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September 25, 2007

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ctw

I'm coming late to this exchange, so I'd like to backtrack to an earlier post by Prof. Reynolds re "elites" and "Joe Six Pack".

Since I don't believe those are well-defined terms, for present purposes I'll propose my own definitions. If they don't correspond to what Prof Reynolds has in mind, my observations may be irrelevant. But at least we should be able to agree that they are and try to provide better definitions.

elite: a person for whom the open-minded accumulation of knowledge is a continuing pursuit throughout their lives

Joe Six Pack (JSP): a non-elite

With those definitions, I submit that there are two broad categories of issues: those that require specialized knowledge in order to have an informed opinion, and those that don't. IMO, by definition an elite is better equipped to deal with the former; everyone, including JSP, can deal effectively with the latter. Where to site the new firehouse is an example of an issue that doesn't require specialized knowledge; whether ID is an appropriate topic for public school science classes does.

The problem as I see it is that our mass media infused society has blurred the distinction. In contemporary political discourse, the opinion of JSP is treated as always being as valuable as that of an elite. And so we get claims, such as that by Prof Reynolds, that there is great wisdom "out there" among JSPs. True on some issues, totally false on others.

This strikes me as symptomatic of the general anti-intellectualism that seems to be sweeping the country. On some issues, to claim that the opinion of the ignorant (used in its literal sense of not knowing, not in a perjorative sense) is as valuable as that of the informed seems a travesty. For example, we may end up attacking Iran because of claims that they have effectively been at war with us since 1979. Only those ignorant of the history of US-Iran relations would use 1979 as the starting point of our problematic relationship with Iran. JSP, quite reasonably, probably has no knowledge of that history. Hopefully, an elite does.

So, how does this relate to blogging? I submit that a true elite reads blogs to further the accumulation of knowledge. This involves both exposing oneself to opinions that differ from one's own but also approaching them with as open a mind as possible given the limitations of human psychology. JSP may very well just look for blogs that confirm existing opinions. And I think comments can be a good indicator of which group a blog caters to. A reasonable guess is that a blog eliciting comments of the "right on - you've got it nailed" sort (analogous to Prof Sunshine's DDD/RRR courts) are aimed at JSP, whereas one eliciting comments of the sort "I see your point, but I think you've overlooked this aspect" are for elites. "If a blog elicits comments of the sort "you &$%#ing idiot ...", I don't think there's much question.) To me, it boils down to whether one is interested in having been right or in being right. Those inclined to the former want confirmation, those inclined to the latter relish being shown that they have been wrong.

- Charles

Glenn Reynolds

Actually, the "Joe Sixpack" claim was not mine, but Mark Penn's, and had to do with whether opinions were based on data, or on emotional concerns relating to group solidarity. Penn says that elites are emotional/group solidarity oriented, while non-elites are policy driven. He doesn't drill down into the data on this; you have to take him at his word. But given his credentials and record, I'm pretty willing to do that.

ctw

OK, my mistake. As I said I have arrived late to the party, and consequently just skimmed through the previous posts.

Of course, it depends on how one defines "elites". In your post you (or Penn?) refer to "chattering elites and the out-of-touch journalists". If by "chattering elites" one means pundits, then unfortunately according to my definitions I would have to put those "elites" into my "JSP" category. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large I don't think the average contemporary prominent jounalist or pundit is focused on accumulation of knowledge but instead is chasing fame and fortune. Some may have at one time but they have been corrupted and now focus on self-marketing, not "truth".

- Charles

Erasmussimo

Here's a depressing thought to add into the mix: with the advance of science and technology, and the increasingly intense intercourse between nations, the problems that our body politic must address become ever more technical and complex. Is China being unfair by keeping the yuan too low? That's not easily answered. Is climate change a serious problem? Again, you need a lot of science training to appreciate the issues here. What about the privacy concerns raised by data mining by large organizations? You have to understand something about computer technology to intelligently consider such issues.

