A Philosopher's Blog

The Value of Diversity

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on November 23, 2010
Milbank Diversity Committee
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Diversity, we are constantly told, is a good thing. It is something to aim for and it is something that the law should compel or at least facilitate. Unfortunately, folks are not always clear or precise in regards to what is meant by the term and just why it is a good thing.

The easy and obvious view of diversity is a variety in ethnicities in an area or group. For example, people speak of the military as being diverse because there blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and so on. Another common form of diversity is cultural. This, obviously enough, involves a variety of people from various cultural groups (which may or may not also involve ethnicity as a factor). A third common form is gender diversity. Traditionally this involved having a mix of males and females, but has been expanded to include sexual orientation (straight, bisexual, gay, trans, and so on). Other forms of diversity (ideological, for example) are also possible.

It is commonly assumed in some circles that diversity is good. However, it is reasonable to inquire as to the nature and extent of this value.

The value of diversity is typically presented as extrinsic: diversity is supposed to have various positive effects.  In the case of communities, diversity provides a greater variety of restaurants and is supposed to make the area more interesting. In the case of the military, diversity is supposed to provide useful things such as a variety of language skills, understanding of different cultures, and other things that can be useful in operating in other countries. In the case of academics, diversity is supposed to bring in a variety of opinions and perspectives other than those held by the white males of the old academy.

One concern with this sort of view is that it seems to rest on the assumption that individuals represent their groups. So, for example, adding an Hispanic woman to the faculty will provide a perspective that must be distinct from those held by a white male (who represents his ethnicity and gender) or a black woman (who also represents her ethnicity and gender). To assume that a person must somehow represent or instantiate the perspective of his/her group or even be different from others seems to rest on stereotyping. In fact, it might be suspected that this sort of view is analogous to racism/sexism/etc. in that it assumes, uncritically, that people will or will not have certain qualities based solely on their membership in a group (ethnic, gender, cultural or other).

That said, it is not unreasonable to believe that people who differ in ethnicity, gender, and so on will tend to be be different in other ways. But, whether these differences are significant or valuable is another matter.

The value of diversity is also put forth as being an end in and of itself. That is, it is presented as having intrinsic value. So, for example, having a diverse faculty would be valuable even if the diversity had no discernible effect on education. While I will admit that arguing for intrinsic value is tricky, it seems unlikely that diversity is valuable in and of itself. Rather, as noted above, its value seems to stem from its consequences.

People also argue for diversity in terms of equal opportunity. That is, we should strive for diversity as a means of creating more equal opportunity and to reduce discrimination. In this case, the end is not to achieve diversity, but to end discrimination. This should, in theory, create more diversity by removing unfair obstacles. Of course, some people do take diversity to be the goal. That is, the end is not to allow equal opportunity but to ensure that the population in question is divided among certain groups. In general, the usual idea is that the diversity of the specific population (for example university faculty) matches the diversity of the general population.

One obvious concern with this sort of approach is that it can directly conflict with non-discrimination and equal opportunity. For example , individuals could be excluded from a job based on their membership in an over-represented group rather than on the basis of their qualifications for that job. It is, I think, rather well established that denying a person a job on the basis of race, gender and so on is unjust. Excluding someone in the name of diversity is no more right than excluding someone in the same of uniformity.

This was a suggested topic. You can suggest another topic here.

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77 Responses

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  1. kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Pushing diversity goes so much against judging someone by the content of their character instead of the color of his skin. This should go for culture and gender also. The most qualified person should always be chosen for a position.

    • erik said, on November 23, 2010 at 7:13 pm

      Hypothetical: What if “certain people” choose blacks as slaves because they consider them “the most qualified” for the position?

      • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm

        Well, if they applied for the position and they were the most qualified then sure. Seriously though, how is a rhetorically insane question like that helping the discussion? Is there still a problem with slavery that I do not know about?

        • erik said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm

          There’s still a problem with the thinking behind slavery that you apparently don’t know about. You’re not one of those who think the last election proved that racism no longer exists in America are you?

          • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 9:49 pm

            I do not think we can be free of racism until we stop talking about racism and just move on as a society. You know, content of character and all?

            • erik said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:07 pm

              Simple and simplistic. Darn near a bumper sticker. Just ignore it; it’ll go away. 🙂

            • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:15 pm

              Ignore what? Racism? I am certainly not going to bring it up if I don’t see it.

