August 23, 2019

"Where aristocratic children once reveled in their privilege, meritocratic children now calculate their future—they plan and they scheme..."

"... through rituals of stage-managed self-presentation, in familiar rhythms of ambition, hope, and worry....  A person whose wealth and status depend on her human capital simply cannot afford to consult her own interests or passions in choosing her job. Instead, she must approach work as an opportunity to extract value from her human capital, especially if she wants an income sufficient to buy her children the type of schooling that secured her own eliteness. She must devote herself to a narrowly restricted class of high-paying jobs, concentrated in finance, management, law, and medicine. Whereas aristocrats once considered themselves a leisure class, meritocrats work with unprecedented intensity.... Elite managers were once 'organization men,' cocooned by lifelong employment in a corporate hierarchy that rewarded seniority above performance. Today, the higher a person climbs on the org chart, the harder she is expected to work....  Meritocracy traps entire generations inside demeaning fears and inauthentic ambitions: always hungry but never finding, or even knowing, the right food. The elite should not—they have no right to—expect sympathy from those who remain excluded from the privileges and benefits of high caste...."

From "How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition/Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out" by Yale lawprof Daniel Markovits (The Atlantic).

If privilege in this new form sucks, it should be self-limiting. The "she" in this tale of woe can easily take the off-ramp by not having children. Why intensify the horrific grind that is your life by having children for whom you can see no other path than the same tortured life? If you don't have better spiritual values, leave the childrearing to others.

On the other hand, is the life of the elite really as bad as Markovits portrays it? I can't help relating his polemic to the lawsuit Asian-American students brought against Harvard. Does one's subjective perception of horror of the meritocracy depend on who is winning the competition?

Finally, the kids can always say no. In my day, we had the hippie movement. The worse the competition is, the easier it is for young people to see that what their parents have is not what they want for themselves.

60 comments:

Rocketeer said...

Oh for fuck's sake. Has this jackass never heard of choice and free will?

Mike Sylwester said...

A person whose wealth and status depend on her human capital simply cannot afford to consult her own interests or passions in choosing her job.

In each such case throughout this article, the possessive pronoun should be his.

A Yale lawprof should know better.

rehajm said...

Build your own thing. Its fun.

Mike Sylwester said...

Doesn't The Atlantic employ editors any more?

traditionalguy said...

So maybe Marijuana smoking contests? But then they will want to do a hot dog eating contest.

I guess the terrible thing is that the competition attracts toxic masculinity.

Laslo Spatula said...

I would've thought this to be an op-ed in the NYT.

Their audience is primed to hear about how hard it is to be The Elite.

Mattress technology has improved over the years, but they can still feel that fucking pea.

I am Laslo.

stlcdr said...

Meritocracy. I don’t think she understands what it is.

Also, as noted, free will and free choice. The reality is, the more experience earning hours you put in, the higher and further you will go - typically, this leads to much higher earning jobs, but not always.

But I’m not really sure what the objective of such an article is. Is it to say that having kids isn’t fair because meritocracy drops/holds you back from promotion and a better paying position? Honestly, it seems like ‘she’ is describing the rat race which has been around for donkeys.

Balfegor said...

Re: Mike Sylvester:

In each such case throughout this article, the possessive pronoun should be his.

A Yale lawprof should know better.


It's a common, if somewhat silly, affectation in the legal profession.

henry said...

No problem. No one would marry such a scold anyway.

Howard said...

Ridiculous. Meritocracy reduces uncertainty which automatically reduces stress from sources outside your control. The appropriate fear necessary to compete is healthy. However, there is a real possibility that woemyns brains are neurochemicaltransmittered (I didn't say wired) to over-do the fear part.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Life was so much more pleasant with the Great Chain of Being

iowan2 said...

People need to recalibrate their value system.

Start with a simple question. Why to you work? Food, shelter, energy. yea, yea, we all get that. But why to you work past that? Those answers will tell you about your values. Are those the values you thought you had?

Darrell said...

Mattress technology has improved over the years, but they can still feel that fucking pea.

Careful! Lefties will hear/read/think "pee" and claim that Putin has a tape of the Princess and the Pee with Trump watching.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Socialism is the answer to meritocracy! Just give everyone a monthly income, and no one will need to work!

henry said...

As far as meritocracy and working harder... competition is like that. When Rogers decided to coast, the Packers sucked. It's a little thing called life.

peacelovewoodstock said...

