee at Harvard to impose proper sanctions on this degree of intellectual dishonesty.

There is a limit, somewhere. And Ferguson has gone beyond it.

- Brad DeLong (tenured professor at UC Berkeley)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Conformity and the Establishment

Success in academia requires some intelligence, some diligence, some organizational skills, but more than anything else it requires both a desire and an ability to conform.

Academic success is about giving others what they deem to be important: demonstrating that you can follow the rules and give the expected answers, whether the questions are presented by ETS, college admissions departments, college professors, or tenure boards.

Richard Feynman had an IQ of “only”125 (low only by the standards of genius physicists) but one explanation for his less-than-stellar score is that he found the test itself to be stupid. For instance, one section of the test presented a series of pictures out of sequence; the person taking the test w assupposed to put the pictures in the “correct” order. Feynman pointed out that based upon the information given, these was no one a priori “correct” order. One could, with a bit of creativity, imagine some logical sequence of events that would present the pictures in any possible order (or at least in multiple orders). This question did not test logic or creativity, but rather your ability to see the same particular sequence that most other people saw. In other words, this question rewarded averageness. Conformity to the norm was rewarded with a higher score, a novel and original interpretation, or a questioning of the meaning and pertinence of the question itself, was punished as a “wrong” answer.

This situation is typical: returning the “right” answer—i.e. the answer that is deemed to be correct according to the current orthodoxy—rather than the true answer, is rewarded in academia.

Both Newton and Einstein were average students (sometimes good, sometimes not so good). In part because they were, as students, already questioning the information that they were receiving. Newton’s student notebooks are still extant, and they demonstrate that he was already reformulating what he was being taught.

Feynman said: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” But this process of recreation takes time and effort. The very best students put all of their time and effort into giving their teachers what they want; they do not “waste” time with original thought, and they are not troubled by being asked to regurgitate theories and ideas that seem wrong or incomplete.

Questioning whether or not professors are asking the right questions is usually not a recipe for success in academia, and as academia has grown more homogeneous, dissent has become more and more discouraged.

So today’s academic super-stars are primarily super-stars of conformity: they conform to the ideals, and ideas, to the thoughts and visions and desires of those already in power in academia.

If you are introduced to a stranger and told only that he is a college professor you will knows with near-certainty what his political affiliation is, (broadly) what his religious views are, what his philosophical views are. If he knows or cares about physics you can be reasonably sure that he believes in string theory and extra hidden dimensions and supersymmetry; if he knows or cares about biology you can be reasonably certain that he considers neo-Darwinism to be correct and doesn’t know or doesn’t care or is dismissive of Motoo Kimura’s neutral molecular evolution, or Eric Davidson’s non-neo-Darwinist biochemically based theory of the genetic toolkit, or Donald Williamson’s whole-genome evolution theory; if he knows or cares about linguistics you can be reasonably sure that he is a Chomskian; if he has anything to do with either liberal arts or social sciences you can be almost certian that he will see everything through the tripartite lens of race, class and gender.

Since at least the days of the scholastics, academia has never been as homogeneous—or a tedious--as it is today. Academics are increasingly what Harold Rosenberg referred to already in 1948 (in Commentary magazine) as “A herd of independent minds.”

But there is a problem; conformity in the abstract—as opposed to in practice—is not one of the ideals that academics are supposed to conform to. A student who proclaimed loudly that he desired only to conform would never be an academic super-star. Conversely, rebellion—in the abstract—is one of the ideals that an academic is expected to conform to. The Herd must have something to rebel against.

It is clear that this rebellion must not be actual rebellion against, say, one’s professors, or the curricula, or the affirmative action hiring and acceptance policies of one’s own university. Such a thing would be entirely unacceptable (and probably racist) and would lead—depending upon one’s position and influence--to disciplinary hearings, suspension, public censure, shaming, and at a minimum a cessation of invitations to all the best cocktail parties.

Such a fate is, it goes without saying, unendurable for any self-respecting member of the Herd, and so something safe and inaccessible—something entirely incapable of either defending itself or harming the careers of those who attack it—must be created, so that it can be safely “rebelled” against.

