Arnold Kling  

Politics and Identity

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I recommend this lecture from Bill Bishop. By the way, I am finding an incredible amount of interesting videos these days. I think that somebody who is motivated to learn and has some good sources of recommendations could get do much better on line than by attending college. A few months ago, I was not aware of so much stuff.

Anyway, Bishop says that politics is closely linked to identity. He says that door-to-door voter efforts work best when someone who looks like a neighbor does the canvassing. It reminds me of the auto dealer that keeps one salesperson of each ethnic group on hand, and then matches like with like as you walk in the door.

My identity is confused, of course, and it always has been. I mostly identify as an intellectual, putting me in the far left camp. But there is a part of me that loses patience with intellectuals. I would much prefer to spend time around smart business people than around college professors. I may occasionally complain about my lack of academic status, but I would never trade my years at Freddie Mac and as an entrepreneur for the equivalent years in academia. Above all, I would not trade my wife for an academic spouse or trade my daughters for faculty brats.

I think that the main element in my identity is that I resent being told what to do, and I resent people in authority. I have a hostility toward top dogs, whether they are in academia, business, or politics. I can control this hostility up to a point, but it is never far from the surface. So it is not surprising that I would gravitate toward a libertarian outlook. I don't root for either the Democrats or the Republicans to gain more authority.



COMMENTS (8 to date)
silvermine writes:

I'm in silicon valley. There's a pretty common joke around here that I like:

"Optimists say the glass is half-full.

Pessimists say it is half-empty.

Engineers say the glass is the wrong size."

So in this election, I have one side telling me that you can't trust Obama with all this power. The other side is saying you can't trust McCain with all this power. My answer is that you can't trust anyone with all this power!

The problem is that people want to give way too much power to one location, with one person. Local, local, local...

And I don't think you need internet video to get a better than college education on your own. ;) But hey, if you like videos, they're there too.

TC writes:

So it is not surprising that I would gravitate toward a libertarian outlook. I don't root for either the Democrats or the Republicans to gain more authority.

I think you might be comparing apples to oranges in those last two statements.

The Democrat party is a large political party. The Republican party is also a large political party.

However, libertarian is an ideology, a worldview, not a large political party.

Given that the US electoral system does not allocate legislative or executive power based on proportional representation, many people of varying ideologies end up becoming supporters of one of the two large political parties, instead of casting protest votes for political parties that receive, on average, less than 1 percent of the vote in elections.

If you stated that you vote for Republican candidates for Congress and Democrat candidates for President, in support of your desire that neither large political party obtain "more authority," that might be easier to understand.

But you make it sound like all American voters who subscribe to some variant of libertarian ideology should sit out the Democrat/Republican contest.

Perhaps. But doesn't that end up giving people who don't subscribe to a libertarian ideology more electoral power than otherwise? It seems more sensible that libertarians should try to influence one of the two (or both) large political parties, especially through the primary process.

Also, identity voting seems like harmful voter behavior. Wouldn't we frown on a Baptist who could only vote for other Baptists but not a Lutheran? Wouldn't we frown on an Italian-American who could only vote for other Italian-Americans but never for a Polish-American?

I would hope that people would move away from identity politics and try to approach political issues from an abstract perspective, rather than simply cheering for the guy wearing my color jersey.

Dr. T writes:

I have similar feelings. I was in academia (and had a delayed promotion, despite greater ability and better quality publications than most peers), left academia, then worked at a VA medical center with a faculty appointment at a medical school. I always disliked authority, hated bureaucracy (but survived five years at the VA), and didn't feel a part of the faculty/intellectual camp or the business leader/entrepreneur camp. I've been strongly libertarian since my teens.

I have no advice to give, because I am dissatisfied with my own career path but cannot figure out how to fix it (now, or retrospectively). I like being a clinical pathologist, but rarely get to do so. (Most time is spent fighting bureaucracy, overcoming academic and healthcare inefficiencies, and getting funds.) People who are constitutionally unable to compromise on principal have a difficult time finding a comfortable niche.

Unit writes:

Vote local, keep your voice in the community.

Ed writes:

I think that somebody who is motivated to learn and has some good sources of recommendations could get do much better on line than by attending college.

Don't know whether that was tongue-in-cheek, but my sense is that even with pretty substantial motivation, it's hard for most people to succeed at this sort of thing without the structure provided by an actual degree program.

sohaib writes:

As a college student, I am constantly frustrated by the incredible amount of irrelevant nonsense I have to put up in order earn a degree. I love learning on my own and read constantly. I can honestly say I have learned twice as much on my own time than I have in college, of which I am in my senior year. Many topics I've taught myself about don't even have classes offered that talk about the subject. These include subjects like chaos theory and evolutionary psychology. Either that or the classes that teach the subjects have a ton of pre-requisites which would be impossible for me to cover since the subject is not my major and thus would require me to double or triple major to learn all of them, forcing me to spend many extra years throwing away even more money.

Even the classes in my major are a toss up as often times a bad professor will teach little to nothing and I am forced to learn the subject on my own. And don't even get me started on the liberal arts classes where every professor has a horrifically biased postmodernist agenda to push, and will not give you a good grade unless you agree with them. Seriously, if I didn't HAVE to go to college, I would leave this nonsense in a heartbeat. In my life it creates more value in terms of the social benefits it brings much more than the intellectual stimulation.

It is a complete waste of time and money and if every PhD program didn't require an undergraduate degree, I would drop out asap. I think if a grad school were to just interview me or require a test of some kind, or even simply asked me "what do you know" they would get a better idea of what me strengths and weaknesses are than they would by looking at my transcripts and GRE scores. And I have a 3.6, which is considered a pretty good gpa. It is sad really how little that gpa means though.

Ben Casnocha writes:

Arnold,

You write, "But there is a part of me that loses patience with intellectuals. I would much prefer to spend time around smart business people than around college professors."

I would love to hear more about this. Was/is the business world sufficiently intellectual for you? What is it about academics that you find annoying?

Yes, we have not got to the point where band width is not as much as a limiting factor in providing data as we have before.

I am sure that Mark Thoma is familiar with most people here including Dr. Kling but I did want to point out that he basically has his complete course online at: Video Lectures

I finished watching his class on Econometrics and while I missed the reading it helped fill a gap in my on-line courses. I am getting an MSc in Financial Economics from University of London and it is all text so having videos to watch helped explain and enhance what I was studying.

I also have seen text books about Money and Banking, Microeconoics, Macroeconomics etc as free on-line distributions.

I wonder if any other professor is also offering the same level of "classes" as Dr. Thoma has provided. I would be interested if any has knowledge about such endeavors by professors.

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