Keeping up with the FITs, 12-23
Richard Hanania reflects on 2021; Freddie deBoer on college admissions; Infovores on elite lies; Rav Arora on elite denial of crime; Zvi on the absence of evidence
(note: FIT comes from Fantasy Intellectual Teams, a game I tried to start this summer)
Wokeness to a large extent involves submitting to the noisiest and most disturbed activists, or even adopting their views as one’s own, which people high on conformity are more likely to do. The overreaction to COVID can be understood similarly. By drawing in a large share of both conformists and mentally ill activists, colleges are breeding grounds for hysteria and submission to it.
. . .If I’m right, then if somehow you cured the universities of wokeness, they would find something else to be hysterical about, because they happen to be places where you get a large collection of unhappy and disturbed people – emboldened by a false sense of superiority and a lot of time on their hands – living at taxpayer expense free from the responsibilities that result from responding to market pressures or facing any other tangible forms of accountability. Public schools have a different dynamic, where it is the teacher’s unions and education bureaucracy that are composed of and influenced by the same kind of activists that play a prominent role on university campuses. If it wasn’t for wokeness, the people who determine policy in public schools and universities would still need somewhere to direct their energies. One can imagine them turning in a more committed direction towards socialism or extreme forms of environmentalism hostile to economic growth, which would probably be worse for humanity.
. . .one should focus less on curing them of bad ideas, and more on decreasing the influence of universities by getting fewer people to go to college in the first place and lowering the status of these institutions.
This is an alternative theory of the rot in education institutions, and like my own theory, it suffers from “asymmetric insight,” meaning that you claim to know the “true motives” of the other side. In my theory, the true motive of social justice activists is to wrench status away from Boomers and others who compete in a search for objective truth. In Hanania’s theory, the true motive is to deal with personal mental illness.
Freddie deBoer politely explains why my idea of abolishing the admissions department and replacing it with a lottery will never fly.
College admissions exist to serve the schools. Period. End of story. They always have, they always will. College admissions departments functioned as one big anti-Semitic conspiracy for decades because that was in the best interest of the institution. Guys who the schools know will never graduate but who run a 4.5 40 jump the line because admissions serves the institution. Absolute fucking dullards whose parents can pay - and listen, guys, it’s cute that you think legacies are somehow the extent of that dynamic, like they won’t let in the idiot son of a wealthy guy who didn’t go there - get in because admissions serves the institution. Some cornfed doofus from Wyoming with a so-so application gets in over a far more qualified kid from Connecticut because the marketing department gets to say they have students from 44 states in the incoming class instead of 43 that way, because admissions serves the institution.
I mean politely by Freddie standards.
While elites have always been highly motivated by status, our modern wealth and technological sophistication allow more people to be “pretend-elite” and obsess over popularity, influence, and group politics. . . .
For this class of would-be elites, social realities become more pressing. Nothing much happens in the physical world if you demean factory workers and delivery drivers; chances are your package will still arrive on time. But you may face social sanction for not being sufficiently animated about the need for lockdown. In this setting, it is not surprising that people spend more time “reading the room” than contemplating the hard facts.
On the topic of people not contemplating hard facts, on Glenn Loury’s substack, Rav Arora writes,
“We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence,” the district attorney told reporters at a Monday press conference when asked if tourists are safe to travel to Philadelphia for the holidays. “It’s important that we don’t let this become mushy and bleed into the notion that there is some kind of big spike in crime.”
The crime stats tell a different story. As of Saturday night, the city tallied 535 homicides, shattering its record 500 homicides set in 1990, the height of the crack epidemic. This summer, the city reached another grim milestone: Philadelphia had the highest murder rate per capita of the country’s 10 largest cities.
I’d say that it never ‘made sense’ to use ‘no evidence’ as a synonym for ‘false’ and that this is not a word choice that is made in good faith.
As the saying goes, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The fact that we don’t know any alien life does not guarantee that that there is no alien life. Unfortunately, Zvi and Scott Alexander identify many instances in which people tout absence of evidence as if it were evidence of absence.
I’ll offer another hypothesis on the motives for college admissions which has been put forth by other well before me. Tuition at elite college covers less than 1/3 of the operating costs. The interest /gains from the endowment covers about half the costs. The balance is covered by “annual fund” donations most of which are large $100k+ gifts that come from about 400 individuals in any one year.
Now to make a $100k+ annual gift one needs a least $1M of annual income. There a very few people that earn at that level. My guess is a typical elite college produces around 10 such individuals per year. Most elite colleges admit approximately 10,000 students per year and like a VC firm they in effect are making bets at 1:1000 in the hopes of creating a handful of loyal $1M+ earners in order to stay alive from their future generosity.
They are well aware of this reality but it verboten to discuss. The administration knows it has some leeway on the 10,000 new matriculants, but there are limits to how many subpar candidates they can accept to meet their woke commitments for diversity and inclusion. Serving the alumni donors that give large sums also obligates the universities to admit their children when possible. Additionally, the hope is that the offspring of the wealthy will themselves be wealthy and make large future gifts.
So, the motivation of elite universities for a admissions is to make 1000:1 VC like bets In order to survive. It’s purely economical.
Absence of evidence frequently is evidence of absence. Correlation is frequently causation too.
The trick is having reasonable conclusions from available evidence and the lack of expected evidence.