            • erik said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

              And you’re not going to see it if you’re ignoring it. How fortunate.

            • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 11:02 pm

              Well, you will have to let me in on the secret because at the moment I do not see any. Apparently you are seeing racism at the moment like the kid saw dead people in the ‘Sixth sense’. Seriously, you will have to give me a more specific example before I can discuss such a vague charge.

            • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:32 am

              @erik: Why are liberals obsessed with race and gender–and homosexuality?

          • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:18 pm

            Why don’t you enlighten us all to the problems with the thinking behind slavery. I’m pretty sure we all know it was wrong.

            • erik said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:46 pm

              Who would that ‘we’ be? The bigots you’re ignoring?

            • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 10:59 pm

              No, the people that are discussing the issue on this thread. Did you think it was a bunch of people in pointy hats and robes? lol

          • erik said, on November 24, 2010 at 8:59 am

            I can only repeat myself. Cover your ears if you wish. You won’t see the bigotry if you ignore it. You ignore it to make your argument easy/ tho weak. Then you run in circles. Bah.

    • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:21 am


      Is it just me or does it seem like biomass keeps coming back in different forms on tis blog?

      He’s like the Eternal Champion of Moonbats.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    “To assume that a person must somehow represent or instantiate the perspective of his/her group or even be different from others seems to rest on stereotyping. In fact, it might be suspected that this sort of view is analogous to racism/sexism/etc. in that it assumes, uncritically, that people will or will not have certain qualities based solely on their membership in a group (ethnic, gender, cultural or other).”

    Excellent point. Good thing you have tenure 🙂

    • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      So if someone were pushing this line of thinking like say with a recent appointment to the Supreme Court that fits two of those qualifications would that be anti-racism/chauvinism or would it be positive racism/chauvinism?

    • WTP said, on November 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm

      There is no problem with diversity from what I see. Most people, at least in professional settings, but even in the few blue collar and similar jobs that I have had experience with, get along just fine as long as people do their jobs. The problems arise in situations where the work slows down or, in the case of government and some heavily union jobs, there is insufficient work to keep people busy and focused.

      There is also a big problem with Diversity Training. The stereotyping that goes on in some of the classes I have attended has at times been quite shocking. Especially in the pre-web, pre-Snopes days when urban legends that have since been widely refuted, were used quite frequently.

      • kernunos said, on November 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm

        Diversity is not bad if it just happens so to speak but forcing it by saying ” I need a white, a black a Hispanic and one Asian for my sales team so we look diverse to our customer. ” I would want the best people for the team. If it happens to be a white, black, Hispanic and an Asian that are the best I can find then so be it. If it happens to be all black then so be it too. We have to be the most diverse and accepting country in the world and yet we are still made to feel that we have to push it even further.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on November 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    “That said, it is not unreasonable to believe that people who differ in ethnicity, gender, and so on will tend to be be different in other ways.”

    I think most everyone would agree with this, but if so then why would anyone believe that the diversity of the specific population (for example university faculty) should match the diversity of the general population?

  4. alexthesane said, on November 24, 2010 at 12:50 am

    One thing about diversity: you use a specific example of a university faculty. I think that, if no where else, diversity is incredibly important in education because you are inevitably going to be teaching a diverse group. Being taught mostly or exclusively by people who are obviously different than you in one or more ways is discouraging and intimidating (being generally surrounded by people who are obviously different than you is a bit intimidating as well, but there is usually little that can be done about that). That’s not to say that qualifications aren’t going to be a huge factor, but it’s worth noting that diversity in general would promote a better learning environment, particularly for students that are part of minorities.

    Also, a bit of nitpicking: trans has little to do with sexual orientation. Common mistake.

    • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 1:25 am

      “I think that, if no where else, diversity is incredibly important in education because you are inevitably going to be teaching a diverse group.”

      Yes, but only one person will be teaching that group at a time. For instance, your Philosophy professor is white and your Astronomy professor is black. Where does diversity come into play. your Philosophy professor is always white in every class and your Astronomy professor is always black in class. Why is it important that one professor be diverse from another by color, ethicity or sex? The classes aren’t even related. It isn’t like you are getting one Philosophy class from a white male and then one from a black female. Isn’t the diversity of the individual more important than making sure you have evenly spread out colors/ ethnicity or sex? Especially when you may damage the quality of your education by forcing diversity?

      • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 1:31 am

        A perfect example of where things go right and racism and the desire to force diversity to a bare minimum is professional sports. That is why I love sports. With players the best man/woman is picked for the position irrelevant or color, ethicity or sex. If you want to see what it should be like without(as close to in society as you can get) racism or forced diversity then look in a locker room.

        Oh, the other place would be on a playground with very young children. You know before society starts telling the white kids they are racist and all the others that they have been kept down by ‘whitey’.

        • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:22 am

          I completely agree with the sports analogy. White, black or purple. You’re good, you’re hired.

      • alexthesane said, on November 24, 2010 at 4:22 am

        Presumably one is taking multiple classes, and is generally aware of the faculty of one’s department. The fact that one class is taught by one person doesn’t matter. The fact that different classes are taught by different people and not carbon copies is what is important. As much as many people want to deny it, subtle racism (or sexism, or whatever-ism) is still a factor in hiring practices, someone’s interpretation of another’s merit can very easily have bias. “Forcing” diversity is sometimes the only way that some people will be exposed to it.

        Think a little about what it is that you are saying, exactly. How exactly will “forcing diversity” damage education? You strongly imply that the people hired into an intentionally diverse group will somehow be less able, that the people hired with an eye to diversity (i.e. minorities and women) are less able. DISCLAIMER TIME: I’m not calling you a racist, but look back over your comments and think critically about them.

        One final note, the term “diversity of the individual” that you use: it sounds nice, but what exactly does it mean?

        • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 5:36 am

          I find it interesting that those who say that business is all about profit also want to say that businesses are racist in hiring practice. Which is it? Businesses either want to hire the person that can do the job the best and thus produce the most profit or they do not. If they don’t hire the best people, they’ll fall behind. The companies who are willing to hire proficient minorities will run ahead. Is it perfect? No? Will some insiist on hiring based on race? Yes. That includes black industries. Where’s the outrage that there’s only 1 well-known rapper? A rapper who faced racism in the industry and was told he couldn’t make it in a black industry. (M+M) But guess what? Winning is the best revenge, because the company that signed him made out like bandits. That’s the way the system should work. No artificial measures.

          What about Jews? Why are they not protected under diversity measures?

          Not requiring people to be the best when they’re hired only encourages people to not be their best. And slowly your whole nation falls behind.

          Same thing here in the Army. Women have different Physical testing measures. Is that right? Does a ruck sack get lighter for her when a war starts? Does the enemy slow down for her?

          Completely fictional world. Like a role-playing game or something.

          • magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm

            Where’s the outrage that there’s only 1 well-known *white* rapper?

            • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 4:25 pm

              It just isn’t fair! I think my listenning experience would be richer if there were more white rappers.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 26, 2010 at 10:56 am

              Start rapping.

          • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 4:24 pm

            When Asian, Indian or (fill in the blank foreigner) students come to American universities and colleges do they complain about diversity? I think not.

            • erik said, on November 25, 2010 at 10:25 am

              Note the indent. The Q was asked of magus.

          • erik said, on November 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm

            I hate to ask the obvious question, but it seems you’d be the best guy to ask. Does a ruck sack get lighter for a gay man when a war starts. Does the enemy slow down for him?

            • kernunos said, on November 25, 2010 at 2:09 am

              You find it obvious to ask me rhetorical questions?

            • magus71 said, on November 25, 2010 at 3:34 am

              It depends. Is there an interior design party or or a salon at the end of the march?

              You take your platoon of 100 gay men and I’ll have my platoon of heterosexual men. We’ll see who gets to the objective first. I’m betting I’d win.

              Stereotyping and profiling on my part? Absolutely. I call it common sense. You and Mike will talk about “necessary attributes.” I’ll talk about real world.

          • erik said, on November 25, 2010 at 10:38 am

            Is this like the Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” theory you apply to intellectuals?

            If it’s so obvious, why are the brass even considering the issue? Why allow gays into the military at all as we currently do(let alone HYPOthetically splitting them off into separate platoons led by heterosexuals like black men in the Civil War were led by white commanders)? Ample lack of ‘common sense’ on the part of McMullen Petraeus etal?

            • kernunos said, on November 25, 2010 at 11:52 am

              I think it is because of a push to force diversity on our society at any cost. On second thought I’m sure it was because a study was done and found that gay men would make great killer soldiers. Especially the ones that do not question orders.

