Hedgehog

One of the advantages of writing a blog about the same thing (why it’s moral and rational for my clients to own the wealth they do) every week for 6 years is that you come across the same authors/books/articles/ideas again and again.  Ideas about truth, justice and moral philosophy are all interconnected.  Knowledge on these matters (despite being controversial) continues to be articulated, reinforced and shared by writers who are paying attention.

We’re beginning a new project on meritocracy, a topic getting a lot of press lately.

The Hedgehog Review is a journal out of the University of Virginia.  It gets its name from an ancient Greek aphorism:  “The fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing”.  I discovered this most excellent publication after studying the book Science and the Good:  The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (2018), which I blogged through 4/9/19 – 5/28/19 [that book stemmed from an article in The Hedgehog Review].

This Hedgehog piece on meritocracy:

https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/meritocracy-and-its-discontents/articles/the-new-ruling-class

caught my attention and that of blogger Matthew Yglesias

https://www.slowboring.com/p/meritocracy-is-bad

Helen Andrews’ article is still on the front page of The Hedgehog Review web site – and it’s from 2016.  It’s noteworthy.  Yglesias is a smart guy but he misunderstands wealth morality as it relates to the idea of marginal utility [wealth redistributionists think that the marginal dollar taken out of a wealthy person’s pocket and given to someone in need will increase overall human flourishing].

To the contrary, as we’ve learned from Game Theory and Scott Alexander’s Mistake Theory vs. Conflict Theory dichotomy, the notion of overall marginal utility is wrong.  Von Neumann and Morgenstein pointed this out in the 1940’s:  “the popular misunderstanding about this pseudo-maximum problem is the famous statement according to which the purpose of social effort is the ‘greatest possible good for the greatest possible number’.  A guiding principle cannot be formulated by the requirement of maximizing two (or more) functions at once.  Such a principle… is self-contradictory.  One function will have no maximum where the other function has one.”  It’s like saying that a business should pursue maximum revenue and minimum expense.  Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944).

The best articulation on why meritocracy is rational, moral and, in fact, the way things are – is from Scott Alexander:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/24/targeting-meritocracy/

https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/02/14/addendum-to-targeting-meritocracy/

A new book from Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel sets its cross hairs on meritocracy and is worthy of our attention here:  The Tyranny of Merit – What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020). Sandel is the flute justice guy (remember Aristotle’s flutes?).  He and other academics see justice as utilitarian but underestimate the inefficiency of the corrupt, bloated monstrosity that is our Federal Government.  Government is not a force for good.  It is an insurable hazard.  We are each independent moral and rational agents.  The common good cannot be coerced by a collectivist State.  We’ll begin our journey through Sandel’s book next week.

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Sad Offense Archaeologists

This is my last post on cancel culture.  It’s sad and not worth further time.  Next Tuesday, I begin a new research and writing endeavor on meritocracy.  Join me on an 8 week knowledge expedition deep down into the murky waters of moral philosophy and normative economics.

The final section of our current project, Panics and Persecutions (2020), includes the essay, “Sad Radicals”, by a former anarchist, taking us into the minds of those who wallow in cancel culture.   It made me feel sorry for the cancellers.  Hearing from a “deprogrammed” radical social justice warrior provides insight into what goes on in the heads of the woke.  He cites the book Joyful Militancy (2017) in attempting to explain the radical toxicity – a paranoid, depressing morality that “binds and blinds”*.  The toxicity of cancel culture is not a bug to them, it’s a feature.  They operate in a “paradigm of suspicion”.   

Cancellers pore over prior interactions, looking desperately for ways the mundane conceals oppression.  They see every communication as containing hidden violence because of their obsession with power and domination.  Freddie DeBoer calls them “offense archaeologists”.  The canceller’s moral standing can only be maintained by attacking the moral standing of others.  They are trapped in this mindset because of an absolute refusal to engage opposing views.  Ideas that counter their worldview are met with kafkatrap – claiming that opposition to their viewpoint proves their viewpoint. 

