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Liberal Thursday V:  Special Bauerlein Edition!

Last month, Mark Bauerlein wrote a Chronicle of Higher Education essay in which he said this:

In What’s Liberal ... ?, conservatism suffers similarly from stigmatizing references. Bérubé focuses on the anti-academic conservatives and fills his descriptions with diagnostic asides. Gay-rights debates “transform otherwise reasonable cultural conservatives into fumbling, conspiracy-mongering fanatics.” The columnist George Will is “furious,” and the columnist Michelle Malkin writes “shameful” books pressing “‘interpretations’ that no sane person countenances,” while Horowitz exaggerates “hysterically.” Such psychic wants explain why, according to Bérubé, “we just don’t trust cultural conservatives’ track record over the long term, to be honest. We think they’re the heirs of the people who spent decades dehumanizing African-Americans and immigrants, arguing chapter and verse that the Bible endorses slavery and the subjection of women."

Note the lineage: Not a line of reasoning, but a swell of mad wrath. Not Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, T.S. Eliot, and Leo Strauss, but slaveholders, nativists, and sexists. Nothing from Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, E.D. Hirsch Jr., Harvey C. Mansfield, and the late Philip Rieff, to cite more-recent writers who may be termed “educational conservatives.” The scholarly conservative case against higher education is overlooked, while Bérubé devotes too many words to the claims of discrimination by a conservative student on television’s Hannity & Colmes, to a worry by a state legislator about “leftist totalitarianism,” and so on.

By my count, there are three things deeply wrong with this.  I’ll get to them on Saturday, but if you’d like to see something even wronger with Bauerlein’s essay, read the whole thing (as they say on blogs) and wait ‘til you get to his treatment of Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.  You know, there really is only one intellectually respectable way to discuss D’Souza’s The Enemy At Home, and Mark Warren has recently provided a handy demonstration of that way in the pages of Esquire.  Bauerlein, by contrast, decided to go the route of the D’Souza Enabler—offering a measured assessment of The Enemy at Home, the kind that helps Dinesh burnish his credentials as a Serious Person.  And yes, I’ll get to that on Saturday too.  But rest assured that I won’t associate Harvey Mansfield with racism in any shape or form just because he went around for years claiming, without a shred of empirical evidence, that grade inflation at Harvard was the work of molly-coddling liberal professors trying gamely to mask the shortcomings of Harvard’s African-American students.

In the meantime, consider this completely unrelated conundrum: Boogie Nights is very much like Ed Wood in that it is a very good movie about the campy very badness of very bad movies, and it continually (and rather gracefully) walks the line between ridiculing and paying wry homage to its subject.  (I mean, Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell really are great names!) And yet Boogie Nights is also like The Kids Are Alright insofar as it takes its name from a song that is entirely appropriate to the subject yet appears nowhere on the soundtrack.

Coincidence . . . or mystery?

Posted by on 01/04 at 07:33 AM
  1. In your musings on movies, might you find a connection, somehow, to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? which (as you know) takes its title from a very good movie about… not campy movies, but making movies--Sullivan’s Travels.  I don’t know if it can be shoe-horned in, but it might be fun to try.  I love the Cohen brothers’ movie-house scene and its connection to the one in the earlier movie.

    The meta of movies extends, of course, from movies about movies to books about movies, going back to things like Merton of the Movies and Minnie Flynn.  And how’s Queer People for a title of a Hollywood novel (perhaps the first r eally successful one) from 1930?

    Bauerlein’s article is one of those abundances or riches leaving one wondering where to start.  A box of chocolates all equally compelling.  I look forward to seeing what you pick first--daintily, of course.

    Captcha: “brought” As in “Brought to you by the people who brought you.”

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  01/04  at  09:40 AM
  2. Bauerlein’s article is one of those abundances or riches leaving one wondering where to start.

    Yep, right now I am having touble getting past:

    Sullivan combines academic learning and public engagement in an exemplary model for aspiring intellectuals, and his blog The Daily Dish displays the World Wide Web at its best.[emphasis added - JP]

    Tim Berners-Lee must feel so proud right now.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  10:28 AM
  3. That is, er, a rich article. Here are some fish in a barrel observations.

    Bauerlein’s goalpost-moving--is he talking about “conservatives” or “conservative intellectuals?--is breathtaking. Check this out:
    Notwithstanding the outcome of the recent election, in one respect, the last few decades mark a breakthrough era for conservative intellectuals. Their visibility has soared. Thirty years ago, the only place to find conservatives on television was Firing Line, William F. Buckley’s urbane talk show. Today they appear on Meet the Press and 60 Minutes. Conservatives reign on talk radio, and the political-blog universe tends to the right, too, especially to the libertarian view.

    I wasn’t aware that (American) talk radio was home to any intellectuals--whatever they are--conservative or otherwise. Note that when he finally gets around to listing conservative intellectuals, most of the people he lists are dead. Why not put Augustine and Aquinas on his list, while he’s at it?

    And shouldn’t a movement--pace the IHE commenters who think Ward Churchill has as much power as Stanley Fish--be defined by the members and discourses that have the most influence? Hirsch might have been a weight 20 years ago, but today, it’s Coulter, Malkin, Savage, &c., and if Bauerlein declares them not “true” conservatives, as Sullivan does with theocrats, there’s a bit of ‘no true Scotmanism’ going on.

    ...and then the medievalist goes, what?, at this: When a distinctive intellectual identity emerged 100 years ago in France, it did so as an adversarial one.

    What’s Chaucer’s clerk, chopped liver? Or is he talking about some kind of intellectual identity that’s particular to France c. 1906?

    I asked the question over at Kaufman’s blog: what’s the relationship between the nerdy academic (think Ball of Fire) and the too cool for school avant garde academic (Socrates, Abalard, Wyclif)?

    Oh: mystery.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:23 AM
  4. ...and then the medievalist goes, what?

    Hang on, Mr. Steel, are you a Grouchy Medievalist?  If so, I completely missed where you stopped saying “Ni!” If not, I will use two whole data points to extrapolate a trend about medievalists named Karl.  And thence to abandonment of science for economics.  I hear AEI is hiring.

    The scholarly conservative case against higher education is overlooked

    As are flying unicorns who release hit records.  For shame, Professor!

    to a worry by a state legislator about “leftist totalitarianism,”

    Yes, how foolish to spend time worrying about the views lawmakers hold on higher education.  It’s not like they have any authority over, say, state colleges.  Far, far better to address the cogent arguments of Reginald Butterbut Hedley-Smythe, Baronet, in his 1823 pamphlet “Girlies and Darkies, Oh My!” Since that’s what’s most relevant to the state of higher education in America today.

    By the way, I was being sarcastic.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  12:39 PM
  5. The relevant point is that conservative ideas aren’t disengaged from power, or conservative intellectuals from paychecks.

    This is a relevant point. Bauerlein bemoans the fact that conservative ideas are not seen as independently legitimate, yet he doesn’t deny that they’re propped up by vested interests; he just disparages critics who point out the fact. His conclusion is that intellectual dismissal of conservative ideas must be due to a liberal conspiracy. However, there’s another plausible explanation: stripped of their backing—so-called wingnut affirmative action—the ideas don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    Perhaps the conservatives should strive for independence, like the French of 100 years ago, and shrug off their corporate masters.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  01:28 PM
  6. Also, Mansfield testified at the Colorado Amendment 2 trail (the one about removing gay rights from the laws of Denver and Boulder) that, in his expert opinion, “homosexuals undermine civilization.” So, we gay kids at Harvard went around putting up posters saying things like “Harvey Mansfield thinks that Plato [of W. H. Auden or Alan Turing or Michelangelo] undermined civilization.” What a hateful man he is.

    Posted by ted  on  01/04  at  02:19 PM
  7. The people who neglect the full expression of the conservative tradition the most are movement conservatives not liberal professors. I think we should be reading their books and then we should take them apart bit by bit while they watch.

    BTW the Cultural Studies section at our local Barnes and Noble is right next to the True Crime. I thought you should know I think it adds to the danger.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  02:21 PM
  8. Once the conversation reaches the conservative-versus-liberal or left-versus-right stage, the conversation is exactly one step from evoking Hitler and calling it a day.

    Posturing for ill-defined abstracts is a cultural low.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/04  at  02:32 PM
  9. Hang on, Mr. Steel, are you a Grouchy Medievalist?

    Yup. Gradually outing myself. And becoming less grouchy.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:08 PM
  10. I think the telling phrase is “The scholarly conservative case against higher education.” Note that he doesn’t say, “against higher education as currently constituted” or “against the liberal domination of higher education.” It is the “case against higher education.” Full.  Stop.

    This is exactly right, of course.  Higher education itself is what conservatives really despise.  Higher education depends on an autonomous group of experts who decide for themselves what is and is not worthy knowledge and who have academic freedom that protects their inquiry.  Conservatives, from Bill Buckley in ‘51 to Bill O’Reilly today object to the whole enterprise.

    And that is also why it doesn’t matter a bit if Buckley was/is urbane and smart and Malkin is hysterical and stupid.  Because Buckley argued that people like Malkin should be in charge of higher education.  The “The scholarly conservative case against higher education” amounts to putting the yahoos in charge by eliminating academic freedom.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:13 PM
  11. Yup. Gradually outing myself. And becoming less grouchy.

    Too bad about the lessened grouchiness.  But if “Karl the Grouchy Medievalist” can reveal himself to be “Karl Steel,” it might be time for me to pull aside the curtain and acknowledge that mds is really “Buck Naked.”

    Though “Karl Steel” also sounds like the sort of pornlike character name that distinguishes the “Left Behind” series (see Slacktivist for details).  We’ve got Buck Williams, Steve Plank, Rayford Steele...I was almost expecting “Stanley Powerdrill” to turn up.  Either LaHaye or Jenkins must be looking pretty Haggard by now.

    Hmm, Rayford Steele...Karl Steel.  If, in the books, Rayford’s young son and namesake could be nicknamed “Raymie,” one could almost as easily get “Karl” out of it as well.  Coincidence...or mystery?

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:21 PM
  12. Buck Naked! What’s going on here?
    I thought you were Celine Dion’s sister?

    Weird real-life moment: We’re young teenagers at a Chuck-E-Cheese pizza restaurant and my friend insists on chasing Chuch-E-Cheese the mascot, pulling his rat-like tail at every opportunity.

    Finally, she chases him into a corner. He briefly pretends to cower. I wait from a distance to see what will happen. To my shock, he slowly turns around very slowly, faces her, and flips her the bird.

    “F**k you” from Chuck-E-Cheese. Now that hurts…

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:41 PM
  13. That’s a pretty off-the-mark reading on what is going on with Hayek and his absence from colleges.  Austrian economics isn’t taught anywhere (mainstream) in the US, for reasons related to theory and study.  Thomas Frank’s assessment that he associates British welfare state with Nazism is on the mark.  His appreciate of Pinochet hurts his “commitment” to freedom.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:44 PM
  14. And my guess for one of the three things wrong is this statement: “Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville [and] T.S. Eliot” don’t get enough critical attention in the academy.  wtf?  I’m pretty sure you could re-build New Orleans with the weight of dissertations written on those three.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:47 PM
  15. Buck Naked! What’s going on here?
    I thought you were Celine Dion’s sister?

    The same!  You didn’t think “Dion” was our real family name, did you?  How far do you think Celine would have gotten in Canadian music if her last name made her sound like a barenaked lady?

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:56 PM
  16. I suppose you have a point there, mds. Although look where a lack of panties has gotten Ms. Brittney Spears. She’s simultaneously viewed as sexy and crazy.

