Pyramids-R-US

July 31, 2010
By

Last week I spent a supper hour (it took that long) reading an article called “America’s Ruling Class – And the Perils of Revolution” by Angelo Codevilla.

The overall article is well worth reading to better understand current political debates, but that wasn’t what called my attention to it as a possible subject for Mormon Matters. Rather, the following paragraph toward the end of the Article startled me:

Nothing has set the country class apart, defined it, made it conscious of itself, given it whatever coherence it has, so much as the ruling class’s insistence that people other than themselves are intellectually and hence otherwise humanly inferior. Persons who were brought up to believe themselves as worthy as anyone, who manage their own lives to their own satisfaction, naturally resent politicians of both parties who say that the issues of modern life are too complex for any but themselves. Most are insulted by the ruling class’s dismissal of opposition as mere “anger and frustration” — an imputation of stupidity — while others just scoff at the claim that the ruling class’s bureaucratic language demonstrates superior intelligence. A few ask the fundamental question: Since when and by what right does intelligence trump human equality? Moreover, if the politicians are so smart, why have they made life worse?” [Emphases added.]

When I read the bolded sentences above I almost sputtered to myself. “Of course, the intelligent should…” And then I remembered a series of conversations I had with my wife-to-be several decades ago when I was getting my baptism into the government policy environment in the DC area and she was free-lancing as a classical musician in New York City. When I visited her, it seemed her colleagues were always complaining about how little funding there was for the arts. When we were alone together, this conversation often continued as she noted that the government seemed to have plenty of money to pay me well for what I did. (I had enough spare cash at the time to fly back and forth between the two cities; she once, I found out later, had to walk home from seeing me off at the airport.) I had initially defended my privilege with exactly the same “Of course…” sputtering.

Well, true love triumphed, and we long ago moved on to debate other issues in our marriage, but my memory of those conversations stopped the sputtering, and I could start taking the article’s fundamental question seriously.

What trumps “the worth of all persons”, to use a Community of Christ terminology? Is it intelligence, which we now measure in our culture by having accrediting bodies grant us degrees that say we are intelligent? It is a very seductive idea, until I start to examine it closely. Why does a master’s degree in physics make me more intelligent than my wife’s masters degree in classical music makes her? She can play a piano; she gets calls to do that more often than I get called upon to solve third order differential equations (and she can still do it from memory, too). Who’s more useful? How many of me does society actually need?

Other cultures have believed (do believe?) that the basis of rule should be the ability to defeat enemy armies, to belong to a divinely-favored race or gender or ethnicity, or even a dubious claim to be sired by a previous member of the ruling class.  Shouldn’t I be willing to question the basis of my belief in the rule of “intellect”.

I am proud of my degrees and my connections to what Codevilla’s article calls the “ruling class”. My pride shows, no matter how hard I try to become conscious of it and question my cultural assumption. Oh, oh!

Ancient people of many cultures built monuments to their gods. Often, it became a little confusing about whether the monuments were built to the gods, or whether the people who built them believed they were gods. In places like Egypt or Meso-America there eventually was no mistaking that the pyramids were about the rulers.

I look at the great monuments in Washington. Some are monuments to political demi-gods of the past. But some seem clearly monuments to the present rulers themselves. Oh, oh! In fact, the places you see Senators or House Representatives being interviewed on TV are not the most ornate Congressional office buildings. The newest structures have multi-floor glass walled interiors that work poorly with reflections from TV lights, so they go unseen by most people without day-to-day business there. (And why did I bother to tell you that? Oh, oh!)

Other monuments are ideological. If you can’t get your name on a monument (or at least an office building in your local district), get your name on a law. In the sciences, get an effect, or a theory, or an equation named after you. Win a prize. Leave your mark on history.

In the Book of Mormon, the falling of people into the “pride cycle” is frequently thematically associated with the wearing of “costly apparel”. Those on the fringes of the ruling class could not build monuments, but they could signal their membership in that class to everyone by what they wore. If we take Meso-America as a model, they could make themselves into living pyramids of expensive cloth, jade, or shell.

And the more widely those signs spread (physically or metaphorically), the more ideas like “the worth of all persons” became illusionary self-deception. The more people were excluded from the ruling class, the more strongly those still on the fringe found it necessary to justify doing ever-more-questionable things to hang on to the symbols of status. The gulf between the classes widened into violence.

I am very much on the “fringe” of my culture’s ruling class. I can signal my membership in that class through my university affiliations, the reports I’ve co-authored, the conferences and advisory hearings I’ve attended, and the offices of the government officials who’ve passed me written “attaboys”. I can make my pyramid out of paper, and my mark on history can last digitally until the digital formats themselves become obsolete. Oh, oh!

Intellectualism is not a vice. Neither is being a member of any elite. But could membership in a ruling “intellectual” elite be the particular form of the pride cycle to which our modern Western culture can be tempted?

