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March 13, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Will the US become more progressive in the future or will advances in neuroscience cause the abandonment of the "equality premise"?

A speech by Charles Murray, the controversial co-author of "The Bell Curve". Boilerplate: most Mefites will consider this to be the racist ravings of a right wing lunatic, however, I think that you may find it thought provoking nonetheless. Post title is from "Trash of the Titans", brought to mind from this section of the link:
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. It's inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it's so much fun to respond to our neighbors' needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met--family and community really do have the action--then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
posted by 445supermag (74 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The European model has indeed created sclerotic economies and it would be a bad idea to imitate them. But I want to focus on another problem.

Beats the myocardial infarction combined with massive stroke economic situation in the US.
posted by GuyZero at 4:27 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


If it can be argued that there's anything at all worth taking away from what Murray says then it's nothing Wendell Berry hasn't said better, with more accuracy and less bigotry.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:31 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


My text is drawn from Federalist 62, probably written by James Madison: "A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained." Note the word: happiness. Not prosperity. Not security. Not equality. Happiness, which the Founders used in its Aristotelian sense of lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.

I have two points to make. First, I will argue that the European model is fundamentally flawed because, despite its material successes, it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish--it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness.
I'd be Aristotelianly happy if I didn't have to rely on bankrupting visits to emergency rooms for healthcare.

Seriously Dr. Murray, as you sip your chardonnay and nibble the foie gras and hobnob with the lobbyists who underwrite th American Enterprise Institute where you gave this talk, how can you in good conscience argue that "happiness" is some Americans with $20,000 Louis Vuitton handbags, and others -- some of them little kids -- dealing with the daily pain of their teeth rotting out, amd missing school because of it, because their parents can't afford a visit to a dentist?
posted by orthogonality at 4:34 PM on March 13, 2009 [17 favorites]


Why have you posed this as an either/or question?
posted by Crotalus at 4:35 PM on March 13, 2009


Answers to your question.

1) Yes, and

2) Probably not.

The Bell Curve is one of those books that, in my opinion, makes some good points about things such as IQ and the fact that in many ways, there are some inequalities that nothing but time can get rid of (albeit with terrible logic; just because an average IQ of one group is lower than an average IQ of another doesn't mean someone in one group is automatically going to have a lower IQ than someone in another group at all...), but some other points it makes suck so much that overall, the cons of the book are bigger than the pros. It's kind of a mixed bag, skewed heavily towards shit. And Charles Murray, from what I can infer from the essay, is a sexist, natalist asshole. (In my opinion, the world needs a 'below replacement rate' birthrate for at least a while. I, personally, am not contributing to it, and indeed am going to get my tubes tied as soon as I can afford it.)

With regards to how neuroscience will influence the 'equality premise', as someone IN neuroscience, I can attest to the fact that neuroscience is, like all other sciences, a science. It does not claim to influence morality. It informs it, but moral decisions are up to the individual to make.
posted by kldickson at 4:37 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why have you posed this as an either/or question?

Because Obama's health care plan means that every doctor in the country will now work for the federal government. Obviously.
posted by SirOmega at 4:38 PM on March 13, 2009


But although it makes for pleasant lives, the European model stifles human flourishing and erodes the civic and cultural institutions and habits that make for a vibrant, sustainable, and satisfying way of life.

It's great that the right is now openly making the argument that, yes, their proposed policies will make (and have made) our lives unpleasant compared to those in place in the rest of the developed world, but we should vote for them anyway because a little grinding poverty puts hair on your chest, by god. Is it too much to hope that they'll start running candidates on this life-of-misery platform?
posted by enn at 4:43 PM on March 13, 2009 [23 favorites]


Answer: Yes to both. Realizing there is no fair society is progressive.

Murray could've said goodbye to his Bohemian Grove lecture spot without this gem:

I am not suggesting that America's elites sacrifice their own self-interest for everybody else. That would be really un-American.
posted by Monstrous Moonshine at 4:43 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is mostly straw man arguments and half-truths. His arrogance in predicting the outcome of the next couple decades of neuroscience is pretty telling; he doesn't strike me as a serious thinker.

While we're on the topic of America, Europe, and science... I think a lot of Americans assume a kind of eternal American hegemony on scientific progress. Well, the Europeans passed us up in particle physics in the past decade, and (judging by their investments in space telescope infrastructure) they'll be passing us up in astronomy in the next. Next come the applied sciences and engineering and the life sciences. I'm just saying, is all.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:45 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pretty good essay. Touches on the current trend of the subsumption of the individual into society/government. Some old hat population differences stuff. And then some stuff I didn't get about elites reengaging with the commonfolk.

I think the most useful part of the essay was the first part about the government seeping into every aspect of individual human life, and how this is inadvisable on evolutionary psychology grounds. What he didn't take into account is that human evolution is occurring as rapidly as ever, and that the human cognitive map may very well happily evolve into an utter egoless cell of the governmental superbody. Sort of like ants.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 4:47 PM on March 13, 2009


Mefites will consider this to be the racist ravings of a right wing lunatic, however, I think that you may find it thought provoking nonetheless.

