Keeping up with the FITs 12/20
Robin Hanson on mob mentality; Mike Solana on buried stories; Joel Kotkin on cultural decline; Razib Khan and Yuval Levin on meritocracy
(note: FIT comes from Fantasy Intellectual Teams, a game I tried to start this summer)
Compared to mobs, standard formal orgs are at least able to have discussions, engage arguments, and consider that they might be wrong. However, as these happen mostly via the support of top org people, and few people are near that top, this conversation capacity is quite limited compared to that of individuals. But at least it is there. However such organizations often suffer from yes-men and from failures to pass bad news up the chain.
However, at the global level one of the big trends over the last few decades is away from the hierarchical group minds of nations, churches, and firms, and toward the mob group mind of a world-wide elite. Supported by mob-like expert group minds in academia, law, and media. Our world is this likely to suffer more soon from mob mind inadequacies.
Mike Solana talks about stories that have not held our attention. One example is the closure of nuclear power plants.
First, again, nuclear power is carbon free. Then, with Diablo Canyon set to close by 2025, and a state target for wind fairy utopia by 2045, we’re looking at 20 years of Greta Thunberg Blackouts while California, with a gun to its head, quietly burns coal out of state. There is absolutely no doubt this policy will increase carbon emissions while decreasing grid reliability. Nuclear is safe, effective, and all of the nuclear waste our country has ever produced — in history — could fit inside a single football field. So what is really going on here?
Environmentalists don’t hate nuclear because it’s dangerous, they hate nuclear because it works. Almost religiously, the environmentalist’s belief is people should use less, do less, be less. Forget yourself. Disappear. Global warming is only regarded in so far as it seems to prove there are consequences for disturbing nature. But a world of nuclear is a world in which people produce more with less, counterintuitive but historically proven — this is the nature of technology. We don’t have to produce less. We don’t have to be less.
Solana points out that it has been 50 years since we sent someone to the moon. If this is not a sufficient indicator that we are moving backward, Joel Kotkin offers a litany.
At many US colleges, books written before 1990 are considered ‘inaccessible’ to students. University policies increasingly marginalise Homer, Confucius, Shakespeare, Milton, Tocqueville or the Founding Fathers. Some books are scorned for having been written by dead white males, who as a group are linked to such horrors as slavery, the subjugation of women and mass poverty. America’s cultural arbiters, such as the National Archives, now consider it necessary to flag up the nation’s founding documents for ‘harmful language’. Ultimately, many of those things that drove Western ascendancy since 1500 – reason, work ethic, family and even science – are being cashiered to create some kind of woke brave new world. And our society seems all the poorer for the loss.
Razib Khan reviews Adrian Wooldridge’s book on meritocracy.
Jared Kushner is heir to a multi-billion-dollar fortune, but his father nevertheless purchased a seat for him at Harvard University with a strategic donation. All the world’s wealth and breeding do not automatically confer the imprimatur of merit that matriculation at Harvard does. Though by all accounts, Kushner is an intellectual mediocrity, his Harvard degree gives him a glamor imparted from the institution, that in turn obtains its reputation from the ranks of bright young men and women of more modest means who aspire to be peers with the country’s best. In ancient Rome, a glorious lineage was sufficient to embark on a public career, but in the contemporary US, a degree from a prestigious university is arguably just as important.
Khan uses Kushner as the symbol of privilege over merit. Certainly fair, but I might have gone in a different direction and used Kamala Harris.
As William Deresiewicz has noted, the portion of students at selective colleges whose families are in the top quarter of income earners in America rose from roughly 45% in 1985 to more than 65% by 2015. Our meritocracy is plainly rearranging itself into a more familiar aristocratic pattern, which leaves the larger society less and less persuaded of its claim to legitimate authority.
. . .the broader democratic public is increasingly cynical about its leaders, not so much because too few Americans attend elite colleges as because those who do too often go on to exercise power in our society without enough restraints.
[Universities] should work with their students’ healthy discomfort with privilege, but in a way that points them toward channeling their advantages into obligations rather than rendering those students into permanent hypocrites who pretend to be powerless outsider critics while running all the country’s major institutions.
I don’t credit the “discomfort with privilege” as genuine.