Worth Pondering

Like all intelligent men who are not in any way creative, Sir Robert Peel was dangerously sympathetic towards the creations of others. Incapable of formulating a system, he threw himself voraciously on those he came across, and applied them more vigorously than would their inventors.

–Andre Maurois

I don’t know enough about Sir Robert to have an opinion about whether this was a fair assessment of him, but I think it’s a valid and important point in general.  “Intelligent but not creative” describes a high percentage of people in academia, ‘nonprofits’, and the media (as long as you don’t set bar for ‘intelligent’ too high, especially in the case of the media)…and I think this has a lot to do with their eager adoption of theoretical frameworks such as critical race theory, cultural Marxism, and various types of gender theorizing…and the special and often weird vocabularies that tend to go with such things.

The need to conform, the desire to promote oneself and to feel superior, and the search for meaning also play a part, of course.

See Lead and Gold, which is why I discovered the Maurois quote in the first place. As LG notes, the voracious-framework-adoption phenomenon is also found in business, though at a somewhat lesser level than in academia, media, and nonprofits, I think, due to the exigencies of competition and the need to deal with reality sufficiently well to actually produce products and services.

See also my post Professors and the Pornography of Power, which cites Jonathan Haidt on what he calls the single-lens approach.

Previous Worth Pondering post.

7 thoughts on “Worth Pondering”

  1. Peel had a rich father who made his money in disdained trade and Peel spent a lot of time living down that background. He was also alert for anyone who could do him favors.

  2. I viewed with interest the Peterson interview of Haidt that Mike K. recommended in that 2017 post. Even back in 2017 Haidt reminds us of the growing hostility of college campuses to heterodox viewpoints. While he identifies several reasons for this, he did skip over one of the key reasons which is the system that produces such hostile, close-minded (single-lens) faculty and administrators is a higher-education system of hostile, close-minded faculty and administrators. When I was in grad school a number of colleagues espoused post-modernist theories of social science and to a person are now working in higher education training the next generation of higher education. This closed-looped is a key reason for the intellectual monoculture you see on campuses

    David, you mentioned some “demand” reasons for the adoption of theoretical frameworks, the need to feel superior and search for meaning. Certainly class reasons play a part of it, mastery of not only the philosophy but the ever-changing of Woke and post-modernism is key to entering desired social and professional circles. It is the necessary “hack”that gives you status while espousing say natural rights gets you marked as a MAGAist deplorable

    However I don’t think it’s all g rift and hacks, much of the energy that drives acceptance is about meaning. Long before post-modernism and Woke, there was Marxism which offered both a comprehensive explanation and a solution to many of the problems created by modernity. The believers of Marxism were, in every sense of the word, revolutionaries and quasi-religious in their fanaticism.

    By the same token, post-modernism and Woke offers people a “comprehensive” explanation for why the social world is what it is, that is constructed to perpetuate the power of a certain group of people, that is whites. The world of grift and hacks to power is built on top of those that hold that revolutionary energy. Nancy Pelosi, the GS-14 you meet at a party, or the that stupid HR director might be grifters, but that is because they recognize where the power is.

    In general people look for explanations of life, a very confusing and seemingly contradictory phenomena. It doesn’t have to be an intellectual pursuit, you see it business all the time. I have sat in many meetings that have veered close to the point where a sociopath could have easily taken over the room by offering a simplistic, plausible-sounding explanation or cure (Employee Empowerment!, Agile Supply Chains!) Of course they don’t want the responsibility for implementing it, we call these people consultants. Anybody who has sat on advisory boards for local government economic development projects understand all too well Lyle Langley and “Marge vs. the Monorail” Man’s search for meaning has not gone away in our post-religious age and heck who am I to deny them their fondest wishes?

    The other part of the equation is of course supply. We have been churning more people with advanced degrees than we can find socially suitable employment for them. Sort of like the younger sons of the aristocracy but without the usual positions in the clergy or military. People with nutty ideas, high opinions of themselves and their place in society, and resentment is a volatile mixture.

    So sure people push ideas but that’s also because people are willing to accept them. However I really do think that what we have now is a critical mass of people who are pushing these frameworks not due to their own personal mediocrity, but because they very much want the world to burn

  3. When I was in grad school a number of colleagues espoused post-modernist theories of social science and to a person are now working in higher education training the next generation of higher education.

    My personal theory, because I saw some of it at the time, is related to the Vietnam War. Leftist students avoided the military by staying in graduate school and became the next generation of professors. Johnson created a lot of this by avoiding the reserves, which Truman called up in Korea. Johnson wanted to avoid the uproar that would result from involving the upper classes or the reserves.

  4. A friend of mine who read this said that a good term to describe the phenomena that David describes is “policy entrepreneur”

    You can take entrepreneur to mean person who takes an idea and develops it into a worthwhile business or you can take it as a person who develops a business based on selling oil from the snake

  5. That was an interesting article on Wilson, our most evil President.
    I tend to think that his problem was not so much naivety, but his inability to see anyone but himself as being correct.

  6. Drifting back to Robert Peel (and confessing my impressions of the actual man are afflicted by a deep fannish appreciation of Sam Vimes ) I wonder if recent events in this country are similar. Zealously and over-zealously applied concepts in policing…

    Data driven policing — send more cops to the high crime neighborhoods,

    but once there, what? Stand like scarecrows. No, so:

    Broken Windows policing — accost petty miscreants who litter, or graffiti, or otherwise spread disorder. But then, finding that some miscreants are repeat offenders, or carrying weapons in violation of parole or felon restrictions, the progress goes to

    Stop and Frisk paying attention to the familiar faces, good citizens and trouble makers, and attempting to make life difficult for those trouble makers. This of course leading to

    Profiling in Policing Given that certain demographics or fashion statements are highly correlated with prison experience, police focus on superficial markers of tattoos or natural skin coloring to decide on who to stop or hold, leading to

    I Can’t Breathe! then to DEFUND THE POLICE leading to private police and protections for the politically privileged…

    Working somewhere in alignment we have “Three Strike” sentencing leading to overcrowded prisons leading to relaxed bail to refusal to prosecute …

    In the UK and under Peel the processes were demonstrated in the primary single big city of London. In the US, even New York City is not as fundamental. A mix (a hodge podge, really) of different zealots with wild ideas are competing. And we have no really outstanding results from any of these policies to form a consensus around.

  7. Why did so many “well-educated” people swallow all the covid idiocy? Why do they swallow climate change silliness? Even people who went to excellent liberal arts colleges in the 70s or before who were actually taught “the tools of a scholar” so as to be able to think for themselves?

    So many earn their living because of supposed expertise evidenced by their education credential. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, MBAs, ministers, et al. They have been rewarded their entire lives for learning what the experts say and regurgitating on cue. Challenging experts is dangerous. What if someone challenged them? Especially since they know in their hearts that much or most of what they do is more like assembly line work that doesn’t require all that much expertise.

    Also — Challenging experts is scary. Think of the implications. If the experts are wrong, does anyone actually know what is going on? What if no one is in control? Scary stuff.

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