Foundational Policy Moments

… brought to you, courtesy of academic professionalization:

In “The Mismeasure of Man”, 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 pscyhology academic functionary, Robert Yerkes, aimed to establish his discpline as a policy-contributing science by getting the US army to administer intelligence tests–devised by himself–to all recruits. This was a period of high immigration and high inequality. The US government assented. The academic was able to process millions of tests, which–very poorly formulated–“showed” that the average American male in the army was mentally retarded.
The policy conclusion?
According to the involved psychologists and policymakers, US political and economic policy should be run–not to reduce inequality and improve human capital across the population, as you might think–but rather to preserve and manage a population where the mass of people were functionally retarded. Obviously, they concluded, democracy was not feasible, given the U.S. population is filled with mentally-retarded ethnic others and working class mental-deficients.
Academic ambitions reinforced the American conservative anti-democratic bent through codification and scientism.

American psychology’s origins are remarkable in their highly-professional political conservatism. Nonetheless, clearly other scholars have lent their sanction of conservative politics and policy 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.).

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


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