Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The brutal passion of small tribal differences

From The Meritocracy Against Itself: How Ivy League resentments took over the Kavanaugh debate. by Ross Douthat. Irony bolded.
But a truer wisdom requires challenging this illusion. Go back to the Lisa Miller story for New York magazine, and the stratification it describes — the preppies on top, the “nerds and the scholarship kids and the people of color” struggling below. Then remember that many “people of color” at Ivy League schools are themselves children of affluence and privilege, and that with a very few exceptions everyone who goes to an Ivy League school is a nerd — Brett Kavanaugh very much included. So when Miller depicts Kavanaugh as a jock lording it over the dorks, she’s really describing one kind of nerd lording it over another kind, Bruenig’s high school nightmare recreating itself among people who are all tools and grinds and weirdos by any reasonable American standard — with all the dysfunction that such a hothouse world contains.

Also, note the parenthetical disclosure in the story, where Miller explains how she got in touch with Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate Kit Winter and a friend of his, Itamar Kubovy, who visited their unhappy dorm room: “Editor’s note: Winter, Kubovy, and I went to high school together in New Haven, and Winter’s family and mine were friends.” That “high school” was Hopkins, currently ranked as the second-best private high school in Connecticut (fullest-possible disclosure: mine is ranked No. 14). So the story Miller is telling is about how a jock from the No. 5 private high school in Maryland was a jerk to his roommate who went to the No. 2 private high school in Connecticut, and who years later communicated the story to a reporter who also went to that same No. 2 private high school, who then wrote it up as a tale of social stratification for our times.

To be clear, there are genuine working-class kids at Ivy League schools, and nerds whose nerdery is too pure for them to care about social networking, and minority or immigrant kids who come in with zero preparation for the rarefied environment and find themselves adrift and miserable. But a great many of the people who populate those schools, a great many of the people who complain about preppy creeps and rich jocks even as they try to imitate them, a great many of the people whose essays on What Kavanaugh Represents are populating elite-media websites these days, are much more like the “elites and legacies” than their self-image permits them to admit.

That knowledge should color how we interpret the current frenzy of stories about his character and world. I have said before that I think there’s a reasonable case for withdrawing Kavanaugh’s nomination, and his angry partisanship and evasiveness under cross-examination last week did not make me optimistic about what his elevation will mean for the country.

But people also need to recognize that the “profile” we’re being given of Kavanaugh — a creature of privilege who drank a lot in college and sometimes struck other people as a jerk — isn’t the narrow profile of a rapist, and isn’t even the somewhat more expansive profile of a particular kind of arrogant preppy. It’s a profile that fits many of the same people attacking him today — and so part of what we’re watching is one group of meritocrats returning to their undergraduate resentments and trying to pin on Georgetown Prep graduates the vices that define our entire depressing class.

If I had known Brett Kavanaugh casually freshman year of college, I probably would have disliked him. But across four years at Harvard I watched the freshman-fall patterns of the preppiest students get imitated, adopted and reproduced by, well, most of us. And I often found that the worst people in that elite culture — including myself on my worst days — weren’t the most privileged kids but the hyper-ambitious ones obsessed with vaulting over them.

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