YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 3, 2015

Cass Sunstein: Nudnik-in-chief

Execmed007014Before you read this blog you might want to consult these sources:



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein (“libertarian paternalism”)


Harvard Magazine’s first issue of 2015 features an eight page profile of Cass Sunstein, author, Harvard Law professor, and former Obama administration official. Sunstein, who has made enemies on both Right and Left, served as the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012. Lauded as “The Legal Olympian,” Sunstein remains a major player in propagandizing for the New Deal and the welfare state it spawned.

Indeed, the author of the piece, the liberal lawyer and journalist Lincoln Caplan, takes care to quote from FDR’s [populist] “Second Bill of Rights” (equated by Sunstein with The Declaration of Independence): “…rights to ‘a useful and remunerative job”; for “every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies”; to “a decent home”; to “adequate medical care”; to “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment”; and to “a good education.” “For unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

Caplan assumes that Sunstein quoted from the “Second Bill of Rights” because “no one really opposes government intervention” (quoting Sunstein’s italicized sentence) but the date of Roosevelt’s fireside chat, 1944, suggests that FDR was aware that wartime spending, not New Deal largesse in the spirit of Keynes, was responsible for increased employment during the war years, and that many Americans predicted another Depression when the war was over.

But Harvard’s purpose in featuring the profile of the controversial Sunstein, seems to me to be an affirmation of typical Harvard strategies. Note that the cover photo of Sunstein shows some of his library: many books on social psychology are present. This cover article probably is intended to continue the irrationalist social theories of the Harvard social relations department; one that has been described frequently on this website as proto-fascist. A kinder term would be the continued rule of Ivy League philosopher-kings. For are they not all Olympians in their fields, now annexing the new fields of neuroscience and “choice architecture,” the better to control the masses, strategically placing food choices so that apples will be freely chosen, and not Fritos? Behind this lengthy puff piece that attempts to convince ordinary people that the biggest possible government is desirable in this best of all possible worlds, is the notion, clearly stated in the Jungian pschoanalyst Henry A. Murray’s notes to Melville’s novel White-Jacket, is that the masses are not trained to rule. Indeed, in Carl Jung’s opinion, Hitler was a guttersnipe, the man of the mob who had too much power in the modern world. Here is what Jung had to say about Hitler at the end of World War 2: mass politics had produced the modern wasteland.

[Jung:] “As I said before, the upheaval of mass instincts corresponds to a compensatory move of the unconscious. Such a move became possible because the conscious state of the people had become estranged from the natural laws of human existence. Because of industrialization, large parts of the population became uprooted, and they were herded together in large centres. And because of this new form of existence–with its mass psychology and its social dependence upon the fluctuations of markets and wages, an individual was created who was unstable, insecure, and suggestible…Germany…is by no means the only nation threatened by this dangerous germ. The influence of mass psychology has spread far and wide. It was the individual’s feeling of weakness, and indeed of non-existence, which was compensated by the upheaval of hitherto unknown desires for power…Nothing but materialism was preached by the highest intellectual authority….Hitler…was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was a highly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic individual, full of empty childish fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or guttersnipe. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this is another reason why they fell for him.” C.G. Jung,”Individual and Mass Psychology,” Essays on Contemporary Events (London: Kegan Paul, 1946): xiii-xv. Originally broadcast on the BBC, Nov. 3, 1946.

And just to make sure that we get the point, the Caplan essay concludes with this adjuration derived from Cass Sunstein: “He argued that the justices of the Supreme Court should resolve questions before them as narrowly as possible, to encourage elected officials to deliberate on decisive issues and test their answers before the voters….It would energize American democracy by making it more deliberative.” Caplan goes on to defend the [living Constitution], now the preferred opponent to “tradition’s constitution.”

And so Harvard Magazine continues to leave the reader in the same old double bind: advocating for both freedom and welfare, ever the “moderate men.” We may not know what is good for us, left to our own flawed devices, but cleverly manipulated environments, arranged by nudniks, will nudge us in the correct direction, choosing apples, not Fritos.

