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Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence

Posted on | November 21, 2013 | 30 Comments

The Myth of Progress, which imagines history generally as a more or less steady advancement toward enlightenment, is dependent upon our willingness to ignore the possibility of decadence.

Are we really more “enlightened” than the Founding Fathers? Do we see, in the general social and cultural trends around us, evidence of our moral and intellectual superiority to our ancestors? Even if education is more available and information more readily accessible because of technological advancement and increased affluence, does this really mean we are today more virtuous than our predecessors?

Whatever my career or educational attainments, it is certainly difficult for me to imagine that I am the moral superior of my father, who was born on a farm in Alabama, was wounded while fighting the Nazis in World War II, graduated from the University of Alabama, moved to Atlanta, worked 37 years at the Lockheed aircraft plan in Marietta, and raised a family of three sons, myself included.

My mother was also an intelligent and hard-working woman, my grandparents and aunts and uncles were all decent, respectable citizens, and it has been a formidable challenge to myself, my siblings and my cousins to strive to match the achievements of our forbears, to do our share to uphold and advance the family honor.

Cheap talk of “progress” is therefore something I regard with necessary skepticism, insofar as I am not actually offended by the imputation of dishonor on my parents and ancestors implicit in the notion of “progress,” as if I were somehow better than my father simply for having been born three decades later than him.

University of Connecticut Professor Peter Turchin has an essay today at Bloomberg, “Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays,” which examines some of the problems of America’s decadent elite from an egalitarian progressive perspective.

It’s worth reading, although I perceive that Professor Turchin is ultimately part of the problem and not part of the solution. Let us ask this: What is Professor Turchin’s annual household income, and in what percentile of the U.S. economy does that place him?

His salary at the University of Connecticut is reported at $122,000 a year, which certainly puts him in the top 5% and yet, not content with this handsome taxpayer-subsidized income, Professor Turchin’s overwhelming greed leads him also to seek additional wealth in the form of fees for writing articles in professional journals and the popular press. Yet even that isn’t enough to satisfy Professor Turchin’s infinite avarice, as he also pursues lucrative book contracts and public speaking fees.

You might think that all this money-grubbing would provide more than enough to meet the reasonable needs of even the most extraordinarily selfish person, but the boundless materialism of Professor Turchin drives him still further, as he moonlights as the vice president of a non-profit boondoggle called the Evolution Institute — the kind of posh gig that probably pays him tens of thousands of dollars annually just to attend meetings and seminars and so forth. (See update below.)

Let’s not even try to calculate the worth of the stocks and bonds and mutual funds in Professor Turchin’s 401(k) plan, nor can we estimate the dollar-value of the health insurance, vacation, sick leave and other benefits provided to him (courtesy of taxpayers) as a state university professor. The point here is that Professor Turchin’s sinecure — academic tenure guaranteeing him lifetime employment — has made him quite a wealthy man, and that he has taken advantage of every imaginable opportunity to augment his enviable riches.

If the most significant problem of American society is that the rich are getting richer, Professor Peter Turchin’s research into that problem requires only that he look in the nearest mirror.

Such is my contempt for Professor Peter Turchin that I would not bother to take notice of him, except to point out that he’s the kind of son of bitch who never even hit a blogger’s tip jar.

Our Moral Superiors: We can never hate them as much as they hate us.


UPDATE: A reader did some research and reports that the Evolution Institute is a nickel-and-dime outfit — collecting about $200,000 a year — and that Professor Turchin is paid nothing as vice-president thereof. But has the IRS checked the books?

A thorough investigation might reveal that the Evolution Institute spends money hiring transvestite hookers to service its officers at the annual board meeting. Excuse my extreme skepticism of Professor Turchin’s allegedly philanthropic endeavors. Any devotee of evolutionary theory would be required to believe that altruism always serves a self-interested ulterior motive. So when a Darwinist pretends to be acting on principles of unselfish idealism, my gut hunch instinct is always, “Yeah, right. What in it for him?”

You may laugh, but this instinct is uncannily accurate.

Remember Professor Hugo Schwyzer, the “male feminist” who expressed his idealistic commitment to equality by boning 19-year-old coeds? Academia is crammed full of such frauds and perverts. Honesty is increasingly rare in America’s colleges and universities, and seldom do these corrupt intellectuals lie so boldly as when they tell us that they are motivated by selfless idealism.




30 Responses to “Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence”

  1. CHideout
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin…

  2. MrEvilMatt
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin…

  3. Resista38176897
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin…

  4. jwbrown1969
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin…

  5. Lockestep1776
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin…

  6. Citzcom
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin…

  7. rsmccain
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    @Instapundit Either (a) this guy is a total asshole, or (b) maybe I should switch to decaf #BadDayToStopSniffingGlue

  8. FilmLadd
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    The overwhelming, all-consuming, infinite greed and avarice of @Peter_Turchin:

  9. rsmccain
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

    RT @Citzcom: Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence: The Myth of Progress, which imagin……

  10. Michael
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

    Well Stacy, I won’t argue with your overall point, but there is one important error in your post, which could/should have been checked out pretty easily.
    According to The Evolution Institute 2011 and 2012 tax filings (thank you Guidestar), Prof. Turchins received exactly $0 in payments. It seems to be a fairly small and unimportant non-profit, with less than $200k in total revenue and contributions each year.
    The mission of said institute is suspect, and definitely smacks of the rich “overeducated” elites he proclaims to criticize, but he doesn’t apparently get rich from the institute.