Bruce Bawer, in his book “While Europe Slept” describes a phenomenon that I also personally encountered in West Berlin in the late 1980s. Bawer mentions that his West German friends were constantly complaining about the U.S., upon whose protection West Berlin depended, but never said a bad word about the DDR, even though its horrible wall, guarded by nests of machine guns, loomed over the makeshift graves of East Germans who had tried but failed, in desperation, to escape communism and flee to the West.

Bawer postulates that his friends had created a “safe” enemy precisely because the real enemy was so dangerous. I don’t know, and do not pretend to understand people’s true psychological motivations, but I suspect that Bawer is correct.

And so academics and their intellectual progeny--journalists, Democrat politicians, members of the cultural elite—have created a fictitious enemy (a safe enemy) against which they can rebel, and so demonstrate to their peers their conformity to the eidolon of “rebellion” without facing any adverse consequences.

This factious enemy is the “Establishment,” what Victor Davis Hanson calls the “They.” This “Establishment” must not be confused with the actual establishment, that is, the sum total of all the important institutions and individuals that wield real power in the U.S. This distinction is crucial, because the actual establishment is now overwhelmingly either leftist, leftish, or at least tolerant or quietly supportive of the Left, and predominantly partisan and of and for the Democrat party.

And the power of this true establishment is not limited to academia; it has metastasized from the Ivys into all the upper reaches of society.

If once power was overwhelmingly concentrated among WASPs, and in the “military-industrial-complex,” both institutions traditionally associated primarily (though not exclusively) with the Republican Party, it is now concentrated overwhelmingly in the Democrat Party.

Ivy League schools (all of them), almost all major universities, most of the richest neighborhoods, almost all major media, almost all college professors, almost all grammar school and high school teachers, almost all who create the contents of popular culture, many--such as Sanford Weill, Robert Rubin, John Corzine, George Soros--of the leaders of the richest banks and investment firms and hedge-funds, the most important lobbyists, Silicon Valley billionaires, Hollywood, Washington D.C.—all are overwhelmingly Democrat. Then of course there are all the public sector unions, almost all government workers, all private sector unions (the leadership, if not the rank-and-file), almost anyone who depends upon the ever-expanding largess of an ever-expanding government—this is the establishment.

The Democrat party has become not just the party of government, but the party of the status quo, the party of power, the party (despite the countervailing mythology) of wealth and status (if you don’t believe me try saying a good word about Mitt Romney or—heaven forbid—Sarah Palin, at any party in the Hamptons, or in Brentwood, or any other posh gathering place of the illuminati).

The Republican WASP establishment is nearly extinct, but lives on in the minds of the current occupants of the curule chairs as a spectral straw-man; ever burning but never consumed.

The old Republican WASPs never waved the confederate flag or burned crosses; for the most part the Republican WASP establishment supported the civil rights movement, at least in theory. (For example Republicans overwhelmingly supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Robert Byrd and other southern Democrats attempted a filibuster.) But the WASPs were guilty of hypocrisy: from their lilly-white well-educated New England enclaves they looked down with supercilious disdain upon southern redneck Klansmen, but themselves would never deign to admit blacks or Jews into their country clubs, schools, or secret societies. Somehow the sins of the old southern Democrats have been transferred in the popular mythology of the Democrat establishment to the northern Republican WASPs. But the old WASP hypocrisy resembles nothing so much as the hypocrisy of present-day rich white suburban liberals; locked safely into all-white gated communities, religiously reading the New York Times, and self-righteously pulling the lever for Barack Obama--secure in the knowledge that thy are committing a brave and revolutionary act. (I know one rich white suburban liberal whose house is at least ten miles away in every direction from the nearest actual black person, who proudly displays a hardback copy (probably unread) of “Dreams from my Father” on her dinning room table as totemic proof of her moral superiority.)

There is no question that more academic careers have been utterly destroyed by political correctness than were ever in any way negatively affected by McCarthyism. And yet to speak out against a senator who has been dead for more than half a century, and a movement that has been extinct for even longer, is considered both brave and timely by all right-thinking academicians. To speak out against political correctness, however, is at best extremely rude, and more likely a hate-crime. It simply is not done. All Herd members know this and conform to this rule.

This represents a remarkable transformation of society over roughly the span of my lifetime.

In 1963 Dr. Timothy Leary was fired from Harvard. In 1970 (the year I was born) he was sent to prison. (He then escaped, lived as a fugitive, was recaptured and finally pardoned by Jerry Brown—but that is a story for another day.)

