SUSAN PATTON, the Princeton alumna who became famous for her letter urging Ivy League women to use their college years to find a mate, has been denounced as a traitor to feminism, to coeducation, to the university ideal. But really she’s something much more interesting: a traitor to her class.
Her betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.
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”?
I have no comment on Mrs. Patton's advice to Princeton "ladies". Maybe from an individual standpoint, it's an optimal strategy, but the last thing the world needs is Princetonians reproducing with each other.
It's just that some of the dumbest people I've met, in wisdom terms, were from the Ivy League (and for my particular experiences, which involves knowing people from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown, I will just say the dullest of the bunch were the Yalies, on average. The smuggest, of course, were the Harvardians, but at least they weren't bone-crushingly dumb on some basic facts of life.)
So I wanted to know what this Ross Douthat's background was. Ah, he went to Harvard, and is part of that general social circle, including prep school in Connecticut. So, in short, he doesn't know shit about what the vast majority of Americans think about the status-grubbing of his particular circle.
That is, we don't think about it at all (except to the extent we find it entertaining).
When I subscribed to the WSJ, I chortled over the annual "OMG! Our kid was rejected from Harvard!" pieces. Thing is, even in the supposedly rarefied air of WSJ subscribers, the vast majority of us couldn't relate to that.
But I've met many of the ambitious kids who have been fed this bullshit, and have tried to explain to them how going to a "lesser" institution opens up a wide variety of opportunties they wouldn't have had at Brand Name University, such as stints that are usually only available to grad students. I got to teach calculus as an undergrad, for crying out loud (I don't think that's what NCSU exactly had in mind when I had a TAship as a junior, but if they didn't want that, they shouldn't have paired me with a new, untenured faculty member. He cut out for a couple weeks to go to conferences. And I taught his class.)
But no. That's a step down in status. You're going to school with people who don't have the right extracurricular activities. They may be ... =shudder= Walmart shoppers. We can't have that.
What's so funny about this "meritocracy" kick is that they think it at all matters.
"Oh, but they're in the most important positions!"
I guess. Sure, all the Supreme Court justices have those impeccable credentials, and one has to go back to Reagan to find a President without the Ivy League imprimatur.
But then when you see who the business leaders are, you see those sterling credentials are a lot less in evidence. It doesn't really matter that McKinsey, etc, only harvest from particular schools because they're not the ones in charge, the final decision-makers. Hell, consultants are often brought in only to implement a decision already made by the real powers-that-be.
And, ultimately, the credentials don't matter when you come up against reality.
That's where the Ivies tend to fall down -- teaching humility. And I don't mean the "Oh, other people are better than me", Uriah-Heep-like, bowing-and-scraping humility. There is somebody at the top of any particular intellectual heap, and it would be fatuous to pretend otherwise. When I was saying I met some really dumb Ivy Leaguers, I was not referring to their IQ or academic achievement.
I mean intellectual humility, where one realizes the limits of human ability to control events or to predict them. The possibility that one might be wrong, and to be on the lookout for it. It's tough to find that when one's grades keep telling one that one is always correct.
In business, often nobody knows anything about new ventures. The way one fails in business can be far more spectacular than failing academically... and these people have never failed academically. (I will stay away from political stuff for now, because failing there is often similar to failing in school.) One can excuse one's business failure by blaming the market, economic environment, etc., and all that may be true. But if you've lost millions (or billions) of dollars, that generally has some kind of repercussion.
In any case, anything that keeps these "elites" fussing with each other and not with the rest of us is good, as far as I'm concerned.
I wish they would stop scaring the horses, though.