The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The best article on America’s Elite

I’ve ever read.  A teaser:

In short, the way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity—lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse. The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out. Not the most abject academic failure, not the most heinous act of plagiarism, not even threatening a fellow student with bodily harm—I’ve heard of all three—will get you expelled. The feeling is that, by gosh, it just wouldn’t be fair—in other words, the self-protectiveness of the old-boy network, even if it now includes girls. Elite schools nurture excellence, but they also nurture what a former Yale graduate student I know calls “entitled mediocrity.” A is the mark of excellence; A- is the mark of entitled mediocrity. It’s another one of those metaphors, not so much a grade as a promise. It means, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You may not be all that good, but you’re good enough.

This is EXACTLY how we see the elites treat themselves at the highest pinnacles of power. Blew up the economy, invaded a country based on big lie propaganda and shredded the constitution?  A- old chap, and we would never think of holding you to account.  Go retire in luxury, old fellow.

Go, read the entire article.


To Fix America


Not Having Kids


  1. anonymous

    I liked the part where quotes Ruskin:
    “grabbing what you can get isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists. “Work must always be,” Ruskin says, “and captains of work must always be….[But] there is a wide difference between being captains…of work, and taking the profits of it.””

    It would be nice if Mr Hope-a-dope could have said something like that to his buddies running the banks, and maybe have begrudged them a little bit of their wealth. Like something in the form of taxes on the rich that reflected the burden protecting their wealth and priviledge imposes on the rest of us.

  2. anonymous

    Ouch! The closing paragraph sounds like Buddy Cole from Kids in the Hall calling out Miss Obama from his perch on a barstool:

    “The world that produced John Kerry and George Bush is indeed giving us our next generation of leaders. …. She will have many achievements but little experience, great success but no vision. The disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have.”

  3. Bolo

    Eh, while I agree with the general thrust that our elite universities are becoming even more elitist and narrow, I think the author of this particular article is a bit daft. I mean, he can’t relate to a plumber? He doesn’t know what a working class person’s values are or how to even talk to him? Seriously?

    Reading further into the article, I think his views are mostly the result of the Yale/Harvard/Columbia bubble. Those Ivies (especially the first two) are notoriously elitist, even within the Ivy system.

    Full disclosure: I went to Cornell University for college. Most of this article that discusses day-to-day things at university actually runs counter to my experiences in college. There were no locked gates, the campus was almost entirely open to the public–libraries, some computer labs, the quads, the buildings (other than a few secure areas). Students didn’t harp on their GPAs or SATs. I’ve interviewed prospective students as an alumnus and have been told to look at the student as a whole and not just focus on their SAT scores–though they are important, the university was more interested in people with diverse talents and experiences. If I handed in a paper one hour late I’d get a letter grade off in most classes. Its also been rated as one of the best places to work at (for staff and laborers) due to (among other things) the students and administration not being snobby a-holes. Yes, there were snobby a-hole trust fund babies there, but they mostly congregated in business, law, and fraternities.

    On the other hand, I’m currently attending Arizona State and I see what the writer means about impersonal bureaucracy and lack of funding. Cornell was certainly a much friendlier place and there was definitely money to go around and lots of higher-up connections to be made–though at the same time it had pretty strong expectations that its students wouldn’t just pass with a “gentleman’s A-.” Yes, it had grade inflation (worse in some departments than others), but even getting an average grade meant busting your ass like nothing else I’ve experienced since.

    Reading on further: There were plenty of hippies, a few punks, a good many art-school types, and certainly many out lesbians and gay men. There were plenty of geeky geeks too. Class-wise it was more homogeneous, but there was some mixture to be had. Another thing that strikes me as very different about ASU vs. Cornell was that at Cornell I actually had conversations with people (including faculty) about “the big questions.” At ASU, I don’t think I have even once.

    As I said above, I think the author’s overall thrust is right and that the parts of the article toward the end are most dead-on, but there’s also a huge, blinking *YALE* sign hung around his neck. I know it sounds like I’m being a snobby elitist by complaining about Yale and defending Cornell, but every school has its own character and painting the Ivies as elitist snobs with a broad brush isn’t quite right.

  4. tsisageya

    Wow. That is extraordinarily enlightening, much to my dismay.

  5. The article ends:

    The disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have.

    But will they be vicious enough to maintain their position?

  6. tsisageya

    But, lambert, how can you ask that? The answer, of course, is HELL YES. That seems to be the hallmark of the elite: viciousness.

  7. alyosha

    @Bolo wrote: I think the author of this particular article is a bit daft. I mean, he can’t relate to a plumber? He doesn’t know what a working class person’s values are or how to even talk to him? Seriously?

    I once worked for guy who was like that. He didn’t go to the tip top schools (only UCLA and USC) but he came from a wealthy family, and you could feel the contempt and incomprehension he had toward people he thought were inferior. I’ll never forget the needless confrontation he had with a man who came in to physically rearrange our office (the movers essentially). Or the time he looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested he take the train (instead of his car) to a destination. These people are real, and they exist.

