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Friday, February 22, 2013

 

America's Mandarin Class

The Chinese empire created a "Mandarin Class" that was open to anyone who could pass a series of very tough tests. There's a problem with that. It creates a person who knows to the fiber of his being what the people in power want and giving it to them.

All elites are good at rationalizing their elite-ness, whether it's meritocracy or "the divine right of kings". The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hard-working. It's just that they're also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.

The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve. Since I moved to Washington, I have had series of extraordinary conversations with Washington journalists and policy analysts, in which I remark upon some perfectly ordinary facet of working class, or even business class life, only to have this revelation met with amazement. I once had it suggested to me by a wonk of my acquaintance that I should write an article about how working class places I've worked usually had one or two verbally lightning-fast guys who I envied for their ability to generate an endless series of novel and hilarious one liners to pass the time. I said I'd take it under advisement, but what on earth would one title such an article? [snip]

But many of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school--places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things. There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they're very different from pretty much any other sort of institution.


More and more, the budding mandarin has no experience outside of the experience all other mandarins have.

Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing "enriching" internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete

The mandarins believe their position at the top is the natural order of things. They believe that know what everyone else needs and wants. If those outside that class disagrees, they must be suffering from "false consciousness."
And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there's anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.

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Recommended reading: Angelo Codevilla, The Ruling Class
 
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