The Buck Stops Nowhere

A while back, in a private correspondence with a conservative blogger about what the Left means when it talks about “social justice”, I wrote the following:

Daniel Dennett once wrote that “if you make yourself small enough, you can externalize everything”. The central principle of liberal “justice”, and of Rawlsian justice, is exactly that: to view the individual not as as an originating agent of free choices, with all the responsibility for the resulting outcomes that free choice entails — but rather as a social infinitesimal, whose freedom, and therefore personal responsibility, is diminished effectively to zero by the nexus of external causes in which he is embedded: racism, gender stereotypes, corporate greed, economic inequality, political favoritism, institutionalized (and even unconscious) prejudices, and so on.

Dennis Prager has said that “the bigger the State, the smaller the citizen”, but this goes even farther: at the logical endpoint of the liberal, Rawlsian view it is not until all intrinsic aspects of individual advantage have been externalized, and thereby compensated for in the social framework, that a truly ‘just’ society will have been achieved. If Smith is congenitally smarter, more future-oriented, and more industrious than Jones, then he will end up being better off than Jones. But behind the Rawlsian “veil of ignorance”, one cannot choose in advance what inborn advantages one will have, so by Rawls’s logic the just society must be one in which such natural inequalities cannot confer an advantage.

Ultimately, under such a philosophy the individual human being vanishes altogether.

I was reminded of this today when I ran across an item in the news about the poor woman who was brained a while ago by a shopping cart tossed off a shopping-mall balcony by two “teens”. The article, which you can read here, opens with the following sentence (my emphasis):

The husband of a Manhattan real-estate agent left with severe injuries after a shopping cart was dropped on her head from an East Harlem parking garage claims lax security caused the devastating accident.

That’s it: no human agency, no shred of responsibility ascribed to the attackers themselves for their brutal assault of an innocent woman. The whole thing just comes down to an “accident” due to “lax security” on the part of a corporate entity.

The individual human being vanishes altogether.

28 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    “The individual human being vanishes altogether.”

    Which makes me wonder how far down the road one can go with Sam Harris, for whom freedom looks increasingly like an illusion.

    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    I don’t think he’s wrong. But we are still the nexus of choice and deliberation, and ascription of responsibility still matters.

    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Do you consider the New York Post to be a Leftist publication?

    Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    No, I don’t, which shows you how pervasive this trend is.

    This same wording, representing the zeitgeist I described, seems to have popped up all over; I’m not sure where it originated. I first heard exactly this quote on WINS radio this morning.

    It’s the same as when somebody gets stabbed during a mugging, and the news describes it as a robbery gone “tragically wrong”.

    Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    If it’s pervasive, then it’s not Leftist. It’s pervasive. Shocking though this may seem, not all outrages against all human dignity are caused by Leftists.

    Also, you mischaracterize John Rawls’s writings. Those who create moral structures should not know in advance what their position would be. The reason for the veil of ignorance is the notion that those who don’t know their fate will be the most judicious in making rules which are universally applicable.

    However, that predicate does not lead to the contention that “the just society must be one in which such natural inequalities cannot confer an advantange.” Rawls uses what he calls the Difference Principle, which recognizes that there will always be inequality – which is not inherently unjust – but a just society is the one which balances inequalities to produce the most aggregate good.

    Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Your argument, if I may call it that, is not a valid one: whether or not an idea is “pervasive” in a society has no bearing whatsoever on the question of its origins and pedigree. The ideas of Chairman Mao were pervasive in Red China, as Lenin’s were in Russia; does their pervasiveness then mean they weren’t of the Left?

    Likewise the elimination of Smith in order to level the playing field for Jones. Who are the first to go to the wall in socialist and Communist revolutions? Intellectuals, industrialists, and high achievers of every stripe — exactly the ones whose natural advantages (high intelligence, diligence, discipline, conscientiousness, etc.) afford them a better life than the drones of the working class and the sullen masses of the underclass.

    Regarding Rawls, I don’t think I’m misrepresenting his ideas. I’ll quote a commenter at VFR from a month or so ago, who I think expressed this criticism well:

    The Rawlsian concept of “justice” perverts and distorts the term as it was used by classical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. In classical philosophy, justice means “giving to each his due” and this is an inherently inegalitarian notion. It means that not everyone will be “given to” equally because not everyone is “due” equally. In a healthy society, this refers not just to economic output but to one’s moral and spiritual status or one’s virtue. This means that justice demands that we do not treat all desires as equal, all lifestyles as equal, all beliefs as equal.