Hey, Hitler had some good ideas, AMIRITE? Seriously, the guy is an 'out of the closet' racist. Why not link to stormfront.org?

The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality

Argument by preposterous metaphor. How does one measure the "vitality" of the family? Is a woman stuck with an abusive husband because she needs financial support and can't get it from the government in a more "vital" relationship then she would be as a single mom on welfare? Obviously not.

What a bunch of crap. Intellectual porno for racist assholes who got theirs so to hell with everyone else.
posted by delmoi at 4:51 PM on March 13, 2009 [18 favorites]


He seems to have arrived at his conclusion and then found the "facts" to support it. If community deterioration is caused by socialism (creeping or otherwise), why have US communities been in decline since the 50's under predominantly non-socialist republicans? What a tool.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:53 PM on March 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


The European model can't continue to work much longer. Europe's catastrophically low birth rates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that.

The catastrophically high birth rates of the rest of the world are a far greater long-term problem. Europe's birthrate is just barely below replacement, which could probably be easily fixed with financial or social incentives.

I really do not fathom why it is that conservatives in general and pro-lifers in particular cannot seem to get the idea through their brains that population growth cannot continue forever.

There's more wrong with this article than this, of course, but this stuck out at me. Attempting to keep your birth rates up to compete with the rest of the world is a race to the bottom. It's like giving yourself fatal alcohol poisoning to win a drinking contest.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:54 PM on March 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


I think the most useful part of the essay was the first part about the government seeping into every aspect of individual human life, and how this is inadvisable on evolutionary psychology grounds. What he didn't take into account is that human evolution is occurring as rapidly as ever

First of all, the problem with evolutionary psychology is that it's crap, a largely discredited philosophy that can be used to explain anything, and can be (and is) used to justify any idea that pops into someone's head.

Other then that, it's unlikely that human evolution is still occurring at any appreciable rate. There's hardly any selective pressure based on genetic traits, and it is possible for animals to exist for millions of years unchanged. Just look at sharks, for example.
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I really do not fathom why it is that conservatives in general and pro-lifers in particular cannot seem to get the idea through their brains that population growth cannot continue forever.

They also seem to think Oil will last forever, that the earth has unlimited capacity to have pollution dumped on it, etc.
posted by delmoi at 4:59 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand before you tonight with the a priori belief that the US is better than Europe. I will now attempt to prove it by appealing to normative US values and meaningless platitudes about 'community', 'vitality' and 'faith'. Please bear with me, this is going to be long one..."

And later he says:

What's happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

Wait, I'm a twenty-something European, where's my current sex partner, new BMW and vacation home in Majorca? Oh no, wait again, my mistake, he's setting up a poor generalisation in order to paint his allegorical picture.

And later yet:

Within a decade, no one will try to defend the equality premise. All sorts of groups will be known to differ in qualities that affect what professions they choose, how much money they make, and how they live their lives in all sorts of ways.

Wow, um, that's not the 'equality premise'. Please refrain from speaking if you really think 'equality' means that we should have the same jobs, same income, and same lifestyles. Your argument looks like a man, and is made of straw: it is a strawman.
posted by Sova at 5:02 PM on March 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


When people start using evolution metaphors to discuss social changes, watch your fuckin' back.
posted by boo_radley at 5:02 PM on March 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Why would we want population growth to climb forever? Is humanity based on a simple pyramid scheme of a large young, working class to support the privileged old? Technology is making much manual labor unnecessary, so more people can lead lives of luxury. Embrace that, and realize we don't need to fill the earth with people to be happy.

And how can you cite the Founding Fathers at one point, then go on to say "alien values" will undermine our precious society? Who were the Founding Fathers again? Sons of this soil, or immigrants who came looking for new opportunities? Or are you just angry we don't have the moral rights to enslave the lesser people anymore?
posted by filthy light thief at 5:05 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do

if it helps think of "government" as a really big common community. You know, like McD's and Walmart, with more efficiencies but at the cost of least-common denominator uniformity. An evolved form of community, if I may use that adjective to a conservative without offense.

The difference between conservatives and ("neo") liberals is that conservatives view government as "the government" while liberals view government as "our government".

Government's central virtue is that it is democratically vote-driven, unlike vague notions of the "community" or "family". Its job is to run the state -- the stuff that we want around to exist above, below, and between the transitory short-term machinations of free enterprise private interests, ie which will buy its nature produce events of the nature of "market failure" like clockwork.

I'm left-liberarian and I don't have a problem with Federalism, letting government services be run at the level that makes the most sense.

Defense, Disaster Response, Health Care and Medical Research, and Working Conditions all belong at the federal level.

Federalism to me means that the Federal Government is in the business of guaranteeling local freedoms, not limiting them. As Justice O'Connor quoted in 2005:
One of federalism’s chief virtues, of course, is that it promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
posted by troy at 5:10 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Boilerplate: most Mefites will consider this to be the racist ravings of a right wing lunatic...

