My book, titled The Cult of Smart, is tentatively due to be published in summer of 2020. The subtitle is to be negotiated with the publishing house, St. Martins; I currently like How Our Obsession with Intelligence Hurts Our Kids, Our Economy, and Ourselves, but that changes by the day. The book is an argument that, in a world where everyone has different strengths and things to contribute, an entire economic system built on rewarding the “smart kids” is cruel and destructive. And I propose an alternative that’s more varied, more productive, and more humane.
I’ve written enough about what the book isn’t and I’m not gonna do it anymore. I hate that I still have so long to wait for it to come out but that’s publishing.
This is one of those things where I feel like everybody quietly knows it but we have this sort of tacit agreement not to say it openly in order to preserve some sort of illusion about what our society is and who we are. But, I mean, come on – we’re not fixing climate change. Nobody thinks we are, not really. Everyone’s putting on a brave face, everyone’s maintaining the pretense on behalf of the kids of whatever. But come on. Let us be adults here. We are not, as a species, going to do the things necessary to arrest or meaningfully slow the heating of the planet and thus will be exposed to all of the ruinous consequences of failing to do so.
Look, here’s what fighting climate change entails.
- Observing slow and gradual change; apprehending the severity of a problem when there is no one clear crisis point or moment of no return.
- Thinking long term; prioritizing conditions in the future above conditions in the present.
- Being selfless; sacrificing our own personal needs and desires to secure the needs of others.
- Acting strategically; working in a coordinated way towards a complex goal even when the connection between those means and goals seems remote.
- Behaving parsimoniously; using less, consuming less, not acting as though the we are entitled to have more tomorrow than we had yesterday.
I could go on. And all of this requires cooperation across social, political, and national borders of a kind that as not existed at anything like this scale in the history of the world. Does that all sound likely to you?
I’m not telling people to give up, and I’m not telling people to despair. Of course we have to fight this thing, just like you fight to save your life even when it’s impossible. This is not in any sense denialism; it’s real, it’s coming, and the changes are utterly devastating. And though I recognize it would be easy to think this, I say this without a shred of glee, smugness, or superiority. I just feel like everyone privately knows that this is a fight we’re going to lose. Turn off every emotional part of your brain and do the pure, brutal actuarial calculus and find out what you really believe.
For all of my side quests I have always been a fairly orthodox communist, was raised that way and remained it. But I do admit that somewhere along the way, I lost the necessary belief in the inevitability of the worldwide worker revolution, even as I know that only that will produce a moral world. It is difficult to say what, exactly, pushed me over the edge, especially considering that even the experience of growing up in the 90s – the height of neoliberal consensus, the boom times of Clintonism and the two party consensus – did not. Perhaps the internet has simply given me too much access to other people’s minds and what lies within them, I don’t know.
But this will do. Climate change as both the death of capitalism and of the dream for a better world will do. Climate change is unique in its intellectual promiscuity, its indifference to ideology; it will both crush your enemies and your dreams as you like. There will still be humans, in the future, but they will live in a world thrown out of the exquisitely sensitive conditions that enabled us to flourish. What they will build I cannot say. I only wish I was there to see it. I am young enough to live to see the collapse, but too old to ever see what rises from the ashes. These days my most persistent fantasy is of my self, sitting on a throne of junk, collecting old clocks that still spin for no reason, sweeping the edge of the desert….
There’s nothing going on really other than an occasional desire to write something that’s not a book. (There are two.) Occasionally I post random thoughts here. After a set number of days I set them to private. The idea is not to “get back in the game” or whatever the fuck. The appeal here is precisely that almost nobody is going to see anything. Those scattered people still doing RSS in 2019 are precisely the people I want to reach, when I want to reach people at all.
On August 18th 2017 I lied and accused Malcolm Harris of rape and sexual harassment of women, particularly of women he works with. These allegations were completely untrue, Malcolm in no way deserved them, and if anyone held a shred of doubt, let him be fully exonerated. Crucially, despite my mental state at the time, I knew when I sent those tweets that they were untrue. I am responsible for having made those false allegations, and that makes me a liar, it makes me guilty of slander, and it makes me someone who undermined the profound seriousness of rape allegations.