October 24, 2014

Rescuing the black family: Harvard points the way

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

Orlando Patterson, Harvard sociologist

The Harvard Magazine cover story on Orlando Patterson (November-December 2014) lauds Patterson’s glorious predecessors in sociology, social psychology, and progressive social nostrums (e.g., Max Weber, Talcott Parsons, David Riesman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Patterson’s journey from Jamaican novelist to Harvard superstar professor and “the Caribbean Zola.”* (On his achievements see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Patterson.)

Dwelling upon the baleful effects of slavery on black family structure, the author of the long alumni magazine essay, Craig Lambert (deputy editor and a Harvard Ph.D.) drops such loaded terms as “freedom” (an attribute only of non-slave whites), “belonging/beloved”ness (the non plus ultra of social well-being: missing in slavery and the ostensibly non-existent slave family), “culture” and even more vaguely, “dynamic” “interaction” between “culture” and “structures,” lest Talcott Parsons’ fictional emphasis on structures and functions cast doubt on Patterson’s contributions to social peace.

[On Parsons and his cohort in sociology and social psychology see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/preventive-politics-and-socially-responsible-capitalists-1930s-40s/. On Harvard and the turn toward “cultural history” see https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/. Or see https://clarespark.com/2014/09/08/why-progressive-social-psychologists-make-us-crazy/.%5D

Harvard, like other elite institutions, is worried about anomie or “atomization” in our society, and resorts to the time-tested clichés and Great Society programs of progressivism, which are abstract enough to please a diverse body of graduates, all of whom are adjured to seek belongingness in multiple, overlapping interest groups. Moreover Harvard can brag about the quality of its professors, especially those of color that underline the success of “diversity.” And in recent years, the “neo-Marxist” or “New Left” affiliations of its versatile professors (e.g. OP) are not a cause for heartburn. Indeed, Patterson’s life and work are appropriated to puff black supremacy, affirmative action, rap and reggae, Barbados democracy, and “democratic socialist revolution.” Yet he is portrayed as a maverick and an artist, having defended Clarence Thomas while under attack from Anita Hill (Hill did not note the changing context of CT’s language from ten years ago, Patterson wrote: see http://www.nytimes.com/1991/10/20/opinion/op-ed-race-gender-and-liberal-fallacies.html).

But there is a missing context to this cover story that includes 1. The upcoming midterm elections that will be a referendum on a black president’s social policies, and 2. The bipartisan fight over how to rescue inner city children from poverty. Here is the US Census report (2012) that would have to alarm pro-capitalist circles concerned with upward mobility in the multicultural society pushed by the white liberal establishment: “Black children (55 percent) and Hispanic children (31 percent) were more likely to live with one parent than non-Hispanic White children (21 percent) or Asian children (13 percent).”
And here is one conservative think tank’s solution to diminished prospects for minority inner-city children: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty.)

Despite one failed marriage, Patterson is presented as a happily married father: both wives (apparently) were or are white academics, which situates Patterson in a reassuringly integrated setting, though his sociology tilts toward the mandatory Harvard progressive line that emphasizes the lingering effects of slavery, justifying all kinds of reparations. By focusing on Orlando Patterson’s climb to fame and professional approbation despite his Jamaican “cultural heritage” of slavery (and in one sentence, linking Patterson to Obama), Harvard can avoid such practical problems as massive black unemployment, labor competition, or union domination of public education, defeating parental choice and lowering our expectations of the curriculum.

Illustration by Gary Kelley

Illustration by Gary Kelley

* Note the comparison of Patterson the novelist to Emile Zola, whose “realistic” novels won leftist and anti-imperialist support for their depictions of social forces and the lower depths of society in turn of the century France.

November 18, 2010

Harvard’s “Alpha Dogs”

Amy Cuddy, “Alpha Dog”

One of America’s most significant founding principles was a product of the Enlightenment: that each citizen would be capable of rationality and independent judgment based on shared perceptions of facts or things as they are. We were supposedly educable, no matter how lowly our birth by traditional European standards. Such ideals were asserted against all prior forms of coercion, pomp and demagoguery of political establishments. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/, also https://clarespark.com/2013/01/12/hate-hard-liberty-quick-fixes/.)

