Draft rant about how Lao-tze was right

The more organized knowledge becomes the less people know. Formal studies are good for some things. Even football coaches have chalk talks, which are a kind of formal instruction. There are limits though. You don’t become a good cook from food science or a good teacher by studying teaching.

When knowledge is over-organized what counts as knowledge comes from procedures that exclude the ways we actually know things, like common sense and personal experience. Only a few people are allowed to know things so most of us know nothing. Besides, a formal system that lets functionaries decide what’s true means they look at their own interests in doing so. Social scientists and psychologists sell their goods to the social policy and therapy industries. How often do they say it would be better to downsize those industries and let people live their own lives? Treating the experts as experts on that issue is like letting auto manufacturers decide what counts as true about cars.

Americans believe in education and expertise because we believe everything can be contrived. If we can put a man on the moon, we must be able to set up schools that will turn everyone into a good employee and citizen and make him happy to boot. Also, we theoretically don’t have a class structure, but we need one anyway, so we base ours mostly on education. If you’re a high-school dropout you’re a serf, if you have a Harvard degree you have a patent of nobility, if you’re an expert you’re the pope. Everyone thinks that’s OK. It’s illegal even to consider IQ tests when you’re hiring people but there’s no affirmative action for the uncertified.

There’s probably no solution, because after all you’d have to ask the experts what the solution should be, and they’re not going to do themselves out of a job. Still, civil rights trumps everything, so one obvious move would be to insist that the laws treat educational background the same way they treat raw talent (IQ), informal upbringing (cultural—i.e., ethnic—background) and proven performance in other settings (criminal record), as something that can’t even be taken into account except in unusual circumstances. Then at least we’d find out how seriously academics take equality as a human right.

11 thoughts on “Draft rant about how Lao-tze was right”

  1. A certain Professor Randall
    A certain Professor Randall at the Univ of Dayton Law School has proposed precisely what you describe.

    She claims the American legal profession is legal apartheid and therefore the structure of the profession should be changed from within to assure positions of authority to Blacks.

    These positions of authority begin with law school admissions. Professor Randall proposes that the LSAT be eliminated (actually outlawed) in the admissions process. (For the information of non-lawyers, the LSAT is the Law School Admissions Test, a standardized test that tests reading comprehension and analytical skills, and it’s used by law schools to evaluate applicants; most law school “average LSAT” scores are publicly available to potential applicants. Schools like Stanford and Yale have astronomical average LSAT scores, thereby eliminating the vast majority of law school applicants before they even begin. But, such schools have affirmative action programs to bring in lower-scoring minorities.)

    As Athena Kerry observes in her VDare article on Prof. Randall:

    “For the last two years, Professor Vernellia Randall (email her here) has produced The Whitest Law Schools Report. She not only ranks the “best” and “worst” law schools in terms of diversity, but also attacks “excess whiteness” in the profession of law and the institutional racism of the LSAT.”


    More from Kerry’s article on the elimination of testing:

    “And she’s getting down to business. On March 2, Randall’s Coalition for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Law School and the Legal Profession drew up a proposal for challenging the use of the LSAT, which they will bring before the American Bar Association committee in June. If it passes, law schools will be prohibited from relying on the LSAT, because of the “disparate impact” the test seems to have on minorities. The coalition demands that law school admissions boards practice racial preference, even if it breaks the law. (To see a discussion of this and other diversity standards in law schools, see here.)”

    I suppose the final result of this type of proposal is that credentials of “expertise” will be handed out on the basis of racial criteria.

    Of course, within the last month, in California a judge has invalidated the California high school “exit exam,” on the grounds that its application is inequitable, because not all California highs schools are equal in quality. That case is going to the California Supreme Court.

    • Not my proposal
      Actually, my proposal is a bit different. Rather than have racial quotas for expertise credentials, treat expertise credentials the way IQ and arrest records are now treated under the civil rights laws, as something you generally can’t look at or take into account unless something unusual is true.

      As a compromise we could treat all these things the same way and maybe loosen up on the nondiscrimination requirement if law professors and the like think cracking down on expertise credential discrimination is a bad idea. The basic idea is that if discrimination is bad then various sorts of discrimination ought to be combatted equally. If you let one off the hook you should do the same for the others.

