Twofish's Blog

September 24, 2007

Notes on academia, power, and influence

Filed under: academia, economics, harvard, iraq, massachusetts institute of technology — twofish @ 5:19 am

Some notes that I made on the admissions system of elite universities

The way that the admission system works is that your kid’s application to Harvard gets placed in one of several queues, based mainly on the part of the country that you apply from. If you have a relative that went to Harvard or if you donate a huge amount of money, then you get put into a special queue, in which you are compete against the other people who have rich and connected parents. Only a small fraction of people who go to Harvard go through that “legacy queue” but the people who get into that queue is even smaller, so your chances of getting in are far higher if you get into that queue. Also, this is only for undergrad admissions, none of the professional schools do this.

And the people designed this system, *did* intentionally set things up to perpetuate their power and status. If it is one constant in history that is that people with power and status do everything that the can to keep their power and status, and this often involves making deals with people who can challenge them. The admissions systems of the elite universities can been seen as a deal between the upper class power elite, and the upper middle class “want to be’s”. The upper class needs to keep the upper middle class happy since the upper middle class has the means and resources to overthrow the upper class if they wanted to. By making most of the positions in Harvard open to the upper middle class, their threat is neutralized.

What makes the system work also is that US has a Federal multi-party system. If you want to be among the people who run the United States, you can get there directly through Harvard (graduate Kennedy School, get a job in a think tank or in a staff position in a federal agency). However, if you don’t make it to Harvard, you can be one of the people that run the state of North Carolina by going to University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (become a local lawyer, or state assemblyman, or state court judge), and if you are hungry, ambitious, and lucky enough, you can get to Washington through the local elites. There is also a Republican establishment and a Democratic establishment, and the two groups really don’t like each other that much.

This makes the dynamics of power in the United States vastly different than in Japan or France which don’t have regional elites.

Yes there is a conspiracy in which people with power seek to keep that power. That’s the way that it’s always been, that’s the way it always will be. From time to time, you need to change who is in power, but don’t expect the new people to ultimately behave much better than the people they replaced.

Now the reason I blog is that I don’t like what goes for “news” and “debate” in the media.  What’s there is just professional wrestling and bread and circuses.  The real stuff happens behind closed doors and in quiet discussions.  I do think it is important to talk about how power and influence work in America, and part of what I’m doing is to make some points about how I see it working.  I think society works better if people have enough information to make good decisions on what role they want to play in society.  As for me, the thing that makes me different is that I don’t really think that America has such a bad system.  OK, there is a power elite that runs the country.  So there’s a power elite in every country that runs the country, and the way that the power elite in the United States behaves and responds to external stimuli isn’t particularly bad.  I’ve seen worse.  I’ve seen a lot worse.

I lot of my views on how society works comes from reading Chomsky and Marxist critical theorists.  And I think they have some very good points about how there is a ruling elite, and how that ruling elite runs America. Where I part ways from the critical theorists, is that I really don’t think that they’ve come up with a better system.  Someone is going to end up in charge, and whenever it’s been Marxists, they result hasn’t been very pleasant……

There is one thing that I should point out.  You will notice that the media has been very quiet about Iraq lately.  It’s because the people that really run the country, they know how bad the situation is, and they really have no clue what to do about it.

September 11, 2007

Charles W Eliot’s Education for Efficiency

Filed under: academia, education, harvard, massachusetts institute of technology — twofish @ 5:24 am

A wonderful book by Charles W Eliot about the purpose of education.  The thing that I find remarkable about Eliot is his vision of Harvard University as a mass institution, whose goal was to play an integral part in the transformation and emergence of a new American superpower in the 19th century.  Something that I’ve noticed in Eliot’s work is the element of New England unitarianism.  Education for him was as for me, a means of saving the souls of people, and there was this idea which is deep within unitarianism that all people can and should be saved.

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