Thanks for that little bit; after seeing it, I knew the lecture would be worth reading, and I was not disappointed. Now carry on with the seething.
posted by Krrrlson at 5:14 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, can we get more racist ravings of right wing lunatics posted? I need thoughts provoked! Delmoi's suggestion of Stormfront.org links is good. Surely Mein Kamf is on the web somewhere? Now that's thought-provoking!

Thanks for provoking all those thoughts. It's what the internet is all about.
posted by edheil at 5:15 PM on March 13, 2009


Oh no, wait again, my mistake, he's setting up a poor generalisation in order to paint his allegorical picture.

"A few of the twenty-something members of the audience" is a generalization? [checks pulse on straw man] Yep, he's dead.
posted by Krrrlson at 5:17 PM on March 13, 2009


Thank heavens that I now know the real problem with the USA is that the government has made it far too easy for the poor.

Here's a radical idea: let's ask the janitors what would be best for the janitors, not some old rich dude.
posted by ssg at 5:22 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's better than that Religion in Sci-Fi article...
posted by Artw at 5:24 PM on March 13, 2009


The European model can't continue to work much longer. Europe's catastrophically low birth rates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that.

So you should emulate sub-Sarahan African? Um...

The American model has been so successful because you got Eurasian settlers, with all their technology, suddenly given an empty and resource-rich continent*. If, through geography, the American landmass was nearer China, it would probably be full of yellow-skinned people writing earnest tracts about how Confucianism is necessary for civilisation and how Imperial forms of government are clearly superior.

Don't confuse wealth with health. Saudi Arabia is wealthy, but it's not healthy. Denmark isn't wealthy, but it's healthy.

* After disease and genocide.
posted by alasdair at 5:25 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


"A few of the twenty-something members of the audience" is a generalization?

Um, did you read the bits afterwards? Like the rest of the article? I'm not saying you have to read all of it, but yes, he basically goes, 'this confirms what I've heard...this is why Europe is like X'.
posted by Sova at 5:26 PM on March 13, 2009


Does he play Soccer?
posted by Artw at 5:30 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think he draws a lot of dubious conclusions...

The equality premise says that, in a fair society, different groups of people--men and women, blacks and whites, straights and gays, the children of poor people and the children of rich people--will naturally have the same distributions of outcomes in life--the same mean income, the same mean educational attainment, the same proportions who become janitors and CEOs. When that doesn't happen, it is because of bad human behavior and an unfair society.

uuuhhh... that's a bit of a straw man because it over-simplifies the view. One cause of inequality is bad behavior and an unfair society.

Within a decade, no one will try to defend the equality premise.

As he phrases it, no one with any sense would defend it now because it's horribly over-simplified. We're now in complete straw-man territory.
posted by GuyZero at 5:31 PM on March 13, 2009


I think there's definitely an argument about how the quality of relationships change when the state sponsors social institutions, I just don't think this essay is making any of them.
posted by doobiedoo at 5:32 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


That "lecture" is stinking RIPE with unsupported claims, just so stories, and straw men, Like:

"government also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. It's inevitable. ".


Oh really. If it's so inevitable then lets see some hard data?

It's no wonder this idiot is popular with the mouth breathers. No actual facts to muddy up the comfortable world view that every selfish instinct they have turns out to be right.
posted by tkchrist at 5:34 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


The European model can't continue to work much longer. Europe's catastrophically low birth rates and soaring immigration from cultures with alien values will see to that.

Murray is either unaware or ignoring the fact that Sweden- yes, ground zero of the nanny state, with those perniciously generous maternity leave policies- has the highest birth rates in Europe. Giving women the chance to make a decent living while raising healthy, happy children encourages them to have more of them, not to discard family and community life.

And of course, immigration is only a problem if you believe that said immigrants are fundamentally and irredeemably alien (as in "alien values"). Which is what you would say if you were a racial determinist who used slipshod evidence to "prove" half-baked eugenic theories that fall pleasingly on the ears of a particular class of Americans who very much want to hear scientific proof to validate their bigoted stereotypes. Which would make you.... Charles Murray.

In my brief experience living in Europe, the social welfare policies seem to strengthen communities and families, making Europe a far more pleasant and livable place to be born, grow up and grow old than the United States.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:36 PM on March 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


whoo hoo! is eugenics back too? Didn't you just remove the majority of these people from positions of government power in the US? Why bring them back into the public sphere of metafilter? This is no longer 'thought provoking' as I might submissively have treated it back in the Bush days when even the moderate left seemed to be going right, but now it is just initially revolting (on an affective level) and ridiculous (on an intellectual and pragmatic level). Its good to know people like this are still out there, raving away and oblivious to what is actually going on (and their recent loss of power)
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 5:47 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Other then that, it's unlikely that human evolution is still occurring at any appreciable rate. There's hardly any selective pressure based on genetic traits, and it is possible for animals to exist for millions of years unchanged. Just look at sharks, for example.
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on March 13


Free education, just for you.

