Monday, 14 December 2015

Elitism. It's all in your head.

"All Men are Equal".

Only scoundrels (and Lee Kuan Yew) might tell you otherwise.

But... Not all "equality" are... well, equal. There are different types of "equality" - equality of opportunity, equality of outcome, equality of privilege, equality of rights, etc.  "All men are equal" refers to legal rights or what is socially "equalisable".

The US Declaration of Independence conveyed such social rights on their citizens. The text of the Declaration reads: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

(Not bad for a over 200+ year old text. In one line they combine God and Aliens. It's like watching the History Channel.)

Really? Those rights are unalienable? You are born and you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

[Well, actually, it is correct.

It may be that when you are 12 years old, a pedophile kidnaps you, locks you in his basement, sexually assaults you for years, and finally kills you before his crime was discovered.. He may have deprived you of liberty. He may have prevented you from pursuing happiness in those last years of your life. And he may have taken your life.

BUT... you ALWAYS had the Right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was just that this pedophile had violated your Rights. which makes him Wrong.

Feel better? But I digress. ]

It is of course obvious that "all men are equal" is confined to certain aspects of Men that can be socially equalised - rights, opportunity, privilege and status under the law.

It is also obvious that certain aspects of Men cannot be socially equalised - physical characteristics, beauty/attractiveness, the sound of your voice, your predisposition to baldness, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, etc, and your intelligence.

That is, we can't all be David Beckham or Scarlett Johansson or Lee Kuan Yew or [insert your current idol].

But, while characteristics may vary, yet do we cleave to the principle that all men are equal, that no man may be above others.

Egalitarianism vs Elitism

Well, we sort of believe that, and yet conspire to ignore the obvious signs that some men are placed above others.

And at the same time, we are leery of men who claim an exalted position over the rest.

We call them Elites or their attitude, elitism.

They call themselves, "experts", those bastards.

Ernest Hemingway has this to say of them:
"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
In this day and age with Google, and Wikipedia, there is no need for "experts" anymore. Anyone can become an expert just by Googling the question or reading up Wikipedia.

"Experts" are going extinct and that scares them!

It is the new dawn of Egalitarianism!


Nice fantasy. Or delusion.

And that is how someone Googled his way into being the CPF Blogger and asked questions about the CPF and got answers he did not understand.

Anyone can be an expert on CPF:
It isn't like health care, where any change might involve building expensive and complex hospitals. Or training specialist doctors and nurses and anticipating new diseases.
Or like education, with so many different types of schools and universities, and curriculum to decide on, and teachers to train.
In contrast, changing the CPF scheme seems so simple, it appears that you or I could do it in the blink of an eye.
That's one reason so many people have so many ideas about how to improve it.
Change the contribution rate? Check.
Adjust the withdrawal age? Check.
Increase the interest rates? Check.
Increase the Minimum Sum? Check.
Do all four?
Why do people think that they are as smart as experts?

Education Inflation

In the 70s, the percentage of each cohort who eventually had a university degree or a diploma or some similar tertiary education was maybe 10% or less. The rest were A-level, O levels and lower.

Here are some official stats: For people aged 55 and above in 2014 (so they would be about 6 years old or older in 1965) only 14% had a degree or a diploma (some were obtained later in life, not prior to working). Note also that these are figures for Residents. So some were born overseas, educated overseas, and our immigration policy is tilted towards the higher educational qualification.

Today, 75% of the cohort would have a degree (51%) or diploma (24%).

Now, some of the people in the 70s would have done well academically, if they had higher education/tertiary education. They were smart. They just didn't have the opportunity to get educated.

Today 75% are tertiary educated or qualified.

Do you think that there are 5 times as many smart people as there were in the 70s? 10% graduates to 51% graduates. That means we are smarter right?

Do you think an average graduate today is as smart as a graduate in the 70s?

In the 70s, a graduate would likely fall within the top 10 percentile of intelligence (however you measure it). The scarcity of places in the University would have mean fierce competition to get into University. Today, over 50% get into university. A graduate would easily be from the 50th percentile or better. Sure there are smart ones who are the top 1% or 5%. But most graduates, or the average graduate would be... average.

In the 70s and 80s, a graduate was rare or at least not common (1 in 10). Today, at 50%, every other person is a graduate (1 in 2).

Put another way, if you take all the new graduates today and put them in the 70s and 80s, maybe just 1/5 of them would make it to university. And it would the the top fifth.

Eighty percent of the current cohort won't make the cut.

In the 70s, a graduate would be smarter than 90% of the population. Today, maybe half. Just maybe.

There are possibly two dangerous misperceptions. One, about 80% of graduates think they are as smart as any graduate in the past. Two, these 80% also think that they are as smart as other graduates, or even the graduates who are in the top 10%.

