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Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be Democrats
August 12, 2005 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Do liberals and conservatives have mutually exclusive career aspirations for their children? (reg req'd). Some, including the White House, think so. "Our party, in the way it is constituted, we think of medicine, we think of law, we think of business. We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet." -- White House deputy director of public liason Tim Goeglein. Are conservative parents pushing their ideological bias against the liberal-dominated arts world onto their kids, or are they simply being realistic? "Of course, you would have to be insane to hope your child grows up to be a playwright or poet. Given the odds, you would have to be quite cavalier about your children's future." -- author and conservative parent Mark Helprin.
posted by schoolgirl report (93 comments total)

 
Funny, Goeglein didn't mention politicians in his list of GOP-approved careers.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:25 AM on August 12, 2005


Of course you would have to be insane hoping that your child grows up to be a dishonest, amoral, white-collar crime inclined sociopathic individual with religious delusions. . .
posted by mk1gti at 5:30 AM on August 12, 2005


I think the real issue here is that he thinks that it is incredibly unlikely that your son or daughter would be a successful enough playwright, artist, etc. to survive. and thrive. It doesn't seem to have much to do with whether Republicans can be playwrights, just that they tend to value stable career paths first and foremost.

If you'll notice that one of these statements is from someone who is a Republican and a successful novelist and writer, he just doesn't want his children taking the risk needed to be a writer.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:47 AM on August 12, 2005


We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet."

I have never met parents who think that, regardless of how liberal they were. Parents want their kids to have a stable future.

There are lots of parents who have over the years come to appreciate their children's career choice in hindsight (including mine), because they see that it turned out for the best. But I don't think even most liberals have creative jobs in mind for their children when they are young.
posted by uncle harold at 5:50 AM on August 12, 2005


From the article:

Political scientists have long identified how certain professions lean toward particular political parties. According to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group, 69 percent of contributions from people in the television, music or film industry go to Democrats. There is no category for writers.

"A lot of people tend to vote for their economic interest. So doctors see their interests more aligned with the Republicans, believing that Democrats favor more of a standardized health care plan, while 86 percent of those in movie production give to Democrats," said Larry Noble, the center's executive director.

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:50 AM on August 12, 2005


Of course you would have to be insane hoping that your child grows up to be a dishonest, amoral, white-collar crime inclined sociopathic individual with religious delusions. . .

Ummm.... Yeah

As to the article its anecdotal, genralist tripe and full of uproven assertions(As if his guess as to how many writers support themselves by writing means anything ). It's really not even worth discussing execpt to say this. Maybe, liberal parents are actually just more accepting of where there childs interest leads them. Not that what I'm saying is any more than just another unproven asserion.
posted by Rubbstone at 5:54 AM on August 12, 2005


Of course you would have to be insane hoping that your child grows up to be a dishonest, amoral, white-collar crime inclined sociopathic individual with religious delusions. . .

Just so long as he doesn't prefer cock.
posted by biffa at 5:57 AM on August 12, 2005


This story smells. It reads like an anecdote. There's nothing to back it up except for other conservatives. It'll be a hit with Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Coulter I suppose. It seems like a conservative parent trying to demonstrate how morally superior a conservative parent is to a liberal parent.

Most parents want their kids to be successful regardless of their political affiliation. The number of parents who wouldn't be thrilled if their son or daughter would grow up to be a doctor is vanishingly small. Maybe there could be a case made that parents whose children want to be artists of some type aren't as actively discouraged by liberal parents but I don't know if that's actually true or not. I guess I could write an article in the Washington Post stating this but it'd be dishonest at best. After all, I just made up that assertion on the spot.

I would not be surprised if parents who happen to be artists were more supportive of their children who would also like to grow up to be artists.
posted by substrate at 5:57 AM on August 12, 2005


Kids rebel, too. Try to push them to go to B-school, and they are just as likely to end up in art school. Bah.
posted by rainbaby at 6:00 AM on August 12, 2005


I agree that the article is reactionary pap. My impression has always been that parents with conservative leanings tend to emphasize success, believing it will bring their children happiness, while "liberal" parents emphasize happiness, hoping it will lead their kids to be successful.

My folks fall on the liberal side of the fence, and thus encouraged me to study whatever interested me. An English degree hasn't yet brought me fame and fortune, but it was where my interests led me, and I thank them for letting me follow my heart. Had they pushed me into law or business, I would have been miserable. As it is, I'm just poor.
posted by ToasT at 6:04 AM on August 12, 2005


"We must learn the fine arts of war and independence so that our children can learn architecture and engineering so that their children may learn the fine arts and painting" - John Quincey Adams
posted by Ritchie at 6:05 AM on August 12, 2005


Funny, the main thing I wanted my kids to be was happy.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:10 AM on August 12, 2005


I have real trouble buying the core anecdote, that 100% of four Democratic couples at a dinner party wanted their kids to grow up to be editors or something like that. (Especially if they mean book editing, which is increasingly a career for rich kids who are letting dad pay their rent before they board the train to their ultimate destiny as Westchester PTA stalwarts.)

I know lots of Democratic parents and those with economic and cultural competency have exactly the same career aspirations for their kids as Republicans do -- hedge fund manager, real estate developer, President of the United States, what have you. At most their might be some slight variance as to intermediate aspirations -- Republicans might be slightly more likely to want their sons to pick up a scratch golf game on their way to business school, whereas Democrats might not mind if their kids deferred their Goldman Sachs internship for a year to write poetry in Prague.
posted by MattD at 6:12 AM on August 12, 2005


People who value wealth prefer careers for their children that produce wealth. Film at 11.
posted by Ynoxas at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2005


The Goeglein quote strikes me as just more of the same transparent, trolling-style GOP politicking. He's trying to create or re-enforce an association between administration opposition and some imaginary cabal of pinko Bohemian hippies.

Goeglein didn't even claim that any of the parents he spoke to expressed wishes for those particular (playwright, painter, poet) careers, but he mentions them as if they're in the same category as the ones parents did actually mention to him (editor, publisher, teacher). Does this guy really think that poets and teachers are of equal socio-economic or moral value?
posted by Western Infidels at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2005


More than reactionary bullshit, this guy is a simpleton and a complete asshole to boot:
But for Helprin, the divide remains. "The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don't have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal."
If the current administration had any understanding of ecnomics or history, they never would have fucked around in Iraq.

Seriously, this is just more bullshit written up to perpetuate myths or highlight differences between yourself and "the other". It allows one to demonize and deride those you see as having different beliefs than yourself. What's plainly true is that, in the grand sweep of things, American Democrats are mostly to the right of center, and we probably have more things that unite us than separate us from Republicans.
posted by psmealey at 6:15 AM on August 12, 2005



Upper working class versus the creative class, with all those between who miss either mark, and settle into a wage job.

