I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status … mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room. [bold emphasis mine]
Oh, those clever elites! They can multitask! If only poorer people could learn to sit in a waiting room and take part in conference calls at the same time, then their kids would be successful too! Unfortunately, poorer people can only perform 1 task at a time (at most).
If I work 2 hours in front of a computer doing stimulating work for high pay, and you do 1 hour of work moving heavy furniture on a hot day for low pay, I worked longer hours than you did! You lazy f*ck! And if I come home from work with the energy and money needed to engage my kids in fun, enriching activities, and you come home too tired and poor to take them to and/or afford piano lessons, then I am the superior parent. Further, while you’re at home cooking dinner (because you can’t afford a personal chef), I’m watching my kids perform, while networking over my cell phone at the same time, because, you know, my job involves networking.
David Brooks is a strong proponent of ‘no excuses.’ What ‘no excuses’ means is that he does not want to hear about anyone’s circumstances (the Haiti earthquake would not have been as damaging if Haitians were not so “progress-resistant”). In my view, the phrase ‘no excuses’ is an attempt at censorship. It’s a way for people with privilege to live a guilt-free existence.
David Brooks believes that it basically comes down to some people working hard and others not. Essentially, there are good genes and bad genes. This belief that the elite are that way because of their genetic superiority is pervasive in elite circles (no surprise), including academia. Unfortunately for the Brooks’ of the world, reality is not that way.
When people talk about a good genes, like genes for altruism say, what they really (should) mean is: this gene is part of a network that, when the right combinations of them are on (expressed), tend to lead to more acts of altruism in the environments we’ve studied. Everything is gene-environment interaction. Even things that people would think of as purely genetic, such as whether a guppy is colorful and has descended testes, are in fact affected by the environment.
I happen to enjoy my job and am well paid. But I can point to particular events in my life that, had they gone differently, could have put me in a much different situation. I could have ended up with a much lower paying, more stressful job. In that case, I probably would not be as good of a parent. I wonder why it is so hard for people to acknowledge that the reasons that they succeeded when someone else failed, was at least in part due to things outside of the control of either person. Rather than implicitly boasting that they have good genes, they could instead boast that they had good gene-environment interactions.