April 14, 2007

Elites

A friend emails:

My own idea about elites runs something like this:

[1. Social evolution is largely unintentional.

[2. Social subsystems (politics, economics, demographics, cultural, etc) evolve rather independently of one another. This from Niklas Luhmann.

[3. Nevertheless, there are overlaps among *people* at the apex of these elites, as seen in boards of directors, cocktail parties, etc. To join this overlapping consensus of respectability, you can't criticize other subsystems to vigorously, e.g., you can't denounce modern art as a fraud.

[4. Power very largely consists of being able to define what criticisms are off the wall, over the top, and out to lunch. Racial differences in intelligence and certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy (past and present) are two examples that come to mind. This is a negative or Calhounian veto power. Those who wield it do not "run the world." Rather they can block significant changes that reduce their power.

[5. Nevertheless, what is regarded as respectable over time evolves, again, largely outside the intentions of the gatekeepers. Thus, Tom Wolfe can lambast modern art and still get invited to the right cocktail parties. And libertarians now have a seat at the table, though not a full seat. This depends on the seat: libertarians have no place at a table made up of the Education administrative blob.

[6. Organizations evolve with a logic of their own and getting into an organization elite requires displays of loyalty above anything else.

[7. There once was a "power elite," chiefly made up of business, government, and military, but such a consensus has been replaced since the 1950s if not before by what Luhmann calls functional subsystems in a plural elite model.

[8. The respectability elite continues, and Bill Gates has managed to become a full-fledged member by mouthing the right opinions. But Gates, while his company has changed the world, has no power to change the respectability consensus about the goodness of public education or any other respectability shibboleth. His alleged power, outside of Microsoft, is really gaining applause for himself. In fact, the respectability elite is more of an inner circle of pretense than a group that can significantly change things.

[9. There can be a wide divergence between mass and elite opinion. Examples are the Lone Nut Hypothesis of who shot JFK (all the elite, 20% of the public), continuing to ban school prayer (ditto), and allowing unlimited immigration (not quite all of the elite, but again 20% of the public). There are less drastic divides over strange phenomena and evolution (few of the elite against, but smaller portions of the masses) and over unorthodox medicine (more of the elite but not as great as of the masses). The reasons for this divide vary quite a bit and are well worth inquiring into.

[My model, in short, is that intentions matter little, that a plurality of elites represent functional subsystems, and that there is a respectability consensus that rewards those who refrain from making off the wall, out to lunch, and over the top pronouncements.]


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...And libertarians now have a seat at the table, though not a full seat."

Libertarians are the red-headed step-children of public discourse.

Dave said...

It's interesting to consider the previous thread about hedge funds and investing in the context of this. Perhaps the Efficient Markets Theory is one of those things that elites choose to espouse for similar reasons? This could be an alternate explanation of why Warren Buffett, who has mocked and profited from believers in the EMT for decades, has just written a blurb for Jack Bogle's new book about index investing.

JSBolton said...

This doesn't explain why some attitudes common to elites are enforced and others not.
Nor can it explain why such enforceable elite beliefs would ever change; but they do change.
There was an elite consensus that the minority crime wave was unstoppable, and anyone who wanted an imprisonment-only option was beyond the pale; but the people overthrew that elite consensus. Government schools-dominated elite opinion serves power-greed, and tries for as much power as can be
gotten away with in a given time and place.
When a subject population is especially resistant to the aggrandizement of power, such elites try to change the population,
via immigration.
The various consensus elite opinions which are not really true, can be seen as merely expedient to the cause of increasing state power over against those inclined to oppose it.
Where there is no power issue at stake, it turns out to be quite allright to tell the truth, such as in most of science and technology.

Anonymous said...

Elite opinion can be very vulnerable to catastrophic events or revolutions. An example would be eugenics, which was the default Elite position from say Darwin through WWII.

