by John Lawrence
Part 1 is here.
The educational system promotes "progress" in western terms that produces gadgets and labor saving devices while employing smaller and smaller numbers of highly educated people to do so. Those people who have a high capacity to love or care for others are devalued as lesser human beings if they do not have high IQs and advanced degrees from prestigious institutions. They aren't promoted in terms of the educational system. There is no PhD in love. The Meritocracy is seen as deserving billions of dollars. Highly educated professionals attain the highest reaches of government from which they declaim on the virtues of people like themselves.
When I was a graduate student at UCSD, my adviser, Irwin Jacobs, founder of Qualcomm and local billionaire, advised me that at the end of my second year there enrolled in a PhD program, there would be a "filtering out procedure." Jacobs, the ultimate Meritocrat, thought nothing about the disruption of lives that would be caused by having them filtered out. Some of these people had sacrificed to come there leaving good jobs; some of them had families to support. I felt somewhat responsible because I had persuaded some of them to enroll in that program. But Jacobs had no qualms about filtering them out if they didn't meet his high standards and didn't deserve to be in the ranks of the 'best and the brightest'.
My point was why did they admit them into the program in the first place if they didn't think they were good enough to be designated PhDs? They certainly had enough stats on them by that time. They all had been graded and quantified for years in their journey through the educational system and had undergone every possible testing procedure. Answer: they needed bodies in the program to justify their professors' salaries and their very existence. But what they should have done is to have filtered them out right at the beginning before they had lost their jobs and their families instead of leading them on like lambs to slaughter.
Meritocracy Produces Divorces and Job Losses
In the wake of the "filtering out procedure" there were many divorces and job losses. That didn't matter to a Meritocrat like Jacobs. What mattered was that they were not good enough to join the club that he was in. Jacobs, a prominent Democrat and philanthropist, exemplified the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) values which along with the Clintons and President Obama sought to align itself with the values of the Meritocracy and leave the unions behind. The union movement has been "filtered out" as globalization and President Clinton's NAFTA have come to pass. These are the values of the New Democrats, the post-industrialists, and the DLC. They have rejected the New Deal and the value of equality as passe in favor of globalization and Meritocracy.
The Meritocrat's solution to every problem is more education, that every problem is an individual and not a societal problem. The individual only has himself or herself to blame. This phenomenon is what Thomas Frank writes about in his book, Listen Liberal. To Dr Jacobs' credit, he has used his money to do a lot of good for citizens of San Diego and elsewhere, just as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others have. We have replaced New Deal type government programs with billionaire philanthropists.
Another attribute of the Meritocracy is workaholism. Dr Jacobs was a notorious workaholic with little time for his family. After selling Linkabit, he said, "I assured my wife that we’d have lots of time to do things - that every Wednesday, at the very least, we would go out and have lunch together, etc. But there were so many things to catch up on, and so many people that wanted to talk, that I ended up probably being as busy during retirement than I was before."
That is another thing that the Cintonites share with Wall Street. Many of the young well educated crowd goes to work on Wall Street only to find out that the 16 hour days they have to work there aren't worth the millions they're making. Most Meritocrats, however, feel that, since they work so damn hard, they deserve their well-earned money. They also don't have a problem insisting that their workers also work long hours without additional compensation, something that is antithetical to the union movement. That's another reason unions are considered by them to be passe.
In Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Way, Joe Nocera writes:
The bad side [of Jeff Bezos] is the way he and his company treat employees. In 2011, the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call published an eye-opening series documenting how Amazon treated the workers at its warehouses. The newspaper reported that workers “were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured.”
In the cutthroat culture described by The Times’s Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, a certain percentage of workers are culled [Ed. note: culled = filtering out] every year. It’s an enormously adversarial place. Employees who face difficult life moments, such as dealing with a serious illness, are offered not empathy and time off but rebukes that they are not focused enough on work. A normal workweek is 80 to 85 hours, in an unrelenting pressure-cooker atmosphere.
Meritocrats think nothing of pushing their workers "harder and harder to work faster and faster", college educated or not. They should share their CEO's Meritocratic workaholism. If not, they're out of there. These are the opposite values of the union movement where limits of total hours worked, and time off for sick leave and vacation leave are put in place. Bezos wants Amazon to have the feel of a start-up where the work pace is frantic and the pressure intense. But the article goes on to question: "The real issue Amazon’s work culture raises — for blue- and white-collar employees alike — is: How disposable are people?"