            • erik said, on November 25, 2010 at 12:06 pm

              What is the proven cost (“at any cost”) of eliminating DADT?
              Any old orders or just lawful orders?

        • Asur said, on November 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm

          The notion of ‘subtle discrimination’ is dangerous: If discrimination were overt rather than subtle, then it would be directly apparent (whether or not they cared) to the person committing it and/or to a neutral observer.

          Hence, ‘subtle discrimination’ is discrimination that is directly apparent to neither the discriminating agent nor to a neutral observer (just as indicated by your example) — but how, then, can you know that it exists?

          The proof must be indirect, viz. that the discrimination is not apparent from any particular instance but can, however, be inferred from patterns within sufficiently large collections of such instances — for example, you can point to no specific series of hiring events that were discriminatory, but from the distribution of minorities (etc.) within the hired workforce you infer that such discrimination must be taking place.

          The problem is that there is no necessary causal connection here, yet you assume that there is; at best (and most likely) your reasoning commits a fallacy of oversimplified cause.

          This is dangerous because, by adopting a subjective criteria for the presence of discrimination (namely, your belief that it is significantly present), you create a system that is cut off from reality — in other words, a perception of discrimination that can (and mostly likely will) persist even in the absence of actual discrimination.

          At best, this will harm (distress, etc.) only you; at worst, it will cause harm to others as well.

          • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm

            Your explanation sounds like reletavism run amuck. It would give you a good B.S. paper but get you a B.

            • Asur said, on November 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm

              What intersection of ‘explanation’ and ‘relativism’ are you referring to?

            • kernunos said, on November 25, 2010 at 2:11 am

              The post that is right above the one you replied to.

            • Asur said, on November 25, 2010 at 2:54 am

              Are you sure? That post (the one that’s the square of the absolute distance between this post and the one you replied to from this post) is neither relativistic nor an explanation…

        • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm

          Well, let’s looka t it this way then. You have a diverse faculty as far as white/black/hispanic/asian/middle eastern…etc…etc yet they are 95% Democrats, all talk the same and all believe in the same ideas roughly. How diverse is it really. Then who cares what background, sex, color etc your professor is when you are there to learn what they are teaching? Subject matter has no concern with background.


          “Think a little about what it is that you are saying, exactly. How exactly will “forcing diversity” damage education? You strongly imply that the people hired into an intentionally diverse group will somehow be less able, that the people hired with an eye to diversity (i.e. minorities and women) are less able. DISCLAIMER TIME: I’m not calling you a racist, but look back over your comments and think critically about them.”

          If you want to jump to conclusions then you can threaten me with the race card sure. You obviously know why forcing diversity can damage your education. Example. The Fine School of Incredibly Diverse Arts is forcing diversity. They need 5 professors. They hope to have 1 White, 1 Black, 1 Hispanic, 1 Asian and 1 Middle Easterner. They also want at least 2 women in the group. The top 5 applicants are 3 black women, 1 Asian woman and 1 Middle Eastern woman. They are the best of the best. Now how would it help your education if they hired 1 white male(50th out of 100 apps), 1 Hispanic male(45th out of 100) and 1 Black Male(22nd out of 100) and displaced the number 2 and 3 applicant out of 100 just to force diversity? Throw the race card back out if you like but I thought this was easier to figure out.


    • T. J. Babson said, on November 24, 2010 at 8:54 am


      One of the problems I see with those who claim to value diversity is that they are completely inconsistent. For example, I have never heard any complaints that elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female, despite that (in your words) this is “discouraging and intimidating” to boys. If anything, I would think that adults at a university would be better able to deal with this sort of thing than little kids. So what gives? Why is it more important to have a diverse university faculty than a diverse primary school faculty?

      • alexthesane said, on November 25, 2010 at 4:27 pm

        There are no complaints about overwhelmingly female teachers because they’re aren’t any schools like that, woman=teacher is a stereotype and as far as I’ve seen education is still a male majority (like everything else). And never at any point did I claim that having a diverse university faculty is more important than a diverse primary school faculty (if anything, diverse primary schools are more important-exposing children to people who are different than them reduces prejudice down the road).

        Re: “discouraging and intimidating to boys” bit-why is it that any discussion of diversity revolves in part on how it will negatively effect white men. Boo-hoo.