Something about your kid getting into top prep schools, then ivy league, those schools put out artists who do ok. Who wouldn't want a kid who graduates from Juilliard?
posted by nervousfritz at 6:16 AM on August 12, 2005


"'We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet.'

I have never met parents who think that, regardless of how liberal they were. Parents want their kids to have a stable future."

Now you have. Don't get me wrong; I'll be the first to tell my child that supporting yourself as an artist is a bitch, so be able to handle office-monkey work, or ditch-digging, or waitering, or whatever will feed you. But if he wanted to be a novelist/artist/musician, I would be proud. Likewise if he wanted to be an accountant--in which case, he could also do my taxes for me.
posted by emjaybee at 6:17 AM on August 12, 2005


It's more class/income-based than whether a parent is liberal or conservative, i think. If the parents are well-off, there's less of a direct, compelling need for the children to do something practical and more stable.
posted by amberglow at 6:18 AM on August 12, 2005


If there is any ideological basis for these decisions, I would think that liberal parents would encourage their children to be doctors, teachers, civic planners, etc. (This is not an endorsement of liberal thought.)

The cretinous might-as-well-be-Randian New Conservatism Republican only thinks in terms of acquisitions, liquidity trading, arms dealing and other leech jobs that don't create any wealth. Not that there's not an important role for leeches in the ecosphere, but they've made leeching a moral perogative.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:22 AM on August 12, 2005


So doctors see their interests more aligned with the Republicans, believing that Democrats favor more of a standardized health care plan

63% in Mass. Survey Support Single-Payer Care

Single-payer health plan gains support from nation's physicians

The article is simply crap, of course. How anyone with a brain in their head could proudly claim to be a Republican these days is simply befuddling. They are like the organized Party of Stupidity or something.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:29 AM on August 12, 2005


Raised on the Hudson and in the British West Indies, Helprin holds degrees from Harvard College and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and did postgraduate work at the University of Oxford. He served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force.

A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome and a former Guggenheim Fellow, Helprin has been awarded the National Jewish Book Award and the Prix de Rome.


I'm not a Republican, but Helprin doesn't strike me as wilfully stupid. I'm always surprised by conservative artists.
posted by mecran01 at 6:33 AM on August 12, 2005


Don't take Goeglein's comment at face value. The intention, despite appearances, was not to comment accurately on voter preferences.

It's GOP class warfare, pure and simple.

posted by mondo dentro at 6:40 AM on August 12, 2005


When did we start treating a building like a person?
posted by srboisvert at 6:53 AM on August 12, 2005


Speaking as a Republican, I would like my child to grow up to be George W Bush, our courageous and - if I may say so - supremely intelligent President.

Of course, that's quite an ambition - and I can't say I'm certain that he'll make it! I guess I'd be satisfied if junior grew up to be George's leg, or even one of Vice-President Cheney's testicles. Perhaps Condi's chin - I'm not sure. But one thing I am sure of is that you fucking liberals all want your children to grow up to be Bin Laden's pubes.

Thanks - first comment here, nice site.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:53 AM on August 12, 2005


shorter Helprin: "Of course, you would have to be insane to hope your child grows up to be more than mediocre."
posted by bl1nk at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2005


But for Helprin, the divide remains. "The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don't have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal."

Leonardo da Vinci (surely one of the greatest ever painters or sculptors) was very well-acquainted with Machiavelli. He was also generally-accepted to be liberal (as well as homosexual and vegetarian).
posted by gene_machine at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2005


I know a bunch of "artists" who are so solely because they are sitting on a big trust fund, and their rich, conservative parents are quite happy with their choices. How's that for anecdotal evidence. It's about as useful as this article.
posted by caddis at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2005


just imagine what the people who hope their kids find any kind of a decent job at all would think about an article like this ... at my factory, i've heard a saying quite a few times when people argue with the few republicans we have around here ... "you're voting republican - but you're working democratic"

in other words, democratic parents just hope their kids don't end up working for less they can live on
posted by pyramid termite at 6:59 AM on August 12, 2005


What an asinine statement! Apparently Mr. Goeglein has seen only caricatures of so-called liberals on sit-coms and cartoons.
posted by Possum at 7:00 AM on August 12, 2005


I know a bunch of "artists" who are so solely because they are sitting on a big trust fund, and their rich, conservative parents are quite happy with their choices. How's that for anecdotal evidence. It's about as useful as this article.

Amen to that. I can also tell you that most of my Ivy Educated liberal friends are bankers, entrepreneurs and lawyers. I even know a genuine dittohead freeper who is a full-time touring member of Blue Man Group. How's that for useful anecdotal evidence?
posted by psmealey at 7:07 AM on August 12, 2005


Hang on... I thought lawyers were all sleazy Democrats. At least, that's what I learned from the National Review.

I can't help put think that Helprin wrote this as a fictionalized anecdote to illustrate the "success brings happiness" vs. "happiness brings success" dichotomy that Toast mentioned, with just an added right-wing beltway spin placed on it.

And writers who don't know "how the world works" tend not to be successful writers. I mean, isn't that what people spend all their time studying in literature?
posted by deanc at 7:07 AM on August 12, 2005


Mr. Goeglein has seen only caricatures of so-called liberals on sit-coms and cartoons.

Either that or he got his info from the most popular 24-hour news network in the country. Or perhaps writes for them...
posted by wah at 7:14 AM on August 12, 2005


Let's see:

Liberals are art fags.
Liberals are bad parents.
Liberals are intolerant.
Liberals don't know anything about how the world works.

Did I miss any?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:29 AM on August 12, 2005


They tend to be pretty vain & overdramatic.

/just helpin' out


Helprin's a dolt, fwiw.
posted by dhoyt at 7:35 AM on August 12, 2005


Did I miss any?

Don't forget that nasty odor.
posted by wah at 7:36 AM on August 12, 2005


Liberals are bad parents.
Liberals are intolerant.
Liberals don't know anything about how the world works.


projection, n. Psychology: The attribution of one's own attitudes, feelings, or suppositions to others.