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47 Responses to Pyramids-R-US

  1. st1305
    July 31, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Firetag,

    This is exactly what is wrong with America. We have the ‘intellectual elite’ Ivy League ruling class running this country. There pride and arrogance has destroyed a great nation. They have built a very fine house of cards.

    They are referred to as the ‘brightest financial minds’ yet we are nearly 14 trillion dollars in debt. With 14 trillion dollars you could by 70 million (almost every home in the country) homes at $200,000 a piece. Forget the discussion about our children and grandchildren, when (not if, but when) China, Japan, the UK and other quit buying our debt we are in serious trouble. Again, the intellectual elite have built a fine house of cards.

    They are referred to as ‘the best legal minds’ yet the ruling class can’t even govern themselves. It reminds me of Helaman 5:2 “For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who choose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted”

    They are referred to as the ‘best scientific minds’ but when a little bit of oil spills into the gulf they shut down the economy out of unwarranted fear and pure stupidity. Oil is a natural substance. It is found under the ocean and yes it leaks naturally. God gave us this resource for our use and benefit. He understood it would spill or leak into the ocean. He provided a way for unrefined oil to naturally dissipate.

    Yes, the intellectual elite are part of the cycle of pride. The spread of secularism is one of the greatest threats to our nation and survival. We need to look to the prophet, not some stiff-necked, Ivy League type like the current clown we have in office.

  2. Thomas
    July 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Being a member of an elite is of course not a vice. Demanding that others defer to you because you’re a member of an elite, is. Especially when the “elite” is more artificial than substantial, based more on possession of gnostic lore (particular jargon, manners, approved opinions, etc.) than true wisdom.

  3. July 31, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    st1305:

    If the situation we are actually in is a manifestation of our own “pride cycle”, it is serious and decidedly unfunny. If not, I want to respect the Office of President of the United States as I respect the office of Prophet. In neither case do I want to call an occupant of the White House a “clown”.

    You may be very sympathetic to Codevilla’s analysis I linked in the OP. He does make the point that this process has been underway for more than a century, and is far broader than just the top rungs of our society. I hope you noticed in what I said that I recognize my own infection.

    Thomas:

    Codevilla also makes the point that the “ruling class”, while it portrays itself as intellectually superior, is very quickly becoming artificial through a negative self-selection in which membership depends more on obedience to the class than to innate ability of any kind.

  4. Ralph
    August 1, 2010 at 1:07 am

    We had one Prime Minister here in Australia, Paul Keating, who worked his way up the ranks in his party – he never had any tertiary education. He turned around one day at a University student protest and told them to go and get a job. Most of the news articles and things published about him made him out to be arrogant and prideful because he made it to the top without the ‘intelligence and education’ that his opponents and peers had. may be this ruling class has the proud snobbish behaviour because they made it and the others didn’t.

    Apart from that, I would never say that I am intelligent or brainy or what ever one wishes to say, even though I slept through most of high school and came first in the year, have a PhD in Biology and was at the forefront of my research field before I changed jobs. I can’t change a brake pad on my car, I can’t look at a piece of wood and make a table out of it that is perfectly level (and the list goes on) – but my brother, who had difficulties in maths, science and engineering at school, can do all that without having to look at the manual or blueprint. So who out of us is more ‘intelligent’? There are many things I cannot do that others can – we all have our own talents and abilities but over all none are any better than another – at least in my eyes. True intelligence cannot be measured as the whole has to be considered, not just the scholarly side of things.

  5. Mark Gibson
    August 1, 2010 at 6:35 am

    “The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth; and truth forsaketh that evil one”. (revelation May 6, 1833)

    In our world today intelligence is often not used to magnify light and truth but for personal power; lies and deception cloaked with an intellectual smoke screen.

    Then we have intellectual status bestowed on those who have not garnered it; the rock star who is perceived as an expert on a wide variety of current events.

    I like the observation made that an LDS congregation might include people of high acquired intelligence yet the bishop could be a someone of limited education.

    Using our intelligence should always have a righteous perspective to it, to foster light and truth.

  6. Jeff Spector
    August 1, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Very good post, I enjoyed reading. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. We are all prideful in some way or manner. this is part of our nature which we must overcome in order to do the work of God and not the work of man. AS you stated, the Book of Mormon is full of examples of the pride cycle.

    In the LDS Church we seem to have a community of those who label themselves “intellectuals” and are, for at least some part, rebellious against the Church. They are, in their account, the “smartest people in the room.”

    The problem is, If the “Glory of God is intelligence” then the Intelligence is to Glory God, not ourselves. That is where we get ourselves into trouble. The pride of our intelligence.

  7. MH
    August 1, 2010 at 8:19 am

    FireTag, this is a very interesting perspective. Intellectuals are guilty of pride as often as everyone else, and I think we all fail to recognize our own problems with pride.

  8. Jon
    August 1, 2010 at 9:37 am

    To be left alone to rule ourselves under the direction of God. That would be nice.