  5. Asur said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Great post and commentary.

    Reason dictates that we evaluate people strictly according to what is contextually relevant — in other words, according to merit.

    But, that is the beginning and the end of justifiable diversity — anything else, whether by intentionally valuing someone greater or lesser than their actual merit, constitutes a social evil.

    • Asur said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:39 am

      I just wanted to add that a rough genealogy of what we’re seeing here runs something like this:

      During the negation of a hegemony (America with institutionalized discrimination), the values seen as giving rise to it tend to become inverted — negative discrimination becomes positive discrimination at the expense of the perceived beneficiaries of the old hegemony, everything associated with those old institutions becomes suspect, etc. — which in turn generates outrage at these new injustices, eventually resulting in a ‘negation of the negation’, which, rather than being a return to the old ways of discrimination, is the processes of the removal of both the old discrimination and the new discrimination that arose in response to it.

      Clearly, we’re within that first negation as a society right now…equally clear in my opinion, though, is the burgeoning genesis of the negation of that negation.

      A very happy thought!

  6. magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Pushing for intentional diversity is against the tenets of an egalitarian, merit based society. It creates a fictional world in which we try to pretend everything is good and fine, but people wink and nod as more qualified people are passsed by because they are not of the correct color.

  7. magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Stossel’s good:


    This week, I held a bake sale — a racist bake sale. I stood in midtown Manhattan shouting, “Cupcakes for sale.” My price list read:

    Asians — $1.50
    Whites — $1.00
    Blacks/Latinos — 50 cents

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    People stared. One yelled, “What is funny to you about people who are less privileged?” A black woman said, angrily, “It’s very offensive, very demeaning!” One black man accused me of poisoning the cupcakes.

    I understand why people got angry. What I did was hurtful to some. My bake sale mimicked what some conservative college students did at Bucknell University. The students wanted to satirize their school’s affirmative action policy, which makes it easier for blacks and Hispanics to get admitted.

    I think affirmative action is racism — and therefore wrong. If a private school like Bucknell wants to have such policies to increase diversity, fine. But government-imposed affirmative action is offensive. Equality before the law means government should treat citizens equally.

    But it doesn’t. Our racist government says that any school receiving federal tax dollars, even if only in the form of federal aid to students, must comply with affirmative action rules, and some states have enacted their own policies.

    Advocates of affirmative action argue it is needed because of historic discrimination. Maybe that was true in 1970, but it’s no longer true. Affirmative action is now part of the minority special privilege machine, an indispensable component of which is perpetual victimhood.

    All the Bucknell students wanted was a campus discussion about that. Why not? A university is supposed to be a place for open discussion, but some topics are apparently off-limits.

    About an hour after the students began their “affirmative action” sale, the associate dean of students shut it down. He said it was because the prices charged were different from those listed on the permissions application. An offer to change the prices was rejected. Then the club’s application to hold another sale was rejected. Ironically, the associate dean said it would violate the schools nondiscrimination policy! He would authorize a debate on affirmative action, but nothing else.

    How ridiculous! Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has come to the students’ defense. “Using this absurd logic, Bucknell would have to require its College Democrats to say nothing political on campus unless they give equal time to Republican candidates at their events, or its Catholic Campus Ministry to remain silent about abortion unless it holds a debate and invites pro-choice activists to speak,” FIRE’s Adam Kissel said. “While students are free to host debates, they must not be required to provide a platform for their ideological opponents. Rather, those opponents must be free to spread their own messages and host their own events.”

    Right. My affirmative action cupcake “event” led to some interesting discussions. One young woman began by criticizing me, “It’s absolutely wrong.”

    But after I raised the parallel with college admissions, she said: “No race of people is worth more than another. Or less.”

    But do you believe in affirmative action in colleges? I asked.

    “I used to,” she replied.

    Those are the kind discussions students should have.

    Affirmative action wasn’t the only issue that brought conservative Bucknell students grief. When they tried to protest President Obama’s $787 billion “stimulus” spending last year by handing out fake dollar bills, the school stopped them for violating rules against soliciting! According to FIRE, Bucknell’s solicitation policy covers only sales and fundraising, which the students were not engaged in, but the school rejected the students’ appeal, saying permission was needed to distribute “anything, from Bibles to other matter.” Absurd! The Bucknell administration tells me it stopped the anti-stimulus protest because the students had not registered to use that busy campus space. FIRE disputes that.

