Saturday, June 28, 2008

Carnival of the Elitist Bastards #2

The HMS Elitist Bastard has arrived home to a hero's welcome from her triumphant first voyage. Wit and wisdom won the day. We celebrate many things: the ascendency of intellect, the beauty of knowledge, and the freedom of inquiry that will leave the world a better place.

On the eve of the Fourth of July, when America is about to celebrate her historic declaration of independence, we prepare ourselves for battle once more. This is no time to rest on laurels: the forces of ignorance have suffered a blow, but are by no means defeated. We must fight on. Otherwise, the glories of science and reason, learning and discovery, could be lost forever.

Here in our home port, we're preparing our ship and crew for another mission.

But as the sun sinks into the sea, and the ocean breezes cool our fevered minds, we let ourselves savor the moment. Lirone from Words that Sing plays the sea chanty, "Elite," that will become our anthem:

Elitist. But why? Intelligence is not
Like money or status - in sharing it we all become
Information millionaires. Yet crushing forces
Teach many to exclude themselves from the

Our mission is to crush those "crushing forces." We're here to make sure no one feels it necessary to impoverish themselves.

But why the crushing forces? That's what we turn to Efrique from Ecstathy, to learn. He tells us of "A misplaced sense of self-importance (I: "elitism"-ism)" that explains quite a lot about the forces trying to make "elite" a dirty word. Efrique reveals the hypocrisy behind those who call others "elitist:"

This is not an occasional happenstance - the "charge" of elitism always seems to come from a member of some elite. It's hypocrisy writ large - writ large because the stakes are usually big.

Indeed they are. The elites ranged against us are power elites, hiding their status in order to denegrate those wise enough to threaten their power. We'll do well to expose them for what they are - but Efrique reminds us not to get too full of ourselves while doing so. It's advice we'll take to heart as we prepare to sail again.

But we must never forget who we are. Splendidelles from Splendid Elles declares, "I'm an Elitist Bastard," and in a splendid exploration of the pleasure and pain of elitist bastardry in a world that's more inclined to accept mediocrity, makes us remember why we set sail on the HMS Elitist Bastard:
Ignorance is not just bliss. It’s all too easy. Learning requires the use of the brain, and the very thought of this particular organ seems to stir terror within the hearts of other kids my age. I justify taking the risk and using this brain power because of my curiosity. I want to know what those funny lights up in the sky at night are. I want to know how the Solar System formed. I want to know how the beautiful and complex forms of life arose on Earth by natural selection. I want to learn vector calculus so that I may someday understand Maxwell’s tantalizing equations.
We're here because we want to know, explore, and show others that ignorance is not the only bliss, nor a particularly good one at that.

And Blake Stacey is here to show us that there's nothing to fear from Maxwell's equations. In "The Necessity of Mathematics," he shows us why understanding mathematics is necessary:

Our thesis will be the following: that if one does not understand or refuses to deal with mathematics, one has fatally impaired one’s ability to follow the physics, because not only are the ideas of the physics expressed in mathematical form, but also the relationships among those ideas are established with mathematical reasoning.

Photo: http://

His premise sounds terrifying, but he leads us on a fascinating journey through the higher maths that leaves us enlightened. Yes! Even we victims of the New Math can get it! We're not only Elitist Bastards, we are Elitist Bastards who now understand a lot more math.

Education is vitally important in the cause of Elitist Bastardry, as Jim from Teacherninja knows. He has many reasons to be among the "Proud Elite" - he is on the front lines, warning teachers and librarians that without their dedication to learning, anti-intellectualism may win:
These are desperate times. Teachers who promote anti-science. Hell, Governors who promote anti-science. It's gotten to the point where debates aren't really even debates anymore. It's hard to have a debate with someone who doesn't even have a commen set of facts or understand the basics of logic and rationality and critical thinking.