How far we have departed from that standard can be seen in the featured story for the latest issue of Harvard Magazine (Nov.-Dec.2010), “The Psyche on Automatic,” by Craig Lambert.  Although one might infer from the cover that the social psychologist Amy Cuddy (who teaches at the Harvard Business School in courses on “negotiation, power and influence”) would be directing the reader away from “snap judgments” or other instances of irrationality, the article delineates a scientific basis for manipulating audiences, potential employers, investors and other targets, taken to be not amenable to rational persuasion and naked displays of “competence.” Rather these potential patrons (suckers?) are bound to be impressed by body language, warmth, and an ineffable quality of connectivity, as opposed to the stark display of competence, for competence in conjunction with “coldness” can make others envious and hostile—to the point of genocide! There are tables of ideal types to demonstrate her thesis, one that is buttressed by her studies of testosterone and cortisol levels in “high-power or low-power poses.” And there are pictures of Cuddy and others demonstrating the effective postures of power and influence—influence that will ultimately correct pre-existent cruel cognitive patterns indicating contempt for “the homeless, welfare recipients, poor people” [OMG they must be Republicans] while at the same time boosting investor confidence in the projects of “venture capitalists.”

Harvard trains leaders, and wants them to increase “social cohesiveness”(i.e., solicitude for those less fortunate than themselves: noblesse oblige). Of course Cuddy does not advocate stupidity, it is just that successful people can beat out the other would-be alpha dogs* with her techniques. We alphas do not make ourselves physically little, we do not snarl, we do not brag by pretending to superior expertise or to knowledge of “the truth”—nor do we expose our necks as a sign of submission or “niceness.” [That last sentence was my reading, not quoted directly from the article.]

The long article on making friends and influencing people while overpowering them concludes, in my view, by subtly admonishing pushy, know-it-all [Jews?]:

“Leaders often see themselves as separate from their audiences… They want to stake out a position and then move audiences toward them. That’s not effective… ‘[Her students] overemphasize the importance of projecting high competence—they want to be the smartest guy in the room. They’re trying to be dominant. Clearly there are advantages to feeling and seeing yourself as powerful and competent—you’ll be more confident, more willing to take risks. And it’s important for others to perceive you as strong and competent. That said, you don’t have to prove that you’re the most dominant, the most competent person there. In fact, it’s rarely a good idea to strive to show everyone that you’re the smartest guy in the room: that person tends to be less creative, and less cognitively open to other ideas and people.’

[quote cont.] “Instead, says Cuddy, the goal should be connecting. When people give a speech or lead a meeting, for example, they tend to exaggerate the importance of words. They ‘care too much about content and delivering it with precision. That makes them sound scripted.’ Far better, she advises, to ‘come into a room, be trusting, connect with the audience wherever they are, and then move them with you.’”

In vino veritas.

*The expression “alpha dog” is used in the subtitle of the article: “Amy Cuddy probes snap judgments, warm feelings, and how to become an “alpha dog.”

January 13, 2010

Three moderates: Judt, Posner, Ware

Caroline War shows labor friendly hands to U.S. Senate

[From Evan R. Goldstein, “The Trials of Tony Judt,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan.6, 2010]  “In Judt’s mind… his “greatest achievement” is his book Postwar. In 1945, Europe lay in ruins. Some 36.5 million of its inhabitants died between 1939 and 1945. Most of those who survived were starving or without shelter; Germany had lost 40 percent of its homes, Britain 30 percent, France 20 percent. Yet in the next 60 years, Judt writes, Europe had improbably become “a paragon of the international virtues,” and its social model—free or nearly free medical care, early retirement, robust social and public services—stood as “an exemplar for all to emulate.”

Postwar tells the story of how that happened. The book is ambitiously organized to combine the whole of the postwar history of Europe—Western and Eastern—into a single conceptual framework. The result is not a work of dispassionate scholarship. In the preface, Judt describes his approach as an “avowedly personal interpretation” of the recent European past. “In a word that has acquired undeservedly pejorative connotations,” he writes, Postwar is “opinionated.” Judt’s thesis, developed through 900 pages, is this: Europe remade itself by forgetting its past. “The first postwar Europe was built upon deliberate mis-memory—upon forgetting as a way of life.” And there was much to forget: collaboration, genocide, extreme deprivation.” [end Goldstein quote]

    What Judt has forgotten, if Goldstein’s report is accurate,  is the invention of social democracy by 19th and early 20th century organic conservatives, fearful of the looming political power of  the industrialized masses, and later, of the Soviet Union. But then that has been the tactic of moderates since the second world war: to imagine the Western social democracies as the political and moral antitheses of fascists and Nazis, rather than as countries fighting the same radical specters, and often with similar statist strategies.