~

To continue with the individual and society theme Murray touches on, I think the point he's making or a similar point is this: there are two cognitive phenotypes in people, the Collectivists and the Individualists. The Cs want nothing more than academic achievement in youth, steady middle class income in adulthood, and socialized medicine and retirement in old age. They dont want to read anything unless its for an assignment, they don't want to do anything unless it gets them into a good college, they don't want to interact with somebody unless it gets them a higher status in the Company. These phenotypes are the people that the social democrats spend tax dollars sculpting the world for. The Is of course are the opposites. They teach themselves to program at 12, they smoke marijuana, they read philosophy, and they're all around cool guys that are smelly and have little ambition regarding societal achievement. Obama wants to kill the Is. Europe wants to kill the Is. The ironing of course is that America was founded by the Is.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 5:52 PM on March 13, 2009


Regulator: Before Banks Collapsed, They Pleaded With Feds To Let Them Fudge Their Books
posted by ornate insect at 5:56 PM on March 13, 2009


In my brief experience living in Europe, the social welfare policies seem to strengthen communities and families, making Europe a far more pleasant and livable place to be born, grow up and grow old than the United States.

Exactly.

The transit infrastructure is better in Europe. The cities are cleaner and safer. The food, air and water is healthier and people live longer without resorting to expensive medical treatments. So. What do these wing nuts complain about in Europe?

Oh. "Only the darkies are having babies." Well. Same thing HERE you morons. But our brown skined people don't get paid anything and don't have health care. So it don't count.

The only problem in Europe is growing the energy systems, but since their actual needs are not growing like cancer and they implement conservation technologies they have time to figure that out.

Face it. the world is going to look much more like Europe than it will America they way we are headed. And America is gonna look much more like Argentina. Except with out the good food.
posted by tkchrist at 6:05 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Is of course are the opposites. They teach themselves to program at 12, they smoke marijuana, they read philosophy, and they're all around cool guys that are smelly and have little ambition regarding societal achievement. Obama wants to kill the Is. Europe wants to kill the Is.

Europe wants to kill philosophy and weed-smoking, and traditional America intends to save it? That's certainly a new stereotype.
posted by creasy boy at 6:09 PM on March 13, 2009 [16 favorites]


I think the point he's making or a similar point is this: there are two cognitive phenotypes in people, the Collectivists and the Individualists.

If may be so bold sir as to say that is a complete crock of shit.

There are probably hundreds of "cognitive phenotypes" (nice euphemism) in people. And it's likely this changes, depending on circumstance, throughout ones life. I can make up a couple of phenotypes and "test" a population for them and lo and behold! There they are!
posted by tkchrist at 6:10 PM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


To continue with the individual and society theme Murray touches on, I think the point he's making or a similar point is this: there are two cognitive phenotypes in people, the Collectivists and the Individualists. The Cs want nothing more than academic achievement in youth, steady middle class income in adulthood, and socialized medicine and retirement in old age. They dont want to read anything unless its for an assignment, they don't want to do anything unless it gets them into a good college, they don't want to interact with somebody unless it gets them a higher status in the Company. These phenotypes are the people that the social democrats spend tax dollars sculpting the world for. The Is of course are the opposites. They teach themselves to program at 12, they smoke marijuana, they read philosophy, and they're all around cool guys that are smelly and have little ambition regarding societal achievement. Obama wants to kill the Is. Europe wants to kill the Is. The ironing of course is that America was founded by the Is.

To be honest, I can't mentally parse exactly what you're trying to state. I want to be charitable, but you pulled this out of your ass, didn't you?
posted by Sova at 6:12 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, the more I think about it, you sound like you're attempting a Weberian analysis of Western society based on those who accept the bureaucratic paradigm of status and power and those who reject it to become members of a charismatic ('cool') base counter-structure. Amirite?
posted by Sova at 6:18 PM on March 13, 2009


The Is of course are the opposites. They teach themselves to program at 12, they smoke marijuana, they read philosophy, and they're all around cool guys that are smelly and have little ambition regarding societal achievement. Obama wants to kill the Is. Europe wants to kill the Is. The ironing of course is that America was founded by the Is.

And let me guess, you're a fat, smelly, pot-smoking I.
posted by empath at 6:28 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


The problem with the world today, is the world has abandoned the freedom and unintrusive government that epitomized dark-ages Europe in favor of a totalitarian society that eliminates the rights of bigots to discriminate against other races, religious fanatics to dictate your sex life, and rich people to confine the majority of people to crushing poverty for their own good. Also, there are not NEARLY enough people in the world. We're nearly extinct as a species. If only the idiots of the world could realize that rich successful people are simply genetically superior.

Fortunately, neuroscience will save us from this terrible fate. Or something. I'm a physicist turned neuroscientist, and until this moment, I thought that nothing could be stupider than the discussions of quantum mechanics and relativity that I've seen on the internet. I was wrong. Of course, if you believe that the pinnacle of human existence is a pyramid of human misery, designed to prop up an authoritarian model of the family as a microcosm of a larger authoritarian society, then there can be no argument that present directions look grim. Of course many of us are cheered by that change.

