Thursday, June 30, 2005

Elites: Rebelling or Merely Revolting?

ShrinkWrapped has picked up the ball on the relationship of the Elites (scientists, in this case) to Leftism. He suggests:

1) that the immense effort required to master specialized knowledge tends to crowd out a general understanding of politics, history, literature, etc;

2) the lifestyle required is sufficiently "uncommon" as to supplant common sense;

3) that most physicians, neuroscientists, etc. go into their fields with a "do-gooder" desire;

The combination of wishing to do good and social naivety creates a crucial predisposition to Utopianism. Since the intellectual elites are too often not well versed in common sense and have given little thought to political philosophy, they are easily convinced by superficially coherent Utopian ideologies... I suspect very few members of the intellectual class can explain why they are leftists. It takes intellectual work to develop a political philosophy and if all one's time is spent contemplating the ways in which neural networks form and change in response to input, there is not much time and energy left for the mundane tasks of everyday life.
In the comments section, "Judith" responds that such an explanation is too benign, and that leftists are motivated by power: "Their job, as they see it, is to mold, shape and direct. To *manage* -- and we are to be the managed. "

I think that this debate on the motivations of the intellectuals is extremely important for those of us who wish to deprive the left of that power. At a personal level, this topic is important to me for two additional reasons: First, I am increasingly troubled by the response of commenters and private e-mailers, all of whom are uniformly in favor of anonymity for academic conservatives, and express a fear of a truly malign wrath from the predominant intellectual establishment. Second, I would hope to avoid the name-calling and imputation of dark motives that seems to characterize much of the contemporary left's critique of George W. Bush. (Can't we all just get along?)

Hayek might present a compromise view, consistent with both ShrinkWrapped and Judith's surmises. As many readers are probably aware, Hayek argues that a "rationalist error" (the belief that "man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes") forms a "fatal conceit" at the root of the socialist impulse. Intruigingly, Hayek had a more than passing interest in neuroscience and psychology. His understanding of complexity and self-organizing systems was critical to his view of both society and the individual mind, and has been instrumental in shaping my own worldview.

In passing, I would also like to point out Mark Lilla's thoughts on the political temptations of the intellectuals are relevant in this regard; it is not coincidental that this was the first (nonfiction) book I read after 9/11 . (In brief, Lilla's book describes the embrace of totalitarianisms of the left and right by a number of the leading intellectuals of the 20th Century, including Heidegger, Sartre, and Foucault). It would be an interesting exercise to confront any major university intellectual with a list of the political crimes documented in that book. It is not merely the magnitude of the errors committed, but the uniformity in their totalitarian nature.


Blogger jaws said...

My experiences with many of my Neuroscience professors is that they seemt overwhelmingly to be liberal, but to varying degrees.

Some are just liberals b/c they're so dependent on the gov't for their grant money.

But there are others who really see it as their job to shape the direction of research and to be the arbiters of who and what is good for science.

(if you don't mind, I'll send you a personal email later on elaborating more on this. As I'm a neuroscience student who is also secretly a conservative).

6:54 AM  
Blogger ShrinkWrapped said...

It is sad that jaws has to keep his conservatism a secret, but understandable; religious faiths do not suffer apostasy easily.
I am writing about a related issue today, pc-thought, which distorts our reality-testing and needs to be confronted. Jaws points to the contribution of the permanent beaurocracy to the problem. Too many people who have had their thinking distorted by pc are responsible for disbursing money and determining the direction of "appropriate" research. When you cannot even ask the questions, how can you ever find the answers?

7:37 AM  
Anonymous dave s said...

take a look at the post and comments in Volokh (post by Kerr) about tone in Brian Leiter's blog. ( One of the comments seemed to me particularly on point for this discussion - "ursus maritimus" said "because if no dissenting voices are heard in academia it is much easier to claim that the opposition is beyond the bounds of polite society."

9:35 AM  
Blogger Goesh said...

I had no idea things had gotten this bad that conservative Academics essentially have to use a covert platform in this manner. At least, to use a medical metaphor, a real-time antibiotic is being developed via these blogs to combat the oppression. Call it high-tech pamphleteering if you will, the concept and needs of which are much older than this current dilemma. Being a non-academic, my best advice is to spend more time combatting it than analyzing/understanding it. Obviously a collusion of necessity has begun, so let it spread, make it spread. Circle the wagons, build your network, develop plans of action, i.e. maildop boxes using ficticious names via which to publish letters/polemics in newspapers and student newspapers, leaving anonymous bulletins/critiques on certain bulletin boards in certain buildings. If you are made to think covertly, act covertly. The worse thing a victim can do is intellectualize and explain the victimization process - never give 'them' your energy. If you can get a hard hitting polemic into circulation, keep your authorship to yourself, focus on the message and not the laurels. E-mail is a wonderful thing too you know. Does this sound a bit childish? It should, after all, the Liberal PC crowd it appears is calling the shots and lording it over you via professional ostracism, grant allocation and peer reviewing - sort of like the proverbial bully. Anonymous pamphleteers, has it really come down to this. All is not totally dark. I did note a fair number of of signatures on the petition protesting the proposed boycott of Israeli academics. Mathieu Deflem, a Sociologist, is resistant to the PC sort of bullying - he has a blog - look to some of the social scientists for some guidance here. Who knows, my next time around here I may be given the secret grip for the CAAPO (conservative academic anonymous pamphleteers organization) oh hell, just go with the acronym AC - Academic Irgun, in honor of some folks that had no choice but act covertly simply to stay alive. I blather too much.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Norma said...

"The combination of wishing to do good and social naivety creates a crucial predisposition to Utopianism. Since the intellectual elites are too often not well versed in common sense and have given little thought to political philosophy, they are easily convinced by superficially coherent Utopian ideologies..."

It wasn't clear to me which one of you wrote this, but thanks. I'm a (retired) librarian, and I think we've got you all beat, 223:1 liberal to conservative. It's no wonder your children don't have filtered computers in the library.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

Norma, dear woman--

I had a *discussion* with the librarian a few years ago after finding my grandson at a computer at the library with questionable material on the screen. I got a real song and dance about how it would deprive other patrons to have a filter...

It never occurred to me to tell them -- though I certainly will now, since I've thought of it -- that there could be computers set aside for the kids, just like they have a children's section in the library itself...

...I just deleted a bunch of blather on pc which I will put on my own Neighborhood of God blog...saves clogging Neuro's bandwith...

THanks for that remark, though.

TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY THREE to ONE?? that poor sod is buried alive. I'll bet he/she drinks. I sure would. And to think I considered a vocation as a

7:39 PM  

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