the Ty Cobb principle

Right now we’re in one of those times when people feel anguished about whether to support artists who they feel are immoral or politically undesirable, and where much art is coming out that is celebrated for being good because it parrots back to the viewer their own assumed politics. (This is how we got the Oscar-winning trainwreck Crash, but whatever.) In this context, especially with JK Rowling’s recent remarks, people once again ask, can I enjoy this media when I disagree so fundamentally with its creator? Can I separate the art from the artist?

So: Ty Cobb. Ty Cobb was, by most accounts, a racist and a bigot and a mean drunk. He was a bad guy. He’s not the kind of guy we want to praise or emulate. So here’s my question: did Ty Cobb have a good on-base percentage?

The answer, objectively, is yes; his career on-base percentage is .433, and that’s for a guy who played professional baseball for a quarter century. That is in fact a very good on-base percentage. Now: imagine someone objects and says, “But his on-base percentage can’t be good! He was a racist!” I think most of us would agree that this would be an odd stance to take. Whether he was a racist or not does not affect his talent for getting on base. The fact that he was a racist is relevant to understanding his character, and anyone who might be inclined to admire him personally should be discouraged from doing so. Just as opinions about Rowling should be subject to influence by her disturbing comments on trans issues. But his on-base percentage? His racism just doesn’t factor in. It’s simply not relevant to the discussion. And it’s the same with Rowling (or anyone) and the art that they create. It’s simply a category error to judge one by the other.

I’m not suggesting that the appreciation of art is as objective as the calculation of baseball statistics. I am suggesting that human beings produce things that are independent of their character, and separating the two is natural and easy. Richard Feynman was I’m sure as sexist as they say; how could that undermine the scientific validity of his scientific findings? It couldn’t. These things just aren’t connected.

And by the way, JK Rowling will live out the rest of her life as a billionaire irrespective of the individual behavior of you and everyone else. If you want to boycott her work to prevent any of your money from going to her I understand and respect your decision, but if you’re conflicted, I think you can be forgiven for not boycotting a person who will never, ever feel the effects either way.

Update: It seems modern historians have revised the conventional wisdom on Cobb’s racism? Apparently he was even an advocate for the integration of baseball. Seems like I picked a bad example to name the principle after. Bad job by me.

diversity programs function as they are intended to

There’s a weird thing that happens when we talk about diversity programs like affirmative action, where it is implied to be impolite or worse to say that they function as intended. Here’s what I mean. It is of course offensive to assume that any given potential beneficiary of affirmative action got into college because of affirmative action, and you shouldn’t. However, we should certainly hope that some potential beneficiaries are getting in because of affirmative action because… that’s the whole point of affirmative action. The entire edifice of affirmative action is designed to get students from marginalized groups in the door. This is to correct historical injustice and in recognition of the additional barriers that marginalized people face, a way to level the playing field. So the programs get people in who wouldn’t otherwise. That’s the whole entire point of affirmative action! If the programs aren’t doing that they’re failing at their mission!

Similarly diversity programs in academic hiring have similar goals and should, if they’re functioning, recruit scholars from marginalized groups into jobs that they might not get otherwise. Again, that’s the whole point of the programs! If you think diversity programs shouldn’t exist, I disagree but at least find your position coherent. If you say “we should have programs to increase diversity and redress historical inequalities by giving marginalized applicants a boost, but also it’s offensive to say that these programs have ever actually done that,” that’s… very strange.

reminder: getting rid of the SAT helps the affluent

In light of the judge’s decision to forbid the University of California system taking standardized tests into account for admission’s decision, I’m resharing my piece from several years ago making the (empirical) case that getting rid of these tests actually help the whiter, more affluent students. Yes, there are racial inequalities in testing that should concern us. (See my book for more.) But no one – no one – was helped more by a strong SAT score than a poor black kid. Now that increasingly looks like an out that such kids don’t get, and in its place, tons of students getting into school because they take fencing lessons, interned for a movie studio, built schools in Guatemala with the help of multi-million dollar grants….

The Cult of Smart Roundup, part two

  • I have an excerpt out in the Chronicle of Higher Education today. I say without sarcasm that I appreciate the trolling headline.
  • I got about as good of a review as I could expect to get from the Wall Street Journal….
  • … and a flatly positive one from the National Review. Strange times!
  • Fare Forward, a Christian publication I had not heard of before, has positive things to say. (Love the web design, by the way.)
  • Patheos does not have positive things to say! The charter school stuff is a real sticking point, which, obviously, is no surprise.
  • Finally, I wrote a response to those who say that I got the gene science wrong and that my book is thus invalid.

is the second coming coming

One thing I’m learning, I guess, is that all the post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk media I’ve devoured is essentially optimistic because there’s usually one moment, one break, one event, and then there’s a before and an after. Whereas in real life, it seems, tension can just build forever; things get worse and they get worse and they get worse and the air is never let out of the balloon, we never reach the saturation point, and there is no point where we get to let go of some of the old expectations and baggage. Instead we just get squeezed tighter and tighter and tighter, and we’re stuck in this mundane world, the world of jobs and office buildings, not survivors scavenging as we explore the endless plain.

