Saturday, October 10, 2020

Should Stanford cancel Stanford? Many questions.

Stanford just announced that it will change the name of (David Starr) Jordan Hall, and remove the statue of Louis Agassiz that adorns it. See the link if you do not know who these people are. 

The announcement brings to mind an obvious question: How long can Stanford remain Stanford? Read paragraphs 4 and 9 of Leland Stanford's inaugural address as governor of California. Trigger/trauma warning: I do not post them here, as Stanford's words would likely cause this blog to be blocked. 

Another obvious question: Read the announcement. How many thousands of person-hours, compensated by Stanford, went in to this decision? In terms of dollars spent per unit of trauma relieved, how well is Stanford spending our donors' and taxpayers' money? 

More, our libraries are full of the writings of these censured people. From the Stanford library catalog. 


Should not these books be hauled out and burned, lest the hateful contents infect sensitive minds? 

The offensive building and statue, from Stanford news


But wait, have I transgressed? If the name and statue cause trauma to passersby, should not the image be banned? Will my blog be blocked? But how does Stanford News, announcing the event, publish this photo, surely passing on the trauma? 

So many puzzling questions today. 

Update:

A colleague points to this reference that points out 

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) was a renown British economist and active proponent of eugenics, serving as Director of the British Eugenics Society (1937-1944). 

 At the University of Cambridge, he served as treasurer of the University of Cambridge Eugenics Society upon its creation (di Mambro, 2003). Later, he also served as the director of the Eugenics Society of London (1937-1944), and gave a lecture entitled "Some Consequences of a Declining Population" (1937), that year's Galton Lecture (di Mambro, 2003). Even after World War II, Keynes did not renounce his views, but instead asserted that eugenics was "the most important and significant branch of sociology" (Keynes, 1946, as cited in Brignell, 2010, para. 19).

(Jordan and Agassiz are also canceled for eugenics.) I was all excited by the prospect "cancel Keynes and Keynesianism!" Until, reading on, my colleague points out, Et tu Irving Fisher here. Oh well, we'll have to go back to actual intellectual debate in economics. 

Update 2: 

Unbelievably, some twitter commenters are taking my cancel suggestions literally. The world has truly lost its mind. Or at least its reading skills. Duh, no, I do not think Stanford should change its name, nor do I think we should have a book burning. I figured wrongly certain people were smart enough to figure that out!  



27 comments:

  1. Ha! Was way ahead of you thinking about this. With enough cancel momentum, there will soon be nothing left to cancel! Have yet to hear anyone giving back money, ie Mayor Pete, from Rhodes Scholarship.

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  2. David Star Jordan was at IU before Stanford. The outgoing President of IU decided to change the name of Jordan Hall. My view is that we need more humility about who we are and what we stand for. We are not the most moral people who have ever lived and should cautiously judge people in the past. Eliminating Jordan from the campus buildings is morally arrogant. It judges him only by his worse beliefs, supporting eugenics, and not by the sum total of what he did. It does not surprise me that the administration did this but it is certainly disappointing.

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    1. Customers, I went to IU. How are we going to cancel the Jordan River running across campus past the student union? Why not cancel the union as it countenanced this contemplable stream? I mean, after all, just cancel IU altogether and start all over.

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  3. I don’t think a building name/statue can be compared to holding writings in a library. Nobody thinks a library is endorsing or celebrating the authors in their collection, whereas this is generally true when we memorialize people on buildings and statues.

    I do think it’s sometimes appropriate to rename buildings/remove statues if our public understanding and public consciousness changes around who they are and what they are noteworthy for. Woodrow Wilson was a repugnant racist, but that is not what he is primarily known for in the public imagination. So, I’m led to the David Starr building should be renamed - his only lasting contribution is being a eugenicist and covering up a murder. I guess he was a talented administrator (??), but his lasting contribution is eugenics and that is what he is overwhelmingly known for today. Whereas Agassiz scientific contributions are significant and vast and that is his primarily public recognition, not his scientific racism. It’s why I believe the conversations needs to be more nuanced and why I’d endorse renaming the Starr building, but keeping the Agassiz statue.

    I will also admit that I was a POC (Filipino) that went to Stanford for undergrad but also my experience with this is very different than being black, for example.

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  4. I have little doubt that Stanford could find skeletons in the closet of everyone it has employed that would warrant canceling them if they dig deep enough...for instance, the "Cancel Cochrane" movement, as sad as it would be for the entire academic profession, would certainly have a catchy ring to its hashtag!

