Monday, February 22, 2021

The Cult of Smart II

The little bit of commentary I have which might be valuable in Siskind's review of The Cult of Smart.  He says DeBoer

...isn't this denying the equality of Man, declaring some people inherently superior to others? Only if you conflate intelligence with worth, which DeBoer argues our society does constantly. 

I have been mentioning this for years, but would offer the large correction that it is the Gentry/Elite/Clerisy class which does this constantly, not "society." I grew up with that crew, and judging people by their intelligence is a primary characteristic.  It is not that they don't care about beauty, or hard work, or character or other ways of assigning value, but they elevate intelligence far above these others, enough so that imitations and imitators abound in that class, as those aspiring to it sense that they must have this to get ahead.  If they do not, they must find the trappings or signals so that people will think that they do.  They also do not always see beyond the trappings very well, as in the continuing insistence that Barack Obama must be a very smart person, for circular reasons.  He is above-average.  No more than that. The Jewish parents or the Tiger Moms pushing their kids were only resented because they seemed so darn good at it. Swedish* families did the same. Lots of aspirational groups did the same.

There is a continual difficulty in reading Siskind, but a good difficulty if you like reading. He not only writes at length, but he links to other times he has written at length.  I had a difficulty in linking to and commenting on his post about newer treatments on trauma, anxiety, and depression, because I only get started with the essay and he is referencing another, and then that essay has a hyperlink to a third, all on related topics and each illuminating the other. And then, as I have noted and Texan99 just confirmed, there are his commenters, who also provide valuable illumination and commentary. 

One keeps going further down the rabbit-hole, and at the end, there isn't much for one such as I to say, because he really has looked at the issue from those other sides that I ordinarily move in to provide on an issue. People overlook important points.  I am good at finding those and quickly assembling additional perspective.  But he hasn't overlooked much.  It is gratifying to read a liberal who does not merely misunderstand conservatives and shoot down straw men. (That is one reason why I have liked Jonathan Haidt so much over the years.) DeBoer somewhat gets it - better than most writers at the Atlantic or the New Yorker - but T99 picked up where he fell into a common oversimplification that at least needed mentioning.  Siskind doesn't provide me much opportunity for that.  Example:

3. Closely related: Donald Trump appeals to a lot of people because despite his immense wealth he practically glows with signs of being Labor class. This isn’t surprising; his grandfather was a barber and his father clawed his way up to the top by getting his hands dirty. He himself went to a medium-tier college and is probably closer in spirit to the small-business owners of the upper Labor class than to the Stanford MBA-holding executives of the Elite. Trump loves and participates in professional wrestling and reality television; those definitely aren’t Gentry or Elites pastimes! When liberals shake their heads wondering why Joe Sixpack feels like Trump is a kindred soul even though Trump’s been a billionaire his whole life, they’re falling into the liberal habit of sorting people by wealth instead of by class. To Joe Sixpack, Trump is “local boy made good”.

Or also

 And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

Correct.  And as you can see by the "3," that's only one point made in a long essay.  A NYT writer could get an entire op-ed out of that one fact, but it's just one of many for Siskind.  BTW Jews, hated by the underclass, are losing their ingroup status among the elites.  It won't happen this week, not this decade, but it grows.

So there is the review of the Cult of Smart, which I linked to a couple of days ago.  But that links to his wonderful Parable of the Talents, and also to his review of Staying Classy, which in turn links his essay I Can Tolerate Anything But the Outgroup,** as well as a discussion of Michael Church's description of classes/castes in the US (which he summarises, fortunately), The descriptions of castes at Unqualified Reservations (Mencius Moldbug, which he also mercifully summarises),as well as Joel Kotkin's book The New Class Conflict, Paul Fassel's Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, and Archdruid Report. Interesting stuff, top to bottom, and all of a sudden you have six tabs open. I was going to just pass on the "I Can Tolerate..." one, but it starts out with a discussion of one of GK Chesterton's Father Brown stories, warming my heart and drawing me in.

A fun quote from one of the essays

Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.

On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I

Lovely stuff

Talking about trying harder can obfuscate the little differences, but once we’re talking about the homeless schizophrenic guy from Detroit who can’t tell me 100 minus 7 to save his life, you can’t just magic the problem away with a wave of your hand and say “I’m sure he can be the next Ramanujan if he keeps a positive attitude!” You either need to condemn him as worthless or else stop fricking tying worth to innate intellectual ability.

So it's a lot, and I know it's a lot, but I also think if you push through this you will get a few college courses worth of real information about IQ, class and caste, American political tribes, and a bit on six other important topics as well. Muchg better than real college courses, even at conservative colleges, and well better than at elite colleges because they would give you so much you needed to unlearn.  You will have a boatload of useful knowledge to integrate with your own experiences and become one of the relative few who understand what they are looking at in cultural questions.  Not that it will do you any good, of course.  It will likely just make you more frustrated. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed found halfway up the mountain, stabbed in the back on his way out.

*The political liberalisation of the Lutheran and Covenant churches I have been in may owe much to the Scandinavians and Germans moving from the Labor to Gentry classes and adopting the politics of the aspirational group. Though the Swedes had a strong socialist element from early on.

**If you want evidence and links to further evidence that implicit bias and systemic racism are small factors but prejudice against people with different beliefs, especially liberals against conservative, go to section VI of that essay.