It was only the Nazi Death camps and the graphic photos that made the elites toss eugenics, forced sterilization, and racial theories of intelligence down the memory hole. For example, Margaret Sanger, Teddy Roosevelt, the founding Chancellor of Stanford, Earl Warren, were all fervent believers in eugenics and forced sterilization.

I would also argue that elites are interconnected. Thus Eve Ensler, Al Gore, David Geffen, Warren Buffet, Steven Spielberg, and Nancy Pelosi all form the same elite social structure and group. Which gives them cohesiveness but also makes them vulnerable to social revolutions.

Just as a whole wave of young people with vastly different attitudes presaged the end of the 1950's consensus and the shape of that elite group, so too will another wave of young people eventually overwhelm the current uber-Left consensus.

Just as an example: if Al Qaeda uses Pakistani or Iranian or North Korean nukes to wipe out a US city, the current elite structure would crumble. And by that I mean more than just politics. It would collapse in art, movies, music, the press, etc. because it's all so obviously inter-connected that a massive loss of competence and/or control makes all aspects of elite groups vulnerable.

I also think Bill Gates has had enormous influence over public policy. Just because you don't notice the network effect of Microsoft Windows, MS Office, the Microsoft standards for digital media etc. doesn't mean it's not there. IMHO it's like arguing Thomas Edison had little influence because he was not directing Education policy.

JSBolton said...

In general, though, it is good to have descriptions of these elite opinion uniformities which do not resort to conspiracy theory.
When enforcement mechanisms exist, it is not necssary to assume a conspiracy. Individuals fall into line without being told, and few, if any, would need direct communication from a putative central conspiratorial circle.
It is part of human nature to be watchful of what the permitted attitudes are, even when society moves beyond, at least in some fields, from the primitive level of taboo enforcement.
The individuals with the most influence can separately arrive at just those speech codes, which are best for the promotion of power aggrandizement in a given context.
They can and do imitate without being obedient, out of common interest.

Anonymous said...

if Al Qaeda uses Pakistani or Iranian or North Korean nukes to wipe out a US city, the current elite structure would crumble.

Is that so? Really? Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad thing, and such a big price after all...

ricpic said...

Extreme summary: want to join the power elite? check your mischeif gene at the door.

ricpic said...

Mispelled mischief. I'll never make it into the elite ranks.

Anonymous said...

Part of that eliteness is good networking, brown-nosing lots and lots of people higher than yourself. And then taking their positions.

That's why the attitudes are so regulated: it's about not offending integral links in the elite network.

But at the end of the day, who really gives a damn? Those elites are spoilt kids with their heads full of fluff, and maybe some excellent skills in one field or another.

That "the meek shall inherit the earth" is not some kind of quasi-Communist threat. It's a fact of life. All those fools who spend their lives in cocktail parties, where will they be in 500 years? Dust. Grassroots aspects of folk cultures endure in a way that all that pretension can never mimick.

So what, Tom Wolfe writes against modern art, which every educated person knows is just so cutting edge. Every regular Joe can take one look at the slop made by the likes of Pollack or Rauschenberg and see that this is a scam for rich suckers. Who needs a book to see that?

Brown-nosing social climbers learn to parrot-like repeat all the right phrases for respectability among the "respectable." But that's just a wheel-spinning game. Where is their real "power"? It depends on many, many more people on the ground.

Ron Guhname said...

We're told that power gives you freedom, but in an important sense the nobody who can get away with saying "nappy-headed ho's" if he feels like it is truly free.

Being an elite reminds me of the old story of the young princess who is an unhappy slave to her straightjacket life.

fwood1 said...

“It was only the Nazi Death camps and the graphic photos that made the elites toss eugenics, forced sterilization, and racial theories of intelligence down the memory hole.”

If the crimes of National Socialism made beliefs in eugenics and, more generally, racial differences unfashionable (actually, downright immoral), than why haven’t the crimes of Communism made belief in egalitarianism forbidden?