And Andrea from Andrea's Buzzing About: "School 'Discipline?'" has quite a lot to say about how we're teaching - most specifically, how discipline in the classroom isn't sending the right message. Speaking from experience, she demonstrates why the two most common methods of classroom discipline fail - and offers a better way:
Corporal punishment as discipline — or the threat of such — does not work well. It can stop bad behavior, but doesn’t teach better behavior. Worse, it teaches the wrong things. Even bribes and gold stars don’t work well, because the focus is shifted from what is being done, to what the reward is.

She also reminds us about "Being Up Front." We all get the picture - and a much-needed laugh.

We ran into many facades on our first voyage - people who find it more important to keep up appearances than to be truthful. Russell Blackford from Metamagician and the Hellfire Club has some "Thoughts on art and nudity" that pound on prudes who believe that any image of a naked human being is necessarily sexual. They keep up the appearance of being decent, moral human beings by mistaking art for pornography. Russell has some advice:

We need to grow up as a society and take a much more informed and worldly view of these things. If we look around us, we'll see that our forebears adopted varied, and sometimes even contradictory, attitudes to sexuality, nudity, and the body, and maybe we can remind ourselves that all of this is our cultural heritage — and legitimate subject matter for artists of all kinds.

Our battles always do come around to those whose rigid morals and beliefs cause them to fight against not only art involving nudes, but science and reason. Epi from Epi Wonk notes that news of "Scientists Behaving Badly" fans the flames. After sketching three cases of scientists who falsified data or otherwise got up to hijinks they shouldn't have, she explores how anti-vaccinationists have used those exceptional cases to make their case against all science:
Are these cases evidence that Modern Science is failing us, “research is unreliable,” and people shouldn’t put their trust in scientific research? I would argue just the opposite.

She convinces us: there's no reason to distrust science. And if we're convinced, why is it that we can't seem to convince the creationists? John Pieret from Thoughts in a Haystack has found a theory that's "A Perfect Fit" - and it came from a creationist:

Sometimes people get it so right that you have to take your hat off ... even when what they're so right about is why they're wrong.

Brilliant! With that information, we feel properly armed.

But for some of us, that raises questions about religion. Z from "It's the Thought that Counts has some "Thoughts on religious tolerance" that explore the role of religious tolerance in free societies and probe its outer bounds:

If someone you were casually chatting with in a coffee shop happened to confess to you her belief in a host of invisible fairies who sprinkled fairy dust on her while she slept to make sure she remembered to pay her utility bills on time, you would presumably think less of her for this exact reason. She can’t possibly have her wits about her, you might think to yourself. Anyone who was the least bit rational would realize that idea was absurd. Change the line to one about bread and wine changing into a man’s (or a god’s) flesh and blood, though, and all of a sudden you have a religious belief that must be respected.

Respect and tolerance are worthy goals, but so is critical thought. After all, a free society can't function without it. And many of us are turning toward thoughts of how anti-intellectualism, irrationality, and the refusal to reason harm democracy.

Brian from Truth is Freedom gives us a crash-course in the "Constitution of the United States of America" and explains why the Antifederalists among America's Founding Fathers would have been horrified by how we view it today:

But the U.S. Constitution was in no way construed to be the ultimate be all and end all as we think of it today with the notion that all state Constitutions must not conflict with the minimum rights in the U.S. Constitution. Our legal system is based on English Common Law that preceded the United States by many centuries and that is often at odds with many, if not all, of the amendments.

Ames from Submitted to a Candid World next turns the discussion to "Democracy in America: the Fairness Doctrine and the Expensive Marketplace of Ideas." He makes an excellent case that our Fourth Estate is no longer adequate to the needs of a democracy, and comes to some conclusions about the First Amendment that surprises some of us:

Knowledge and access to knowledge are the predicate requirements for any democracy to survive. The very natures of democracy and popular sovereignty demand that the people be informed of the facts, so that the people may govern. Despite a modern anti-intellectual and anti-elitist trend, democracy assumes and requires that the people are all elite, all intellectual, and all informed, typically by a responsible media, the Fourth Estate of any republic. The first amendment is typically the vanguard of this requirement - by providing easy access to vigorous debate - but there’s good reason to believe the first amendment has failed us.

