January 12, 2006

In Defense of (Some) Elitism

Hatched by Dafydd

The only charge against Judge Samuel Alito that seemed, at the end, to animate the Democrats crouching on the Senate Judiciary Committee was the revelation (should we say confession?) that he was a member once of a group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), which he described in a November 15th, 1985 job application to be Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration (duh), as "a conservative alumni group" (page 3).

Naturally, this charge is meaningless without an included charge that CAP itself was disreputable somehow. CAP's raison d'etre was to demand that Princeton rebuild the ROTC building after ungrateful radicals burnt it down. The Princeton Board of Trustees had refused to rebuild, presumably out of exaggerated deference to campus radicals, which appeasement was then occurring at many elite higher institutes, according to Robert Bork.

Of course, few today would hold it against a man that he was a member of a group that supported rebuilding a fire-bombed ROTC building (unlike in the early 70s, when such membership would be a black mark indeed); so the Democrats had to scratch somewhat deeper.

CAP was a very traditionalist social-conservative group, and they opposed other changes: for example, they opposed quotas for racial minorities. But again, this is currently a pretty mainstream opinion, hardly conducive to ginning up a lynch mob against Judge Alito. The Dems dug hard and deep.

Besides being pro-ROTC and anti-racial-minority-quota, CAP also demanded that "every humanities and social science department include one or two conservatives," according to a New York Times article of 1974, available only as a smeary pdf, unless you're anxious to fork over some money to "Pinch" Sulzberger.

The group is calling for a more active alumni role in decision-making, a greater representation of conservatives among the faculty, more regulations governing students' academic and social lives and more-favorable treatment of athletes by the Admissions Office.

But again, little of this agenda seems destined to rouse the peasants to descend, with sharpened torches and burning pitchforks, upon the Capitol steps demanding the exile of Judge Alito. Sens. Biden (D-DE), Schumer (D-NY), and especially Kennedy (D-Margaritaville) kept up the spadework, finally breaking out in China, where they dangled upside-down from the hole they'd dug. No matter, they had found their final line of attack.

Back in 1969, Princeton -- until then an all-male Christian university -- began to admit some women. As a compromise, however, they required that 800 admission slots be reserved for men -- a male quota. As total admissions were likewise capped, this amounted to a de-facto ceiling above which the number of female admissions could not rise.

But in January 1974, the Board of Trustees voted to remove the reserved slots for men. As the Times put it:

The subsequent adoption of an equal-access admissions policy last Jan. 19, along with the decision to retain undergraduate population at current levels, are expected to result in a decrease in the number of males matriculating each year.

CAP opposed this change to the traditions of Princeton, as its founders had opposed the original decision five years earlier to admit women at all (though CAP did not yet exist at that time). CAP was pro-quota for males (and the spawn of Princeton alumni), but anti-quota for racial minorities... which the Democrats of 2005 see as a contradiction. (They are of course untroubled by Wellesley College or the racially separtist Congressional Black Caucus, but that isn't the point here.)

The past is prologue; this line of attack by the Democrats on Judge Alito failed, producing only one direct casualty (Mrs. Judge Alito, who was driven from the hearing room in tears by the calumnies flung at her husband by weasels) and likely several indirect casualties come November. I'm more interested in the underlying question: is there a non-racist, non-sexist argument in favor of the CAP position?

Actually, I have no difficulty coming up with one -- which paradoxically relies upon the central organizing principle of the contemporary Democratic Party. I argue that exclusivity -- elitism -- is an essential element of a commitment to "diversity."

A libertarian of the Right would argue that the only diversity that matters in an anti-racist, anti-sexist society is diversity of thought. Unless the Left is formally willing to embrace pure racism and racial separatism, they would be forced, however reluctantly, to agree.

But thought does not arise in a vacuum. It is not encoded in our chromosomes how we'll think about certain issues: some identical twins think alike, but others do not, which clearly implies the relationship is more complex than simple genetic determinism might suggest. This is just a roundabout way of saying that how you think is to some extent a product of your raising... the environment in which your thought processes form.

Environment comprises many layers: there is the overall "gloss" of being a human being; call that Layer 0. Overlaid upon Layer 0 is one's time in history (people in 1506 think differently than people in 1006 or 2006), one's country and language, and one's general social and physical stature. Call these collectively Layer 1. But beyond these macro-layers, there are also more localized micro-layers, from state and city to neighborhood, family, friends, to the university faculty and fellow students, in the present case. Let's call this Layer 2.

And finally, there is Layer 3, which is one's individual "self," the Ego that uniquely identifies each person. For shorthand, we can call these the universal, class, local, and individual layers of environment, respectively.

The problem is that it's unclear how these layers interact, or even whether they interact in roughly the same way for each person or wildly diverge from individual to individual. But it's clear that Layer 0 is completely unchangeable without massive genetic engineering of the species; Layer 1 is uniform for vast gulps of people (in the millions or tens of millions); and Layer 3 is pretty much beyond the reach of the Princeton Board of Trustees.

And that leaves only Layer 2, the Local Layer, that can be affected by university policies; in particular, by the selection of an individual student's professors, classmates, and the staff with which he must deal.

The first, naive method for creating diversity of thought that typically occurs to folks is to require that every university's staff, faculty, and student population exemplify diversity of thought. In other words, trying to hire one of each school of thought for each department.

The problem with the simplistic method is that some philosophies (usually socialist) are specifically designed to be extraordinarily attractive on first glance; it's only later, after hard, rigorous thought, that the implicate flaws and absurdities emerge. Alas, the untrained mind of a typical university freshman is not inclined to do the heavy mental lifting required to achieve enlightenment. As the old saw puts it, a man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at forty has no head.