Young adults are ensnared by these bad ideas when they see cruelty, malevolence and unfairness in the world, rejecting a society that tolerates oppression.  They cannot contend with opposing ideas, and instead vigorously try to silence them.  They are not seekers of truth; they are guardians of a radical ideology, ready to cancel any opposition in a zealous pursuit of what they think is justice.  But there is no justice without wisdom, and no wisdom without surrender to uncertainty in the pursuit of truth.

After showing us what being in this mindset is like, the author speculates on where it comes from and why it spreads so effectively.  “Does it give purpose to a generation without meaning?  Is it intra-class competition among overproduced elites?  Is it some byproduct of economic precarity?   He concludes that cancel culture will continue despite its incoherence, false assumptions and not knowing where it comes from.  It’s not going away because, as a philosopher once said of capitalism:  “No one has ever died from contradictions”.

* Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind (2013).  A canceller’s entire identity and value as human is tied to validating their wokeness.  The fact that they engage in militant cancellations and crave mob approval to be happy is sad indeed.  As one commenter puts it:   “I think it’s a deep sign of personal unhappiness – caused by an inner lack of purpose, meaning and fulfillment through personal and family relationships – which causes someone to heed the clarion call to radically reengineer society using force and coercion to re-order the lives of others. It’s a sign that young people are desperately unhappy that they fall for such nonsense.”

EDIT – This is a great article that gets right down to what’s happening to our culture:

https://hedgehogreview.com/blog/thr/posts/opinion-fetishism

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Can’t Cancel Art

Cancel culture is primarily a project of the political left.  It is an ongoing attempt to forcibly impose ideas onto those who do not share woke leftist views or values.  The essay “Policing the Creative Imagination” from Panics and Persecutions (2020) explains how and why they try to cancel writers of fiction literature.  The publishing industry is so terrified of cancel culture that they are now hiring “sensitivity readers” – people who are assigned to read a yet to be published work of fiction to determine whether or not offense is likely to be caused by the author’s portrayal of characters considered marginalized or historically oppressed.

This is clearly censorship even though the cancellers claim it’s merely a form of fact checking.  But it’s not analogous to hiring experts to check scientific or historical facts because it’s moral – someone’s view of right and wrong is used to censor fictional characters.  There is a critical distinction between fact and value – what is vs. what ought to be.  This is what makes the idea of sensitivity readers so insidious.  Someone chosen by leftist ideologues is given power to evaluate social norms and ideas that are highly contentious and change over time.

These are profoundly important questions about individuals and society, how different groups should live together, how we understand our identities and histories.  Questions about humanity and morality have been around for thousands of years.  These crucial questions are precisely the ones we expect literature to explore.  And it cannot perform this vital mission if it is first filtered through sensitivity readers who believe they already have all the answers – not because of what they know, but because of who they happen to be.

We’ll finish our cancel culture probe next week and then embark on a philosophically more capacious, more controversial notion that I’ve touched on here before – meritocracy.  Newly published material merits a more thorough War Chest exploration of why it’s fair for my clients to have an estate to plan.

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Can’t Cancel Science

This image is a 1633 message from Galileo Galili to today’s cancelers of science.

The 20 cancellation stories in Panics and Persecutions (2020) are quite memorable.  Anyone reading them won’t forget the awful ordeals these people endured after being targeted by the leftist mob.  The tales that struck me as particularly outrageous were when the mob attacked science and math.   It’s one thing to cancel entertainers, humanity academics, fiction authors and people who knit (I’m not kidding – one of the stories is “Knitting Infinity War on Instagram”); …but scientists and mathematicians?!  The essay “Dangerous Life of an Anthropologist” is a fascinating glimpse into the ‘unforgiving battlefield of the science wars’.  A recurring theme throughout cancel culture, as it relates to science, is the Nature vs. Nurture debate.  It’s actually not a reasoned debate – it’s a take-no-prisoners, scorched earth, hill on which leftists die – reason, logic and science be dammed.