Whatever you think of Timothy Leary and his ideas, he was at least true to his beliefs, and he paid a price for his radicalism.

In 2011 Harvard fired economics professor Dr. Subramaniam Swamy for writing an essay that displeased the Herd. Among other things he said this:

It is rubbish to say that terrorists who mastermind the attacks are poor. Osama bin laden for example is a billionaire. Islamic terrorists are patronised by those states that have grown rich from oil revenues. In Britain, the terrorists arrested so far for the bombings are all well-to-do persons. Nor are terrorists uneducated. Most of terrorist leaders are doctors, chartered accountants, MBAs and teachers. For example, in the failed Times Square New York episode, the Islamic terrorist Shahzad studied and got an MBA from a reputed US university. He was from a highly placed family in Pakistan. He certainly faced no discrimination and oppression in his own country. The gang of nine persons who hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001 and flew them into the World Trade Towers in New York and other targets were certainly not discriminated or oppressed in the United States. Hence it is utter rubbish to say that terror is the outcome of the poverty terrorists face.

Today, one is more shocked that Niall Ferguson is allowed to teach at Harvard than that Elizabeth Warren is. And of course neither Warren nor any other tenured Harvard “radical” has paid, or ever will pay, any price for her “radicalism” (or her mendacity).

Elizabeth Warren is the establishment. Barack Obama is the establishment. A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for the establishment, a vote for conformity, a vote to keep those already in power, in power.

Let’s at least be honest about the situation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Let me be clear: there are those who say that we should infect monkeys with bubonic plague and then release said monkeys into every major city, strip-mall, airport, intersection, school, hospital and day-care center in America, but, with all due deference to my opponents, I respectfully disagree.

I believe that we must seize this opportunity. Nobody said it would be easy. Everyone is entitled to his opinion; democracy is messy. But while some may disagree, the one thing we can all agree upon is that my proposal for dealing with plague-infected monkeys is the only possible solution.

Anyone who disagrees with me simply wants to see your children bitten by bubonic plague-infected monkeys.

That is why tonight, I am proposing the formation of a bi-partisan commission to study the effects of plague monkeys upon our economy. This commission will be empowered to make valid and workable recommendations for dealing with plague--infected-monkey caused disasters to a new plague-infected-monkey-caused-disaster-contingency-operation task force which I have created—by executive order--under the wise and battle-tested guidance of Janet Napolitano.

Let me be clear: there are those who say that other people say things that they never actually say in order to create a weak straw-man argument, but I say that we must transcend partisan bickering and finger-pointing. Partisan bickering, finger-pointing: these are exactly the sort of things that Republicans do—exactly the sort of things that they did for eight years—exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.

But simply saying “no” to plague monkeys is not leadership. No, only by uniting behind my proposal can we hope to dig ourselves out of the hole created by the sorts of people who spend other people’s money, engage in empty rhetorical flourishes, resort to ad hominem attacks, and seek to deny plague monkeys their constitutional rights.

Let me be clear, other than the plague-infected monkeys, the state of the union is strong.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Obama and the Dalai Lama

Why aren't the Chinese afraid of offending the US?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Viva Le Revolucion!

Miguel Muro is a brave and gifted filmmaker whose documentaries have taken on the corruption and violence of Cuba’s monolithic ruling Party and crushing bureaucracy.

Muro’s style is controversial and confrontational: he specializes in placing authority figures in awkward situations—on film--wherein they must either defend their actions or be make to look like simpletons or bullies.

For instance, Muro brought a group of elderly and infirm Cuban citizens to one of Havana’s “tourist only” health clinics and demanded to know why Cuban citizens were forbidden to enter.

“Why can’t a man who has worked all his life for Fidel and the Party receive the same quality care that rich visitors from Europe and South America get here?”

His question was not answered. Rather, he and his retinue were forcibly removed from the clinic.

In another film Muro infiltrated one of Cuba’s youth camps and demanded to know why children were being indoctrinated in party dogma and mindless worship of the Castro brothers instead of being taught factual history. He also wanted to know and why Cuban children were not allowed to live with their parents.

“Given that Elian Gonzalez was forcibly removed from the United States, after his mother had sacrificed her life to get him there, because, supposedly, his father wanted him back home; why then do parents in Cuba have no say in where their children may live and what they may learn?”

Again, Mr. Muro was escorted out by armed guards, but his question was not answered.

