Friday, July 23, 2010

In His Diary, Ben Stein Wishes for the End of Wishful Thinking

Zaid Jilani and Dennis DiClaudio are on Ben Stein’s case.

They are on his case for the entry he made in his American Speculator Diary this Monday. Specifically, they are on his case for writing and publishing this paragraph:

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative. To assure that a worker is not one of them, he should learn how to work and how to get along -- not always easy.
Personally, I am not particularly offended by this paragraph. In fact, I agree with the sentiment. In a misanthropic way I do think that Stein is correct. I tend to agree that “the people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.” However, I also think that the people who have not been laid off and can find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I suspect that Jilani and DiClaudio inferred that Stein is implying that the people who have not been laid off and that can find work have better work habits and personalities than the unemployed and underemployed. However, he does not make this claim, nor do I think that he would stand by such a claim.

Well, maybe he would.

Stein is a vocal advocate for Intelligent Design Creationism, so I know he is not afraid to stand behind offensive and crazy ideas. Along with his IDC support, his recent diary entry fills me with sad irony.

The man, known to refuse to wear shoes that are not sneakers says, “This brings to mind an idea I have long had: that high schools and colleges should have a course on "how to get along" and "how to do a day’s work." This would include showing up in clean clothes, smelling well, having had a good breakfast, dressed in a businesslike way, calling the other employees "sir" or "ma'am" and not talking back.”

The man uses the egalitarian generality “men and women” in one paragraph then writes with alarming discriminatory sexism in the next paragraph, “women selling their bodies, men turning to drugs.”

But the most ironic and unfortunate of Stein’s crazytalk in his diary entry is in the aforementioned (aforequoted?) paragraph. The title of his diary entry is “The End of Wishful Thinking,” and its primary thesis (yes, Stein has theses in his published diary) is that “people who add and subtract and see life plain, these people rarely get in desperate trouble.” However, many if not most of the minor theses of this diary article, e.g., “productive workers with real skills and real ability to get along are also sometimes unemployed, but they will be the last fired and the first hired,” are silverlined generalizations. I assert, at the risk of offending Jilani and DiClaudio, that a person’s get-along-ability and do-a-day’s-work-ability are real, important, powerful factors in that person’s employment status. However, despite what a wishful thinking economist Ben Stein might tell you, these two important factors are not the only two important factors. Experience, education, who a person knows, gender, race, age, and family prestige are a few other factors that have a comparable level of importance to Stein’s two factors.

In Stein’s defense, his two factors do play an important role. Ironically, Stein’s factors (and the others I listed) work in the same way as Darwinian evolution which Stein claims to disbelieve.

Ben Stein, as pixies in Butch Hartman's The Fairly Oddparents
Most of Stein’s claims in this diary article contain grains of truth, but most of the claims are oversimplified generalities stylized as Undeniable Truths. I do not know if Stein is playing some kind of rhetorical game here or if he “is . . . as much like . . . [his] friends of decades standing . . . [who] lacked prudence and lived in a dream world . . . as [he] often think[s he is].” He often thinks he is like these friends of his, and perhaps rightly so. That good hard-working people are rewarded and evil lazy people are punished is sometimes, but not always true. Accepting such a maxim as fact is wishful thinking.

I guess Ben is having one of those dreams that appears as though the dream world is the waking world.