Anyone who is rational can see leftists getting slaughtered on their hill to die on by science and reason.  The vitriolic hostility of the Nature vs. Nurture debate is really the dying screams of an ideological group scrambling to silence what everyone else takes as an incontrovertible fact:  humans, just like every other species on earth, have a nature.  A schism on the intellectual battlefield violently divides those dedicated to the science of mankind – anthropologists; from those opposed to science who still pretend that they are anthropologists (postmodernists vaguely defined or activists disguised as scientist who seek to place advocacy above objective truth).

The cancelers disguise their increasingly anti-scientific activism as research by using obscurantist postmodern gibberish – illogical deception.  Galileo famously said “By denying scientific principles, one may maintain any paradox”.  He recognized the inevitable cognitive dissonance of science deniers.  Science wins.  Cancel culture loses.

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You Say You Want A Revolution

Revolution

Ben Shapiro wrote on 2/24/21:

Institutional power in the U.S. is dominated by authoritarian leftists who seek top-down censorship and believe their progressive worldview is the only one that matters. These individuals believe in launching a revolution designed at tearing down the so-called “hierarchies of power.”

 

Claire Lehmann understands that it is NOT a revolution — she writes in the introduction to Panics and Persecutions – 20 Tales of Excommunication in the Digital Age (2020):

The radicalization of today’s progressive left…can’t be described as “revolutionary,” because it doesn’t offer any real alternative to traditional politics.  Look beyond the street protests, the vandalized statues, the cancelation campaigns, the exotic theorems of intersectional identity; and one finds that the actual political demands are either ludicrous (“abolish the police”), meaningless (“decolonize our cities”), or simply represent further extrapolations of established progressive polices, such as hiring quotas, affirmative action in education, and enforced equity-training sessions.

 

…modern social justice proponents .…dwell on the theme of oppression, but have no realistic theory about how to alleviate it.  And since their power typically extends only to the representational aspects of life – the hashtags we are allowed to use, the books we are allowed to write, the clothes we are allowed to wear, the acceptable names for buildings and streets, the pronouns people must recite – these are the subject of their most passionately expressed grievances.

 

Political cults (like today’s progressive left) set forth unchallengeable doctrines, which makes them unstable.  They offer a totalizing theory of good and evil that conflates ideological correctness with moral worth.  Cancel culture is the Left’s attempt to control and impose thought.  It is clearly immoral, which is why they do not defend it.  Instead, they are forced to deny cancel culture exists altogether*.  Thankfully, there are thinkers who are not dependent on the coercive purveyors of anti-knowledge temporarily in control of our institutions.

 

I’m not worried about a revolutionary change to our legal/economic system.  I do, however, share Claire’s concern about the abominable number of arrogant smart people attempting to suppress free thought and free speech in their grubby grab for power.  Fortunately, their power is largely performative, symbolic and inane (cancelling things like syrup, toys and children’s books).  Today’s cancel culture is not like the 1960’s, which led to positive social change and the civil rights revolution.  It’s just a reality denying group of narrow minded individuals who just so happen to be in charge… for now.  It cannot last because of the inherit instability of a Narrative that not only  refuses to engage dissent, but also actively and viciously suppresses, cancels and attempts to destroy anything that runs counter to it.

 

What’s going on is not a revolution – it’s just an obvious authoritarian collectivist grasp for power via censorship.  I can’t tell you how glad I am that I do not work for a woke university, corporation or mainstream media propaganda outlet that could cancel me if the woke mob found out what I was up to here (independent thought, free and honest expression). How’d you like to work for a corporation that orders you to be less white?  Intersectionality nonsense is not a revolution.  It is a pathological error in human thought. Humanity will soon be cured of it once enough cognition antibodies spread throughout the marketplace of ideas.

The cancelers take themselves extremely seriously, imagining themselves to be social-justice angels whose holy ends justify every imaginable means. Their sanctimonious spirit is something to behold.  I’m glad the insidious conceit is temporary, not revolutionary.

