Monday, October 26, 2009

More from Lasch on "Social Mobility"

Here is another passage from Lasch that is just too good not to be quoted at length:

"[Wendell] Berry's interrogation of [Justin Smith] Morrill [author of the land grant colleges act] defines the most important choice a democratic society has to make: whether to raise the general level of competence, energy, and devotion - 'virtue,' as it was called in an older political tradition - or merely to promote a broader recruitment of elites. Our society has clearly chosen the second course. It has identified opportunity with upward mobility and made upward mobility the overriding goal of social policy. The debate about affirmative action shows how deeply this pathetically restricted notion of opportunity has entered public discourse. A policy designed to recruit minorities into the professional and managerial class is opposed not on the grounds that it strengthens the dominant position of this class but on the grounds that it weakens the principle of meritocracy. Both sides argue on the same grounds. Both see careers open to talent as the be-all and end-all of democracy when in fact, careerism tends to undermine democracy by divorcing knowledge from practical experience, devaluing the kind of knowledge that is gained from experience, and generating social conditions in which ordinary people are not expected to know anything at all. The reign of specialized expertise - the logical result of policies that equate opportunity with open access to 'places of higher consideration' - is the antithesis of democracy as it was understood by those who saw this country as the 'last, best hope of earth.'" [The Revolt of the Elites, pp. 78-79]

Now, this illustrates just how deep and pervasive our "unofficial ideology" is. And it also illustrates why the "debates" between liberals and conservatives are (a) so boring and (b) so pathetic. And of course there is the phenomenon of a Sarah Palin or a Joe the Plumber coming on stage and shouting superficiality after superficiality and being greeted with shouts of approval and rave reviews for being so "controversial." "Oh my, s/he is saying what needs to be said and what no one else has the courage to say. S/he is so courageous, so outspoken!!!" Well, no; just oh so conventional. It is like the phenomenon called "reality shows" on TV where people actually think the outcome is freely determined by a competition between the contestants! But, in "real reality," the contestants are working together, colluding just like our political parties collude, to deceive us in order to gain distinction and, often, not a little bit of money! "The last, best hope of earth"? We had better hope not.

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