In his most recent documentary Muro showed up, uninvited, at several of the vast palatial estates owned by the Castros and other members of Cuba’s nomenklatura. Muro demanded to know why Cuba’s ruling elite saw fit to live in luxury while the Cuban people starved and did without basic necessities.

Muro’s films have been honored at Sundance and the Cannes Film Festival. He has become an international celebrity and, not surprisingly, a cause of consternation and anger for the Communist Party of Cuba.

Or rather, he would be, if he actually existed. But of course he does not. He cannot exist. There may be many potential Miguel Muros among the Cuban people, but no filmmaker hostile to Cuba’s ruling regime will ever be granted access to Cuban institutions or be given permission to film anywhere in Cuba.

Such a filmmaker, if he were a foreigner, would have his film confiscated and destroyed. Should a Cuban citizen attempted to make such a documentary, he would be imprisoned and probably tortured. His family and friends would be rounded up and beaten in front of him. He would be asked if he wanted to apologize and recant, and he would, most likely, say: “Yes, of course I want to apologize. Viva Le Revolucion!”

Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Barack Obama speaks to crowds and conventions as if he is speaking to a friend. He exudes a corona of charm, competence and trustworthiness

Whereas the snarling acolytes of Gramsci and Alinsky speak of revolution and destruction from within, Obama speaks of reconciliation and progress. All empirical evidence suggests that his sympathies lie with the far left, but he doesn’t sound like the far left.

Whereas rabid anti-Semites such as Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi cheer the work of Islamic terrorists, Obama presents himself as philo-Semitic and a friend of Israel. All empirical evidence indicates that Obama is more sympathetic to Islamists than he is to Israel, but he doesn’t sound like an Islamist.

Whereas William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn boast of their acts of domestic terror and contemplate how many millions of Americans will have to be eliminated after the communist revolution, Barack Obama says that they did ‘despicable things’ when he was only eight years old.

All empirical evidence suggests that Obama and Ayers are friends, colleagues and mutual supporters, but Obama doesn’t sound like a domestic terrorist.

Whereas the currupt Chicago Democrat machine leaks private details of Republican politician’s divorce proceedings, sells Senate seats and destroys anyone who gets in its way, Obama speaks of ethical government and “transparency.”

All empirical evidence suggest that Obama was part of, and benefited greatly, from that corrupt Chicago machine, but Obama doesn’t come across as a thug or a bully.

Whereas Black Liberation Theologists such as Reverend Wright scream about “white devils,” and shout “God Damn America,” Obama speaks quietly and respectfully and wants to be “post-racial.” All empirical evidence suggests that Obama is sympathetic to Black Liberation Theology, but he doesn’t sound like a Black Liberation Theologist.

In other words, Obama has always played the “Good Cop.”

The old “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine works, because even though you know, intellectually, that the two cops are actually working together--that they want the same thing--that the whole phony dichotomy is worked out ahead of time in order to get you to confess—it works nevertheless, because when you are under pressure, and afraid, you will look to someone who presents himself as a friend and protector, and you will be grateful.

When Obama accused the Cambridge police department of acting “stupidly” he sounded, ironically and uncharacteristically, like the “Bad Cop.” For an instant he broke character and the illusion was shattered.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama’s Words

No one disputes that President Obama is an eloquent and persuasive speaker. Occasionally, however, he makes statements that demand careful parsing and exegesis. Sometimes, in fact, his statements are downright appalling.

Consider the following quote from his most recent press conference, in response to a question from reporter Lynn Sweet, concerning the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

President Obama:

“Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts what role race played in that, but I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact.”

Let’s take a look at these words carefully. “Somebody” was in his home, but there was proof that “they” were in their home. Who are they? Is professor Gates Legion? Were there codefendants known to Obama that have not been reported upon? How many people were arrested?

The President seems to have a problem with pronouns: he frequently misuses the reflexive pronoun: “Michelle and myself…”

He also frequently utilizes the pleonastic phrase: “The reason is because…”

So one must ask: does the President so famous for his ability with words, know how to speak English?

Is this what he learned at Columbia and Harvard?

This may all seem pedantic and nit picky (it is) but I raise these issues because what, other than his ability with words, were supposed to have been his qualifications for the presidency?

Or was there another qualification?

Perhaps liberals are guilty of racial profiling.