    The ideal of “social justice” defended by most liberals is closer in meaning to a form of “distributive justice.” Rawls, famously, thought that a just society is one where basic goods are distributed equally, and where inequality can be justified only if those who are worst off benefit from the inequality. [The Difference Principle. -MP] No mention of desert, no mention of virtue or entitlement. In Rawls’s scheme, the simple fact that somebody somewhere has more than somebody else is prima facie unjust and grounds for redistribution.

    Rawls arrives at his conception of “justice” by asking what sort of society people would choose to create if none of them had any knowledge of their particular personal characteristics. All they can know is that they will exist as a mere rational agent of some sort. He then concludes that the collective preferences of these abstract pseudo-agents are determinative of a just society. This is a truly stunning assertion, because in Rawls’s calculus all of the things which are relevant to justice have been dismissed as morally irrelevant: one’s history, family, sex, abilities, propensities for virtue, motivation, intelligence, not to mention one’s work and accomplishments. None of that can be morally relevant in determining what you are “due” in the Rawlsian system. And so what we get is something that is just the opposite of justice: a society where the only relevant consideration is egalitarian “fairness.” This notion of fairness implies that “justice” demands equality of outcome no matter how the inequalities come about.

    A tad tendentious perhaps, but a fair cop generally, I think.

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy also acknowledges this criticism of the Difference Principle:

    The Difference Principle is also criticized as a primary distributive principle on the grounds that it mostly ignores claims that people deserve certain economic benefits in light of their actions. Advocates of Desert-Based Principles argue that some may deserve a higher level of material goods because of their hard work or contributions even if their unequal rewards do not also function to improve the position of the least advantaged. They also argue that the explanations of how people come to be in more or less advantaged positions is relevant to their fairness, yet the Difference Principle wrongly ignores these explanations.

    Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink
  7. the one eyed man says

    Your argument has two postulates, and they are both incorrect.

    The first is that society excuses the acts of the two kids because there is “no human agency (or) shred of responsibility” for them. The second is that the provenance of this shocking allegation is the pantywaist Left.

    Disgust and condemnation is pretty much the universal response to the acts of feral youth – whether it is the kids at Columbine, the Korean guy at Virginia Tech, or the Puerto Rican (?) kids at Target – regardless of one’s political alignment. No responsible person thinks that what happened was anything but deliberate acts of unforgivable violence, and no responsible person blames anyone except the perpetrators, regardless of whether one is a knuckle-dragging conservative or a freedom-destroying liberal.

    What socialist and communist revolutions have to do with any of this is beyond me. When you describe something which happened recently in America, a mention of the Left brings to mind the New York Times editorial page, Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, and so forth, but not Mao or Lenin. Moreover, if you’re going to ascribe it to muddled Leftist thinking, then using the New York Post as your example doesn’t help your case.

    The word “accident” as used in the blurb may be inartful, but it is not emblematic of some grand design to excuse vicious acts by pretending that they were anything but deliberate. There is a protocol where media do not describe events as crimes until there have been convictions. A jealous husband could kill his wife’s lover with a whale harpoon, and even if he is the only guy in town who owns a harpoon, the papers won’t call him a murderer until a jury convicts him. Also, there’s no shorthand for “gravely injuring an innocent bystander by pushing a shopping cart from a fourth story landing,” so accident will have to do.

    As for Rawls: it has been a very long time since I slogged through the 600 pages of Theory of Justice. As riveting as they may be, I’m disinclined to go back there to find the passages which refute the VFR piece. “Trickle-down economics” – at least if it worked as advertised – would be very Rawlsian, because everyone benefits even though there is wide inequality. However, a system where there are ten people with Bill Gates’s wealth and a million paupers is unjust. The idea is that inequality will always exist and is not intrinsically unjust, but the just society is the one which staggers inequalities so that the highest aggregate good is achieved.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    No responsible person thinks that what happened was anything but deliberate acts of unforgivable violence…

    Right, except the author of the article I quoted, who referred to it only as an “accident” — which was the whole reason I wrote this post in the first place!

    No responsible person … blames anyone except the perpetrators, regardless of whether one is a knuckle-dragging conservative or a freedom-destroying liberal.

    Right, except for the husband of the victim, who blames a shopping mall.