      I suppose you could also toss bureaucratic position discrimination into the mix. Subject discriminations (e.g., salary, perks, decisionmaking power) that are based on bureaucratic role to the same scrutiny discriminations get that are based on sex role. After all, the concern is presumably equality rather than burdening one type of arrangement (families) in favor of another (bureaucracies), so why not? The inequality’s the same after all.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • Perhaps this case is a
        Perhaps this case is a little closer to your proposal.

        It’s the story of Liliana Valenzuela, a graduate of Richmond High School in California, who wants to be a nurse, but can’t pass the exit exam from high school.

        Apparently, because she can’t speak English. California requires a 10th grade level of proficiency in English to graduate from high school (but only a 7th grade level of proficiency in mathematics).

        Then, how did she make it through 12 years of public education, with a 3.8 GPA?

        A high school diploma is an “expertise credential.” Should nursing schools ignore that credential in admitting applicants?

        Of course, the standardized tests for nursing school admission are in English. I suppose those should be ignored as well. The licensing tests to become a nurse, after completing nursing school, are in English as well. Another write-off.

        P.S. This is a case where the standardization demanded of modernity runs head-on into the ideology of liberal equality. I’ll bet on modernity in the long run.

        • Not really the same
          She still wants a formal credential, a nursing degree, so she can do something, but the whole idea is to treat credential discrimination like any other kind of discrimination. She should be suing those who employ people to look after the sick on the grounds that they shouldn’t demand a degree but should make their own decision what she can do based on her particular qualities and not on overbroad generalizations about what Mexicans, women, disabled people, people with low IQs, people with criminal records, and people who don’t happen to have acquired a piece of paper from some privileged bureaucracy can and can’t do. For some reason, the law leaves out the last item on the list at present and I’m asking why. Isn’t the status of undocumented workers a big civil rights issue?

          Rem tene, verba sequentur.

          • I see what you’re
            I see what you’re saying.

            It’s a radical idea, not least because it is directly adverse to: 1. the centralized, administrative liberal state; and 2. the general demands of modernity.

            Within modernity, human beings, particularly in the labor pool, are commodities, and must be standardized in some way. Once standardized, they are for the most part treated as interchangeable within the overall rationalized system.

            I see the credential system as part of the standardization process. Without that standardization, human beings must be treated as unique individuals with unique qualities, which is anathema to modern systems.

            As for undocumented workers, I see that case as analogous to Valenzuela’s case: they want the same “credentials” as everyone else, so they can become part of the larger system. Is there anyone arguing that undocumented workers should have the same claims as everyone else, while preserving their status as an undocumented worker? If that’s the case, why bother with a guest worker program?

            I interpret “out of the shadows” as the argument that undocumented workers must be made the same as everyone else, so they “fit” into the standardized systems of our economy (labor laws, unemployment insurance, withholding taxes, social security, medicare, etc.).

            It’s interesting that many corporate types prefer the “non-modern” solution, that is, illegal workers, so that the employer can opt out of the modern systems as well. This suggests a tension between the incentives of the market and our overall labor standardization system. It suggests, of course, that left to its own devices the market, at least in the area of labor, will quickly descend into the law of the jungle.

            Does a hospital for example prefer nurses who are cheap or nurses who are competent (i.e., credentialed)? How about the hospital’s insurance carrier? What view does it take?

          • Yes, the thought is that the
            Yes, the thought is that the egalitarianism now legally enforced isn’t really egalitarianism, it’s an attempt to destroy one type of social institution that relies on one type of inequality in favor of another. The only distinctions allowed to matter are market distinctions like ownership and money and bureaucratic distinctions like office and formal qualifications. Arrangements like the family that rely on other sorts of distinctions are in effect abolished as social institutions. They’re just private arrangements or hobbies with no social standing.

            So if you’d rather have a more complex world in which more distinctions are possible, because that kind of world would take more things into account and so be more intelligent and human, then one possibility at least in concept would be to say that you shouldn’t treat the different types of distinctions differently but should suppress bureaucratic distinctions no less than you suppress e.g. sexual distinctions—or rather give the same freedom to both.

            Interesting point about the actual preference in some parts of the market for undocumented workers. I suppose another example would be the preference of small businessmen like building contractors to keep things off the books. I don’t know if that’s exactly the law of the jungle though since it’s not force and fraud people want but escape from regulation and taxation. What one thinks of that depends I suppose on what one thinks of the regulatory etc. scheme. In general big business, which operates by formal procedures, is happier with such things than small business, which tends to wing it and look for particular opportunities in specific situations.

