Smart people saying smart things

Brian McLaren: “An Open Letter to Rebecca Kadaga”

I have visited Uganda as a Christian leader and met with a wide variety of Christian leaders. They have impressed me as people of compassion, not violence … of grace, not intolerance. They know that Jesus was once put in a situation similar to the one you face in Uganda today. A group of strict religious leaders pressured him to assent to the killing of a woman widely regarded as a damnable, detestable sinner. They quoted the Bible to make their case. But he resisted that pressure and overcame it. He courageously sided with the woman, and he challenged those preparing to throw stones at her to face their own hypocrisy. Rather than handing them a stone “as a Christmas gift,” he risked his reputation, even his life, in an effort to protect her. He handed them another gift: a model of compassion, a new way of being religious, a new way of being human.

Terence Weldon: “Walking in Our Shoes”

The whole point of the word “heteronormative” is that this is the way the world is constructed, based on a single, majority way of seeing things – without ever considering that another perspective is possible.

In the religious sphere, there is often outrage at the very concept of queer biblical interpretation, or theology from an LGBT point of view, with no recognition at all that “traditional” biblical hermeneutics is constructed from an automatically straight perspective, with no particular justification for it. This is especially clear where modern conservatives insist that they are merely trying to protect traditional marriage “as found in the Bible” – when their understanding is of “traditional” is a very modern one.

Rebecca Levi: “‘Just to Make a Statement’: Power, Sincerity, and the Women of the Wall”

Rabbi Rabinowitz is implying, of course, that it’s impossible to demonstrate and worship at the same time. (It’s also worth noting that his wording rhetorically links Women of the Wall to anti-Occupation demonstrators, another group he likely considers deviant and traitorous to the Jewish norm.) And, in all fairness, the idea that worship is an activity in which you remove yourself temporarily from day-to-day concerns is not a position without, you know, significant precedent. Even etymologically, both the English (from Greek) word “sacred” and the Hebrew word kadosh, “holy,” come from roots having to do with “set-apartness” and “withdrawal.” Similarly, it is hardly controversial to suggest that the main goal of worship should be to direct attention not to yourself, but to the Divine.

But what Rabinowitz doesn’t see — or chooses not to see — is that separating worship from daily affairs and not drawing attention to oneself in the practice of worship is a luxury reserved for powerful people with normative practices. If you’re a member of a group that’s “out,” accessing the same prayer sites, practices and rituals, with the same level of respect and dignity, as the “in” group can’t not attract attention. In such a case, worship necessarily becomes a political action.

Steven Hill: “Don’t Cut Social Security — Double It”

Here’s the dilemma that the United States faces. Since World War II, individual retirement has been based on a “three-legged stool,” with the three legs being Social Security, pensions, and personal savings (the latter primarily centered around home ownership). But two out of three of these legs have been chopped back to blunted pegs, leaving the retirement stool as an unstable, one-legged oddity.

… The gritty reality that the Obama administration and House Republicans must face is that the vast majority of America’s retirees cannot afford to watch them hack off part of the only leg that remains of the three-legged stool. Quite the contrary, we should make that leg more robust by doubling the current Social Security payout, and turning it into a true national retirement system called “Social Security Plus.” Doing so not only would be good for American retirees, but also would be good for the greater macro economy.

Steve Benen: “Jindal’s selective concern for the poor”

For Jindal, poor and disadvantaged kids should have the same educational opportunities as kids from wealthy families. Fine. There’s ample evidence that vouchers don’t work, but let’s stick to the larger principle. The next question is pretty straightforward: can poor and disadvantaged kids have the same access to quality health care as kids from wealthy families? How about the same access to safe and affordable housing? How about nutrition? And transportation? And political influence?

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  • Cathy W

    The last article there hits my big criticism of the “equality of opportunity, not outcome” catchphrase common on the right. I was born in a hospital in Detroit in 1971. My family moved to a well-off suburb about two years later. I had access to one of the best public school systems in Michigan, and my family could afford for my mom to not work outside the home, so I had access to a full range of extracurricular activities that depended on someone being able to give me a ride home. 

    How is that any kind of “equal opportunity” with a hypothetical baby in the hospital crib next to mine whose parents didn’t have the opportunity to leave the city, stuck living there as the school system (once world-class, but even in the ’70s, far less so) deteriorated? 

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Exactly. When America actually comes anywhere near close to providing equal opportunities to all of its citizens, then we can talk about equality of opportunity versus outcome.

    The conservative model only works if you pretend that systemic sexism, racism, classism, etc., don’t occur. Which conservatives are happy to do, not because they actually believe it, but because they see no reason to fix it.

  • mb

    My impression, whenever I read an assertion like this, is that people on the extreme left really don’t believe in merit or ability — except as inborn qualities that everyone has equally.
    They don’t believe, for example, that low SAT scores reflect illiteracy, but that they (together with standard grammar) are a tool the rich use to oppress the poor; that everyone should graduate from college and the fact that they not everyone does is evidence of discrimination.
    I’d be happy to be disabused of my preconceptions, which are based on reading such comments on the Internet, not on real-life conversations.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m of the extreme left–in that my political views are to the left of, say, 95% of the population (probably more in the US). That doesn’t remotely resemble what I think.

    I suspect you’re using “left” to mean something entirely different to “the government should own or have significant control over the means of production”.

  • mb

    Hm, this is indeed, I think, a left-wing view. Mitterand’s government tried and, I think, failed to implement it, to give one famous example.
    If you meant to call for collective property of all means of production, like in the former communist countries, then, yes, it qualifies as extreme in my view. It doesn’t even have to be the government, in practice the desired totalitarian effect is already achieved when the cooperatives are compulsory to join.Other extreme left-wing views are that private property should be abolished, religion should be banned, or that education should be the same for everyone. The latter view was to some extent implemented by the Cultural Revolution — this is why I refer to it as an extreme left-wing view. In practice these views very often, but not always, go together.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Other extreme left-wing views are that private property should be abolished, religion should be banned, or that education should be the same for everyone.

    “Religion should be banned” is not a left wing view. The catechism of the Catholic Church is pretty left wing, for pete’s sake. Again, you’re confusing your economic and social philosophies.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    One of several reasons that you’re full of shit is that the only people who have been insisting that everyone should graduate from college are conservatives, who have done their damnedest to convert higher education into a for-profit enterprise, which thus wants to capture as large a consumer base as possible, as opposed to just those who actually value academia.

    I’ve never quite figured out if we liberals are elitists or populists. The accusations vary wildly. Me, I lean elitist, at least within an academic context. But then, I also believe there’s no shame in doing a working-class job, and I believe that those who do them should receive living wages and a good quality of life. So funny enough, the world I’d like to build is one in which even fewer people would need to graduate college, because they wouldn’t have a bunch of Randian assholes trying to make life as difficult as possible for people who commit the crime of not making enough money.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     >

    I’ve never quite figured out if we liberals are elitists or populists. The accusations vary wildly.

    I mostly model the (non-batshit) U.S. conservative view of U.S. liberals that I think you’re referring to here as “Liberals favor policies that give stuff to lots of people, which is valuable in the short term, and are in that sense populists. Liberals are more urban and have had more formal education than conservatives, and are in that sense elitist.”

  • mb

    I’m actually comforted by your reply, since I also consider myself to be elitist and liberal (or social-democrat, in some contexts), though not very left-wing.
    A cursory Google search shows that I am not delusional in thinking that some extreme left-wing people actually believe in outcome equality in education:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2009/03/31/educational-equity-and-educational-equality/

    “It should be obvious why the radical version of educational equality has counterintuitive consequences: since some children have very low levels of cognitive capacity, implementing it fully would require serious leveling down of prospects of achievement; requiring that we lobotomize the cognitively able, and resulting in very low levels of achievement for all.
    The reason I am not troubled by this is that I think other principles of justice – educational and otherwise – are more important than educational equality.”
    Obviously, I should not hold you responsible for someone else’s views. I apologize for this confusion. I was upset for unrelated reasons on the day I made that posting.

