George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Yeah, well, most of the catastrophic fuck-ups depend on him too, as a crank like Shaw could well attest, had he been possessed of honesty and integrity instead of poisonous ideology. But speaking of unreasonable men trying to adapt the world to themselves, Freddie deBoer, squarer of circles, prophet of Procrusteanism, and virtual Renaissance Man of romantic incoherence, a man who can take a premise like, “I believe in human failure above all else. We will not build utopia with formal logic because the world is broken and we are broken within it” and somehow work his way to the conclusion that what we need is another Marxist revolution, recently published a book. Scott Alexander satisfyingly reviews it:
So maybe equality of opportunity is a stupid goal. DeBoer argues for equality of results. This is a pretty extreme demand, but he’s a Marxist and he means what he says. He wants a world where smart people and dull people have equally comfortable lives, and where intelligence can take its rightful place as one of many virtues which are nice to have but not the sole measure of your worth.
…But I understand why some reviewers aren’t convinced. This book can’t stop tripping over itself when it tries to discuss these topics. DeBoer grants X, he grants X -> Y, then goes on ten-page rants about how absolutely loathsome and abominable anyone who believes Y is.
…But this is exactly the worldview he is, at this very moment, trying to write a book arguing against! His thesis is that mainstream voices say there can’t be genetic differences in intelligence among individuals, because that would make some people fundamentally inferior to others, which is morally repugnant – but those voices are wrong, because differences in intelligence don’t affect moral equality. Then he adds that mainstream voices say there can’t be genetic differences in intelligence among ethnic groups, because that would make some groups fundamentally inferior to others, which is morally repugnant – and those voices are right; we must deny the differences lest we accept the morally repugnant thing.
Normally I would cut DeBoer some slack and assume this was some kind of Straussian manuever he needed to do to get the book published, or to prevent giving ammunition to bad people. But no, he has definitely believed this for years, consistently, even while being willing to offend basically anybody about basically anything else at any time. So I’m convinced this is his true belief. I’m just not sure how he squares it with the rest of his book.
…When I try to keep a cooler head about all of this, I understand that Freddie DeBoer doesn’t want this. He is not a fan of freezing-cold classrooms or sleep deprivation or bullying or bathroom passes. In fact, he will probably blame all of these on the “neoliberal reformers” (although I went to school before most of the neoliberal reforms started, and I saw it all). He will say that his own utopian schooling system has none of this stuff. In fact, he does say that. He sketches what a future Marxist school system might look like, and it looks pretty much like a Montessori school looks now. That just makes it really weird that he wants to shut down all the schools that resemble his ideal today (or make them only available to the wealthy) in favor of forcing kids into schools about as different from it as it’s possible for anything to be.
I am so, so tired of socialists who admit that the current system is a helltopian torturescape, then argue that we must prevent anyone from ever being able to escape it. Who promise that once the last alternative is closed off, once the last nice green place where a few people manage to hold off the miseries of the world is crushed, why then the helltopian torturescape will become a lovely utopia full of rainbows and unicorns. If you can make your system less miserable, make your system less miserable! Do it before forcing everyone else to participate in it under pain of imprisonment if they refuse!