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Having a teacher call you a "seed of all evil" is pretty metal. I'd wear that as a badge of pride.

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Anglo-American society, with its relative upward mobility and openness to immigration, produces an interesting internal contrast. On the one hand, the peak of our society is better than anywhere else on earth. The scientific community is (despite its problems) filled with the most intellectually curious people from all over the world, people who self-selected to get away from their "tall poppy syndrome" infected places of origin (both foreign and domestic). On the other hand, there is also a parallel universe, with a concentration of all the people who enjoy wielding the sword against unbowed heads. Science departments and businesses are pretty good at filtering out such people, so they end up in various branches of government with power over the lower classes. The result is that while Oxbridge is great, places like South Yorkshire are dysfunctional dystopias. The South Yorkshire police prefer to go after well-meaning autistic kids rather than to investigate violent crime and even grooming gangs (https://twitter.com/SpeechUnion/status/1738146734696456645).

This state of affairs is probably sustainable, so long as the "sword-wielders" don't attain political power over the engines of technology and finance. Hence, the contest over control of academic administrations and business HR departments is an existential one for the Anglo-American system. If academia and business stay free, South Yorkshire and Romania may continue to fester, but the best people from such places will be able to escape. If academia and business are lost, Anglo-America will converge with the so-called developing world, and "the last best hope of earth" will be lost.

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Wow do you really think we face such an existential threat?

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I think so. For example, we often look at what happened to Katalin Kariko as a major failure of academia circa 1990. But we can instead imagine a slightly different timeline where academia back in 1990 had the culture that it has today. In such a timeline, it's quite possible that Kariko would've been forced out of her research career entirely, because it's not enough to have a lone persistent genius. You probably need a sufficient number of lesser lights so that someone who does have funding such as Elliot Barnathan is able to pattern-match and realize, "This is someone who absolutely deserves funding to continue her work." These dynamics make me think that if you make academia X% less hospitable to Weird Nerds, you don't reduce the number of Weird Nerds by CX%, where C is some constant. Instead, the more likely scenario is that academia, like any subculture, really has only two stable states. It's sort of like how overfishing didn't just reduce the number of cod by some amount; it actually switched the ecosystem to a different stable state in which cod played no role.

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That makes and it’s a scary but good point

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Jan 7Liked by Ruxandra Teslo

Isn't the "Law of Conservation of Total Inequality" not basically the reason you can only have at most one of "equality of outcomes" and "equality of opportunities"?

I also think that "elite" generally is a multi-faceted term that invokes different associations in different people. For some, it might invoke associations of nobility/high-born status, which is fundamentally opposed to meritocracy. Under this interpretation, it makes sense for institutions like Harvard to portray themselves as anti-elitist (*cough* legacy admissions *cough*). But I don't think any of the Harvard faculty or administration would deny the drive to be "elite" in a meritocratic sense of striving to be better than the rest, or picking students that are smarter/better than the others.

IMHO the issue with Harvard/HES is that Harvard's elitism has - at least to a certain degree - warped into the nobility/high-born kind of elitism, and it has started to show. I don't think this is necessarily a recent trend, it could also be a function of the US "maturing" as a country/society, in terms of age. With the creation of HES, Harvard has chosen what people ultimately consider a disingenuous way of addressing this development, maximizing both their signaling as well as profits, while not having to give up one bit of their exclusivity where it matters.

So regarding the question raised in your last paragraph, I think the answer is no. If Harvard would unabashedly only select the best and brightest, without factoring in any secondary considerations, and *not* offer something like HES, I doubt that anyone would accuse them of violating the principles of liberalism. It's just that with things like the Varsity Blues scandal, or legacy admissions in general (for which I don't think there's much of a case at all, coming from a liberal and meritocratic standpoint), it's much harder for them to keep portraying their elitism as that of the meritocratic kind. Hence they deny it outright.

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Very good point re this simply being a sign of a mature society. Maybe we need to restart some institutions?

