Monday, October 20, 2014

A Letter to Charles Murray

Dear Mr. Murray:

It's 20 years since the frenzy over your Bell Curve and so I decided to write you a letter, to express my thanks to you for your life's work. You stopped a number of rhetorical bullets over The Bell Curve, and people like me need to tell you that we appreciate and honor your sacrifice.

Who can forget your Losing Ground, the 1984 book that led to welfare reform in 1996? It is something to have been the intellectual spotlight that forced President Bill Clinton to sorta, kinda, maybe "end welfare as we know it" in the runup to the presidential election in 1996.

My takeaway on Losing Ground is to say that the liberals confidently instrumented their Great Society legislation with studies and social science research that would confirm their "elite wisdom." But when the results came in and pronounced the failure of their policies, they said nothing and did nothing.  So liberalism, ever since has simply been a power game, with the ruling class paying the rank and file in the Benefits Brigade for their support, and riling them up crude appeals to race, class, and gender.

I read The Bell Curve and thought it good, but unexceptionable. Of course IQ is important in an age when wealth doesn't come in broad rich acres but right between the ears. I read your warning about a cognitive elite but didn't really pay much attention, not then.

I liked your Human Accomplishment and its disquieting reminder that in creative endeavors all the rewards go to the winners. It tells me that much of the angst and distemper in our liberal friends can be attributed to the fact their culture of creative individualism is bound to disappoint most of its believers. How much better is the conservative/libertarian culture of what I call "responsible individualism" in which almost everyone can participate and be a modest winner.

I think that your Coming Apart is the finest of your books and the best revenge on your critics. Hey kids, let's look at White America and see how it's doing! My takeaway is that you say that the top 25 percent, the cognitive elite, is doing fine. (Hey, why wouldn't it, since the elite has used its power to make America in its own image!) The middle 40 percent are doing so-so, but the folks in Fishtown are in real trouble; the women don't marry and the men don't work.

After reading Natalie Scholl's Bell Curve 20-year interview on the AEI-ideas site I am inspired to look more closely into your "valued places" idea and I will get a copy of your In Our Hands. But I must say that I flinch from the idea of a guaranteed income. In my view this confirms the current system whereby the ruling class gets to use the entire government fisc to buy the votes of the voters.

I like to divide the American people in three.  There are the People of the Creative Self who believe in illuminating society with their creative and expressionistic individualism. There are the People of the Responsible Self, who believe in serving society through individual responsibility and service. Finally there is the residue of the peasantry, the People of the Under Self, who used to live by attaching themselves to a landed squire and now attach to a political boss,  a union boss, a cacique, a community organizer. The point of your "valued places" I reckon, is that the women that don't marry and the men that don't work get resocialized into useful "valued places" as the followers of some powerful patron. My faith is that we can, we must, do that without the powerful patron being the government. Alternatively, of course, we can return to the 19th century and socialize the People of the Under Self into the middle class with enthusiastic churches and fraternal associations.

Thank you, Charles Murray, for your honest and intelligent witness in a life of worthy human accomplishment. There are many, like me, that honor you and your work.

Sincerely,

Christopher Chantrill

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