I could cite data to back up my ideas, but why? Ha. How about this? IQ is increasing. Of course, that's an uninteresting fact. People like him only care about science to the extent that they can misquote it for their own purposes.
posted by Humanzee at 6:39 PM on March 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


The catastrophically high birth rates of the rest of the world are a far greater long-term problem. Europe's birthrate is just barely below replacement, which could probably be easily fixed with financial or social incentives.

Do you really think so? "Replacement +One" is considered the most stable rate by many demographers. See this Rand study on how difficult it will be to reverse birth rates in Europe with policy alone.
posted by njbradburn at 6:46 PM on March 13, 2009


By the way, are you aware that I can literally walk around Berlin smoking a joint and nothing will happen to me? Try that in America, land of the Is. Oh right, Obama's president now, that's the problem. And now that America's being Europeanized, Americans will shower more. And they'll no longer "teach themselves to program at 12", instead preferring "academic achievement in youth".
posted by creasy boy at 6:47 PM on March 13, 2009


If may be so bold sir as to say that is a complete crock of shit.

Dude, you're replying to someone who said "ironing" instead of "irony."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:48 PM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Two premises about human beings are at the heart of the social democratic agenda: What I will label "the equality premise" and "the New Man premise."

For the most part... yep - big, gingham-shirted strawmen. Neither are what social democrats are about, but it's convenient if he can get you to think otherwise. Too long to go into here, just do some research on "social democracy".

I think I know where he's going with this. It's "Re-forming the Intellectual Right 101"

After 8 years of fail, it's apparent even to the most rock-ribbed Republican that the the last administration only paid lip service to conservative values, while generally messing stuff up.

So the genuine conservatives have become seriously unstuck. Many looked at Obama and liked what they saw. Four years of pragmatic yet visionary leadership from this new president (if it unfolds as such) will cause many moderate conservatives to align with the Democrats, unless the right can woo them back.

It seems to me that Prof Murray is trying to exactly that, by redefining the dynamic as Euro socialist "groupthink" vs American "individualism", and by proposing that the former goes against American ideals, and now science too. This proposition is followed by several stanzas of stroking the "elites" as "individualists" while suggesting that social goals are somehow threatening to their status.

It's a strategic retreat by the elite right to intellectually higher ground. (heh)

-------
the author is a reasonably social Individualist who taught himself to program at 37, dabbles in pop philosophy and showers frequently. He gave up pot for single-malt scotch.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:58 PM on March 13, 2009


The ironing of course is that America was founded by the Is.
We the people

We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately

E pluribus unum

Join or die
posted by Flunkie at 7:03 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


...a pyramid of human misery, designed to prop up an authoritarian model of the family as a microcosm of a larger authoritarian society...

It's interesting that so many commenters have associated an anti-government philosophy with authoritarianism, totalitarianism and, St. Godwin be praised, Hilter; but of course, it's not unexpected. I am interested in this idea that the concept of family is inherently authoritarian. Should the progressive position be that the family should be outlawed? Maybe your neuroscience experiments will prove that we should all be raised in Skinner Air Boxes.
posted by 445supermag at 7:09 PM on March 13, 2009


I think the upshot of all this is that it's a great blessing that we have a varied spectrum of different societies and systems all of which are resistant to change. That way when someone gets the rationally perfect society all figured out, as seems to happen on a surprisingly regular basis, there are points of reference to critique them from.
posted by ethansr at 7:27 PM on March 13, 2009


The ironing of course is that America was founded by the Is.

Thanks for reminding me, I packed a sport jacket poorly in a suitcase and now I have to do some ironing.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:50 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that so many commenters have associated an anti-government philosophy with authoritarianism...

This is because the "anti-government philosophy" is a complete sham, a mere excuse to advance an authoritarian agenda. So-called "anti-government" conservatives ran the government for several years, and they behaved exactly as anyone with a lick of sense or a basic knowledge of history knew they would. Many people consider unnecessary wars, spying, kidnapping, and torture to be massively intrusive government actions. Others are just pissed that women aren't demure enough and gay people are having sex. Go figure. We don't think "the family" is inheriently authoritarian, we just think that there's more than one kind of family. The idea that you and the government should tell us what our family must be like is authoritarian.

From the link: "More than that, the new findings will broadly confirm that human beings are pretty much the way that wise human observers have thought for thousands of years, and that is going to be wonderful news for those of us who are already basing our policy analyses on that assumption."

What is a sane individual to make from this? A non-scientist (with a history of stupid science-related bullshitting) is predicting the outcome of future science research, and claiming it will take the form of a value judgement. He claims that it will validate the judgement of human observers from thousands of years ago, and those who agree with them. In general, he advocates a "return" to earlier values. Pre-jesus, what do you think the world was like thousands of years ago? How were societies organized then? Or even hundreds of years ago? Some of us have read, like, books. So yeah, our reactions are predictable.