    “The Barenaked Crazy Canadian Lady?” I guess I would buy such a band’s records out of sheer curiosity…

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:07 PM
  17. Mark Warren was too kind to Dinesh’s book.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:07 PM
  18. Not that it matters, but I guess Arab=Muslim is an equation an apologist for “conservative intellectual thought” is allowed to make and not worrry about how accurate it actually is.

    “Hollywood movies and sitcoms, pop music, romance novels, and YouTube fill the Arab street from Tunis to Tehran. . . “

    I guess he couldn’t find any Moroccan city that would be made an appropriate alliteration with that well-known (by conservatives?) Arab city Tehren.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:29 PM
  19. He’d probably be better off with “The Muslim world from Timbukto to Taliwang,” but even reformulated, the idea’s as vacuous at its heart as “the Xian World from Johannesburg to Juneau” or, say, from “the Vatican” to “Vicksburg.”

    JPJ: apt.

    MDS: trust me, it’s my real name, inasmuch as I could be said to possess such a thing, &c. First name’s a venerable family name going back to the Fjords or whatever, and the last name goes way back to 1922, when some functionary at Ellis Island, I think, engaged in a bit of orthographical flattening that was intellectually of a piece with the whole “Tunis to Tehran” thing.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  04:52 PM
  20. “Tunis to Tehran”?  That reminded me of a song with other towns alliterating on the letter “T.” And then I just couldn’t help myself.  I destroyed it.

    With apologies to Lowell George:

    Gull’ble

    I been warped by the right, lied to by their Snow
    I’m drunk and dirty don’t ya know, and I’m still, gull’ble
    Out of my mind late at night, Seen pretty vict’ry in every headline
    Vict’ry, Texas vict’ry

    I’ve been from Tuscon to Tucumcari
    Tehachapi to Tonapah
    Hearin’ every kind of lie that’s ever been made
    Drivel from the rightwing that I shoulda marked paid
    And if you give me: screed, lies, and whine
    and you show me a sign
    I’ll be gull’ble, and believe ‘em

    I’ve been kicked by the cons, robbed by the rich
    Had my head stoved in, but I’m still on my feet and I’m still… gull’ble
    Now I ate a buncha crap of folks from Mexico
    takin’ all the jobs, sneakin’ up from Mexico, and I’m still gull’ble

    And I been from Tuscon to Tucumcari
    Tehachapi to Tonapah
    Hearin’ every kind of lie that’s ever been made
    Drivel from the rightwing that I shoulda marked paid
    And if you give me: screed, lies, and whine
    and you show me a sign
    I’ll be gull’ble, and believe ‘em

    Captcha: “similar,” but I reject that.  Certainly, were he still alive, Lowell George would deny any similarity....

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  01/04  at  05:14 PM
  21. According to the Cute Tiny Farmer:

    “Bérubé, a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University’s main campus, is a high-profile academic, liberal and progressive but skeptical enough to scorn his colleagues for their cloistered reflections upon the world.

    Oh Herr Dr. Professor Berube, sir, say it isn’t so!

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/04  at  05:16 PM
  22. MDS: trust me, it’s my real name, inasmuch as I could be said to possess such a thing, &c.

    Oh, I didn’t mean to imply criticism.  If you were a character from “Left Behind” (dirty!), I’m sure you’d still be welcome here.  Though your dialogue would be much more stilted, and you’d more obviously be making a lot of phone calls.  On the other hand, with your real name available, I can now admire your blog.  If you know what I mean.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  05:17 PM
  23. Sorry, but this little screed is further evidence of MB’s unfortunate habit of going after soft targets--D’Souza, Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter, and that pack of hacks and flacks, while ignoring the really troublesome phenomena that really do smack of enforced orthodoxy.  Let me mention a couple, just to be concrete:

    --The treatment of Ward Connerly at Columbia (MB’s alma mater and that of my kids) when he was invited to give a talk.  The man was literally shoved off-campus by protestors while the administration looked on benignly.  Of course, Connerly is probably high on your list of cranks and hit-men (I wouldn’t object to that characterization), but that doesn’t vitiate the point.  In any event, here are some further instances of non-cranks/hitmen getting it in the neck.

    --E.O. Wilson, in connection with his book “Human Sociobiology.” Wilson, too, was physically assaulted while speaking, but that’s relatively minor compared to the campaign of vituperation instigated by Gould, Rose, Lewontin, et al., which led to sociobiology becoming, for many years, a vile epithet in most campus discourse.  Wilson happens to be a liberal New Deal Democrat, but that didn’t count for much.  The reflexive attitude of many campus mandarins of the ostensible left was that the guy was, ipso facto, a sexist, racist, crypto-Nazi--an attitude that I have personally witnessed in action, and which still leaves traces in such things as G. Levine’s new book, “Darwin Loves You” (see my fothcoming review of same in “Skeptic").  In the long run, sociobiology has flourished modestly, though discretion forced its euphemization into “evolutionary psychology.” But the odor of burning books still lingers.

    --The hatchet job on E.D. Hirsch and cultural literacy performed, most notably, by the egregious Barbara Herrnstein Smith in the NY Review of Books some years ago.  Hirsch is another liberal egalitarian--but no matter!

    --As a very minor instance, I’ll cite my own experience as an invited lecturer in a Rutgers course on Multicultural Identities.  My own role was to say something about the misrepresentations of science and its history in the multi-culti lit offered to undergrads, particularly that concocted by Afrocentrists.  I was indiscreet enough to point out some obvious facts, for instance: Ancient Egyptians were by no means superscientists whose achievements incorporated quantum mechanics and aviation technology--in particular, their mathematical achievements were, on the whole, rather modest and were not the source of the great breakthroughs of Greek mathematics; Egyptians were not “African” in the sense assumed by Afrocentric writers, in either the cultural sense or in terms of “race”.  They had virtually no connection with the West African peoples and cultures ancestral to black Americans.

    Such remarks evoked considerable outcries from the black students in the class, who were, I believe, much under the influence of another egregious case, Rutgers’s own Ivan Van Sertima.  Nonetheless, the course co-ordinator, a rather daring fellow, promised to invite me back for further discussion.  Unfortunately, an unrelated racial uproar erupted at Rutgers a few weeks later, and my host felt he had to cancel the invitation since the points I wanted to make had suddenly become too inflammatory for his charges.

    ---------------

    This kind of orthodoxy still befogs academic life, though it is more muted than formerly.  It’s not the stuff of loud showdowns on FOX; but its ultimately much more important to the issues at hand than the turd-slinging of O’Reilly et al.  But MB seems all to eager to sidestep such pathology.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  06:48 PM
  24. From Tunis to Tehran, or Milan to Minsk?  I guess it all depends upon who’s making the journey, and why.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  06:49 PM
  25. [In unison]: Noorrrm!

    Good screed. There certainly was an overabundance of “levity” around here.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  07:39 PM
  26. Evolutionary psychology is denigrated by many not because it is politically incorrect, but because it is bogus pseudoscience. By the way, the fact that evolutionary psychology is not only making a “modest comeback” but actually quite en vogue seems to suggest that the “orthodoxy” is not very well enforced.
    But no matter; the main problem I have with Norman’s argument is that he seems to have convinced himself that disputes internal to academia are somehow “more important” than what the “soft targets” - all of them with (varying degrees of) influence in the real world - have to say. I’d wager that the terrible influence of Ivan Van Sertima isn’t comparable to that of, say, O’Reilly. Of course in an ideal world D’Souza and company could be dismissed without discussion - but in the real world somebody has to do the dirty work and take them apart.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  07:57 PM
  27. And I fed a troll… (bows head in shame).

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  07:58 PM
  28. If Bauerlein’s synopsis of D’Souza’s book is correct, it sound a lot like Jerry Fallwell’s comment on 9/11:

    “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”

    The idea that our “sinful” culture brings down the wrath of God upon us is certainly not new; it was prevalent in the Calvinist churches and Christian school of my youth, along with the idea that America was ripe to be God’s country, if only everyone would straighten up and fly right.

    When Bauerlein writes, “It would be healthy for everyone if the academic curriculum broadened its scope, if the lineage of conservatism were consolidated into a respectable course of study,” my question would be, which secular conservative intellectuals could you possibly find to buttress D’Souza’s (and Fallwell’s) argument?

    (Hopefully this post isn’t “supersaturated with non-sequiturs”—ref. comment 50, here.)

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  08:27 PM
  29. So what would the hard targets be, Norman?

    And I wonder if you appreciate how damaging the rest of your posting is for your own position.  You conflate reprehensible attacks *on* speech, like violence or intimidation, with things that are everyday occurrences *within* public or academic dialogue: (a) people publish critiques of each other’s work all the time, and yes, some of those critiques may strike one as unfair.  Big deal.  (b) It is a routine part of the experience of being an invited lecturer, especially on a controversial topic, that some members of the audience will be harshly critical.  Enough whining!

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  09:07 PM
  30. In re #26. from christian h.

    On what authority does c.h. declare evolutionary psychology a “bogus pseudoscience?  There are thoughtful critiques, and the matter is hardly settled definitively.  But note that among the prominent scientists who work with the idea we find Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Melvin Konner, Steven Pinker, Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Borat/Ali.G), and Richard Dawkins.  This, to say the least, does little to support the villification of ev. psych. as a “pseudoscience”.  The fact that the field has (finally) gained a reasonable academic foothold doesn’t refute the patent fact that for years it had to fight vigorously against the stigmatizing rhetoric directed against it, which was indeed an artifact of “left” orthodoxy on the subject, an orthodoxy to whose persistence c.h.’s posting testifies.

    This episode is, in my view, more important to deal with than noise from a bunch of tiresome rabble-rousers whose vogue is quickly passing because it points to something unhealthy internal to academic culture, a pathology whose disappearance is by no means guaranteed.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  09:09 PM
  31. What christian and Colin said. I’d like to add the point that both E.D. Hirsch and E.O. Wilson wrote bestselling books, in categories which generally do not produce bestsellers. My guess is that the “odor” is something else.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  09:16 PM
  32. Christian: It’s a little harsh to call Norman Levitt a troll. His posts are neither inflammatory (considering standard discourse here) nor off-topic, or even insincere. Because people tend to throw the term around in a way that’s well, quite trollish, and manages little more than to convey arrogance without substance, I’d advise using it reluctantly. It also sort-of smacks of that brand of protestant rigidity North America has had such a troublesome time shedding. Just say’in.

    NL: There are millions of people MB has not taken to task. That’s a fair observation. However, in the case of higher education versus the dominant culture, it makes sense that one who is in higher education would focus their efforts on those in the dominant culture (throw in Christian’s remarks here for good measure). In this case, it’s not an issue of whether or not militant orthodoxies can manifest within an institution (I suspect it’s a likely result within most institutions), but how much control political institutions should have over academic institutions. The conversation you want to hear about campus behavior, is, I believe, a different one.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/04  at  10:18 PM
  33. In re #29 from Colin Danby:

    Of course there is, or should be, debate and critique, some of it pretty merciless.  I’ve engaged in quite a bit of polemics myself, as you know.  But there is a continuum that connects vigorous contention with the kind of orthodoxy that muffles contention, and essentially bars one side of an argument from making its case, at least within the academy.  The villification of Wilson and sociobiology produced the latter effect for some years.  This was not enforced by intellectual conviction stemming from debate and discussion but by a culture of groupthink, wherein many of the most vehement denunciations came not from biologists, anthropologists, or psychologists who at least understood the issues involved, but from fields like literature, women’s studies, and cultural studies where knowledge of any of the germane scientific maatters was minimal, to say the least, but where Manichean politcal categories had firmly taken root.  It was on the basis of those ideological fantasies that a reasonably promising field of study was declared to be forbidden territory.