    A perfect example of the pride and arrogance of the elite is the Federal Reserve. To believe they can rule the economy and make it prosperous as if it were a god is a joke. This can be extended to the many bureaucrats that serve in the government.

    My wife likes to do home births. In Utah with our first child she was able to use a mid wife that wasn’t licensed (the midwife couldn’t use medicine in her practice since she wasn’t licensed). Our second child was here in AZ and she could only use a midwife (although the midwife didn’t make it to our house until after the baby was born, but her 2 assistants made it in time). Under what authority does the government have to rule over us and make decisions in our personal lives as to what manner of birth we give and under what authority do they derive to tell our midwives that they can administer drugs or not? In other states where the state has made it too difficult for the woman to give birth at home with a midwife they have resulted in women have unassisted births. This is the result of regulation. We just wish to be left alone by our “elites”.

    BTW both my wife and I are fairly well educated (she has a geology degree, summa cum lade (sp), and I have a masters in electrical engineering) but I just feel a bitterness to the government for not letting me rule myself. At what point do we not have parents to tell us what to do or not do? At what point does God become my only parent?

  9. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Firetag,

    I have total respect for the office, just not the office holder. A hope of mine is that the current person holding that office would respect that office. Clown is mild, but you are right, I should be more accurate. How about “covetous, boaster, proud, blasphemer, disobedient, unthankful, unholy, trucebreaker, false accuser, incontinent, fierce, despiser of those that are good, traitor, heady, high-minded. Do those work?

    To compare the Office of the Presidency to the calling of a Prophet is patently unfair. One is elected by the voice of the people and the other is called of God. When the people want to vote themselves a portion of the treasury, we get people like Obama elected. He is a reflection of the will of the people, not a reflection of God. On the contrary, prophets from Joseph Smith to Thomas Monson have been called of God.

    As usual, Thomas has hit it right on the head. There is a significant difference between intelligence and wisdom. Wisdom is the application of true principles, while idle knowledge is evil. After all, Lucifer was one of the brightest of the bunch.

  10. August 1, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Mark and Jeff:

    Rebellion seldom, if ever, arises full-blown. It often originates in fear or pain, even the pain of unrealized desires to do good. In the Book of Mormon, the “kingmen” gain power because there are always legitimate grievences that the people start out wanting them to fix. If the “bait” wasn’t valuable, it wouldn’t make a ggod trap for the people to stumble into.

    MH:

    Thank you it was your thread on “Defining Political Extremism” http://mormonheretic.org that motivated me to write the post. I hope those who read this will slip over there as well.

    Jon:

    Yes, I’m not sure why having smart sinners run things instead of dumb sinners running things would constitute a net improvement.

    Ralph:

    I have observed as a physicist that it takes 1.4759826 physicists to change a light bulb.

  11. August 1, 2010 at 10:40 am

    st1305:

    If the people do not sustain the correct prophet, aren’t we in the same situation as if the people elect the wrong President? Isn’t it more a judgment on the people than MERELY the leader? It should hopefully still be possible to sustain firm, but civil debate (in Book of Mormon terms, “warm contention” rather than “hot contention”) After all, your Prophet is Elder Monson; mine is Elder Veazey, and both our churches regard them as called by God to their roles.

    Let me speak in a theological conservative framework. With Satan, there are booby traps within booby traps. The first trap is pride. The second trap is wrath over the actions of the prideful. Nobody remembers or cares which faction of the Jaredites actually had legitimate claim to leadership. Satan got them both.

  12. MH
    August 1, 2010 at 11:04 am

    FireTag, I plan to cross post my “Defining Political Extremism” here in a few weeks (mostly due to st1305′s wish to talk politics), but I am glad I was able to provide you a bit of posting inspiration. :) You’re all certainly welcome to come visit my blog, but I know some people prefer MM as their home.

    Let me say briefly that I do think we could be more charitable in our disagreements, whether we consider ourselves intellectual or not. I think some of our disagreements devolve into rants, name-calling, and vilification, rather than discussing issues. I think both intellectuals and non-intellectuals are guilty of pride in the form of name-calling those we disagree with.

  13. MH
    August 1, 2010 at 11:08 am

    st1305, I want to mention one of the things that I find most intriguing about the Community of Christ (aka RLDS, of which FireTag is a member.) They simply do not hold their leaders in the esteem of the LDS. The early leaders of the RLDS church were those that disagreed with Joseph Smith on polygamy, and the culture of “sustaining leaders” is quite different in the RLDS church. As such, I think it is important to see that difference when FireTag compares the prophet (in his case President Veazey) with President Obama. Certainly he doesn’t have the “reverence” for Pres Veazey as we do for Pres Monson. I think that is an important point to remember as we discuss this issue.

  14. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Firetag,

    Fair enough, I did not realize you do not belong to the same faith as I do.