Oh yeah - psychologists are all liberal fags too.
posted by ToasT at 7:41 AM on August 12, 2005


By the way, Helprin seems to have a screw loose, too. Not all writers are poets or novelists. He seems to be reinforcing the idea that "writer" = "fiction writer," which, yes, IS a tough career. But why paint all writers with the same pessimistic brush. (See his IRS statement.) Thousands of people write for a living. That is, they make a living writing. And readers value what those writers write. So I'd say there are thousands of successful writers in this country. If a parent discourages a kid from becoming a writer, it's because that parent believes that there's only one type of writer: the struggling fiction writer. And that's sad.
posted by Possum at 7:51 AM on August 12, 2005


Roman Turek's take: "My son wants to be a goalie. I'm trying to deter him from that. I say: 'Go score goals, have fun. If you have a bad game, nobody really notices." Does that make him a liberal or conservative?
posted by Mitheral at 7:58 AM on August 12, 2005


A little background on Gurglin' Tim, Bushco's emissary to the Christian Right, via Media Transparency:

Born in Ft. Wayne Indiana in 1964, Goeglein honed his political chops with the state's two Republican Dans -- Senator Dan Coats in the Senate, and then later with Dan Quayle, when he was vice president under George H.W. Bush. In 2000 Goeglein signed on as a spokesman for the presidential campaign of Gary Bauer, the most conservative candidate in the race. During Bauer's short-lived campaign, Goeglein made a point of telling Salon.com's Jake Tapper that while the campaign would be issue-oriented, "If it is proven that a president of the United States or a man running for president of the United States has used illegal drugs, that will be an issue. If any American has broken the law and that American is running for the highest office in the land, that would certainly be an issue."

When Bauer dropped out of the race George W. Bush's campaign neutralized his attacks on candidate "drug use" by hiring Goeglein to shop Bush II's message to Christian right voters and activists. After Bush was appointed to the presidency, Goeglein told the Indianapolis Star that he "had an interview and was offered a job in the White House media affairs office," which he was eager to accept. "The very next day, quite by chance, Karl Rove called me. He was a person who I had worked with very little in the campaign. I was not in the political division. I was in communications...Karl called me and said, 'Tim. This is Karl Rove. I'm going to change your life.' I laughed, and said, 'Karl, you're a very funny man.' But he wasn't laughing."

posted by rdone at 8:03 AM on August 12, 2005


We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet," he explained

I'm guessing daughters could be allowed to mess around in the arts before marrying that doctor, lawyer, stock broker, etc.

Actually it would be interesting to see a real study done on parental aspirations according to income, education, religion, ethnic background, and geographical location. Iowa Corn Farmer vs. Californian Plastic Surgeon vs. New Jersey Waste Management Consultant.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2005


I hope my child grows up to have an education including both the arts and the sciences. To understand either alone is to understand nothing.

If she's as wise and fortunate as Mr Helprin, my child might also develop an elegant writing style, which she can then use to churn out dishonest articles that encourage other people to worship ignorance and greed as they hate and kill each other.

Since there is always an excellent market for such writing (from the Washington Post among many others) it's an extremely stable and rewarding career, if, perhaps, a tad questionable on a strictly moral level. Only gay poets and their liberal parents are concerned with morals, of course, in Helprin's world.

I don't see why this was posted on MeFi at all. There's nothing remotely newsworthy or interesting in it; it's utterly typical corporate magazine dross, exactly like a thousand other duplicitous articles written every day by parasites like Helprin. Their audience is already far too large for society's health, so why add to it by posting it here?
posted by cleardawn at 8:24 AM on August 12, 2005


The entire premise of this article is flawed and Helprin's closing comments are simply offensive. These otherwise intelligent people have mistaken a label -- a word -- for people. It's a common enough problem, but I expected more from the likes of these gentlemen.

The fact this article even exists is a testament to the blind, dogmatic idiocy of these days. "Identify your political enemies through their children's aspirations!" Beyond being complete tripe, this document leaves me with a newly lowered opinion of Helprin. I've really enjoyed his fiction, but I suppose everyone must have their failing.

(Enron Hubbard: FWIW, I think you've got a good approach.)
posted by Kikkoman at 8:34 AM on August 12, 2005


I rebelled against my parents.

They wanted me to become a musician. Instead, I became a Computer Engineer. Ha! TAKE THAT, MOM!
posted by spinifex23 at 8:37 AM on August 12, 2005


Heywood Mogroot: the problem physicians have with Democrats generally isn't single-payor health care. They have mixed opinions on that, like most people. The problem is the close association of the Democratic Party with trial lawyers and their interests. 92% of the political contributions of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America went to Democrats. In return, Democrats pay back the ATLA by blocking tort reform.

Still, most of the doctors I know are academics, and the vast majority vote Democratic, like most academics.

quidnunc? Huh? Did you forget to log in your sock puppet?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:03 AM on August 12, 2005


Here's a crazy idea: let your kid do what he wants to do. It's not like you can stop him.

If my kid grows up to be president, I hope he'll be the best president ever. If he grows up to be a serial killer, I hope he kills more motherfuckers like Goeglein than ever before.
posted by fungible at 9:15 AM on August 12, 2005


Do liberals and conservatives have mutually exclusive career aspirations for their children?

Why yes, they do.

Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, 26, a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh, went to the home of a high school student who had expressed interest in joining the Marine Reserve to talk to his parents.

It was a large home in a well-to-do suburb north of the city. Two American flags adorned the yard. The prospect's mom greeted him wearing an American flag T-shirt.

"I want you to know we support you," she gushed.

Rivera soon reached the limits of her support.

"Military service isn't for our son. It isn't for our kind of people," she told him.

posted by nofundy at 9:20 AM on August 12, 2005


I hope my children grow up to be happy.

This article is partisan manure.
posted by mosch at 9:33 AM on August 12, 2005


The majority of doctors, lawyers, and scientists are Democrats. Look at the professional organizations and see where the money goes.

In fact, Bill Frist and his entire family were Tennessee Democrats for years until it became politically advantageous to become a Republican.

This is more Hannity and Colmes stereotyping bullshit.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 9:49 AM on August 12, 2005


Remember Nixon telling a friend in confidence, "Beware of the Arts; they're Jews." To a certain type of conservative mind, artists are to be feared as an Other (with Nixon it was an extension of the way he felt about Jews, who supposedly controlled the arts; Bush feels similarly about Northeasterners and the liberal press).
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:20 AM on August 12, 2005


Maybe television evangelists are conservative artists.

Certainly Christian rock musicians are conservative artists. I'll listen to a Christian rock station every once in awhile. I get tired of the love songs to the jesus-of-my-dreams thing though, and switch back to love songs about your booty.

I'd like my kids to grow up with consistent person/political/religious/philosophical views. As long as we're dreaming...
posted by ewkpates at 10:37 AM on August 12, 2005


As others on this thread have pointed out, Goeglin's anecdote doesn't even make much sense. The Democratic parents wanted their children to pursue careers in editing, publishing, and education - none of which have anything to do with the visions of starving artists implied by Helprin. Note, though, that such careers fall nicely into the fields of media and academia - two of those 'elite liberal bastions' that Fox News types love to fulminate about. That doesn't really jibe with Goeglin and Helprin's visions of hapless playwrights and poets. Never mind the fact that a lot of Republican voters are not in medicine or law or business, instead eking out livings in blue-collar and retail work.

It looks like Sam Coates is wrestling with the two competing myths about liberals that the GOP likes to promote:

1) Liberals in their elite bunkers run the country, teaching our young to hate the government and funnelling their rage through the liberal-controlled media. Their poisonous diatribes are outrageous and weakening the nation.