    As to my supposed thin skin at being yelled at during a lecture:  You’re dead wrong about that, if only because I perversely enjoy that sort of thing.  But I was greatly saddened, not because black students were pissed off by me, but because my university had, in effect, put many of them through a kind of indoctrination adminstered by palpable nutcases like Van Sertima, who, like some other folks whom one might name (Ward Churchill, e.g.) gained preferment for reasons having nothing much to do with scholarly acuity.  (As it happens, much of the blame for Van Sertima goes to Transaction Press, a conservative outfit run by the very conservative Irving L. Horowitz, which published Van Sertima’s idiotic book “Blacks in Science, Ancient and Modern” because there was, by their standards, big money in it.) On the other hand, the further decision to rescind an invitation to me was precisely the kind of academic pussyfooting that really does piss me off.

    For the rest, I leave the whining to you.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  10:40 PM
  34. Pennebaker’s Dylanmentary, Don’t Look Back, did not include the Boston song from which it took its name.

    Posted by Siva Vaidhyanathan  on  01/04  at  10:51 PM
  35. Sure is nice to return from my sabbatical and see that this blog’s throe weight hasn’t slipped a bit, despite rumors.  Saturday it is!

    Posted by Romy B.  on  01/04  at  10:53 PM
  36. I have long wanted to ask this question, but have always felt it was too stupid. Nevertheless, I will now bite the bullet:

    What is THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT supposed to mean? What are the broader social issues explored in this song?

    My understanding is that a guy has a girlfriend whose parents don’t like him. He is bad at planning, so he’s not going to ask her to run away with him. Instead, he will leave her to party with his (presumably younger?) friends. He doesn’t mind her dancing with them, since “the kids are alright.”

    But how much younger can these “kids” be than the singer/protagonist, if he is worried about annoying her parents? He sounds pretty wet behind the ears, and pretty ditzy to boot.

    Is the protagonist trying to sing the virtues of his own generation by saying “The Kids Are Alright?” Or is he an older guy with problems, coming to terms with the idea that he’s going to leave his woman with the Slacker crowd? (I guess they would have been Gen-Xers in the making back then)?

    Any thoughts?

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:04 PM
  37. I’m with Norm. I hate it when it’s suggested that people living 4,000 years before me had the same intellectual capacities I do, especially when those people didn’t have my racial make-up and the people doing all the suggesting are Afrocentrists. It’s insulting on so many levels.

    Don’t worry, Norm. Things are looking up for Rutgers: the multi-cultis are on the wane and the football team promises to be in the big time for decades!

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:05 PM
  38. Not to mention those cool new buildings coming to New Brunswick. Go McCormick!

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:09 PM
  39. Thanks for the reply, Norman, but you ignore my first question re #23 about who the hard targets are.

    Re the rest of that paragraph, I had my undergraduates reading Wilson just a few quarters ago.  Sarah Hrdy commonly appears on Women’s Studies syllabi.  Sociobiological research flourishes.  So your “a reasonably promising field of study was declared to be forbidden territory” is hysteria.  Yes, folks have been and still are sharply critical of Wilson.  I don’t think anyone who reads him carefully would be surprised by that!  Part of Wilson’s virtue is that he is not a conciliator or difference-splitter: he inexorably and with exemplary clarity follows premises out to their conclusions, no matter how reductive, in areas like art or religion, those conclusions may appear to most readers.

    I agree with you and Mark B that we need more thoughtful and critical conservative writing in academic life.  But still all I’m seeing in your postings is a lively sense of personal grievance, projected onto an imagined orthodoxy.

    (CCCP is quite right, though, that you’re in no way trolling.)

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:41 PM
  40. In re #37 from Steve (any last name?)

    Are you actually offering an opinion, or is it merely a sardonic exemplification of what is allowed to pass as an opinion in some precincts of the academy? 

    If you have any facts to offer about scientific or mathematical achievements of Africans or Egyptians or Eskimos or Daughters of the Confederacy ca. 2000 BC, please present them.

    Otherwise, you merely incarnate once more the following all-too-familiar logic:  (1) So-and-so (name your favorite example of victimhood) has got it in the neck from western civilization these past few centuries; (2) It would therefore be palpably unfair, goddam it, if So-and-so couldn’t claim credit for the early anticipation of some remarkable “western” achievement (quantum mechanics, say); (3) Unfairness isn’t allowable, and besides, some guy (who can’t tell a self-adjoint operator on the separable Hilbert space of square-summable complex functions on configuration space) from a sack of potato chips) managed to self-publish a book that claims that So-and-so invented quantum mechanics in 1729, BC, thanks to the mystic wisdom inherent in their ancestral bloodline; (4) Ergo, So-and-so developed quantum mechanics 3800 years before the Europeans (take that, Heisenberg!) (5) Corollary: I’m a very virtuous political person for believing all the above.

    So: either come up with some interesting evidence (and I do mean evidence) or take your fucking dumb-ass sarcasm and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

    By the way, my major campus polilticking, such as it was, over the past few years was devoted to the quixotic struggle to prevent Rutgers from plunging headlong into the filthy culture of big-time football.  The results are depressingly obvious.  (See

    http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F30E17F73C540C728CDDA90994DE404482 )

    This stuff with MB is just a minor sideline.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:42 PM
  41. Well, I just got back from dropping off Number One Son at JFK, and I note that Stormin’ Norman still hasn’t read my book but is stopping by the blog every so often nonetheless to tell me what it does and doesn’t do.

    As I said at the MLA, my blog has helped bring me to the attention of some of the most remarkably barking-mad people in the English-speaking world.  And roughly seven of every ten of my weirdest trolls have been professors.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/04  at  11:51 PM
  42. In re # 39 from Colin Danby:

    It’s nice that you’re assigning your students Wilson (in what context, BTW?), but not terribly germane to my point, since the demonization of Wilson and sociobiology was in full flower between the late ‘70’s and the early ‘90’s, but has tailed off considerably since, probably because Wilson is such a vociferous champion of biodiversity and preservation of fragile environments. (See, e.g., Andrew Ross’s fulminations ("The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life")for a bit of the old-time religion).

    As to hard targets--hard, in the sense that there is some inevitable emotional pain in dealing with them--I’m talking about the fact that the liberal academic establishment, using the L-word in several senses, still has some work to do putting its ethical house in order.  One of the major reasons that Horowitz and his minions can get away with so much crap is that they can start from a position that has some plausibility, because, specifically, of the high-handedness and censoriousness toward unwelcome opinions and the eagerness to proselytize to a captive audience of which the left professoriate has frequently been guilty.  This is a real phenomenon, not just a Coulterian fantasy.  I’ve even seen it, though infrequently, in math courses (of the math-for-poets variety).  My students have certainly been aware of it (along, presumably, with their parents).  Indeed, so were my kids, who went to college in the ‘90’s.  For a fact, my daughter, who is every inch a bleeding-heart lefty, came home from Barnard from time to time with disdainful tales of “feminazis”.

    That being so, an air of injured innocence when such things are mentioned is not particularly wise, tactically speaking.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:05 AM
  43. Well, Norm, you’re on to me. I don’t have a last name, and I have stuck my sarcasm where you’ve indicated. I’m not about to extol the virtues of ancient Egypt, especially since their achievements (here I’m thinking of pretty pictures I’ve seen of pyramids and such) involved slavery (so I hear). But I wasn’t interested in the Egyptians to begin with--only with the story you were telling, apparently to Black students, that the great achievements in scientific thought don’t belong to them. On reflection, I guess it’s possible my reaction resulted from indoctriation that makes me sensitive to encoded power grabs. By the same token, and on further reflection, I was right to bet in my post above that I could tell exactly what you thought about Rutgers football, College Ave. renovations, and I would even now say I could predict what you thought about the racial incident that kept you from returning for that second guest lecture (which I imagine was that comic in the Targum). So hey, you can talk crap about my groupthinkyness if I can make fun of yours.

    Respectfully,
    Steve Something

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:18 AM
  44. Norman, I fully, enthusiastically agree that in a lot of areas debates should be opened wider and I periodically yell at people on this and other blogs who stigmatize conservatives as reactionary know-nothings.  Just the other week one of the Valve crew called me a Republican for doing that.  I don’t however buy that there’s a single crushing orthodoxy out there.  Part of what I am delighted to find we agree is Horowitz’s crap is a tendency rapidly to generalize from the stupidities that any huge, shaggy system will throw up (how many institutions of higher ed are there in the United States?) to the idea that there is one massive academic conspiracy against Truth and Justice and the American Way.

    Just to circle back, and then I’ll try to shut up, Mark B argues that Michael is shootin’ farm-raised quail—anyone can confute Horowitz, even after a couple beers, but there’s a more serious “scholarly conservative case against higher education” that he’s dodging.  I want citations.  So I read your “soft targets” in that context; it looks like you meant something else.  In any case I think you’ll find when you read WL that it has a slightly more complex argument.

    As to your what-context question, I put Wilson in “Introduction to Interdisciplinary Inquiry,” the required intro course to the upper-level interdisciplinary program in which I’m privileged to teach.  Wilson is among other things an important interdisciplinary thinker.  We also read part of Allan Bloom’s _Closing of the American Mind_.  I’m very much on the lookout for stuff of that caliber.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:57 AM
  45. From today’s RedState front page.

    redstate1gk4.jpg
    Caption 1 (from Bauerlein)

    Herein lies the plight of conservative intellectuals. They seek to reflect upon the events of the day, but the ideas they draw upon are ignored by professors and cheapened by liberal intellectuals.

    Caption 2: (again Bauerlein)

    More important, however, the conservative tradition remains a vital resource of ideas and theories, a heritage that claims world triumphs.

    Caption 3:

    Dick Cheney commandeers Gerald Ford’s corpse to travel back in time and trigger a GNF “back when it would’ve fucking helped.”

    Caption 4: (after the last panel in WLAtLA: The Graphic Novel)

    Students queue up for a chance to get off campus for Spring Break!

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:58 AM
  46. On what authority does c.h. declare evolutionary psychology a “bogus pseudoscience?

    You might look to Susan McKinnon’s Neo-Liberal Genetics: The Myths and Moral Tales of Evolutionary Psychology. While McKinnon’s approach isn’t perfect--she’s wedding to a sharp divide between humans and animals and committed, so far as I can tell, and ironically enough, to a liberal model of free will--the targets that Pinker et al. provide are big enough that she knocks them down, to my mind, convincingly. The evidence, NL, is on her side.

    Small potatoes vis-a-vis your other points, which I’ll leave to others, but potatoes nonetheless.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  01:02 AM
  47. NL: “biologists, anthropologists, or psychologists who at least understood the issues involved, but from fields like literature, women’s studies, and cultural studies where knowledge of any of the germane scientific maatters was minimal…

    That statement strikes me as dubious on oh so many levels. As the t-shirts say, “Ask me how.”
    As it stands, the above could read “People who are into literature, women’s studies and cultural studies don’t know anything about science.” How do you know that?
    BTW: My husband, a physicist, has trouble thinking of anything in your list of “sciences” (except for biology and bone digging) as science!

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/05  at  01:16 AM
  48. Certainly there are a number of valid criticisms of evolutionary psychology by folks like McKinnon and Ehrich, but it hardly warrants the label of “bogus pseudoscience”.

    I will say just this. The reception in the scientific and political communities of approaches such as Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology (and many prove to be overstretches and will certainly fall by the wayside - “memetics” for sure & possibly ev psych) illustrate the long slow complications (we are clearly still well in the societal/political tail of evolution itself) that arise when “scientific” approaches are pursued that come within shouting distance of the consensus reality self-images held by any sizable group(s) (and in particular those with any form of societal power.) And further, they illustrate why Science Studies is such an important, intriguing, difficult and controversial field. (As does why NL chose those examples in the first place, why christian h. chose to reply with such an overheated label, why Karl and I felt compelled to chime in further - and what areas Hattie’s husband views as legitimate sciences.)