Texan99 said...

Here's another way we're tying ourselves into knots: we say it's wrong to equate IQ with merit, which is of course true in the same sense that it's silly to equate height or perfect pitch with spiritual merit. But that's not to say that we don't recognize that IQ, height, or perfect pitch can be awfully valuable traits that it would be a needless loss to society to disincentivize.

Then we acknowledge that, if a trait is highly valued by a lot of people, they're going to exert much of their social and economic influence to get the benefit of the work or product that the trait makes possible, which will generally lead to the accumulation of wealth (expressed in money or social influence, but always some kind of wealth) by people who possess useful traits.

Then we say it's unfair that some people have wealth and some don't, because everyone deserves to have a "good life."

But we bitterly resist the notion that wealth is what defines a good life.

OK, maybe wealth doesn't define a good life. Maybe people don't respond exclusively to financial incentives, and maybe they also respond to incentives like love and compassion and meaning and belonging. If that's so, then let's start showing how much we enjoy indulging the instincts of love and compassion by showering wealth on people unlucky enough to lack any traits that lead to work that leads to goods or services we care about. And by "we" I mean "us," not those other people we'd like to perform this essential duty for us without costing us anything personally."

Or we can conclude that wealth isn't that important or interesting, and that poor people are as valuable as rich ones, and their lives are just as meaningful. Or we can conclude that people who haven't been able to think of anything to do for others that others want might, in many cases, do well to think more of how to please others, if only to make it more likely that their neighbors will want to drop by with good things and help and favors. You can please your neighbors by being good company and reliable and honest citizens and solid Rotary Club or church members as well as by inventing a great new app or becoming Salesman of the Year at the car dealership.

RichardJohnson said...

He himself (Donald Trump)went to a medium-tier college and is probably closer in spirit to the small-business owners of the upper Labor class than to the Stanford MBA-holding executives of the Elite.

Trump started at Fordham, definitely medium-tier, but he graduated from Penn, a member of the Ivy League. He didn't end up medium-tier.

RichardJohnson said...

He himself (Donald Trump)went to a medium-tier college and is probably closer in spirit to the small-business owners of the upper Labor class than to the Stanford MBA-holding executives of the Elite.

Trump started at Fordham, definitely medium-tier, but he graduated from Penn, a member of the Ivy League. He didn't end up medium-tier.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.Correct.

Correct, indeed. I didn't realize it at the time, but I began to turn away from the Blue/Liberal/Progressive Tribe in high school when I concluded that all of us form ingroups and outgroups. By contrast there has long been a strong tendency among the members of the Blue/Liberal/Progressive Tribe to believe that THEY are the tolerant, inclusive unbigoted ones. Tom Lehrer put it well in his patter before his National Brotherhood Week song: "I realize there are people who do not love their fellow man, and I HATE people like that."

David Foster said...

Having hired a lot of people, and also fired a few, I think it's important to note that a lot of things matter in the job world other than pure IQ-type smarts...not that that isn't important, of course. For example, resilience: if you're a sales rep and you can't recover from rejection, you're not going to be very successful; same true if you're an aspiring musician. Ability to keep it together in stressful situations: pretty important if you're a pilot or an air traffic controller (or an electricity or gas dispatcher!) or a member of a surgical team. Ability to interact with people and persuade them: important to an wide range of jobs. Courage, of many types, ranging from courage to start a new venture to courage to climb a wind-turbine tower. Physical strength and coordination, still important in many kinds of jobs

The gating qualification for today's Credentialism is not only measured intelligence; there is also a large component of required conformity, as identified by all the hoop-jumping that one needs to do.

dmoelling said...

All Donald Trump wanted was to be accepted into the Manhattan real estate tycoon class. He tried hard but didn’t have the secret handshake. If the democrats had been smarter they could have won him over as the successor to the big union bosses of yesterday. The smart crew keeps the castle walls hogh

james said...

In the Parable of the Talents I noticed that he carefully explains it to his readers. I wondered how many of his readers needed the explanation.
I didn't go through the comments--probably should have--I wonder how many thought of 1Cor 12, which is the first thing that comes to my mind when discussions of IQ and merit pop up.

GraniteDad said...

I attribute much of my workplace success to just being generally genial and be willing to listen to folks. Also trying to find common ground with people goes a long way- coworkers, other departments, clients. It’s amazing to me the people who can’t master the skill of not arguing needlessly with your boss.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Granite Dad - I was with you completely until that last sentence. Depending on the de facto definition of "needlessly," of course.

Christopher B said...


The great 'might have been' in the Trump presidency is what would have happened had the Democrats taken Trump's offer to regularize the Dreamers in exchange for modest funding to repair/reinforce existing border barriers.

SJBC said...

Actually only Reform and Liberal Jews were part of the ingroup, and Conservative and Orthodox Jews have long belonged to the outgroup. Likewise, Jews were not "universally hated by the underclass"; it depended on the experiences of that particular underclass with local Jews. For Eastern European farmers whose mortgages was held by Jews and whose taxes were collected by Jews; there would be resentment sliding up to hatred. But farmers in the U.S. Great Plains whose mortgages were held by, and taxes collected by, fellow Christians might be indifferent to Jews.