    MH & Firetag,

    If you will notice, the terms I used to bescribe Obama are the terms the Apostle Paul used to describe the state of affairs in the last days. The attitude of the populace if you will. Obama is a reflection of the people. When the people are wicked, they tend to elect wicked leaders as indicated in Helaman 5:2.

    These intellectuals in Washington have created a mess, republicican or democrat. MH, like you I like Matheson. I have never voted for him as he is not in my district, but he gets the fiscal issues we are facing.

    You can call me extremist if you want, but Obama is out if control when it comes to spending. I agree it is not productive to compare him to mass murders in the past ( eg stalin and hitler). Thus is chiefly due to the fact it is a diversion from the real problems we are facing. He has put us in a horrible financial position. Yes, I am angry. Not so much for my sake, but for the sake of some of those that work fo me. If you have ever had to lay people off you will understand my position. if you haven’t I assure you it is agonizing.

    The very people he claims to be helping are the ones that will be damaged the most. The rich will just hunker down and wait until someone less extreme is elected; and, in the process will lay more people off.

  15. August 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    st1305:

    I certainly HOPE I’m still part of the same faith as you.

  16. August 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    st1305, I have been laid off, and I have had to lay off employees as well, so I understand how painful it is from both sides.

    I could apply that scripture to you and claim you are evil too. it is a mis-use of scripture to apply it to you or obama. I am perfectly fine with those that question obama’s spending. but when we say obama=evil, then we have crossed the lines of good citizenship.

  17. August 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    The only times I have ever felt safe calling someone “evil” was when the recognition called forth within me intense sorrow for the fate of the “evil” person. To fail to call an action evil may cause the action to spread — Jesus had some very unkind things to say about Pharasees and didn’t suggest even that their intentions were good — but the message of the Scriptures seems to be that the evildoers are in even greater danger than their victims. The evil must be stopped without hating the evildoer, or the evil claims two victims.

  18. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    MH,

    You can call me whatever you want I really don’t care. I stand by my statement. Obama is corrupt to the core. I don’t know if his out of control spending stems from incompetence or some type of machination, but it is destructive. It will cause permanent damage to our country. Rather, it has caused permanent damage to our economy. If you think causing permanent damage to our country is good or of God, that is your decision. In my book it is corruption that will enslave us and our children for years to come.

  19. August 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    st1305, I will bump up my political post to this tuesday. I am sure you will find it interesting.

  20. Badger
    August 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    (Preface: I did not read Codevilla’s article.)

    Speaking as a “so-called intellectual”, I think it’s a mistake to describe America’s ruling class as an intellectual elite. “Elite”, yes, “intellectual elite”, not really. What I’d look for as signs of an elite intellectual are achievements such as Nobel prizes (excluding Peace), membership in National Academies, authorship of well known and influential scholarly or literary articles and books, and so on. The people with such items on their resumes are generally well off, well connected, and influential in their fields, but they are not at all typical of our high government officials, corporate executives, hedge fund managers, etc.

    I certainly agree that the second group of people I mentioned, directing powerful institutions and financial resources, are much more likely to have Ivy League or other prestigious degrees than the general population, and this does indicate much better than average ability in school and on standardized tests. From what I’ve seen the Ivies and a few other schools like them (for example, Stanford) provide an opportunity that can’t be found anywhere else for students to make connections to the present generation of the influential, wealthy and powerful. Those who do go on to merit the name “ruling elite” take advantage of those connections, and continue to draw on the skills that got them into the school, but I wouldn’t call what they do with their lives the pursuit of elite intellectual accomplishments.

    In another direction, I took a quick look at the education of US presidents since 1900, and found this (slight warning: it’s from Wikipedia). For presidents who attended more than one institution, I picked the one I thought was most “prestigious”.

    No college degree: McKinley, Truman.

    “Humble” degrees: Harding (Ohio Central), Johnson (Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College–not sure who “humble” this really was, but I don’t think it’s any help making elite connections), Reagan (Eureka College).

    “Prestigious”, non-Ivy: Coolidge (Amherst), Nixon (Duke Law), Hoover (Stanford)

    Military: Eisenhower (West Point), Carter (US Naval Academy)

    Ivy League: T. Roosevelt (Harvard, Columbia Law), Taft (Yale), Wilson (Princeton), FDR (Harvard), Kennedy (Harvard), Ford (Yale Law), GHW Bush (Yale), Clinton (Yale Law), GW Bush (Yale, Harvard Business), Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law).

    The only one of these presidents that I would consider as having had any sort of career as an “intellectual” before politics is Wilson. It depends on how you define it, of course; a very large proportion of them practiced law at some point. I didn’t count that because (to my knowledge) none of them were legal scholars, judges who wrote influential opinions, and so on, and I don’t think they or others thought of them as elite intellectuals in the field of law. In a broader sense, it is intellectual work, of course.

  21. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    MH,

    Why do I feel like a lamb being lead to the slaughter.

