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robertogreco : delusions   4

Almost All the Colleges I Wanted to Go to Rejected Me. Now What? - The New York Times
"There’s a greater delusion here. We’re often encouraged to imagine our society as an egg-sorting machine: jumbo, extra-large, large, medium (and then the sizes that don’t show up in the supermarket: small, peewee). We’re drawn to the idea that the rewards of social life — money, esteem, opportunities at college and then, later, at work — are determined by talent and dedication. In this picture, everyone can be ranked on a scale of how meritorious they are. True, we can complicate that picture a little and acknowledge that skills are various; that one person might be a fine mathematician and another a fine musician. But even if you had multiple scales for multiple skills, you would find that the vast majority of us aren’t great at anything. A person can only be at the top if there are lots of people ranged below.

If your self-worth is tied to being better than others, then, you’re headed for trouble. Your classmate in the honors program can feel inadequate compared with a higher-performing classmate in that program, who can feel inadequate compared with a still-higher-performing classmate and so on up the line. They could all walk around in a state of dejection. But that would be an ethical error. Why ethical? Because ethics, in its classical sense, concerns itself with what makes a life go well.

In the end, what matters isn’t how we rank against others. (Though my hunch is that you’re the only student at your school to be published in The New York Times this week!) You started out with a bundle of talents and interests unlike anyone else’s — yes, even if you have an identical twin. Your life so far has allowed you to develop some of them and to take up projects that you are committed to: Maybe it’s playing the guitar decently, writing a short story, serving the needs of the less well off in your community, being a good Christian or Muslim. Maybe your aim right now is simply being a good friend, taking genuine pleasure in the good fortune of those you care about. “What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” Dorothea asks in George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.”

You may acquit yourself, in these various endeavors, better or worse than another person, but nobody else is trying to do exactly the things you are trying to do with exactly the developed talents you have. Because we all come equipped with different capacities and have been born into different circumstances, and because we choose our own projects, each of us faces his or her own challenge, one that is, like you, unique. You have, as the great German thinker Johann Gottfried Herder once put it, your own measure.

The goal, therefore, isn’t to be the best; it’s to do your best. And don’t think this lets you off the hook. To become a better version of yourself is quite demanding enough. The 18th-century Hasidic rabbi Zusha is supposed to have said that when he died and appeared before the heavenly court, they could ask him, “Why were you not as great as Abraham?” and he wouldn’t be afraid; after all, he wasn’t given Abraham’s intellectual gifts. They could ask him, “Why weren’t you Moses?” and he wouldn’t be afraid; he didn’t have Moses’ skills as a leader. The question that frightened him was this: “Why weren’t you Zusha?” The scholar Martin Buber, writing in the past century, called this the “question of questions.”

I’ve talked about delusions. Here’s what’s true: Lots of things that happen to you — a good number of which will be a matter of sheer luck — will affect the life you make. But what will make your life a good one, along with luck, is a willingness to run with the opportunities that come your way.

Mourning all the things that didn’t turn out in your college-admissions season, you say that you can’t see yourself thriving in any school that has accepted you. Don’t trust that intuition for a moment. If acceptance from elite colleges is hard, self-acceptance can be harder.

Take up that question of questions. Think about what you can do with the opportunities you have, like going to a good college near home. If you do the work, make friends and enjoy reasonable luck there, you’ll come away from the college enriched and ready for the next phase of your life. So seize the day. The race you’re running has only one competitor, and it’s you."
colleges  universities  admissions  collegeadmissions  2019  kwameanthonyappiah  education  highered  highereducation  meritocracy  sorting  ranking  hierarchy  ethics  inequality  selectivity  personhood  acceptance  elitism  self-acceptance  delusions  measurement 
may 2019 by robertogreco
The Ubiquitous Collectivism that Enables America’s Fierce Individualism
"Forbes recently released their 2019 “30 Under 30” list of “the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada” who are also under 30 years old. A persistent criticism of the list is that many of the people on it are there because of family or other social advantages. As Helen Rosner tweeted of last year’s list:
My take is: all 30 Under 30 lists should include disclosure of parental assets

In a piece for Vox, Aditi Juneja, creator of the Resistance Manual and who was on the 30 Under 30 list last year, writes that Forbes does ask finalists a few questions about their background and finances but also notes they don’t publish those results. Juneja goes on to assert that no one in America is entirely self-made:
Most of us receive government support, for one thing. When asked, 71 percent of Americans say that they are part of a household that has used one of the six most commonly known government benefits — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, or unemployment benefits.

And many people who benefit from government largesse fail to realize it: Sixty percent of Americans who claim the mortgage-interest deduction, which applies to homeowners, say they have never used a government program. If you’ve driven on public roads, gone to public school, or used the postal service as part of your business — well, we all rely on collective infrastructure to get ahead.

And then she lists some of the ways in which she has specifically benefitted from things like government programs, having what sounds like a stable home environment, and her parents having sufficient income to save money for her higher education.
I went to public schools through eighth grade. My parents were able to save for some of my college costs through a plan that provides tax relief for those savings. I stayed on my parent’s health insurance until I was 26 under the Affordable Care Act. I have received the earned income tax credit, targeted at those with low or moderate income. I took out federal student loans to go to law school.

Juneja’s piece reminds me of this old post about how conservatives often gloss over all of the things that the government does for its citizens:
At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issed by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

And also of mayor Pete Buttigieg’s idea of a more progressive definition of freedom:
Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Lists like 30 Under 30 reinforce the idea of American individualism at the expense of the deep spirit & practice of collectivism that pervades daily American life. America’s fierce individuals need each other. Let’s celebrate and enable that."
kottke  us  individualism  collectivism  aditijuneja  resistance  culture  government  publicgood  helenrosner  petebuttigieg  politics  30under30  class  society  delusions  myths  entrepreneurship  privilege  infrastructure 
november 2018 by robertogreco

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