    And looking ahead, if I were Bette Davis I’d say: Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy century.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  02:24 AM
  49. After reading this discussion, one might conclude that this Norm is simply incommensurable.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  02:32 AM
  50. In re #43 from Steve @#&&#$*

    No, great scientific achievements don’t belong to black students.  But that’s a mere consequence of the fact that they don’t belong to any students.  Your ancestors don’t do your thinking for you, a fact which the academic left, in its contemporary degenerate state, finds it difficult to grasp.  By the way (as I mentioned to those self-same black students) insofar as I can determine, it’s most unlikely that any of my ancestors could have had aught to do with with significant scientific achievements.  They were in the wrong place and the wrong culture at the wrong time.  This is a fact of which I am neither ashamed nor proud; it’s amazingly irrelevant to a scientific career.

    What is relevant, however, is the ability to face facts in whatever arena of inquiry one is working in.  It was this ability that was being disparaged and repressed in the black student culture taught to venerate “Afrocentrism.” By implication at least, you seem to approve of this intellectual deformity.

    As to the incident that touched off the cancellation of my invitation (an infinitesimal fragment of a major shitstorm), you happen to be dead wrong in your guess.  I’ll leave it at that.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:45 AM
  51. In re #45 from JP Stormcrow:

    You quote, contemptuously, from Bauerlein
    “More important, however, the conservative tradition remains a vital resource of ideas and theories, a heritage that claims world triumphs.”

    Your argument seems to consist of conflating the conservative intellectual tradition with some clown of a redneck blogger.

    I have to infer that Bauerlein was referring to a roster of thinkers including Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Aquinus, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Herder, Smith, Burke, Toccqueville, Ricardo, Carlyle, Hawthorne, Adams(Henry), Eliot (along with various Agrarians), Faulkner, and even Bellow and Friedman.

    Do you think such people should be ignored or merely cited as cautionary examples?  I don’t.  I think they should be studied quite seriously.  This goes especially for left-radicals, not because they should be disabused of their radicalism but because they need desperately to learn not to rely on lazy arguments and weak thinkers.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  06:03 AM
  52. In re #46 from Karl Steel

    I hadn’t heard of Susan McKinnon.  A quick trip to Googleland informs me that she’s a cult. anth. forged in the dark Satanic mills of post-Geertzian cult. anth. and with much of the postmodern soot still clinging to her hide.  That’s as may be.  But I also note that her chief collaborator seems to be Sarah Franklin, which fact sets alarm bells to clanging at hellish volume.  I am familiar with S. Franklin of old from her piece “Making Transparencies”, which appeared in the issue of Social Text that Alan Sokal turned into a source of innocent merriment (Social Text 46/47).  Since this was an arrant hatchet-job directed at lil’ ol’ me, I feel no compunction whatever in categorizing Franklin as a mendacious, libelous pig-turd.

    Of course this is no smoking gun as regards whatever argument McKinnon makes.  In theory, her reasoning may be sound and telling. My characterizations are obviously ad feminam and nothing but.  But still, one’s eyebrow shoots up a yard or two when told to rely on the acumen of a scholar whose taste in co-authors is so foul.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  06:26 AM
  53. Certainly there are a number of valid criticisms of evolutionary psychology by folks like McKinnon and Ehrich, but it hardly warrants the label of “bogus pseudoscience”.

    Possibly not, at least as opposed to out-and-out sociobiology.  I’m willing to give Trivers the time of day, for instance.  Though I doubt he’s the sort of scholarly conservative thinker Bauerlein (or Levitt) has in mind.  And in a general sense, consilience is kinda cool; Astarte knows, we physical scientists have a distressing tendency towards reductionism.  But hey, what can we do?  We’re genetically programmed to be reductionist scientists.

    Now, attacks on the credentials of critics of evolutionary psychology are almost humorous coming from someone who is dismissive of Gould (and presumably Lewontin), even though expertise in evolutionary biology could naively be considered a requirement for evolutionary psychology.  Oh, right, though, Pinker is your main man, and he wouldn’t recognize falsifiability if it bit him on the ass.  “Not a single theory, but a large set of hypotheses.” Whatever you say, Professor Pinker.  Gad, sometimes I wish Kuhn had become a shoe salesman.  Undermining the fiction that science is a purely objective, incremental pursuit seems to have led to people thinking that absolutely anything can be “science” if it’s controversial enough.  Observations, testable hypotheses, and predictions still need to be in there somewhere.  But that’s enough over-the-top dissing of superstring theory evolutionary psychology for one comment.

    And as an elderly intertubist, may I say that in some sense Mr. Levitt is a troll, since in the pre-blog era a “troll” was someone who dragged deliberately provocative statements behind their boat to get things hopping in a newsgroup thread.  Contrast this with “Stupid libs, you should all die.” But the old-style trolling was not always a bad thing; hasn’t discussion here become lively in a somewhat on-topic way?

    Oh, and Foucault: I realized that some of your gender confusion arises from the use of “Buck.” It was a more obviously feminine “Buq” in the original québécois, but I Anglicized it in protest of Celine changing her last name to “Dion.”

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  09:53 AM
  54. I’m not telling you to rely on her acumen. I’m suggesting that you read the book and make up your own mind. It’s very short and cheap.

    Some other points: if Bauerlein wanted to cite those thinkers, he could have. He didn’t. He referred to conservative “intellectuals,” and somehow, slyly, folded “conservative” talk radio into that category. In other words, the charge you level at Stormcrow, NL, goes just as well for Bauerlein. As I said in #3.

    I also wanted to mention, above, that the bizarro MB also played to the groundlings by characterizing the conservative blogosphere as tending towards libertarianism, which strikes me as ludicrous, given the “conservative” blog world’s defense of unlimited surveillance on American citizens and “defense” of marriage. You probably don’t fight a two-front war here, NL, by defending Bauerlein’s article.

    Your ancestors don’t do your thinking for you, a fact which the academic left, in its contemporary degenerate state, finds it difficult to grasp.

    Well, that’s astonishing, unless you’re talking about the late 80s and Black Athena. That was hot then, when I was starting college, but it’s hardly “contemporary.” Strikes me that the current state of the academic left--if we want to collapse it into one borgy mass--is rather more committed to frustrating any claims to origin and descent. For that matter, it’s also big on confounding nostalgia, whether of the left or right (example of nostalgia in your post: the well-neigh pleonastic adjectives “contemporary degenerate"). As a member of the academic left (or, rather, as a leftist member of academia), and a medievalist, I think looking to the past for justification--whether it’s to a perfect point before academia went off the rails, or, say, to a Irish women-centered Xianity before the Council of Whitby throttled it--is generally bad thinking. It normally has to ignore a lot of facts to make its narratives work. Nothing new here: in being against all foundationalism, at least so far as concepts go, I think I’m a pretty typical.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  09:53 AM
  55. Ahem. First, let me say that comment 52 shows why Norm is the last person to complain about labeling. As for bogus pseudoscience: yes, I was being deliberately strong there. My beef isn’t free will, nor do I dispute that some behavior and traits are genetically determined - I think it very likely, actually: of course some human behavior is based on instinct (what the lit-crits here might call “Id"), and instincts have been formed by evolution.

    My problem is that in order to establish itself as its own field, evolutionary psychology has to, let’s say, bite off way more than it can chew. This leads to a large number of ex-post-facto explanations of psychological phenomena - or alleged psychological phenomena - thereby abandoning the scientific method and opening the door wide for political exploitation. As a concrete example I offer the claims that one reason there are fewer women in the “hard sciences” is that male intelligence (or most any trait, actually) has, for evolutionary reasons, a greater variance than female one.
    These claims are typical in many ways: they happen to support the societal status quo and in fact take it as a data point to support the conclusion (circular reasoning); they are based on very incomplete data even if taken on their own terms (i.e., even if we somehow convince ourselves that SAT’s and such measure innate intelligence); there are lots of unexamined assumptions, the biggest of which is that there even is such a thing as “intelligence” that can be measured; and a clever person could likely find an evolutionary explanation for the opposite data as well.

    By the way, happy new year to all (somewhat late...)!

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  10:03 AM
  56. Er.. thank you, Buq (or Buck), for clearing up at least some of my gender confusion. Although I’m still not sure if you are Celine’s brother or sister, I see that your lovely feminine name also seems to function in Arabic, where it denotes a kind of trumpet. Are you *all* musical in your family? It seems that way. 

    Where is Lee Edelman when you need him? He would fix all of your wagons with his critique of the logic of reproductive futurity!

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  10:44 AM
  57. Are you *all* musical in your family? It seems that way.

    Why, yes.  [Beat] Except for Celine.

    Where is Lee Edelman when you need him?

    Isn’t that a meaningless question?  We don’t need him, unless he’s willing to contribute to the reproductive success of our species.

    And uh, what christian h. said, more cogently and less vituperatively than I.  (Grumble, grumble.  Curse you, dr. h, you, you… Doob!)

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  11:02 AM
  58. You are very funny, and so mean to your poor sister!

    Other thoughts:

    Can you add and subtract, multiply and divide, using of the knowledge of the past so as to make it relevant to your everyday life? If so, then the scientific achievements of the past belong to you regardless of your skin color.

    ****

    If white students and teachers have no problem feeling that their musical legacies include James Brown, Motown, Jimi Hendrix, the Jackson Five, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Diana Ross, and related artists, then I don’t see why black students and teachers can’t lay claim to the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptian scientists.

    If white suburban young men entertain the idea that they are black ghetto rappers, then why can’t black ghetto rappers fancy the idea that they are descendents of Albert Einstein?

    Though not an Algerian Jew, I feel “related” and “indebted” to Jacques Derrida. I feel the same way about William Shakespeare and Rosa Parks. And when it comes to scientific accomplishments, I think we owe a tremendous debt to the animals from whom we evolved, and on whom we experimented to make our finds.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  11:31 AM
  59. Buck Naked : Yeah, I’m reassessing my defense of Norman. But ya know, once someone has been called a Troll, it sort-of legitimizes the subsequent screed - something about social norms. Granted, he’s still being a little childish.

    Norman Levitt: Your arguments are increasingly tangential. I’m lost. It seems you disagree with some ideas commonly considered “leftist” to the point where you consider those who hold those ideas to be pathological. I agree. I seem to recall that MB has disagreed with many of those ideas himself. I think we all have many things we agree and disagree with. What you haven’t made clear is how exactly those differences amount to a conspiracy. More importantly, you haven’t demonstrated or reasoned how or why academia should be directed by external political bodies, which, if I’m not mistaken, is exactly what’s at issue. Is it not?

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/05  at  12:24 PM
  60. Three things fascinate me about the sociobiology/EP controversy: 

    First, sociobiology and its offspring of evolutionary psychology cannot seem to make a case without indulging in conspiracy rhetoric:  “They’re all against us!  I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action!” This can range from Levitt’s hysterical “stench of burning books” here to Pinker/Cosmides/Tooby’s strawman of the “standard social science model” they claim that is held by EVERYONE without, you know, actually citing anyone who actually holds to the dictates of the model.

    The nifty thing about conspiracy rhetoric is that normal standards of argumentation do not apply.  Once you’ve started with the idea that the leftists conspired against sociobiology, all evidence can be reinterpreted as proof of the conspiracy.  Vigorous criticism becomes unjustified persecution.  That the research program had trouble getting published is interpreted, not as weaknesses in the research program or that the critics were right, but that poor sociobiologists were being stifled by the leftist puppetmasters who control all publications and tenuring.