  22. August 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    perhaps it is your pride? ;)

    st1305, my post has less to do with one’s politics, and more to do with our lack of civility when discussing politics. I think you will be surprised how I (or rather elder hugh b brown) describes political extremism. it is not in terms of left and right, but rather in terms of vitriol and demonization of the other side.

  23. Ted
    August 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    I always get nervous about these kinds of discussions because people are quick to relate intellectualism with pride (and often will make “intellectualism” and “intelligence” interchangeable). Remember in the pride cycle of the Book of Mormon, the downtrodden also sinned in caving into their bitterness, anger, and wrath (as FireTag pointed out).

    It’s one thing to decry pride, but when we start saying things like “all intellectuals” or “all politicians” or “all of the government” are prideful or sinning, we’re falling into the same trap. Notice when people make these arguments, they say things like “who gave x the right to tell me what to do?” Implied within that statement is the same argument that the offending party makes – I’m smarter than _you_ and you should listen _me_. It’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black.

  24. August 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Badger:

    Codevilla’s point (I think you’ll like the article) is that what the “ruling class” NOW correlates with is ONLY continued connection to dogmas of and patronage from government, however it arose originally. He specificly contrasts it with the French system, where admittance comes from passing exams that are (usually?) graded blindly. The ruling class can now raise up on a whim, and smash down on a whim.

    Given the population of America, what are the odds that either George Bush or Barak Obama were among the few thousand smartest people in America who took slots in the Ivy League? And does anyone remember anything Gerald Ford did as an undergrad that would warrant selection to the Ivy League other than play center on the University of Michigan football team?

  25. Ralph
    August 1, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    So Firetag,

    I guess you have to wait for 3 light globes to go out before you can change one of them. :)

  26. August 1, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Ted:

    I think there is a third position that shows the subtleness of the asymmetry: X is smarter than Y; Y is smarter than X, or SMARTNESS DOES NOT MATTER IN CONTROLLING ANOTHER PERSON.

  27. August 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Ralph:

    Yes, I’m definitely the .4759826 of a physicist when it comes to changing a light bulb. :D

  28. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    MH,

    Hey I’m proud of my humility. Oh, and tell Hugh B Brown to listen to the prophet. I guess when he died President Benson wasn’t the Prophet, but he was one of only 12 Apostles on the earth.

    I have read your post in your website. Before posting this I challenge you to read President Bensons talk Watchman Warn the Wicked. If a true Prophet can call them wicked then it is right by me. What’s more, any man that quotes Ronald Reagan in his speech is for sure a true prophet. Rather than read this talk, I would challenge you to quote portions of his talk. I would be glad to prepare them. It is so appropriate for today. If only we and our parents had listened. It is one of those Noah and the flood comparisons.

    The talk is found here:

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=9a1cd2b9ae76b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    Some of the things I would include are:

    In the crisis through which we are now passing, we have been fully warned. This has brought forth some criticism. There are some of us who do not want to hear the message. It embarrasses us. The things which are threatening our lives, our welfare, our freedoms are the very things some of us have been condoning. Many do not want to be disturbed as they continue to enjoy their comfortable complacency.

    How strong is our will to remain free—to be good? False thinking and false ideologies, dressed in the most pleasing forms, quietly—almost without our knowing it—seek to reduce our moral defenses and to captivate our minds. They entice with bright promises of security, cradle-to-grave guarantees of many kinds. They masquerade under various names, but all may be recognized by one thing—one thing they all have in common: to erode away character and man’s freedom to think and act for himself.

    Too long have too many Americans, and people of the free world generally, stood by as silent accessories to the crimes of assault against freedom—assault against basic economic and spiritual principles and traditions that have made nations strong.

    “Military service was an obligation highly honored by the Romans. Indeed, a foreigner could win Roman citizenship simply by volunteering for service in the legions of Rome. But, with increasing affluence and opulence, the young men of Rome began avoiding this service, finding excuses to remain in the soft and sordid life of the city. They took to using cosmetics and wearing feminine-like hairdo’s and garments, until it became difficult, the historians tell us, to tell the sexes apart.
    “Among the teachers and scholars was a group called the Cynics whose number let their hair and beards grow, and who wore slovenly clothes, and professed indifference to worldly goods as they heaped scorn on what they called ‘middle class values.’
    “The morals declined. It became unsafe to walk in the countryside or the city streets. Rioting was commonplace and sometimes whole sections of towns and cities were burned.
    “And, all the time, the twin diseases of confiscatory taxation and creeping inflation were waiting to deliver the death blow.
    “Then finally, all these forces overcame the energy and ambition of the middle class.
    “Rome fell.

    Rome fell for the following reasons:

    1. The undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of human society.
    2. Higher and higher taxes and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace.
    3. The mad craze for pleasure, sports becoming every year more and more exciting and brutal.
    4. The building of gigantic armaments when the real enemy was within the decadence of the people.
    5. The decay of religion—faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, and becoming impotent to warn and guide the people.

  29. MH
    August 1, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    “Hey I’m proud of my humility.”

    I’m not sure how to take this. We’re you going for irony?

