All posts filed under: Features

Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case Against Education’ — A Review

A review of The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan. Princeton University Press (January 2018) 416 pages.  Almost no issue unifies commentators across the political spectrum as support for education, though their motivations strongly differ. For the left, affordable education is a great leveler for disadvantaged groups and also a force for cosmopolitanism. For the right, it represents an equality of opportunity that can substitute for a generous welfare state. But almost everyone seems to believe that more people with high-quality education means better and more productive workers.  Among the exceptions are a minority of economists studying education. Beginning with Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow and Michael Spence in the 1970s, these economists proposed that people with more years of education earn more not merely because of the skills and knowledge they accumulated during their time in school (“human capital”) but largely as a function of the information their degree signals to employers. The Case Against Education  by George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan is the most thorough …

Racism and Underdetermination by Evidence

This week, Starbucks will be shutting down 8000 of its stores for one day. Employees at these locations will undergo anti-discrimination training, including arguably dubious efforts to combat implicit bias. And all of this is a response to the recent arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson—both black men in their twenties—at a Philadelphia Starbucks, which triggered widespread condemnation and accusations that a culture of anti-black prejudice pervades the coffee chain. Slightly different accounts of the incident have been given by different news outlets, but something like the following sequence of events seems to have taken place. Upon arriving at the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, Mr Nelson asked to use the restroom. Permission was refused by the manager, who told him that the facilities were for paying customers only. Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson then took a seat at a table. The manager asked them if she could bring them drinks or water, and they declined, saying they were waiting to meet someone. Mr Nelson and Mr Robinson were then asked to leave by the manager, on …

“Tired, Old Myths:” The New Republic Slanders Jung

Recently, in The New Republic, Jeet Heer’s sanctimonious critique of Jordan Peterson led him to one of Peterson’s sources, Carl Jung. Heer is doubtless unaware that, in his dismissive misrepresentation of Jung and his work, he had joined a shameful tradition started by Freud. “So we are rid of them at last,” wrote Freud to his colleague in July 1914, “the brutal holy Jung and his pious parrots.”1 The ignoble tradition of Jung-bashing has had a steady following by lazy minds ever since, most recently evidenced in Jeet Heer’s article, Jordan Peterson’s Tired Old Myths. What was the reason for Freud’s hostility? Jung, previously Freud’s designated “crown prince,” had strayed from Freudian doctrine. Jung’s interest in mythology and religion led him to posit as primary a universal drive for meaning and personal development he called individuation. Freud exhorted him not to abandon Freud’s “scientific” theory that the sexual drive is the basis for human motivation. When Freud asked Jung to make a “dogma and an unshakable bulwark” of the sexual theory, Jung became alarmed, as …

Behind the Mask: Inside the Black Bloc

One year ago, the City of Roses—Portland, Ore.—was rattled to its core with the shocking murder of two bystanders who intervened in an ugly confrontation on one of its MAX commuter trains. Jeremy Christian will soon stand trial accused of killing two men and almost a third after they objected to his alleged verbal attack on two  female passengers on the train. A Vancouver, Wash.-based conservative free speech group named Patriot Prayer has been labeled guilty by association in the court of public opinion due to Christian’s presence at one of the group’s publicly held rallies in April 2017. Also one year ago, shortly after the stabbings, Patriot Prayer staged a protest in Chapman Square in the heart of the city that attracted both mainstream conservatives and alt-right sympathizers. The rally was met with confrontational antifa counter-protest in an event now legendary among Portlanders for its brazen standoff against police moderation. Portland has long stood as a hotbed of political activism and, more recently, anti-fascist resistance. As one-year memorials for the victims of the MAX …

Silence Around Test Scores Serves the Privileged

Right-wing podcaster Stefan Molyneux recently advised his teenage fans that they should append their IQ scores to job applications. This idea was widely and deservedly ridiculed on Twitter. It’s a serious faux pas to include test scores of any kind — IQ especially, but also SAT or graduate admissions tests like LSAT, MCAT or GMAT — on a resume.  Including test scores will cause many employers to draw negative assumptions about an applicant, and thus reduce the applicant’s chances of being hired, regardless of how good the scores are. But why is there such a taboo against sharing scores, that including them on a resume would cause an employer to draw negative inferences about an applicant’s character? Why is it considered extreme and risible to suggest that a job candidate with a high IQ or a high SAT score should treat that as a qualification? And who benefits from this norm of keeping this data secret? Proxies for aptitude While it is bad advice for a job applicant to share test scores with an employer, nearly every …