  8. Tim McGovern

    Brilliant. This graf was my fave, and very true of the mid-level liberal arts college I went to-

    “I’ve been struck, during my time at Yale, by how similar everyone looks. You hardly see any hippies or punks or art-school types, and at a college that was known in the ’80s as the Gay Ivy, few out lesbians and no gender queers. The geeks don’t look all that geeky; the fashionable kids go in for understated elegance. Thirty-two flavors, all of them vanilla. The most elite schools have become places of a narrow and suffocating normalcy. Everyone feels pressure to maintain the kind of appearance—and affect—that go with achievement. (Dress for success, medicate for success.) I know from long experience as an adviser that not every Yale student is appropriate and well-adjusted, which is exactly why it worries me that so many of them act that way. The tyranny of the normal must be very heavy in their lives. One consequence is that those who can’t get with the program (and they tend to be students from poorer backgrounds) often polarize in the opposite direction, flying off into extremes of disaffection and self-destruction. But another consequence has to do with the large majority who can get with the program.”

    Self destruction for those who wish to actually learn critical thinking, indeed.

    I think this hatred is where a lot of the good young writers find their motivation. Not political DC types, but the many Gawker, starving artists-bloggers out there who started their own things and have to capitalize on all the grief out there for the non-robots. Sports and comedy types especially. I’ve always had a bad, generational yen to my explanations, and really where else can one go after so much cynicism and retro fads but full circle to regarding The Hills and Jersey Shore as everyman TV?

    The political ones with cult followings have a much more focused hate on this kinda success, like Poorman or Driftglass. Mostly b/c of the nepotism and plain wrongness-with-no-consequences that’s so apparent – here’s looking at you, Luke Russert. But also b/c of the dreck that supposes George Soros et al. are giving liberals big checks for their eloquent snark (just like the Heritage Foundation!), all the while the reality that gatekeepers like Arianna Huffington don’t pay is biting their asses daily.

    Hell, even the analytic skills apparently so envied by the elite don’t really matter – would almost anyone in print or the news, save for a very select few who never get credit for it, pass a high school debate test for logic? If anything, the analyzing they seem to favor is what the author says – super specialized, cut n dry pastings of supposedly narrow issues that, oops! have incredibly long term, far reaching effects. I’m sure John Roberts did very well at Yale Law, but would a Penn State night school paralegal class give him passing marks for what he considered the effects of Citizens United would be?

  9. anonymous

    “would almost anyone in print or the news, save for a very select few who never get credit for it, pass a high school debate test for logic?”

    In my experience of college students, or the majors of former college students, journalism majors have always been just about the dumbest. It’s close, education majors are pretty dense too, but journalism majors were a lot more smug about it. Business majors, while not lacking in analytical skills are artificially retarded (pc police, I mean that “satirically”, in the right wing sense of the word) by their ideological blinders. I remember professors really pushing the WSJ as required reading for any business major, and you pretty much had to hold your tongue in classes and in your writings so as not to offend their limited intelligence (and hurt your grade).

    As for rich entitled boys, I went to a private high school after going to public elementary and junior high schools. About 95% of the kids or more had been to private schools all their lives (at least 80% of them were kids of doctors or lawyers). The attitudes towards working class people and racial minorities were pretty shocking on the occassions when they came up. They were proud of their own working class parents or grandparents who had risen to upper or uppermiddle class status, and they basked in the genetic glow and economic security that US meritocracy had conferred on them. But apparently they believed that nearly all the cream had risen to its level by then.

    I remember driving by a construction site and for some reason one of my classmates shouted out the car window something about working for minimum wage and others laughing. Nevermind their ignorance about what wages construction workers made. They just really feel threatened and offended by people they consider to be their inferiors – enough to shout insults at strangers minding their own business. My high school was about the only “elite” thing I ever belonged to (it was no big whoop since the public schools in the area were fairly good, but it sometimes surprises me how a few people I wouldn’t even think would care harbor a significant amount of envy and resentment over it). So I guess I never really saw the world thru the eyes of the entitled. But it was as if those manual laborers, by their very existence, were somehow a rebuke to the fairness of the system that had elevated these brats who had never worked a day in their lives, and they had to demean them and put them in their places.

  10. tjfxh

    The idea that people are fit into a system to serve the needs of the system can be a bit misleading. I’ve taught at elite universities and non-elite. The quality of student is hugely different and the level of education can be a lot higher at the elite universities because they select the best of the best. America is actually pretty good at selecting the top students and granting scholarships and aid to get them the education that fits with their abilities. Students more or more less find their own level. Could the system be improved. Sure.

    But the old system of the sons of the elite going to prep schools and on to an Ivy League place held from birth is not really that true anymore, and things aren’t anything like they were when I was in school many years ago. Now anyone getting into fields that require extreme abilities such as computation actually has to have those abilities and work hard. There’s no faking it. And there are a lot of people at the top with relatively humble backgrounds. This was not true not all that long ago.