    Do you even read these posts, Peter? You remind me more of those car alarms that yell “STEP AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE” when someone sets off their proximity-detector.

    What socialist and communist revolutions have to do with any of this is beyond me.

    Sadly, it appears so. if you are simply unable to comprehend how the examples given might serve to illustrate that “leveling” ideologies — of which “justice”-by-redistribution, and the reduction of individual agency into a universal matrix of social causality, are salient examples — are always and everywhere the hallmark of the Left, then it’s pointless to carry on any further here. I should hope, at least, that if you carefully read the comments above (I’d say “carefully re-read”, but that would probably be inaccurate), at least you’ll be able to see that these points are more relevant to our “discussion” than the professional resumes of those lodestars of impartial reason and civil discourse, Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman.

    And just for clarity: I’ve never spoken of the “pantywaist Left”. Lenin was no pantywaist, nor Mao, nor Castro, nor Pol Pot. Neither are Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, for that matter. They are grim and determined fighters, one and all. If anyone’s a “pantywaist” in our current clash of ideologies, it’s those soi-disant “conservatives” who won’t push back.

    Enough said. Best, I think, to let our gentle readers advance toward their own conclusions.

    The dog barks, the caravan passes.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  9. Severn says

    If it’s pervasive, then it’s not Leftist. It’s pervasive.

    Something can be both Leftist and pervasive. The two terms are not mutually contradictory.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    The Post reporter could have used a different word than “accident,” but extrapolating from that a worldview that somehow the cart pushers are not the ones at fault is completely unwarranted. That’s what I wrote at 7:56 am. (Do you even read these posts, Malcolm?)

    The husband of the victim is hardly an impartial observer: he is a litigant suing Target. Of course he will try to blame them – if he said that it is entirely the fault of the kids, he would not have a case. If you are making an argument based on societal beliefs, his views are irrelevant.

    “Justice-by-redistribution and the reduction of individual agency into a universal matrix of social causality” is not “always and everywhere the hallmark of the Left.” That’s nonsense. I’m not aware of any serious voice blaming society for Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Target. It is exclusively the fault of the actors, not the society. Whether it is Bernie Madoff bilking clients or Anthony Weiner misbehaving, if you do bad things you have to pay the piper. Political leanings have nothing to do with any of this.

    Redistribution comes to the picture in two ways. Most leftists (most people, actually) believe there should be some minimum standard of living, which necessarily involves redistributing wealth from those who have it to those who don’t. You can’t have a safety net paid for by those who need it.

    The other area concerns equality of opportunity. Do you think that a girl who grows up homeless in the South Bronx has the same education and resources by the time she applies to college as a girl who grows up in a comfortable home and goes to Nightingale Bamford? If not, should society put its thumb on the scales so she has the same equality of opportunity as her middle class counterpart? You may think not – but those who think so have a reasonable and defensible position which has nothing to do with Marxism or collectivism.

    Conflating Marxism – where everything is redistributed so everyone is equally poor – with a safety net and affirmative action programs is a fatuity. I could just as easily claim that modern conservatives – who disdain diversity and embrace monoracial societies – are direct descendants of the Nazis. After all, ethnic purity was Hitler’s schtick. Drawing a straight line from Trotsky to Gail Collins makes as much sense as drawing one from Goebbels to Anne Coulter. (OK, bad example.)

    Krugman is hard-edged but eminently rational and civil. Certainly no less civil than the NRO writers you like so much. So is Rachel Maddow. You should watch her sometime: she has conservatives on her show pretty much every day, and unfailingly treats them with respect and civility. She doesn’t shout over them like Bill O’Reilly or make ad hominem attacks like Hannity. In my view, her show and Morning Joe are what one would like to see much more often on cable television. No shoutfests, just rational argument.

    And that’s it for me. Regrettably, I must exit this thrilling colloquy, as I have wayyyy to much work today to devote my increasingly limited brandwidth and braincells to these issues, fascinating though they may be.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    “Justice-by-redistribution and the reduction of individual agency into a universal matrix of social causality” is not “always and everywhere the hallmark of the Left.” That’s nonsense. I’m not aware of any serious voice blaming society for Columbine…

    Right, right, that never happened at all. Not a peep from the Left after Columbine. Or the Giffords shooting, etc.

