Non-historical McWhorter

John McWhorter is an interesting writer and thinker. I have taken three of his audio courses, read a couple of his books, as well as a number of articles he has written.
But, like many scientists who have never been trained to think historically, he’s dangerous when he gets on the subject of history. Such stinkers tend to think only in terms of scientific, general laws of causation. Whatever cannot be explained by such a law is mere “accident” or “chance.”
History is the attempt to make sense of some past state of affairs in terms of the earlier past states of affairs that brought the latter one about. “Accident” and “chance” play no part in such an understanding, except, perhaps, in a trivial sense like “The Duke had a car accident after playing a game of chance.”
A similar error occurs on page 39 of What Language Is, where McWhorter talks about languages suffering “an interruption in their histories.” (He is talking about scenarios such as Persian becoming highly simplified due to the …

Being "out of touch"

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of rob's criticism of my post of a month ago for being "out of touch" is what it says about rob's intellectual standards: I wasn't mistaken, or vindictive: my problem was that I wasn't mindlessly buying into whatever are the latest PC standards being announced by the NY Times or Google. I would be every dollar I own that a decade ago it had never crossed rob's mind that being "welcoming to the non-binary" was an important feature of a company, or even that a category of humans called "the non-binary" existed. But once our cultural masters declares that to be a "good" person is to firmly believe that for all of human history there has been a hidden, significant minority "the non-binary", rob immediately declared he firmly believed it! If tomorrow they declare that "bigotry" towards pedophiles (who will be called "the children affectionate") is the sign of the de…

More college diversity and tolerance

From Amherst College, as noted by the left-leaning journal Commonweal:

‘Despite the sentiment expressed in its introduction, such a document will not serve to encourage discussion, but to stifle it; the goal is not intellectual diversity, but conformity. A professor friend of mine at another college notes ruefully that colleagues who oppose the ideas and language put forth in the Amherst document don’t dare say so publicly. “They’d be ostracized and shamed,” he told me. “You just can’t disagree with this kind of thing.”’

My review of Kirzner,

Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem, has been published at Review of Political Economy, and is available here, for a limited time.

"Chance" is not an explanation of anything

I'm currently reviewing John McWhorter's The Language Hoax for The University Bookman. Here is my commentary on McWhorter's use of "chance" as an explanation for some language feature:

McWhorter commits a serious error in assigning the cause of this multitude of bewildering variety in human language. He writes, "In fact, there is a coherent explanation... That explanation is, quite simply, chance" (43). This is nonsense, albeit common nonsense. "Chance" is not an explanation for anything: chance is the word we use for happenings we can't explain. In cases such as the presence of evidential markers in the Tuyuca language, McWhorter is fighting against the Whorfian view that there is always a macro-level, cultural/environmental explanation for the features of a language. And he makes a strong case, throughout the book, that that is not so.

But there is certainly some explanation for how they arose: perhaps a long-lived Tuyuca chief was an …

Yak shaving squared

It occurs to me that pretty much every time I tell the yak shaving story, it is because I have already begun yak shaving, and so telling the story is actually second order yak shaving.

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“Kerr [praised] the performance of Andre Iguodala, who made six 3-pointers and had 17 points...” — ESPNAnd was apparently -1 for 4 from the free throw line.