I have been accused of romanticizing the post-apocalypse, and, well, guilty. But I don’t want nuclear war or for the virus to mutate and start infecting and killing more people. Nothing like that. But what I do want is some sign that we have reached a break, that events have forced us to face up to an old then and a new now, and that the tyranny of normal has been defeated at last. I am eager for that great break in the human mind even if the outcome of what comes next is chancy and unsettled and left for all of us to struggle over for the rest of my life. What this virus has taught me is the supreme durability of normal, the dogged survival of the mundane world, the near-impossibility of some new era in which all old expectations of civility and social norms will just extinguish or burn away….

I am trying to avoid returning to professional opinionating but it’s tough sledding

There’s not much news to report from me; the book continues to pop up here and there, most prominently the Wall Street Journal. I have been given no information about sales figures and will not speculate.

Currently I am trying to find a job in the normie world. Many other people are as well and I am fortunate to have a little nest egg to live off of for now. But some sort of income will have to come in soon. (I applied for unemployment benefits from New York State on June 29th and still have yet to be approved or denied.) Part of my feelings of pressure to get a job is that I would like to avoid returning to professional opinion writing out of financial need, for reasons that are complicated. Perhaps the simplest thing to say is that I want to write out of organic personal motivation, not out of financial necessity. And, more, the fact of the matter is that there’s just a ton of negativity surrounding my writing, much of it my fault, and I’d prefer to avoid bringing that negativity into the world. However fair or unfair that’s the reality and if I can prevent creating new internet drama I’ll do that. It’s just that the job market is not cooperating.

Look things are tough all over and I don’t mistake my situation for remotely uniquely unfortunate. For my housing rights group I work on a hotline every week and I talk with tons of people who are in far worse shape than I am. I recognize my advantages. But I knew I needed a new job far before I was actually fired by Brooklyn College – thank you union contract – so I’ve been applying steadily since January, in all kinds of industries and sometimes outside of New York. And there’s the issue that we’re in an employment depression and I’m competing against millions of others, and there’s the problem that if you Google me you find out that I did something really unforgivable three years ago. I have taken to noting my mental illness in my cover letters and my recovery because I want to demonstrate that I have worked very hard and am in a new era of my life, one where I’m medicated and stable and still dedicated to recovery. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not.

Writing for money would have to be a crowdfunding deal. Publications do occasionally still ask me to pitch, including some fairly big ones, but those requests are few and far between. I generally assume that I am not welcome at places where my work used to appear. Luckily this is a new era as far as getting paid for your writing. I have no idea if I could earn enough on Substack or Patreon to live, but I feel pretty confident that I could earn four figures monthly. What would I write about? I would feel compelled to write about politics, including a lot of culture war stuff, because frankly that’s what people want to read from me. That’s a fact that I’ve had to accept over time. And you know I would do my best and I think I would have stuff to say. It’s just that the book was, among other things, a way to get away from culture war and idpol/political correctness/whatever. We knew we were leaving money on the table by not selling the “lefty attacks identity politics” book everybody expected me to write but the whole point of the book was to reflect a new era, to express a different life, to change my fate.

A lot of this, I guess, is bound up in questions of redemption or whatever that are very confused for me. Some people have interpreted my book’s release, and my subsequent attempts to publicize it, as a “comeback,” but I’ve never thought about it in those terms. I guess I just don’t see any connection between a book getting a critical reception and its author having to be redeemed. I have not asked people to forgive me not because I don’t think I deserve blame but because I don’t want to impose on people in that way. I wrote the book, in part, because I was (and am) under a student loan debt burden, and I am promoting it because I owe it to St. Martin’s and their people. And of course I want the book to sell. The book and me are separate entities; the day I submitted the final manuscript, in my mind, we ceased to have a relationship.

Anyway, all of that’s yap yap. The point is that if I don’t come up with a job soon I’m going to have to start a Patreon or Substack. If I do, it will have a lot to do with my financial situation and nothing to do with an assumption that anyone has to welcome me back to “the conversation” or whatever the fuck. Most of the chatter I’ve seen about me resurfacing has not been sincere. (Someone on Facebook complained that I had only been gone three years – as if, had it been four years or five years or ten, he would have welcomed me back with open arms.) Social media became purely about exercising social dominance over others a long time ago and the internet does not forgive. I will not wait for a forgiveness that the current culture of professional opinion writing, thanks to Twitter, is simply incapable of giving. But one way or another I might be getting back on the horse.