    In one breath you say that “no responsible person blames anyone except the perpetrators”, then explain why the husband of the victim is right to be blaming Target. In another breath you deny that justice-by-redistribution is a hallmark of the Left, (and if it isn’t, it’s hard to imagine what, if anything, is), then in the next breath explain why people on the Left rightly feel that redistribution is necessary to establish justice. And in then the next, you say that doing so has nothing to do with collectivism!

    Time to move along, as I said.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  12. Dr. Strangelove says

    A quick note: if you want to read a well researched and well thought out book on the horrific Columbine event is “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. He does not blame society for Columbine and spends a decent amount of the book describing how the media’s first response to the event was to try to describe it as an example of society’s failings. I think that was One Eyed Man meant when he said “any serious voice blaming society.” While often after extreme events we (and Malcolm’s point is that this way of thought has become pervasive so I mean everyone) try to extrapolate to the entire society rather than look at the particulars of the events.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    My, what short memories we have. After Columbine the list of social factors blamed by “serious voices” included the gun lobby, Goth culture, violent video games, school bullying, heavy metal, right-wing “extremism”, and plenty more. The movie Bowling for Columbine, by the porcine left-wing propagandist Michael Moore, was a huge hit, and won Best Documentary.

    No serious voices blaming “society”? Puh-leeze.

    None of this is to say that the ambient culture has no effect on the predispositions of individuals to engage in, or even to justify to themselves, various kinds of behavior. But when kids dropping a shopping-cart onto a woman’s head is reported on the premier news station of the nation’s foremost city as an “accident”, it is a symptom that something has gone horribly wrong with our notions of individual responsibility, and needs to be held up to the light.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Peter, forgive me if, in my exasperation, my own tone bordered on the uncivil in this thread.

    One remark of yours does go to the heart of the matter, and perhaps I’ll give it more attention in a separate post:

    The other area concerns equality of opportunity. Do you think that a girl who grows up homeless in the South Bronx has the same education and resources by the time she applies to college as a girl who grows up in a comfortable home and goes to Nightingale Bamford? If not, should society put its thumb on the scales so she has the same equality of opportunity as her middle class counterpart?

    For now, I’ll say that the question is twofold:

    1) What constitutes “opportunity”? What if this girl is also of low intelligence, or otherwise unsuited for the diligent effort demanded in college? By the time I came of age, it was clear that I didn’t have the same opportunity to play professional basketball as a seven-foot kid who grew up playing the game. Should the NBA put its thumb on the scale?

    2) College admissions are a zero-sum game, and college degrees are understood, by the people who hire graduates, as a warrant of certain qualities: intelligence, sedulousness, mastery of various cognitive skills. If society “puts its thumb on the scale”, coercing colleges to take in people who would not otherwise qualify for admission, it is arguably denying others the opportunity, undermining the guarantee that a degree traditionally provides as to the competency of the graduate, and often setting up the favored parties for painful failure when they try to function at a level beyond their abilities.

    That all of this constitutes unambiguous “justice” is a shaky proposition.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  15. “…, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, and so forth, …”

    Perhaps not the main thrust of this conversation, but it is a recurring theme in One-eye’s commentary. There is little doubt that according Krugman his Laureate status at every opportunity is intended to prop up the decayed legitimacy of Krugman’s economics-expertise. Nevertheless, Krugman has long since forfeited any expertise he may have had, other than his more-recently acquired expertise in shilling for the leftist ideology of Obama himself.

    Rather than gaining cachet from the Nobel, however, Krugman in fact diminishes the Nobel Prize itself, in the same manner that Krugman’s idol Obama has.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Despite the obvious (though, I suppose, not to everyone!) political message in both cases, I think the Obama award diminishes the Nobel far more than Krugman’s; the latter had at least done something to earn it.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink
  17. the one eyed man says

    The victim’s husband is suing Target for gross negligence and reckless endangerment. He has a sympathetic press which he can use as leverage in his lawsuit. The last thing Target wants is for this to be in the news every day. He is not making a moral argument: he is making a legal argument. I’m sure that in his heart of hearts, he blames the kids and not Target. However, he’s a litigant, not a social commentator.

    I think I misunderstood what you meant by “justice-by-redistribution.” In this context, I thought you were referring to the criminal justice system, with the implication that poor kids get a free pass because they are disadvantaged.

    As for Columbine: there are lots of reasons to see if the cultural environment led unhinged teenagers to commit acts of heinous violence, but everybody still blames the gunmen, not Axl Rose. Conservatives are quick to blame Hollywood and the mass media for what they perceive as moral failings, but in doing so they do not exculpate those who demonstrate what they consider to exhibit a lack of moral fiber.

