Underdogs Are The Elite. And They’re Mean About It

Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.

As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess…

The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity.

…If you read the e-mails from the Libor scandal you get the same sensation you get from reading the e-mails in so many recent scandals: these people are brats; they have no sense that they are guardians for an institution the world depends on; they have no consciousness of their larger social role.

That’s David Brooks.

I’m intrigued by the idea that we live in a world where people who adopt the underdog mentality run the show. It sure helps to feel that way when you’re competing hard, so maybe this is necessary. Maybe without the buzz of existential threat, nobody would ever work hard enough to fuel economic growth?

Ugh. I struggle with this kind of moralistic commentary. I get the narrative objective here but I’m rarely convinced by any of it, particularly when someone is foolish enough to justify policy with these arguments. If Brooks is right, what the hell are we supposed to do about it? Interesting observations, sure, but that’s all they can be.

Is it plausible that there were there middle aged white guys in 1915 writing about how “the kids these days don’t have any respect for the things that matter! It was all better in the old days when people cared about their work!”? Sure is. And that really takes the heat out of this argument for me.

We all want to feel like dad is out there doing the right thing for us. But human society ceased behaving like a collection of families thousands of years ago.

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