2) Liberals are ineffectual naive artsy-types who don't understand how the world works. Their attempts at discussing politics are nothing but confused protests against all that doesn't conform to their neo-hippy vision of world peace.


This kind of mythmaking, as muddled and self-serving as it is, enables the right to paint the left as both shadowy enemy and laughingstock at the same time. To be fair, the left has its own version of this myth, painting the right as bunch of gun-toting rednecks as well as kleptocrats. Or to put it another way, morons who understand power. Which is a much better explanatory myth than naive whiners who somehow control everything.
posted by palinode at 10:41 AM on August 12, 2005


I want my children to grow up to be Space Ninjas or Rocket Surgeons. That'd be nice.
posted by klangklangston at 10:48 AM on August 12, 2005


Do liberals and conservatives have mutually exclusive career aspirations for their children?

I'm going to say "no," on the grounds that plenty of liberals and conservatives alike have chosen to pursue careers in blowhard punditry.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:59 AM on August 12, 2005


And they'll major in Space Surgery with a minor in Ninja Rocketry just to spite ya, kklangston.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2005


amberglow: It's more class/income-based than whether a parent is liberal or conservative, i think.

I don't know if I think that's true. In my anecdotal land, many parents who are well-educated but lower middle class are often the most supportive of iffy career paths, because they too took that path.

MattD: (Especially if they mean book editing, which is increasingly a career for rich kids who are letting dad pay their rent before they board the train to their ultimate destiny as Westchester PTA stalwarts.)

Publishing is not "increasingly" a career for rich kids: it's always been a poorly remunerated field and thus well populated by kids with money. Then again, I work in publishing with a fair number of people who just accept being exceptionally poor because, you know, they like books.
posted by dame at 11:02 AM on August 12, 2005


I want my children to be able to pound a six-inch spike through a board with their genitalia.

I want my children to be important voices in the New Order, second only to my own!

I want my children to see C-beams glitter in the dark by the Tannheuser Gate.

I want my children to be eaten last.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:13 AM on August 12, 2005


I want my children to want me.

Oh, wait...
posted by COBRA! at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2005


I agree with the general sentiment that this is anecdotal propaganda.

That being said, I majored in theatre, got a graduate degree in directing and have a very rewarding career teaching acting and improvisation to high school students. I am deleriously happy with my choice of majors and professions.

One of my classmates who majored in theatre went into banking and is miserable and rich.

I think this anecdote proves that people who go into the arts are generally deleriously happy while people who go into more "stable" careers are all miserable.

Can I write articles for magazines now?
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:52 AM on August 12, 2005


Y'know, Bob Nozick made a much more intelligent version of this general argument
posted by Kwantsar at 12:10 PM on August 12, 2005


What a bunch of horseshit.
posted by graventy at 12:15 PM on August 12, 2005


The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don't have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal.

Oh, I enrolled in a Painting 101 class, and already I can feel the intelligence fleeing my brain!

I think the core thing he's saying is:
Liberals don't understand how the world works.

I think liberals would respond with:
Oh we understand alright, and it sucks.

Conservatives tend to think the way the world (the social world, that is -- the universe cares not at all) is put together is the only way it could possibly work, so you'd better love it. That's the attitude of which this guy's statement reeks.
posted by JHarris at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2005


I think if there's any anti-left sentiment in here, it's this: liberals are failed artists. Who else encourages their kids to become artists? Most people figure that if you're going to make it in art, it has to be because YOU really want to do it to the extent that you'll ignore what everyone else says.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:20 PM on August 12, 2005


mecran01: I'm always surprised by conservative artists.

Leaving aside Mr Helprin for the moment and truly not wishing to be snarky, I have to ask- why? What do you see as incompatible between the creative and the conservative?

Anyone?
posted by IndigoJones at 2:51 PM on August 12, 2005


Lawyers? Pfft. There will be only the law of the jungle. playwrights? Bah. There will only be slaves who dance for the amusement of the overlords until forced to fight in the Thunderdome.

In the Road Warrior post apocalyptic wasteland of tomorrow my children will be The Humongus preying on your weak progeny.
posted by tkchrist at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2005


Speaking as both a conservative and as someone who does some creative work, Helprin can go suck on my brass fittings.

Much art requires an intimate understanding of how the world works. More than that, art teaches you how to look beyond.

It's jackasses like him that help give the Right a bad name.
posted by caporal at 4:11 PM on August 12, 2005


Is this what passes for journalism nowadays? In essence, it's "I heard these guys talking and..."?

Not "the best of the web" at all.

HEY MATHOWIE! Is there a way to set up a ratings system for this thing?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:02 PM on August 12, 2005


What do you see as incompatible between the creative and the conservative?

Something about irreverance vs. taking shit too seriously. This is not an exact analogue, but the fpp here recently about the shuttle coming down had an example of this; some NASA geek was giving us a play-by-play of the approach in the comments, and then after everything was said and done some wise-ass posted: "What the hell! It just exploded on the ground!".

The irreverant zing of that comment totally slayed me, and I just think somebody with a conservative stick up their ass just doesn't have a brain that works that way.

other connections between conservatism and fuddy-duddyism: Thatcher's "There is no community, only individuals and families". A general unwillingness to become mired in empathy or god forbid sympathy; ye olde "Hey Kids! Get off my lawn!" conservative mentality. The "Got Mine, Fuck You" thread of minarchists... conservatives on the whole reject the proposition that "we are all in this together".

Religion comes into it, too. Plenty of conservatives and conservative positions are wrapped up in the Pat Buchanan / KoC / Falwell / Robertson coalition of interests. While not all deeply-professed religion is mind-rot, I think there's something definitely stultifying in that above grouping.

Mallard Fillmore & B.C. vs. GYWO & Tom Tomorrow.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:26 PM on August 12, 2005


This is not to say that there is nothing to the thesis that a well-rounded education (eg. history, military science, economics) should in fact make one a bit more conservative, since learning of and understanding the utopianism element of liberalism and the failure modes of past lefty causes is indeed salutory. I consider myself a lefty libertarian since I would love to be a pure libertarian (if not Randian) but feel the concentration of hereditary wealth and the power of corporatism requires some sort of counterbalancing democratic power redistribution to provide longterm stability and social justice (libertarianism devolving into one-dollar/one-vote would be pretty unliveable for most people enslaved by such a system).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:53 PM on August 12, 2005


Using "playwright" and "poet" is kind of a strawman....that's about as far over on the liberal arts spectrum as you can get, and I can't imagine anyone actively desires their child to be one or the other. There are any number of careers out there that are based on the liberal arts, creativity, and "thinking outside the box" and *gasp* many of those jobs exist in the corporate world. Graphic design is a good example I think--for every company that wants to sell a widget there's a lot of "artist" types who have to market, design, make posters, CD covers, websites, etc.
posted by zardoz at 7:22 PM on August 12, 2005


We're talking about a person who thinks there are only 50-100 professional writers in the world.