            Rem tene, verba sequentur.

          • OK, I’m catching on to
            OK, I’m catching on to your point.

            The liberal, bureaucratic system contains within itself certain inequalities (credentials, for example) that it validates as legitimate.

            Then, that same bureaucratic system operates to invalidate inequalities outside that system, like the family (which are deemed illegitimate).

            This leaves the formal, bureaucratic system as the single, legitimate social institution.

            So, this constitutes a structural internal contradiction within the liberal system, if one takes seriously the mandate of non-discrimination.

            I see your point, which is based on consistency and principle: take the principle of equality to its logical conclusion and turn it onto the enforcement class.

            I know what the enforcement class would say: the abolition of inequalities between the sexes, for example, is rational; the abolition of inequalities between the credentialed and the uncredentialed is irrational. This distinction reflects the prevailing civil theology.

            Another solution is simply repeal of all non-discrimintion laws, and dismantling the bureaucracy that supervises and enforces them.

          • Questioning the a priori
            The ultimate goal of course is to get rid of antidiscrimination laws or at least radically cut back on them. The immediate point of the argument though is to put the antidiscrimination principle in question, at least in the minds of some people, so it can be talked about. Right now it’s considered so obviously correct that it couldn’t ever be an issue. It’s an a priori truth of moral reason.

            Presumably the next step, once the point is made that the present system is technocratic and not egalitarian, and thus among other things a system of class rule that’s not nearly as rational as it claims, would be to point to ways in which e.g. sex roles are sometimes more humane and useful than endless credentialling as a basis for cooperation, and in which it would be more intelligent and moderate to allow a bit of each principle rather than trying to extirpate the one altogether and make the other absolute.

            Naturally the argument wouldn’t convince many people, but the first step is to convince at least some people that there are issues to be discussed. Right now there’s no discussion at all. (Other suggestions for getting the ball rolling would of course be welcome.)

            Rem tene, verba sequentur.

          • Your point about the
            Your point about the technocratic versus the egalitarian seems crucial. The technocrats/mandarins use the term “egalitarian” as the self-validating lever for their own power, or they use it as a self-evident principle for the exercise of coercive power.

            In general—following this class analysis—I see 3 classes: 1. the technocrats/mandarins/liberal aristocrats—the “disciplined minority” that has seized power, absolutely persuaded of their own righteousness; 2. the super-rich (this includes “corporate persons” and foundations); 3. the rest of us.

            Over the past 20 years, there has been a convergence between the first two classes, the liberal aristocrats and the super-rich. They play different roles, but the real power lies with the rich, and they are essentially unprincipled and will seek to side with the “winners” or with “history” and, in the end, seek banal bourgeois approval from their ideological masters. They are analogous to the right-wing German industrialists who sold out to Hitler. They will, however, switch sides in a heartbeat on the right terms.

            Questioning the legitimacy of the liberal aristocrats, using their own principle of egalitarianism, seems an interesting idea.

          • Assumptions
            I see two assumptions implicit within the validation of the technocrats’ exercise of power:

            1. Those in possession of “knowledge” have the right to rule coercively, and in fact hold the power to define what “knowledge” is, a definition to which the rest of us must submit.

            2. Those who possess the correct moral formula have the right to use governmental power to coerce the unwashed masses into compliance, and also hold the power to define what the correct moral formula is. I see this idea originating in the French Revolution (it is distinctly un-Christian), although the idea of a correct moral formula is reminiscent of the Marxists’ “party line.”

          • Populism
            I suppose that’s the populist idea they’ve been strong on at Telos. I think by the way that it’s more helpful getting a discussion started than providing answers, since populism still makes the triumph of the will the key to politics (and complaining that experts aren’t equal to the rest of us still makes equality the key). The basic problem though is to put the liberal system in question, when in liberal theory it’s not a structure of power at all but a rational procedure for protecting equal rights and promoting preference satisfaction. Once the discussion starts, and it can be seen that even in basic concept the present system is not a structure of pure rationality but has serious internal contradictions, things can be developed further.

            Incidentally, I’m not sure it’s the rich who are really in the driver’s seat overall. When you have the separation of ownership and control in a worldwide structure of cooperation, and managers, regulators, lawyers, experts, media people and various other professionals and functionaries are as important as they are today, the conceptual principles that determine what people agree makes sense and who should decide what and how become extremely important.

            Rem tene, verba sequentur.

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