I have bipolar disorder. I have been dealing with it since I was 21. For most of that time I have hidden my condition and resisted treatment, only telling my siblings more than a decade after my first manic episode.
When I first moved to New York I arranged to see a psychiatrist and was medicated for a few months. However my relationship with her was not good and getting to appointments was difficult and so, as has happened many times, I let my treatment lapse. In early 2017 I descended gradually into mania. My cycles are quite slow which can make it difficult to realize when my condition is falling out of my control. By late summer I was a danger to myself and others because of the extreme paranoid delusions that are common to my episodes. It was in that context that I made these accusations, but I again stress that I was responsible for my actions and that I have to be accountable for them.
I am ashamed of myself and have been ever since. I think about it every day.
I would like to be able to say that the incident with Malcolm – my accusations, my digging in on those accusations despite their obvious lack of credibility, my subsequent deletion of my Twitter account – inspired me to get help, but that wouldn’t be true. I only went to the hospital under threat of legal trouble – from someone other than Malcolm, who has been to his considerable credit explicit and adamant that he would not be pursuing a legal option. (Let me additionally say that I am not publishing this apology because of Malcolm pressuring me or in any other way putting me up to this.) That weekend I accused someone who was once quite close to me of conspiring against me, and threatened to harm them in revenge. They told me that either I went to get help the next day or they would have me arrested. I called my brother for help and sought treatment the next day at Richmond University Medical Center.
In terms of making amends, I can point to major changes that I have made and stuck with since I went to the hospital. I have now been on meds consistently for the longest period of my life. I have finally relented and accepted the fact that I must be on antipsychotic medication long-term, resistance to which has long proven a serious barrier to care. I have abandoned all social media permanently. I have stopped freelance writing. I have in general tried to permanently remove myself from online life and from the world of political writing in which Malcolm resides and I once resided. These changes are not attempts to make up for what I’ve done, really; they are just matters of self-preservation as I try to build a life where I do not cause harm to people anymore. I have fully committed to constant treatment, and I have fully committed to going away. I am so profoundly sorry.
I hear your forthcoming book is pro-race science. True?
No. It is explicitly, unambiguously, and directly not. In fact key to my elevator pitch was that the book discusses genetics and intelligence while rejecting arguments about inherent racial differences in intelligence. Here’s a passage from the manuscript, incidentally written before Twitter got mad about this:
“I will risk appearing self-defensive by saying upfront: this book is not an argument for the “race realist” position that some races are inherently more intelligent than others. Nor do I traffic in sexist ideas about innate gender differences in intelligence. I do not believe that white people are smarter than black, that Asian people have a genetic facility for math, or that women are not as gifted as men in science. Lest there be any confusion, I unequivocally and explicitly reject those beliefs, and this book will not advance any such claims about group differences in intelligence. I will instead argue that the science of individual differences in potential has profound consequences for our education system and our society.”
Pretty unambiguous, right?
So why do so many people think otherwise?
Because an anonymous Twitter account said so. Seriously, that’s it, that’s the sole reason anyone ever got this impression in the first place. Some dude with a joke Twitter name and a rose emoji deliberately spread misinformation about my book, knowing it to be untrue, and everybody believed him, without any corroborating evidence whatsoever. People like the crew at Balloon Juice ran with it without bothering to ask whether it was responsible to draw broad conclusions about an unfinished book from the say-so of an anonymous source.
That’s pretty shitty.
Twitter is a shitty place. Twitter makes reasonable people do and say shitty things.
Didn’t many journalists and other members of the media like “Atrios”/Duncan Black run with this too? Isn’t the basic job of journalists to pursue facts and provide attribution for claims?