    But we have gone as far as we will go here. The reason I chose to further annoy your readership was that I thought of you last weekend.

    In shopping for cars for my daughter, I was on a highway I rarely use. Right after the Tesla factory was a huge, gleaming edifice with big bold letters: SOLYNDRA. I thought: pretty nice digs they have here. Your tax dollars at work.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Ah, Solyndra. The gift that keeps on giving.

    Time to read up on growing algae.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  19. “…; the latter had at least done something to earn it.”

    Yes, I agree. So I will amend what I previously stated by emphasizing that Krugman diminishes the Nobel Award after the fact, whereas the Nobel committee diminished the Nobel Prize by awarding it to Obama for no discernible reason whatsoever.

    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  20. Apropos the foregoing:

    “Many mediocre minds are impressed by famous colleagues, graduate degrees, Harvard, or equations. Those people aren’t worth impressing. While such signals are correlated with good ideas, they are neither necessary nor sufficient for a good idea. When someone emphasizes these signals, however, that should lower their credibility among thoughtful people because it suggests bad faith, a preference towards pretentious irrelevancies.”

    http://falkenblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-to-detect-blather.html

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  21. the one eyed man says

    There is a simple answer to your questions above. Nobody suggests that students who cannot succeed at college should be admitted. The issue is whether two people of similar native abilities, but who have differences in resources and environment, should be given an equal chance to succeed.

    Hence the NBA analogy is inapt. The correct comparison would be between two kids who have the same height and speed, but one of them had the benefit of coaches, mentors, and state of the art facilities, while the other learned everything on his own in back lots. If an admissions officer concludes that the auto-didact would be equally successful as the coached student by senior year, why shouldn’t they be viewed equally?

    The other consideration is that in college you learn as much from other students as you do from professors. In my freshman year, I was matched with a Puerto Rican kid who grew up in NYC housing projects. Far different from the bucolic enfolds of Rocky Hill, New Jersey. Education is what you have left over after you forgot everything you learned. My education (and – gasp! – appreciation for diversity) comes as much from those who surrounded me for four years as from hearing professors drone on about Kant and Proust.

    This point is illuminated in a piece on today’s Bloomberg:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-28/colleges-after-affirmative-action-commentary-by-stephen-joel-trachtenberg.html

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  22. “The issue is whether two people of similar native abilities, but who have differences in resources and environment, should be given an equal chance to succeed.”

    Indeed, how to level the playing-field of life! Every serious person understands that equalization of wealth is only part of the problem society faces. We also need to find a way to equalize all nurturing resources, including (but not limited to) a loving two-parent upbringing in a culture that emphasizes all the wise choices leading to a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle, albeit preserving the vitality of a multicultural society.

    I know! Let’s find a person, skilled in all aspects of well-intentioned organization of communities of like-minded family units. Let’s appoint this eminently qualified individual, preferably one who has already amassed such cachet as a Nobel Peace Prize, and let’s appoint such a god-like individual to the glorious position of Community-Organizer-in-Chief, for life and for the world at large.

    Problem solved.

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    Henry, I agree that many people advance themselves in the world very well indeed without college degrees. (I’ve done just fine myself, and I’m a high-school dropout.) Nevertheless, that sheepskin is taken by many as a sign that the possessor has demonstrated certain abilities and accomplishments, and like it or not, is an important token. (I notice that you yourself use an email address that makes known your Ivy League affiliation.)

    A college degree is supposed to mean something. It is not the only path to education and competence, but it has, until recently at least, provided a warrant of it.

    (I’ll qualify all of this by recognizing that many prestigious schools have throughout their history given a free pass to “legacy” students of well-connected families, while denying admission to better-qualified applicants who lacked such pedigrees. This is an indefensible corruption of the system, and I make no brief for it here.)

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    Peter,

    First let me point out that you have a habit, which perhaps you aren’t aware of, of making flat assertions about what “nobody is saying” and “nobody is suggesting”. In this case you tell us that “Nobody suggests that students who cannot succeed at college should be admitted.”

    I suppose in this case you are right that nobody would express their policy in these terms, but the fact is that we hear all the time how everyone ought to get a college education, and the fact of the matter is that a great many people who cannot succeed at college are admitted every year, many of them admitted as a result of affirmative action. Colleges now must expend much time and effort providing remedial instruction in basic skills to people who shouldn’t be there at all.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that what counts is native (i.e., genetic) ability, as distinct from life history.

