Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ivy League elitism, some observations

Note: Either before of after you read this post, try this one by Victor Davis Hanson on the subject of elitism: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson092808.html
I like to think one will enrich the other.

Some years back, a young friend of mine, the son of one of my oldest friends, asked me to coffee for some advice.

Seems he had this decision to make, he'd just graduated from Oklahoma University with a degree in business and had two offers. One was to go to work in the oil industry for a man who'd been his mentor during college. The other was to go to Harvard for an MBA.

The first thing I said was, "Why the hell are you asking me? You know I'm not a business person."

"Well yes, but I value your opinion."

So I took a deep breath and said, "OK, but if you screw up your mother's going to kill me. My opinion is, beyond a certain minimum you have to have to establish credibility, more experience is almost always better than more formal education."

He took my advice. My mother was horrified.

"You didn't tell him to go to Harvard?" she practically screamed.

So he went to work for his mentor. In time (very short time at that,) dissatisfied with American business culture, he founded his own natural gas distribution company, known for being very innovative as I understand. Since then he's been in lots of different things, founded several companies, made lots of money and gained a reputation as a bold, risk-taking entrepreneur.

Not long ago I visited him and reminded him of our conversation.

He replied, "Hell yes! I don't even let anybody with an MBA east of the Mississippi in my office. I tell them, 'Get our of here! You're losing me money just standing there.'"

Digress for a joke. This is one they tell at MIT, I'm told.

Q: "What does a graduate of the Harvard School of Business do?"

A: "He goes home, inherits his father's business, and hires someone from the MIT School of Business to run it for him."

It's no secret we've got a lot of Ivy Leaguers in the top echelons of government, and they tend to lean Left, to say the least.

"But how can that be?" I hear someone ask. "Ivy Leaguers tend to be snobby and aristocratic, and the Left is the enemy of privilege and aristocracy, and for the little guy."

Yes, no, and no. More later.

There's been a lot of talk on the Left lately, much of concerning the appeal of Sarah Palin, decrying an atmosphere of "anti-intellectualism" on the Right and in middle-America in general, largely based on expressions of scorn for "Ivy League populism."

After all, aren't the Ivy League the best schools in the country?

Well aren't they?

Not having been priviledged to go to one, I don't know from personal experience. Having known a fair number of Ivy League graduates, I have to say, maybe but...

I am somewhat more familiar with the support system of the Ivy League, though my experience is way old. I refer to the network of prep schools, the Ivy League of high schools that are the feeder schools for the university-level IL.

Some observations:

-Though generally a very rigorous education, there have always been provisions for legacies, the not-especially-bright sons of the wealthy, to graduate from these schools with either a "gentleman's C" or a curriculum of "gut" courses.

Note that Brooke Shields (not just a pretty model/actress, but daughter of socialites connected with Italian nobility at not too great remove) graduated from Princeton, evidently without ever taking a course in history, science or math.

You can't gut your way through the two American schools that really are for Real Genius* only: MIT and CalTech.

-The Ivy League has taken up affirmative action with a vengeance. Of course, this means they've had their pick of minorities from among the schools vying for them and can afford to maintain standards to some degree. But there is evidence that they have done their share of lowering admission standards and watered down courses for the sake of "diversity."

Why should we be surprised they do it on a large scale for diversity's sake when they've been doing it on a smaller scale for snobbery's sake for generations?

Look up Michelle Obama's Princeton senior thesis on the web. No it hasn't been "surpressed," no such luck. I've downloaded it myself.

What it is, is a collection of rambling incoherencies, atrocious syntax and occasional gramatical lapses worthy of a cow college freshman.

I'm truly sorry if that seems harsh, but it actually helps understand why this woman could be so pissed-off at America. Princeton wasn't helping her be the best she could be - it was patronizing her.

I'd be pissed-off too.

-But they can hire the best minds in academia, and you can study with them!

Can you? How often?

Thomas Sowell pointed out that the Ivy League may hire the biggest guns in academia - but you might never see them as an undergrad.

The big guys are expected to enrich the reputation of the institution with research and publishing. You'll see their grad students in class.

-The intangibles: the ethos of the Ivy League schools was modeled on the English university system, designed for the education of a ruling class. It was anti-democratic to be sure, but the notion was that with privilege comes duties and responsibilities.