Why yes! Yes it is! That is exactly their job. And they didn’t do it. Major, national journalists retweeted and repeated the claim that my book argues what it expressly does not argue based on literally nothing else than the say-so of an anonymous Twitter account. Because the basic rule with media and journalism is that there are no rules, only tribes, and I’ve never been part of that tribe and so they felt no responsibility to tell the truth. In real life, media-people behavior is mostly motivated by a desire to appear cool with other media people. And I’ve always been a soft target, a convenient person to go after when looking to up your cred. If I was cool with the right people I could publish Mein Kampf for Kids and they’d be like “gotta hear both sides of the story.” That’s just how that culture functions.
Do you think the people who eagerly spread that incendiary claim about you, particularly the journalists and media types, will retract those claims?
OK but you are writing about genetics and intelligence, though, right? So don’t racist claims follow naturally from that?
Genetics is in fact just one part of this book, maybe not even the most important part. But, regardless – no, racist claims do not follow.
Think about it this way. Supposed you and I went to a basketball game where Lebron James’s son played. If I said to you “he gets some of his athleticism from his father,” that would, I hope, be an uncontroversial statement. I suppose you might disagree, though it seems pretty indisputable to me. But either way you wouldn’t find that claim offensive, and you certainly wouldn’t find it racist. On the other hand, if I said “he gets his athleticism from his race,” then you may very well find that claim offensive and racist. Those are two fundamentally different kinds of claims – one a claim about individual genetic variation, and one a claim about group genetic variation. They are not the same. They are different scientifically, analytically, politically, and morally. And anyone who can’t wrap their head around the distinction sufficiently should simply not engage about these topics at all.
If you’d like an example of a working behavioral geneticists who believes that intelligence is partially heritable and yet still rejects racist claims about IQ, you might check out Paige Harden. There are many others.
But aren’t you unqualified to write about all this science stuff?
That would be a fair criticism if I were writing about the science of individual genetic differences. But I’m writing about the educational and political consequences of the science of individual genetic differences, and I’m perfectly qualified to write about each, the former because my academic training and professional occupation are in educational testing and the latter because I have written several million words on politics over the past decade. This misunderstanding, again, is the kind of risk you run when you go after books before you’ve read them, or indeed, before they’ve been fully written.
I heard some people went after your job over this.
So I’ve been told, but I haven’t had any trouble at work. People going after my jobs over my political writing, I’m sorry to say, has been a thing for awhile. I am a unionized public sector employee with sterling performance reviews and a long-term contract. So… good luck.
I heard your publishing company was Bad.
The imprint I’m writing for has published and will publish books by prominent progressive voices, such as Zephyr Teachout. But more to the point: is this a standard that gets applied to anyone else? Are you really going to tell me that people scour the back catalog of every publisher to find objectionable titles in order to go after authors? I assure you: no publisher of national scale has a record free of work you find offensive. Not one. The idea that working under a given publisher should necessarily mean that your work should be judged based on its association with other books from that publisher is bizarre and totally unworkable at scale, guilt-by-association of the weirdest variety. It’s a perfect example of an argument of convenience, one adopted simply because it was an easy way to go after me. It’s a bullshit, made-up standard and so I’m not going to worry about it.
When is the book coming out?
I don’t know.
The term “socialism” refers to an economic system in which human goods are removed from the market mechanism and currency exchange and are instead distributed based on need. To socialize an industry means to remove its products (whether medicine, education, housing, etc) from the market model and instead establish some means through which need is assessed and filled without the expectation of reciprocity. Socialism does not change who pays for necessary social services but replaces the very system of exchanging currency for goods entirely. A socialist viewpoint recognizes the impossibility of moral reform from within capitalism.