  • Caravelle

     I’m confused as to why you would get this impression from Triplanetary’s post, or what that had to do with SATs.

    Do you believe there currently is equality of opportunity and that sexism, racism, classism etc do no affect this ?

    To take your college example, I assume you think people should graduate from college depending on their merit/ability/desire. Now if we observe that statistically speaking, certain classes of people graduate from college less, classes that aren’t directly related to merit or ability – like poor people, or people belonging to racial minorities, there are only two possible explanations : those classes are intrinsically less able and meritorious, or merit and ability aren’t the only factors at play. One can actually investigate both those explanations to see which is more relevant of course. Do you see a third option ?

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Now if we observe that statistically speaking, certain classes of people
    graduate from college less, classes that aren’t directly related to
    merit or ability – like poor people, or people belonging to racial
    minorities

    Conversely, we can observe that certain classes of people graduate from college more even when their merit is questionable.

  • mb

    No, I don’t think that there currently is equality of opportunity. I believe that moving toward that would be a good thing. I don’t think equality of outcome is always a good thing.
    As for why education — it’s the only example of opportunity vs. outcome that came to mind. Speaking more generally, I also believe in equality of opportunity vs. outcome in other regards as well, i.e. I think high inheritance taxes are good, but forcible redistribution of wealth is bad.
    Speaking about college graduation, obviously some people who don’t graduate from college are smarter and harder-working than some who do.
    My answer would be to make graduation harder, so that people who only got in because of their unfair advantages cannot also buy a college diploma.
    On average, poor people have less ability, without it being “intrinsic”. I don’t think that only intrinsic qualities should be considered for college admission and graduation, but that literacy, numeracy, and all sorts of general and specialized knowledge should matter as well.
    I’d rather not talk about race, because I don’t think that suffering should be a qualifying factor for college.
    As for merit, I was thinking about it in the narrow sense of scholarly merit, the merit of being a good student or (later) a good professional. Should this not count as merit, even if the ethnic distribution of people who have it is skewed? I strongly believe it should.

  • EllieMurasaki

    My answer would be to make graduation harder, so that people who only got in because of their unfair advantages cannot also buy a college diploma.

    Nice thought, but where does it leave the people who are already working their way through college? Out in the cold, that’s where.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I think high inheritance taxes are good, but forcible redistribution of wealth is bad.

    Inheritance taxes are forcible redistribution of wealth. That sentence made no sense.

  • EllieMurasaki

    It almost does if you squint right. If Anne has a million dollars when she dies and the inheritance tax on that figure is twenty-five percent, Anne’s kid Bob is up seven hundred fifty grand instead of a million, but the whole million was never his, so he’s not out anything. The government swoops in in the moments when the money is no longer Anne’s but not yet Bob’s; it reduces what Bob gets from Anne’s estate but it doesn’t take anything from him. Income and capital gains taxes, on the other hand, are either a thing one writes the government regular checks for, which means money the government takes from one, or a line item on the paystub, money one earned that is taken by the government before one ever sees it, or both.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Thing is, everybody and their dog fantasizes there’s gonna be a heyyyuuuuuuuuuuuuge pot of gold when the old man kicks off, and they’re panting so hard after that money it’s easy to whoop up resentment against the government for something they won’t even get taxed on because the inheritance is likely to be below the threshold.

  • Beroli

     If by “people on the extreme left…don’t believe in merit,” you mean that people on the extreme left don’t believe that some people just inherently deserve to have more and others deserve to starve, then I’ll own it.

  • mb

    No, I am just allergic to hearing about equality of outcome.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Fortunately for you, no one’s advocating equality of outcome. Among other things, it’s flat out impossible to achieve. What we’re advocating is ensuring that everyone is at least at an adequate if minimal standard of living, with unimpeded access to the tools needed to improve that standard of living. I don’t care if some people are living on beans and others on caviar as long as everyone is getting enough food with a decent balance of nutrients. I don’t care if some people are living in studio apartments and others rotating among five mansions as long as everyone has a leak-free roof over their heads and their functioning electricity and plumbing. Etc.

  • Don Gisselbeck

    The justification for their exteme wealth normaly given by members of the predator class is that they work hard. I’m ok with the Koch brothers making twice as much as a Snowbowl liftie if they work twice as hard. If you want to have a conversation about the proper reward for luck we can have that. I will start at 1:4. (Plato’s minimum poor to rich ratio).

  • EllieMurasaki

    My impression, whenever I read an assertion like this, is that people on the extreme left really don’t believe in merit or ability — except as inborn qualities that everyone has equally.

    They don’t believe, for example, that low SAT scores reflect illiteracy, but that they (together with standard grammar) are a tool the rich use to oppress the poor; that everyone should graduate from college and the fact that they not everyone does is evidence of discrimination.

    I’d be happy to be disabused of my preconceptions, which are based on reading such comments on the Internet, not on real-life conversations.
    Not everyone wants to graduate from college. Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to decide whether they want to graduate, which requires everyone to be afforded the opportunity to attend. Not everyone is.

    It is entirely possible that someone who scored low on the verbal SAT while attending a school whose students consistently score low on the verbal SAT would score equally low had this student instead been attending a school whose students consistently score high on the verbal SAT. It’s rather more likely that education is not happening in the low-scoring school as effectively as in the high-scoring school. That is a problem that needs to be fixed.

    I saw a quote recently, forget whose name is attached, but it goes that feminism is no longer trying to get a female Einstein into Princeton. Feminism is trying to get female schlemiels promoted as fast as male schlemiels. Much the same principle applies here: economically disadvantaged but intellectually brilliant folks can generally get a full ride to whatever college they want to attend, but economically disadvantaged and intellectually average folks generally have to fork over money, which they don’t have (see economically disadvantaged) and don’t necessarily want to (or can’t) borrow. Intellectually average folks whose economic background makes those loans less intimidating and/or provides close relations with money to pay the tuition outright, they can go to any college they get accepted by. Such folks are also rather more likely to get accepted to begin with than are people with the same capabilities but less money, because such folks are rather more likely to attend well-funded schools, see above. Both are a marked advantage over said people. Those advantages needs to be reduced as far as possible.

  • mb

    I agree it’s a problem that needs to be fixed. Few things would make me happier than living in a society where this problem has at least been reduced, hence I wouldn’t mind living in Canada or Switzerland. I hope it works out in the US as well.
    In other words, thanks for the comment, I found it helpful.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     > I’d be happy to be disabused of my preconceptions

    Happy to help.

    I’m not really sure what you mean by “the extreme left,” so I’m not sure I’m on it. But I certainly agree with Triplanetary’s assertion systemic sexism, racism, classism, etc. result in unequal opportunity in America, so I’m assuming I qualify in this context.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “believe in merit or ability,” but I certainly believe that there exist innate factors that make some people smarter than others, or faster, or stronger, or etc. (Just for clarity, I don’t mean exclusively genetic factors, although of course those exist too.) I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe this, actually, even among my very liberal friends.

    I certainly believe that illiterate people score worse on the SATs than literate people, although I also think low SAT scores can reflect things other than illiteracy (e.g. innumeracy). Again, this is not controversial among liberals, and ought not be controversial among anyone.

    I also believe that the children of wealthy families receive advantages that the children of poor families do not receive, and that those advantages mean a wealthy child will typically obtain higher SAT scores and is more likely to graduate from college than a poor child with the same innate ability.

    I do think everyone should have post-high-school educations, as high-schools are too “one-size-fits-all” to provide the educations people need. That’s not necessarily college, though. In many cases apprenticeships would work better.

    So you tell me: do I fit your preconceptions? And if not, what leads you to believe people like me don’t exist?