Thus, the world demands an increasing reliance in the opinions of experts -- at a time when many Americans are losing respect for the intelligentsia. If we beat the reaper on this year's issues, next year's issues will only be harder. We humans are Pleistocene hunter-gatherers who have done an impressive job of faking it as rational beings. But we are changing our environment faster than we can change ourselves. The doom of civilization appears inevitable.

ctw

Gee, eras, and my wife calls me a pessimist!

Unfortunately, I fear you're right on.

- Charles

LAK

Jury effect? Again? Come on, you should be saving the world, not recycling tired observations.

LeGioNofZioN

It's not that the doom of civilization in geenral is inevitable, but that the doom of our society is inevitable. Western culture is slowly imploding, but we are certainly not "all" of the world. After we go down others will pick up where we left off.

curtisstrong

Elites are emotionally driven, where JSP is policy driven?

Seems a bit counter-intuitive. However, I still don't know exactly what the "definition" of elite is. If an elite is defined as someone who is emotionally driven, then that sure does seem like the epitomy of circular reasoning. I'm willing to go with the mix of Charles' and Eras' definitions, but only insofar as the "elite" sticks to their own field of expertise. And as we all know, that doesn't often happen. In fact, it's impossible to do so. An example is Charles himself. He is an engineer, blogging on a legal website. I'm another example. I started law school 2 days ago, and am here discussing the issues as if I knew anything. Now, of course, we can all learn more, and become a bit more sensitive to the relevant issues, but that still doesn't mean that I know anything about, say, what to do about the out-of-control copper depletion that has been going on in our country for a long time, or global warming, or the sociological impacts of affirmative action. I can try to learn, but in the world we live in, I can never truly catch up in all areas of study.

So...

If, as Charles says, the elite is someone who wants to continue learning, JSP can certainly fit into that category, even if he's a redneck construction worker (like my grandpa), although I'm not really sure that's what Penn or Reynolds had in mind when they wrote this...but that's just my guess. My guess is that by elite, Penn either means someone who is either very rich, privileged or educated. And I assume that these people are mostly liberals and/or libertarians, with a handful of conservatives thrown in the mix.

Thoughts?

Erasmussimo

Mr. Strong, I don't think it's accurate to assume a dearth of conservatives among the wealthy.

LeGioNofZioN

I agree with Eras self considered conservatives are rarely wealthy. 20 or 30 years ago this may not the case but in today's society it most definitely is. I have resigned myself to accept the downward spiral of the once great western civilization, not because I am a nihilist but due to the fact that it is quite evident North Americans are so divided. These divisions are deeper than politics and religion, or lack thereof. It's a question of self identity. Without a generally accepted self image I don't see progress being made towards fixing our problems and accomplishing our goals (which are just as divided).

ctw

LofZ:

I didn't mean to be blindly US-centric. In fact, I started to restrict my comment to the US but then decided that the same problems that plague us are likely to be as bad or worse elsewhere. So, you may be correct - but not necessarily.

Curtis: As always, being a bit too clever for me, you nailed it - I was imprecise in not specifying what level of knowledge qualified one to be an elite.

What I have in mind is both specialists and people who try to learn generally. The way I link the two is that IMO, the latter have a better shot at choosing to get their insights from the former (rather than, for example, the frauds that pollute cable TV), and which ones to choose. To pursue your legal example, I think a non-lawyer elite gets his/her legal insights from Balkin, this blog, Profsblawg, Volokh, et al (including Ed Brayton on scienceblogs.com, who though not in the prestige league with the participants in the others is a very good source on the issues he pursues - eg, C-S, gay rights) whereas JSP goes to STACLU (AKA NOTACLU).

And I don't see that being an elite or JSP has anything to do with money, geography, etc. As I explained on a long dead thread in response to an attack accusing me of being an "elite" in the usual sense, I was reared in TX, in a family of (at that time) quite modest means, am an undistinguished EE (a distinctly non-"elite" profession), but love to learn - as do all of my friends who would laugh if "elite" in the usual sense were applied to them. There are plenty of "elites" who are not elites and vice versa.

BTW, curtis: I thought you were a 1L a year or so ago - early Altzheimer on my part?

- Charles

LAK

Jury effect? Again? Come on, you should be saving the world, not recycling tired observations.