A Different Kind of Privilege

If you live your life in and around higher education (including Christian higher education, as I do), then you see and hear a lot of discussion of the topic of white privilege. White privilege refers to the many things white people supposedly don’t have to think about (such as how they are perceived in a retail environment, how they interact with law enforcement officers, etc.), but which are bigger issues for African-Americans and perhaps other non-white persons. At the same time, there is a growing critique of the slice of Americans (a recent Atlantic essay characterized them as the 9.9 percent) who dominate American life as the winners of a meritocracy. Americans have typically been friendly to the idea of aristocracies of talent as opposed to aristocracies based on blood and family, but increasingly there are fears of a ‘cognitive elite’ that is becoming increasingly cohesive through geographic, educational, and marital clustering. The worry is that this group is driving economic stratification faster and further than old aristocracies ever could. Against this backdrop of ideas …

Why Sam Harris—Not Ezra Klein—Is the One Making Space for People of Colour

The demand that we transcend tribalism in public debate sits on the schism line of today’s culture wars over speech, scholarship and art. On one side (loosely, if inexactly, called “the left”), there exists a deep conviction that the social justice sins of the past (and present) make an escape from tribalism impossible—and so the only solution is to carve out well-guarded silos of speech and cultural representation for disadvantaged groups. On the other side (loosely, if inexactly, called “the right”) are those who view those silos as a tool of censorship, as well as an affront to the idea that we all can speak for ourselves as individuals, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, gender and faith. This conflict took center stage during a recent high-profile Munk Debate in Toronto, which had been billed as a debate about the dangers of political correctness. Two of the biggest reactions from the 3,000-strong audience came in response to Georgetown University’s Michael Eric Dyson (representing “the left”) referring to psychologist Jordan Peterson as a “mean, mad white …

The Munk Debate and the Perils of Tribalism

“[Y]ou’re a mean mad white man and the viciousness is evident.” Michael Eric Dyson The Munk Debates is a semi-annual series of debates that take place in front of an audience of 3,000 people at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Two panellists argue in favour of a motion and two argue against it. Audience members vote on the motion before and after the debate, and the side that shifts the most votes in its favour is declared the winner. The most recent instalment took place last Friday. It was titled: “Political Correctness—Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…” The pro side consisted of sociologist Michael Eric Dyson and journalist Michelle Goldberg, while the con side consisted of comedian Stephen Fry and psychologist Jordan Peterson. All four are prominent authors and social critics. The debate was broadcast in both Canada and the United States, was streamed online through thousands of channels, and has received almost two million views on YouTube (across a few different channels) as I write this. The debate …

Postmodern Theory Returns to Continental Europe

The infusion of much of the social science and humanities scholarship in the Anglosphere by egalitarian social justice concerns is a much-discussed phenomenon. Less often noticed is an important distinction between overtly activist disciplines such as gender and postcolonial studies, on the one hand, and disciplines that are not intrinsically militant such as education, sociology, and literature, on the other, where intellectual uniformity has nevertheless allowed for the construction of an increasingly biased, insular, and empirically dubious body of scholarship. This scholarship draws heavily from the ideas of French poststructuralism and ‘continental’ European philosophy more broadly. However, it has gained a larger influence in the United States and other anglophone countries than on the continent. It has been hypothesised that this success has been due to the unique political context of post-war America, or that the then-new poststructuralist framework developed by a handful of French writers faced much less competition because Marxism was less entrenched in American academia than in Europe. Faculty in continental Europe already overwhelming lean left in the social sciences and humanities, …

Three Justifications for Liberalism

In his 1988 article “Unger’s Philosophy: A Critical Legal Study” William B. Ewald criticized young leftwing up-and-comer Roberto Unger for his simplistic characterization of liberalism.  Unger was one of the key founders of the critical legal studies movement, which philosophically oriented itself around his 1975 book Knowledge and Politics. In this seminal text, published when the author was only 28, Unger develops a systematic “total criticism” of liberal doctrines. He runs through broad interpretations of liberal psychology and liberal politics, arguing that these constitute a unified doctrine which “total criticism” largely knocks apart. In his response, Ewald argued that while Unger was often creative and occasionally brilliant, he had badly mischaracterized liberalism. Far from being a unified doctrine, liberalism had historically been justified from a number of different philosophical perspectives. This made it far less vulnerable to “total criticism” than authors like Unger supposed. Indeed, it was quite hard to even pin down what liberalism was in a concrete sense. As Ewald eloquently put it: Even at the level of concrete political discourse, the term (liberalism) …