The fact that he has a job at all is kinda pathetic, let alone one in government.
posted by delmoi at 9:25 PM on August 12, 2005


America, where being able to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself UNLIKE the majority of people on the planet JUST AINT FUCKIN GOOD ENOUGH! get you some stuffs to fill your empty lives.
posted by Satapher at 1:42 AM on August 13, 2005


Thank you Heywood. I'm not sure that really works, though, the "irreverance vs. taking shit too seriously". I take a look at the fiction bookshelve, for example, and I find Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Tom Wolfe, all conservative by general consensus, all pretty irreverant, if to a purpose, as satirists on both sides of the aisle tend to be.

"....somebody with a conservative stick up their ass just doesn't have a brain that works that way."

I disagree, the two are not at all incompatible. Try to get a hold of Florence King. I could definitely see her making a comment like the one you cited.

But we seem to be hanging around the comedic, or satiric, which is a subset of the bigger issue. Pat Buchanan and the Rev. Falwell notwithstanding, it is surely incorrect to suggest that the religious have not inspired great art. (Also bad art, but then, most art is pretty bad, especially these days, which is another issue.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:57 AM on August 13, 2005


Y'know, Bob Nozick made a much more intelligent version of this general argument
posted by Kwantsar at 12:10 PM PST on August 12 [!]


411 Error: linked argument not that intelligent. Suspected probem: underlying assumption that those who dislike capitalism must necessarily suffer from underlying character defect.

Irony detected: strongly intellectual article about what intellectuals want -- "to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards" -- is published by a very money-grubbing think tank. Prompt: who better than they to understand how greed and power-lust can subvert one's intellect?

"Takes one to know one" fault. Bore dumped.
posted by fleacircus at 8:50 AM on August 13, 2005


I guess it's theoretically possible to have Great Art produced by a rightwing jerkoff.

I just can't think of any.

There does seem to be something about empathy. A sense that consciousness is the same, somehow, in me as it is in you.

Empathy seems to be required to produce great art.

And to be a rightwing jerkoff requires a profound lack of empathy. Not necessarily a lack of intelligence, though - there are lots of high IQ types with no empathy at all. They make excellent corporate employees and are often highly remunerated, which I guess brings us back to the career choice issue...
posted by cleardawn at 12:18 PM on August 13, 2005


Did you know, fleacircus, that the article was condensed and republished by Cato? It first appeared twent years ago in a compilation edited by Craig Aronoff.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:42 PM on August 13, 2005


Wow, talk about broad generalizations.

Just look at the legal field -- everything from far right contracts lawyers to far left civil liberties and social justice counsel, and everything in between.

The whole thing is a troll.
posted by dreamsign at 3:58 PM on August 13, 2005


And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal.

So this explains why the majority of academics who study history, including social and economic history (myself) or miliary history and strategy (like my husband), are actually more likely to be leftist? I don't hang around political science or economics departments that much, just attend some relevant seminars, but I've always heard that in American universities registered Democrats outnumber Republicans among the faculty by a significant number - and there are far more social scientists and physical scientists at most universities than humanists (on whom everyone focuses).

When the people who actually study how the world works - the historians, the sociologists, as well as the economists and political scientists - disagree with you, maybe you're the one whose wrong.
posted by jb at 8:39 PM on August 13, 2005


Also, Nozick's argument is just a bunch of guessing and bullshitism. He's pulling it out of his nether regions.

People feel they way they do about politics for many reasons. Many intellectuals come from poor backgrounds - they have lived on the bad side of capitalism, and they now have the cultural capital to say something about it. Some have strong moral feelings - they believe, as do Christians who actually read their bible, that it is moral and fitting to care for those who have less than you do, and that making money off of someone else's misery is wrong. And many see that they have been given great opportunities to do fufiling work for good pay, and recognise their own luck.

But really, why would I, as a leftist academic, be somewhat anti-capitalist? Because I study it. I study society and economics of the transitional period to capitalism in Britain, its good and its bad side. Capitalism increased production, brought more worldly goods, and connected Britain to the world. It also increased social polarisation, alienated people from the means of production (no, Marx was not wrong about that - I study it), and drove colonialisation. The increased production and market integration reduced subsistence crises in some places (like England), but actually caused famines in other places (such as in India in the terrible late nineteenth century famines, when your chances of starving increased when you were closer to a railroad and thus international grain markets, contrary to the supposition that free trade would prevent this).

Planned economies, such as Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, failed miserably to supply the needs of their populations. But just because they failed it doesn't mean capitalism is suddenly this shining knight. The nineteenth century experimentation in laissez faire economics also had many problems, including child labour, lack of safety, and the aforementioned millions dying in famines exacerbated by international trade in Indian grain.

But no one ever listens to what people who study history think. Why should they listen to people who spend their lives trying to understand how the world works?
posted by jb at 8:57 PM on August 13, 2005


When the people who actually study how the world works - the historians, the sociologists, as well as the economists and political scientists - disagree with you, maybe you're the one whose wrong.

Perhaps, but with respect and a broad brush, I can think of no more cossetted, cloistered, out of touch profession than that of the tenured academic. Bureaucrats, perhaps. The exceptions, in my experience, tended to be those who had entered it late in life after years in other work. Again, in my experience, they tended to engender at some irritation in the never-left-school-since-kindergarten folk.

I wonder, would colleges be better off requiring of their faculty a few gap years on the CV? Just a thought.

Fire away.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:41 AM on August 15, 2005


sorry- "tended to engender some irritation"
posted by IndigoJones at 5:42 AM on August 15, 2005


a rightwing jerkoff requires a profound lack of empathy.

Hardly peculiar to the right wing, surely.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:45 AM on August 15, 2005


but actually caused famines in other places (such as in India in the terrible late nineteenth century famines, when your chances of starving increased when you were closer to a railroad and thus international grain markets, contrary to the supposition that free trade would prevent this).

I'd certainly like to see a source or two on this. It's not like India never suffered a famine until capitalism came along. Wikipedia says that the famine "is blamed in part on the British government's policies of exporting food during shortage, failure to control prices, failure to decrease taxes on a burdened population etc."

One and three-- export policy and tax policy-- don't look much like capitalism to me.

And of course, as lefty academics are wont to do, you make a facile attribution of child labor to capitalism, without considering causes that may not be capitalist at all, and without looking at the alternatives. This guy disagrees with you, for example.

And that no one ever listens to what people who study history think is a bit of a canard, no? People listen to historians who support their worldviews. A typical FDR hagiography is fawned over, while Murray Rothbard, John Flynn, and Jim Powell are dismissed as cranks. Supporters of big government love history-- when it suits them.