  • mb

    I don’t think this is an extreme left-wing point of view; more like a statement of fact. Other prior posters fit my preconceptions for that much better. Thanks anyway.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    They don’t believe, for example, that low SAT scores reflect illiteracy,
    but that they (together with standard grammar) are a tool the rich use
    to oppress the poor;

    You are aware that if you have enough money, you can hire private SAT tutors to teach your child to game the system and get a higher score than ze would if ze  had just taken the test based on hir merits, yes? 

    I don’t know if I would go so far as to say, “oppress,” but the rich definitely have an advantage over the poor (who maybe can get a school-sponsored group training session before taking the test) in this regard.

  • mb

    I agree. I think the SAT (at least the general portion) is too easy, so it can be gamed and doesn’t always reflect meaningful knowledge.

  • EllieMurasaki

    It’s a lot easier for people from some backgrounds than from others. Always has been. Making it harder on the people who breeze through it is just going to fuck with the people who struggle with it due to lacking critical cultural information that the test questions rely on.

  • mb

    I think there should be a stage of education where going further depends on accumulated skills and knowledge, not only on general-purpose intelligence. If it isn’t college, then it will be the master’s degree, which is why more and more positions nowadays require it (and they shouldn’t). The GRE is what the SAT should be.
    I believe that one can and should measure knowledge. To me, it’s not about getting into college, it’s about learning something in the process.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’d like to agree with your comment here, but in context of your other comments, I’m just gonna +1 Ross.

  • The_L1985

    Not quite. :)

    Some people have greater inborn academic ability, yes.  As someone with an abnormally high IQ score* who has also worked with students who have Down Syndrome, and has relatives with other forms of mental retardation, I would have to literally be insane to not argue that some people are better at specific tasks than others.  So yes, merit and ability are, to a degree, inborn, and people have different amounts.

    But here’s the thing.  One’s upbringing and environment can have a dramatic effect on a lot of things, including standardized test scores, which university, if any, you go to, etc.  If your parents don’t read to you when you’re a kid, you may grow up functionally illiterate–even if you’re a really smart person.  If the only other young people around you are either working their butts off for scraps, or in a gang, you’re probably going to join a gang, because that’s the most-palatable option that you can see as being available to YOU, personally.  These are not wild-ass conspiracy theories.  This is stuff that’s been tested and proven.

    I don’t believe that everyone should graduate from college.  There are a lot of people whom I have taught in college who quite frankly don’t have the right personality for it, and are wasting their time.  But I do believe that everyone should have the opportunity for a K-12 education that adequately prepares them for the kind of adult life they want–technical training, college prep, whatever, but the student gets to choose.**  We don’t have any of those programs anymore, except for college-prep programs in affluent areas.  Poor kids don’t get JACK–NO auto-repairs classes, NO wood shop, NO college prep, NO NOTHING.  Those programs have all been cut sine NCLB, because the Powers That Be have decided that standardized test scores are more important than an education that prepares our children to live in the real world as reasonably well-rounded adults.

    I believe that everyone who both wants to go to college, and has the ability and inclination to succeed in college, should have the opportunity to go without being held back by financial considerations.  If you’re not wealthy enough to pay cash up front, you are now guaranteed to owe student loans for the majority of your working life (at least 20-30 years) after you leave college, whether you graduate or not, and whether or not you can actually find a job that uses the skills you learned and pays you accordingly.

    Not everybody needs to know calculus.  But everybody needs to know enough math and science to have a basic idea of how hard mathematicians and scientists probably had to study in order to become mathematicians and scientists.  Not everybody needs to be a brain surgeon.  But everybody needs to know enough basic anatomy that when the doctor says to a woman “You have ovarian cancer,” she and her loved ones know where her ovaries are and that this could prevent her from having children.  Not everybody needs to be an historian.  But everybody needs to understand what taxes are for, and the basics of how our government works, so that each of us can vote according to our own interests and opinions, instead of being jerked around by some huckster.

    This is what I mean by equality of opportunity.  I want every child to be able to learn these things.  In order for every child to be able to learn these things, we need:

    – An educational system that does a better job of ensuring poor children don’t fall through the cracks, and that provides better opportunities and options for non-college-bound students.

    – A higher minimum wage, so that parents can spend some time with their families.  People who work hard all day have earned, by the sweat of their brow, the means to feed and clothe their families.  I’m not saying we should make the poor rich, by any means.  But if the minimum wage were raised to the same standards as the minimum wage of the 1970’s, you wouldn’t have households in which both parents are working 2 jobs just to make ends meet.  Once the basic needs of survival are met by each parent working 40 hours a week (or better yet, one parent working 40 hr/wk and one parent working maybe part-time), parents will be able to, you know, PARENT their children.  This alone will help cut down on a lot of juvenile delinquency, because parents will be there to guide and care for their children more of the time.  This, in turn, means fewer people in jail, fewer police officers needed to maintain order, and less government spending on welfare.  Yay!

    – Enforcement of laws against “wage theft.”  Many large companies make so much money that they find it more profitable to withhold their workers’ hard-earned pay, and pay fines to the government, than to actually pay their workers the amount that federal laws require.  This, combined with a pitifully low minimum wage,*** is keeping a lot of people on federal aid (a.k.a. welfare and food stamps) who really shouldn’t have to be.

    – A way of ensuring that ALL students are adequately fed, because malnourished children (10% of all American children) can’t focus well enough to learn much of anything.  Yes, this means welfare for some families–but remember that the children of poor people, by and large, did nothing whatsoever to deserve their poverty, and that keeping them poor is cruel and can destroy their future.

    – Continuing to improve services for students who are still learning English.  The children of immigrants are a source of untapped potential for our country, and we don’t know what we may learn from them, or what they may learn from us, if we don’t try to reach them.  ESL classes for adults, and English-learning services for children, are helping to bridge this gap, but even after you learn how to have a conversation in English, it still takes 4 years or so to learn technical or academic language.

    * Which, btw, are pretty useless for non-math, non-grammatical, and non-memorization sort of tasks, and thus are pretty poor predictors of any sort of success outside of K-12 standardized testing environments

    ** I would like to point out that, while these programs were implemented in the past, there was an unfortunate tendency for racial minorities and students from poor families to be pushed towards the non-college-bound “tracks,” regardless of their personal desires or academic ability.  I’m not sure of the best way to fix this, but allowing for students to select their own “track” around 6th grade or so should at least help.

    *** I’ve done the math for you.  $7.25/hr * 40 hr/wk * 52 weeks in a year = $15,080/year.  You can’t survive on that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Not everybody needs to be a brain surgeon.  But everybody needs to know enough basic anatomy that when the doctor says to a woman “You have ovarian cancer,” she and her loved ones know where her ovaries are and that this could prevent her from having children.

    And, of course, everybody needs to know enough basic anatomy to realize that the female body does not, in fact, have ways of shutting that whole thing down.

    A basic understanding of the actual theory of evolution (or more properly, descent with modification, the how & why not the what) would certainly be a good thing, as well.

  • The_L1985

     Of course!  But my comment was probably far too long already.  I had to pare it down to a few clear examples.

  • stardreamer42

     Not everybody needs to be a brain surgeon.  But everybody needs to know
    enough basic anatomy that when the doctor says to a woman “You have
    ovarian cancer,” she and her loved ones know where her ovaries are and
    that this could prevent her from having children.

    And perhaps more to the point right now, everybody needs enough basic biology that when some woman-hating politician says pregnancy can’t result from rape because “a woman’s body has ways of shutting that whole thing down”, everybody knows that HE IS LYING.

  • mb

    Thanks, this was helpful, I don’t see this as an extreme left-wing point of view, I was incensed by the mention of equality of outcome in the original message, I probably shouldn’t have replied anyway, but was upset for an unrelated reason.