  11. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    It is good to go back and read the classic. Not just Shakespeare, but Roman and Greek works. What you find is human beings have not changed so much over the last 2,500 years.

    And while they may not have had as rich a vocabulary as we do today, and certainly not the same system of laws in place, but the people who painted this were probably not any different than most of you when it came to moral issues.

  12. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

    If you are a Judeo-Christian believer, morality is a covenant between God and man (from Abraham, then Sinai, and later (if you are a Christian) through Jesus. Go back and read the old testament and things have not changed that much from then till now.

    And there is probably a genetic component to all this too (whether you believe in creation or not). We are hard wired to know right from wrong.

  13. Eric Johnson
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

    One has to wonder where he traveled for them and what kind of accommodations they allowed him. First class/biz class vs economy seating? Nicer hotels & suites vs Motel 6? Extra days at those nice tourist destinations of Rome, Paris, etc?

    There are other ways to compensate folks that are harder to track.

  14. robertstacymccain
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    Thanks for the fact-checking. I’d be glad to hit your tip jar for the research assistance, but unfortunately I’m being sued by a bomber.

    Have any bombers sued Professor Turchin? I don’t think so. Talk about “social injustice”!

  15. scarymatt
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    I think it’s fair to say that in certain ways we are definitely more enlightened or virtuous than the founding fathers were (and probably less so in other ways). It’s a mistake to not recognize that part of that is the work of others who have come before us. That mistake leads us to conclude they were horrible people.

    It’s like thinking Newton was a mathematical retard because he doesn’t know as much math as a 21st century undergraduate math major. As far as looking at a person’s progress, more important to see where they go from where they started. In those terms, I’m pretty certain I’m less virtuous than them and not as good at math as Newton.

  16. instapundit
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    RT @rsmccain: @Instapundit Either (a) this guy is a total asshole, or (b) maybe I should switch to decaf #BadDayToSt…

  17. Neo
    November 21st, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    There is nothing worse than a do-good-er with an overfilled checkbook

  18. Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence | Dead Citizen's Rights Society
    November 21st, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    […] Read the rest … […]

  19. Pqlyur1
    November 21st, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    @rsmccain can flat-out write, y’all. ~ Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence

  20. RS
    November 21st, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    The problem with “Progress” as it pertains to the Human Condition, is that we tend to believe that because we now all carry a portable phone in our pockets and have indoor plumbing, that somehow such technological advances indicate advances in core morality, as well. I use the word “core” deliberately. There is no doubt, that certain things which were once common are now taboo. Yet the basic moral faults of Humans remain the same. As Evi, points out, the Christian attributes this to Original Sin and believes that Man will always be so, an inference supported inductively by human history. The atheist sees humans as capable of perfection if only prodded in the right direction by a philosophical class, of which they see themselves as members. The fact that such attempts have always ended in failure because they were co-opted by flawed and evil humans is lost upon them.

  21. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    November 21st, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    We definitely build upon the success of past generations. Newton was a great mind of human history (like Archimedes, Da Vinci, etc.).

    Morality is knowing right and wrong and doing what is right.

    For example: Both Jefferson and Washington knew slavery was wrong, but both had a very difficult time of dealing with it economically (Washington at least freed his slaves in his will, Jefferson did not have that option given he was so much in debt). John Adams did not have that difficulty, but that was because he did not ever have to rely on slave economics. So who is more moral? The truth is you cannot know without being in their situation. You can not judge persons of the past by today’s standard and (if you are honest) you must reflect that doing the right thing is often very difficult regardless of what time you live in.

  22. scarymatt
    November 21st, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    Yes, all of that context is important, but I can certainly judge them in an absolute sense against today.

    I do not accept debt as a reasonable excuse to hold slaves. I can try to understand where they were coming from and why they made the decisions they did. But that doesn’t change that owning slaves is an inferior moral choice versus not owning slaves. I accept that Adams was “lucky” in that, like me, his ability to own slaves was very different than Washington and Jefferson.

  23. Adjoran
    November 21st, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    IRS has no time to investigate the Evolution Institute or the Velvet Revolution because they are too busy compiling lists of conservative groups’ donors and forwarding them to liberal groups.

    Plus, Obama has lots of people he needs intimidated. There are only so many hours in the day, you know.

  24. Quartermaster
    November 21st, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

    Set aside slavery, where I agree with you Matt. Make the comparison between Washington, Jefferson, or even a slug like Jackson, and the type of politician we have today. Jefferson would prosecute, Washington would condemn them to the gibbet, and Jackson would be delighted to spring the trap. It’s easy to condemn the founders because of slavery (and Adams was lucky as Mass was a slave state at the beginning and he was not a farmer as I recall), but there is still no comparison between the founders and the current crop on the issue of virtue. The current crowd isn’t worth the powder to blow them to hell, although the richly deserve the trip.