“Just as a whole wave of young people with vastly different attitudes presaged the end of the 1950's consensus and the shape of that elite group, so too will another wave of young people eventually overwhelm the current uber-Left consensus.”

I hope you’re right, but I’m not holding my breath.

David Davenport said...

Bill Gates has lots of power, because he has lots of $.

If he wants to, Gates can heavily influence politics by means of heavy campaign contributions. Likewise for "charitable' donations to universities and suchlike.

There are less drastic divides over strange phenomena and evolution (few of the elite against, but smaller portions of the masses) and over unorthodox medicine (more of the elite but not as great as of the masses).

This fellow sounds a bit loony fringe-y. Is he trying to insinuate that truth is merely a matter of opinion polls, and/or that the elite are hiding the truth about “strange phenomena”?

TabooTruth said...

I have alot of trouble believing that elites are nothing but bs. They are probably much more knowledgeable about the world than the non elites.

After all, who believes that the world was created exactly the way the bible describes? Elites or the average citizens?

Who knew (in 2003) that Saddam was NOT behind the 9/11 attacks? Elites or average citizens?

When it comes to racial differences in intelligence, do you think the non-elites would be willing to admit Jewish and Asian superiority?

Would the non-elites be willing to admit that their intolerance of gays is simply a slightly more moderate form of general islamic intolerance?

Darwinian Individualist said...

What is "the elites"?

I don't like that term because it isn't very clear.

What kind of elite are we talking about?

Russell said...

I have a hard time believing that someone like bill gates really has no power to change discourse with his money and influence. It seems to me like he just happens to be a believer in the fashionable orthodoxies of our time.

If Bill Gates had the convictions of say, Tom Tancredo, and focused his public influence and resources on effecting Tancredo-like goals, do you really think he would be cast out and ignored? After all, acquiring his power and status wasn't based on kowtowing to political or cultural positions. MS would be MS whether or not he was privately a libertarian, liberal, conservative Nazi or Communist.

Fleming said...

Gates certainly has the power to effect public discourse. Just last week, I heard someone complain that Windows Vista was, and I quote, "one unholy piece of shite'. Is that not proof?

Svigor said...

If the crimes of National Socialism made beliefs in eugenics and, more generally, racial differences unfashionable (actually, downright immoral), than why haven’t the crimes of Communism made belief in egalitarianism forbidden?

Lol. Indeed. Reality is less important than the perception thereof.

Anonymous said...

What is "the elites"?

Here's a definition for you: real Elites control what goes into the Memory Hole.

Example:


High-Fivers and Art Student Spies: What Did Israel Know in Advance of the 9/11 Attacks?


By CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM

"What is perhaps most damning is that the Israelis' celebration on the New Jersey waterfront occurred in the first sixteen minutes after the initial crash, when no one was aware this was a terrorist attack. In other words, from the time the first plane hit the north tower, at 8:46 a.m., to the time the second plane hit the south tower, at 9:02 a.m., the overwhelming assumption of news outlets and government officials was that the plane's impact was simply a terrible accident. It was only after the second plane hit that suspicions were aroused. Yet if the men were cheering for political reasons, as they reportedly told the FBI, they obviously believed they were witnessing a terrorist act, and not an accident."

"After returning safely to Israel in the late autumn of 2001, three of the five New Jersey Israelis spoke on a national talk show that winter. Oded Ellner, who on the afternoon of September 11 had, like his compatriots, protested to arresting officer Sgt. Dennis Rivelli that "we're Israeli", admitted to the interviewer: "We are coming from a country that experiences terror daily. Our purpose was to document the event". By his own admission, then, Ellner stood on the New Jersey waterfront documenting with film and video a terrorist act before anyone knew it was a terrorist act."

The flushing of these facts down the Memory Hole is one of the greatest demonstrations of elite power in American history. The outright banning of debate, discussion and analysis of these facts in the US media and the open discussion of the facts in the Israeli media, is proof of a consolidated power elite.

