The Campaign 2012 (May the Best Loser Win) – The American Cult of Smartness Meets Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis

meritocracy.png Conor Friedersdorf has an interesting book review in the Atlantic. The article is called “The Cult of Smartness: How Meritocracy is Failing America,” and it is based on a book by Chris Hayes called Twilight of The Elites: America After Meritocracy. The premise of the article and book is that the country’s elite have a strangle hold on power and because they control the means, they can manipulate the ends so that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer – especially in regard the institutions of society & education. Here’s a sample paragraph:
“In his [Hayes] telling, that’s one example of the “Cult of Smartness” that has taken hold in American life, a pathology characterized by the mistaken assumption that intelligence is an ordinal quality — that it is possible for observers to accurately rank intelligent people in order from most  to least smart, and that the right person for a job is always the one deemed smartest. “While smartness is necessary for competent elites,” Hayes retorts, “it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy, and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued.” Throughout Twilight of the Elites, the reader is presented with similarly specific, thoughtful critiques of what’s gone wrong with America’s ruling class. The elites who run things, having advanced to the top of various hierarchies, are performing miserably, Hayes argues, citing failures as varied as Enron, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic Church molestation scandal, the financial crisis, and the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball.”

At the same time I’m ruminating on this article I’m watching the movie trailers for The Campaign, the new Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis movie due out August 10th. You’d be hard pressed to find two more abased, profane, foul-mouthed, crude, and raunchy comic actors out there. Is it just me or is this a perfect casting for a movie lampooning congressional campaigns?

Hayes’ premise is quite simple. “Rich Americans are gaming the system to illegitimately increase their wealth.” It’s nothing new, but the twists and associations – especially with regard the elite’s ability to avoid consequences of their leadership failures – have become so blatant, that it makes for interesting reading. Hayes has some interesting suggestions for how things can change. I’m not sure I buy any of these, but at least they show some imagination:
  • Write simple regulations that the rich’s lawyers can’t work around
  • End the war on drugs – the most blatant example of punishing poor & not rich
  • Do away with professional licensing laws & give poor access to professions
  • Tax test prep (SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.), use funds to scholarship poor to test prep
  • Move the Supreme Court out of Washington; transition to an e-congress and force House members to spend all of their time in their districts.
  • Stop subsidizing college tuition – take all that money divide it equally among High School Seniors and allow them to use it for college, trade school, professional development of any kind.
  • Stop subsidizing mortgages.
  • Mandate public radio and television seek programming feedback from the meek & lowly.
Is a meritocracy the right goal? Is American society more of a plutocracy as Hayes suggests? Either way, The Campaign movie promises to be vulgar, wrong, and probably more on target than any of us are comfortable with. Here’s a trailer for your Friday enjoyment:


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  • CB

    I'd add: support public education.

    Got a problem with it? Get involved. Get neck deep in it. Get your own children neck deep in it. Feel uncomfortable in it and get busy effecting change.

    A free and appropriate education for all children is the law of the land, but when the elite pull their kids out of public schools, the community (educational community and otherwise) suffers.

    I don't think that attending and actively supporting public school should be a federal mandate. I feel that it is a moral obligation. Support magnet schools, charter schools, legislative change, educational philosophy change, structure change. YOU and YOUR kids are needed needed needed in the public school sector.

    Urban and impoverished youth become further educationally neglected by the chasm that grows every time parents choose for their child to participate in alternative educational models. While this might be what is "best" for their own child, it is not for the good of the whole.

    The Cult of Smartness is made up of members who are products of private institutions. It is formational. It sticks.