LeGioNofZioN

Charles I think these problems aren't global only Western in root. Western liberal democracies suffer from these problems, but in areas such as the West Indies and Africa I think your point is less valid. Their values system although influenced by Western nations is not the same. By their general acceptance of a shared values system, both places heavily influenced by religions, when issues we lament come up, their approach is decidely different and with less opposition. I would liken it to the ease a dictator may have in changing a system like education (see H. Chavez currently) as opposed to the same occurring in our society. A consensus on changing our school systems is wrought with opposition, because of our diverse thoughts on how best to do this. Not as big of an issue in the Windies and mama Africa.

ctw

LofZ:

Well, I am in no position to debate you on international cultural distinctions being totally ignorant of them. My only reason for being pessimistic beyond the US in particular and liberal W democracies in general is that I fear, as apparently do you, that some problems are endemic to them, and that a major source of those problems may be affluence. So, to the extent that affluence - with or without liberal democracy - spread, the problems may as well. On the other hand, if totalitarianism, ignorance, and poverty spread, that's not too great either.

So, I'm eager to receive some encouraging news, but frankly I don't think the observation that things are looking up in Africa and the West Indies is it. And especially if a major influence in an encouraging region is religion. I don't mean to get into a debate about Dawkins, Harris, etc, but suffice it to say I'm not convinced that an emphasis on religion is a plus for any society.

- Charles

LeGioNofZioN

I am a Canadian, with extensive family and roots in the West Indies and a working knowledge of African issues through other members of my family. I disagree that affluence is in itself a problem. Just how the "West" deals with affluence. Kuwait doesn't seem to have a problem with its affluence. In other words it is how we deal with affluence and not affluence itself. As for ignorance at least in the West Indies that is not a problem as their educatonal systems, in many if not most countries outstrips Canadian education up until and in some cases including University level. I agree poverty and totalitarianism is not a beneficial to society but poverty is a relative concept. People may exist in poverty by our terms but may be comfortable in their own terms. I am not saying that they have a better system or a preferred method of coping but it is simply different. You may have an aversion to religion, but Trinidad for example has many prominent religions given freedom in a self decribed "Christian nation". I was surpised to see Hindus and Muslims, Buddhists and Christians working in unison for the betterment of the nation without bringing religious issues to the political table. Apparently so called third world or second world nations can handle these issues with more dignity, repsect and common sense than North Americans. While I personally believe religion is not a hinderance for society I am not trying to argue this point. I merely wish to illustrate that the shared values, which is heavily influenced by religions, allow for a cultural self identity all newcomers adopt. this identity is passed down through generations and can be best understood by Jamacia's motto "out of many one". Of the many peoples who live in these nations they are not Chinese-Vincentians or African-Vincentians, they are (in St. Vincent) all Vincentians. A single shared identity regardless of ones religious or cultural background. that is their strength, a unified approach to many issues.

ctw

First, I was not suggesting that ignorance and poverty are characteristic of any places in particular, just contrasting the (arguable in the case of the US) literacy and the affluence of LWDs with their opposites. As I said, I know nothing of the WIndies (cute!), Africa, or most other geographical areas.

I guess I don't see why the experiences of small and/or impotent countries/regions/city states etc are particularly relevant. I don't envision Jamaica taking over the world in the near future, for better or for worse. The US is trying to do so, IMO for the worse. Europe isn't now, but that's a recent phenomenon. As evidenced by the US having learned nothing from Vietnam, memories fade quickly and maybe they'll revert to their old ways. And who knows what China is going to do.

"Apparently so called third world or second world nations can handle these issues with more dignity, repsect and common sense than North Americans."

Surely you jest.

- Charles

LeGioNofZioN

The relevance is as a working alternative, not as a new system we should adopt but as examples of how others make their way through the same issue we do with differing perspectives and differing results. I agree the US is too often concerned with shipping their methods and ideas to others under the asumption that the methods will work the same elsewhere. I am addressing the idea in this post of polarization and showing how others have overcome it. there is no jest in calling out the fact that this polarization is greatest in Western Liberal Democracies and is much of a non issue elsewhere. I see the polarization as an unavoidable negative for us. Other nations have dealt with it more effectively than we have. I submit that a large factor of this polarization is a lack of a shared self image that exists elsewhere. That is a problem that the solution to is neither positive nor will it benefit us beyond propogand like unifying issues.
Basically just callin' it like I see it. I figured an international perspective may help to provide a larger picture for all involved in this discussion.