  • stardreamer42

    You talk about illiteracy as if it were an inborn condition. Low SAT scores may reflect any of several things: (1) poor education, (2) a learning disability making it harder to read, (3) difficulty with taking tests in general, (4) any combination of the above and probably more I haven’t thought of. All of these things can be addressed, but as a society we mostly don’t because it’s easier to just look down our noses and be smug.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    They don’t believe, for example, that low SAT scores reflect illiteracy,
    but that they (together with standard grammar) are a tool the rich use
    to oppress the poor; that everyone should graduate from college and the
    fact that they not everyone does is evidence of discrimination.

    If the SAT, interpreted as a measure of literacy and schoolworthiness, indicates that rich white kids are in general better suited to a formal education than nonwhite kids of any income level and poor kids of any race, then our only choices are “The test is biased” or “By an amazing coincidence, the very same groups who are traditionally privileged are smarter and harder-working than the groups who are traditionally disadvantaged. What luck.”

    I find that second scenario unlikely.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    Indeed, if us white dudes were inherently superior, we wouldn’t have had to build a byzantine network of inefficient and destructive institutions to keep ourselves on top. It’s like a little boy standing on his tippy-toes to “prove” he’s taller than his sibling.

  • mb

    I prefer a third choice — poor SAT scores show one to be completely unsuited for higher education or any sort of serious thought in general.
    The SAT is such a joke that failure to perform well testifies to some sort of flaw, which needs to be remedied, if possible, before going any further.
    Conversely, above-average scores do not prove anything, unless the scores are over 700, in which case they do show that the test-taker is indeed able to study and could potentially (without an absolute guarantee) do a decent job in college, hence should be admitted.
    What the scores say about wealth or ethnicity need not concern me. I don’t think anyone has a guaranteed right to go to college or graduate from high school.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t think anyone has a guaranteed right to go to college or graduate from high school.

    Which means that, in the US where getting a job that makes enough to support more than one person on requires a college degree and getting a job that makes enough to support at least one person requires a high school diploma, you do not think everyone has a guaranteed right to be able to pay their goddamn food and rent.

    Go away for a little bit and think about that.

  • mb

    Something should be done about that (stronger unions, maybe).
    Employers use high-school diplomas or college degrees in ways they were not meant to be used. Acknowledging that degree inflation is irreversible, here is a practical solution: give a high-school diploma to everyone at the end of middle school, so that people who want to can go to college and actually learn something for the next four years. Names shouldn’t matter so much, what I was complaining about was the actual learning.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Wait, wait, what?

    You think it’s a good idea to say that the average fourteen-year-old has learned everything they need to know to be a good citizen (even if not everything they need to know to make a career in their field of choice) and turn them loose on the world? Because speaking as an ex-fourteen-year-old and the elder sibling of a current fourteen-year-old, and also someone who doubts it’s possible to fit everything taught in the K-12 curriculum into the K-8 years even if we stop letting students take summers and Saturdays off, bad plan.

  • mb

    Yes, I know it for sure. The US curriculum is quite dilute. On second thought, Americans have so many extracurricular activities (sports, music, arts) to fill the remaining time that I don’t think it could happen. Maybe K-10 is more realistic.
    Preparation to be a good citizen? That is a different issue.
    Anyway, you were referring to the high school diploma as a requirement for employment. I agree that it’s unfair for anyone to be deprived of it. I also think it’s unfair to those people who will actually learn to have to suffer the company of those people who only want a high school diploma for its employment benefits.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Where the hell are you getting the idea that any but the best-funded US schools have time and money for such trivialities as art, music, and sports that don’t fund themselves through ticket sales? Which (since these are essential to a good education but hard to do standardized tests on) brings us right back around to the initial point about disparate school funding.
    Setting sixteen-year-olds on college is a little brighter than setting fourteen-year-olds on college, but not by a hell of a lot. Some sixteen-year-olds are ready for college. Precious few fourteen-year-olds. The vast majority of both age groups are not. I’m not sure the majority of eighteen-year-olds are, but I’m not prepared to argue that the age of legal adulthood should be any higher, either.

  • mb

    I then guess the curriculum is built to accomodate those wealthy schools that can afford a lot of extracurricular activities; this is what I meant. I am sure that, leaving them aside, one could go through most US curricula in 8 grades instead of 12. However, few poorer schools are trying, because they (and the parents whom they serve, perhaps?) have the same conception of success as their richer counterparts.
    For the record, I do believe in equal school funding.

  • EllieMurasaki

    No, what’s actually happening is that poorer schools are trying to meet the increasingly high standards set by No Child Left Behind (and who the fuck set those standards anyway? when literally every school in a substantial area is failing to meet those standards, there might be something wrong with the standards), focusing only on the areas NCLB cares about (that is, English and math), teaching in order to improve the students’ chances of passing the NCLB tests rather than in order to have the students go up a grade having acquired all the knowledge in those areas expected of a student who has passed that grade, and letting everything else (art, music, science, social studies, critical fucking thinking) slide.

  • P J Evans

    On second thought, Americans have so many extracurricular activities
    (sports, music, arts) to fill the remaining time that I don’t think it
    could happen.

    Sports, yes, but it’s an expensive way to fill time. As for the others – the fine arts are, according to many politicians, frills that we can’t afford to have in schools. (I think that some social ills would be greatly improved by having more fine arts in schools.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Acknowledging that degree inflation is irreversible

    Why? Show your work, don’t just throw out an unsubstantiated premise.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    poor SAT scores show one to be completely unsuited for higher education or any sort of serious thought in general.

    Poor people and minorities do worse on the SAT than white people and rich people. This is a fact. Therefore, your statement means “Poor people and minorities are complete unsuited for higher education or any serious thought in general”.

    If your premise is correct, then rich white people really are superior to the people who have traditionally been oppressed by rich white people.

    There are only two possible conclusions. Either reality itself is racist, or the test is biased.

  • vsm

    My assumption would be that coming from a privileged background (and the better elementary and high school education that implies) is more likely to equip one with the kinds of skills that enable one to do well in SATs and higher education, rather than the test itself necessarily being biased. I’m not terribly familiar with the issue, though.

  • mb

    I stand by my assertion that doing badly on such a simple test is evidence that one is unsuited for higher education. The best that one can do in such cases is take remedial classes and hope they help.As for the “superiority” part, please note that I didn’t claim that doing somewhat well on the SAT meant anything.OK, I’ll phrase it even more explicitly: those rich white people who do extremely well on this test (whose scores are above 700) are superior, in their ability to take advantage of higher education, to those poor members of minorities who failed miserably on the SAT. All the inflammatory words are yours.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Would you care to explain the precise mechanism by which having low skin melanin and/or high household bank balance makes one inherently (as distinct from as-a-result-of-cultural-forces-that-favor-rich-over-poor-and-white-over-not) more educable?

  • mb

    For the skin melanin, I think it’s related to some historical trauma, either slavery or segregation.
    As evidence that this is the actual reason, I submit the fact that people with high skin melanin who didn’t go through slavery or segregation seem to be doing, on average, much better in many ways.
    I do not know the actual mechanism that goes from slavery to poor “educability”. I can imagine several things, but have no idea really, because my skin melanin is quite low, so I don’t have any of the required experience!Concerning fuller bank accounts, I can imagine many mechanisms: better schools, private tutors, a more enriching home environment, different expectations, etc.
    I would drop the “inherent” part, but all these make a difference in “educability”.
    However, please correct me if I’m wrong:  this may have been a trick question? Do you want to have me come off as more patronizing than I already have?

  • EllieMurasaki

    The better schools and the private tutors and the more enriching home environment are all products of the higher household bank balance and say nothing about whether kids with higher household bank balances are better suited to education than kids with lower household bank balances. But you keep saying that the kids with higher etc actually are better suited to education than the kids with lower etc, not simply reaping the advantages conferred by the higher etc.