When the study of history crosses the landbridge into punditry and policy prescription, historians become little more than induction machines. Post hoc is fine for those who write books for a living, but we salarymen know that such a tack charts a swift course to poverty.

I can't help but notice, jb, that you're probably a Yale student. Didja ever wonder how your life would be different if David Swensen weren't such an effective capitalist?
posted by Kwantsar at 8:52 AM on August 16, 2005


Perhaps, but with respect and a broad brush, I can think of no more cossetted, cloistered, out of touch profession than that of the tenured academic.

Um...it's been 100 years since tenured academics lived in monk-like seclusion, as much as some might still want to.

Academics are not born tenured. We go to school, we work, we pay rent (often struggling to do so) - and we compete a hell of a lot more for jobs than anyone who walked into a cushy white-collar job right after university. I personally took time off and have worked in a bookshop, for a farmer's market, at a donut shop on night shift, for a restaurant as a cook, and as a research assistant in epidemiology - none of which have to do with my current degree in early modern history. I also have direct personal experience with welfare, subsidized housing and food banks, all of which kept me from starving or being in foster care as a child. I don't have much experience at all with the world of middle class North America, except indirectly through my husband's family, and I have no experience in the white collar job market - I only know what it is like to be looking for work to pay rent when you don't have a degree or any connections. I find your assumptions ignorant and insulting.

As for other academics - well, my advisor grew up in a coal mining town, I've met scholars from Ethiopia, India, Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, China, Taiwan, Germany --- yeah, this world is so insular and isolated! No real world expericence.

But you know, none of that bloody well matters. Because you have no frickin' idea what academics and social scientists do. Their work is not based on their personal experience - not good academics. They do NOT sit around in their offices writing random things. Well, unless they are Francis Fukayama. They study. This might be a new concept to you. Sociologists conduct extensive surveys, where they talk to people for hours - their work is based on that data. Anthropolgists are required to live and work with the people that they study; for a recent book on the meat processing industry, one University of Alabama anthropologist worked at Tyson foods for months, cutting up chicken. Historians work with archives - they read the original documents written at the time; some do quantitative analysis, some do qualitative. They also read extensively in what has been written in secondary sources, to put those primary sources into perspective - so extensively, that they know when someone is bullshitting, because the other ten historians they have read have evidence against that. Political scientists have a variety of methods, but are very rigorous; I know someone who has read every speech by every president of the U.S. from Washington to Clinton. When he says something about the nature of the rhetoric of FDR's fireside chats or what Carter did or did not say in his "Malaise" speech (in which he did not say malaise), you know he knows what he is talking about. (He also knows all the reviews and the popularity polls of that Carter speech from when it was given right into the 1980 election).

Of course, non-academics rarely every read any of this stuff. Really rigorous academic study is boring and talks about methodology and the complexities of the issue. Instead, every one pays attention to the Fukuyamas and the Ward Churchills and thinks they know these "crazy out of touch" academics.

Go read some Margaret Spufford and come back and tell me she's "out of touch" and doesn't know what she's talking about.
posted by jb at 10:14 AM on August 16, 2005


Oh - in case you were wondering, that time I took off was before I did my B.A., as I needed to save money to attend the local state school.
posted by jb at 10:34 AM on August 16, 2005


I'd certainly like to see a source or two on this. It's not like India never suffered a famine until capitalism came along. Wikipedia says that the famine "is blamed in part on the British government's policies of exporting food during shortage, failure to control prices, failure to decrease taxes on a burdened population etc."

Yes, of course India had famines prior to colonisation. But colonial policies worsened this one. The El Nino droughts in the late 50s and 60s did not have the same impact on independent India as did the droughts of the 1870s and 1890s - though they did cause devastation in China, due to the policies of the Mao regime.

The British policy against export of grain was directly linked to their ideology of free trade. Limiting export would be interfeering in the market. The evidence that the market exacerbated the famine is clear in its geographic profile - the worst starvation was not in the most isolated areas, but in those areas most integrated into international markets, through the railroad. The railroads were suposed to bring food in times of need, but at that time they took it away, because it could fetch a higher price elsewhere, despite the immediate need.

For sources, see Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts (2001 ?).

As for child labour - I should have been more clear. Of course capitalism didn't create it, but it did change its nature. (Just as colonialism changed the nature of slavery, but that's another story). Children had always worked, though generally not before about age 7, and then not always outside of the home (as a great deal of production was within the home). But I was thinking of it more from the opposite point of view - it came to mind when I was thinking of ways in which society has chosen to limit capitalism.

But the article you cite does point to how people - men and women and children - went into factories out of necessity - people needed money from their children. Why were they so poor? Well, one of the big reasons is that many no longer had access to any other livelyhood, due to the engrossment and enclosure of land, and to the increasing dependency on wage labouring. They were, literally, alienated from the means of production. This was no bourgeois conspiracy or concious class war, but the result of a whole series of changes that we call the transition to capitalism. It was not concious, but that does not negate its real impact on the lives of working people.

Capitalism in Britain increased production, but did not increase quality of life - in fact, it went steadily down between 1700 and 1800. That is also, of course, due to population increase and price of food - but it is notable that it seems like working class people in 1910 may have had more rooms in their house and more nic-nacks than in 1700, but worse nutrition.

Yes, I am a Yale student, and I am fully aware of how lucky I am. All the more so, since it has opened up more opportunities in my life than any one else in my family (including the possibility, though not assurance, of a middle class income some time after I graduate). I never said we should abandon capitalism - it is, like democracy, the best of a poor lot. What I said is that we should look at it critically. The market is a tool, which should be used to further the needs of society. If it needs to be restricted for the sake of society (to enforce safety laws, to protect the environment, to protect consumers), then it should be so restricted. What I do not want is a society that exists to serve the market.

As for whether people listen to historians, all I know is that important, ground-breaking books which truly expand our knowledge of the past and ourselves only sell a few hundred copies, to university libraries. Whereas crap propaganda based on a poor (or non-existing) understanding of history gets everywhere. (This happens on both sides - I had to listen the other day seething as the author of a popular book on enclosure talked about it on the radio, and got so many things completely wrong.)


When the study of history crosses the landbridge into punditry and policy prescription, historians become little more than induction machines. Post hoc is fine for those who write books for a living, but we salarymen know that such a tack charts a swift course to poverty.

You say this like historians don't work? WTF? What do you think they eat, paper? Personally, I love a nice ripe 16th century overseer's receipt with marmite...but yeah, that's warped. I don't even get what you are trying to say here. I don't like the pundits anymore than anyone else (hate them more, actually, since they lead to stupid prejudices like this one), but I'd like to point out that most "salarymen" get paid more than academics and have far less experience with actual poverty.