"[7. There once was a "power elite," chiefly made up of business, government, and military, but such a consensus has been replaced since the 1950s if not before by what Luhmann calls functional subsystems in a plural elite model."

Really, is that what it is, a plural elite? Every mover & shaker in the halls of power in the US is petrified of running afoul of a "plural elite", Mr Luhmann??

In the spirit of Stephen Jay Gould, let's all say it five times before breakfast tomorrow, "The Plural Elite controls the Memory Hole".

Ron Guhname said...

I didn't know that anyone actually reads Luhmann. He's basically ignored in American sociology (because he's not far enough Left, I'm sure). But of course, everyone's crazy about Habermas.

JSBolton said...

There is a real elite in every field, and there are those at the top of every networking congealment.
As in the featured quote, we're still trying to describe how it happens that a political elite, and a social elite, and an inheritance, an athletic and a merit one can all converge on a series of positions which are at variance with the facts, and obviously so.
The problem is to do this without assuming conspiracy, that is, without any overall conspiracy.
The quote mentions enforcement;
but what could emplace the enforcers at the outset, and if they are taken as a historical given, how could they ever be overthrown?
If IQ is brought in, one could recall that the smartest pretty much all start as students in need of winning the favor, and avoiding the disfavor, of several professors, to advance in their fields.
This allows a historical given of a semi-random group of state-established scholars
to be attitude gatekeepers through the government schools.
The situation regarding intellectual conformity and persistence of false elite consensus beliefs against overwhelming evidence, is much worse in countries where government schools dominate at every level. Another factor is disloyalism of elites, a term which defines the sort of elites, not by field but by their character.
Until recent decades, no country had these disloyalistic elites in charge of defining eduacated opinion.
The contradictions involved in having the anti-nationality elites, are extreme: especially with anything related to war.

Craig said...

What elites do, say, and believe is basically about 3 things: making money, mating, and social networking (related to the first two). Perhaps you can also include finding a way to justify their actions to themselves and feeling self-righteous.

The search for truth is all but irrelevant. Sure, if you're a truth-seeker who discovers a big-time truth - Nobel Laureate, etc. - they'll let you into their circle. But how many truth-seekers ever make it so far? Not many. A tiny fraction, in fact.

Most of us ignore 99% of the world's problems, because we have to just to survive. Well, the elites ignore 99.999%. When they do pay attention to them, it's purely for self-promotion.

Even very wealthy elites have to keep a muzzle on. Bill Gates may not really believe in a multicultural society, for example, but he better pretend to, or half of his programmers would be ticked.

none of the above said...

Surely, nobody needs a conspiracy to understand about what is and is not acceptable to say in various groups. Probably every one of us has had hundreds of experiences in which we felt the pressure, subtle or not, to refrain from discussing certain subjects, or to be careful mentioning some things.

I have seen no evidence of an elite with great power over what's acceptable to talk about. Different people try to move the window of acceptable opinion in different directions, and sometimes they succeed. Events also move the window. And people tend to produce a picture of the world in keeping with their beliefs, especially the beliefs they have to hold to be popular or to not be racists or commies or whatever.

Elites at every level get burned by the taboos, and use them as weapons against one another. Remember Trent Lott's lynching by Republicans? Do you imagine this was mainly because he violated the speech codes of the elites, rather than because Rove and company had someone else they wanted in his job?

The creepy thing about this is that, to the extent people aspire to the elite of any field or area, they have to appear to believe the ideas of the people at the top of that field or area. It's expensive, in terms of risk and mental effort, to believe radically different things than you go around pretending to believe. The natural result of this is that by climbing the pyramid of some field, you tend to simply accept certain ideas, to become one of the people who espouses the beliefs you must espouse.

SFG said...

