On the meritocracy front… I'm currently reading The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge, and it's great. So good, in fact, that my ears prick up (figuratively) for articles like Jeff Maurer's: Merit is Meaningless.
Next week, I’ll publish a column arguing that meritocracy is good. I’ll argue that the recent trend towards rolling one’s eyes at meritocracy is bad, and that meritocracy is something a just society should want. But first, I need to write this column, in which I argue that merit is a meaningless concept that should be ignored in every context except for one.
That might seem contradictory, and maybe it is. Maybe I’m getting so far up my own ass with semantic distinctions that this column is basically a self-colonoscopy. Nonetheless, I see a big difference between saying that merit is a useful concept — which I think it is — and saying that it’s a meaningful concept, which I think it isn’t. The debate over meritocracy often seems to be pro-merit people arguing that the concept is useful versus anti-merit people arguing that it’s meaningless. As is so often the case in American politics, both sides are sort of right, both sides are speaking past each other, and both badly need to shut the fuck up.
Well, I hope you survived Jeff's F-bomb. The useful-vs-meaningful distinction is an interesting one. Check out his argument.
I'll go into slightly more detail when I report on the Wooldridge book later this month, but right now my insight is limited to something pretty trivial: the problem with "meritocracy" is the "-cracy" suffix: that people should have more coercive power over others according to whatever quality comes before that dreaded -cracy.
Teaching kids how to read might help. Frederick M. Hess and Hayley Sanon observe that Educators Have Lost the Public’s Trust and wonder how can they get it back.
Educators sense the skepticism and know that it has real implications. Jay Wamsted, a middle school math teacher from Atlanta, recently penned a much-discussed essay for Education Week fretting that the lack of trust and the ensuing policy fights make teaching more difficult. Wamsted argues, “We need to grant our teachers freedom to answer questions” without his feeling compelled to “choose between my students’ education or my own job security.” Wamsted is right to note that complex issues inevitably arise in the course of schooling and that good teachers want and need the ability to address these in thoughtful, responsible ways.
But the problem is that many parents don’t trust all educators to do just that. While education leaders like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten have blamed right-wing “extremists” for undermining public support through a campaign of “lies, smears, and distortions,” the inconvenient fact is that there are educators out there publicly bragging about their efforts to infuse their dogmas into school practices and policy.
Hess and Sanon cite the Project Veritas videos which (if you haven't heard) are "troubling", because they show educrats "talking frankly about how they promote ideological agendas at school." They suggest that Step One for educators looking to regain trust would be for them to clearly denounce such statements.
So far, that hasn't happened. Not holding my breath.
Also having trust issues… are the mainstream media. Jerry Coyne has his take on the Jesse Singal article we discussed here yesterday. His theory: NYT and other media fall for a hoax because it matched their ideology. His thoughts:
This is typical of what happens when a campus “hate crime” is revealed as a hoax—as a substantial proportion of them are. I suggest having a look at Wilfred Reilly’s book, Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War. (Reilly, by the way, is black.) I’ve read it, and the stories he tells are dire. I can’t remember the proportion of campus hate crimes or hate “incidents” that turn out to be fake (usually perpetuated by a member of the minority group that was a victim of the fabricated “hate”), but it’s substantial.
What’s telling is what these incidents have in common after they’re revealed as hoaxes. The perpetrators are often not punished, even when they’re caught; the fact that the hate crime or incident was a hoax is not revealed to the college community (this is bad, because it perpetrates the idea that racism is prevalent on campus); these hoaxes happen everywhere, and, after the “crime” is revealed as a hoax, the schools nevertheless continue to insist that it could have been real because racism is everywhere. Finally, the colleges even put in place new antiracist initiatives—simply to show that they’re doing something, even in the face of a hoax. These colleges, like the newspapers, have a substantial ideological investment in perpetrating the idea that racism is ubiquitous.
An interesting sidelight: the too-good-to-check hoax was revealed by a small (conservative) student paper at Brigham Young. Because they took the time to do the job the New York Times and others didn't feel like doing.
Chuck Schumer thanks New Hampshire GOP primary voters. As I type, FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 71% chance of controlling the Senate come 2023. At National Review, Fred Bauer describes How Destabilizing a Post-Nuclear Senate Could Be. That refers to the fact that if the Ds have a net gain of two seats, "nuking" the legislative filibuster would be probable.
Nuking the filibuster could also have broader constitutional effects by dramatically affecting the balance of power in the federal government. A post-nuclear Congress could decide to pack the Supreme Court on a narrow, party-line vote. Civil-service protections could also be revised by only the slimmest of partisan majorities, with significant implications for the federal bureaucracy.
Other than Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, every incumbent Democratic senator is on board with the nuclear option. In January, Michael Bennet, Catherine Cortez Masto, Maggie Hassan, Mark Kelly, and Raphael Warnock (all up for reelection in November) all voted to exercise the nuclear option on the legislative filibuster. Senate challengers Mandela Barnes, Val Demmings, John Fetterman, and Tim Ryan have also said that the filibuster should be scrapped. In Utah, independent Senate candidate Evan McMulllin (who is supported by the state’s Democratic Party) says at the moment that he only supports certain reforms to the filibuster — but his campaign did not respond to a request for comment about whether McMullin would support the nuclear option or not.
I'm letting my WIRED subscription lapse. There's just too much left-wing navel-gazing. But (I must admit) there are some things I'll miss, things like this Steven Levy article: Neal Stephenson Named the Metaverse. Now, He’s Building It.
Neal Stephenson invented the metaverse. At least from an imagination standpoint. Though other science fiction writers had similar ideas—and the pioneers of VR were already building artificial worlds—Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash not only fleshed out the vision of escaping to a place where digital displaced the physical, it also gave it a name. That book cemented him as a major writer, and since then he’s had huge success. But late last year, Stephenson’s ambient, persistent and immersive alt-reality suddenly became known as the next step in computing. “Metaverse” became a buzz word, and Big Tech raced to productize it. Most notably, Facebook, spending billions on its Reality Labs, renamed itself Meta. Everyone from Microsoft to Amazon was suddenly coming up with a metaverse strategy, even though the technologies that might make it happen are still out of our grasp.
At the time, Stephenson was publicizing his most recent novel, with a theme involving climate engineering. “That turned into the ‘Neal, how do you feel about the Metaverse?’ book tour,” says Stephenson. The answers Stephenson provided to that question were a mix of bemusement or, as a WIRED writer noted, disgust. For one thing, the metaverse according to Snow Crash was a somewhat dystopian locale, a fact ignored by the companies telling us that it will be a great place to live. And seeing his fictional creation colonized by profit-seeking growth-greedy goliaths wasn’t fun.
Well, you see what I mean about the left-wing navel-gazing there at the end. Anyway, the Neal news is that he's co-founding LAMINA1, which is described as "the base layer for the Open Metaverse". (I.e., something uncontrolled by Zuck.)
And he's doing this instead of writing a new novel. I have mixed feelings about that.