 

*The articles I see denying cancel culture are ridiculous.  Claire’s book details 20 stories of cancellation.  The National Assoc. of Scholars database cites 128 cancellations. https://www.canceledpeople.com/  documents 173 cancelled minds.  …. so far.  Arguing that cancel culture doesn’t exists makes the arguer look silly – part of the self-deluded, immoral, gleeful savagery and joyful militancy that is today’s political left.  They deserve to be mocked.

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Cancel Culture

The most astounding thing about cancel culture is not that it’s happening (humans will always be in conflict with each other).  No, the most astonishing thing is that the Left denies that it’s happening at all.  They brush off the phenomenon as just a bunch of entitled conservatives being “challenged” and “held accountable” for their problematic views – problematic, incidentally, not because they’re false views, problematic because the Left deems them so, because they counter their Narrative.    

Charles Blow of the New York Times tweeted last year “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CANCEL CULTURE”.   He also cluelessly thinks wealth redistribution is a good idea (see my 6/13/20 post).  The Left perversely tries to argue that it’s really the hypocritical Right doing the cancelling.  This article frames cancel culture as simply Republicans weaponizing language:

https://www.npr.org/2021/02/10/965815679/is-cancel-culture-the-future-of-the-gop

Their obsession with power, language and knowledge to make everything about oppression is on full display in that piece.  The book Cynical Theories (2020), which we worked through here 9/9/20 – 11/24/20, explains how and why this way of thinking continues to fester.   

The online magazine Quillette offers insightful, timely views on free speech and free thought.  It’s a refreshing counter to the mainstream media’s dark, false Narrative and obvious cancel culture problem.  Here are a couple of articles with myriad delineations of this very real phenomenon, even as the Left continues to falsely deny it exists. 

https://quillette.com/2020/07/14/yes-there-is-such-a-thing-as-cancel-culture/

https://quillette.com/2021/01/27/beating-back-cancel-culture-a-case-study-from-the-field-of-artificial-intelligence/

That last one points to the book Panics and Persecutions (2020), which we turn to next week.  I’ll spend the next several weeks on cancel culture, not because I think it’s a dangerous growing threat that must be vigorously opposed; rather, I see it as a nasty, hateful human phenomenon which is now getting exposed and blown apart by independent thinkers.  It’s becoming absurd – come on – Chris Harrison of TV’s The Bachelor, Mr. Potato Head, The Muppets, Dr. Seuss – it’s so ridiculous.  We’ll hear from some of the thought warriors on the front lines with this retreating, preposterous ideational enemy so that you and I won’t have to worry about the transient, immoral phenomenon of cancel culture.  Fortunately, we’ve reached a tipping point:

https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/cpac-cancel-culture-attacks-dr-seuss-liz-peek

Mainstream media intellectual gatekeepers are angry (and pathetically deny it) because they are losing power – with each passing day:

https://nypost.com/2021/02/18/medias-censorious-gatekeepers-are-mad-because-theyre-losing-power/

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The Scott Alexander Affair

If I could send just one message to the future to anyone wondering what the hell happened to the intellectual landscape in 2020-21 (this blog is just that), I would point to the attack on blogger Scott Alexander.  I visualize him as the lone pawn in last week’s image standing on the game board of cognition among the toppled chess pieces of mainstream media.  Scott is most triumphant.

I won’t re-tell his story but encourage you to read his response to The New York Times obnoxious hit piece on him and his blog:

https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/statement-on-new-york-times-article

Free thought outlet Quillette posted two articles about it:

https://quillette.com/2021/02/14/scott-alexander-philosopher-king-of-the-weird-people/

https://quillette.com/2021/02/16/the-narrative-and-its-discontents/

Anyone paying attention with a modicum of intelligence can see what’s going on:

https://www.slowboring.com/p/slate-star-codex

https://fredrikdeboer.com/2021/02/15/scott-alexander-is-not-in-the-gizmodo-media-slack/

Mainstream media has lost all credibility – plain and simple.  They no longer seek truth – only a false Narrative and a vicious habit of cancelling anything or anyone that dissents.  Legacy media writers are dishonest and devious in their defense of an agenda that everything, everywhere at all times is oppression.  We just devoted 2 months (12/8/20 – 2/23/21) studying scientist Charles Murray’s new book.  The New York Times accuses Scott of being a racist because he is “aligned with Charles Murray”.  What a load of horseshit – I’m staggeringly befuddled at how mainstream media is able to get away with this.