"If Bill Gates had the convictions of say, Tom Tancredo, and focused his public influence and resources on effecting Tancredo-like goals, do you really think he would be cast out and ignored? After all, acquiring his power and status wasn't based on kowtowing to political or cultural positions. MS would be MS whether or not he was privately a libertarian, liberal, conservative Nazi or Communist."

Mel Gibson's not as big as Bill Gates, but he's gotten a lot of flack for being an ultra-conservative Catholic. He also had the misfortune to mess with the Jews, in Hollywood. If you're an evangelical Christian pork magnate you can support anti-Semitism with a lot more impunity.

"Thus Eve Ensler, Al Gore, David Geffen, Warren Buffet, Steven Spielberg, and Nancy Pelosi all form the same elite social structure and group. Which gives them cohesiveness but also makes them vulnerable to social revolutions."
What about Dick Cheney, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Dennis Hastert? There's a conservative power elite too. They don't overlap much with the liberal ones you mentioned. Which suggests elections are actually a choice between the Gore-Pelosi-Buffett crowd and the Cheney-Dobson-Robertson crowd.

It's like a high school election where you get to choose between the president of the football team and the valedictorian. But you can't vote for the lead in the school play, the head of the computer club, or the leader of the skater punks who hang out back and smoke.

You see this with topics like immigration; the elite groups hate each other but support it for completely different reasons (cheap labor for Republicans, ethnic votes for Democrats). So it gets squelched. A Perot-like anti-immigration, anti-trade option has failed to catch on. Conspiracy? I'm honestly not sure.

spect8or said...

JSBolton:"This doesn't explain why some attitudes common to elites are enforced and others not.
Nor can it explain why such enforceable elite beliefs would ever change; but they do change."

That's true.

My answer to the last part is that (a) as unbelievable as it may seem to us who oppose today's elites' beliefs, those beliefs are affected and changed by rational argument and (b) specific events which more or less highlight inadequcies (real or perceived) in the previous set of beliefs.

We can see examples of (a)in the Enlightenment and later with the arguments of Marx and the socialists. (In my opinion, an open-minded or politically neutral person cannot come away from reading Marx without allowing that the man made some cutting sociological insights. Whether one agrees with his prescriptions is another matter entirely, but that he was onto something with his analyses is hard to deny. Point being, while the prols might have been roused with raw propaganda, the elite opinion was swayed largely by reason.)

Indeed, it's the latter that continues to form the bedrock of the values and beliefs espoused by the intellectual elite. At heart, in my opinion, they adhere to it because of the profound sadness they see as underyling nature. Forget life as you've learnt it through your own experiences; take it apart and put it back together as a bunch of natural processes and, for most of it, it has been and still is a wasteland of use, abuse, exploitation, mutilation, frustration, aggravation and depravation. And, to the intellectual with the ability to see all that, to "feel" it -- though he hasn't experienced it -- deep in his bones, that fact overrules all else.

Now, the average guy doesn't, won't and, realistically, *can't* see it that way -- basically becauase such insight probably require more processing power than the average guy has. In Marx's day, however, riling up the prols was an easy sell. Different story today. The old propaganda doesn't work so well. So new strategies are needed. Enter 'anti-discrimination'. At bottom, that's what political corretness is all about.

From there, selling a stealth Marxism is child's play. You'll never get prols, most of whose kids think nothing of knocking a seagull out of the sky with a stick or swinging a cat around by its tail, to even reflect on, let alone experience/feel, the profound sadness-of-life that drives Marxists. And you'll never actually even get them to stop discriminating. But you can sure get them to feel *ashamed* about it and to deny that they do it and to agree that it's a bad thing, a very bad thing; in short, you've got them on-board.

Similarly with the middle class. They're either too damn happy or too damn ambitious to stop and consider, in this age of progress and mobility, something as depressing (and immobilizing) as *sadness*, of all things. But selling them on a program of easygoing, soft-rock "I'm OK, You're OK, live and let live, mind your own business and let others mind theirs" feel-goodism is the easiest thing in the world.

