this is really unbelievably disturbing. eventually, i am going to circle around to a critique of american higher education. one term that that should be forever retired is 'meritocracy'; the whole thing is profoundly infected with elitist mediocracy. also rape.
well, i guess i'm circling right now. higher education in this country is dedicated to reproducing structures of privilege, generation after generation. the 'merit' in meritocracy at this point consists of performance on standardized tests. this reflects economic and racial hierarchies in a very raw way: your white middle-to-upper-class kids have a thousand resources for improving testing performance, from helicopter parents to tutors to resource-rich schools dedicated essentially to nothing else. intelligence and creativity have nothing to do with it.
that's what this whole structure is for, and the amazing thing is that people manage to repress their consciousness of that fact; they think they're egalitarians; they think they are measuring ability; they think, in short, that they are on top in virtue of the fact that they deserve to be. and then the hyper-aggressive multi-strategic affirmative action characteristic of elite institutions is fundamentally designed to assuage the conscience, or to affirm the self-delusion. overall, it is miserably failing to serve the students it uses as badges of goodness. and in a number of ways it reinforces rather than ameliorates racial and class hierarchies, among other things because it breaks communities in a way similar to incarceration: yanks successful kids out of south central and puts them in the ivy league and ivyleague wannabe institutions, for example, where they are often miserable, but from which they often never return.
also these integral little bubbles of young people reproduce in hyper-intense form the hierarchical cultures that they are dedicated to perpetuating. i've had enough beer-soaked frat boys to last me several lifetimes. but that rape thing seems to be even worse than i thought. i think a lot of the point for the young people is to stay drunk and have really, really bad - or literally evil - sex. apparently that's the meaning of life. and then it's kind of a eugenics program, so that the children of privilege can produce grandchildren of privilege.
somehow, we've got to integrate higher ed much more into communities, make it much more open, and break down the hierarchies among the institutions and within them. the institutions are status and prestige-obsessed, and our culture is too. they are not dedicated to learning or scholarship, but are pecking orders that reward simulated merit. i think this is actually more or less destroying learning in multiple directions; for example, i don't think academic philosophy right now has anything to do with truth or wisdom; it has to do with the prestige of institutions and professorships, angling for the sinecure that makes you more or less immune to criticism.