May 17th, 2022


Whether by Money or Merit, We Will Not Be 'Ruled'

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published March 21, 2019

Whether by Money or Merit, We Will Not Be 'Ruled'
Noah Millman wrote a marvelously honest piece for "The Week" last week about the pay-to-play college admissions scandal. He acknowledges what many have known for a long time: First, that admission to the most elite schools is not purely based upon merit. Second, that education as good as — and often better than — that at the Ivies and other top-tier institutions can be obtained elsewhere. What parents are really after, Millman says, is status . This has become more important than the education itself, or even connections, which the children of these grasping, bribing parents frankly already have.

Millman makes another pointed observation: "When the United States started using standardized tests for college admissions, the point was explicitly to open up our elite institutions to talent that lacked pedigree. ... Harvard and Yale needed bright upstarts from Brooklyn and Biloxi to retain their status as makers of the elite. ... Once in place, however, the system morphed from a means to an end. The idealistic meritocrat claims that what justifies elite rule is precisely that they have been pre-selected as 'the best.'"

Meritocracy, Millman concludes, "has morphed from a means aimed to further a democratic ideal into an ideal in its own right."

I think it's worse than Millman states. Craving "status" without more sounds like selfishness. And I'd be fine with that, if that's as far as it were to go. Make as much money as you like. Have as many houses as you want. Spend all your vacations on the Cote d'Azur. If impressing your neighbors is your thing, whatever.

But it does go further, and the ugly truth is buried in Millman's statement that the elite believe their "rule" is justified because they have been chosen.

I have a little secret for these "elites": WE ARE FREE AMERICANS. WE DO NOT WISH TO BE RULED.

One of the most corrosive consequences of our best universities going from "elite" to "elitist" is that they have now produced multiple generations of graduates who believe that a piece of paper from one of those institutions gives them the power and the right to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. (The fact that we know some untold number of them have bribed their way in just adds insult to injury.)

This condescending attitude has permeated Wall Street, Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley. That should be unsurprising, given that they are seats of power and thus desired destinations for graduates with the golden-ticket diplomas.

In Andrew Lohse's tell-all book, "Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy," he describes "pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault." This, Lohse says, is the price of entry to the creme de la creme of society that a degree from Dartmouth College provides. No backing down, no protests, no recriminations allowed. Lohse describes the Dartmouth man attitude simply: "We win."

Harvard doesn't come off much better in the film "The Social Network" about the founding of Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg (who was accused of stealing the idea from three Harvard students). Students there are depicted as swaggering spoiled brats who snort coke and are condescending toward everyone who isn't them.

And speaking of Facebook, there's the "bro culture" of Silicon Valley, much in the news of late, not only because of sexist business practices and decadent personal lives but also because some of the biggest tech companies (Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google) are engaging in content discrimination and potentially violating privacy laws.

To an extent, this same attitude is behind the #MeToo sexual exploitation in Hollywood and the major entertainment industry corporations.

Whether it's Hollywood, high finance or high tech, the wunderkinds are certain that they know better than the rest of the great unwashed masses; after all, they've been told that they're special their entire lives.

This attitude of entitlement is behind the sharp divergence between the east and west coasts, and what they call "flyover country."

And it should not be surprising that it has coincided with a steep rise in the call for more government power over every aspect of American lives. So before anyone joins hands to say, "Yes! Put the government in charge of health care! And energy! And environmental policy! And lending!" and God-only-knows-what-all-else, consider whether the self-important little darlings we've been reading about for the past week really have the interests of the "common man" at heart.

To the contrary, they come out of these schools thinking, "The government should do A, B, C through X, Y, Z. And of course, we — the elite, the chosen, the 'best and the brightest' — should be in control of government!"

That will mean — as we've seen — walls protecting them but not us; guards with guns for them but not us; free speech for them but not us; private medical care and exemptions for them, rationed care for us.

To be "ruled" by elites is as un-American as it gets, and Americans will not stand for it. Rejecting party politics, bringing down sexual exploiters and challenging the supremacy of elite institutions is proof. Don't be fooled; the upper echelons of this country are due for a good comeuppance. And it's just getting started.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.