LeGioNofZioN

We have for the most part divested ourselves of a common self image with which to structure ourselves in society. I live in Toronto the most multicultural city in the world as of last year, while I see diversity as healthy I think our largest mistake was not supporting a healthy identity for which newcomers and citizens alike can share. If the West Indies can do it, why can't we ?

Nic

ctw

Nic -

(I recognize that name from a long ago thread and associate it with Canada. We may have "met" before.)

Well, if you literally mean "some", I suppose anything is possible in some countries. But any suggestion that non-North American countries/regions in general do better than WLDs in general seems disproven by the most cursory review of recent world history or even the daily news.

My guess is that frictions are caused not by religion per se but because religious association is just an especially volatile form of atavistic tribalism. Any difference between "us" and "them" will do as an excuse. Religiou difference is just more effective than some others. But who knows.

- Charles

LeGioNofZioN

yup its me, Nic the Canucklehead. I am not saying that the other countries and regions I spoke of are "doing better" but the issues that polarize us, race, religion, war, gay marriage, you name it are not as polarizing eslewhere because of this shared identity I spoke of. There is generally a shared view of these issues. Not that dissent doesn't exist, it's just not manifested in the same vitriolic way. they have many problems of their own, often revolving around American policies and its negative effect especially when it comes to trade, and to a lesser degree the UN and the World Bank. To put it in perspective, AIDS is fast becomming a large problem in the WIndies, and to tackle it successfully condoms AND abstenance are promoted, in print, on billboards and on radio. It doesn't have to be either or but it seems to be of huge debate here in North America that it must be either or. Although most countries in the WIndies are Christian from their constitutions up, other religions have little if any friction with the Christian majority. Trinidad is an excellent example of this. Blacks tend to run the countries, but discrimination against the white, Indian and Asian populations is a non issue because of the shared identity. whatever your race or religion you are ...(a Vinci, a Trini, a Bajan, a Lucian). that is the primary identity of the majority of people. Religion is a valid element of that identity they share. We in WLD's discuss issues that have been conquered by our cousins in countries that make less than George Soros. they are not more advanced or better off, but they are past us on these debateable issues.

ctw

Then the WIndies must not have a Christian subgroup that is analogous to our ultra-conservative Christians. As you presumably know, our current administration tries to subvert all attempts to prevent AIDS using methods like condoms.

Perhaps the explanation for greater tolerance on islands is that it's harder to completely divorce yourself from "others" whereas it's relatively easy to do so in big, sprawly countries like the US and CA. Sometimes, familiarity breeds contempt, but sometimes it breeds tolerance.

- Charles

LeGioNofZioN

That is true, there are no ultra conservative Christians in a political sense. That said the majority are conservative in terms of social structure. In St Vincent and the Grenadines there are some 200 000 people in an area smaller than the city of Barrie in Ontario. the populations are the same for the area but the lifestyle is different. St Vincent has no strip clubs. Entrepeneurs have set them up in the past but the populace does not endorse them enough to support the businesses. There is a negative social stigma attached to heavy drinking and promiscuity that impedes the general populace from engaging in such activities. this is not to say there are no drunks or people who sleep around, but they are forced to do as privately as possible or risk being rejected by the larger cultural hegemony. those that do are relative pariahs and can expect little if any sympathy from anyone else. Christian doctrine influences the masses, so it is appropriate to assert they are social conservatives. In terms of politics, most tend to skew towards socialist/populist parties who try to borrow money to advance the islands infrastructure. Since most commerce is done in the capitol I will concede that it is hard to "divorce" oneself from the masses. I am confidant the unity they experience has more to do with the shared identity, something I have seen expressed enough over the years to have the idea beaten into my head like the "c" key panel on a steel pan. They aren't WLD's and as such, they set boundaries and rules that the majority agree with. Minorities (foreign whites) learn to live with it or move away.

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