    Ahh, dueling general authorities. It can be a fun game. Are you saying Hugh B Brown should have kept his mouth shut as he was just about to begin his famous speech titled “Profile of a Prophet”?

  30. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    MH,

    You should know me better than that by now. I was trying to be funny with my first two lines. Also, I love to push buttons. It is wrong I know, but so much fun. Sometimes I just take a position to see how well I can defend it (Parker post on Anal Sex) and other times I just like getting under liberals skin to watch their reactions (Alice Cooper). I don’t give a flying freak about Rosanne Barr. In this case I am totally serious. This talk by President Benson is right on the mark and is not contrary to Elder Brown, who was also one of 12 Apostles.

  31. Clark
    August 1, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I’ve never claimed to be an intellectual, but I still struggle with pride; what Pres. Benson called the “poor but proud.” Proud not to be a snobby intellectual. I guess that’s why Pres. Benson called it the universal sin.

    In that landmark address, he quoted C.S. Lewis (I’ll paraphrase) saying it’s not how much you have, but how much MORE you have compared to your neighbors. If everyone used bureaucratic language, and could handle life’s complexities, would that affect your feelings of superiority?

  32. August 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    I love to push buttons. It is wrong I know, but so much fun. Sometimes I just take a position to see how well I can defend it

    st1305, I know you’re new here. There are plenty of people who come here just to pick fights (or as you say “push buttons.”) We seem to have problems with both highly liberal and highly conservative commenters. In the past few months, the admins here have really tried to make an effort to keep this place from turning into a food fight in a junior high cafeteria. While it may be fun to push buttons, I will tell you that many get turned off by button pushing, or “getting under liberals skin to watch their reactions”.

    Here at MM, we really don’t like to censor. We welcome controversial topics, but we don’t like sophomoric button pushing. We try to tackle subjects that other Mormon themed blogs are scared to discuss. We’re really trying to make this a site for thoughtful dialogue, not button pushing. I hope you understand, and will try for a more mature form of debate.

    I don’t plan to address President Benson’s remarks specifically in my post, and I don’t really care if you want to go there on this post. I will let you know that I am planning on researching church leaders comments (including Pres Benson) on the Civil Rights Movement, but I am not prepared to write intelligently about it for probably 2 months. (I do try to do a bit of research on things before posting.) So if you want to tangle on Bensonite politics (with me), you’ll have to wait for now. Perhaps someone else will be happy to engage you (without pushing buttons, I hope.) I do have a schedule of posts planned, so I hope you’ll forgive my slowness in tackling certain subjects until I am more conversant in them. I will check into your link. I am sure there is some great information there that I will find agreement with. (I must admit that I don’t understand how your quotes relate to our conversation, unless you are tying the Roman empire with Obama. While there is some truth to the idea that Romans cared too much about sports, Obama is trying to break the BCS. If you’re a football fan, that can’t be a bad thing.) 8)

  33. Jon
    August 1, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    st1305,

    You might like the book The Politics Of Obedience The Discourse Of Voluntary Servitude, you can find the pdf, audio, and actual paper book at Mises Institute website (pdf and audio are free). It’s one of my favorites on politics. If you don’t believe in voluntarism (anarchy) now you will be after reading it. A good analysis was done by Murray Rothbard here:
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard78.html

    In the book the 5000 Year Leap by Cleon Skousen (I haven’t read it yet, I did read the Making of America though) Skousen says, “The most promising method of securing a virtuous and morally stable people is to elect virtuous leaders.” If that’s what it takes then maybe we should throw out all the “leaders” and just live in civil society without them. I honestly think the smaller the government the easier it is for people to be righteous, so, maybe without government at all, we would be able to maintain a righteous people better? I know this contradicts most gospel teachings but it sure sounds good!

  34. st1305
    August 1, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    MH,

    That was a confession; and, with a confession comes the genuine desire to change. If I am to persuade any one to my conservative ways the button pushing has to stop. On behalf of the admins accept my apology.

    The comments here and hence forth are not intended to push buttons. You may consider those who have strong opposition to Obama as extreme. If Benson’s remarks weren’t written 40 years ago, you would think it was directed right at the Obama administration.

  35. August 1, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    MH:

    Obama did attend the Washington Mystics game today with his daughter, sitting ground level courtside.

    Which made me wonder: if a player starts to dive for a loose ball, does the Secret Service have to tackle her? Glad it wasn’t a close game.

  36. August 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    st1305:

    This does raise an interesting question about how you warn people when you think they’re in danger in a way that actually persuades rather than drives them away from safety.

    And if you feel you’ve done so in the best way you know how — and they still don’t see what you see — what do you do? (MH in particular will recognize this statement: “but still, it moves.”)

    How does the one who sees avoid the trap of violating the agency of others, which seems to be important to the state of the seer’s soul?

  37. Badger
    August 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    FireTag, thanks for your reply to my comment. The point I was making was that if one is looking for a description of America’s ruling class, “intellectual” already has another meaning and is not the right description of it.

