Foundational Policy Moments

… brought to you, courtesy of academic professionalization:

In The Mismeasure of Man (1981), Stephen Jay Gould demonstrates that one of the founding moments in 20th century US political history is a technocratic racism moment as well.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a psychology academic functionary, Robert Yerkes, aimed to establish his discipline as a policy-contributing science by offering, to that fundamental American institution the US Army, to administer to all recruits intelligence tests–devised by himself. This was a period of high immigration and high inequality. The US government agreed. Yerkes was able to process millions of tests, which–very biased, very poorly formulated–“showed” that the average American male in the army was…mentally retarded.
The policy conclusion?
To psychologists and policymakers, Yerkes’ results authorized the conclusion that US political and economic policy should be run–not to reduce inequality and improve human capital across the immigrant population, as you might think–but rather to preserve and manage a population kept functionally retarded. This is what Goran Therborn (2013) means by conservative stunting, in the psychological militaristic-society-meets-slaver-society knowledge and governance program. The army brass and helpful, professional psychologists concluded (surprise, surprise) that democracy is not feasible, given the U.S. population is filled with what they regarded as mentally-retarded ethnic others and working class mental-deficients, a natural resource of inferiors.

Academic ambitions reinforced the American conservative anti-democratic bent through scientism.



Radically-individualistic Anglo-American Psychology is a standout in its professional political conservatism. It’s the crudely biased, politically-mobilized, gaudily-marketed construction of knowledge in the fashion of Psychologists Yerkes and Jonathan Haidt that lends credence to 20th century social philosophy’s claim, as per Foucault, that all non-economics social scientific knowledge is nothing more than parasitical governance technology. (Foucault thinks that conservative economics, implicitly like that other true ruling knowledge, philosophy, escapes subordination to the parasitical knowledge-power regulation function, by deploying a strict discourse of objective, apolitical logic and truth. Eyeroll.)


As well, clearly other scholars have lent their sanction to conservative politics and policy, in order to further their professional goals. Ehrenreich discusses a conservative policy position (the culture of poverty theoretical construct) unwittingly unleashed by anthropologists and sociologists concerned with professionalism and career (although, more understandably, in the face of repression, and again, a little more unwittingly. It’s a good example of how socialists can produce conservatism to stay in a terribly-rigged game). Fraser describes how feminists and other post-modernists were similarly incentivized to contribute to conservatization.


I’m still waiting on Careerism: Prolegomena to a Political Theory.

One thought on “Foundational Policy Moments

  1. Pingback: More "Positive" Psychology Machinations | The Indomitable Neoliberals FC

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