The things this guy is complaining about are precisely the protections that we have today to prevent government meddling in the affairs of one's personal life, and systematically grouping people into pre-ordained inescapable social classes. His allies have already demonstrated their committment to carrying out this agenda. It involves stacking hooded, naked people in pyramids, and allowing poor people to be economically ruined by treatable illness because not everyone deserves "gold-plated" health care.
posted by Humanzee at 8:05 PM on March 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


This is because the "anti-government philosophy" is a complete sham, a mere excuse to advance an authoritarian agenda. So-called "anti-government" conservatives ran the government for several years, and they behaved exactly as anyone with a lick of sense or a basic knowledge of history knew they would. Many people consider unnecessary wars, spying, kidnapping, and torture to be massively intrusive government actions.

How does the failure of non-libertarians to be libertarian prove that libertarianism is a "sham?"
posted by Krrrlson at 8:20 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Umm. Advances in neuroscience will make intelligence and creativity a matter of chemical engineering and computer science, not genetic lottery. We will then all be equal, because it's relatively cheap and easy to do, and commerce and other human endeavors will profit greatly.

This isn't to say we'll all be the same... genius isn't about your IQ, aptitude or memory.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:21 PM on March 13, 2009


This is because the "anti-government philosophy" is a complete sham, a mere excuse to advance an authoritarian agenda.

So, are you saying that no one is really anti-government? There are such things as libertarians you know, and they hated Bush too (if you want an example, check out AntiWar.com, run by a gay libertarian). Sure, Bush and Reagan claimed to be anti-government and then greatly expanded the government, including moving into torture (if you didn't know about Reagan's support for torture, read up on "The school of the Americas", a blot on america many times worse than Abu Ghraib, only they didn't take pictures). But that doesn't mean that everyone that claims to be against the government is actually for it. Sure, be suspicious, I wish more people had been suspicious of Bush.
The things this guy is complaining about are precisely the protections that we have today to prevent government meddling in the affairs of one's personal life,
Can you give an example of this in his writing or are you assuming he's against gay marriage (He's for it, and has written in support of it) or something?
posted by 445supermag at 8:36 PM on March 13, 2009


Yeah, this is pretty weak. It really seems like the guy is arguing how awesome it is to be poor, overworked, and religiously oppressed, so he can take your money, exploit your labor, and control your actions with the church.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:54 PM on March 13, 2009


Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith.

i defy him to find families in europe as common and dysfunctional as what is found in the poorer areas of the US - i defy him to find a community in europe as devastated as detroit - i defy him to find vocations in europe that as are as soul-scraping and bankrupting as anything that pays less that 10 bucks an hour in the u s

i will admit that our faith in disingenuous, self-serving and self-deceiving bullshit is much stronger here than in europe
posted by pyramid termite at 9:09 PM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality.

Poppy-fucking-cock.
posted by mwhybark at 11:38 PM on March 13, 2009


Free education, just for you.

I was talking about today on a planet with 6 billion people, not 10,000 years ago on a planet with five million

The Is of course are the opposites. They teach themselves to program at 12, they smoke marijuana, they read philosophy, and they're all around cool guys that are smelly and have little ambition regarding societal achievement. Obama wants to kill the Is. Europe wants to kill the Is. The ironing of course is that America was founded by the Is.

First of all, if you smell, you're not cool. Secondly anyone who smokes marijuana is a democrat, and Obama's DA, Eric Holder is going to leave Marijuana laws up to the states, opening the door for things like medical marijuana in many states and the proposed complete legalization in California. Meanwhile Bush and Ashcroft raided medical marijuana farms, arrested sick people, and threw Tommy Chong in prison for three years for selling bongs. The idea that it's Obama and the "europeans" (ever been to Amsterdam?) who want to destroy pot smokers is absurd.
posted by delmoi at 1:41 AM on March 14, 2009


BBC Correspondent Matt Frei on Kim Hill's show on RNZ talking about the attitude difference between the US and Europe. Much more entertaining than the dreadful old bore in the FPP link
posted by dydecker at 3:02 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Murray's research is made of straw (the entirety is flawed), and rapid economic growth is killing our planet.

Nor do I accept his beginning premise - I think the purpose of a well-functioning government and economy is to make for "pleasant lives", which does require a healthy economy, but also healthy communities, families, etc - and I think the European model - or rather, social democratic model, since I would include Canada a bit (we wander back and forth between the American and the European) - is doing very well.

I have argued with good scholars about the impact of social welfare on community-building institutions like charities and self-help organizations - and I think there is a good conversation to be had there. But Murray is not a good scholar, nor is he informed as to the history and interaction of the social welfare state with non-state welfare institutions.
posted by jb at 3:08 AM on March 14, 2009


if you want an example, check out AntiWar.com, run by a gay libertarian

Who is smoking the same crack pipe as Charles Murray.

What is most ridiculous about all this is the mental gymnastics required to parse just what the hell he is getting at, which is that the modern "elites" are not fulfilling their noblesse oblige at both keeping the unwashed masses under their thumb and inspiring them to fight tooth and nail to climb the social ladder.