  25. PubliusNV
    November 21st, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

    Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence

  26. M. Thompson
    November 22nd, 2013 @ 3:15 am

    The nature of the economy in the Northern colonies made slavery unprofitable. It was a more broad-based economy that did not export a crop that required a large amount of labor that needed to be directly under the control of the landowner.

    Also,the desired society of the colonial founders was important. The East Anglian Puritans who settled Massachusetts Bay that lacked the highest and lowest sections of society, while the South-western Cavaliers in Virginia (think Hardy’s Wessex) wanted to pretty much be semi-feudal overlords.

    All men are products of their time and society, and it would do us well to understand that when understanding wisdom.

  27. Moneyrunner
    November 22nd, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    An interesting discussion, but before we all agree on whether we are better or worse than those that came before us, let’s examine some of those things that we assume we are right about; slavery for example. There have been slaves as long as history can record, and there are slaves today, even in our biggest cities. If we accept the premise of multiculturalist that maintain that we should not assume that our culture is superior to another, who’s to say who is right on this issue? Several centuries ago slavery co-existed with the belief that abortion was immoral. Today our cultural rulers make abortion the first right of women … and condemn slavery. Which is more moral, killing children or owning a slave? In the Roman Republic the head of a family could kill his children, presumably extending the right to abort one’s children for years past birth. Were the Romans even more enlightened than feminists today?

    And where are we today as we congratulate ourselves on our morality?

    Feel free to discuss the morality of creating an entire sub-culture of people with no marketable skills who live at a subsistence level, fed and housed by the state in communities ruled by violent gangs and whose only function is to vote for a corrupt oligarchy in return for their miserable lives.

  28. rsmccain
    November 22nd, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    RT @Pqlyur1: @rsmccain can flat-out write, y’all. ~ Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence…

  29. BrianKennedy8
    November 22nd, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    RT @Pqlyur1: @rsmccain can flat-out write, y’all. ~ Our Moral Superiors: @Peter_Turchin’s Career of Selfish Academic Decadence…

  30. whig
    November 23rd, 2013 @ 12:56 am

    Warning, long post below and feel free to ignore.

    Not to distract from the conversation but I am also a college professor who deals with empirical research quite a bit including time series data, event history analysis, etc. I even worked on a project that sought to de-trend data over time to correct our underlying model.

    I took a glance at Prof. Turchin’s essay and found several problems almost immediately. First, the whole concept of poverty is fraught with measurement error even in our time. Second, time series of such matters usually requires making assertions based on differing data from the past. Proxy measurements of poverty in the past combined with disagreement over how to measure poverty in the future means that essentially his measure of societal inequality is probably riddled with error. Right now, most poverty measures deal solely with income–not wealth; measures also do a poor job about tracking individuals over time regarding their overall income because they are not designed to do so. A perfect example that I am familiar with, Athens, Georgia has an extremely high poverty rate but given that 1/3 of the population in that city attend the University of Georgia which typically do not have much income (but quite often come from wealthy families), we would accord a high inequality index based on income for that county because of the number of well paid faculty and administrators at the University. Similarly, the poor today when compared with the poor in the 1960’s have significantly more material wealth–indoor plumbing, air conditioning, cars, microwave ovens, large screen televisions, computers, etc. that even the middle and upper classes of the 1960’s did not have. Last, but not least, most modern measures of inequality do not count poverty assistance in kind from such things as food stamps, housing, EITC, Pell Grants etc. I have more criticisms but don’t want to be tedious. I may actually request his data to run a replication study because I suspect it is full of such problems. Time series is difficult to get right even absent consistent data measured the same way. Just look at the global warming fiasco with tree ring estimations and weather stations in now urbanized heat sinks.

    A few other matters,

    First, Adams did have a farm outside of Boston and was raised as a farmer’s son (See McCulloch’s biography). Slavery existed in MA but was not profitable in a plantation setting as the farms were small subsistence type and the soil is not very productive. Adams was a most consistent critic of slavery and did not come from ancestors likely to profit from slavery either. Whatever Adams faults were, what you saw is what you got.

    Jefferson is probably one of the more slippery of our Founding Fathers. He secretly fomented dissent in Washington’s Cabinet, blamed slavery on the King in an early draft of the Declaration, decried strong executive powers yet effectively wrote a hot check on the Treasury for the Louisiana Purchase without congressional approval before the fact (required in the Constitution). His past as governor of Virginia during wartime was problematic. Jefferson exhibited an almost double life between what he said and what he did.

    Washington is probably the most difficult as Washington consciously set out to be a great man. He was certainly ambitious, cautious, popular with the ladies, and had a volcanic temper that sometimes boiled over. However, Washington’s stellar reputation and character was such that no one else really stood a chance to be elected first president (except Adams felt he should have been considered as well). Notably, many of Washington’s actions in office have been followed by his successors.

    I apologize for sacrificing so many electrons for this post.