    “Distributing protest literature is an American free-speech tradition that dates to before the founding of the United States,” Kissel said. “Why is Bucknell so afraid of students handing out ‘Bibles (or) other matter’ that might provide challenging perspectives? Colleges are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, but Bucknell is betraying this ideal.”

    It is, indeed. Why are America’s institutions of higher learning so fearful?

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 24, 2010 at 12:45 pm

      Albert Einstein
      Old Grove Rd.
      Nassau Point
      Peconic, Long Island

      August 2nd 1939

      F.D. Roosevelt
      President of the United States
      White House
      Washington, D.C.


      Some recent work by E.Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been com-

      municated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uran-

      ium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the im-

      mediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem

      to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part

      of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring

      to your attention the following facts and recommendations:

      In the course of the last four months it has been made probable –

      through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in

      America – that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction

      in a large mass of uranium,by which vast amounts of power and large quant-

      ities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears

      almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

      This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs,

      and it is conceivable – though much less certain – that extremely power-

      ful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this

      type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy

      the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However,

      such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by



      The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate

      quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia.

      while the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo.

      In view of the situation you may think it desirable to have more

      permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group

      of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way

      of achieving this might be for you to entrust with this task a person

      who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an inofficial

      capacity. His task might comprise the following:

      a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the

      further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action,

      giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uran-

      ium ore for the United States;

      b) to speed up the experimental work,which is at present being car-

      ried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by

      providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with y

      private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause,

      and perhaps also by obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories

      which have the necessary equipment.

      I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium

      from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should

      have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground

      that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is

      attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the

      American work on uranium is now being repeated.

      Yours very truly,
      (Albert Einstein)

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 24, 2010 at 12:46 pm

      Magus, I think you should reconsider Einstein–he’s the one who initiated the Manhattan Project.

  8. magus71 said, on November 24, 2010 at 1:18 pm


    He’s off my list. I forgot to add that anyone who can state with a straight face: “Good. Bad. I’m the man with the gun.”, is not an intellectual.

    I should add that jock meat-heads are overrated too.

    • kernunos said, on November 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      What, you’re throwing Bruce Campbell under the bus? shame.

      • magus71 said, on November 25, 2010 at 3:16 am

        No–I consider it a good thing not to be too intllectual at times. Like when there’s a fight on. Just ask Jimmie Carter.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 25, 2010 at 11:01 am

          In general, I don’t think intellectuals make very good leaders.

          • erik said, on November 25, 2010 at 11:23 am

            In the blue corner from Berkeley California weighing 195 lbs. and standing 6ft 3 in tall, Bruno the Intellectual Smith. In the red corner weighing in at 255 lbs.and standing 5 ft 1 in tall Percy the Moron Cabela. A 10 round match. Wiinner becomes ruler of the free world.

            I feel the same way, in general, about morons.

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm

              erik, you are very confused if you think intelligent people are by definition intellectuals.

              Hamlet is an intellectual, Odysseus is not. Both are intelligent. Which one would you rather have in command of your army?

            • Asur said, on November 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm


              The lexical definition of an ‘intellectual’ is just someone who uses reason to critically evaluate situations or ideas.

              That pretty much rules out Hamlet.

              Haymakers at strawmen much?

            • erik said, on November 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm

              I don’t think I wrote that “intelligent people are by definition intellectuals.” Why, sometimes intelligent people actually intentionally misinterpret the words of others,add to or subtract from those words, just to try to score an illegitimate point. That doesn’t disqualify them from being considered intellectuals. . .
              “6.a person of superior intellect.
              7.a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, esp. on an abstract and general level.
              8.an extremely rational person; a person who relies on intellect rather than on emotions or feelings.
              9.a person professionally engaged in mental labor, as a writer or teacher.”

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 25, 2010 at 8:30 pm

              Erik, Magus and I both draw a distinction between an “intelligent person” and an “intellectual.” If you want to go with the “person of superior intellect” definition you are free to do so, but if you are honest you will have to admit that under this definition lots of cab drivers, plumbers, and car mechanics are intellectuals.

