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Crimson but unembarrassed

It appears that the result of Larry Summers' rather unadventurous but still non-PC comments on women's tendency to avoid the hard sciences is that Harvard will have feminist victimologist Drew Gilpin Faust as president. Some thoughts:

  • Once those in power have started lying about fundamental political issues it's hard to stop. If you insist on the truth of obvious falsehoods, like the claim that there are no differences in aptitude or attitude that would cause different levels of achievement for different kinds of people in different fields, so all disparities in representation must be the result of irrational discrimination, and you make that insistence the basis of a claim that you have the right to tell everyone else what to do, because they're all a bunch of ignorant bigots whose views have no legitimacy, there's really no way to reverse yourself. You have to follow through to the bitter end, and the more resources you have the farther you'll end up going.
  • I seem to recall a survey of recent wars that showed that the side with the fanciest uniforms always loses. Something similar holds for the other professions, I think, even though you get clearer results faster in the wartime military. The huge amounts of money that go into higher education, the immense power of institutional expertise, the numbers of people involved, and the careerist orientation of present-day life all mean that at a place like Harvard Veritas can't really be the issue. Concern with truth though is the only rational basis for their claim to special consideration. Institutionally, they've got a problem.
  • In a sense the expected appointment is good news for people like me, who have no academic or other formal status but still want to comment on grand issues. The people officially charged with dealing with such things, on some level, are evidently incompetent. It Really Is True that any Joe off the street can, on fundamental issues, outdo the collective institutional wisdom of Harvard University. So if any Tom, Dick or Harry can do it, why can't I (so prompts vanity) do even better?

    Comments

    Your post reminded me of Voegelin's comment about the American university system, and its paradox: the bigger and more wealthy a nation, the more likely it will create the conditions in which mediocrity flourishes:

    "Educational idealism and economic wealth permit in this country the maintenance of an extraordinarily large number of universities. Scholars of outstanding quality, however, are rare, and cannot be multiplied by wealth. Considering the number of universities and colleges, on the one hand; and the number of outstanding scholars that will be thrown up by [the nation] on the other hand; the result must be inevitably a rather thin spread of scholarship over the academic surface.

    This seems to be a hard fact about which nothing can be done. If you then consider that among the academic personnel of not so out- standing scholarly qualities, there are great numbers of intelligent, industrious, ambitious, promotorial men who want to justify their professional existence by playing at science though science is not a virtue in their souls (in the Aristotelian sense); if you, furthermore, consider that this country is wealthy enough to provide, through foundations, private gifts, and state-governments, the necessary play-things for such men. . . the result will be unhappy. "

    http://www.fritzwagner.com/ev/flourishing_of_positivist_mediocrities.html

    One would think, however, that Harvard, by virtue of its prestige and wealth, could, if it wanted to, escape these consequences, and simply hire the "best," and avoid the mediocrities.

    Harvard certainly could blaze its own trail---it has $29 billion in the bank - but it lacks the courage. In contrast, the Nobel Foundation has given a lower percentage of hard science Nobels to women since 1965 that it did from 1901 to 1964. It could be politically correct and give some to undeserving women, but it just doesn't care, and because of the great "Nobel" brand name, it doesn't have to care. The same is true for Harvard, but it lacks the moral courage.

    The Nobel Foundation does one thing once a year. It announces a list of names and puts on a ceremony. Harvard involves the daily cooperation of thousands of people doing thousands of things. It relies much more on the cooperation and support of other institutions. Even with $29 billion it's nice to get government money and contracts. Also, Harvard has many more competitors than the Nobel Foundation. So it's naturally much more susceptible to political pressure.

    Rem tene, verba sequentur.

    Rem tene, verba sequentur.