My point (if you haven't figured it out by now - are you a graduate?) is that the average graduate today aren't as smart as graduates used to be. Or rather, you can no longer use "graduate" as a filter to find the top 10% of the intelligent.

"Wait!" you say. "Why isn't it possible that people have just gotten smarter? That previously only 10% of people were capable of "higher thinking", but today, 50% are?"

Are People Getting Smarter?

So are people getting smarter?

Possible, but hard to say. If a person today took an IQ test from 100 years ago, on average they would score 130 which would put them in genius level. The link suggests that the evidence is hard to interpret with any certainty.

If we simply take the above "facts" at face value, there are many more geniuses today than 100 years ago.

I am sceptical of the validity of that conclusion.

IQ tests of any credibility usually do not allow a subject to take the test too frequently. There is an element of learning or familiarity involved. That is, if you want to do well in an IQ test, you can keep taking the tests. You should have a significant increase in your scores.

The point, if I may bring back to the issue of what can be equalise and what cannot, is this: Intelligence is a trait in which men are not equally endowed by nature. That is, Intelligence CANNOT be equalised. Education, however is a social status or a socially acquired status, and with sufficient will (or tweaking), it can be equalised.

So graduates are equal in education, but this leads to the assumption (or perception, or misperception) that this means that they are equal in intelligence.

Is this assumption/conclusion/perception correct?

If you accept that this is a valid conclusion, that education equals intelligence, or "actualised intelligence" (whatever that means), and educational qualifications that are equal in social status means that the holder of those qualifications are also equal in intelligence, then thank you for reading. You should stop reading now.

If your argument is that while men are not equal in intelligence (because nature is unfair), we have equalised intelligence (as much as we can) with education, feel free to stop reading now as you have come to a defensible conclusion.


But if you are still reading, I am going to assume that either a) you are open to other conclusions or conclusions that challenges yours. Or b) your comprehension and compliance skills are woefully inadequate (in order words, stupid and stubborn.) Or c) you find the above conclusion to be at odds with your observation of reality.

That is, you have met some pretty dumb graduates.

Ok. "Pretty dumb" is probably an exaggeration.

Let's just say that they have been "Educated Beyond their Intelligence" or EBI. (Hmmm... I guess I could refer to them as "prawns".)

EBIs are people with the educational qualification but not the mental agility or capacity to go with it.

[Conversely, I have met people who are smarter than their educational qualification would suggest. With our equal opportunity for all to attain educational qualification, there are very few who are smarter than their education, but it is possible. equalised opportunities are not perfect. Some are exceedingly unfortunate in their circumstances (e.g. they have a disabled family member and had to cut short their education to provide care or resources for their disabled family member), or are simply late bloomers. Some never overcome this social handicap. But some light cannot be hidden under a basket. ]

This generally is not a problem.

But it can become a problem when EBIs think that they are geniuses or that they know everything, or that with a little bit of research and "Googling", they would be able to find out information and figure things out for themselves.

That's when they decide that they are as smart as (or smarter than) half the people in the world, and so-called experts are not better than them.

That is, they become CPF Blogger.

[Afternote: EBIs believe that they are smarter than they are. Studies have found that educated people fall for scams, and the reason they do is because they think they are smart.]

The dangers of Elitism is well known.

What is less well known is the danger of unjustified extension of egalitarianism.

OK. That was too long a phrase. How about the Expertisation of the Masses? Anti-Elitism?

"Anti-elitism" is a good shorthand, but it's the belief of the EBIs that their thoughts and analyses are as valid or correct as the "Elites", that I am trying to describe - that the experts are no better at analysis than them. That expert opinions are no more than that - "opinions" - which are easily discounted, if not disproved. That their opinions are as valid or "weighty" as any expert.

Actually, there is a word for that, sort of: Isegoria.

Equality of Speech and Quality of Speech

This article explains the issue quite well.
"... uninformed debate... is the essence of mass democracy...
The ancient Greek thinkers understood the core problem... about the severe contradiction at the heart of the very concept of democracy.
And the Greeks had a word for that. Two words, actually.
The first was parrhesia, which sort of means "truth-telling" or "free, frank speech" in a profound way. The theoretical sine qua non of superior governance means the best decisions are produced by the best thought and information and discussion. Not everyone can do that.
So ongoing tension exists between parrhesia and its opposite, isegoria. This latter means (sort of) "everyone has an equal and absolute right to speak in public debate, whatever the truth value". (This is to say: no matter how uninformed or, arguably, even stupid.)"
"...democracy could either affirm equality of public speech at the expense of parrhesia or affirm quality of public discourse at the expense of isegoria."
So this is not a new idea.

The tension is between EQUALITY of speech, and QUALITY of speech.

So much so that increasingly, websites are constraining or even closing their comment section, because they realise that prioritising equality of speech has led to a decrease in the quality of speech.

