Wednesday, June 17, 2009

what does my ivy education mean to me -- II

My beloved fiance Pnin* asked me recently which of the four Dartmouth factions I belonged to. He guessed Feuillant, which makes sense. I'm female; I don't come from the type of WASP old money** background that Thermidoreans generally do, and didn't make much pretense of trying to act like I was from one; and I'm right of center enough on national political issues that I clearly couldn't be either a Montagnard or a Girondin.

Upon further reflection, I think my actual answer would be something like "idiosyncratic Feuillant." As I said in that old post, I find the lack of a "vision thing" to be a crucial weakness for the Feuillant faction. I'm therefore more sympathetic to some of the Thermidoreans' positions on the importance of teaching the Canon than many Feuillants are. Also, Feuillantism in its more extreme forms encourages conflating one's identity with one's resume. That way lies the Above the Law commentariat, who are content to spend hours obsessing over the relative prestige of large law firms that seem extremely similar to anyone else outside their rather limited circles. Many of the meritocrats at ATL and similar fora also seem curiously tone-deaf and ignorant of how upwards of 97% or so of Americans actually live; thus the occasional bizarre comment about how government lawyers are forced to live lower-middle-class lifestyles or how hard it is for associates in Manhattan to make ends meet on just $160,000. I suppose I'm a bit more Girondin or Montagnard on this, as both groups have better concrete ideas on how to push back against these particular forms of tone deafness.

In short, I want our elite universities to be more purely meritocratic, yes, but I do want them pushing back harder against this kind of ugliness. I admire the Thermidoreans' devotion to beauty and to the Canon, as education in these topics can soften some of the more odious striverism that meritocracy encourages. I respect the Girondins' and Montagnards' attempts to make these institutions more open to people of talent of different backgrounds, and to inculcate more tact toward people not running on the same meritocratic treadmill.

*Pseudonym chosen only because he is both a Russian immigrant and a professor. Otherwise, there isn't much resemblance to the character.

**I inadvertently typed "WASP old monkey" at first. That's actually kind of a charming image.

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