    For the melanin, part of it’s intersectionality with the above, part of it is, yes, aftermath of slavery and Jim Crow. But you keep saying that, to paraphrase, the reason there weren’t any black students at OIe Miss until nineteen sixty fucking two was that black students actually are less suited to education than white students, nothing to do with the university being run by people who didn’t want black students on their pristine white campus.

  • mb

    My point is that, sooner or later, these advantages actually make students more suitable to education (to put it mildly). The students who have these advantages will actually become better students, on average. I’ll go even further — they’ll end up knowing more and mastering more skills, at every stage of their schooling. The contrary point of view is unintuitive, even, I maintain.
    I don’t feel that your last paragraph is an accurate paraphrase of anything I have written. On the contrary, I can explicitly state the opposite — Ole Miss was leaving out better students than some of those it was taking in, just because they were black. I’ll say the same about Harvard in the 1920s, in regard to Jewish students, most US universities nowadays, in regard to Asian-American students, and most private US universities nowadays, in regard to students who apply for financial aid. I think all these are leaving out better students than they are taking in.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yes, a kid who is adequately nourished and had evening bedtime stories every night with the result of being able to read at age four is going to do better in elementary school than a kid who’s trying to get by on food stamps and school lunch and who didn’t have any assistance with learning to read till first grade. That advantage will be magnified in high school, and magnified further in the years between eighteen and twenty-two when the first kid is probably in college and the second kid is probably not.

    That is a result of economic forces advantaging the first kid and not the second. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the kids’ actual capabilities. But you keep saying it does.

    And I’d like to go back to the thing about schlemiels. In the 1960s, getting a brilliant black student into a white college was a remarkable achievement. Today, what we’re trying to achieve is getting as many black kids per hundred black kids into college as we get white kids per hundred white kids into college. We’re not succeeding. That might be, as you keep saying, because black kids are not as good at the things needed to get into college as white kids. Or it might be, as we keep saying, because the deck is stacked in favor of white kids and against black kids.

  • mb

    It seems to me that, when writing “actual capabilities” there, you refer to that child’s unspoiled possible potential at birth.
    I will rather consider the actual capabilities. If child A has taken AP Calculus and done quite well, then he or she is actually capable of computing a very basic integral, which may help in college. Child B, who either has not taken it or has done poorly, is not actually capable of computing that integral, only potentially capable. Learning at one stage translates into actual capabilities at the next.
    I think school should be about this learning, not about getting to the next stage.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Oh. We’re having a separated-by-a-common-language problem. Okay. Let me see if I can clarify.

    In Red Universe, there is a child named Sarah. Sarah has one parent who earns enough to provide for five people (Sarah is an only child) and another parent who consequently feels no need to be employed particularly given they’ve a child to raise. That income level permits Sarah’s family to live in a school district that has no school violence to speak of and is quite happy to give Sarah math textbooks from increasingly farther ahead in the curriculum, and Sarah has a stay-at-home parent to give her hints when she gets stuck, such that Sarah takes AP Calculus as a ninth-grader. Sarah, being absolutely in love with calculus, goes on to be an engineer making eighty grand a year.

    In Blue Universe, there is a child named Sarah. Sarah has two parents whose combined income provides for three people, just barely. That income level means Sarah’s family lives in a school district that has metal detectors and daily fights in the hallway and doesn’t offer AP Calculus. Sarah likes math, but it’s a trifle harder for her to enjoy school. Fucked if she’s going to work any harder at school than she has to, and her parents are too busy to help. She graduates high school having taken no math more advanced than trigonometry. She goes on to be a keyboard monkey making thirty grand a year.

    Sarah’s capabilities are the same in both universes. Red Sarah has advantages that Blue Sarah does not, which results in the two Sarahs having vastly different outcomes.

  • mb

    My answer to that is simple: the two Sarahs are two different people that share nothing except the same name. The circumstances in which they live literally shape them in such a different manner that they cannot be considered to be the same person. Each of them had, at birth, the potential to do well and have a successful career, but probably only one of them actually will.
    Yes, she had more advantages. One wishes this weren’t the case —  that all children had the same opportunities. However, in practice only one of the two deserves to go to college. The other one, even if she goes, will likely fail.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Perhaps I should clarify: the AU breakpoint between Red Sarah and Blue Sarah is Sarah’s father’s job. Sarah’s parents’ history is identical in the Red and Blue universes right up to the point where Red Sarahdad won the coin toss that the hiring manager for the good job did upon realizing that Sarahdad and Othercandidate were equally qualified, and Blue Sarahdad lost that toss. Red Sarahdad walked away with a salary good enough that Red Sarahmom didn’t feel the need to work and the Sarahfamily could still live in a good neighborhood with good schools; Blue Sarahdad couldn’t find any other openings in his field and ended up being underpaid somewhere, and even with Blue Sarahmom getting a job to boost the family income, the best place they could afford to live was still pretty suck. Red Sarah and Blue Sarah have identical genes and identical interests and identical talents. Red Sarah’s family is higher income than Blue Sarah’s. That’s all.

    All the differences between Red Sarah and Blue Sarah come down to that one flipped coin.

    You are saying that, on the basis of the effects of a coin flip, Blue Sarah does not deserve to get as good an education as Red Sarah. You are saying that, on the basis of the effects of a coin flip, Blue Sarah does not even deserve the chance at college, though Red Sarah does.
    What in the actual fuck.

    (In life it is not usually coin flips and it is not possible to compare alternate universes, but the point I’m making still holds.)

  • mb

    “That might be, as you keep saying, because black kids are not as good at the things needed to get into college as white kids. Or it might be, as we keep saying, because the deck is stacked in favor of white kids and against black kids.”Why not both? But I think the latter actually leads to the former and (to the best of my knowledge) there is no extra mechanism on top of that, unlike in the 70’s. I guess this is where we disagree?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Or maybe I’m just failing to communicate. Somebody help?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     > Somebody help?

    Not sure if I can. Mostly, I get the impression that when mb uses a word, it means precisely what they wish it to mean, no more and no less.

    That said, I can kind of back-form a coherent model out of their posts if I completely ignore everything that came before taking the SATs, and completely ignore any potential interventions we might make to the system prior to that point.

    That seems like a ridiculous thing to do, but if I take those potential interventions into account then mb’s aggregated position makes no sense to me at all.

    That mostly leads me to conclude that mb is not being sincere, but I’m never sure about that… people do often sincerely hold positions that depend on not thinking about certain questions at all.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    I think he’s saying that, in the example you gave above, Red Sarah and Blue Sarah have equal *potential*, but at the end of the day Red Sarah has better *capabilities*… because she has those advantages, she’s better able to harness her potential, so she’s also going to learn more readily, which in turn will enable her to learn even more quickly…

    Basically, he/she is using ‘Capability’ to refer to an individual’s ‘Learning Score’ at any given point, while you’re using ‘Capability’ to refer to the individual’s innate maximum sort of ‘Learning Score’.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, okay. (Though there’s got to be dozens of ‘learning scores’ in play.) My point is still that denying Blue Sarah those advantages does not make her less deserving of the results of those advantages.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Yeah, okay. (Though there’s got to be dozens of ‘learning scores’ in play.)

     True.  It’s a gross simplification for the sake of example, though.

    My point is still that denying Blue Sarah those advantages does not make her less deserving of the results of those advantages.

    Absolutely, but I think what mb is trying to say is that, having been denied those advantages, she is no longer capable of meeting the standards required for the results.  If you can’t meet the requirements to graduate from high school, then you shouldn’t simply be given the degree that says you *do* meet the requirements.  Which… makes a certain amount of sense – a high school diploma, let alone a college degree, is a certification of sorts, and I (personally) think the problem inherent in giving certification to people who can’t actually do the required ‘work’ is… rather significant.