These are social darwinists who are themselves not wealthy and have no hope of ever being wealthy, so they have concocted an ideology of fealty to "great men" who society has handicapped with all this horrible egalitarianism and democracy and social welfare and stuff. So when people no longer envy, when they are no longer hungry, society loses its capacity to aspire people to greatness, which in their mind means monopolizing wealth and having the power to boss around your inferiors.

They are submissive people pining for an authoritarian age.

And of course, someone had to hate on evolutionary psychology in this thread. Riddle me this: how are we ever going to shut these morons up if we don't have the ammunition to destroy their self-gratifying conception human nature? You can criticize the sloppy science all you want, but there are also gaps between what you want to believe and reality, gaps these guys are filling with dangerous bullshit. Talent and intelligence is innate and inheritable. What we must do is figure out how and to what extent. What could be a greater weapon against them than being able to say with scientific certainty that for every glorious leader of the right-wing social hierarchy there are ten thousand children in the slums of Rio who are smarter than he is?
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 4:57 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I reject this guy's premises entirely. The reason poor folks have buttloads of kids isn't because of welfare. It's because of lack of education and the religious right inserting themselves whenever possible between people and access to birth control. Religions also contribute mightily to folks having lots of kids. You're pregnant, and you already have nine kids? Well, it'd be a sin NOT to carry that 10th zygote to term. You don't want to burn in hell forever, do you? Do you?! And of course, as soon as a child is born and starts breathing on its own, THEN the conservative right doesn't particularly care if it lives or dies.

There's probably some lizard-brain activity going on there too. When you're pushed to the brink of elimination from the gene pool, for whatever reason, it's probably very natural to begin procreating like mad, so maybe ONE of your children will survive to see adulthood. What threatens peoples' survival? Well, poverty does, that's for sure. The harder life is for people, the more they procreate.
posted by jamstigator at 5:18 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I prefer not to argue for or against what is being said here but rather to make this one brief statement. Whenever people hustle us back to one or another of our founding fathers to prove something or other, I always note that these grand old guys allwed, believed in, and approved of slavery. That for me suggests that on issues of a later time, they may well not be the authorities (moral at least) they are so often made out to be. Happiness, well being etc? for white properties men.
posted by Postroad at 6:56 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh... Libertarian. I thought he was an AEI fellow and the recipient of the 2009 Irving Kristol Award. It's true that I haven't read everything (hardly anything) this man has said elsewhere, so I suppose it's possible he advocated for gay marriage. I'm not sure how relevant it is though. Having lived in this country all my life, I recognize the right-wing dog whistles about the centrality of faith and the immutability of gender and racial roles, especially when they accompany a general tirade about the need to return to earlier social structures. If he doesn't recognize them in his own speech (i.e. they crept in there somehow by accident) he's an idiot. Well, his discussion of science supports that conclusion at least.

Libertarians are generally only concerned with negative liberty. Of course, when the "elites" trigger another great awakening, ushering in a society where no one else is prosperous, people are constrained to certain socio-economic roles from birth, "faith" (I assume he means Hinduism) is central to public life, and our families are ordered to conform with his "scientifically" optimal familiy structure, we'll just have to hope that our betters rule over us benevolently. You know, Liberty!

Postroad, the problem is that slaves weren't proud enough of being slaves. But they should have been: those guys really pulled their own weight (literally). They may not have been prosperous, but they enjoyed life-long employment in the avocation that they were most genetically suited for. It's science. [And lest anyone thinks this is unfair, it should be noted that he makes repeated positive citation of how "exceptional" the U.S. was in the 1830s]
posted by Humanzee at 7:23 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The funny thing is that everyone in that room, members of AEI, Murrary, the whole lot of them, are convinced that they are genetic elites and that growing up with money and access to better education had nothing to do with it.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm feeling guilty for being so relentlessly negative in this thread, so I will say that I'm aware of the existence of AntiWar.com (regularly read Scott Horton) and other libertarians who opposed Bush. I appreciate their efforts and I admire/agree with many of their principles. I'm aware of and appalled by the School of the Americas, and it's always gratifying to hear a libertarian declare opposition to Reagan, since many don't. There are miles and miles of distance between that kind of libertarian, and the people that frequent the AEI, which overwhelmingly supported Bush (and made up much of his government).

However, economic libertarians often overly discount the fact that humans spontaneously form social and economic organizations, of which government is merely one. The wealthy and powerful have always worked to maintain their advantage through every means at their disposal, and this talk is an example of that: furthering self-interest of the powerful with vague references to piss-poor science and pseudo-history. More reasonable libertarians would do well to distance themselves from this guy.
posted by Humanzee at 9:10 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


What humanzee said.

I'm a big fan of freedom, I think just about all of us are. The myth that a social democrat ISN'T in favour of individual freedom is just that - myth.

What we are not in favour of is people who use the "freedom" argument to try to dodge paying their fair share for things they simultaneously deride and benefit from, like roads, education, policing etc etc. Likewise I don't think that personal freedom includes the right to screw over anyone who's less advantaged than oneself.

