Sunday, October 24, 2010

Don't learn or achieve or you won't be in touch with America

I think that the author of the linked article (a kind reader reports that the link doesn't work - here's the URL:  ( hasn’t read the extreme end result of his posit:  Atlas Shrugged.  He says that there is something wrong with smart people, achieving people hanging with each other, marrying each other and raising yet a new generation of even more of the same.  That’s what this article seems to be saying; and, I‘ve read it couple of times.

“The more efficiently a society identifies the most able young people of both sexes, sends them to the best colleges, unleashes them into an economy that is tailor-made for people with their abilities and lets proximity take its course, the sooner a New Elite -- the "cognitive elite" that Herrnstein and I described -- becomes a class unto itself. It is by no means a closed club, as Barack Obama's example proves. But the credentials for admission are increasingly held by the children of those who are already members. An elite that passes only money to the next generation is evanescent ("Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations," as the adage has it). An elite that also passes on ability is more tenacious, and the chasm between it and the rest of society widens.


“The bubble that encases the New Elite crosses ideological lines and includes far too many of the people who have influence, great or small, on the course of the nation. They are not defective in their patriotism or lacking a generous spirit toward their fellow citizens. They are merely isolated and ignorant. The members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.”

So, must the country’s elite not achieve?  Must we engage in affirmative action for the intellectually challenged?  What is the societal result of either or both paths?  The author seems to be arguing for the ascendency of Beck’s and Palin’s America.

I’m past my prime.  But before I hit it, I thought there was an aspiration on the part of my parents and relatives that the next generation would do a bit more than they had been able to do, in whatever way “a bit more” turned out.

I think that’s changing as evidenced by articles like this that attack people that don’t hang on Oprah’s every word, think that knowing who is a NASCAR star is not all that important, or have not had the obvious benefit of having read a romance novel.  Don’t trust the “elites;” though, do take the benefits of what they’ve given our society, the author seems to say.

America seems to be reveling in xenophobic populists, momma grizzlies and pundits that can cry on cue, a national downward aspiration if you will.

In a way it’s understandable.   Reagan said all those homey, warm things and for a while, rampant capitalism lifted all boats.  The second Bush had promise for underachieving America, “he’s one of us,” until he and his GOP buddies spent like they were trying to gain admission to the left wing of the Democratic Party in an uninformed, desperate attempt to rein in what Reagan had started.  Obama?  Wrong place, wrong time, same failed gifting of money to the people with money in hopes that it would trickle down to “the people,” keeping the boat afloat.

So what do Reagan (though he’s been gone for long enough to not be castigated), Bush and Obama have in common?  They’re elites, insulated from “Real America.”  We’ve had enough of smart achievers!  We’re for the O’Donnells, Palins, Becks of the world.  They understand us, and they’re against “them.”

People are good and bad, rich and poor, tall and short, and so on.  When did it become a bad idea to learn and achieve, whatever your other characteristics are?


Annie K said...

The link doesn't work for me.

Dave said...

Sorry Annie, and thanks. I put the URL in the post and didn't fancy it up.

Posol'stvo the Medved said...

Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? Not a great movie, but kind of ties in with what you're talking about here.

The Curmudgeon said...

I too am wary of a "New Elite" and I don't watch NASCAR. I've even been known to read whole, entire books -- without moving my lips.

But by "new elite" I mean the idea that only those who come from "elite" institutions are somehow "qualified" for "elite" jobs. Why must all our Supreme Court Justices be from Ivy League Schools (the majority from Harvard and Yale)? The dirty little secret of these -- and all other "elite" schools -- is that in addition to letting in the allegedly best and brightest -- they also let in the spawn of their alumni. These are called "legacies."

And the "elite" schools do not let in all the best and brightest. In the Chicago area, for instance, there are some schools -- public and private -- that have been identified as "feeder" schools for certain institutions. The exceptionally bright kid who matriculates from the "wrong" high school has a far smaller chance of getting into an Ivy than a more modestly talented cousin whose parents had the foresight to move into the New Trier school district.

Harvard and Yale graduates are not necessarily better than their peers coming out of State U. They simply have more opportunities. The Lords and Ladies of England weren't necessarily more talented or smarter than their neighbors -- they were simply the elite by virtue of their birth. In our country, the elite is more permeable and it is defined by diploma and not (necessarily) by ancestry -- but I'm four-square against any "elite" class, however it is defined.

There are elite people. There are lots of folks who are smarter than me and more talented in many ways. But only because of who they are and what they've done -- not because of where they went to school or who their parents were.

Dave said...

I'll have to put the movie in my streaming gueue Pos.

Curmudgeon, to the extent substantively elite, but unconnected, people are excluded in education, business and society, I'll agree with you. (I suppose you commenting means there's a new post over at your place.)