Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ron Johnson and Charles Murray: the Quintessential Conservative Elitist

There's a long piece in the NW today looking at the role Ron Johnson played in bringing author Charles Murray to speak to a group in Oshkosh. Judging from the hyperventilating going on in the comment section, the article could have used some additional explanation as to just whom Charles Murray is and why Johnson's interest in him is, if not important, then at least interesting.

Unfortunately, there's no real brief way to delve into the intricacies of why Charles Murray is controversial, so I'm just going to outsource the discussion to this cover story that appeared in Time shortly after his most famous book, The Bell Curve, was published. Let me just point out that the article is primarily interested in the controversy, as opposed to the work itself. For that, you'll probably have to read Murray's work for yourself.

I also want to stress that it's not just Murray's conclusions that are controversial, it's also his methodology:
One of the most contentious claims in The Bell Curve is that intelligence is, for the most part, not improvable. Numerous critics have attacked Herrnstein and Murray's bleak prognosis, arguing that educational programs for disadvantaged children like Head Start do make a difference and that society can work to alter the social environment and therefore positively influence the population's general intelligence. One of the major problems with such statistical studies as Herrnstein and Murray's, scholars argue, is the difficulty of isolating determinate factors in a system as complex as human society and the resulting danger of overlooking other variables. Herrnstein and Murray have been criticized as well for failing to discuss and substantiate the theoretical basis behind their claims regarding intelligence and for ignoring significant studies in the fields of genetics, psychometrics, sociology, and psychology which would compromise their conclusions. Remarking on the durability of their arguments, Stephen Jay Gould has commented: "Intelligence, in their formulation, must be depictable as a single number, capable of ranking people in linear order, genetically based, and effectively immutable. If any of these premises are false, their entire argument collapses…. The central argument of The Bell Curve fails because most of the premises are false." Still, several opponents of The Bell Curve's conclusions, such as Gregg Easterbrook, are grateful for Herrnstein and Murray's work, since it brings "the arguments about race, inheritance, and IQ out into the open … because the more you know about this line of thought, the less persuasive it becomes."
Johnson's interest in Murray should be important because it gives voters an idea of the thoughts and thinkers Johnson would rely on once in office. Ron Johnson's Charles Murray problem really begins when he says something like this:
In an interview with the Northwestern, Johnson distanced himself from the controversial parts of Murray’s education philosophy. Instead, he focused on one segment of Murray’s book, “Real Education,” that states the goal of education is to have children discover things they enjoy doing “at the outermost limits of their potential.”
That's just not possible. Murray's musings on education follow directly from his controversial opinions regarding what certain human beings are able to accomplish intellectually. There is no way to distance oneself from the more uncouth aspects of of Murray's philosophy because it's the very foundation of his opinions on things like race, intelligence, social responsibility and education. One of Murray’s books may say that the goal of education is to have students operating “at the outermost limits of their potential,” but another of Murray's books says that some childrens' potential is limited by factors such as race.

Murray has done little to prove this assertion, which is why critics question his motives for arriving that his conclusions. By endorsing Murray's policy positions, Johnson is also endorsing the horrendous worldview from whence they sprang.

Charles Murray is one of conservatism's most shameless elitists. Like Johnson, Murray is a big fan of the 20th century's most unapologetic elitists, Ayn Rand. The consequences of Murray's hypotheses are some of the least democratic imaginable. In Murray's optimal world, the "cognitive elite" are in charge, while everyone else is asked to get out of the way. The voters of Wisconsin have every right to ask if this is the same America for which Ron Johnson will be striving.


snap-ed said...

*sigh* Rand Rand Rand
How DOES she do it?
Has the planet seen another woman like her? One who can simultaneously inspire one set of entrenched elitists while absolutely enraging another group of (equally entrenched) elitists. The end result being that the 2 groups stay locked in mortal combat 4ever, tossing Ayn's legacy back and forth like a beat up Volleyball.
The girl did have a gift.

5:13 said...

So did RJ send his kids to private or public schools?

CJ said...

What was particularly disturbing was the devolution of the comments in the stroy comment portion.

Some truly backward, racist, provincial mind 'round these parts.

xoff said...

It's my understanding that although he is not Catholic, Johnson sent his children to Catholic schools.

Flavin said...

"educational programs for disadvantaged children like Head Start do make a difference"

Head Start doesn't work. Even the government concedes this, see the "Head Start Impact Study Final Report" done by the DHHS.

"Stephen Jay Gould has commented"

No one who knows anything takes Gould's criticism of the Bell Curve seriously. See Bernard Davis (you can look up who he was) article "Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the Press".

"In Murray's optimal world, the "cognitive elite" are in charge, while everyone else is asked to get out of the way"

If you had bothered to read the Bell Curve you would know Murray and Hernstein were worried about a ruling cognitve elite caste, isolated from and unconnected to ordinary people.

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