September 29, 2010 13 Comments
Steve Sailer’s on a kick lately about rich white parents bending over backwards to keep their kids out of highly-nonwhite schools while telling themselves that’s not what they’re doing at all. Good for a chuckle.
It is very illustrative of the leftist problem in general, which is: how does one support a system characterized largely by credentialed, centralized bureaucratic privilege and unconstrained power, while continuing to always posture as an egalitarian populist on the side of the masses? The answer seems to be to continually harness your brainpower to come up with elaborate theories about this and that (why things are so bad for others, etc.), and in particular to extrapolate whatever conflicted personal hang-ups and obsessions you happen to have into a social theory. Hence, ‘I didn’t keep my kid out of that school cuz it was mostly Hispanic, I kept my kid out of that school because, um, the teachers are so bad. Which raises a troubling social question, why are Our Society’s Teachers so bad? We need to fix that, and you should put me in charge of fixing that!’ Etc. While doing this, of course you get cushy jobs and high salaries and live in nice houses and all the rest.
The essential factor in this approach to social/political issues is the lie. The ‘progressive’, fundamentally, is engaged in lying to others and to himself about his (largely self-centered, egocentric) motivations. In order for the lie to be believable, i.e. guilt averted, the lie has to be carefully constructed, backed by grandiose and intellectual-seeming theories, defended with vigor and viciousness against all challengers, and held to with a deep emotional investment – all characteristics of any current ‘progressive’ stance.
If my theory/slander is correct, then you can expect to find virtually any social institution dominated by the left to behave as something built on a scaffolding of lies. I think Education qualifies as an example. The basic lie of Education is that it is hugely important to always go to the ‘right’ schools, etc., because (supposedly) ‘good’ schools, like, teach a lot lot more than ‘bad’ ones (or something), and that this – learning like a lot more stuff from ‘good teachers’, etc. – is what is important for life and career happiness, at any cost. If your kid is bright but you don’t send him to this sort of ‘good’ school, he’ll get dumb. Etc.
When you see parents agonizing over whether their three-year-old will get into Snotwell Academy For Tots, or whatever, and then on up to spending $30k+ a year on some useless four-year-degree, this is the lie they are telling themselves and others. But because they believe the lie (or act as if they do), it leads to an ‘arms race’ among parents of similar and adjacent social classes, to do the same thing for their children. And because it’s a lie, the phenomena is hugely wasteful for all involved. The irony is that the wastefulness of it all is something that’s easy to spot, by everyone, looking at it from the outside – or even among the people doing it. Yet because the lie is so entrenched in our institutions and social mores, people still just do it (not to do it, if you can, would practically make you a pariah – ‘don’t you care about your children??’), and so no one knows the way out.
But we can start by identifying the truth behind the lie. And in the case of Education, I think the truth is something like this:
Your kid is either smart or he’s not. If he’s smart, the smartness will out, regardless of whether the school is ‘good’, etc. Schools being ‘good’ (above a certain basic level of safety, etc.) is mostly a sideshow. Rather: The main effect of where you send your kid to preschool, or middle school, or college, or whatever, is nothing more or less than what sort of kids will your kid know and hang out with. If you send your kid to a chi-chi preschool, your kid will have play dates with the kid of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. If you send your kid to a no-name preschool, he’ll have play dates with the kid of a construction worker. If your kid goes to Sidwell Friends or Dalton Middle School, he’ll smoke pot in the park with the kids of Fortune 500 CEOs, politicians, and famous writers. If your kid goes to Suburban Lawns Public School, he’ll smoke pot with the kids of random sysadmins and part-time nurses. If your kid goes to Yale or Princeton or Stanford, he’ll get invited to parties in Kennebunkport or summer houses on Cape Cod to hang out with kids of former Presidents. If your kid goes to State U., he’ll spend spring break in Reno with the kids of no-name semi retired software programmers and middle managers. Etc.
What parents are really choosing when they choosing the ‘best’ schools is: a peer group for their children. Will their precious, special kids be part of and hobnob with an upper-class, privileged peer group? Or will they be part of an undifferentiated, lowbrow peer group of no repute? And the reason parents care about this is largely for their own sake. It’s not like smoking pot in the park or having oral sex at a party is a hugely more beneficial, future-oriented, character-building activity when done with a hedge fund manager’s kid than when done with a gas station manager’s kid. No, parents basically just want to be proud that they got to the point that their kid brushes elbows with so-and-so. They want to feel like their kid is joining the upper crust. They couch all this in terms like ‘opportunities’ and ‘giving them the most options’, and all that, but when you try to boil it down to tangibles it’s pretty clear that this is what they’re really talking about. ‘Opportunities’ means ‘the cool, upper-crust kids’.
Which makes it easy to understand the phenomenon Sailer is talking about, the disguised ‘white flight’ of the upper class to private schools. The parents Sailer cites are obviously doing this basically because they don’t want their kid to be, like, hanging out with a bunch of Hispanics all the time. They don’t want that largely because they don’t want to think of themselves as the sort of parents who raised a kid who ended up being the kind of kid who hangs out with a bunch of Hispanics. That’s a step (or two) down the social totem pole in these parents’ minds, it would be painful (like parting with a portion of their self-image), and so of course they are willing to pay up to avoid it at all costs.
Obviously, this sort of motivation is painfully unthinkable and impossible to admit, especially to anyone who sees themselves as ‘progressive’, so they have to tell themselves a bunch of other reasons they’re doing what they’re doing. They will even ostentatiously devote huge amounts of time (and talk to others about how much time they’re devoting) to ‘research schools’ and ‘go through the process’, if it can help add to the illusion that what they’re doing is anything other than what I just described.
Fundamentally, it’s painful to think of oneself as this sort of person (even though I suspect a huge fraction, probably a majority, of people are motivated by precisely this sort of thing). And to the progressive, doubly so. This, largely, is why ‘progressive’ theories of social failures, inequality, and so on (theories which blame ‘society’ for this and that, and which cry out for ‘progressive’ ‘solutions’) are so desperately needed. The ‘progressive’ self-image demands such theories, and so such theories are produced. They are theories served up to feed the lies at their root, not to serve truth. But truth is always there, lying in wait to show itself.