            • erik said, on November 25, 2010 at 9:36 pm

              tj–Sorry. I’m not at all willing to exclude #6. After all, the word “intellect” is part of the word “intellectual”. I’m loath to tear them asunder to justify a rather narrow view of what a “real intellectual” should be. I’m willing to bet that there are “cab drivers, plumbers, and car mechanics” who ” are intellectuals”by the standards set in defs. 6,7, and 8 AND that among those workers are some of far greater intellect (and intellectual ability) than anyone who writes on this blog. I’m not willing to do is claim that “intellectuals” are overrated because Noam Chomsky is an idiot. Nor do I believe that men or women who meet the standards set forth in those 4 defs I provided must also be “men of daring and action” (as measured by magus’ understanding of those words)to qualify as real, quality intellectuals.
              Now I’ve been “honest” by your standards. So tell me. You’ve twice tried to mislead with your claim that I wrote that “intelligent people are by definition intellectuals.” or that I don’t draw a distinction between an “intelligent person” and an “intellectual.” Is that honest by your standards?

          • T. J. Babson said, on November 25, 2010 at 6:43 pm

            Asur, your definition turns every plumber or car mechanic into an intellectual.

            From wikipedia:


            In some contexts, especially in journalism, ‘intellectual’ generally denotes academics of the humanities — especially philosophy — who speak about important social and political matters; by definition, the public intellectuals who communicate the theoretic base for resolving public problems; generally, academics remain in their areas of expertise, whereas intellectuals apply academic knowledge and abstraction to public problems.

            The sociologist Frank Furedi said that ‘Intellectuals are not defined according to the jobs they do, but [by] the manner in which they act, the way they see themselves, and the values that they uphold’;[14] they usually arise from the educated élite, although the North American usage of ‘intellectual’ includes them to the ‘academics’.[15] Convergence with, and participation in, open, contemporary public debate separates intellectuals from academics; by venturing from academic specialism to address the public, the academic becomes a public intellectual.[16] Generally, ‘intellectual’ is a label more often applied to public debate-participants from the fields of culture, the arts, and the social sciences, including the law, than to the men and women working in the natural sciences, the applied sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

            • magus71 said, on November 26, 2010 at 2:23 am

              Thank you, TJ. Perfect.

            • Asur said, on November 26, 2010 at 3:49 pm

              You’re joking, right?

              The article you’re citing opens thus:

              “An intellectual is a person who uses intelligence (thought and reason) and critical or analytical reasoning in either a professional or a personal capacity.”

              How do you intend that as a rebuttal, given that it agrees with the lexical definition I offered?

              What you are trying to do is present specialized usage (journalism? Furedi? Really?) as general definition.

              Here’s some trivia for you: Did you know that Frank Furedi was a co-founder and chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain? I have considerable sympathy for the positions that the RCP took, but it’s rather amusing to see Magus jump in line behind such a scholar when he thinks it suits his purposes.

              And TJ, did you notice that after complaining that my “definition turns every plumber or car mechanic into an intellectual” (which it doesn’t, but meh), you offer that “intellectuals are not defined according to the jobs they do”?

              WoW tradechat offers the best summary: lolwut?

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

              The intellectuals I am referring to are members of the intelligentsia.


          • T. J. Babson said, on November 26, 2010 at 5:21 pm


            I am just explaining how I use the term–you are obviously free to use the term in your own way, and if you want to include car mechanics so be it.

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 26, 2010 at 5:40 pm

              True story. I once shared a glass of wine with Sir Harry Kroto, and when I made a comment suggesting that he was an intellectual he became highly affronted, and quoted himself: “Intellectuals are parasites that ooze culture.”


              The “developed” nations are easily recognised. They are the ones that have harnessed the innovative genius of scientists and engineers to provide sufficient food, shelter, clothing, medicine and other necessities of life.

              In fact, they have been so effective that many people now have time to contemplate their navels, if they can see them.

              A by-product of this progress has been the creation of a bunch of intellectuals (parasites who exude culture) and celebrities (parasites who exude no culture) who spend precious time slagging off science and science teaching. They must be rejoicing at their success as the numbers of science students and teachers drop catastrophically, mathematical incompetence becomes ever more ubiquitous, scientifically illiterate campaigns erupt daily and our science-based industries are forced to consider emigrating.

            • Asur said, on November 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm

              You’re giving me too much credit; ‘my own way’ is simply the accepted definition of the term. Which is to say, how it appears in the OED.

              Be aware that using terms arbitrarily renders language meaningless.