The term “Marxist” refers to the teachings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and their intellectual descendants. Marxism is commonly also called “dialectical materialism”; it is dialetical, in that it follows Hegel’s view of history as a series of opposing viewpoints combating (and eventually subsuming) each other, and materialist, in that it rejects the philosophical traditions of idealism, theology, and the supernatural. Marxist thought argues that history is marked by successive phases of economic systems, and that the social classes into which people are sorted in these systems are naturally antagonistic. In particular, Marxist doctrine holds that in a capitalist economy the worker class (the proletariat) generates the value that makes profit possible while the ownership class (the bourgeoisie) captures that value, which is exploitative. Marxism is atheistic; Trotsky said, “I am a Marxist and thus necessarily an atheist.” Marxism is rationalist; a basic pillar of Marxism lies in the emancipatory potential of reason. Marxism is empirical; Marxism is the science of history. Far from being an anti- Enlightenment philosophy, Marxism is the culmination of Enlightenment thought.
“Communism” is the political program of Marxists, and followers of Marxist philosophy are communists. Where Marxism is the why, communism is the how. Communism is a type of revolutionary socialism which calls for a worldwide workers revolution that destroys capitalism, kills God, and dismantles the state, in their place building a borderless world of semiautonomous collectives (communes) which operate without a permanent governmental class or state apparatus and work based on the principle of giving based on need and working based on ability. Under communism workers themselves take control of the productive apparatus of society, instituting radical workplace democracy as they direct their efforts towards bettering the condition of all people. A true communist state rescues humanity from both the authoritarianism inherent to the nation state and from the exploitation, immiseration, and alienation inevitable in a capitalist system. A communist system makes individual freedom possible because a communist system makes societal freedom possible.
It may be going to far to say there’s a bipartisan consensus, but you certainly see many people from many political backgrounds saying that the solution to America’s housing crisis is more supply. And of course that’s in part because increasing the housing supply is a central part of effectively lowering the cost of housing. In the abstract, “just build more supply” makes sense. But we don’t live in the abstract. We live in the real world, which is full of complications.
Last night I spent my evening at an organizing meeting for opposition to a planned giant new development in Crown Heights. Right off the bat, many would decry this as NIMBYism – if you oppose any particular new construction you’re a NIMBY and part of the problem. Let me lay out why the local community is so opposed to this building.
First, people are still stinging from the Bedford-Union Armory defeat. Against absolutely fierce community opposition, a parcel of public land will be used to develop luxury condos and rentals that very few of the current residents will be able to afford. (There will be “affordable” units, but more on that in a bit.) A variety of counter proposals were put forward by community leaders as alternative plans for the space, and they were ignored. A community already stinging from sudden and rapid gentrification came out and said in no uncertain terms that they rejected this plan and it made no difference. The various layers of civic governance designed to give local people a voice were shown to be useless.
Now: the proposed building will be 38 stories high, without counting the bulkheads or the allowance for more height through the (absurd) Fresh Foods initiative. This in an area dominated by six story midrises. I am not at all opposed to height, although it is really something that the proposed building will be almost twice as tall as the massive Ebbets Fields apartments. However, I am opposed to that kind of height when it’s situated right next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park. Last night we saw expert testimony from academics who specialize in doing shadow and glare analyses. The proposed towers would cast significant portions of the garden and park into hours of darkness daily. Sunlight is kind of important for parks and gardens! As a bonus, in some parts of the year Jackie Robinson playground would be completely shadowed for hours in the early afternoon, precisely when kids are most likely to use a playground.
These are community goods, these green spaces, owned by everyone, and they are at risk of being significantly harmed by new development that will make a few real estate tycoons rich and provide housing for those who already have the resources to live wherever they want. The local community has every right to demand that the project be halted. And you can acknowledge that while still believing that we generally need more supply. “No giant towers directly next to the fucking Botanic Garden” is perfectly consistent with a general desire to build more housing. That’s particularly the case when you consider just how phony the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program is. Inclusionary for whom?
Consider 510 Flatbush Ave, a nearby, recently-approved building with MIH units. You want to guess how much the “affordable” MIH apartments are in that building? Over $2700 a month for a one bedroom. That’s the supposedly-affordable price! The minimum income for rental approval is over $70,000, in a poor neighborhood in a city with a median household income of $55,000! And the maximum income to rent these apartments is over $100,000, meaning that the city government will be paying taxpayer dollars to subsidize rent for people who make twice the median income to live in “affordable housing.” It’s no wonder that the people who are most active in local efforts to oppose this kind of thing are working class people of color.