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  5. Wait until the PC police in Ann Arbor realize the term "Big House" is what slaves used to call their master's home. Sourced from Booker T Washington's Up From Slavery.

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  6. Once property rights change, and whites dying in the Civil War changed them, all institutions founded with former money become suspect. In the US of A, that's lot's of private colleges and even the Land Grant Colleges.

    Changing names is mere virtue signalling. Even book burning is mere virtue signalling, unless unburned copies were no longer available for perusal.

    Nay, disband the institutions for the sake of justice! And make us and keep us all poor.

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  7. Nothing surprising in this development. What was Louis Agassiz's mistake?--coming to America.

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  8. You do know that Stanford is named after Leland Stanford *Jr*, not Leland Stanford, a child who died at the age of 15 of typhoid, and who did not write the inauguration address you cite.

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    1. Yes, of course I know that. But Stanford was named by Leland Stanford Sr. And in preventing the triggering of trauma, I doubt the difference makes sense. The name of the son will surely trigger the same trauma as the name of the founder. And... don't you guys notice a little bit of satire when you see it? No of course Stanford should not be renamed.

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  9. While we're at it in terms of questioning morality, how about tackling the biggest issue: DARPA and overall Pentagon funding into research labs, manipulating brilliant minds into inventing more weapons the USA doesn't need, under the dumbed-down pretense of protecting national security.

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  10. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    - Santayana, G. 1905. Reason in Common Sense.

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  11. Nitpick : Stanford university is named after the son of the governor (its "Leland Stanford Jr University"), not the governor himself.

    Irrespective of that, your point is well taken.

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  12. In reply Cochrane writes, " … don’t you guys notice a little bit of satire when you see it?" This aside really grabbed my attention.

    A generation ago, in a memorable public lecture I attended, the journalist Jim Lehrer spotlighted a lamentable trend within his profession: the relaxation of the traditional journalistic boundaries between reporting, analysis, and opinion.

    Likewise, I've long chafed at John Cochrane's seeming tendency to switch almost seamlessly between well-reasoned, scholarly arguments one day, and the most base, emotion-driven polemics the next. I think he is mistaken to conduct himself in public in this way for all of the reasons that concerned Jim Lehrer. Something is lost in our public discourse when this happens.

    Yes, I understand Cochrane is hardly the only practitioner of this blogging style. But a principled person doesn't hide behind the observation that "everyone does it".

    Maybe this moment is a wakeup call for John Cochrane that his readership is not well served by satire served up on the same plate as scholarship.

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    1. Thank you for calling the class back to order. Everybody put down the spitwads. JZ, most of us realize that blogs function more as conversation than "scholarship" and although Prof. Cochrane includes introductory remarks regarding some economic scholarship in his blog, most of us know to look for the full text and discussion elsewhere.
      I visit his blog for interesting ideas and meaningful conversations like this one.
      Cheer up!

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    2. Are scholars not allowed to be satirical?

      And most of us are smart enough to work out which mode he's operating in on any given day.

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  13. It seems so obvious to an outsider like me (a Brit) but surely cancelling will have to go a lot further? How can progressives not have noticed that U.S. currency commemorates at least three slave-owning presidents: Washington, Jefferson and Jackson? How can this be defended? Maybe each dollar bill could in future exhibit some text putting Washington into his eighteenth century context? (Would there be enough room?). But this would be to give Washington the softer treatment denied to Woodrow Wilson, David Starr Jordan and (probably) Leland Stanford.

    It gets worse. You have named your federal capital and one of your 50 states after a slave-owner. This must be rectified. Any suggestions for more appropriately progressive names? Obviously it has to be a notable Black person. Martin Luther King immediately comes to mind. But the words in his last speech about people being judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin should make us hesitate. These might well be inconsistent with the doctrines of modern diversity training and Critical Race Theory.

    I suggest Malcolm X. This would have the amusing consequence that your capital would then be called X. Any non-progressives who don’t want to see Malcolm X commemorated could then just take X as a place holder for a name of their choice (e.g. even Washington himself). Problem solved!