            • magus71 said, on November 27, 2010 at 2:50 am


              I’m for the precise use of language. But when I see patterns forming I must identify them. I see what I see inconcems to intellectuals.

              It seems that TJ has given definitions that are not merely his own, but you and others don’t like them.

            • Asur said, on November 27, 2010 at 4:48 am


              In regards to TJ’s usage, it’s precisely because he’s not alone that it becomes meaningful to address.

              Surely, if there were only one moonbat in the world, you would simply ignore them and get on with your life; it’s precisely because there are many that you take the time to counter their views–otherwise, it would be inconsequential.

              Please correct me if I am wrong, but I take your personal usage of ‘intellectual’ to essentially mean someone who engages in fruitless acts of mental masturbation.

              The trouble is that the most wide-spread use of that same term encompasses many people who were and are the very antithesis of that; your usage propagates a meme that implicitly denies the contributions that they’ve made.

              We are impoverished by that loss.

  9. kernunos said, on November 25, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Look, an article just popped up for our benefit to discuss!


  10. erik said, on November 26, 2010 at 9:09 am

    wikipedia (aside: the most trusted source on the web) “Typically, the right-wing perceives intellectuals as too-theoretical, with shallow roots in real life; while, quite generally, in that perspective, the term ‘intellectual’ has negative connotations in the Netherlands, as having ‘unrealistic visions of the World’; in Hungary, as being ‘too-clever’ and an ‘egg-head’; and in the Czech Republic, as discredited for aloofness from reality; yet Stefan Collini says that this derogatory usage is not fully representative of the term, as in the ‘. . . case of English usage, positive, neutral, and pejorative uses can easily co-exist’, thus Václav Havel as the exemplar who, ‘. . . to many outside observers [became] a favoured instance of the intellectual as national icon’ in the post–Communist Czech Republic.[23]

    • erik said, on November 26, 2010 at 9:21 am

      My God magus ! From a right-wing perspective you’re right! But, to repeat my initial complaint: All that doesn’t mean “intellectuals are overrated” (certainly not by right-wingers!). To wiki right along:

      “Jean Paul Sartre pronounced intellectuals to be the moral conscience of their age, their task being to observe the political and social situation of the moment, and to speak out—freely—in accordance with their consciences (Scriven 1993: 119).” The right-wing certainly wouldn’t want too many of those types–fer shur.

      And straight from NC, one of those overrated intellectual: “Noam Chomsky said that intellectuals, and their works, might become corrupted by special interest groups, power-seeking politicians, conditional funding, self-censorship, et cetera,[34] and further proposing that intellectuals usually have supported power:[35”] But we know he’s full of wind, so this can’t be right.

      • magus71 said, on November 26, 2010 at 2:37 pm

        Geez, erik. This is really bothering you. There are lots of things in life that are overrated. It doesn’t mean they don’t have uses. The world could lose half its intellectuals and barely anyone would notice. Try losing half the car mechanics. Half the plumbers, half the electricians, half the taxi drivers.

        We could also lose half the world’s actors and we’d get a big yawn and save 8 bucks.

        “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” ~George Orwell

        And that’s one of the things so bad about intellectuals. They can argue themselves and others into just about anything. We’ve seen here quite a few times that good metaphors can make bad ideas sound good, for instance. But where the rubber meets the road, the intellectual is harldly ever the person getting things done. Most of them just sit in high towers and snipe at regular guys. It’s always the intellectual, too, that is a big-time and loud supporter of the worst tyrants history’s ever known. Why is that? Because intellectuals need a job that actually makes them tired so they can stop thinking up bad ideas.

        • erik said, on November 26, 2010 at 2:55 pm

          Your assumptions and generalizations make me dizzy. We could lose all the maguses in the world and only a handful of people if that many might notice. Does that signify that maguses are overrated and that magus71 is an idiot? Hey, I’ve tweedled around in this “make up definitions as you go” world long enough. I’m moving on to the next topic. Wanna come along?

        • kernunos said, on November 27, 2010 at 9:59 pm

          In the 1950’s it took a 12 year education to reach the middle class. Now it takes 12+4 years of college+2 years of recommended pre school. They built 90% of the interstate system in 10 years during the 50’s. Now it takes 2 years to rebuild a little bridge in front of my house. I would say over-thinking is overrated. In the words of the great Bo Jackson ‘Just’ F-n’ do it!’

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