The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite

The chief accomplishment of the current educated elite is that it has produced a bipartisan revolt against itself.

.. A narrative is emerging. It is that the new meritocratic aristocracy has come to look like every other aristocracy. The members of the educated class use their intellectual, financial and social advantages to pass down privilege to their children, creating a hereditary elite that is ever more insulated from the rest of society. We need to build a meritocracy that is true to its values, truly open to all.

.. The real problem with the modern meritocracy can be found in the ideology of meritocracy itself. Meritocracy is a system built on the maximization of individual talent, and that system unwittingly encourages several ruinous beliefs:

.. Exaggerated faith in intelligence. Today’s educated establishment is still basically selected on the basis of I.Q. High I.Q. correlates with career success but is not the crucial quality required for civic leadership. Many of the great failures of the last 50 years, from Vietnam to Watergate to the financial crisis, were caused by extremely intelligent people who didn’t care about the civic consequences of their actions.

.. If you build a society upon this metaphor you will wind up with a society high in narcissism and low in social connection. Life is not really an individual journey. Life is more like settling a sequence of villages.

.. Misplaced notion of the self. Instead of seeing the self as the seat of the soul, the meritocracy sees the self as a vessel of human capital, a series of talents to be cultivated and accomplishments to be celebrated. If you base a society on a conception of self that is about achievement, not character, you will wind up with a society that is demoralized; that puts little emphasis on the sorts of moral systems that create harmony within people, harmony between people and harmony between people and their ultimate purpose.

.. Inability to think institutionally. Previous elites poured themselves into institutions and were pretty good at maintaining existing institutions, like the U.S. Congress, and building new ones, like the postwar global order. The current generation sees institutions as things they pass through on the way to individual success.

.. Some institutions, like Congress and the political parties, have decayed to the point of uselessness, while others, like corporations, lose their generational consciousness and become obsessed with the short term.

.. Diversity for its own sake, without a common telos, is infinitely centrifugal, and leads to social fragmentation.

.. The essential point is this: Those dimwitted, stuck up blue bloods in the old establishment had something we meritocrats lack — a civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, that we owe a debt to community and nation and that the essence of the admirable life is community before self.

When Life Asks for Everything

The Four Kinds of Happiness. The lowest kind of happiness is material pleasure, having nice food and clothing and a nice house. Then there is achievement, the pleasure we get from earned and recognized success. Third, there is generativity, the pleasure we get from giving back to others. Finally, the highest kind of happiness is moral joy, the glowing satisfaction we get when we have surrendered ourselves to some noble cause or unconditional love.

.. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on the other hand, moves from the collective to the relational and, at its peak, to the individual. In one the pinnacle of human existence is in quieting and transcending the self; in the other it is liberating and actualizing the self.

.. Most religions and moral systems have aimed for self-quieting and, figuring that the great human problem is selfishness. But around the middle of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and others aimed to liberate and enlarge the self. They brought us the self-esteem movement, humanistic psychology, and their thinking is still very influential today.

.. a marriage exists to support the individual self-actualization of each of the partners. In a marriage, the psychologist Otto Rank wrote, “one individual is helping the other to develop and grow, without infringing too much on the other’s personality.” You should choose the spouse who will help you elicit the best version of yourself. Spouses coach each other as each seeks to realize his or her most authentic self.

.. If you go into marriage seeking self-actualization, you will always feel frustrated because marriage, and especially parenting, will constantly be dragging you away from the goals of self.

.. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has always pointed toward a chilly, unsatisfying version of self-fulfillment. Most people experience their deepest sense of meaning not when they have placidly met their other needs, but when they come together in crisis.

.. Finkel reports that starting around 1995, both fathers and mothers began spending a lot more time looking after their children. Today, parents spend almost three times more hours in shared parenting than parents in 1975 did. Finkel says this is an extension of the Maslow/Rogers pursuit of self-actualization.

.. I’d say it’s evidence of a repudiation of it. I’d say many of today’s parents are moving away from the me-generation ethos and toward covenant, fusion and surrendering love.

.. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs too easily devolves into self-absorption. It’s time to put it away.