The non-intellectual elites? They're just happy being elites, and will go along with whatever the current fashion is as long as it (a)(i) keeps people off their back and (ii) away from their bank accounts and (b)even better, *exalts* them.

Given this, it's easy to see how am ambitious social climber would self-censor his opinions and even convince himself of the elites' beliefs. It's easy to see how he'd agree or simply go along with every new instance of "discrimination" that intellectual elites invent, and buy the reasoning about how such discrimination explains the still evident "inequality" in society.

From the intellectual elites' perspective, of course, the ultimate aim is to have people agreeing that the ONLY remaining solution to society's problems is a full-blown socialism. (And no, I don't think these intellectuals actually believe socialism will solve anything. I think their hope is simply that people will learn to be compassionate with one another; I mean, that people's overriding concern in life will come to be the amount of compassion they display.)

And there you have it: "How Society Works" in, what was it, five or six easy paragraphs. :)

spect8or@auswww.com

SFG said...

Do you think his 'intellectual elites' are the same as my 'liberal elite' and 'non-intellectual elites' are the same as my 'conservative elite'?

Anonymous said...

Spect8tor,
I don't agree. The tragic view of humanity is actually part of conservatism (or was). Marxists, on the other hand have a very high regard for *themselves*, and Marxism aims at an impossible utopia, free of the ills of life itself. Good utopianists usually attribute the failure of their schemes to whomever is least willing to go along. It was said that in the Soviet Union failure to realise the Marxist dream was often pinned the rest of the world's refusal to join in. The other point is that for many, Marxism is a vehicle for furthering ethnic goals, which is often accompanied by self-deception, since ethnic sensibilities subconciously influence political preferences.

Your idea that elites have a keener appreciation of the ugliness of reality than everyone else, I simply don't buy. As I said many elites are egotistical. Often accomanying egotism is the tendency to project. That's why there are so many smart people who think that anyone could be as smart as they themsleves are. They simply can't *imagine* what it's like to not be like them because they are always thinking of themselves.

Imagination occluded by projection is a theme found in literature. In Lord of the Rings Sauron cannot imagine that anyone would want to destroy the ring since he only thinks in terms of his own values (power, revenge etc.). THe good guys on the other hand do understand him.

JSBolton said...

Of course intellectual elites are never going to be happy people, so long as they wish for power to impose a new society dreamed up as an application of 'elegant' theory, with facts or contradictions, no object.
The smugness of the multitude doesn't justify lying to them. Anti-discrimination as a social and political ideal, became an enforceable one, when the class war was mostly given up on. Power-greed drove the whole process, even as now the dishonest elites are working to add the war of religion onto the racial-ethnic conflicts which they've been cultivating for over 40 years.
If even those are not enough, they have global warming as an excuse to get dictatorship in the countries which have been resistant to it.
The lies and manipulations change; when the war of religion becomes the hope of officials and their scholars, anti-discrimination will turn out to be as disposable as anti-snobbism was, when the hopes for the class war faded.
All of this predictable if one observes that the idea is always to get the most power as can be reliably gotten away with in a jurisdiction at a a given time.

Dave said...

Speaking of elites, I wonder if any of you have seen the news of our governor's accident here in NJ. This guy is a former head of Goldman Sachs and had the largest stake when it went public (about $300 million at the time) and was previously one of our U.S. Senators.

According to the article linked to above, "Corzine has been a proponent of seat belt usage. As a U.S. senator in 2001, Corzine proposed having the federal government direct states to pass laws requiring children under age 16 to wear seat belts."

Corzine was not wearing a seatbelt when his SUV spun into a guard rail at 91 mph. His state trooper driver and his political aide, who were wearing seat belts, suffered only minor injuries. Corzine suffered a compound fracture of his femur, broke his sternum, 11 ribs and a vertebrae. He's been on a ventilator since the accident.