Contrasting Amazon's work culture with the union movement the article states:
A previous generation of Americans could count on a social compact; if you stuck loyally by a company, it would stick by you, providing you with a good job and a decent retirement. Long ago, loyalty fell by the wayside, and longtime employees learned that their loyalty meant nothing when companies “downsized.”
Amazon — and, to be sure, any number of other companies as well — has taken this idea to its logical extreme: Bring people in, shape them in the Amazon style of confrontation and workaholism, and cast them aside when they have outlived their usefulness.
All this in the name of competition in the globalized work place. Is it worth it to throw away human beings in order to invent another gadget? To grow the economy? To create more billionaires?
Thomas Frank writes, "It was the educational pedigree of the then-forming Team Obama that won [New York Times columnist David Brooks] esteem. ... Brooks had been obsessed with the tastes and habits of the East Coast meritocracy ...." They were the 'best and the brightest'. They got where they were because they were smart, not because they inherited an earldom or something. They were much to be admired. They achieved the American Dream, the Dream of having more money, material stuff and awards than their parents. They were corporate liberals who admired and promoted other smart people like the smart people who got us into the Iraq War in the Bush administration. They represented "credentialed expertise".
Frank continues: "What this doctrine means for the politics of income inequality should be clear: a profound complacency. For successful professionals, Meritocracy is a beautifully self-serving doctrine, entitling them to all manner of rewards and status, because they are smarter than other people. For people on the receiving end of inequality--for those who have just lost their home, for example, or who are having trouble surviving on the minimum wage, the implications of inequality are equally unambiguous. To them this ideology says: forget it. You have no one to blame for your problems but yourself." Get more education!
Caregivers Not Considered to Have Much Economic Value
Those who have the capacity to love, to care, on the other hand, are not deemed to have much economic value. They represent the lowest rung on the socio-economic ladder. They don't gain access to the most esteemed academic institutions. Nobody is giving them a billion dollar IPO, instant wealth for creating a gadget or an app. Their advocacy is not appreciated. Their love for children and caregiving for elders is not seen as economically worthwhile or viable. Their big hearts are given short shrift compared to the people with big brains. They are even ridiculed for having too little brain power, for not succeeding in school.
Yet smart people have been in power and the world is not better off. There is more war, more unrest, less shared wealth, more homeless, more refugees (65 million at last count), more violence, more dissatisfaction, more drug use, more environmental destruction. Smart people have not solved any major problems except the invention of more gadgets because their approach for the most part is to invent a salable item, something which can be commodified, bought and sold. Certainly the environment was in much better shape 100 years ago, the water cleaner, the air purer, the food totally organic (pesticides and herbicides had not been invented yet).
As E.F.Schumacher points out in Small is Beautiful:
In short, we can say today that man is far too clever to be able to survive without love. No one is really working for peace unless he is working primarily for the restoration of love. The assertion that "foul is useful and fair is not" is the antithesis of love. The hope that the pursuit of goodness and virtue can be postponed until we have attained universal prosperity and that by the single-minded pursuit of wealth, without bothering our heads about spiritual and moral questions, we could establish peace on earth, is an unrealistic, unscientific, and irrational hope. The exclusion of love from economics, science, and technology was something we could perhaps get away with for a little while, as long as we were relatively unsuccessful; but now that we have become very successful, the problem of spiritual and moral truth moves into the central position.
I have altered Schumacher's quote slightly replacing his word, "wisdom", with my word "love." But surely we need both more wisdom and more love if planet earth and the life upon it is to survive.
To summarize we don't need more high tech gadgets; we need technology on a human scale, intermediate technology, to prevent planet Earth from becoming a Planet of Slums as Mike Davis points out. Progress as conceived in the West, which is fueled by greed and envy, only creates more poverty and ecological devastation. We don't need more high IQ technologists from prestigious educational institutions. We need people who have a high capacity for loving and caring even though they may not have high IQs. Can this society discover them or is it only dedicated to the greedy and cold hearted technologists who can invent new gadgets and get billion dollar IPOs from investors who have money to burn, the upper 1%? That money only seeks greater financial returns, not a better world or a more peaceful planet. As Hal David said in 1965, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love. That's the only thing that there's just too little of."