    But there are two factors that qualify a person for college-level work: innate qualities (such as intelligence, conscientiousness, future time orientation, etc.), and preparedness.

    So, regarding the first: how would you suggest a college admissions board should measure these “native abilities”? An intelligence test, perhaps?

    Regarding preparedness: a mind unschooled and untrained in basic cognitive and linguistic skills — with no mastery of reading, writing, use of language, critical thinking, fundamentals of mathematics, science, history, geography, literature, etc., and even more importantly, a mind that has not learned how to learn — is simply not fit for admission to college, any more than a tall 20-year-old who has never played any sports is fit to play in the NBA. You can go ahead and admit such a person to college, but it’s a safe bet that he or she will only fail, painfully and embarrassingly, to meet the standards of academic success. At best, such a person will pointlessly consume and waste resources that another applicant, denied admission to make a place for our grantee, might have used productively. At worst, the college will prevent an unqualified student’s failure simply by lowering its standards for success — thereby devaluing its warrant of excellence, and devaluing the degree held by its other, better-qualified students.

    So how is a college to measure both native ability and preparedness? Well, as it happens there is a test that measures both of these qualities with high reliability, and is known to be highly predictive of outcomes: the SAT. (If you have a better measure, the world is waiting.)

    But SAT scoring is precisely the criterion that must, and does, give way under affirmative action. So it seems you can’t have it both ways: either you must, contrary to what you claim, accept the admission to college of more people who will not succeed, or you must hold fast to standards, even if it means that some people who have had a bad deal of the cards won’t get in.

    But you can’t pretend to be doing both.

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  25. Quite right, Malcolm. But what is your point?

    As for my own Ivy League token, nobody handed it to me after I graduated from a public high school on Long Island. I spent a good deal of my young adulthood as a full-time student, funded by competitive scholarships and fellowships, as well as additional financial help from my parents, both of whom worked hard for our middle-class existence, starting from essentially nothing when we arrived in New York in 1949, as Holocaust survivors.

    I was encouraged to excel academically by my parents, who continued the traditional upbringing they themselves experienced. I was, indeed, fortunate to have parents who provided me with the nurturing guidance that instilled in me the desire to pursue happiness along the path to an academic lifestyle, which has suited me well to this point in my life.

    Yes, I have been extremely fortunate to have been born into a family-unit that managed to immigrate to this land of opportunity; to have had the nurturing guidance that I received from my parents; to have had the opportunity, which is available without ethnic restrictions, to compete for the aid needed to sustain me in my studies. Nevertheless, I don’t know how society can provide the means to equalize such blessings to one and all, beyond our already-existing “unalienable rights”.

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  26. Malcolm says

    Oh, I agree with all of that, Henry. Perhaps I misunderstood your comment; it seemed that you were making the case that only mediocre minds would attach any significance to the attainment of a college degree.

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  27. Malcolm says

    I’ll say also that the plight of a superior mind born into a family that provides no nurturing and encouragement of that native advantage is indeed a sad one. But if by adulthood such an innately gifted person has not managed, despite this lack, to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge for college-level work, then success in college will be very unlikely.

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  28. Malcolm says

    Yes, I have been extremely fortunate to have been born into a family-unit that managed to immigrate to this land of opportunity; to have had the nurturing guidance that I received from my parents; to have had the opportunity, which is available without ethnic restrictions, to compete for the aid needed to sustain me in my studies. Nevertheless, I don’t know how society can provide the means to equalize such blessings to one and all, beyond our already-existing “unalienable rights”.

    What this boils down to is, in the blunt terms of the early 20th-century progressives, a matter of the quality of a society’s “human stock”. How to make the blessings of an intelligent and forward-looking family available to all? Given that those qualities of intelligence and conscientiousness are innate and heritable (as is their lack), the only apparent answer was to improve the human stock itself: eugenics. This was the ideological basis of Planned Parenthood, minimum-wage laws, and other popular notions of the time.

    Of course, in reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, the whole subject is now considered quite beyond the pale in polite society. The effect of that incomparable atrocity goes far beyond the millions who died; another casualty was all rational discussion of innate human differences, and their effect on human societies. (Why, even this comment would probably be enough to cost me my job, if I worked at a TV station, or in public office.)

    Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

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