[When printing first became viable, the first books to be published were highly valued books - bibles. Then as printing became cheaper and cheaper, and more colourful - Playboy. And when the Internet allowed anyone to publish anything... porn sites.]

This is probably an affront to  the advocates of Freedom of Speech, but non-idealogues (or non-advocates of unfettered Freedom of Speech) are coming to realise that not all speech are equal, not all opinions are equally informed, not all speech are worth listening to, and uninformed speech can undermine, distort, detract, divert, and subvert authentic discourse.

And some speech are actually intended to BLOCK discourse and decision (Google "filibuster").

But back to uninformed speech, and (maybe to be more generous) under-informed speech, and the belief or idea that ALL speech are equal regardless of the quality of the speech or the quality of thought (or lack of) behind such speech.

My point is that the idea of equality of speech is supported by "education inflation" where many if not most people are educated to a tertiary level.

We have equalised educational qualification. And this leads us to view "experts" with a suspicion of elitism. In the Information age, there are no experts (we may believe). Or rather we are all experts-to-be-just-a-Google-search-away.

So, in the Information Age, where everyone is educated to a high degree, and we can search for any information we want, and so our opinion is as valid as any other (isegoria), and experts do not have any "authority" or exclusive knowledge, anyone who styles himself an expert is an elitist who should be resisted and if possible brought down a peg.

But this intellectual independence was not simply from educational inflation. There was also the influence of Religion.

New Religious Traditions

In Christianity, Lutheranism began by questioning authority, leading to the Protestant movement which questioned the authority of a central church (Vatican, Rome) to define and dictate dogma and doctrine. The Lutheran/Protestant movement rejected central "authority" and "experts" and taught that (I am paraphrasing here) everyone had the wherewithal to interpret the Bible for themselves. The Bible was God speaking to them directly (still paraphrasing here) and God would have provided each of them with the mental acuity to interpret his words as he intended.

Similarly in Islam, the Wahhabism movement paralleled or mirrored the Protestant movement in that it urged Muslims to "reject the learned exegesis developed over the centuries by the ulema (“scholars”) and interpret the texts for themselves."

It is surprising (or perhaps not) how in both religion, followers were encouraged to think for themselves, to interpret scripture or texts for themselves and to reject the opinions of "experts".

And it is this reactionary, anti-establishmentarianism that is fuelling conspiracy movements/theories, and a sense of personal empowerment by questioning authority.

Or a sense that the authorities are incompetent (or corrupt) and we can prove it by finding a solution to a problem or mystery that eludes them or more completely resolves ALL the questions instead of only the relevant ones. Like the death of Elisa Lam.

[That is a long (about 40 minutes of reading) article but it summarises the incident in considerable detail. ]

The point is, there is still a place for experts. There is still a place for Authority. You cannot crowdsource EVERYTHING.

You cannot Google-Search yourself into an expert.

BUT... you can Google surf a given topic until you hit a conspiracy theory, or if none exists for that specific topic, I am sure you can come up with one after all. And THEN you will believe yourself to be an expert.

Egalitarianism taken to extreme leads to the mistaken belief that we can all interpret the Bible or the Quran, and that God is speaking to us directly through the holy books.

We reject the hubris of the "experts" who think they know better. We declare that in an age of Egalitarianism fueled by the information age and the easy access of information via the internet that we can all be "experts" base on our self-interpretation of the "text" - whether it be the Bible or the Quran, or FDA, WWF, EPA, or WHO reports.

And in rejecting "experts", we also reject "elites" who claim an exalted position over us, i.e. as "Experts". We declare that we can be as expert as any expert. We in fact reject the findings or recommendations of Experts, especially if we disagree with their politics or find their affiliation suspect. We reject Big Pharma, Big Agro, suspect the Medical Industry, adopt an Anti-Science stance that exceeds the bounds of scepticism.


What is interesting, is that in rejecting experts, rejecting elitism, we take on the mantle of "Experts" ourselves. We think we can know as much as an expert. We believe we are as good as the best.

And that is a form of elitism - when we believe we are experts on climate change, on alternative energy, on solar power, on green technology, on nuclear power, on BPA, on vaccination and the link to autism, on the conspiracy of the medico-pharmaceutical industry, on Monsanto, on GMO, on Fluoridation of our water.

<Please insert your own conspiracy theory here>

We are now living in a world full of experts.

Oops! Typo. I meant to write, "We are now living is a world fool of experts."

Fool of conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists (I blame the X-Files).

For every 9 people trying to move the world forward with science and scientific knowledge, 1 anti-science person is trying to hold us back. And then this 1 person claims isegoria as a right of free expression and a right to be heard and a right to balance the claims of science.

And then we spend months or years debating a non-science position as if it were an alternative to science.

Because these people believe that they are as expert as the experts.

That's Elitism. It's all in your head.

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