28 January 2012

Things, they are a happening

Various gleanings from the world about.

1) Charles Murray's thesis, as usual for Charles Murray, makes no sense.

I think it is worth noting that "elites" more broadly should be skeptical of imposing their preferences or presuming their preferences exist and should exist within non-elites (ie, those dirty commoners"). I'm not sure that it makes any sense that these elites should be at least partially acquainted with the culture of non-elites in order to do so. It would make more sense instead for elites to be less interested in fiddling with the lives of non-elites than that they could somehow magically discern preferences had they more of the common stuff going on in their lives and histories. The foremost situation where this is a concern is in dealing with the preferences of the poor and especially communities of the poor versus anywhere else in society. And in that instance, I'm skeptical not just of elites not understanding preferences but of the middle class itself not understanding such preferences.

Additionally, there are problems related to the sorts of questions that Murray picks. There are no sports questions for instance (or at least, the only sports-related question involved nascar). Following football instead of tennis or golf, or simply following UFC or boxing, etc, would strike me as relative elite/non-elite divides that could exist. Perhaps elites follow sports in sufficient numbers to make these less relevant divisions, but I doubt it. Asking questions about TV watching habits, both number of hours and types of shows, likewise would strike me as a pretty useful heuristic. Asking about politics, Murray asks if people have "a friend who disagrees with them". I'm pretty sure this is more likely among elites firstly, and in most cases, "that's because I'm the weirdo. If it weren't for me, my friends would have nobody who disagrees with them." Likewise, I'm not sure that filtering for manufacturing work is a useful idea. Most Americans don't work in factories anymore. Their grandparents might have, but even our parents' generation is less likely to have even short-term factory work in their distant past, much less their present. Physical labour is useful to note, but factories are not.

The one essential factor that could be pulled out from this is that we would probably benefit as a society if, instead race being the principle factor, things like poverty or "class" were used instead (with the caveat that naturally poverty afflicts urban areas and thus minorities more readily). Poor urban mostly black schools are roughly as bad off as some poor rural mostly white schools for instance. Home schooled kids from an evangelical background would probably benefit from being intermingled with the general population at a university just as much, and college kids themselves would be "challenged" with the viewpoints and ideas that back such upbringings and would thus become more aware of, and sometimes sympathetic to, the diverse range of intellectual views available to the general population. Even if they remain unsympathetic to some of those views specifically, the range is a difficulty for imposing policy choices through voting and elections. Maybe that's what Murray was trying to do with his work, but he was, apparently, rather sloppy about it.

(and of course, in order to make any of that possible at places like Harvard in the first place, we'd have to massively improve our primary education systems such that poorer kids would have a fighting chance of getting in and sticking around using the skills they have acquired).

2) Immigration is a moral and economic good. To say nothing of the diverse intellectual and cultural boons it can bring. Why we chose the policies we do to restrict it should be a serious question before we arrive at whether we should.

3) I look forward to being able to cloak myself invisibly. But it doesn't sound like it's going to happen very soon. Yet. Bouncing microwaves off a refractive material however is promising.

4) I care a LOT more about a building collapsing in Rio than a boat sinking. First because it sounds like more people died from the former, so on net, that's more disconcerting. Second because building codes and enforcement are likely a much more widespread problem and thus a public source of danger than some idiot captain deciding to sink his cruise ship. One need only compare the difference in catastrophic damage between earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile during the same year to see some evidence here of what this means. Presumably the one is a bigger story because cruise ship passengers are likelier richer and more media connected than are Rio slum dwellers. But losing one's luggage and vacation, while unpleasant and undesirable, is not the same as being in mortal danger and losing one's home.

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