   Moreover, Judt revels in his subjectivity, for he is an activist scholar and a prominent public intellectual. In his book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Harvard UP, 2001), jurist and professor of law Richard Posner, cited Tony Judt’s writings frequently. Posner railed against academic public intellectuals who were straying far afield from their academic specialties, either as authors of crossover books appealing to an educated public and specialists, or as expert witnesses at various trials: Posner wants to expose and punish them for over-reaching. Although a bit fanatical himself, Posner was especially hard on extremists of any sort, for instance abolitionists, or those 1930s-type literary critics (yawn) who made moral judgments on works of art, rather than hewing to the New Critic, “art for art’s sake” line. Posner, a pragmatist, doesn’t like fanatics of any stripe, finding “political truth” in compromise. (Oddly, Posner did not object to the domination of leftists in departments of the humanities in the major universities, though he is a strong believer in balance.)

   Physician, heal thyself. Posner is not trained in intellectual history, and obviously did not research the ideology of the New Critics, who were also “moderates” of a sort, and who reformed the humanities curriculum in the late 1930s and early 1940s. I wrote about them as protofascists/ organic conservatives here: https://clarespark.com/2009/11/22/on-literariness-and-the-ethical-state/, and before that in Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. Some of these New Critics were contributors to the pro-fascist American Review, but what matters to our argument that moderates are not above suspicion, is the New Critic notion of the exemplary poem: it should hold opposing qualities in tension, and embody paradox, ambiguity, and irony. Such matters as the personal biography of the author or his ideology were off limits to the literary critic or historian. Might the author be a racist and antisemite? Not to worry. Such poetic perfection should be a model for the improved society, including its students, mired in moralism (a.k.a. New England style rationalistic, individualistic Puritanism) and romantic adolescent defiance (qualities linked by Talcott Parsons in his article on the sources of Nazism). New Critics aped the Southern Agrarian strategy with their allergy to modernism and educated black folk.  Of course, Melville (who once declared “I write as I please” inside one of his texts–in blackface?–) had exposed such neoclassical perfectionism as crazy-making, so, either deliberately or unconsciously, included a certain incoherence to much of his writing.  I suppose such insight into “America’s greatest writer” was outside Posner’s skill set, though he couldn’t have seen that, being emotionally wedded to his own omniscience,  and a confidence in his versatility that I almost envy.

   Turn now to our illustrated moderate, historian Caroline Farrar Ware, devoted progressive reformer and wife of New Deal economist Gardiner Means. I have quoted Dr. Ware’s adjurations on behalf of interdisciplinarity and community cohesion in prior blogs and in http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html. , but here is her most significant pronouncement for our purposes: “Writing on behalf of the American Historical Association in 1939, Carolyn Ware advised that the cultural historian should not ‘rest upon the prescription of the scientific historians to let the facts speak and to be guided wherever the material may lead.’” Dr. Ware welcomed the culturalist turn in history, evacuating the radical Enlightenment and science in one fell swoop. There were no more autonomous individuals: they were relics of the bad old days of laissez-faire. In the new progressive dispensation, the [selfish, narcissistic] individual disappeared, transmuted into “the individual-in-society,” and no longer a threat to order.* Look at her extended (mannish, soiled?**) hands, she is obviously not an aristocratic libertine or fashion plate: rather she will give a hand and a lift to labor.   [This illustration is from Harvard Magazine, May-June 2009, and accompanies historian Anne Firor Scott’s article, “Caroline Farrar Ware: Brief life of a multifaceted public citizen: 1899-1990,” 38-39]

*This is my reading of her introduction to her book The Cultural Approach to History  (1940), a book promoted by the American Historical Association. I don’t think she was resolving the nature-nurture controversy by noting that environmental influences constantly interact with inherited characteristics, but rather replacing empirical or scientific history with the new cultural anthropology, a discipline that such political scientists or anthropologists as Ralph Bunche and Melville Herskovits deplored as lacking economic savvy. 

** Her left hand looks gloved, while the right hand is bare, but the body language is priceless. The resemblance to Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps a coincidence.

Blog at WordPress.com.