Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Some More Links and Comments (Playing Catch-Up Again)

It's finals week here at ASU, and so I'm busier than usual. I've also been doing more self-evaluation than is usual; one result is some likely changes in my blogging habits, at least as soon as I get a few things off of my chest. To wit:

Matt Ygelsias wrote in defense of the draft (or at least the principle of the draft), then defended himself from the criticisms of Julian Sanchez, who was then backed up by Will Wilkinson. I've expressed my broadly communitarian support for the draft or other national service-type policies a couple of times before, so I'll content myself with basically agreeing with Matt, and picking on one point of Will's. He writes (in reference to Matt's point that the libertarian opposition to state "interference" with one's life plans doesn't acknowledge the degree to which the state and other social institutions cannot avoid being central to life-plan conceptualization) that welfare-liberals...naively overestimate the ability of state institutions to create positive expectations, and underestimate the ability of the system of voluntary institutions to not only shape positive expectations, but to lead people to search through the space of possible life plans, and present the best of these through the popular culture, in a way that enhances our abilities to formulate a fitting conception of our good." True enough, but that's not really the point, is it? No reasonable person would deny that state involvement in defining one's personal choices is a crude instrument. What must be acknowledged, however, is that maintaining the "space [for searching through] possible life plans" depends the maintenance of particular collective goods. Furthermore, the popular culture and the market (the "system of voluntary institutions," in other words) which libertarians presumably trust to sustain those goods is and always will be reflective of the interests and agendas of those with the material and social resources to influence it; that is, they're inegalitarian. And while the interest in individual choice may well tolerate the preservation of certain baseline conditions through what are strictly speaking inegalitarian modes of activity (say, for example, endowment-sensitive public education opportunities), the existence of such patterns in other areas of common life--most particularly, the armed forces of a society--can have (and arguably is already having) terrible civic consequences. In short, even if you agree in principle with the libertarian desire for individuals to enjoy a politically unencumbered search for their own personal good, and believe that social necessities will by and large be "invisibly" satisfied by such, brute civic realities suggest this cannot be so at least insofar as national defense and similar service obligations are concerned. (This is not, of course, a defense of any particular draft policy, much less any particular instance of drafting; this is a rebuke to those who thinking there's no reason to be concerned if the armed services ought to operate along the exact same voluntary the same lines as any other social need.)

At Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse called his readers attention to a valuable study by Caroline Hoxby on the voucher program in Milwaukee; it prompted an excellent discussion (replicated at Daniel Drezner's blog), where a lot of the main criticisms and possibilities for voucher-driven reforms of the public school system were discussed. Harry is an advocate of "progressive school vouchers" (as am I, though our approaches would be slightly different; given my understanding of the delicate relationship between civic maintenance and religious belief, I'm supportive of assuring those who wish their children to attend parochial schools special consideration), and as such, was impressed with Hoxby's work. Matt Yglesias pointed out some holes in Hoxby's analysis, but not enough, I think, to slow down the basic truthfulness of her argument: that vouchers can empower at the very least a selective portion of parents who currently have no alternatives to the public school market. Matt's general conclusion is to say that, even if that is so, "we're hardly going to enact a law giving vouchers to African-Americans but not to members of other racial/ethnic groups." That may be so, at least under the current all-or-nothing mentality which prevents creative thinking by both public school defenders and opponents alike. But if public schooling was understood, as it ought to be, as a more populist enterprise, which joined civic imperatives to local inputs (as best exemplified in the charter school movement), then there might be more flexibility out there, enough for people to recognize that vouchers can serve as an important tool for focusing public money without necessarily losing sight of the overall public ends in mind.

Hugo Schwyzer has another typically insightful and honest post up about the lack of respect and knowledge (regarding both oneself and the realities of social life) demonstrated by women who think nothing of wearing scanty attire in public places--and more particularly, by those who would defend dressing provocatively as a display of self-affirmation, when in reality it's a way of selling oneself. To quote Hugo: "[I]n our culture, rightly or wrongly, revealing dress, sexuality, and self-esteem are inextricably linked. I recognize as well that revealing dress fosters a culture of competition, even among college-aged women, and that competitiveness does irreparable damage to the already fragile bonds of gender solidarity that those of us in this field are working so hard to foster....As feminists, we simultaneously must hold in tension a desire not to shame the female body with a desire not to foster a culture of competitiveness and objectification. We must hold in tension the importance of individual rights of self-expression with the community's right not to be offended."

Finally, also from Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell invokes the blessed Invisible Adjunct, and points to the very Calvinistic (or at least, the Weberian interpretation thereof) mentality which attempts to justify academic markets, which are so very plainly neither as meritocratic nor as neutral as advertised. Brayden King confirms this mentality, trying convince himself that his merit (which is no doubt significant) will reward him with a tenure-track job. For my own pseudo-Calvinistic reasons, I'm doubtful, but I wish Brayden the best of luck.