Historians study what happened. They tell people what happened - they highlight mistakes made in the past, it's up to you to listen to them or not. Of course, if you make the same mistake again and again and again, we do reserve the right to mock you.

Actually, an interesting note from a book I was reading recently - Historians are not like social scientists, in that we do not seek to universalise or generalise. The discipline tends to ascribe to the idea that time is like a river, and you cannot step into the same river twice. Of course, if there is ice on the river, we would probably say, "Now, we're not going to generalise, but we'd just like you to know that the last time there was ice on the river, it was damn cold."
posted by jb at 11:03 AM on August 16, 2005


Also, try living in Britain on 8,000 GBP a year (for a couple), when rent is 400 GBP a month. That's real world for you.
posted by jb at 11:06 AM on August 16, 2005


(That's sharing with someone else, by the way. Rent for the house is over 700 GBP.)
posted by jb at 11:07 AM on August 16, 2005


I'm still unclear as to how a capitalist government could have a "trade policy." Though I readily confess my ignorance as to nineteenth-century British history, it would seem to me that the only capitalist trade or export policy could be you grow it how you wish, you sell it to whom you wish for a mutually agreed-upon price. Was that the policy?

it is notable that it seems like working class people in 1910 may have had more rooms in their house and more nic-nacks than in 1700, but worse nutrition.

How do you know that such a choice wasn't made freely? Perhaps consumers placed a higher value on shelter and goods than they did on a marginal "unit" of nutrition.

We should look at (capitalism) critically. The market is a tool, which should be used to further the needs of society. If it needs to be restricted for the sake of society (to enforce safety laws, to protect the environment, to protect consumers), then it should be so restricted

The market is a term that is used to describe a number of people engaging in free exchange. When you say it should be restricted, cleverly in the passive voice, you don't say who ought to be doing the restricting. And you jump from critically looking at society and markets to engineering society and markets, another rhetorical trick where you take skepticism (a good thing) and turn it into a Vision with which the anointed should strive to inculcate the masses.

It's the sound of the other shoe dropping.

Historians study what happened. They tell people what happened - they highlight mistakes made in the past, it's up to you to listen to them or not


To clarify my other point, very, very few historians stop at describing what happened. Usually, they (or their ideological allies) will claim that X happened, and society needs to do Y (you, for example, advocate using historic "knowledge" to restrict free trade). And the subtext is We're learned, we've studied these things, and the spontaneous order that has emerged and will continue to evolve is inferior to our studied prescriptions. As a class, they suffer the same conceit as Mao did.

And if you're certain that historians have a better hold on the future than do the sheeple, I strongly suggest that you put your money where your mouth is. Do you think that you can beat the market? If you know more than the mass of men (who buy such dreadful books), you oughtn't have any problem beating them at a fair game. Perhaps you can then become a powerful consumer, endowing scholarships for would-be historians so they can produce good history which will subsequently be disseminated to and enjoyed by your enlightened cadre of scholars.

All of this is a lengthy way for me to clumsily assert that you come dangerously close to proving Nozick's point. You're one of the brightest, an doctoral student at Yale (!), and you lament that you're poor, and the best books don't get bought, and it just doesn't seem right, and you and your pals will be mocking the appropriate people-- all the while neglecting or ignoring one of the fundamental tenets of capitalism: Those who satisfy consumer demand will prosper. You can do all the work you want, but no one has to buy it from you.

Sisyphus had no patrons.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:10 PM on August 16, 2005


You seem to know a great deal about me. Would you care to reveal more about yourself?

I'm not one of the brightest, I have an aptitude for undergraduate scholarship (this is, after all, what gets you into graduate school). My mother is much brighter.

Nor am I currently poor, though I certainly do have less money than most people who have BAs. I was poor (or does a family living off less than $10,000 CND a year not count anymore. I never know - do you have to be dying of starvation, or just anemic from malnutrition to be poor these days? I haven't experienced the former, but I have experienced the latter - social services gave up special vouchers, or so my mother says. I was three). I mentioned that poverty in relation to the previous poster's baseless assertion that academics don't understand the real world. Considering that we a) are born into it, b) live in it and c) spend a great deal more time thinking critically about it than most other people, that's a lot of hogwash. Academics know a hell of a lot more about the "real" world than middle-class middle Americans who have never talked to someone from a different class or country, let alone business leaders who have never actually experienced real poverty in their lives. Or do you think a man like George Bush (he who went to Yale not on scholarship, unlike all of our Ph.D. students) has more real world experience? (I don't care to get into a discusson of Bush, he's not my president, just the example I thought of).

it is notable that it seems like working class people in 1910 may have had more rooms in their house and more nic-nacks than in 1700, but worse nutrition.

How do you know that such a choice wasn't made freely? Perhaps consumers placed a higher value on shelter and goods than they did on a marginal "unit" of nutrition.


So, would you choose nic-nicks, or 1200 calories a day (what a woman had)? Some choices were concious - working class men, for instance, chose to spend money on alcohol, for which they were criticized by Victorian reformers. But it's also a reflection of how prices dropped through manufacture of cheap consumer goods, but basics of life did not - the real wages (wage related to price of essentials) was lower.

And I love how you know so much about historians. Do you work in a history department? Read academic history? Follow the journals? Or do you, like so many people, read some columnists or historians (who happen to have an agenda) in the newspaper, and extrapolate to all historians.

I lament that some of the better history books don't get read because I think that understanding our world more accurately is an a priori good thing. Just like I wish that more people learned accurate science, and I love public astronomy teaching. Because their votes do influence public policy, and informed voters are a good thing. I don't want people to think the moon is made of cheese, and I don't want people to think that the Ships and PLanes section (aka "History") at Barnes and Noble represents the cream of historical knowledge of our civilization. (And I say that as the wife of a naval historian.)

Yes, those who satisfy customer demand will prosper. That doesn't mean it's always good for society. Many evil things (e.g. segregation) have been very popular.


a comment from my friend on marketability:

"I would say that there's no market for wisdom, but there clearly is. All around the world we see a vast, sprawling academic establishment reaching into the very pinicles of power (remember all those Yalie US Presidents?). Maybe that market isn't very lucrative for its participants, maybe it isn't as popular as, say, reality television... maybe it's just a neiche market. But, as I say, popularity and market success is no indicator of quality. Academic knowledge is High End knowledge: better, but expensive and difficult to obtain. Saying that a historian knows nothing more than the Man On The Street is like saying your Honda is just as good as that Rolls Royce."

As for looking critically at society and markets - you might notice that academics don't set policy. Yes, I know it's very popular for the American anti-intellectual to complain about the power of the academic, but all they do is study and publish, and teach people who want to be taught.

I was talking about setting social and economic policy as a citizen, with all the same rights as other citizens. I study 17th century Britain. I can't set policy then, what with it, you know, being in the frickin' past. I live in 21st century North America. As a citizen of this time and place, I have my opinions - most of which are only tangentially related to my research, which is about landscape and societal change, not about health and welfare, which are my primary political concerns.