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    1. Winners like Nick (a Brit) uses sarcasm to hide the very uncomfortable morality of colonization (using free trade to achieve nonetheless! -East India company had a 70% share of world trade when it conquered India). Maybe the 300+ years of thuggery by the Crown (still in power unlike other contemporary brutal regimes) requires some introspection? Here in the US: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/List_of_United_States_treaties "From 1778 to 1871, the United States government entered into more than 500 treaties with the Native American tribes; all of these treaties have since been violated in some way or outright broken by the US government, while at least one treaty was violated or broken by Native American tribes." Can we call those not being able to withstand cancel culture: 'snowflakes' since it's been liberally used by conservatives to label the younger generations? C'mon let's have some fun at least ...

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    2. I'm not trying to hide anything but this is not the place to debate the positives and negatives of the British Empire. I would point out that a few things have changed in Britain since the days of George III. We now have a constitutional monarchy (like Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands). Also the Empire was largely closed down during the 1940s and 1950s. India (and Pakistan) became independent in 1947. The East India Company had been abolished in 1858.

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    3. Re-evaluation of some figures (see Oldtroll comments below) should be a normal discourse for society and celebratory iconography that hurts minority sentiments should be removed to history books instead of beaming down on people with statues and named-buildings. The British should at least apologize for the horrors of colonization and so should the US Govt for past injustices. Britain still teaches supremacy (70 percent surveyed in Britain believed the empire did good/neutral). The world needs to heal before we expect a 'star trek' kind of society. The past is quite toxic. Let's acknowledge that ...

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    4. Rudy, why should we judge history by the standards of the present? By that standard, Abaraham Lincoln, who was a white supremacist, should be stripped of all celebration. It makes more sense that if we celebrate people, we should celebrate them according to where they stood relative to the time in which they lived. That's why people like Washington and Lincoln are celebrated. Tearing them down them for believing things any of us would almost certainly believe if we'd lived in that era makes as little sense to me as disparaging Isaac Newton as dumb for not understanding the theory of relativity.

      The moral standards of modern times, even if you think morality is rigidly fixed, are largely privileges we enjoy by enormous wealth, technology, and institutional advantages. People in the past weren't 'toxic.' They lived under conditions of extreme poverty, constant competition for scarce resources, without modern technology, medicine, and institutions that enable modern moral standards. We shouldn't try to recapitulate pre-modern morals, but it's ridiculous to regard everyone in the past as moral defectives; their norms were the product of the harsh circumstances in which they lived. People who saw a little bit further than the people of their times deserve far more credit than moderns who merely inherited the right beliefs.

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  14. John, Over the course of the past few years and, most especially in the recent months, I have become a very consistent reader of your commentaries. I have also really enjoyed the Good Fellows podcasts during the pandemic. Your economics posts are sometimes over my head (I am a physician and if you review my financial track record and current status towards retirement, you would quickly surmise that economics is not my strong suit) but the ones I understand are enlightening. I especially like your wanderings away from the economics fold, e.g. commentary on Covid testing, as they are usually quite astute and beautifully articulated. I have found little to disagree with. Keep up the good work. A fan.

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  15. Hmm, isn't there something a little disingenuous here, John? Surely you see the difference between trying to register the re-evaluation of some figures in our public life with the business of expunging them from history. I know you intended humour with your sarcasm, and it certainly made me smile. However, which serious advocate of re-evaluatiin do you imagine is intent on book burning?
    Your addenda regarding Keynes (and clearly Galton along with other members of Darwin's family) indicate the scope of any re-evaluation project. It's also reasonably clear that renaming and re-framing are not, in and of themselves, adequate responses to the critique of a whitewashed imperialism. Nevertheless, might there not be some strategic value in these practices? Don't we end up having to clear some of the clutter that our culture accumulates if we are to have breathing room for something new?

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  16. Shouldn't Planned Parenthood be cancelled as well?

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  17. For crying out loud, "eugenics" was the science of the day, now de-bunked like a lot of idiotic ideas of the past. For example, in the Middle Ages, it was believed that women should not cut their hair because hair grew out of the brain and women couldn't afford to lose any more of their already lesser brain power. We've sunk to a new low by "deleting" people for the ignorance of the past. Meanwhile, I suppose I should lobby for a statue for my hairdresser.

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  18. The Department of Education has informed Princeton University that it is under investigation following the school president's declaration that racism was "embedded" in the institution. Self-righteous virtue signaling and the unintended blow back. This from the self-professed smartest people in the room, university, world?
    http://www.fulcrum7.com/news/2020/9/21/princeton-university-reverses-their-virtue-signalling-when-funding-is-jeopardized

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Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.