Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Bell Curve, All Over Again

As I move about and cull my bookshelves, I discover I'm doing this by the wrong principle. I keep books I might like to read again, or refer to, and leave behind those I've entirely digested and disposed of. So I left The Bell Curve behind, along with (two copies of) The Closing of the American Mind and some Western triumphalist book about or called The Alphabet Effect, along with lots of other such goofy things.

These books tend to come back around, and now I want them ready to hand for consultation about how the argument went.  Living near Middlebury as I now do for just a moment longer, Charles Murray comes back into my radar.

Having headed a school for gifted children, I had to read the book when it came out, and had thought the arguments thoroughly demolished already, way back then. But intellectual progress goes in fits and starts, and moves retrograde betimes, evidently.

I'm not blaming Trump, and I have a good deal of sympathy for Murray's antipathy toward identity politics, as well as his concerns about segregation of elites from the rest of us. It's the bland assumption that cognitive competency is all that, which I find offensive.

Unquestioned is the rationality of our economy, our schools, our workplaces. Ignored utterly are any ethnographic studies (Shirley Brice-Heath, Ways with Words comes immediately to mind), which catalog cultural differences in both mental processes and approaches to learning. Mating is thought to be a rational affair as well. This is nutty!

No one seems to notice the utterly obvious correspondence (I can't even say correlation without choking) among technological advances, feminist advances, ethnographic advances, civil rights fits and starts, educational elaborations in the direction ever more favoring of Cognitive Ability, and economic distortions which celebrate the cleverness of the idiot savants who run the tech world.

This stuff is all of a piece, and informs an hermetic citadel of power for mostly white and mostly male vectorialists (a useful term from McKenzie Wark) whose bidding is done by presumably high IQ and almost all-male drones, high on Jolt as well.

Never does Murray suggest that we might and should and even must disrupt the classroom, the workplace, the patriarchy, indeed all of that which puts all of humanity now on a hyperbolic crescendo to what the nuclear bomb is only metaphor for.

Since women weren't encouraged, or mostly even allowed to read for most of history, and since blacks were, well, enslaved; and wives were bound by a similar chattel contract to their husbands, please where is the need to do sophisticated regression analysis to parse out the contribution of Cognitive Ability, to these wondrous accomplishments of Dead White Males?

It's all technology, and the techno-post-humanists somehow still do believe that tech will decenter humanity by surpassing us, without even noticing that it's a very particular slant on humanity which is embodied in our brave new digital world. The same reality which Murray blandly assumes is the only one.

Well, I look as bland as he does, and I'm not about to be out-blanded by a guy who counts his glories according to how few people do what he does. I'm even fewer than he is, ferchrissakes!

Murray is bunk, but you can't decenter him by analysis of his methodology, apparently. It's more subtle than that. His is an entire worldview, and it's not disaligned with similar worldviews on left or right. Whether identity or class politics, whether your feminism takes the form of boosterism for STEM for girls, or boosterism for GAIA and Ma Earth, whether you're a true believer in the eternal existence for all of space and time forevermore amen of Natural Law, or in the essential and fundamental fact of human responsibility as co-creators of so-called reality, you all, every single one of you, are picking nits by disagreement with Charles Murray. He's just not worth the bother, no matter the towering and lofty heights of his Cognitive Ability.

But then, well, you'd have to similarly ignore Sergey and Bill and Mark and Elon and Steve and well you know Jared and Donald and even Barack although he's apparently human, and certainly Larry and Bernie Madoff whose biopic I just finished after as many tries as it now takes to clear my bowels. He's far less significant - the other Bernie is - as a confidence man than these other bozos, narcissistically taken as they are by their own, well, um Cognitive Ability. As though that were sufficient cause for their cornering of all our markets. Just sayin'

There are far truer humans down in the trenches, working out their emotional struggles to stay human in a world stacked against them by design.

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