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The Reins of Intellectual Power are Changing Hands

The times they are a-changin’ wrote Bob Dylan – and man, they really are changing right now.  This is my last post on Charles Murray’s book Human Diversity (2020).  It illuminates a tectonic shift in who holds humanity’s cultural and intellectual power.  It’s changing radically from arrogant elites in mainstream media and academia to independent thinkers who can see how badly these elites have abused their power and purported authority.  The cancellers are about to get cancelled.

Murray writes:  “They have created a world that is ideal for them, filled with the kind of complexity that they are able to navigate through which they can extract both money and power.  At the same time, they have abdicated their role as stewards of the culture.”  Today’s elites (the clerisy as Ross Douthat calls them) exude a fundamental misunderstanding, even a disdain, for reality.  They continue to cling to an obviously wrong worldview generating growing cognitive dissonance which is causing an ongoing erosion of their “authority”.

If today’s elites are being toppled, who will replace them?  The people I write about here – guys like Scott Alexander, who recently exposed The New York Times as the douchebags they are – more on him next post.  It all boils down to the point I’ve been making here for years.  The clerisy’s attempts to control the world – to help the poor, low IQ masses – to redistribute wealth, cannot and will not work.  Government cannot confiscate wealth and power and pass it out to others.  Government can only confiscate (i.e. steal) the fruits of wealth and knowledge -> money, which is not the same thing as wealth and knowledge.  We know better from our War Chest of awareness – true wealth and knowledge, not the pretentious, wrong-headed, immoral beliefs of the clerisy.

Here, let’s hear Murray’s diagnosis of the clerisy’s sick misunderstanding of human worth:

…the root is the new upper class’s conflation of intellectual ability and the professions it enables with human worth.  Few admit it, of course.  But the evolving zeitgeist of the new upper class has led to a misbegotten hierarchy whereby being a surgeon is better in some sense of human worth than being an insurance salesman, being an executive in a high-tech firm is better than being a housewife, and a neighborhood of people with advanced degrees is better than a neighborhood of high school graduates.  To put is so baldly makes it obvious how senseless it is.   There shouldn’t be any relations between these things and human worth.  And yet, among too many in the new upper class, there is.

The conflation of intellectual ability with human worth helps to explain the new upper class’s insistence that inequality of intellectual ability must be the product of environmental disadvantage.  Many people with high IQs really do feel sorry for people with low IQs.  If the environment is to blame, then those unfortunates can be helped, and that makes people who want to help them feel good.  If genes are to blame, it makes people who want help them feel bad.  People prefer feeling good to feeling bad, so they engage in confirmation bias when it comes to the evidence about the causes of human differences.

It’s a whole new world for those who understand and accept Mr. Murray’s ideas.  And it’s the end of the world for those who refuse to accept truth and reality.  They will continue to lose their power and credibility, involuntarily ceding it to those who are courageous and honest enough to see humanity as it is, not as they would like it to be.

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The Irony of Evolutionary Psychology Deniers

I write this weekly blog to document my evolving understanding of how the world works.  It’s enjoyably exciting to engage new ideas because humanity is now in an era akin to 1633 when Galileo was persecuted and imprisoned for his discovery of the heliocentric nature of our solar system.  He was guilty of wrongthink like many today.  I’m not exaggerating.  Today’s cancel culture orthodoxy is terribly hostile.  Fortunately, it’s a temporary aberration because, as with Galileo, scientific truth ultimately wins.

The conclusion of Charles Murray’s Human Diversity (2020) explains how an exaggerated blank slate metaphor corrupted mainstream understanding of human nature and deceived people in our institutions into hatefully denying reality.  The new science of Evolutionary Psychology continues to mature as a discipline even as the orthodoxy accuses it of “just-so-story-telling”.  That phrase, which has its own Wiki page, is really just a mean, derogatory slogan used by the fearful Left to attack knowledge that undermines their worldview.