  11. As a (now) old greybeard who saw his sibling, cousins and close friends matriculate to many of the Ivies or their equivalent (e.g., the Bowdoins, Rhode Island School of Design) please keep in mind the legacy admissions, pseudo- atheletic scholarships, children of big (potential) donors and yes, (though very limited) affirmative action. I’ll grant these people a certain narcissistic self-entitlement; little more. The only exception I’ll concede are the couple of cousins who cracked MIT.

    I would suggest that one revisit Dan Golden’s 2003-4 series of articles on college admissions.

  12. A dynastic generation of professional politicians schooled specifically in the maintenance of power. What could ever go wrong with that?

    As a recovering academic I can only add, like all cults, it takes a bit of deprogramming. Having now ‘retired’ from both instruction and support at both university and college level… the pecking order is … ahhhmmm … remarkable in retrospect. [Or perhaps those last few years leaving such … ahhh … dismay were those of an evolution] That education has become corporatized is understated, but what I’ve seen is not an influence of academia extend to the community but rather over the past ten years a steady imposition of hierarchical structure designed not to enlighten but retard the students’ exploration. Where we see the imposition of text book censoring upon the population at large, we don’t see the back-door imposition into staff and middle management of card carrying members of the vast reichwing conspiracy, declared bigots of limited education and demonstrated conflict with established scientific inquiry ostensibly providing ‘management’ and ‘support’ to ‘The Elitists’.

    It’s really rather fascinating… er frightening, when you give thought to the influence the mainstream media and stadium sports (seig heil!) have…

  13. er frightening, when you give thought to the influence the mainstream media and stadium sports (seig heil!) have…

    “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

  14. hillbilly diaspora

    looks like i missed the debate on this one. but i’m a recent Yale grad, went to a very (the most?) prestigious prep school before that, and i can vouch for the accuracy of this article. while there may be more poor kids and nonwhite kids going to elite schools than there used to be, the majority of these kids are co-opted into the lifestyle of the elite – a huge number of my friends and acquaintances from all backgrounds went to work for the same handful of investment banks and consulting firms.

  15. Zach

    Have to second Bolo on this — Brown grad here. Its interesting how much this author wants to artificially inflate this problem.

    In calling out “the Ivies”, by which we are to assume is meant the annual classes of seven (7) universities, the author invokes thousands upon thousands of bored, powerful, well connected graduates, washing through our society, polluting all with their nefarious witlesness.

    When in fact he is speaking directly about a) a fraction of the grad class of b) primarily three or c) VERY SMALL schools, to wit: Harv / Yale / Princeton, and to some extent Columbia.

    What does Ivy conference graduate, 1000 kids a year / school, give or take? Even generously giving him 15% of the ultra sheltered dullards he describes, thats what, 450 from those 4 schools? Per year? 1050 total /annum if it held true across the whole “Ivy”?

    Sure sounds like a threat to the foundations of higher education and democracy to me.

    This is not to say that students from elite colleges never pursue a riskier or less lucrative course after graduation, but even when they do, they tend to give up more quickly than others

    Oh thanks bud, for butressing up the Effete Elite badge once again.

    The author of this article is a mess. Temptation to mediocrity? Holy hellfire, whose legacy kid is he? I recall no few of us Ivy grads being held to a brutal standard every day, and yes plenty of kids failed out. And as it turns out, *every* ivy is fairly awash in opportunities to commingle with the different-from-you. Even Yale.

    Im so very damned weary of getting hung with the Whats Wrong With America tag, especially by the liberal apologists. Oh youre right, Talk Radio America, its really all our fault. Sigh / clutch pearls. I dont know where this hangdog sh*te comes from, but I do weep for Yale if there are substantially more of him encrusting their halls.

    A superlative education is an extraordinary thing, a fine tool — which its grads are going to use according to their various preexisting resources and bents. Kids do that. An unfortunate few will put it towards world domination and intergalactic financial ruin.. substantially more possibly to following sheltered and lazy assed privileged lives I suppose, though I didnt know any. Much like the grads of every college conference, adjusted for extended family income.

    Im reminded of a sweatshirt the Yale Debate Association got into some trouble for selling in the early 80s:

    [Front] In the past, the Yale Debate Association has produced many well known and distinguished alumni, including William F. Buckley, [name.. name..] and Atty General Edwin Meese.


    We’re sorry.

  16. Ian Welsh

    Ivy grads run the US more than anyone else.

    And the bottom line is that they have fucked it up.

    Time for the elites to own some of their failures.

  17. Zach

    My point Ian is that those ‘ivy grads’ are in fact family scions– and they go on to f*ck up the USA and the world because they have the funds, the connections, and the inclination to do so.

    Ivy school is a brief byway for them. The schools dont create them, they dont particularly learn or change during their 4 year stay, and then they go merrily on their way.

    Point of fact, Dick Cheney flunked out of Yale, and graduated from Wyoming. Was the world a better place because he did?

    Calling these people Ivy Grads is a) sloppy thinking and b) completely obfuscatory. How about we call them what they are, America’s Ugly Princelings?

    No wait, that would imply America has classes. Can’t have that.

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