The first rule of the meritocratic elite is: you don’t talk about the meritocratic elite.In a recent letter in the daily Princeton, Susan Patton, a Princeton mother, argued that women should use their time on campus to find a husband. For various reasons, the piece angered or annoyed many pundits across the blogosphere (we discussed it here). In this Sunday’s New York Times, there’s a particularly interesting response by Ross Douthat.He suggests the hostility towards Patton’s letter had as much to do with meritocracy as marriage. He suggests that “the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.” Top colleges are essential institutions in the elite’s efforts to preserve itself, and students there encounter all sorts of mechanisms designed to further elite self-interest:
The intermarriage of elite collegians is only one of these mechanisms — but it’s an enormously important one. The outraged reaction to her comments notwithstanding, Patton wasn’t telling Princetonians anything they didn’t already understand. Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”?That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!
Read Douthat’s whole piece. Today’s blue meritocracy, the degenerate descendant of the upper middle class Progressives of the early 20th century, has a problem: it is formally committed to ideas like equality, social justice and an open society, but what it really wants to do is to protect its own power and privilege. The Ivy League system of elite colleges is a key element in the system of exclusion and privilege that helps perpetuate both the power of the American elite and its comforting delusion that because elite status is based on ‘merit’ it is therefore legitimate.At Via Meadia, we strongly believe that this elite needs its wings clipped and that America needs to become a more open society with more power at the grass roots and less concentrated among a small group of smug narcissists from the “right” schools with the “right” ideas. We think some kind of “national bac”, a set of exams that could allow students from all over the country to compete on the basis of what they actually know as opposed to which admissions officers they were able to impress at age 17, would help reduce the Ivy League bias that is poisoning American society. The kid who goes to Princeton and “networks” for four years sucking up to famous professors and polishing the “right ideas” and making the “right” friends currently has an almost infinite advantage over the poor schmuck who goes to Ohio State and studies hard; there ought to be a way that the Princeton kid can be exposed as an empty polo shirt and the Ohio State kid get recognized as a serious person.Exams are more democratic than membership in elite clubs as the basis for a meritocratic society; what we have now is a kind of bastardized version of the British class system and it produces the same kind of establishmentarian group-think that gave the world Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain and Ted Heath. It is the road to ruin, and with the best intentions in the world that is where our current pseudo-meritocracy is taking us.Our elite is broken and our system of recruiting and training elites is broken. If something doesn’t change, the ruin will spread.