12 December 2023

All Three Down

Sunday afternoon, I had the gridiron football game on in the background, doing the beginnings of end-of-the-year paperwork, set to the local rivalry game — only in US sports can the "local rivalry" be a 900-mile road trip, and that is literally the closest possible away game, with the next-closest game significantly farther than a trip from Madrid to Berlin — and was subjected to a rash of really offensive commercials (I'm still itching). Perhaps the worst was a dare from Colin Cowherdard that "No matter how often you disagree with me, you'll still debate me."

No. I don't negotiate with terrorists, and I don't debate uninformed hypocritical idiots.

Which leads into last week's fiasco involving three "selective admission" (ok, for 1.5 of them) university presidents, the fools who prepared them for entirely the wrong kind of "hearing" for entirely the wrong audience, and their popular-kid interrogators taking great joy in dissing the nerds — again.

Oh, and one of the benefits of a "liberal education" is being able to spot the hypocrisy of the unreliable narrator, and even being able to spot the unreliable narrator at all (even for engineers). That's not one of the benefits that existing power structures really like all that much, so instead of giving students what they really want (the ability to analyze and change with changing conditions for an entire lifetime) the self-appointed power structure demands that "education" give the students what they ask for (immediate job prospects… with little possibility for promotion absent the secret handshake). <SARCASM> It's absolutely fascinating how those who advocate for "Joe the Plumber," to the exclusion of any other life path for late teens, don't know the difference between a spanner and a box wrench — never having encountered either, or a dictionary. </SARCASM> Still less do they understand that "Get thee to a nunnery!" is, in its original public meaning (for the public intended as its audience), not unambiguously a suggestion to join a celibate religious order; the point, as with so much in that play, is the interplay between ambiguity and indecisiveness in the context of a classical-form tragedy.

But that's a very nerdy tangent, a very abstract musing on misuse of language to distract from other related issues and overconfident certitude/righteousness — which is what those university presidents should have lectured their ignorant interrogators upon. Because that's what university presidents were (or were at least supposed to be) trained in before they deascended to administrative roles: Actual f*cking inquiry in a nonbinary universe. Even — and perhaps especially — at a science-oriented institution like MIT. Instead, they let themselves be guided by don't-offend-anyone PR flacks masquerading as "political consultants" and "lawyers," contradicting the values of their own institutions. They should have taken a page out of their interrogators' own playbook: Answered the questions they wanted to, that they were competent to, and not attempted to pin down exactly when they stopped beating their respective wives. They weren't as smart as Jed Bartlet and his advisors:

Sam: [W]e were convinced by polling that said he was going to be seen as arrogant no matter what performance he gave in the debate. And then, that morning at 3:10, my phone rings, and it's Toby Ziegler. He says, "Don't you get it? It's a gift that they're irreversibly convinced that he's arrogant 'cause now he can be." If your guy's seen that way, you might as well knock some bodies down with it.

"Game On!" The West Wing (season 4, episode 6, first aired 30 Oct 2002). Bluntly, no matter what those university presidents said, they were going to be viewed as arrogant, and certainly by those who do not want students to actually expand their horizons, ambitions, and knowledge, and most especially beyond inheriting the family farm/business/trust fund; they should have knocked some bodies down. Because there weren't any apparent brains to knock down on that committee; instead, that "hearing" reflected the distinction between "intelligent" and "clever," which seldom makes for good soundbites on behalf of "intelligent." They were advised to, and did, allow the lesser of who cares to be greater than them individually or their institutions or their personal and institutional values.