We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Bright College Days: Part I

2nd February 2018

Read it.

I don’t expect you to have read Bryan Caplan’s new book, The Case Against Education, although it would be helpful if you had at least heard about it (which you will have done did you frequent the rightish side of the Force as I regularly do).

Caplan is one of the more eccentric members of George Mason University’s thoroughly libertarian Economics Department, and loves to take unexpected positions on various issues; his The Myth of the Rational Voter and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids are well worth attention.

This article at West Hunter is an interesting review and response to Caplan’s  book.

He dismisses objections from educational psychologists who claim that studying a subject improves you in subtle ways even after you forget all of it. I too find that hard to believe. On the other hand, it looks to me as if poorly-digested fragments of information picked up in college have some effect on public policy later in life: it is no coincidence that most prominent people in public life (at a given moment) share a lot of the same ideas. People are vaguely remembering the same crap from the same sources, or related sources. It’s correlated crap, which has a much stronger effect than random crap.

That matches my experience.

These widespread new ideas are usually wrong. They come from somewhere – in part, from higher education. Along this line, Caplan thinks that college has only a weak ideological effect on students. I don’t believe he is correct. In part, this is because most people use a shifting standard: what’s liberal or conservative gets redefined over time. At any given time a population is roughly half left and half right – but the content of those labels changes a lot. There’s a shift.

I think it’s deeper than that. I have long maintained the there is no such thing as ‘conservatism’ or ‘liberalism’, because those terms describe aspects of personality, not concrete political views; what constitutes ‘conservatism’ especially changes depending on what point in human history is being dealt with. (The case of ‘liberalism’ is somewhat stronger, because in modern times that equates to ‘progressivism’, which does have a concrete political viewpoint that doesn’t change with time, but if  you wander outside post-1960s North America it reverts to being relative.)

I think the fraction of the population that believed in butt-kicking babes was lower in 1920: probably less than 1%, with most of those believers suffering from tertiary syphilis. What changed? At the root, most of the change must stem from professor-types. There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them. Many of those absurd ideas now have wide currency.

Can’t disagree with that. We all want to believe that Black Widow exists, but deep in our hearts we know that it’s as much of a fantasy as Thor.

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