    Second, the claim that literature folks, cultural anthropologists, etc. are not qualified to comment on EP or sociobiology.  You know, the folks who are actually EXPERTS on the things EPers purport to explain.  Mashall Sahlins points out in in the 1970s that the sociobiologists simply don’t understand “culture” which Sahlins has spent his life studying and sociobiology’s defenders argue that cultural anthropologists aren’t qualified to argue about the nature of culture.  Right. 

    Third, many staunch evolutionary scientists, Gould, Lewontin and, I would argue, Lewontin’ teacher Theodosius Dobzhansky (one of the architects of the modern synthesis) all objected to the kind of Darwinism put forth by Wilson.  Which means that when sociobiologists portray this as “biology vs. unscientific humanists” they are being dishonest.  This is an internecine conflict within evolutionary biology and they should not be allowed to claim Darwin’s mantle the way they do.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:30 PM
  61. In re #59 from christian h.

    Let’s analyze, in some detail, where this posting goes amiss:

    The claim being criticized is one that was made famous (or notorious) by Larry Summers, but it is somewhat inaccurately stated here.  What Summers expounded, without specifically endorsing it, was the notion that high-order mathematical talent is found in many more men than women for reasons having to do with the statistics of innate cognitive difference (just as many more men than women are more than 6’5” tall).  Therefore, gender disparity in academic fields like math, theoretical physics, and so forth, at least at high-quality research institutions, will exist even in the absence of gender bias within those communities or generalized cultural bias against women entering those fields.

    Note that this hypothesis has nothing directly to do with evolutionary psychology, per se, since it is not necessary to resort to a Darwinian explanation of the antecedent in order to bolster the conclusion.  It is, however, a hypothesis about sexual dimorphism in neurocognitive development, whatever the origin thereof.

    What is the evidence for this view?

    The basic empirical support comes from the brute fact that a whole spectrum of tests and so forth designed to measure mathematical ability displays a consistent sexual disparity, namely, the mean score for males is slightly higher and the variance is likewise higher for males.  This is a brute fact, irrespective of how one wishes to explain it.

    There are ancillary suppositions as well whose plausibility singly and jointly may be scrutinized.  First of all, there is the notion that the measured differences cited above are indeed the result of innately different patterns of neurocognitive development.  This is obviously a vexed question, but, for various reasons, most psychometricians seem to think that innate difference is the most likely and parsimonious explanation, given the cross-cultural persistence of the pattern in question.

    There is the further supposition that scores very high on the scale are a predictor of what one might call serious mathematical talent, the sort of thing required of researchers in analytic number theory or superstring cosmology.  This is plausible but somewhat dodgy, since these tests are designed to measure fairly low-order mathematical skills (by the standards of professionals in the mathematical sciences), not genuine mathematical creativity.

    It must also be supposed that the respective statistical distributions of these scores for males and females are Gaussian-normal (bell curve).  Roughly speaking, this is clearly the case, but at the high end of the curve numbers are very low and simple models might no longer be reliable.

    A further piece of evidence, apart from test scores, resides in the very phenomena that upset gender egalitarians, viz., the marked prevalence of men in first-rate math and mathematical science departments.  Since the disparity is much less in other scientific fields like biology and genetics, and since the idea that mathematicians and physicists are somehow more prejudiced against women than people in the (mathematically) softer sciences seems, on the surface, not terribly likely, the natural inference is that the difference is more likely to be explained by “nature” as against “nurture”.

    All that being said, given these facts and assumptions it follows, as a matter of simple mathematics, that the number of males at the high “tail end” of the curve will be appreciably greater than the number of females, and consequently the number of males available for recruitment into fields requiring the highest order of mathematical ability will be correspondingly greater than the number of females. Moreover, this will be so for “biological” rather than “sociological” reasons.

    This conclusion seems to fall into the category “plausible”, as the Myth Busters would put it.  It has very non-negligible evidentiary support, but it is still far from being firmly established.  This is pretty much what Summers said; sensible as that was, it failed to deter the lynch mob.

    Why this should have been so is somewhat apparent in c.h.’s posting.  It is not merely that he notes that there are possible escape hatches from the argument outlined above; it is his refusal to concede that, escape hatches notwithstanding, the argument might well prove correct in the end.  The logic seems to be that an alternative (even a less plausible alternative) trumps the original hypothesis and, indeed, overthrows it altogether, provided only that the alternative is more politically palatable than the original.

    This, I submit, is not a very scientific way to look at things.  And here I unabashedly use “scientific” as an encomium.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:40 PM
  62. You are very funny, and so mean to your poor sister!

    Other thoughts:

    Can you add and subtract, multiply and divide, using of the knowledge of the past so as to make it relevant to your everyday life? If so, then the scientific achievements of the past belong to you regardless of your skin color.

    ****

    If white students and teachers have no problem feeling that their musical legacies include James Brown, Motown, Jimi Hendrix, the Jackson Five, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Diana Ross, and related artists, then I don’t see why black students and teachers can’t lay claim to the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptian scientists.

    If white suburban young men entertain the idea that they are black ghetto rappers, then why can’t black ghetto rappers fancy the idea that they are descendents of Albert Einstein?

    Though not an Algerian Jew, I feel “related” and “indebted” to Jacques Derrida. I feel the same way about William Shakespeare and Rosa Parks. And when it comes to scientific accomplishments, I think we owe a tremendous debt to the animals from whom we evolved, and on whom we experimented to make our finds.

    Posted by Foucault on 01/05 at 10:31 AM

    In re #58 from Foucault

    You make my point!  You’re entitled to stand on the shoulders of whatever giant you please, irrespective of your genetic connection or lack thereof.

    I would, however, dumur about “Egyptian scientists.” The egyptians don’t seem to have been inclined to speculative science.  You’re on somewhat firmer ground if you want to alk about Egyptian engineers, though of course that raises slightly uncomfortable pollitical issues.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  12:53 PM
  63. In re #59 from Centrally Certified Content Publisher

    My claim is pretty simple and doesn’t invoke much in the way of conspiracy theories.  Break it down this way:

    1- Starting about 1980, the “left”, very broadly speaking, rapidly gained an ascendent position in US academic life, especially in the humanities and the social sciences (economics always excepted).  Without trying to disentangle the reasons, I think this point is almost self-evident.

    2-In many instances, elements of this somewhat diffuse “left” used their newly acquired power in ways that were demonstrably high-handed, arrogant, and intolerant of skepticism or dissenting opinion.  Many departments, particularly the newly-minted ones in “oppression studies” of one kind or another, became ideological monocultures.

    3-The situation may have calmed down somewhat in the last decade, but not to the point that the ethos just described has utterly faded away.  It still generates nasty incidents, some of which I have pointed out on this list.  In any case, the image of a pugnacious and intolerant academic left has taken root amongst students, parents, and the public in general.  Exaggerated though it may be, it still derives from fact, not hallucination.

    4-The existence of this reputation provides the claims of Horowitz et al. with a patina of plausibility.  In other words, the slime is topped by a veneer of truth.

    5-It folows, then, that given MB’s stated concerns about keeping the yahoos from taking control of campuses, it might be a good idea for him to concede that there are unpleasant aspects to current academic life for which the left rather than the right is responsible and that it is time, at long last, to clean house.  (I would suggest that speech codes and thought-reform programs might be a good place to start.) Instead, when these matters come up, MB turns his focus away from such issues in order to concentrate on obvious “outside agitators” of the right.  Frankly, I can’t see him taking the lead on issues involving censorship from the left or speech codes, and this is a shame.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  01:16 PM
  64. Hey Norman,

    Sorry: I must be clueless, but what sorts of uncomfortable political issues would be raised by talking about Egyptian engineers? I’m fine with calling them engineers if that’s what they were--but why would ‘scientists’ be more p.c. than ‘engineers?’

    Finally, while students may be *entitled* to stand on the shoulders of whatever giants they please, I think it’s the fact that certain races of giants are *validated* by cultural authorities more than others that makes certain races more appealing with which to identify.

    And I think it’s different to encourage students to stand on the shoulders of those whom they wish, versus telling students that the achievements of the past do not belong to them. I mean, maybe these statements *mean* the same thing if you think about them for long enough, but the second one seems a bit more alienating and delimiting, though I understand how you mean it.

    Best,
    Foucault

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  01:18 PM
  65. Foucault,

    One of the things I love to do in my writing classes is show students the connections between Anglo-Saxon poetry, Hopkins’ “sprung” rhythms (which themselves look back to the Anglo-Saxons), Woody Guthrie’s “talkin’” blues, Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and Rap.

    Influence and inheritance, as you point out, are not racially bound.

    Captcha: “Similar.” Yes.

    Posted by Aaron Barlow  on  01/05  at  01:31 PM
  66. Fascinating.  Levitt claims NOT to be employing conspiracy rhetoric and then proceeds to carefully lay out everything we would expect from a conspiracy!  And he isn’t aware he’s doing it!

    “The left” takes over in the 1980s and from their powerful positions in “oppression studies” departments virtually shuts down sociobiology in the 1970s!  Sure, it all makes sense when you explain it that way.  I know that on my own campus the biologists don’t make a move without the official “go ahead” from the girls over in Women’s Studies.

    As I argued previously, in conspiracy rhetoric, normal standards of argument do not apply.  Consider the novel concept of “evidence” for a claim.  There is not a scrap of evidence for any of Levitt’s claims, but who needs evidence because, as he claims, his points are “self-evident?” Given that the political right has been complaining about leftist universities since Buckley’s GOD AND MAN AT YALE in 1951, I wonder what evidence Levitt could possibly have for his claim that the The Great Leftist Takeover didn’t happen until the 1980s. 

    Levitt writes that “the image of a pugnacious and intolerant academic left has taken root amongst students, parents, and the public in general” so it MUST have a basis in fact.  Uh huh.  Lets just reword a little, “The image of a pugnacious and intolerant evolutionary biologists refusing to teach the scientific theory of young earth creationsim has taken root amongst students, parents, and the public in general” so it must be true that evolutionary biologists are conspiring to forbid its teaching.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  01:34 PM
  67. Norman, your point #5 in comment # 63 is precisely the sort of thing that chips away at your credibility here.  If you were to take the time to read WLATLA, you’d see that MB does, in fact, “concede that there are unpleasant aspects to current academic life for which the left rather than the right is responsible.” The concession may not go far enough for you, but it’s clearly there. So, before you post further on what MB is or is not saying / doing about the climate on campus, why not do the responsible thing and read the book?

    On the subject of EP, if anyone here is truly interested in substantive and dispassionate analysis of EP, you can hardly do better than http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/behavior/buller/.  The book that the keeper of the blog is discussing here, Adapting Minds, is also a worthwhile read. I find myself sitting very firmly on the fence re: EP, and can confess to being one of the thousands who have purchased books on the subject both pro and con.  For anyone here who interprets the success of books by Pinker and Wilson as de facto evidence that their conclusions are being gobbled up unquestioningly by the masses, you might try giving us a little more credit.  Personally, I think the success of such books is merely evidence 1.) that there is very keen interest among educated but non-academic readers in learning more about the mind & brain, and 2.) that Pinker and Wilson are fairly engaging and clear writers.  It certainly shouldn’t be reflexively assumed that every person who has purchased a book by Pinker or Wilson is a true believer.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  01:53 PM
  68. Hey Aaron,

    That sounds like a pretty cool class! I remember an older black Jazz musician lamenting on NPR that today’s young black rap artists often dismiss Jazz as part of their cultural inheritance. Although I would be hard pressed to tell you precisely *how* jazz figures as an unspoken influence on rap music (perhaps at the level of improvisation?), this older musician was ticked that the jazz genre was being rejected by those whom he considered to be its heirs. Perhaps this is because jazz has being identified or appropriated as something that middle-aged, upper-middle-class white men tend to study in a scholarly way? Dunno…

    Anyhow, Eric Dolphy is another one of those people who I feel indebted to--talk about wow!