Cujo359 from Slobber and Spittle follows this with observations on "The Price Of Freedom." We need to wise up and become better-informed voters, he tells us, because

What freedom means is that your fate is in your hands. It's your country, but only if you make it your responsibility to stay informed about what's happening in your world. If you leave it to your bigmouthed friends, the cool guys on radio, or even the earnest blogger, you leave your fate in their hands. Which means you really leave your fate in the hands of whoever controls or manipulates them,
people who should never be trusted, because they don't give a damn what happens to you.

His impassioned piece leaves us somber. Truth is always hard to hear, and the task before us is enormous: not only must we ourselves ensure that we are careful of our voting choices, we must somehow convince others of what he's said. This, as Dana Hunter from En Tequila Es Verdad tells us, isn't going to be easy. We're dealing with "The American Electorate: 'I'm Voting for Stupid.'" She analyzes three recent columns by John Dean on the American propensity for voting against intelligent candidates and concludes:

America has to wise up. Somehow, we have to convince our fellow citizens to stop treating elections as popularity contests and start treating them as job interviews. The presidency is the most important job in America: it's vital it doesn't go to the dumbest candidate. We need a super-intelligent person in the White House, someone capable of running a complicated, dangerous, and threatened country. We need someone in charge who can think his way out of a brown paper bag.

It's not going to be an easy task. But nothing is on the HMS Elitist Bastard, and we're more than ready for the challenge.

One thing that's been at the forefront of the American election is oil. We turn to Bitter Hinterlands from Going Down Bitter in the Hinterlands for an opinion. Bitter begins with a question: "Is 85 million barrels a day peak oil?" and then gives us the crash-course in oil reality:

The term peak oil does not mean that over 50% of all crude has been pumped out of the earth, but that production has peaked. In all the bluster and posturing by both the public and politicians, there are several inescapable facts that have nothing at all to due with Saudi Arabian production.

There are no easy answers to oil prices, despite what politicians want us to think, but George from Decrepit Old Fool makes it easier to choose our "Elite Transportation." He knows that a true Elitist Bastard would never ride a cheap bike, and arms us with the knowledge we need to make a wise choice. His summation afterward is masterful:

Elite transportation is muscle - your muscle. To me, philosophically, it’s the purist, most elemental way to get around, whether you use a bike, rollerblades, a skateboard, a scooter, or just plain old shoe leather. For too long we’ve let our cars dictate where we live, what we wear, where we shop, how we handle traffic, even what income we need to have.

And where are we going with our transportation muscle? To the bookstore, of course! But even there, we're not free of battles, as NP from The Coffee-Stained Writer knows. Our first question upon perusing the shelves is likely to be "How the Hell Did This Get Published?"

Where have the standards gone? Is our culture so far gone that someone will publish anything? (And if that's the case, why haven't I gotten published?) I suppose it speaks to our readers more than our writers and publishers that this is the case. After all, if there wasn't a market for schlock, it wouldn't be published, right?

She's absolutely right, of course. All of us love a light read from time-to-time, but we want substance available! We end this discussion determined to push the pendulum the other way. It's yet another mission for this swarthy crew.

Paul from Cafe Philos ends our impromptu training exercises on the beach by reminding us "How an Elite Person is a Good Person." It's sometimes too easy to become overwhelmed by the minutae and forget the purpose to all we do:

One often repressed human right is the right to be true to oneself.

One very general human obligation is the obligation to in some way give back to one’s community something good in return for the benefits one has received from it.

And that's exactly what we shall do.

The HMS Elitist Bastard strains at her anchor chains. Her sails snap and her ropes creak: she's eager to be launched on another mission. And we are more prepared than ever to sail with her.


Anonymous said...

Why hasn't PZ picked us up yet??

Dana Hunter said...

We might have to go begging....

Anonymous said...

he has now...

hank_says said...

Permission to come aboard! We need a sodding Fleet Of The Eleet in my humble...

Great carny, looking forward to adding COTE to my read-at-work schedule :)