Saturday, October 13, 2012
the last book I ever read (Twilight of the Elites, excerpt six)
from Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes:
Keeping up with the Joneses has been a staple of postwar American life, but the current generation has seen what was once implicit made explicit: competition is now the model for American life, and "winning" the model of success. Because competition is the central engine in the model of both meritocratic and capitalist achievement, affection for it and acclimation to its spiritual and psychological demands are inculcated from a young age. To be successful, one must never be satisfied, and so no one ever is. Our elites are conditioned to fight for every last inch of beach, to parry and thrust their way forward no matter how much they have already achieved, all of which produces two rather nasty psychological side effects.
One is that it tends to make people believe they have absolutely earned what they have achieved. A legacy student at an Ivy League university certainly doesn't feel as if she has coasted in on her father's coattails. She feels instead that she's killed herself for four years at her prestigious high school to earn her grades, her internships, and her postgraduate job opportunities. As was said of George W. Bush, it is tempting for those born on third base to believe they've hit a triple.
This means we are cursed with an overclass convinced it is composed of scrappy underdogs, individuals who are obsessed with the relative disadvantages they may have faced rather than the privilege they enjoyed. It is remarkable how under siege and victimized even the most powerful members of society feel, how much they tout their own up-by-their-bootstraps story. In fact, a basic ritual associated with entrance into the circle of winners is constructing a personal story about how it was through grit, talent, and determination that you fought your way into it.
Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire son of a car company CEO and governor of Michigan, told an audience at a 2012 Republican debate that if you squinted hard enough, he looked like a figure right out of a Horatio Alger tale. "And I--I mean--you know, my dad, as you know--born in Mexico, poor, didn't get a college degree--because head of a car company. I could have stayed in Detroit, like him, and gotten pulled up in the car company. I went off on my own. I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way."