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Hogarth judge

November 2017

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I won't be forced to breed children!

Meritocracy

Peggy Noonan wrote:
Ms. Kagan’s nomination has also highlighted America’s ambivalence about what we have always said we wanted, a meritocracy. Work hard, be smart, rise. The result is an aristocracy of wired brainiacs, of highly focused, well-credentialed careerists. There’s something limited, even creepy, in all this ferocious drive, this well-applied brilliance. There’s a sense that everything is abstract to those who succeed in this world, that what they know of life is not grounded in hard experience but absorbed through screens—computer screens, movie screens, TV screens. Our focus on mere brains is creepy, too. Brains aren’t everything, heart and soul are something too. We do away with all the deadwood, but even dead trees have a place in the forest.
Yes and no. I heartily agree that such people are creepy. But what makes them creepy is not brains but ambition. Ambition, condemned by the centuries as sin, is a virtue to the upwardly mobile.

This is what makes the recent kerfluffle about a Harvard Law Review A student who's bound for a prestigious judicial clerkship, and who became the subject of a minor Internet controversy, so morbidly amusing. Here's a student who's made all the right moves: gotten into Harvard Law, made Law Review, wrangled a clerkship for a Federal judge. She makes some offhandedly racist remarks in a private email. This is leaked as a result of another student's spite, apparently moved by a romantic triangle. She is called before the Holy Office and made to recant her heresy against dogmatically defined truths.

A grim spectacle, indeed. A portion of the Internet has taken to endlessly reposting this, and it looks like I am participating too in prolonging her moment of minor fame. I gather that what motivated some of the folks who kept this controversy hopping was earnest deploration: here is one of America's best and brightest, and she secretly harbors heresy about race. Now, I learned about this when the controversy surfaced on Wikipedia.

But what makes this morbidly fascinating to me is not the revelation of secret petty racism among the apple polishers. You knew, or at least suspected that, already.

Rather, it's the incredibly narrow and stultifying path that our would be best and brightest must navigate that gives me the creeps. No whiff of scandal can darken your escutcheon. No water pipe in the closet; no Mustang wrapped around a tree; no intemperate or incorrect expression of opinion. Personally, I'd rather have a Supreme Court justice who smoked marijuana and liked it, has been arrested at least once, been in a fistfight, and who has a large cache of porn on their laptop. The meritocracy favors careerists who instinctively avoid all such occasions of sin or scandal: and in this lies their soullessness. I don't want to be judged by all of these straight arrows.

Comments

"Personally, I'd rather have a Supreme Court justice who .... has a large cache of porn on their laptop."

Clarence Thomas?
However underqualified he might be to sit on the Supreme Court, my sympathy was entirely with him when the Anita Hill business broke.