A popular trope among those who don't understand free markets or don't have the skills to compete - its the system that is wrong.

It does surprise me a bit that so many "educated" persons actually have zero understanding of human nature.

Michael said...

Markovitz has a brilliant CV, that is certain. But he is only guessing at the travails of real world work having never been in that world. Still, one well educated dude.

Lewis Wetzel said...

"Whereas aristocrats once considered themselves a leisure class, meritocrats work with unprecedented intensity...."
These aren't aristocrats, they are bourgeois, with the same obsessions the bourgeois have always had.

Paco Wové said...

"Elite managers were once 'organization men,' cocooned by lifelong employment in a corporate hierarchy that rewarded seniority above performance."

Is this true? I suspect not. Yes, we know, it's just so hard being an excellent elite person, bursting with merit, but the likelihood that no-one ever suffered — and performed so gosh-darned well! — as the modern 'elite' do is quite low.

SF said...

I have no idea how this person doesn't understand that it's possible to be meritocratic and NOT consider maximizing your lifetime income to be the highest possible value?

My dad did well in law school, clerked for an Oregon Supreme Court judge... then turned around, moved back to the small town he grew up in, and worked toward being an independent small town lawyer who would only work on the kind of law that interested him. Left himself plenty of time for fishing, golfing, watching football, and above all, reading fiction. I suspect he left a few million dollars on the table that he could have had if he'd devoted his life to making money -- but I think he did a good job maximizing his and his family's happiness.

Lewis Wetzel said...

I thought the same thing, Paco. In the 20th century we had the 1st world war, the great depression, and the 2nd world war. Did a significant number of people actually have lifetime employment in a corporate hierarchy?

henry said...

"Did a significant number of people actually have lifetime employment in a corporate hierarchy?"

No. That only happens in government bureaucracy.

AAT said...

If you believe that merit drives our culture and rises to the top, and you look around and see it’s mostly white people at the top, you are a white supremacist. Anybody tell these people that?

AAT said...

"Did a significant number of people actually have lifetime employment in a corporate hierarchy?”

I knew some, but I am in my 60s, and these people were middle aged when I was a kid.

Danno said...

As dwelling further on Ann's hippie mention, this guy should turn on, tune in, drop out.

elkh1 said...

The poor dears don't have a mind to stop what they don't want. I used to think only the destitute can't control their lives. We should better be more compassionate to the rich and successful who were pushed into a life of power and riches.

Heartless Aztec said...

I still live the hippie non competition way of life. Much better for my mental health. Others will differ.

peacelovewoodstock said...

@AAT - "mostly white people at the top" ... like Yale Law School or the editorial board of The Atlantic.



Howard said...

Blogger AAT said...

If you believe that merit drives our culture and rises to the top, and you look around and see it’s mostly white people at the top, you are a white supremacist. Anybody tell these people that?


That's actually primal fascia evidence of white privilege. The denial of that gets you labeled a neo-nutzi

My name goes here. said...

It seems to me that the author is trying to imagine what it would be like if he and his castemates were not aristocrats and had to advance wholly on merit, and merit alone, exactly they would do.

Rory said...

"meritocrats work with unprecedented intensity."

There's a confusion of hours and work. Networking on the company dime is not really that strenuous.

Sebastian said...

"is the life of the elite really as bad as Markovits portrays it?"

No. Many rat-racing women still marry the rich husband, which allows them to drop out of the rat race for a while, look after the kids, and not maximize the return on their human capital (unless hubby and kids are included in the calculation). Hence the difference in work effort between male and female doctors and lawyers.

gilbar said...

i just finished reading
IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon
and IBM was FAMOUS for having a policy of Lifetime employment.

For Most of the 20th century (including the depression, AND the wars), IBM NEVER let anyone go. Once you were hired, you were there as long as you wanted.
As long as you made your goals
For IBM, Lifetime employment meant NO LAYOFFS, NOT No Firings.
If you missed your goals: Out the door

Kinda THE OPPOSITE of what they're talking about here

Angle-Dyne, Samurai Buzzard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lewis Wetzel said...