    The problem is that mb seems to be ignoring the root problems (people are being denied opportunity to to Privilege, and those who don’t make the qualification can’t really survive with any kind of comfort), and conflating ‘Equality of Opportunity over one’s (school) lifetime)’ with ‘Equality of Opportunity at the moment of sitting for the SAT’…

    I think mb is (deliberately) interpreting what you’re saying as ‘Both Sarahs should go to college’, rather than ‘Blue Sarah should not be so badly disadvantaged as the result of circumstance’ (or specifically, because it’s impossible for her family to find a good job).

    How to actually achieve the latter result is a more difficult case…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Did you also notice mb used the code words “equality of outcome”? M-O-O-N, that spells right-wing dogma.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Yeah.  To refer to the Blond-Jump test upthread, ‘equality of outcome’ is a way to equivocate any attempt at balancing the system so that more people get a positive result…  (i.e. stop kneecapping people, or option D) which is a kind of ‘equality of outcome’ – hence equivocation – with ‘bias the scoring so that everyone passes ‘, or option A, which, as I was badly trying to argue in my previous post, is really a kind of bad idea.  (There’s something to be said for ‘bias the scoring to counteract an existing arbitrary (not related to any actual discrepancy in results) bias’, but also kind of… mangled.

    But yeah, I’ve never seen a progressive use the phrase ‘equality of outcome’… maybe it’d be accurate to say what we want is Equality of Opportunity (not just ‘equality of testing’) and Adequacy of Outcome.

  • P J Evans

    The better schools and the private tutors and the more enriching home
    environment are all products of the higher household bank balance and
    say nothing about whether kids with higher household bank balances are
    better suited to education than kids with lower household bank balances.

    Examples: G W Bush. Mitt Romney. Luke Russert, and about half the other political commentators on TV and in newspapers.

  • Maniraptor

    Speaking as someone who did pretty well on the SAT, as this seems to be a requirement for you, if you think that the stuff tested for in the SAT has any resemblance to higher education or indeed any sort of meaningful thought process at all, you might be unsuited for college yourself.

  • P J Evans

     Yeah, because the version I got was all multiple-guess questions. If you had a reasonable knowledge of the area the questions were in, you had a much better chance of getting a higher score, but you had to have enough understanding to apply that knowledge.
    (Teaching to the test doesn’t get that understanding across.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One thing I wish more people were taught is that exam-taking is a skill in and of itself, mainly involving reading comprehension.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I stand by my assertion that doing badly on such a simple test is evidence that one is unsuited for higher education.

    As it happens, there’s a whole body of research about this done by expert professionals, not dudes on the internet. They have found that standardised test scores are not a great predictor of how well one will do in higher education.

  • Lori

     

    I stand by my assertion that doing badly on such a simple test is evidence that one is unsuited for higher education.   

    You can stand next to it all you want, but your assertion is still false. You clearly think pretty highly of your own intelligence, and that may be justified in an IQ sense, but when it comes to practical application you don’t have it.

  • The_L1985

    Dude, I made a 1540 on the SAT, before they added the writing section.  Which means that I missed a grand total of 3 questions on the entire thing.  (One was on finding the area of a kite, which I hadn’t done since 9th grade.  One was in the English section, which still baffles me, as grammar has always been a pretty easy subject for me.  The other was a math question, which I couldn’t believe at the time I’d forgotten how to solve.  I don’t remember what that question is anymore.)

    I still flunked out of the first college I went to, during the first semester, and changed majors twice before I finally got my BS.  Total time elapsed between HS graduation and attainment of BS: 6 years, including full-time classes during all summer terms.

    Classes I failed:

    – Linear Algebra, twice.  (First for a computer-engineering degree, then again for a math degree.  I did eventually end up passing, but only because my third prof let us use graphing calculators.)

    – Intro to Circuits.  (Computer engineering again.)

    – My 2nd class programming with C++.  (It had been a year since I’d taken the 101 class, and I’d foolishly sold back the books, assuming that the 102 book would have some sort of handy reference guide to the syntax covered in the earlier levels.  It didn’t.  I aced the conceptual class, but failed to complete a single lab assignment.)

    – This stupid “you have to go to our school’s chapel for course credit” thing at my first college, which was required in order to remain enrolled, and which pissed me off.  (I was still Christian at the time, and drove for a full hour each way to the nearest Catholic church every single Sunday, but they didn’t count that as “going to church” because they couldn’t monitor it.  To me, that defeats the entire purpose of going to church.)

    SATs don’t mean jack squat about whether or not you can do well in college.  All they determine is whether you have decent grammatical and algebraic ability and can bubble in a Scantron correctly. Nobody outside of K-12 uses Scantron. NOBODY.

    We shouldn’t be preparing minorities for taking a bullshit test that proves NOTHING. We should be preparing them for whatever future they choose, and we’re not offering them that choice.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    My colleges used Scantron.  Both of them.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    *cough*

    Actually my uni’s chemistry classes routinely use Scantron cards for multiple choice exams in first year because of the high volume of students, with minor exceptions such as in one class where the professor decided against using Scantrons in favor of hand marking exams. The class size was small enough to allow doing this in a reasonable amount of time.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Well, there’s other possibilities.
     
    Suppose we test everyone in the country for their ability to do a standing broad jump, and on the day before the test I go around to every blond in the country and break their ankle with a hammer.

    Blonds will do worse on the Broad Jump Test than everyone else.

    One might conclude from this that the BJT is biased against blonds and needs to be modified, perhaps by changing the scoring so roughly the same percentage of blonds pass it as non-blonds.
    One might instead (mistakenly) conclude from this that blonds are innately inferior, and devote one’s career to looking for genetic or cultural or early-environmental influences that explain this inferiority.
    One might (accurately) conclude from this that blonds are _at this moment_ inferior, and (either callously or incuriously) not care how they got that way.
    One might (accurately) conclude from this that regardless of the BJT the overall *system* (which includes me and my hammer) is biased against blonds.

    Of course, I’m not suggesting that there’s one guy going around the country breaking the SAT-muscles of poor performers with a hammer the day before the SATs.

    Still, if I note that group A consistently performs worse than group B on the SATs, I might conclude that the SATs are biased, or I might conclude that group A is innately inferior, as you suggest.
    Or I might conclude that group A is at this moment inferior and not care how they got that way.
    Or I might conclude that my society as a whole is biased in a way that impairs group A’s performance.

    The most important difference between the first and last theory is that the first suggests that intervening by changing the SATs will have useful results, whereas the last one suggests that manipulating the SATs will be as useful as changing the way we score broad jumps, and that to get useful results we need to change the environment in which we raise and educate our kids.

    Of course, changing the environment is hard.

  • The_L1985

    What if the only “flaw” is extreme test anxiety?  Let’s face it, if you set a kid down in front of a Scantron sheet and say, “What you write on this piece of paper will affect everything for the rest of your life,” half of them will just flat-out PANIC and not be able to focus.  Some of these students are brilliant; some of them could still do very well in college.  Standardized-test-taking ability is not academic ability.  It is a totally separate “skill” with extremely limited applications, and is completely, 100% worthless after high school.

    And again, I made a 1540 without having anything remotely resembling study skills at all.  I crashed and burned when I got to college, because I’d coasted through my entire K-12 education on an unusually good memory.  In college, memorizing isn’t enough; you have to actively figure things out and solve problems.  High-scorers on the SAT aren’t necessarily good at that sort of active problem-solving; I wasn’t for at least the first 2 years of college.

    I made it through college for two, somewhat closely-related reasons:
    – I was determined to have a degree in something useful so I could be financially self-sufficient.  Enough other women in my family had been trapped for various periods of time in bad marriages that I was determined not to have that same problem.
    – My parents were wealthy enough to pay my tuition up front.  If I’d had to pay student loans, I would not be self-sufficient now, or probably EVER.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s not illegal for poor kids to go to good schools, is it? Tada! Equality of opportunity!