It seems we only ever hear bleats of "smaller government, less tax" from the libertarian corner, with nothing to support them except their pathological distrust of government. This position is especially irrelevant in the current crisis; no government forced any lender to provide deceptive no-down mortgages to unqualified homebuyers, no one forced the issuance and trading of CDOs, no government forced the bogus rating of these dubious instruments, and finally, no-one but the government is apparently capable of digging the nation out of the ensuing mess.

Myself, I consider libertarianism as a polar opposite to Marxism. Both are theoretical extremes in political science, and both are equally unworkable as complete systems in the real world.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2009


If you don't want government, go ahead and defend what you got by yourself without the help of my tax money. The cost of the guns and the guards to carry them will probably come close to what you were paying in taxes anyway. The primary purpose of the government is to make sure the few who have something don't get robbed by the majority that have nothing. Go ahead and live without that protection, but don't force that state of affairs on me.

If you are afraid of your neighbor, the shortsighted answer is to make sure you can defend yourself from him, and the long term solution is to make sure he is never so desperate as to be tempted to harm you. In Scandinavia, I have heard, you can leave a bicycle at a train station, and it will still be there when you come back. I have a suspicion that if anyone was hungry enough, they would take the bike and trade it for a sandwich. So your best interest is in your neighbor being fed.
posted by idiopath at 9:24 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


And of course, someone had to hate on evolutionary psychology in this thread. Riddle me this: how are we ever going to shut these morons up if we don't have the ammunition to destroy their self-gratifying conception human nature? ... What could be a greater weapon against them than being able to say with scientific certainty that for every glorious leader of the right-wing social hierarchy there are ten thousand children in the slums of Rio who are smarter than he is?

What the hell are you talking about? Evolutionary Psychology as a specific field has nothing to do with intelligence. It's all about estimating behavior based on evolutionary advantage that such behavior might confer: Like saying women like men with money because they're more likely to have successful offspring if the men take care of their kids with said money, while men like beautiful women because they can have kids with as many as they like. That kind of nonsense. Evolutionary Psychology has never even tried to answer questions like "how many kids in the slums of Rio are smarter then him" And biology over all will never be able to precisely answer it.

The real issue is most of those "smart" masters of the universe are idiots. Just look at Tomas Friedman.

You can criticize the sloppy science all you want

I will thanks. You don't just get to make up science in order to have good arguments against people you disagree with about policy.
posted by delmoi at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2009


Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. It's inevitable....

When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.


This word "inevitable. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by carmen at 10:33 AM on March 14, 2009


A relevant counterpoint to this sort of thing from Adam Cadre.

As Humanzee and others have said, I'm skeptical of the distinction made in the article between "government" and "community," where the former is the problem and the latter a solution.

Also, as a side note, it's interesting to me that the author of the article thinks that a depression would move America away from collectivism. It seems to me that tough financial times might instead make Americans more concerned about what they could accomplish together ("trygghet" in the above link), as opposed to separately.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2009


First of all, I miss Stephen J. Gould. Yes, I know it's all hip to love on him and stuff, but damn, was Mismeasure of Man a beautiful antidote to The Bell Curve.

Secondly, alasdair, did I really just see you refer to Chinese people as yellow-skinned, as in:

If, through geography, the American landmass was nearer China, it would probably be full of yellow-skinned people writing earnest tracts about how Confucianism is necessary for civilisation and how Imperial forms of government are clearly superior.

Really, now? Really really? Did I somehow time-travel back to the 1950's and not realize it? Seriously, this is beyond not cool.

P.S. They're Communists, now. I don't know if you've noticed.
posted by bettafish at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2009


P.S. They're Communists, now. I don't know if you've noticed.

They're a capitalist country where people buy Mao bobble heads.
posted by delmoi at 3:41 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think alasdair meant that hypothetically, there would be a different "yellow-skinned" people living in America, which would probably not call themselves Chinese in whatever parallel universes they inhabit.
posted by mek at 4:20 PM on March 14, 2009


The twentieth century was a very strange century, riddled from beginning to end with toxic political movements and nutty ideas. For some years a metaphor has been stuck in my mind: the twentieth century was the adolescence of Homo sapiens. Nineteenth-century science, from Darwin to Freud, offered a series of body blows to ways of thinking about human beings and human lives that had prevailed since the dawn of civilization. Humans, just like adolescents, were deprived of some of the comforting simplicities of childhood and exposed to more complex knowledge about the world. And twentieth-century intellectuals reacted precisely the way that adolescents react when they think they have discovered Mom and Dad are hopelessly out of date. They think that the grown-ups are wrong about everything. In the case of twentieth-century intellectuals, it was as if they thought that if Darwin was right about evolution, then Aquinas is no longer worth reading; that if Freud was right about the unconscious mind, the Nicomachean Ethics had nothing to teach us.

Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well-lived requires engagement with those around us.


Emphasis mine. How can humanity be both adolescent and have age-old wisdom at once? That doesn't make sense to me.
posted by droplet at 9:07 PM on March 14, 2009


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