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  02:03 PM
  69. #63 Levitt: I thought the purpose of universities was to create a safe haven for loonies? After all, loonies sometimes come up with the most remarkable things.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/05  at  02:40 PM
  70. Lynch mob. Is that some scientific terminology I am unaware of?
    I participated once in a discussion group of AAUW women and every one of us related how she had been discouraged from going into science! Most of us had ended up in fields like nursing and physical therapy; I went into languages and literature. Anecdotal? You bet.
    Let’s face it: no group gives up power easily. Science has been mostly a man’s game. I remember how sexist my husband used to be about women in science. My mathematically and scientifically gifted daughter went into languages because I encouraged her talents in that direction and was a language teacher who took her to class, etc., whereas he did not try to interest her in the work he was doing. He has completely reformed, I am delighted to report. How that man has grown! Our granddaughter shows every sign of being mathematically gifted, and we will encourage her as much as possible along those lines.
    All anecdotal, but it is the sum total of these messages to women that keep us out of scientific fields.
    Some of us are trying to turn this around, in our small way. One activity that our local AAUW sponsors is a math and science day for seventh grade girls,where many for the first time learn about experiments, about volcanoes and the solar system and the wonders of the universe. AAUW also gives two scholarships to local women going into science and math.
    Maybe women have not been present in great numbers as scientists in the past but let’s see how all this essentialism looks when the next generation of women experience (I hope) the parity in science and math education that women now have in other fields once closed to us.
    Remember when women doctors and lawyers were rare and everyone knew women didn’t have the dedication and drive to succeed in those professions?
    And as for politics; that was a man’s game.

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/05  at  02:49 PM
  71. Our granddaughter shows every sign of being mathematically gifted

    I’m sorry, that’s just a bizarre fluke; women tend to lack mathematical gifts because only male hominids had to fling rocks accurately, or some such.  By exactly the same mechanisms as those that make her less likely to be over six-and-a-half feet tall.  Let me get the precise details from Pinker, then get back to you.  He’s a busy man, though, having a professorship at Harvard that I lack.  Yet according to Mr. Levitt, I am apparently a portion of “the Man” who is keepin’ Pinker (and Wilson) down.  Whereas all I can really do is join jpj in flinging stones (with poor aim?) at Pinker’s lack of expertise in evolutionary biology and cultural anthropology, all while he champions his triumphant synthesis of the two.

    And I still wonder at the strong embrace of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology by self-proclaimed conservatives, when such fields purport to validate the conservative belief that current social inequities are immutable laws of nature.  Coincidence...or mystery?

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:02 PM
  72. Most importantly, though, I induced Centrally Certified Content Publisher to lead off a comment with “Buck Naked.” Heh heh heh.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:05 PM
  73. In re # 64 from Foucault:

    As to the political ambiguities of Egyptian engineering, I only meant to recall that the most impressive achievements of Egyptian builders involved the conscription of hundreds of thousands of man-years of intense labor for the sole purpose of glorifying a god-king.  Not particularly edifying, as I see it.

    When it comes to the history of modern science, “validation” of “giants” by “cultural authorities” has little to do with the matter.  From about 1600 to about 1920, there is a vast lineage of superb scientists and mathematicians--Galileo to Heisenberg, Descartes to Hilbert.  All of them are Europeans; they’re where modern science comes from.  This is a brute fact.  Nobody is filching credit from Athabaskans or Zulus.  This might not play well with folks who have been drowned in the “cultural pride” ethos, but “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” is no argument; it won’t retrospectively generate a great Yoruba algebraist.  The main point is to acknowledge these facts while simultaneously seeing thier irrelevance to one’s personal ambitions.  To say it again, the past belongs to everyone and no one, and you do various groups a great injury if you pretend that they can’t accomplish anything in a field without an ancestral totem to lead the way.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:05 PM
  74. In re # 66 from jpj

    Are you goddam kidding?  The evidence is overwhelming; it’s such an endless catalogue that its fatiguing merely to pick out a couple of instances from the pile.  I’ve cited a few here of recent vintage, but the response usually comes down to the Charlie Brown defense, viz.,

    “Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?”

    All I have to say to that is

    “Fee-fee, fi-fi, fo-fo, fum,
    I smell smoke in the audi-tori-um.”

    And I do.

    If you don’t, that’s your problem.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:11 PM
  75. Funny that Levitt’s claim of ascendancy and denial of credit filching (a) has the convenient cutoff of 1600, and (b) contains the word “algebraist.” It is lucky indeed that al-Khwārizmī, who gave us “al-jabr,” lived well before 1600, or we’d have to move Persia to Europe.  Then again, the Islamic world never managed an en masse leap into the modern intellectual era, as their golden age of learning petered out around 1400.  Fortunately for post-1600 Europe, the scholars of Toledo didn’t discard all non-European authors after its reconquest.  That decline after 1400 worries me, though.  I wonder what genetic explanation there is for long-term Semitic underperformance.  Well, except for those Semitic peoples residing in the West, of course.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:18 PM
  76. in re # 67 from Middle Ground

    MB writes about the campus atmosphere on this very blog continuously.  He pussyfoots.  I am obliged to write a review and edit (as it turns out) two book-length drafts by friends before I can take on his book.  I might ask some editors whether they want a review of it.  Meanwhile, has MB read my books?  Just asking.

    As to ev. psych., my own position is that it’s an intriguing idea but that the heavy burden of proof of its workability still remains with its proponents.  Whether books on the topic for general audiences have big sales is largely irrelevant, at least to me.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:23 PM
  77. The only real Buck Naked is the Reverend Buck Naked of Subgenius fame. And there’s no inducing necessary… it is a holy name.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/05  at  04:28 PM
  78. In re 70 and 71 from Hattie and mds

    I laid out a case that the numerical disparity between the sexes in fields involving esoteric mathematics is at least to a significant extent a result of biology rather than an artifact of culture.  It is as I say a plausible, though not overwhelming argument.  However, even the most sincere outburst of indignation does not constitute a refutation on any level.  Let’s face it, the protests against this thesis reflect a desire never to see it expounded or even mentioned, irrespective of whether any powerful refutation is proferred.  The idea itself is supposed to be consigned to the realm of the literally unspeakable.  Sorry, I don’t play that game.

    As to mds’s granddaughter: get her into the welcoming arms of a research university math dept. as soon as possible.  Disdain high schools, prep schools, and all that, which are never equipped to handle serious talent as the level it merits (those crappy AP calc courses, even the “B-C” versions, are pretty anemic).  Remind her (this may sound old fashioned) that it’s her virtues and failings that count for everything, not her nominal membership in a statistical ensemble.

    NL

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:34 PM
  79. Overwhelming evidence of what, Dr. Levitt?  I at least offered one citation (Buckley, G&MAY, 1951) to back up my assertion that conservatives have been claiming “leftists have taken over the university!!!) for over half a century.  You have not attempted to cite a single source for your claims about the 1980s. 

    Let us be perfectly clear as to what you claimed:  Leftists took over the university in the 1980s and by their control stifled research into sociobiology and EP.  The exact mechanisms of this control, you fail to specify.  From what I can piece together from your posts and previous writings, you claim that the leftist domination of “oppression studies,” these new-fangled departments like ethnic studies and women’s studies, somehow have controlled the National Science Foundation granting decisions, the tenuring and promotion decisions of the science departments in universities, and the editorial decisions of scientific periodicals. 

    I wish that were an exaggeration of your claims, but it doesn’t seem to be.  And then you claim that the evidence for this position is so overwhelming that you should be forgiven for failing to provide it. And, forgive me, but Wilson being dowsed with water by some clowns 30 years ago or Summers coming under criticism for foolish statements he made as President of Harvard, or E.D Hirsch getting a nasty review in the NYRB hardly qualify as proof that scientific research is being stifled by folks teaching African American literature.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:41 PM
  80. From about 1600 to about 1920, there is a vast lineage of superb scientists and mathematicians--Galileo to Heisenberg, Descartes to Hilbert.

    Descartes thought that sensations were transmitted through animal spirits, an idea he got from Galen (a Greek) two millenia prior.

    Therefore, the history of Western science is full of farcical stupidity.

    See Norm? I can tell stories too. But I would never stand up in front of a group of black undergrads and tell them white makes right.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  04:41 PM
  81. MB writes about the campus atmosphere on this very blog continuously.  He pussyfoots. . . .  Meanwhile, has MB read my books?  Just asking.

    You can read my responses to Higher Superstition in Rhetorical Occasions, after you finish What’s Liberal. In the meantime, bugger off, you lazy-ass ignoramus.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:01 PM
  82. Thanks to jpj, Karl, Buck N, Stormcrow and others for smart and funny discussion of ev psych and related science.  By all means let’s have more mockery of Stephen Pinker! 

    Norman should be thanked for setting his assumptions out so plainly in #63. 

    But let’s just be clear, for the record, that (1) and (2), the key enabling presumptions, are moonshine.  When Norman says

    “the “left”, very broadly speaking”

    he means “anything that annoys me.” He *has* to say “very broadly speaking” because there is no rigorous way to link all the manifold ideas and literatures that piss him off.  (A much more parsimonious, if slightly ad hominem, explanation of his complaint would be generational.)

    I could say more as a nominal economist about the “(economics always excepted)” part, but I’ll just note that it shows us how floppy and unhelpful these ideological buckets are. 

    And by “self evident” he means evident to himself.  This is because the statements are so idiosyncratic and vague that you couldn’t begin to assemble evidence in any rigorous manner.

    Point (2) is pure inversion.  I was an undergrad 77-81 and I remember very clearly the extreme difficulties that Women’s Studies and Black Studies had getting established, in the face of condescension, arrogance, and intolerance of dissent from people like Norman L.  And apart from a few institutions, most interdisciplinary programs like this remain shoestring operations with meager staffing and budgets and no faculty lines of their own.  And to call these “oppression studies” is stupid. 

    The “ideological monocultures” bit is further bullshit, however qualified by the weaseling “many.” The standard feminist theory syllabus is nothin’ but difference.  Again, we’re back to whatever pisses Norman off, and a certain double standard.  If he wants to call a fellow academic a “mendacious, libelous pig-turd” (#53) fine—collegiality be damned, colorful language spices up our discussion.  If he wants to equate criticism of the logic and evidence of Mr. Summers’ statements with *lynching* (#63), fine, Norm, do tell us what terroristic torture and killing has to do with criticism of the President of a University.  But then the author of this over-the-top invective turns around and whines about “nasty incidents” and folks who are “pugnacious and intolerant.”

    At a certain point this stuff so completely leaves the terrain of reason and evidence and just plain old making sense that a psychoanalytic explanation is all that’s left.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:21 PM
  83. If NL stopped screaming “me, me, me” in the blogsphere he would be left with only his own batshit loopy historical generalizations about his own history of how he got to this state of hideous ugliness that is his life.  And i, for one, can’t begin to muster, even the slightest neuron in my body to fire up, a feeling of compassion.  And speaking for many of my tribal and indigenous friends and relatives, we would all be much happier if we didn’t have any of your advances or achievement in the first place (and that includes your genome on our continent).  Plus, i thought way back up at comment #33 NL was going to leave the whining to us, and stay out of this nice fun happy place.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:36 PM
  84. As to the political ambiguities of Egyptian engineering, I only meant to recall that the most impressive achievements of Egyptian builders involved the conscription of hundreds of thousands of man-years of intense labor for the sole purpose of glorifying a god-king.  Not particularly edifying, as I see it.”