Elder sons of the English aristocracy were expected to conserve and protect family fortunes. And though we mostly hear of their excesses and failures, by and large they did a fairly good job for a fairly long time.

Younger sons with smaller competences were expected to man the ranks of the officer corps, ministry and civil service, paying for their privilege by doing the low-paid but essential work of holding a civilization together.

How many Ivy Leaguers enter the military these days? John Kerry publicly proclaimed military service was for losers. Nowadays an Ivy League education is all about "social justice."

So here's my theory and the point of all this: what passes for the aristocracy of America has hollowed out, the state of the Ivy League is both a symptom and a major contributor.

An aristocracy can last as long as it's willing to do it's own fighting and enough of its own work to understand the connection between work, wealth and what protects that wealth.

Now look at the disconnect between the IL and the military.

Look at the disconnect between the degree curricula of an immense number of higher education majors, and anything having to with production of wealth.

Look at the Leftward slant of the IL, and let me pose a question.

Who is the Left really rebelling against? Is it the upper class?

They are the freakin' upper class!

They're rebelling against the middle class, from whose ranks historically came those who've risen to replace upper classes that grow rotten at the center.

But what about types like Obama and the Ivy League minority recruits?

So how does a rotten upper class rebel against a large and vigorous middle class?

By going to the disaffected minorities for recruits. The bright among them are invited into the upper class, bypassing the traditional route through the middle, so they don't pick up annoying middle-class egalitarian values along the way.

Those left behind, and those who have dropped into the lower class**, the "lumpen" elements, are a large potential army of foot soldiers. (See the BBC documentary on soccer hooligans in Britain, more later.)

We'll return to this later, I'd like to hear from some of you.

*"Real Genius" is an early Val Kilmer vehicle, a wonderful movie about a school obviously modeled on CalTech.

**See Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer." One of the crucial sources of recruits for a mass movement is the newly poor, the memory of whose former status "is a fire in the blood."


  • At 2:32 PM, Blogger Ted said…

    Looks like a variation on the theme of classic Communist subversion to me, but anyone whose been paying attention knows that has been going on subtly since 1968.

  • At 4:33 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Much longer than that, since the founding of the Comintern shortly after the Bolshevik takeover of Russia.

    Since the end of Cold War I and the de-classification of the Venona Transcripts, the publication of the Mitrokhin Archives and other memoirs, we've found, lo and behold and say it very softly, but McCarthy wasn't off his rocker after all.

    Alger Hiss - guilty.

    The Rosenbergs - guilty. (The KGN man sent to be the controler of the Rosenberg Spy ring was horrified to find they were so amateurish that Julius Rosenberg's code name was, "Julius.")

    J. Robert Oppenheimer, probably guilty. That hurt, I admired the man.

  • At 6:07 PM, Blogger Ted said…

    Sorry, but I still hold to the position McCarthy was a "berzerker": Counterintelligence, so to speak. A deliberate set-up staged to blow up in everyone's face, manipulated by Fifth Columnists (or Fourth E-statists) to drive the masses away from suspicion. Said all the right things for all the wrong rasons.
    Probably never himself suspected his mentors and handlers were setting him up for a fall.

  • At 8:23 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    In my more paranoid moments, I've played with that notion.

    (I know I'm paranoid, what keeps me awake at nights is wondering if I'm paranoid enough.)

    I got a chance to meet M. Stanton Evans in D.C. at a party for his new book on McCarthy.

    In response to the charge that "McCarthy ruined a lot of innocent people," Evans said, "Name one."

    Of course, in this day and age, defending McCarthy is like taking on the job of Devil's Advocate for.. well for the Devil.

  • At 1:41 AM, Blogger Ted said…

    If we assume that assertion to be correct, McCarthy was - at best - a toddler being sent in to take on the heavyweight champion of the world, and blitheringly ignorant of the fact you cannot defend liberty by destroying its foundations.
    Once education was handed over to The State to administer, subversion became fait accompli, as is evidenced by the overwhelming numbers now mobilized to put into the White House and halls of Congress a radical leftist regime that sees any opposition to its policies as racist, and will have the power of DHS at hand to dispose of it.


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