The scholar Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut, whose work on the cycles of American history may have predicted this year’s unrest, has a phrase that describes part of this dynamic: the “overproduction of elites.” In the context of college admissions that means exactly what it sounds like: We’ve had a surplus of smart young Americans pursuing admission to a narrow list of elite colleges whose enrollment doesn’t expand with population, even as foreign students increasingly compete for the same stagnant share of slots.
Then, having run this gantlet, our meritocrats graduate into a big-city ecosystem where the price of adult goods like schools and housing has been bid up dramatically, while important cultural industries — especially academia and journalism — supply fewer jobs even in good economic times. And they live half in these crowded, over-competitive worlds and half on the internet, which has extended the competition for status almost infinitely and weakened some of the normal ways that local prestige might compensate for disappointing income.
YOU WORK FOR THE NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES. By your own measure, you are the problem. If there was proof there isn’t a meritocracy at all, it’s your complete entire existence.
The problem isn’t that college students graduate and go live in the big exciting sinful city instead of in Beaver County, Iowa, where they could get a house for nothing. For what it’s worth plenty of young people do that, and Douthat is welcome to quit his lofty sinecure in the biggest city in the country and move to some virtuous community where housing is cheap and plentiful and everyone is married with children by 35.
I’m sure the local college would be thrilled to have him teach there, and he could scold 21-year-olds in person for wanting to live someplace where they could get a job. “The Internet” is not to blame for people wanting to live in cities. A powerful need to EAT is. That the city job doesn’t provide that isn’t the fault of tall buildings and small apartments.
For instance, it was the frequent boast of Obama-era liberalism that it had restored certain bourgeois virtues — delayed childbearing, stable marriages — without requiring anything so anachronistic as Christianity or courtship rituals. But if your bourgeois order is built on a cycle of competition and reward, and the competition gets fiercer while the rewards diminish, then instead of young people hooking up safely on the way to a lucrative job and a dual-income marriage with 2.1 kids, you’ll get young people set adrift, unable to pair off, postponing marriage permanently while they wait for a stability that never comes.
CHRIST, what an asshole. Not everybody views marriage and children as a reward. Christianity and courtship rituals have fuckall to do with getting paid. Which is what everybody really needs to be happy. This isn’t some kind of crisis of FEELINGS we’re having. It’s that everybody’s fucking BROKE.
Young people have, quite rightly, noted that it fucking blows to have kids when you’re poor. It blows to be house-poor, car-poor, poor in general. It’s awful. And so they have taken the steps they were told to take to prevent poverty, and they’re still taking those steps. This isn’t hard. What is hard, apparently, is reading comprehension:
Which brings us to the subject invoked in this column’s title — the increasing appeal, to these unhappy young people and to their parents and educators as well, of an emergent ideology that accuses many of them of embodying white privilege, and of being “fragile,” in the words of the now-famous anti-racism consultant Robin DiAngelo, if they object or disagree.
That is not remotely what DiAngelo’s book is about. It is about the freakout that occurs whenever someone says, “hey, that was a racist thing you did,” the immediate need to scream I’M NOT A RACIST as if you’ve been called a poopyhead on the playground. It’s not about how allyship is the new Christianity, which I think is what he’s blithering on about here:
Part of this ideology’s appeal is clearly about meaning and morality: The new anti-racism has a confessional, religious energy that the secular meritocracy has always lacked.
Plenty of Christianity has always been anti-racist if you’re not a fuckwit. NOT BEING A RACIST PIECE OF SHIT is not an attempt to feel better about oneself. That’s pretty much exactly the opposite of what it’s about, as the kind of self-examination to see if you’ve done any racism lately usually leads to feeling pretty much like garbage, but again, that’s not the point.
The point is making other people’s LIVES better. I know nothing can get inside Douthat’s sweatervest anymore but out here in the actual city, people are trying to, you know, NOT GET KILLED OR EVICTED OR DIE OF A PREVENTABLE PANDEMIC. This doesn’t mean they’re eager to declare themselves anti-racist soyboys or whatever he’s on about here.
Honestly, I’ve read this column three times and all I can think is that everyone at the NYT should be banned from writing about elite education for six weeks. Find a new beat or STFU.