Thursday, February 7, 2019

Great moments in trend-setting

It's rare that I'm ahead of the curve in very much. But the latest Steve Sailer column had the following puzzling claim:
Nobody can deny Lindsay, Boghossian, and Pluckrose one historic accomplishment: They’ve permanently affixed the name Grievance Studies to their targets.
Before last fall, there were a variety of self-designations that only their smartest critics could keep track of. For example, Steven Pinker tweeted,
Is there any idea so outlandish that it won’t be published in a Critical/PoMo/Identity/‘Theory’ journal?
But if you aren’t quite up to Pinker’s level of brainpower, it’s hard to remember that “Critical/PoMo/Identity/‘Theory’” are all more or less the same moonshine.
But now we don’t need to. They are all just Grievance Studies.
Google searches show that the term “grievance studies” appeared only 85 times in the history of the internet before they announced their hoax last October, but 89,700 times since then.

To which my first thought was: huh? Hasn't everyone been using this term for ages?

No, it just turns out, I've been using it for ages. I couldn't get Sailer's "85 results" number easily. But this post of mine from May 2013 features the phrase. Though, hilariously, it doesn't seem to show up on my google search, and since I'm John Q. Nobody, read by nobody, I contributed almost zero to the currency of the phrase.

I have no idea if I just picked it up from someone else, or it independently seemed like a good description. To slightly paraphrase Moldbug, the great thing about the truth is that, being true, anybody is free to notice it at any time.

Come to Chateau Holmes for fresh social commentary, or be one of the herd reading about it at Sailer's blog six years later!

(I kid - Steve Sailer is a national treasure, and the best journalist of his generation. The fact that he writes for donations at the Unz Review, instead of having major newspapers fight to hire him, tells you everything you need to know about the clown world we live in).

Sunday, February 3, 2019

On the eloquence of the ancients

One of the frequent complaints about modernity that both reactionaries and conservatives agree upon is the lamentable decline in the standards of public discourse. This is pretty clearly true, and you can show it in various different ways.

For instance, Thomas Jefferson spoke English, French, Italian, Latin, and could also read Spanish and Greek. The highly educated Barack Obama spoke... just English.

If you want a non-political example, consider Paul Fussell's observation about World War I poetry. Wilfred Owen, when writing his poem "Dulce et Decorum Est", could write as the ending lines to his famous poem, an untranslated Latin phrase from Horace, with confidence that his audience, which included privates in the army, would know what he meant.

Or, if you think I'm cherry-picking this, price-onomics computed the reading grade-level of the State of the Union address over time. If you plot it versus the starting year of the president's term, this is what you get:

Which, I will readily acknowledge, looks a lot like a slow descent into idiocracy.

And, to be fair, this is my depressing first order assessment of how the matter stands.

But, if I were to put a small positive spin on this, it would be the following.

Suppose that the level of reading education has declined precipitously. Conceptually, this could be because
i) The total amount of education has declined. 
ii) The efficiency per hour of education has declined. 
iii) The fraction of education devoted to reading has declined

Out of these, I'm pretty sure #1 isn't the case. We spend more time in school and college than ever. Not only that, but the biggest increase is probably among the least educated, who once upon a time would have gone straight into agricultural jobs, etc.

The second part I'd be willing to believe. We spend endless time on pozz and diversity propaganda, whereas back in the past they were probably drilled on the important stuff and didn't screw around.

But I think the biggest underappreciated factor is #3.

In particular, it's easy to forget just how enormous the increase in education was in quantitative disciplines. I suspect, but can't prove, that the fraction of people that are learning calculus, chemistry, and physics is a lot higher. In particular, without a calculator, a lot of these disciplines become much more labor intensive in terms of how many calculation examples you can give to illustrate a principle. 

There's an even more concrete example.

The field of statistics as we know it didn't really exist until Sir Francis Galton invented it in the mid-19th century. Don't believe me? He came up with standard deviation, correlation, regression, and regression to the mean. Try, if you will, to imagine what your statistics class would have been like before that. There's the mean, the mean?

And without these tools, think how many other discussions become impoverished.

Economics doesn't have any data without computers. But without regression and correlation, it doesn't have any meaningful way to discuss causation, or to resolve arguments with data (even if you were willing to do it by hand). Hence the whole discipline becomes only theory. And theory back then was largely essays. Economics didn't become mathematical until Von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern and Paul Samuelson, all of whom did their major work after World War 2. Finance as a serious academic discipline didn't exist before Harry Markowitz, around the same time. And this is without discussing the disciplines that trivially didn't exist, like computer science, and those that only became formalised later, like psychology.

Take out all of the high school and college education devoted to these subjects, and ask yourself - what's left to do other than read the classics and learn languages? Not only this, if you could erase all your knowledge of the above subjects and replace it with more eloquence and knowledge of the classics...would you? Would the bargain seem worth it?

To me, it's not obvious at all.  

As I wrote about a while ago - expressions of a desire to do some self-improvement task are pretty much like a politician's unfunded campaign promises. That is, unless you specify exactly what in your week it is you're willing to give up in order to make it happen, it's not actually a serious plan. And just like in politics, the two standard answers are both bad. I'll get rid of waste and duplication! In your life, like in politics, there is assuredly waste and duplication, but it's similarly assured that you probably won't get rid of it. Or you'll just run a budget deficit by sleeping less. Which works in the long run about as well as you'd expect.

So it is with the importance of a classical education. It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It just means that simply cutting out the modern leftist propaganda from the curriculum won't turn you into Jefferson. You've got to cut much closer to the bone, into subjects that actually do matter.

The other lesson, of course, is that Sir Francis Galton was a god damn genius, and is criminally underappreciated. It's hard to imagine the social sciences existing without him.