    Man-years, huh? So now you’re effacing the contributions of female slaves?

    In any case, I don’t think the objective disciplines of Math and Dcience (as outlined by you above) would really care if the conscription of thousands of man-hours or labor was involved in building the pyramids, or not. The impervious eye of Mechanical Engineering would still see those structures as pinnacles of calculation and architectural planning. Slaves would likely be viewed as a means of achieving an end.

    Though you object to the Egyptians’ single-minded glorification of a god-head, I would like to remind you that the primary (if not sole) purpose of most architectural feats, cultural context notwithstanding, is to publicly display the power of the empire. Not particularly edifying, but true.

    You want to argue that the 1776-foot Penis Tower
    (sorry, I meant Freedom Tower) will not be built--literally--on the graves of slaves and through the toil of nameless laborers? The original WTC Towers were built on an African burial ground; now, the legacies of three thousand plus “man-hour” producers (policemen, firemen, EMS workers, secretaries, stewardesses, office workers, and so forth) are embedded at that site. This is History.

    Oh, and by the way, plenty of early and racialzied societies had their architectural feats and modes of science destroyed by the Europeans:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_society

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:38 PM
  85. quoting mds:

    “And I still wonder at the strong embrace of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology by self-proclaimed conservatives, when such fields purport to validate the conservative belief that current social inequities are immutable laws of nature.”

    This is problematic on two counts.  First, neither one of those fields “purport(s) to validate the conservative belief that current social inequities are immutable laws of nature.” Intemperate and careless critiques of them claim that that is what those fields purport.  Big difference. 

    Second, the people working in EP have repeatedly and thoroughly addressed this canard, and have demonstrated (to my satisfaction, at least) that EP has no natural political ally.  One can as easily imagine a “Darwinian left,” as Peter Singer, Robert Wright, Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, and many others do, as one can imagine a type of conservative who cherry-picks EP hypotheses to reinforce his sense of the status quo. 

    Just because an idea or constellation of ideas can be used to support undesirable political ideologies or goals doesn’t mean the idea is untrue.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  05:52 PM
  86. Foucault:

    If white suburban young men entertain the idea that they are black ghetto rappers, then why can’t black ghetto rappers fancy the idea that they are descendents of Albert Einstein?

    Obviously they can and should. Sometime ago, in a little squib in Fortune, Wynton Marsalis made the point the black trumpet players have as much claim on the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concerti as white players.

    jpj:

    First, sociobiology and its offspring of evolutionary psychology cannot seem to make a case without indulging in conspiracy rhetoric. . .

    This is deeply annoying and unfortunate. In a long essay-review of Literary Darwinism I made the point that the scholars who published in that collection lowered the bar on their own work by spending so much time railing against post-modernism of various stripes. You take that out of their program and what’s left is considerably diminished. The positive accomplishment is slight.

    jpj:

    Second, the claim that literature folks, cultural anthropologists, etc. are not qualified to comment on EP or sociobiology.  You know, the folks who are actually EXPERTS on the things EPers purport to explain.  Mashall Sahlins points out in in the 1970s that the sociobiologists simply don’t understand “culture” which Sahlins has spent his life studying and sociobiology’s defenders argue that cultural anthropologists aren’t qualified to argue about the nature of culture.

    The treatment of Wilson back then was unfortunate. But I don’t have any reason to believe that he’s got any more than a lay knowledge of culture. He may enjoy and appreciate literature, music, painting, and so forth, but what remarks I’ve read of his on those subjects are not particularly insightful. The same holds for Steven Pinker, about whom I know more (and have talked to in person: he’s a nice guy).

    There’s a curious problem here. Anyone can see a Shakespeare play, read Tolstoy, enjoy Beethoven and Miles Davis, etc. But that doesn’t give them professional competence in thinking about those phenomena, no matter how deep and nuanced their appreciation may be. And the fact that they may have considerable credentials in some scientific discipline doesn’t change matters. An expert in quantum mechanics who plays the fiddle, even very well, and knows the classical literature quite well is still just a quantum physicist who enjoys music, plays it well, and knows a lot of it. That’s not equivalent to being a musicologist.

    At the same time, us humanists have got to get over this knee-jerk bio-phobia. If we don’t, we’re going to relegate ourselves to a realm we’d share with astrology, alchemy, creationism, voodoo economics, and other intellectual curiosities—some of them, alas, very dangerous.

    Foucault:

    Although I would be hard pressed to tell you precisely *how* jazz figures as an unspoken influence on rap music (perhaps at the level of improvisation?), this older musician was ticked that the jazz genre was being rejected by those whom he considered to be its heirs.

    One rather narrow and specialized response: Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He improvised raps between his musical selections. In this Kirk was dipping into the same narrative traditions from which hip-hop itself emerged.

    NL:

    To say it again, the past belongs to everyone and no one, and you do various groups a great injury if you pretend that they can’t accomplish anything in a field without an ancestral totem to lead the way.

    This seems consistent with Walter Benn Michaels’s critique of cultural identity, cf. his recent The Trouble with Diversity about which you’ll find loads of recent commentary in the leftist blogosphere.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/05  at  07:17 PM
  87. NL:

    As to ev. psych., my own position is that it’s an intriguing idea but that the heavy burden of proof of its workability still remains with its proponents. 

    That’s not so far from my own view. I’m not so intrigued, but then I was working through neuroscience and ethology before evpsych came on the scene, so some of the EP line is quite familiar and comfortable to me. I was introduced to a lot of this work as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins where I did an independent study in developmental psychology with the late Mary Ainsworth. She got me started in primate ethology and evolutionary thinking.

    As for EP’s continuity with sociobiology, that’s tricky. Certainly Wilson’s work is respected by most who claim the mantle of EP. As proclaimed by Cosmides and Tooby, however, EP entails a general computational view that was still being elaborated as time Wilson wrote Sociobiology. Some people within EP develop explicit computational models, many do not. As far as I can tell EP is neither a discipline nor a school. It’s a loose congeries of interests organized around some sort of connection to evolutionary biology. In this it’s similar to cognitive science, which is a congeries of interests organized around the notion that the mind is fundamentally computation. There is no particularly tight coherence or consistency within either of these intellectual movements.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/05  at  07:21 PM
  88. Just fyi—you’re all invited to continue the conversation, but I have now banned Norm for the second time.  This time I sent him to Mars.  I’ve just had enough of his bloviating, thassall.  It was mildly amusing when he showed up and derailed the 2001 thread by arguing that I should rush to the aid of some kid from Johns Hopkins and his weird little Halloween-party thing, and then capped off his flight from reason with this gem:

    In contrast to the lighthearted, essentially harmless, if silly and sophomoric, Facebook posting by Mr. Park, “The Wire” earnestly depicts the black community of Baltimore as the source of an endless stream of murderers, thugs, and predators.

    I mean, that’s seriously deranged.  Thanks to the savvy commenter who followed this by suggesting that “The Wire” be suspended from Johns Hopkins!  And what you all don’t know is that in the course of badgering me about this case by email (because he apparently cares about it quite deeply, for some reason), Norm told me that if the AAUP were of any use it would assign Committee A to the case.  For those of you who might not understand what a jawdroppingly stupid remark this is, Committee A oversees academic freedom and tenure.  Again, mildly amusing.

    But I only have so much time on this earth, and I now think the many Levitts and Olsons and Rileys and DeLaters of academe should go back to corresponding with me the way they did before I had a blog, namely, by means of 5 x 7 postcards, typed, single-spaced, with no margins and green felt-tip-marker annotations.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/05  at  07:27 PM
  89. Slaves would likely be viewed as a means of achieving an end.

    Although so far as I know, ‘slaves’ isn’t a good way to characterize the builders of at least one pyramid. I can’t remember which one--and I’m feeling lazy right now--but the records of one of them also include the record of the first successful sit down strike.

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  07:37 PM
  90. Although so far as I know, ‘slaves’ isn’t a good way to characterize the builders of at least one pyramid. I can’t remember which one--and I’m feeling lazy right now--but the records of one of them also include the record of the first successful sit down strike.

    Fine: we’ll call them the forerunners of the unionization movement. Forget the Triangle Shirt Factory; we can trace those Jewish rabble-rousers back to the pyramids. smile

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  07:45 PM
  91. . . . we can trace those Jewish rabble-rousers back to the pyramids.

    So I’ve been told.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/05  at  07:50 PM
  92. Oh for god sake! I can’t believe how intractable these stand-patters are! Always putting us straight about how we don’t really understand the situation and don’t have the background and understanding to comment on these matters. Pretending that they are just looking at the evidence and reaching their fair-minded conclusions based on facts.
    Why don’t they just say, “I’ve got mine, nanner nanner nanner” and be done with it?

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/05  at  08:29 PM
  93. Hi Bill,

    Sorry--I missed your comments about jazz and its relationship to rap the first time around. I didn’t know about Rahsaan Roland Kirk and his improvised raps between musical sets, but that is very interesting.

    Though I think it is important for young people to know where certain traditions emerge from, and how those traditions are shaped by their cultural/racial/sexual predecessors, I also think that new generations should have the freedom to find their own relations to the past.

    I’ve read an essay somewhere recently about Mos Def drawing on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and “sampling” their riff from “Under the Bridge” in one of his songs. DJ Dangermouse apparently took the Beatles’ WHITE album and crossed it with Jay-Z’s BLACK album to make his own GRAY album (for which the Beatles/Michael Jackson/SONY or whoever tried to sue him).

    Latino reggaeton is also now influencing and cross-pollinating African-American rap. So I think it is interesting that different rappers are finding so many different ways to miscegenate their music. Now if only hard scientists could breed a little more with the political scientists and humanities folks in order to see that science, too, is in some ways a social/discursive construct and not *simply* or *exclusively* a “fact.” (I am not denying gravity or the greenhouse effect here).

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  09:11 PM
  94. From back in the Nixon era:

    Shake Your Tree

    We would like to play a tune by an old gypsy blues singer.

    You have to be a gypsy in this country to make money...especially if you’re black.

    You got to travel all over the damn land, you dig.

    I’m not bitter, I’m just bittersweet.

    But you have to be a gypsy to survive in this country. Because when you stay in one place you get tagged and the guys say “Oh, that’s a local group,” you know. [laughter] “You mean that group’s been there for five years?” If we worked at the Vanguard 5 years straight, cat’s say “Oh yeah, we go down there once a year, Christmas, New Years.” So we go out every now and then and come back. And you all think we done been somewhere.

    Been in the same old riots.

    But anyway, this is a tune written by old Tongue Snatcher. He wrote this tune back in 1859. Tongue Snatcher, he was a mean character ‘cause anything he wanted, he could snatch it with his tongue....Reach out and grab it “Aaardlugh bleyt!” [laughter]

    Th’ man could touch his nose with his tongue…

    He could suck his hair...[laughter]

    But anyway old Tongue Snatcher wrote this tune called “Baby Let Me Shake Your Tree.” Now one day old Tongue Snatcher worked in the White House. He walked up to this lady with his tongue in his hand [...laughter...”He musta’ been blind”...] He say “Baby, let me shake your tree.” And she was one of them square I’m-a-Hershey-Bar-eaters, stone Apple pie ladies.  She said “What you mean?” He said “Well, come with me. Now I know you don’t have no tree in this asphalt jungle, so you got to know I’m talking ‘bout you baby.”

    Tongue Snatcher was talkin’ ‘bout the truth. So I hope you can dig it, please.

    *********

    These are the lyrics to the song:

    Oh baby, baby, let me shake your tree.

    Oh baby, baby, let me climg the tree.

    I started to grab it, but i sure wanted to be courteous and ask if I could have it.