But I do think that historians and social scientists have very valuable things to say as very informed citizens in their fields. Why is it that when a climate scientist or chemist or biologist says something, every listens sagely, but when a sociologist says something, people (like you) say "You're just an academic, what do you know?" Well, here's a news flash - they are all academics!
posted by jb at 2:00 PM on August 16, 2005


But I do think that historians and social scientists have very valuable things to say as very informed citizens in their fields. Why is it that when a climate scientist or chemist or biologist says something, every listens sagely, but when a sociologist says something, people (like you) say "You're just an academic, what do you know?" Well, here's a news flash - they are all academics!

LOL. I dunno. When somebody who has spent a lifetime teaching 20 year olds the merits of a "revolution" that has never occurred and then instructs the world at large on how things "should" run based only on the theoretical discussions with his peers — I think my eyes glazing over is justified.

But a guy who spends a lifetime teaching 20 year olds how to build bridges - and has actually built bridges and there are examples of his bridges out there and there is universal agreement on what a functional bridge IS and IS NOT — then I pay attention to him when he talks to me about how to build a bridge.

So, see, there are Acedemics and then there are acedemics.
posted by tkchrist at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2005


You seem to know a great deal about me. Would you care to reveal more about yourself?

Nope. I'm a coward who is sort of "on the run" from someone (not as exciting as it may sound) and I'm pretty bent on remaining semi-anonymous. I'm just a finance monkey who got two crappy humanities degrees from a crappy state school. Anyway, I don't know a great deal about you. I just know New Haven's ZIP, and I read your userpage and comments in this thread.

So, would you choose nic-nicks, or 1200 calories a day (what a woman had)?

Dunno. I'm not a woman who lived in another century. Probably would depend on how hungry I was, and how nice the trinkets were. I'm not being sarcastic, either. Surely there were some people who had a small patch of land and a few spare hours who nonetheless chose to do things other than raising vegetables.

And I love how you know so much about historians. Do you work in a history department? Read academic history? Follow the journals? Or do you, like so many people, read some columnists or historians (who happen to have an agenda) in the newspaper, and extrapolate to all historians

No, I don't subscribe to the journals, but I've read quite a bit of history (Toynbee, even, once), and suffered through a few years of lectures. I don't think I've extrapolated to all historians in prior comments (if I did, I regret the mistake), and I might even regret the use of "very, very few." I should have stated that "modern history is rarely written or delivered completely independent of policy solutions." Daniel Yergin is a serious scholar and historian whose work seems brilliant (at least the parts that my middle-class-working-folk brain understood), but good luck extricating politics from The Prize.

Yes, those who satisfy customer demand will prosper. That doesn't mean it's always good for society. Many evil things (e.g. segregation) have been very popular.


Can you not find a way to satisfy consumer demand while doing something that's not evil?

Why is it that when a climate scientist or chemist or biologist says something, every listens sagely, but when a sociologist says something, people (like you) say "You're just an academic, what do you know?" Well, here's a news flash - they are all academics!

Largely, I think, people like me are quick to dismiss social scientists more readily than hard scientists because hard science is generally truer to the scientific method than are social sciences or (gasp!) humanities. Seriously. You claim that capitalism caused a famine over 100 years ago? I don't need to find a black swan to disprove you-- I need a time machine and omnipotence!

That's not to say that you characterize me entirely correctly. I've taken quite a few spins around the SSRN database and (you're free to call it a regrettable or foolish artifact of my autodidact math skills, if you wish to be uncharitable) I've seen more than enough spurious-correlation-and-poorly-mined-data-presented-as-hard-fact to justifiably look at the discipline of social science with harsh skepticism, especially where it intersects with politics and agendas.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:39 PM on August 16, 2005


LOL. I dunno. When somebody who has spent a lifetime teaching 20 year olds the merits of a "revolution" that has never occurred and then instructs the world at large on how things "should" run based only on the theoretical discussions with his peers — I think my eyes glazing over is justified.

tkchrist: I actually have no idea what you are talking about here. Are you trying to say that the French, American or Russian revolutions never happened? Because those are the only revolutions I was taught about (as well as Chinese, Haitian, etc). Unless you mean the industrial revolution, or the agricultural? There are huge debates there, but everyone recognises that those uses of the word revolution are really just metaphors. Now if you want to have a debate as to whether the English revolution (aka the English Civil War, aka the War of the Three Kingdoms, aka the Interrenum, aka the Commonwealth...) was a revolution or not, I'd be happy to, but it's a bit off topic for this thread.

So there is universal agreement on what a functional bridge is? Then why are there so many that seem to have problems with resonance?

And there is far, far from universal agreement on many aspects of science which the public have absolutely not problem accepting as areas of expertise: most of theoretical physics, details on how DNA works, the mechanisms of evolution, health risk factors, etc. Much of this may be beyond lay comprehension (it's certainly beyond mine), but that doesn't make it suddenly black and white, known and assured.

No, the social sciences are not always as exact - they are dealing with issues which are not always easily quantifiable. (That said, sociologists, psychologists, economists, political scientists and certain historians try to quantify as much as they can.) But they also have standards of evidence, suited to the nature of what they are studying.

Kwantsar: Actually, I didn't say capitalism caused the famine (certainly not when I expanded on my comment) - I said it exacerbated it. Just as Mao's policies did in a very similar situation the next century (same climatic phenomenon). This whole discussion began when I was just making the point that Maoist economics being really really bad doesn't suddenly make Regan the second coming. Maybe there is some nice moderate ground inbetween?

But as for issues of proof - you are right, you cannot repeat history like you can repeat an experiment. But that is also true for geology and astronomy. All three disciplines (as well as others like archeology, etc) must rely on observations and interpretations of those observations. If you wish to test my hypothesis (which isn't mine, but Davis's), then you look for contradictory evidence in the records of the time. This happens all the time in history, just as in science. Hypothesis and theories are tested by continued observation, adjusted or rejected or qualified as necessary.

I'm sure there is poorly done social science, just as there is science (see the recent Bailey thread on bisexuality). But people don't use that justification to dismiss social science as a whole - they give this respect to scientists that they refuse to social sciences. I think it is a baseless prejudice.

I think a big part of the problem is social sciences deal with everyday things, and seem to be so comprehensible, people don't understand that there are many complexities it does take years of study to understand (and I'm no where near there, not even in my specific field). Everyone thinks they understand society, and they don't need no ivory towered academic to tell them what's what.

But the reason I love history is that it breaks down my basic assumptions - I learn new things about things I thought I knew, but didn't really. It makes me confront people who thought completely differently from me, to try to understand why they thought that way. It's world expanding, not isolating at all.
posted by jb at 5:55 PM on August 16, 2005


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