Friday, May 23, 2008

The Best and the Meanest

Amelia Rawls, in a May 1 Wash. Post piece ("Best and the Brightest, but not the Nicest"), writes that after four years at Princeton and a year at Yale Law School, she admires her peers' "inspirational" accomplishments but worries that they "are not always nice people."

What a surprise.

Of the presidential candidates, she writes: "I wonder if, in their trek to the top, they have pushed aside the kind of quietly brilliant altruists who mean what they say and say what they mean."

Note to A. Rawls: "Quietly brilliant altruists" don't usually run for President.

Her last sentence: "I wonder if our society is crippling itself by subjecting its youths to an almost-Darwinian college selection process."

No quarrel there, except that part of the problem lies with the "youths" themselves, who have bought into various erroneous notions about higher education.

Come to think of it, I received a letter not long ago from the dean of the law school I attended (many years ago), touting the fact that its US News & World Report ranking had gone up from something like 97 to something like 88, and explaining that this would enable it to recruit better students etc., etc. Law schools are so invested in these rankings that at least one sociologist has recently published an article about the phenomenon. It's in the journal Theory and Society -- unfortunately I don't remember the author's name or the issue number (and am not going to track it down right now).


JLM said...

Rawls' high priced education was evidently wasted on her, as she appears to have confused two contemporaneous Charles's: Darwin and Dickens. Darwin proposed that changes in the environment lead to adaptive--not crippling--behavior, whereas Dickens argued that societal cruelties grind people down and lead to moral bankruptcy. In any event, the psychological burden of competing for an Ivy League education is entirely self-imposed.

LFC said...

You are, of course, entirely right on Darwin/Dickens. Perhaps Rawls was thinking about Social Darwinism (i.e., Herbert Spencer, Wm. Graham Sumner, et al.), but that is not what she said -- and I think that wouldn't quite fit what she was trying to say either.