It’s no secret that the underlying objections to Evolutionary Psychology are political, not scientific.  The virulently hostile reaction to the groundbreaking book Sociobiology (1975) came to a head in books like Not in Our Genes:  Biology Ideology, and Human Nature (1984).  The seething bitterness continues to this day.  Endnote 19 in Murray’s last chapter cites a telling study:  “Psychological Barriers to Evolutionary Psychology:  Ideological Bias and Coalitional Adaptations” (2018).  It concludes with exquisite irony that human evolved psychology is what interferes with the deniers scientific understanding of human evolved psychology.  John Tooby’s causal nexus understanding of cognition, which I wrote about here on 3/8/16 (T-Rex Wants to Hunt) and 3/15/16 (Moral Warfare), is undoubtedly correct.

Here’s a 4/8/19 article that hits the evolutionary nail on the head:

Cancel culture is not motivated by a desire to further truth – just the opposite.  It’s a crazed denial of truth.  Winston Churchill observed “There’s no telling what a crazed maniac will do with his back against the wall”.  The crumbling orthodoxy fervently tries to promote their beliefs in a desperate attempt to validate them and invalidate any opposition – not challenge but invalidate, or better yet, cancel.  It won’t work.  The book Galileo’s Middle Finger (2015) teaches us that censorship is merely transitory.  You can’t suppress scientific truths indefinitely.

Next week, we’ll conclude our immersion in Murray’s final chapter.  Then we’ll move on to the broader phenomenon of cancel culture, beyond Evolutionary Psychology deniers.

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Life’s Work

Chapter 15 of Human Diversity (2020) is the last one and also the best.  I’ll need more than one post to cover it.  Charles Murray presents a culmination of his life’s work.  He’s cautious in the prior chapters but lets loose in the conclusion.  He begins:  “The study of human diversity fascinates me, and I hope it has captured your interests as well.” It’s fascinating that his ideas are so compellingly true and yet bitterly attacked by hostile critics.  Murray’s work is consistent and thorough.  He’s been making the same empirical arguments (while his detractors accuse him of being a racist) for decades.  He fortifies the soundness of the conclusions by building upon the knowledge in his prior books:

Losing Ground (1984)

In Pursuit (1988)

The Bell Curve (1994)

In Our Hands (2006)

Coming Apart (2012)

The ‘Great Society’ multi-billion dollar government social programs from the 1960’s simply didn’t work; Human Diversity (2020) explains why.  Human nature (cognitive ability and behavior) is substantially genetic and cannot be changed much by public policy handouts.  The Left hates this fact and aggressively works to suppress or cancel anything they deem wrongthink – because it embarrassingly exposes their false worldview.  Antiscientific antagonism is frustrating to real scientists:  “Critics who rail against status quo bolstering, genetic determinism, and jut-so story-telling are like the crazy person in the bus shelter, fighting with a sparring partner who isn’t really there.  They’ve invented their own evolutionary psychology and are arguing loudly with that.”  Fighting them is “like a Nietzschean eternal recurrence, or pushing Sisyphus’s rock up the hill again and again forever.” 

The rock is about to get pushed to the top of the hill….finally.  We are at the early stages of a scientific revolution; the orthodoxy keeps brushing off hard evidence.  They are hiding behind an antiscientific bulwark.  “Evolutionary psychology is about the reality of inborn human nature:  the role that biology has played in shaping human beings above the neck.  The orthodox are saying that it’s all socialization.  They have felt able to continue to maintain this position because there has not been an ironclad you-can’t-get-around-this-one refutation of it.” 

Evolutionary Psychology will soon provide a final ironclad refutation.  It helps explain why socialism and other stupid social engineering attempts always fail.  When our Leftist opponents finally come to peace with the reality of human nature it will become crystal clear that government wealth redistribution is impractical and immoral.  I’ll continue to point that out here, again and again – year after year – piggybacking on the life’s work of Charles Murray and many others.  Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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