    As you recommended, I had a look at Codevilla’s article, and I can see now that my comment is rather tangential to what he has to say.

    I can’t say I liked the article, as you thought I might. I think he and I share a view that the public interest does not appear to carry a lot of weight in guiding our government’s recent actions. However, his detailed analysis seems to be just a reflection of his own resentments and preconceptions.

    Here, I can write like that, too. I can inform you that mainstream Americans feel unrepresented by the two major parties, although the core of the problem is the party I don’t support. By the way, when columnists like David Brooks, Tom Friedman, and Angelo Codevilla purport to tell you what mainstream Americans think, it’s just schlock sociology. Some wealthy Americans, associated with ideas I dislike, concentrate in parts of the country that are just not living up to American ideals, unlike other wealthy Americans who are no cause for concern. Entry to the group I dislike is based on pure cronyism and ideological conformity. They’re a lot like the communists, and also a lot like the fascists. I think that more or less covers the first couple pages. Feel free to fill in the blanks with whichever end of the left-right spectrum works best for you.

    This is not the place for a point by point argument with Codevilla. However, I’d like to suggest that his general approach is unsound. We’re all prone to biases in the way we think about sociological out-groups, and we notice when an outsider says something like “the Mormons are all alike, and their actions are motivated by their bad attitudes about (fill in the blank)”. It’s less natural to notice when we’re the outsider and the attitude is our own. But I suggest that if I get to the point of thinking there are two types of people: good (who agree with me), and bad (who don’t), and that all our nation’s problems would be solved if the bad ones were swept away, then I need to reconsider, with some skepticism, my reasons for that belief.

    I once maneuvered, successfully, to take over the management of a group at work, to put an end to an unacceptable and abusive situation. I think I knew what needed to be done, but lacked the skill to do it, and I ended up serving as a caretaker I could be eased out and replaced by an outside hire; I went back to my pre-management role. Scaling up to the national level, even if it were true that what the nation needs is someone who agrees with me, that would not be *all* it needed. Someone with the right opinions but no ability to get results is pretty useless, and the right opinions (whatever that means) are undoubtedly a lot easier to find than the leadership skill to act on them effectively.

  38. August 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Badger:

    I think your impressions of the first two pages of the article is fairly accurate. But if you stuck with it, I think you’d see he’s not saying one side good, one side bad; he’s saying one side maturely formed, the other side now forming in reaction and looking for a vehicle to represent it.

    It is the emergence of this “up-down” axis of the “ruling party” versus the “country party” he suggests will increasingly shape American politics (rather than the current “right-left” alignment), without predicting which side will emerge with how much relative power, or saying which side is good or bad. He is forceful in saying that the interests of the “country party” can not long go unrepresented without serious consequences for political stability.

    Although he does not make the comparison directly, he’s really talking about the parallels between the patrician and pleibian classes in Rome. It’s not clear that either class there was better than the other. The pleibians forced their way to share power through strikes (secessions) without an aristocracy, but once in power, they proceeded to develop their own aristocracy, just as the patricians originally had done.

    Analogues to the BofM are, of course, my own.

    I agree with the point that we sin as individuals, not as a class, but some particular form of temptation may still be more enticing to one civilization than to another.

  39. Badger
    August 2, 2010 at 1:18 am

    FireTag, I don’t think I see what you see in the later pages of the article. Codevilla certainly names some issues that bother me, too, but I just don’t see how to take his characterization of the ruling class seriously. A foretaste of the problem appears near the beginning of his article, when he asserts that “…the social science and humanities class that rules universities seldom associates with physicians and physicists.” Well, here’s a clue that he’s missing something: the social sciences and humanities have essentially no money compared to physics and (especially) medicine. They certainly did not “rule” any university I’ve spent time at.

    Similarly, he characterizes the “ruling class” as (in shorthand terms) anti-religion, anti-family, pro-union, etc. I don’t think there is any way to reconcile his characterization with, say, the 108th and 109th Congresses (2003-2007), or the GW Bush presidency, (which he does criticize on other grounds), or for that matter any number of political trends over the last 30 years. Can’t he remember who was in office five years ago, or does he think Denny Hastert and Ted Stevens were fighting against religion and traditional families, and for labor unions, or what?

    He doesn’t seem to have any real insight to impart. If you don’t like the humanities, or David Brooks, or people who say “happy holidays”, or any number of his other bugaboos, you may enjoy his zeal in implicating them in much larger and deeper problems. But if you want to understand those problems better I think his article’s main value is as an example of how an eagerness to confirm preconceptions compromises his ability to see the whole picture.

  40. August 2, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Badger:

    I see where you’re coming from regarding the universities, but look at your own list in comment 20. There isn’t a top science school in the list of top universities. (Notice conspiculously the absense of MIT which is physically located just down the road from Harvard.) Stanford is probably the closest thing to a science school in the list, and if the University of Chicago ever moves up to the top of the list, it won’t be because of its connections to Fermilab.