The MIH program is a fraud. It’s a hoax. It’s a swindle. It gives developers broad latitude to violate local zoning regulations – one of the only means communities have to influence the future of their neighborhoods – in exchange for affordable housing that isn’t. (If you’re someone who doesn’t live in New York but who harbors vaguely positive feelings for Bill De Blasio because he’s a liberal Democrat… you shouldn’t. He’s a disingenuous weenie.) There is zoning rules prohibiting buildings above a certain height next to the BBG, but thanks to the magic of MIH and zoning exceptions the project is pressing forward.
This all strikes me as complicated enough to get out of a false NIMBY/YIMBY binary. There’s a building going up in the Atlantic Yards in Fort Greene that’s as tall as the Chrysler Building and which will cast Fort Greene Park – a jewel of the borough – into hours of darkness a day. If someone from the local community has serious reservations about such a project, should they really be dismissed as a NIMBY?
This is the question I would ask of those who are ready to call others NIMBYs at the drop of a hat, and I would love to see someone actually answer. Suppose you’re a long term resident of Crown Heights. For much of your life your community has been neglected and ignored. Finally some development comes. Only it’s not development for you, but for the affluent white people who want to come in and enjoy the local amenities while disrupting the local community. You or your mom or your friends or your neighbors will be displaced by new construction. The park and gardens you have loved your whole life are threatened by it. The local businesses you have grown up with will be pushed out as rents are driven higher and higher. In their place will be coffee that’s too expensive to drink and clothing that’s too expensive to wear and places where you will never be made to feel comfortable. You will never be able to afford to live in the new construction, and as you struggle to pay your own rent some of the affluent new arrivals will be getting publicly subsidized housing even as they make six figures. Throughout the entire process the democratic institutions meant to protect your interests are subverted. Now: what are you supposed to say, according to the generically pro-development crowd, in response to all this?
“Thank god for new construction”?
This past Thursday evening I participated in a demonstration with my tenants union and the housing justice coalition that I spend a lot of time on. We were there to protest Andrew Cuomo and his terrible record on housing – the thousands of lost rent stabilized apartments, the skyrocketing rents, the ever-growing power of developers, the scandalous state of NYCHA, the horrifying increase in homelessness in his tenure. Many of the biggest housing groups in the city came out, along with some upstate organizations eager to show solidarity and express their own frustrations. I have no official count but there’s no doubt there was several thousand people.
We started with a brief event at the steps of the New York City Public Library, where a representative of Cynthia Nixon spoke, along with Linda Sarsour and others. We then marched to a location where Cuomo was receiving an award to show our displeasure. (I can’t confirm this but I was told that the group giving the award was a “workers” group that’s actually anti-union, which is too perfect.) To my delight, we ended up taking the street; people kept spilling out of the sidewalk until we ended up marching down the center of Park Avenue with no official permission to be there. The cops were trying in vain to stop us. They even had this robot voice on a loop telling us we would soon be arrested. Finally, after four blocks or so, they corralled us back onto the sidewalk, but by then we were just about at our destination.
When we got to the venue we completely surrounded the building and chanted in unison. There’s no doubt in my mind that the occupants could hear us. Finally Cuomo emerged, head cast down, hustling as fast as he could to get into a car. It was a sight to see. Of course, no media that I can find seem to have covered the event.
One note I’ll add – I hesitate to say so, as most of them probably don’t want my praise. But I have to say that DSA continues to represent themselves well. There were dozens of them at this event, which isn’t unusual. I go to a lot of demos and organizing meetings in the city, and I almost always see DSA people. I can only speak for New York but DSA appears to be really doing it. Their growth in official membership has been much ballyhooed, but personally I put far more stock in people actually showing up for things, and from my perspective they’re doing an admirable job of that.