  • Tricksterson

    Just as it is illegal for both a poor man and a rich man to sleep under a bridge or on a park bench?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Exactly. Negative freedom is the only freedom. As long as there are no laws forcing you to do or not do things, you’re golden. As I understand it from libertarians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I think that’s why it appeals so much to young upper-middle class white men in the United States, among other places. If you’re relatively free from de facto institutional discrimination, the only things that restricts your opportunities or impairs your liberties are the hard, carved-in-stone laws that apply to everyone.   

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     Correct, because only negative freedoms can be guaranteed in all circumstances.  Positive freedoms require other conditions to obtain.  Since those conditions cannot be guaranteed, then there can be no such things as positive freedoms.

    (It just struck me that the right of a well-regulated militia to bear arms just might be a positive freedom.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I’m probably going to regret asking this, but my curiosity is overcoming my better judgment: why does it matter whether a freedom can be guaranteed?

  • Baby_Raptor

    What good is having a right/freedom in name only? 

    If you technically have the freedom to, say…Eat pretzels, according to the Constitution, but then a shadowy group from the government bought by Pringles comes along and makes sure that nobody anywhere can ever find pretzels to eat, do you really have that freedom? 

    Silly example, but I think it gets the point across. Rights/freedoms are only really rights/freedoms if you can actually live them. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    (shrug) Sure, if I can never do X, as in your example, then saying I’m free to do X is kind of meaningless.

    But that has nothing to do with the question I asked GE&H, which was about the importance of guarantees.

    Even if I’m not guaranteed to have access to pretzels when I want them, it still matters whether I’m free to eat pretzels when they are available.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Also, thinking about this some more… your equating of rights with freedoms is, I think, flawed. Agreeing on rights has consequences beyond individual freedoms.

    For example, if we agree that I have a right to X, or that I don’t, such an agreement will help shape the kinds of research we do, the kinds of policies we support, the way we structure our society, and all of that in turn affects the chance that I’ll have access to X in the future.

    Rights are idealizations we only asymptotically approach in practice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    I believe that the classic example of what you’re getting at here is “[s]uppose you agree that he can’t actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody’s fault, not even the Romans’, but that he can have the right to have babies.”

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     My response to this is much the same as in my earlier comment: agreement on rights has consequences beyond individual freedoms.

    If I have the right to have babies, despite being male, I’m still not free to have babies. That’s certainly true.

    But if we establish the principle that men have the right to have babies, that changes the way we react as a society when it becomes possible for men to have babies, and it changes the ways we interact with that possibility today.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     Remembering back to my conservative days, a freedom or right (they often conflate the two) must be, at least theoretically,  deliverable at all times for it to be a right. 

    There can be no human right to clean, safe drinking water, because clean, safe drinking water cannot always be delivered to people at all times.

    For something to be a right, I must be able to demand that I always get it (at least when I want to exercise that right.)

    So negative rights work.  I can demand that you butt out of my business.  You can easily refrain from restricting my free speech, for example.

    Positive rights don’t work because they require a number of intervening features like a robust civilization, which cannot be guaranteed.

    I certainly am not doing justice to the conservative view of negative and positive rights.  It’s been a long time since I thought that way.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So how do they propose to ensure clean safe drinking water for everyone in the situations when it is (or can be made) available in sufficient quantity?

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     They don’t.   There is no free lunch.  There is no obligation that clean, safe drinking water must be provided, even if it is available.  Even if it is widely and trivially available. 

    It’s been a long time since I read Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia.  Nozick was a top flight libertarian philosopher at one of the Ivy League schools, for those that don’t know.  He was a far more potent thinker than Ayn Rand.

    Since there is a great need for clean, safe drinking water, some fine, upstanding entrepreneur will figure out how to provide it to the masses.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So basically it sucks to be someone who can’t afford to pay whatever the water providers care to charge, and it sucks worse if there’s only one water provider who can consequently charge anything they like.

    I am not down with any political philosophy that reinforces the kyriarchy.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     Agreed.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Ah, I see what you mean.
    Yeah, this seems like a silly model to me, but it’s cogent.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     For something to be a right, I must be able to demand that I always get it (at least when I want to exercise that right.)

    You can DEMAND any fool thing you want.

    Doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     True, this is why they will accept social contract theory, but only the barest of social contract theory.    It allows them to kick start the idea that rights have power to effect behaviour in others because the social contract generates a set of rights and reciprocal obligations.

    But their whole social contract is based on the idea of withholding, instead of cooperation or generosity.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s the point that the conservative voices whose opinion Green’s relaying are trying to make, I think. There can’t be a right to two thousand calories per person per day if the world population is seven billion people and the world food production is less than 2000 * 365 * 7B calories per year, or if the world makes enough food but distribution’s fucked.

    Why these people think the appropriate solution is to declare that people are not entitled to two thousand calories a day by reason of needing to stay alive, rather than to make sure world food production is sufficient (and population increase isn’t outpacing food production) and food distribution is not fucked, I do not know.

  • P J Evans

     Maybe they think everyone else is a game-generated character. I don’t know; it’s like they can’t, either as individuals or in groups, really see others as real.

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    That’s exactly right, and I think it reflects a Panglossian view of the world wherein, if things are a certain way, they’re that way for a reason, therefore all is well. If a person is living in poverty, they must somehow deserve it, so there’s no need to give them assistance, except in the form of individual largesse that can be withdrawn at any time.

    It’s a much easier worldview to hold when the status quo favors you rather heavily, I imagine. I doubt the Jewish pogrom victims in Candide felt like they were living in the “best of all possible worlds.”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Thanks for explaining; I hadn’t come across this before.

    Since the *only* thing that can be guaranteed in life is that one day you will die, it seems to me that this philosophy supports the right to death, and nothing else.

  • EllieMurasaki

    …isn’t it conservatives who are most vehemently against physician-assisted suicide?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s not a right to determine your own death, just that you will get one.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I have to admit it–I can’t tell if you’re joining in with my sarcasm or being straight.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     Sorry, joining your sarcasm.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Speaking of benches.

    I’ve brought this up before, but I think it bears repeating.

    For many years in Canada and the USA it was de facto accepted that homeless people should be able to sleep on bus stop benches when transit is slow/not running (that is, at night).

    In the last twenty years, however, there’s been a movement to purposely create bus stop benches that are inconvenient to lie down on.

    I just can’t get over the douchebaggy pettiness of this kind of maneuver. What person purposely sits down and says “How can I design something to inconvenience a person who already has so little?”

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    What person purposely sits down and says “How can I design something to inconvenience a person who already has so little?”

    A person who wants those people to go away.

  • Tricksterson

    Hee, the latest “Questionable Content” is a guest strip which mentions a villain named “Doctor Heteronormative”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    You might know this perfectly well already, but the name is most certainly also a joke on the Girl Genius heroine’s family name of “Heterodyne”.

  • Tricksterson

    Probably but it’s also a callback to a much earlier strip where a character who is a redneck drunkard who is also secretly a very popular writer of romance novels comes across the word and notes that it would make a great cvharacter name.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Ah, I remember the redneck romance author character now, but not that particular reference.  To the Bat-archives!

  • Andrew Galley

    I’m also unclear about why guarantability matters with respect to articulating someone’s rights under a social contract. Even negative freedoms can only be guaranteed to the degree that the social contract persists. And positive freedoms (“freedom from hunger” as a good example) weren’t abandoned by societies that cleaved to them, such as basically all foraging societies, just  because sometimes scarcity of resources made it impossible to realize.

    I mean, if one is a libertarian, presumably one feels that one’s right to property is badly compromised in any modern society; if something can be compromised or eliminated by the power entrusted to preserve it, how is it “guarantiable”? Even a libertarian state would always be in “danger” of sliding into something else.

