Since we were just talking about the chattering classes, I thought I’d relate and briefly discuss a few recent comments from the Volokh site, from a post by Professor Kenneth Anderson on… oh… something or other with respect to higher education.
(By the way, that site always seems to take a long time to load, for no discernible reason.)
Now before I get into this I want to say that I think very well of Professor Anderson from what I know of him and don’t want to single him out for harsh criticism. I am not attacking Professor Anderson; I am using something he said to illustrate a larger point not just about him, but about the class he typifies.
That would be, of course, the chattering classes. Professor Anderson is a one percenter. Or at least an adjunct to the one percenters.
In his discussion of the pitfalls for students who might want to broaden their areas of study from the humanities into the sciences, Prof. Anderson relates that some “very bright” students are reluctant to do that not because they don’t need to acquire the knowledge, but because it might give them a down tick on their GPA. Casting about for a compromise solution, he comes up with “pass/fail” type science courses that humanities students can take without worrying about the impact on the GPA. He then goes on to state:
This is why I am suggesting workarounds that might be doable at some schools, emphasizing pass-not pass minors, etc. The problem is how to manage both credential and education, in a world in which everyone understands the costs, the fantastic risks, and everyone is leveraging every credential advantage on the margin. I advise students that they have to put the credential first. It’s what I tell my daughter. I don’t like it, but I didn’t create the rules.
I brought him up on this gently, in a comment to which he did not respond, though it’s clear he’s reading the comments pretty closely.
What to make of this? It’s unfortunate, putting it mildly, that the best and brightest put self interest over education, especially where education is supposedly their vocation. The “problem” Professor Anderson describes is faced by everyone, in every field, indeed in every endeavor, in choices great and small, almost every day: self-aggrandizement versus integrity. When push comes to shove, Professor Anderson comes down firmly on the side of self-aggrandizement.
And this is the advice he gives his students. And his daughter.
You could take from this that the behavior and values of the best and the brightest are no different from the common street thug. The playing field is just more effete. Multiply this over and over, and is it so difficult to understand what the OWS complaints of the 99% are?
I also wonder what sort of personality traits are being cultivated here, in practical terms. These people, who are admittedly very bright, are also hyper-sensitive to the least diminution of their grade point average, excruciatingly aware from a very young age that they must accumulate honors and grades from their superiors to the greatest extent possible. To develop not so much knowledge or strength of character – but “credential advantage”.
And it’s a life long pursuit. There’s a perception that everything they attain is fragile. But if they’re that worried that they’ll lose a couple hundredths of a point on their GPA, what happens later when they’re a federal judge and they consider the career consequences of crossing the US Attorney’s office, even once?
Yes, this reveals and certainly could explain a lot. It’s not a conspiracy after all; it’s just human nature uninformed by virtues we used to take for granted among the educated.