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It seems to me that Harvard faculty and alumni are giving voice to what Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League are actually for: a sorting/filtering mechanism to help develop and find our ruling and power classes.

Those institutions are a time-honored way for the US to find its leaders. Whether or not they are actually receiving a superior education is highly debatable, but the ridiculous admissions process followed by the networking opportunities is an important first step in developing the heads of our government and financial institutions.

The extension school seems to circumvent that process and what you’re seeing play out is the admission of that.

The US does have a meritocracy of sorts, but it would be completely inefficient for a country of this size to operate without a filter like the Ivies.

Full Disclosure: I went to a state school in Texas.

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"Those institutions are a time-honored way for the US to find its leaders"

Peter Drucker, the great writer on management and society (born in Austria in 1909, educated in Germany) said that one of the advantages the US had over Europe is that we did *not* have a small set of 'elite' institutions whose graduates dominated the key positions in society. From 1969:

"One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…"

We as a country have today come a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for Harvard Law School and similar institutions than we were when Drucker wrote the above, and that is not a good thing.

https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/50249.html

"

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The market has traditionally been the way of US to find its leaders. Harvard was a training ground, but final battles were played by the rules of capitalism.

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Fascinating story, and eerily both similar AND very different from my experiences in a secondary school in (let it be unnamed) another ex-Warsaw-Pact country. We need to go further back (personal computers were not a thing then, never mind computer classes at school) and envisage a hated history teacher, a genuine Party apparatchik brought in from some provincial post to replace an old fashioned eccentric and politically uncomfortable one who "decided" to retire early. He was also supremely ugly and very stupid. So it was easy to get a rise out of him (asking questions, showing off in various ways, doing maths homework under the table while maintaining some focus on his slow drone "lecture" and using English terms where possible to show up his ignorance of the language whose knowledge was considered to be a mark of civilization come to mind), and one of those resulted in a very similar end of my old self being told (no, actually being screamed out, spittle flying) to leave the classroom. But the social consequence of this (and a couple other similar events) was definite and quite noticeable boost in social kudos for me. Even among some other teachers. So I wonder if the LEGITIMACY of the hierarchy/"authority figure" has also something to do with this mechanism.

Because on the other hand, when I look at the obsequious formal deference that is still common in the academia in the same country now (I only get glimpses because of the nature of my work), with every Mr Professor this and Mm'e fucking Doctor that, and "remember you're commenting to a Head of Department here, not a mere PhD student" kind of tone policing I sometimes got; and compare it with Anglo habits, I can see exactly the thing you're describing.

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Status blindness never goes unpunished. I didn’t know there were significant cultural differences in this regard, but this probably means the comparatively bad places to be status-blind in are even more horrible than I imagine them.

I admire and envy you. And I envy the wall you went to talk to.

On the other hand, I think it’s important to remember something I can’t recall where I read. Paraphrasing, a bowed head may appease an alpha, but will get you eaten by a predator—so make sure you can tell which of these is holding the sword.

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My first thought on that proverb "A bowed head won't be cut by the sword" is that it seems like exactly the opposite of how things work in the real world. The meek get walked all over and never rewarded in the end.

Maybe that's my American upbringing showing through, but it very much seems to me that bowed heads are *exactly* the ones that are going to be cut by swords.

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Cultural evolution may explain the discrepancy

https://youtu.be/AtEX4NttnN8?si=owwGgSIcv9PF-S4y

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My theory is that economic progress is all about making systems and actually applying them. That is: if you have a free market, genuinely allowing anyone to come and trade, and accepting whoever gets rich, even if it's not your mates. If you have laws, applying them equally to everyone, even if your mates get punished. If you have schools, teaching anyone and awarding top grades to anyone, even if they're not your mates' children.

American colleges have been part of the march of progress, allowing outgroups like women, Jews, black people, and now Asian people in. In any given year, within the selection that they currently accept as ingroup enough, they help to stir the social pot by allowing a few mid-range-type people into the top echelons. I think they often confuse ingroup stirring with real inclusivity.

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