    Oh baby, baby, let me hang out in your tree.

    I don’t give a damn how many cats have climbed up in your tree...in the last few months.

    I don’t really care how many squirrels done got their nuts outa the tree, baby.

    I got to warn you I ain’t no rabbit. I’m going to be there a long long time and I just got to have it.

    Ohh baby, let me hang out, let me hang out in your tree.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/05  at  09:33 PM
  95. Sounds a little like Hendrix’s LET ME STAND NEXT TO YOUR FIRE.

    I very much like the description of the “square I’m-a-Hershey-Bar-eaters, stone Apple pie ladies.” Now *that* would be a mouthful, even without shaking the tree… smile

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  11:03 PM
  96. The music is a medium tempo blues and so very different from the Hendrix. But they’re certainly drawing on the same body of cultural practice. Rahsaan was probably familiar with Hendrix too, he knew everything.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/05  at  11:27 PM
  97. Rahsaan playing Volunteered Slavery, a blues. If you think you hear the tag from Hey Jude in there, well, you do. And then there’s the circular breathing that allows him to play without having to stop for a breath. He fills his cheeks with air and uses his cheek muscles to force the air through his horns. While he’s doing that he’s breathing in through his nostrils. I Say a Little Prayer—with a little rap at the beginning.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/05  at  11:50 PM
  98. Wow… thanks for those videos! That’s a fascinating performance, and I do mean performance in the theatrical sense as well as the musical sense. Do you know anything about the title of “Volunteered Slavery?” At first I thought it might be some sort of reference to his commitment to his music, the way all those instruments were attached to him, almost hanging like chains or pieces of clothing. But then in the second video, he also has the mobile “band” attached to his body.

    I’ve never seen someone play two wind instruments at the same time before! That was really amazing: plus the cowbell around his neck, the gong, the tambourine, the shell… even the chair leg he played at the end with the whistle.

    And I do see how the “rap” at the start of I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER could be the foundation for a policitized kind of rapping, the rapping that we now know. Anyhow, this was awesome; I am going to save the clip in case some of my friends who study music ever want to see Rahsaan’s work.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  12:15 AM
  99. Foucault:

    Mark Southerland of Kansas City’s Malachy Papers plays a double sax; a madness I have been privileged to witness. They are definitely worth checking out. Their website is here:

    http://www.malachypapers.com/

    Captcha: “hard,” as in “Damn, that must be hard to do, much less do well.”

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  01:52 AM
  100. By “volunteered slavery” Rahsaan primarily meant that he willing played pop tunes so as to more effectively reach an audience. At the same time he could and did play the whole history of jazz, and he’d rap about that too. He was a musician, an educator, a polemicist, and an agitator.

    Clickety clack . . . clickety clack

    Bring that man’s baby back.  (train sounds in the background)

    Clickety clack . . . clickety clack! . .

    I want my spirit back.

    CLICKETY CLACK!

    Bubble music being seen and heard on Saturdy night

    Blinding the eyes of ones that’s supposed to see!

    Bubble music, being played and showed, throughout America.

    Clickety clack . . . clickety clack . .

    Somebody’s mind’s got off the goddamn track!  (applause, shouts of agreement and encouragement)

    Clickety clack . . . clickety clack . . .

    Won’t somebody bring the Spirit back?

    You don’t know about John Coltrane

    And the beautiful balld he wrote — yeah — wait a minute,

    And the beautiful ballad he wrote called After the Rain.

    You don’t know about Lady Day and all the dues that she had to pay.

    The Beatles come into the country, they take all the bread,

    While police hitt’n’ black and white folks upside the head.

    (Rahsaan chuckles)

    Tom Jones and Humpading (laughter) got everybody uptight,

    They make people that can sing wan’ta get out and fight. (chuckle)

    Clickety clack . . . clickety clack . . .

    What is this madness that Nixon put upon us?

    Clickety clack . . . clickety clack . . .

    Won’t someone bring the spirit back?

    Who will it be? — Rahsaan — Who will it be?

    It certainly won’t be someone that says that they’re free.

    Clickety clack . . . (softer) clickety clack (train sounds become more prominent)

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/06  at  08:48 AM
  101. Thanks Dr. Paisley; I will check out this site. And thanks, Bill. It’s interesting that Rahsaan thought of pop music as a form of “volunteer slavery.”

    Anyhow, I’m still really amazed that you found that Rahsaan material on YouTube. I’m even more surprised that I hadn’t heard of him before as one of the jazz greats, or as a political performance artist of that era.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  10:18 AM
  102. There’s actually quite a few Rahsaan clips on YouTube and if you look at enough of them you’ll begin to see at least one reason he’s been forgotten: you can’t put him in a convenient category. There’s one clip where he plays Bobbi Gentry’s C&W hit Ode to Billy Joe, another where he’s jamming with Buddy Guy, and a set of clips (Sound, parts 1, 2, and I believe 3) where he alternates with John Cage. He was at one and the same time avant-garde and classicist. The jazz avant-garde never got much play and jazz classicism (Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center) didn’t really get going until after Rahsaan had died (in 1977 of a stroke).

    Further, because he played two and three instruments at once, blew all manner of whistles and flutes (and played a flute out his nose), banged on things, yelled and screamed and wore funny clothes, and rapped those nasty political and sexual rhymes, it was easy to dismiss him as a carnival side show. Which many people were happy to do.

    But the man could play. Damn! Here’s a passage from Beethoven’s Anvil where I describe my first Rahsaan Roland Kirk performance:

    Rahsaan Roland Kirk was the most reliably joyful performer I have ever seen. I first saw him at the Morgan State Jazz Festival in 1969. It was outdoors, and at night. Bright searchlights beamed onto the stage. As Rahsaan walked onto the stage the light splintered from his black vinyl jump suit and from the complex textures created by the mantle of musical instruments Rahsaan wore like liturgical vestments. He began by rapping to the audience as he walked onto the stage, “They can keep us off the radio, but they can’t keep us outa’ the air!” He then took his band into the first number, “Volunteered Slavery,” a raunchy blues proclaiming that “If you want to know what it is to be free/ you gotta’ spend all day in bed with me.” Rahsaan did not have much of a singing voice, but he delivered the lyrics with force and vigor. He then took up his tenor saxophone and began to conjure a solo up out of the ground.

    Rahsaan was a skilled and muscular saxophonist able to perform in a variety of styles from 30’s swing to 60’s freak-out. On this occasion he played straight-ahead all-out blues that achived lift-off. Rahsaan was playing a multiphonic riff on three horns at once and then simplified it to playing just the tenor sax, while his side men were riffing away. Rahsaan settled on one note and held it as the riffing grew louder. The drum figures became more complex, the piano riffing more insistant and, above all, Vernon Martin let loose a mighty thunder on the bass. As the thunder crested Rashaan began playing the concluding riff from the Beatles’ tune “Hey Jude” on his tenor sax. The musical thickness cleared away, Dick Griffen switched his trombone riff, and the audience let out a gasp. We rose to our feet with some standing on their seats. People were clapping in time to the music and swaying back and forth, together. Rahsaan had us and we were pleased to have him.

    A few years ago Verve put out a compilation CD of Kirk in their Talkin’ Verve: Roots of Acid Jazz series. I have no idea how well it sold.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/06  at  10:52 AM
  103. Bill Benzon in #86:

    Your take on “culture” seems much narrower than that employed by cultural anthropology.  They don’t just mean “high culture” stuff like Shakespeare and Beethoven, they mean pretty much all human behavior from gender roles, family structure, political systems, etc. A considerably broader conception. 

    Moreover I’m troubled by your reference to “knee-jerk bio-phobia” on the part of critics of sociobiology and EP.  As I argued in Comment #60, we should not let Wilson & Pinker claim to be Darwinists and deny that title to their critics.  Theirs is ONE version of Darwin where organisms are selected for particular behaviors and traits.  Another version of Darwinism, one that was held by John Dewey, Alfred Kroeber, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Gould, and Lewontin held that organisms are selected for a plasticity of response to environments.  The upshot of this second version of Darwinism is that we are not held on Wilson’s biological leash, but selected for our ability to create culture. 

    So, lets not claim that being against Wilson’s version of Darwinism means we are against Darwinism. There is a quite a lineage of Darwinists opposing his narrow concept of Darwin’s ideas.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  01:02 PM
  104. jpj: The conception of culture I use in my professional work is pretty much that used by anthropologists. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes use the term in a narrower sense, as I did in #86 when talking about the difference between appreciating (narrow sense) culture and being qualified to comment professionally on culture (in whatever sense).

    As for bio-phobia, I certainly do not think that all critics of sociobiology or evolutionary are biophobes. But there does seem to be a lot of bio-phobia around and that’s what bothers me.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/06  at  02:22 PM
  105. Hey Bill,

    Thanks for your post 102, and for sharing your own writing on Rahsaan’s performance. I will have more to say tomorrow, but am brain-dead right now due to a long day at the diss. You really make me want to know more about this man! I will have to google you to see what else you write about and work on!

    Posted by  on  01/07  at  01:41 AM
  106. Foucault: I blog at The Valve, have a bunch of papers here, and links to the rest are here. My most recent Valve post is a long rambling affair about performance, repertoire, and aesthetics in pop music.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/07  at  07:22 AM
  107. But there does seem to be a lot of bio-phobia around and that’s what bothers me.

    As I’ve implied, abuse of Kuhn is at least partially to blame, making it easier to criticize pursuits that are labeled as “scientific” by claiming that science is a purely social construct.  As an undergraduate, I was irritated by assertions that electrons don’t really exist, but are social artifacts of phallic northwestern European thinking.

    However, one must beware of painting the criticisms of EvoPsych from outside biology as being predominantly in this vein.  For instance, cultural anthropologists are certainly entitled to criticize all the evolutionary psychologists who don’t understand cultural anthropology.  Likewise, the evolutionary biologists jpj listed, and those trained more generally in the physical and life sciences such as Buck Naked, Ph.D., can criticize the major proponents of EvoPsych for not doing science.  Then everyone’s happy!  Even Pinker, who will be able to pose as a brilliant, controversial scientist until the end of his days.

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  02:00 PM
  108. Good screed. There certainly was an overabundance of “levity” around here.

    Posted by vintage  on  11/13  at  12:39 AM
  109. Even Pinker, who will be able to pose as a brilliant, controversial scientist until the end of his days

    Posted by örgü modelleri  on  01/30  at  03:18 PM
  110. Me and my friend were arguing about an issue similar to this! Now I know that I was right. lol! Thanks for the information you post.

    Posted by Costa Rica Real Estate  on  03/29  at  09:04 AM
  111. Good Day. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
    I am from Bangladesh and also now am reading in English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Seo tools and online marketing software will help your search engine optimization campaigns.Do it yourself seo guidebook for dummies seo tips and tricks about seo treo.”

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    Posted by Plotnost' Klyuchevyh Slov  on  05/17  at  02:43 PM
  112. Yes, how foolish to spend time worrying about the views lawmakers hold on higher education.  It’s not like they have any shingles symptoms fh shingles vaccine
    authority over, say, state colleges.  Far, far better to address the cogent arguments of Reginald Butterbut Hedley-Smythe, Baronet, in his 1823 pamphlet “Girlies and Darkies, Oh My!” Since that’s what’s most relevant to the state of higher education in America today.

    Posted by  on  02/07  at  10:20 PM
  113. Thanks for your post 102, and for sharing your own writing on Rahsaan’s performance. I will have more to say tomorrow,xvdhwwiow jm kotdeksui dj qina asd preshow
    but am brain-dead right now due to a long day at the diss. You really make me want to know more about this man! I will have to google you to see what else you write about and work on!

    Posted by  on  02/07  at  10:24 PM

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