Even meritocracy’s beneficiaries now suffer on account of its demands. It ensnares the rich just as surely as it excludes the rest, as those who manage to claw their way to the top must work with crushing intensity, ruthlessly exploiting their expensive education in order to extract a return.
Rich people don't have to work for a living.
In Elizabethan times, the aristocracy sent their sons to Oxford to study the liberal arts. When they had their degree, they went home and ran their estate, or went to London to get into politics, or become wastrels. The children of well-to-do merchant parents, aka the bourgeois, went on from Oxford to read law. Why? Because they were going to have to work for a living. The less educated aristocrats looked down on their classmates who had to read law after graduation. The people Markovitz is writing about are bourgeois, not meritocrats. They define merit, they define achievement, and they award it to other bourgeois.

Angle-Dyne, Samurai Buzzard said...

Lurking somewhere in here are legitimate, and much more interesting questions, about
what subset of "meritorious" traits are being selected for, what kind of "elite" this is producing, and whether this is the "elite" we want or need.

Modern "meritocracy" selects for people who are indeed smart and capable, with many of the standard meritorious character traits. It also seems to be selecting for a tendency toward destructive ideological silliness, and extreme conformism. (So one assumes the process also selects against equally smart and capable people who don't share those latter tendencies.)

In the end elites have to demonstrate that the kind of merit they possess really does qualify them for the task of ruling over the rest of us. But a system can select for objectively meritorious (by one set of criteria) people who aren't equal to that task.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The problem for children raised in meritocratic households is regression to the mean. That was a problem for kings too, most of the children of kings weren’t going to become kings, hence the invention of aristocracy.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

The painfully virtuous use of female pronouns is comical. Do you expect to be taken seriously when you’re in a fearful crouch? Real meritocrats (those in useful professions), whether they’re simpatico or not, will immediately smell the punk on this guy.

Fernandistein said...

Oh tut tut my good man, one simply obtains a Jeeves to smooth out life's little bumps.

jaydub said...

"Today, the higher a person climbs on the org chart, the harder she is expected to work..."

No, the more he/she is expected to produce and at a lower cost and higher quality. This is accomplished by working smarter and eliminating waste and non-value added steps in his/her work processes, whether at the executive level or on the shop floor. In most cases and if the work process is properly leaned, then work becomes easier rather than harder.

Laslo Spatula said...

Caveman fear bear.

Caveman know life short brutal.

Then bear come.

Always bear.

Run run.

No fast good.

Always always bear.

I am Laslo.

RigelDog said...

It really is that miserable. All of my peers are obsessed with sending their kids to the best private schools and colleges and setting them up to compete for top-tier professions--for which there are only so many positions open. Coincidentally, yesterday we heard from a friend who is married to a wealthy neurosurgeon and living in a very expensive area of the country. Her two high school aged kids attend the local excellent public schools--but the parents also spend an extra 70k per year on various after-school tutors. I doubt these parents are interested in having their children follow their bliss, unless their bliss happens to result in a high-prestige and high-paying career.

Qwinn said...

You can't have meritocracy without accountability, and the only accountability that remains is to woke scolds who could care less about competence (so, still not meritocracy).

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of stuff coming together here, so it was hard deciding what to address first.

We don’t have a true meritocracy. Partly, that is because of the regression to the mean mentioned above. And combined with that, is the natural desire to advance your kids over where you were able to go. Overall, the best and brightest do go to Harvard, etc. Statistically, if you knew nothing more than where someone graduated from college, you would statistically have a decent idea how smart and how industrious they were. But it is statistical, and not absolute. Plenty of very smart people go to mediocre schools, and visa versa. Elite colleges have to maintain their selectivity, by only accepting the best of the best, for the most part, so that they can admit the children of alums, powerful politicians, and the very rich, and be able to statistically hide the mediocrity of those kids within the brilliance of the rest of the student body. If they lose their appearance of selectivity by for example, admitting too many less smart and less industrious children of alums, prominent politicians, and the very rich, their value as a status signaling mechanism will be eroded. That means fewer people will want to attend without scholarships, and only lesser qualified faculty will want to teach there. No one wants that.

One of the best ways to status signal these days, is through selective college attendance, both for ourselves, and probably more importantly, of our children.

PM said...

There was a time when wealthy families instilled in their offspring a sense of civic duty.

Michael K said...

This kind of thing is part of what is going to kill off higher education, at least the type we have now where anything but STEM is useless virtue signaling.

The Columbia U PhD English program will be one of the first to go.

I say that with the opinion that all work under capitalism sucks.”

Columbia English Lit.

Balfegor said...