Too, since flavors of leftism tend to bifurcate endlessly, eventually there are hundreds of branches. Conservatives are by nature conservative (duh again), so they tend to shun schismatics. Thus, trying to represent every school of thought that claims independence usually means the faculty includes fifty-seven varieties of socialist, from Stalinist to Bakuninite to Kropotkian to Keynesian to Deaniac to Kerryite to bush-league collectivists like Hillary Clinton -- versus one center-right conservative à la Walter Williams. Sheer weight of numbers overwhelms one whole school of thought.

But there is a better way to establish diversity of thought in the nation: encourage universities as universities to develop a "way of thinking" that is similar across the campus -- and then encourage a diversity in these various similiarities. Thus, there would be a "Yale" way of thinking, a "Harvard" way of thinking, and a "University of Chicago" way of thinking, each (one hopes) significantly different from the others. Kids and their parents could select the style of thought they will be encouraged to adopt by selecting the particular university to attend.

Since the university would hire according to this mode of thought, most of the faculty would represent it. Thus, even if the philosophy were not immediately accessible without serious pondering, the faculty would work together to force students at least to think hard enough about it to have an informed reaction: if the economics program at the University of Chicago pounds the ideas of Milton Friedman into its students' heads long enough, they'll at least understand monetarism well enough to accept or reject it on its merits, rather than because "hey hey ho ho Western Civ has got to go!"

The biggest danger to this technique is if all the schools begin to think alike. Then you have, not universities, but uniformities.

At the moment, and even more so back in 1974, the normative mode of university thought was liberal: pro-racial minority, anti-white, pro-female, and anti-male. (It was never "pro-equality of opportunity;" that's a myth. Liberalism always chose sides.) As Layer-1 environmental glosses, a student's sex and racial/ethnic background likely have an impact (at least) on how he thinks. Hence, an all girl campus, an all boy campus, and a co-ed campus will likely have differing modes of thought. Similarly, campuses that are mostly white, mostly black, mostly Hispanic, mostly Jewish, and racially and ethnically mixed will probably have notable differences in their cultures of thought.

So CAP could argue that they were trying to preserve at least one university as a bastion of white, Christian, male thought, in order to increase diversity by giving students an opportunity to choose to attend Princeton instead of, say, Yale or U.C. Berkeley.

I actually have a lot of sympathy for this effort, though I suspect it's doomed: universities will always more or less reflect the Layer-1 worldview of the larger society surrounding them; as King Canute demonstrated, you cannot command the tides. But it's not always clear whether certain changes are actually a "tide," or merely transient fads and whims: it's best to fight vigorously for any university's unique character, even if some others find it repugnant, to retain it as an option for future generations of student body.

(The only exception would be modes of thought that our society finds so dangerous that we really do want to eradicate them: an all-male student body doesn't equate to misogyny, and a mostly white student body doesn't equate to racism; but an explicitly misogynous or racist campus -- one that teaches that women or minorites are inferior -- is something that should be obliterated. But that does not describe the Princeton that existed in 1968, which is the Princeton to which CAP wanted to return.)

If a certain thought pattern become discredited enough, applications to its schools will plummet, and they'll go out of business; so it goes -- it's a free market. But until that happens, it's an extraordinarily stupid idea to artificially limit our diversity of thought by pushing for uniformity among universities -- stripping uniqueness in the name of "relevance" and "access."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 12, 2006, at the time of 3:43 PM

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The following hissed in response by: RBMN

The "revolutionaries" of the time, trying to change the entrance standards, to artificially change the diversity of Princeton, underestimated the extent to which Tradition is the main draw of schools like Princeton. It's not that a Princeton education is head-and-shoulders above what can be mined from the University of Wisconsin, or the University of Maryland, etc. Students, or rather their parents, pay for the history, tradition, and future status as a proud alumnus. I think CAP was maybe overly worried, but worried just the same, that their Princeton education was soon to become as exclusive as a National Geographic Society membership.

The above hissed in response by: RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2006 5:09 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

I'm sorry, Daffyd... but your plan is fatally flawed: It already exists, but you have to step back a level to notice it.

You see, we HAVE an all Communist University... (no, not Berkeley.) It is in China. We HAVE an all Elitist University system... it is in France.

The Universities in the United States fall under a common layer 0 and a common layer 1 (in your model). Fracturing Universities further adds strength to layer 2, at the expense of layer 1... to the point that your Universities become Subversities.

Sorry. I'm not trying to play word games, but when you splinter our Schools of Learning into various Schools of Thought, you create various cultures of Graduates who evolve into close-knit groups of separate cultures - you dissolve some of the melt in our Melting Pot culture, and end up with a thousand cultures in one country. Could that country stand, much less thrive? Ask the Balkans.

Perhaps at a higher Intellectual Level this could be played out, but I truly think that Undergrad Students need a more common culture University experience to help them identify themselves as Americans. If somebody wants to get a separate worldview for and from their education, there is always the option to study abroad.

Abroad is one word, here.

I grant you that your plan would eventually rid the University system of hard-core leftists within a few years... the pressures of compitition would insist that Universities adapt to the needs of the Students (and their parents who bankroll them) and not to the Faculty. Results-based changes may be all to the good... but turning Universities into Specialties is a bad idea.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2006 7:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

Ack... apologies for the attack of Dyslexia upon your name! Absolutely no insult was intended!

Mr. Michael

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 12, 2006 7:45 PM

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