    The top schools are heavily endowed; Columbia owned most of the property of Morningside Heights surrounding its campus when I lived there, and it wasn’t for student housing. Just because the money doesn’t go to the ostensible purpose of the university doesn’t mean the money isn’t there. (That’s ok. Public schools don’t primarily exist to educate students either, despite the efforts of individual teachers and principals to teach despite the institutional obstacles.)

    Alternatively, there is a great deal of money available for science that SERVES the political objectives of the ruling class. But SERVES is the key word. Kennedy created NASA in competition to Russian military programs. A complex of facilities and industrial plants was cultivated nationally to ensure people have the maximum stake in the program’s continuation. When the original purposes of the rulers are met, the complex is diverted to new priorities or given makework to maintain the patronage. Sometimes the makework actually produces good discoveries. (You should have seen all the internal agency politics as the national labs in the nuclear weapons complex scrambled to find new missions when Russia’s political control collapsed and we were no longer racing to produce more nukes.)

    Religion plays the same role of SERVING the class. Democrats have one set of religious servants; Republicans a competing set of religious servants. So do business and labor leaders play SERVANT roles, which is why contributions from those groups to political candidates shift so dramatically as the power within the ruling class swings from party to party. But it swings WITHIN the ruling class.

  41. Thomas
    August 2, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    #20: “The only one of these presidents that I would consider as having had any sort of career as an “intellectual” before politics is Wilson.”

    Interestingly, I would place Wilson at the top of the list of worst twentieth-century presidents. (And before anyone goes “aha, another Glenn Beck foamer,” I despised Wilson before either Beck or Jonah Goldberg made it cool.) His intellectual work — his output as an academic — was explicitly aimed at discrediting the American founding and the principle of constitutionally limited government.

    Where public intellectuals often go wrong, is in the following logic: “I, and those of my intellectual stature, are far more intelligent than 99% of the people; therefore, entrusting smart me with decisions rather than letting the dumb 99 guys make decisions, will result in smarter decisions being made.” What this logic misses is that a large group of average intellects — with their different ideas left to compete with and inform each other — is almost always superior to the mental output of one really smart guy, who often lacks any mechanism for calling his attention to his mistakes.

    This is “the wisdom of crowds,” the price-setting genius of markets, and the logic behind Mosiah 29:26: “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.”

    BTW, I’d probably add Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a first-class history of the War of 1812, to the “intellectual” list. And I would probably name Abraham Lincoln — perhaps the least traditionally “intellectual” American president — as the wisest.

  42. DrPepper
    August 2, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    #3 Firetag “Codevilla also makes the point that the “ruling class”, while it portrays itself as intellectually superior, is very quickly becoming artificial through a negative self-selection in which membership depends more on obedience to the class than to innate ability of any kind.”

    –Interesting dynamic. There are all kinds of flaws with our country’s ruling class, but before we get too enthused about how this country would be better if it were run by people like us and our Church leaders **nodding at st1305**, I think we should explore the possibility that the Church, with its ever-growing premium on loyalty to the correlated status quo, suffers from this same kind of negative self-selection as well. One could re-write the quote in the OP like this (and maintain the same balance of applicability and inflammatory rhetoric):

    “Nothing has set the Church class apart, defined it, made it conscious of itself, given it whatever coherence it has, so much as the members’ insistence that people other than themselves are righteously and hence otherwise humanly inferior. Persons who were brought up to believe themselves as worthy as anyone, who manage their own lives to their own satisfaction, naturally resent members of the Church who say that the issues of eternal life are too complex for any but themselves. Most are insulted by the members’ dismissal of opposition as mere “laziness and disobedience” — an imputation of unworthiness— while others just scoff at the claim that the members’ correlated Church-speak demonstrates superior spirituality. A few ask the fundamental question: Since when and by what right does righteousness trump human equality? Moreover, if the members of the Church are so righteous, why have they made spiritual life worse?”

  43. August 2, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I ended up blogging, very briefly, on the essay as well.

    The OP made me think.

  44. August 2, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Dr. Pepper:

    Excellent point. As one “born in Apostasy”, I definitely know where you’re coming from.

    I remember a quote from a Green Lantern graphic novel: Oa [The home of the Guardians] was not actually at the Center of the Universe, but it was considered impolite to say so.”

  45. Badger
    August 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    FireTag, I guess we’re just seeing different things in the article. I have to say you sound more coherent to me than Codevilla, even though I know you are making points based in part on his article.

    Thomas, thanks for mentioning TR’s book. Some of the other presidents also could also be said to have had a career as an intellectual, and I wouldn’t insist on my Wilson-only classification. I’m not sure how applicable our present-day notions of what makes an intellectual are to the 19th century, but Lincoln was an astonishingly gifted man by the standards of any time.

  46. August 2, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Badger:

    Let me know whenever I decohere.