  • MaryKaye

    A local business district hired someone to go round at 5 am and spray homeless people sleeping on business doorsteps with water.  The word used for this was “disruptive maintenance.”  I think this is indeed about wanting them to go away, or die or something–anything to keep us from having to deal with them.

    I would boycott the businesses involved if I could figure out which ones they were.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Hell doesn’t really feature in my personal theology, but I tell you what–that behavior would get you sent to hell. My God!

  • http://www.metagalacticllamas.com/ Triplanetary

    I’ve done the math for you.  $7.25/hr * 40 hr/wk * 52 weeks in a year = $15,080/year.  You can’t survive on that.

    And that’s before taxes.

    (In before some conservative replies, “But minimum wage earners don’t pay taxes!” And then we have to have yet another lesson in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and all those other things Republicans pretend not to know about when it suits them.)

  • The_L1985

     Even if they didn’t pay any taxes at all, they still wouldn’t be able to survive on that.  Rent and utilities would eat up almost every dollar before you even got to food and basic clothing.  And bear in mind, I’m assuming the basics: electricity, plumbing, heating and air, MAYBE a washer/drier if there isn’t a laundromat in the area, and MAYBE a cheap, pay-as-you-go cell phone for emergencies (forget about cable TV, Internet access that isn’t your local library, or a landline phone).

  • EllieMurasaki

    And minimum wage earners might have, post-refund, paid zero taxes, but withheld taxes is money not available in the paycheck it was earned in.

  • banancat

    Ok, I’m just gonna call a duck a duck. Mb is racist. She or he believes white people as a group are inherently smarter and nobody will have any success at convincing them otherwise. At this point mb is clearly concern trolling and JAQing off.

  • mb

    I think you’re right that I got carried away. I need some time off, beginning now. Still, I deny that I believe that “white people as a group are inherently smarter”.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One thing people who know statistics should do is discuss if SAT scores show bimodal distributions, which reveal systematic bias to part of the data set for which a cause can’t be assigned unless known. Alternatively it arises when you combine two different populations into the same data set for which different controlling factors exist for each.

    By analogy to the guy-with-a-hammer secretly sabotaging all blond peoples’ jump scores, the bimodal distribution in the jump-score set should show up like a sore thumb. But unless the cause for the systematic bias is known, all kinds of ass-pull guesses can arise.

    And in real life, if SAT and IQ scores show bimodal distributions, using such results to assign inferiority to the lower-scorers instead of looking for social and economic biases can be a very tempting thing to do since it offers an immediate get-out clause to the hard work of creating an actual equality-of-opportunity society.

    Oh, aren’t Republicans supposed to be all about the ~virtue of working hard~?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    One thing I wish more people were taught is that exam-taking is a skill in and of itself, mainly involving reading comprehension.

    Also familiarity with the way exam questions are structured, the best way of structuring answers, and identifying the critical nuances between options in multiple choice questions. It’s called being testwise.

    I taught university science courses, and had lots of students who did exceptionally well on exams in first and second year, where sheer hard work to memorise great volumes of facts pays off. Many of those students fell back to average or below average in third and Honours years when their marks were more dependent on critical thinking, insight, and oral and written communication.

    Now I regularly sit on selection panels where a science degree is the minimum entry requirement. I’m not that interested in a candidate’s degree average, and I’m less impressed by someone who got straight HDs in first year than someone who got Ds in third year. Once they make the cut for interview I don’t care about their academic results at all. Some of the worst interview performances I’ve ever seen have come from people who performed exceptionally well at uni but showed no evidence of having translated their education into skills.

  • Lori

     

    Also familiarity with the way exam questions are structured, the best
    way of structuring answers, and identifying the critical nuances between
    options in multiple choice questions. It’s called being testwise.   

    I tutored a classmate for her 2nd attempt at the LSAT. I had several classes with her and knew for a fact that she was smart, but her first score was dismal on her first try was dismal. I can still clearly remember going over an incorrect answer on her first practice test and casually pointing out that one of the choices clearly couldn’t be the correct answer because it wasn’t grammatically correct in combination with the question. That had never occurred to her. It wasn’t because she was unsuited to higher education, it was because there’s a certain way you have to look at the test and that didn’t come naturally to her. (Her score went way up when she retook the test and she got into law school and did very well there. She was a returning student and 15 or 20 years older than I, so I imagine she’s retired by now, but I have no reason to think that she didn’t do well as an attorney.)

  • Rhubarbarian82

    If memory serves, I got a 1460 on my SAT and that number has been completely and utterly irrelevant the rest of my life. If anything, the skills high school taught me (go to class on time, finish your homework) worked against me in college, because I was busy doing work for junky general ed classes, like a good student, while classmates of mine were focusing on the work that was going in their portfolios and getting them jobs. Fortunately, I realized this soon enough to change in time for my third and fourth years.

  • Lori

    IDK about the SAT, but the LSAT and the GRE are now administered by computer and no longer use Scatrons. The switch required some important modifications of test-taking strategy*. As noted earlier, test taking is its own skill and when they change the rules you have to learn to adapt. Being smart doesn’t mean that the necessary changes will automatically be obvious and easy.

    *IMO the two most important changes are:

    -You can’t skip a question and go back to it later. That requires that you change your strategy for when and how to just take a flyer and guess

    -The test adapts to you, rather than being a fixed set of questions. Everyone starts out with a certain number of questions that most, but not all people will get correct. If you answer correctly the degree of difficulty goes up, if you answer wrong it goes down. That means that you can tell roughly how well you’re doing based on the questions that you’re given.  That means that you’re fighting a completely different level of test anxiety, especially if you get off to kind of a rough start. You also need to be able to incorporate that feedback on the fly, which is actually pretty tricky to do.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ooh, that sounds interesting! I got a buzz out of taking tests (*nerd alert*) so would kind of like to try one of those computerised ones just to see how it feels.

    ——————-

    In case there are high school students reading this comment thread, let me reiterate: a standardised test score at the end of high school does not rule your life.

    If you get a high score, that’s nice but it doesn’t mean you’re set forever–and if you expect people to be impressed by it a few years later, you’re in for disappointment. I don’t know about America, but in Australia it’s considered pretty dorky to ever bring it up if you’ve completed any higher education. You don’t even put it on your cv. If you had a brilliant high school career it’s sad to have to drop it off your cv altogether but there you go. I recruit people for high status jobs–permanent, white collar, above average pay and conditions–we don’t care how awesome you were in high school; we want to know that you have the skills we need.

    On the flip side, if you didn’t get a high score don’t let anyone convince you that your life is over. There are many different paths to a happy, meaningful life, not just the one that you have pictured at 17 (or the one that someone else has pictured for you). Even if you’re deadset on going to uni, there’s more than one way for that to happen. When I was doing my PhD there was a fellow student who failed Year 12 (dramatically)–it just wasn’t a good time for him. He took some time off, worked a bit, retook his Year 12 exams through TAFE and entered uni as a mature age student. Now he has a PhD and is a medical scientist–a guy who was in the bottom 10% of his grade in Year 12.

    Every now and then I hear a tragic story of some teenager who’s killed themselves because of the pressure to get high marks at high school. It’s a good thing to study, put in a lot of effort and do your very best. It’s not a good thing to let people believe that if they don’t score highly on a particular test they’ll die poor and alone.

  • Lori

    Ooh, that sounds interesting! I got a buzz out of taking tests (*nerd alert*) so would kind of like to try one of those computerised ones just
    to see how it feels.   

    I have that too. I sort of hated everything else about applying to grad school, but I loved taking the GRE. I just didn’t tell most people that because  enough people already think I’m a weirdo.

    Based on having done as well as it’s possible to do on the verbal and not anywhere close to that well on the math, the adaptive feature is the best thing ever if you’re doing well and really tough when you’re not. I think I now I have some idea how mice feel when they run those mazes and either get food pellets or shocks.


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