Our own non-rational actors: We well recall our own first exposure to the wonders of Aristotle, the western world's first great logician.
It was the fall of 1965. We were sitting in Lowell Lecture Hall, enrolled in Humanities 5, Harvard's "Introduction to Everyone" course.
Five hundred youngsters sat in 500 seats, scribbling 500 sets of notes. We wondered why they didn't just mimeograph the lecture and pass the darn thing out.
We also took the price of tuition and multiplied by 500. Decades later, the historian Michael Dolan described the rumination which took place even as the late Rogers Albritton lectured:
DOLAN (2/17/95): Scratching lecture notes in huge hall after huge hall, he counted the house and multiplied by the tuition to see how well Harvard was doing. Harvard was doing well.Where was all that money going? Inquiring minds wanted to know!
We'll admit that, as it turned out, we never reviewed our lecture notes when that first semester ended. We'll further admit that, to this very day, we have no idea why you'd take a bunch of college freshmen and makes them listen to hour-long lectures about what Aristotle wrote.
Is is true that Aristotle's "philosophy," if we want to presume that there is such a critter, "continues to be central to the contemporary philosophical discussion?" (For background, see yesterday's report.)
That assertion can be true only if some such "contemporary discussion" exists! We'll continue exploring such ponderables, even returning to that lecture hall and its inhabitants and its environs, as this new year seems to move along.
The year will run beneath an award-winning banner: "Aristotle's error." Yesterday, additional evidence of the logician's famous error did in fact swim into view. We'll start with yesterday's post by Zak Cheney-Rice, a youngish writer at New York magazine whom we've never met.
Cheney-Rice was discussing the same New York Times report to which we ourselves linked in yesterday's report. We thought of Nestor's statement to Diomedes when Cheney-Rice discussed Mayor de Blasio's attempts to "integrate" New York City's eight high-powered high schools.
CHENEY-RICE (2/7/19): Bill de Blasio’s efforts to integrate New York City’s specialized public high schools are in limbo at the moment, pending legal challenges and resistance from parents of current students. The New York Times took the opportunity on Wednesday to publish a series of interviews with Asian-American alumni regarding the mayor’s hotly debated proposals.Cheny-Rice proceeded to scold Soo Kim. We'll pose a couple of questions:
One response in particular stands out: that of Soo Kim, who graduated Stuyvesant High School in 1993, attended Princeton University, and is now president of Stuyvesant’s alumni association. Kim opposes the mayor’s plan—which includes a more inclusive admissions process that I will describe in greater detail later—but his take on the conversation about race and segregation that surrounds it is also worth a closer look.
“How is this possible, that people are saying we’re segregated, we’re Jim Crow,” Kim told the Times. “These words are too harsh. It makes me feel like I’m a bad person.”
This is a striking and revelatory assessment of what’s happening.
Are New York City's public schools actually "segregated" at the present time? Are New York City's eight high-powered, "specialized" high schools "segregated?"
Borrowing from a previous president, it all depends on what the meaning of "segregated" is! That said, new definitions of this heavily fraught historical term—new definitions which have been churned by a generation of our own tribe's propagandists—are deeply pleasing, at this time, within our own liberal tribe.
The new definitions provide lots of heat but offer much less light. Meanwhile, Cheney-Rice again slid past the obvious question about de Blasio's plan for those eight high-powered high schools:
If lots more kids would be able to benefit from high-powered high school instruction, why doesn't New York City create additional high-powered seats at an array of high-powered high schools, including the eight which exist?
Rather than ask this obvious question, our tribe likes to locate the racists. As we do, we never present the data shown below. These data define the modern version of "the problem we all live with:"
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2017 NaepFor all Naep data, start here.
New York City Public Schools
White students: 290.71
Black students: 255.63
Hispanic students: 263.56
Asian-American students: 306.03
Applying a standard, very rough rule of thumb, the achievement gaps defined by those data are horrendous, vast. That said, liberal intellectuals of the present day will also have standard ways to explain that state of affairs, built from the kinds of data our intellectuals can explore from the comfort of their Westwood offices or from their nearby homes.
We love the fighting and the name-calling; we rarely offer full ranges of facts. Can Aristotle's formulation about "rational animals," at least as it's widely understood, possibly explain this behavior by our own self-impressed, war-like tribe?
Our modern self-impressed liberal tribe loves to hunt the racists! For ourselves, we think of what noble Nestor so thoughtfully said, as caught on tape by Homer:
"...but you reach no useful end."
How might those gruesome achievement gaps get closed in New York? In New York magazine, simply put, that question doesn't arise.
Aristotle's error came to mind a second time when we read Catherine Rampell's new column in the Washington Post. Let's think about something Rampell explicitly says, and about something which gets omitted.
Rampell's column deals with the per capita cost of American health care. More specifically, she discusses the per capita cost of America health care "among Medicare beneficiaries," or perhaps among "the elderly" in general, though that term goes undefined.
On line, though not in print editions, the column contains a graphic which sets the cost of "per-capita health care spending for the elderly" at $18,555 in 2015.
(Full disclosure! That figure is said to have been "adjusted to 2010 dollars using the gross domestic product deflator." In this situation, we don't understand that statement. Then again, neither does anyone else reading the Washington Post.)
At any rate, we're given a figure for health care spending on "the elderly" here in the U.S. Here are the figures we didn't get—the figures we will never get in the Washington Post:
Per-capita health care spending for the elderly, 2015Simply put, you'll never see the comparable figures from those roughly comparable nations. Dearest darlings, use your heads! In this most rational of all possible worlds, it simply isn't done!
United States: $18,555
United Kingdom: —
The amazingly high rate of health care spending in the U.S. affects a wide array of major policy matters. But major newspapers like the Post will never show you the amazing international data which define the "the problem we all live [and die] with" in this crucial area.
Simply put, it isn't done—and Rachel and Lawrence and all the hacks agree that they mustn't tell you. Would "rational animals" function this way? Or is Aristotle's famous statement, as understood, possibly an error?
The sheer stupidity of our public discourse has been astounding for decades now. We began planning this site in the fall of 1997 because we couldn't take it any more.
From that day to this, the rational animals within our upper-end "mainstream press corps" have focused on wardrobe, hair styles and body language, and of course on who BLEEPed whom back in 2006. Within our own pseudo-liberal tribe, we focus on chasing the racists all over town while ignoring the groaning problems low-income children, and their parents, are all required to live with.
Lounging in their quarters in Westwood, our academics redefine highly-charged terms, the better to posture with. For ourselves, we're glad that Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, isn't around to see this.
Since roughly forever, we humans, at least in the western world, have told ourselves that we were made in God's image and that we're rational animals. Darwin said this wasn't quite right. In his own way, the later Wittgenstein said goodbye to all this too.
Which part of no don't our journalists and our elite logicians understand? However you choose to answer that, it's time for a new paradigm.
Next week, we'll move from Aristotle's historic error to what Professor Harari has said. And no, you won't have to take any notes. You can push CTRL and P. You can just print it on out!
Next week: "Man [sic] is the rational animal?" Harari says no to all that!