Re: RigelDog:

It really is that miserable. All of my peers are obsessed with sending their kids to the best private schools and colleges and setting them up to compete for top-tier professions--for which there are only so many positions open. Coincidentally, yesterday we heard from a friend who is married to a wealthy neurosurgeon and living in a very expensive area of the country. Her two high school aged kids attend the local excellent public schools--but the parents also spend an extra 70k per year on various after-school tutors. I doubt these parents are interested in having their children follow their bliss, unless their bliss happens to result in a high-prestige and high-paying career.

$70,000 is a lot. I feel like if you're investing that much money in your child's education, you ought to explore an alternative means of setting them up in life. As in, literally, just get them a position working as an assistant to someone rich or influential who can in turn find them a good position after they graduate, and make introductions, etc. That's a lot cheaper. But one problem is that a lot of people who look like they have high socio-economic status because of their income aren't actually particularly well connected. The money investment is all they can do to overcome the status differential and put their children in a position where perhaps they can compete with the well-connected. And another problem, I think, is that a lot of Americans are proud. Even if they know someone well positioned, they don't like to humble themselves by asking favours. I'm kind of biased in terms of what I see, seeing as I am, after all, a lawyer, but my subjective impression is that Americans prefer to be able to force their preferred outcome by suing someone, or at least appealing to an outside authority to enforce rules, even if they'd have a better chance if they just asked nicely. Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven, and all that.

h said...

I had my career in academics in a stem field. As a White Christian Man, when I finished my PhD, one of the members of my final oral committee took me aside and revealed the secret of successful academic publishing: In every paper submitted to a journal, insert a particular "typo" in one of the first five footnotes, or in a page number in the first 5 pages, or in the first five references. Reviewers of the submitted paper, on seeing the "typo" know that the author is one of us, and recommends the paper for publication. And as you receive papers for review, you know which papers to evaluate purely on merit, and which papers to recommend for publication without careful review. Your publishing record is therefore secure and tenure is assured. I'm guessing from his name that Markovitz doesn't know about this system.

gilbar said...

Tiana Reid, a sixth-year Ph.D. thinks All work under Capitalism sux

How much did it cost whoever paid for these SIX years of doctoral work (which STILL hasn't produced a thesis)?
A person in mexico could probably live a comfortable life on the returns that tuition money would make if invested.

Of course, Tiana didn't pay it, someone else did (almost CERTAINLY, her Rich Uncle)

Yancey Ward said...

"How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition/Meritocracy prizes achievement above all else, making everyone—even the rich—miserable. Maybe there’s a way out"

Just imagine this idiot on the Serengeti 10,000 years ago lamenting that life is a competition that never ends.

n.n said...

No, meritocracy is about productivity; but, unless you're monochromatic, it is reconciled with other imperatives, including individual dignity, intrinsic value, perhaps inordinate worth, and evolutionary (e.g. duck dynasties) fitness.

n.n said...

Perhaps he's thinking of the Pro-Choice quasi-religion, which diverges in the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, leisure, narcissistic indulgence, and democratic leverage.

AAT said...

"Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

AAT said...

IQ is heritable, and good work habits are teachable. The problem comes with trying to guarantee outcomes.

AAT said...

My brother got into Dartmouth, but chose, for reasons I won’t get into here, to go to a SUNY school. He still ended up a college professor. I think schools choose the right kids, then they go along for the ride. Parents should remember that.

AAT said...

Turns out it’s all worth it if you can finagle and inveigle your child’s way on the David Geffen’s yacht.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/rambling-reporter/how-david-geffens-yacht-photos-became-a-status-thing-hollywood-1233154

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Bilwick said...

"$70,000 is a lot. I feel like if you're investing that much money in your child's education, you ought to explore an alternative means of setting them up in life."

Indeed. I would have loved it if, when I turned 21, a family lawyer came to me and said, "Here's 70 grand. The family could have spent it your education, but decided you would prefer the money instead." Woo-hoo!

Rick said...

In my day, we had the hippie movement. The worse the competition is, the easier it is for young people to see that what their parents have is not what they want for themselves.

What does it mean that those hippies turned around and demanded society provide the same level of consumption for themselves as those who worked hard? Doesn't that prove both:

A) They aren't really willing to settle for less or sacrifice they just want someone else to work harder for them?

B) This option is not scaleable because the demand for consumption means the same work has to be done?

So isn't it a little insulting to present their choice as a sacrifice when it was really only a choice not to contribute? And remember these people call others greedy.