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And, yes, I DO take it personally: We now operate in a world in which we can assume neither competence nor good faith from the authorities
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Monday, June 25, 2012

We now operate in a world in which we can assume neither competence nor good faith from the authorities

chris hayes taken from his book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy excerpted at In These Times...
We now operate in a world in which we can assume neither competence nor good faith from the authorities. The consequences of this simple, devastating realization define American life. The failure of the elites and the distrust it has spawned is the most powerful and least understood aspect of current politics and society. It structures and constrains the very process by which we gather facts, form opinions, and execute self-governance. It connects the Iraq War and the financial crisis, the Tea Party and MoveOn, the despair of laid-off autoworkers in Detroit to the foreclosed homeowners in Las Vegas and the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans: nothing seems to work. All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility.


Three decades of accelerating inequality in America have produced a deformed social order and a set of elites who cannot help but be dysfunctional and corrupt. Most of us don’t see it that way, because we get elites wrong.

We don’t acknowledge that our own most fundamental, shared beliefs about how society should operate are deeply elitist. We have accepted that there will be some class of people that will make the decisions for us, and if we just manage to find the right ones, then all will go smoothly.

To recover from the damage inflicted by this crisis of authority, we must reconstruct and reinvent our politics, a process that has, in a sense, already begun. Andrew Smith, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street, told me one fall evening in 2011 that the movement is not “Left or Right, but up or down.” Amid drums and whoops and chants of “We! Are! The 99 percent!” he leaned in and said, “I realize that’s scary for some people.”


By waging a sustained assault on the establishment responsible for perpetuating the Vietnam War, patriarchy and racial discrimination, the social movements of that era permanently transformed American society for the better.

In place of the old WASP establishment, America embraced meritocracy, an ideal with roots that reach back to the early years of the Republic. By opening the doors to women and racial minorities, while also valuing youth over seniority and individual talent over the quiet virtues of the Organization Man, it incorporated the demands of the social movements of the 1960s. But whatever the egalitarian commitments of the social movements that brought about the upheaval of the time, what emerged when the dust had settled was a model of the social order that was more open but still deeply unequal.


At its most basic, the logic of “meritocracy” is ironclad: putting the most qualified, best-equipped people into the positions of greatest responsibility and import. You certainly wouldn’t want surgeons’ licenses to be handed out via lottery, or to have major cabinet members selected through reality TV–style voting.

But in our near-religious fidelity to the meritocratic model, we overestimate its advantages and underappreciate its costs, because we don’t think hard enough about the consequences of the inequality it produces.


So the obstacle to more equality is not widespread public opposition to a more egalitarian society. The obstacle is simply that people and institutions who benefit most from extreme inequality have outsize power they can use to protect their gains from egalitarian incursions. The most pressing challenge for those who desire a better functioning, more representative nation is conceiving not of policies that will ultimately enhance equality, but of mechanisms by which the power of the current elite might be challenged and dramatically reduced.

Because the meritocratic winners are reluctant to part with their power, they must be convinced that the current status quo is unsustainable. Normalcy is what keeps the system moving and its inequities unaddressed—so normalcy must be disrupted. The social distance between the current beneficiaries of our post-meritocratic social order and its victims must be annihilated.

interesting perspective... i had never before framed our situation in terms of a "meritocracy" but it certainly makes sense...

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