The Judgment of High School

“For that, Major, I will accept the judgment of posterity.

-Karl Stromberg, “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)

Modern American cultures, even the otherwise heterodox sub-cultures, generally hold to at least some variant of the major three controlling ideologies of the regime, Egalitarianism, Individualism, and Meritocracy.  Oddly enough, even the most heterodox among them cling to a particular variant of meritocracy, despite some of these same sub-cultures overtly denouncing almost every other element of the modern culture.

Meritocracy, at least in it’s modern usage, can be reasonably broken down as “People reach their position on their own merits”.  In it’s more applied version, pre-selection, it is an extremely powerful force that works in ways that often defy common understanding or even official codified policy.  It might not be overstating the case to indicate that an understanding of Meritocracy and Pre-Selection, as they actually function, accounts for the majority of the otherwise questionable decisions made by large organizations.

To use an example that is fairly non-controversial, nearly the entire active roster of the NFL comes from the ranks of collegiate football programs of the so-called Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), previously known as “Division I-A”, generally the football programs of the major 5 conferences.  These programs, in turn, each have their own recruiting programs, many of which end up chasing the same pool of prospective students.  This pool, despite the most sincere beliefs found on ESPN, is not comprised of the most genetically gifted and/or hard working students available, it is a pool selected by a number of other programs, be they existing “scout” programs, a University’s own “scouting” program, or the tradition method of High School coaches sending in video.  With modern social media, one presumes highlight tapes are even easier to provide than in prior years.

In any event, the High School, either Public or Private (which creates other issues) coach has already been subject to the same “recruiting pool” issues, only on a much smaller scale.  He will have had to filter out candidates that didn’t meet his standards for whatever reason, presumably had to remove students who had academic or disciplinary issues, and, presumably, only made decisions made on the basis of his coaching position for the best interests of his players in accordance with his local School’s policies*, not by any undue influence from other stakeholders.

This “pool”, which is already limited by geography, policy, and age limitations, was already sorted by yet another set of prior forces.  In short, if someone is not playing at some sort of age-appropriate or age-accelerated level by age 14 (sources vary) at the latest, then they would not be selected for the high school pool without stakeholder intervention.

The author uses this example, which is fairly well understood, if not always appreciated by the relevant parties, as the introduction to the concept of “pre-selection”, as applied in the modern regime.  Where the understanding occasionally fails, even in the most heterodox of sub-cultures, is that versions of this pre-selection occur in almost every conceivable facet of modern society.

Contrary to what elements of the educational elite profess to believe, even the so-called “Public Ivies” aren’t even doing admissions by impartial academic standards, they are doing them based on the SAT/ACT score, which is at least reasonably impartial, but they are using various combinations of weighted GPA, “extra-curriculars”, and whatever “Holistic” measurement the admissions department uses to keep their jobs another year.  Higher on the education food chain, the weighting is such that even children of the near-elite are unlikely to be looked at without extraordinary fact patterns.

However, large portions of our society, even the heterodox sub-cultures, at some level, are willing to accept “The Judgment of High School”.  Be it fitness advocates who would splinter over scholastic athletic careers, political partisans who talk about “X party supporters got picked on in high school”, or even the self-selected followers of the “Red Pill Movement” who fairly openly consider the acquisition of social skills at the secondary education level to be a fundamental prerequisite(2) for successfully navigating their world of competitive social circles.  Even some of the most radical elements of the most radical sub-cultures, some of which otherwise reject the legitimacy of modern educational institutions, can be found comparing themselves to other parties based on their self-reported scholastic achievements (3), be they academic, social, sexual, or athletic.

To briefly discuss a possible, but not exclusive counter-argument, this argument is not saying that there is no such of thing as differences in talents and achievements, this argument is pointing out that many people, including those that would otherwise reject the legitimacy and/or existence of the modern secondary education system, actually accept it’s “Judgments”, and treat them as final.

(1) The author will assume that the reader can understand sarcasm and some knowledge of how this field really works.

(2) Judging from commentary over the years, it appears some individuals involved in that field do not mention this before accepting payment for their instruction.

(3) No names in the comments.

Bullying (Part I)

“What I don’t know, I don’t like
What I don’t like, I don’t want
What I don’t want, I waste”

“Waste” – KMFDM

The original blog posts on which this was based on can be found on PA’s blog here: (First) and (Additional commentary).

Bullying, stripped of the “current year” political uses, is…

Bullying is the de facto appropriation of power by a party who does not have that power de jure.

No sane society can tolerate handing authority to children, Lord of the Flies was not an instruction book. However, we, as a society, have effectively delegated authority to “manage” other children down to young children, after all, who does the average age-segregated child spend more waking hours around, biological family members, an individual teacher/instructor/day care employee, or other age-segregated children? In the modern litigation-friendly environment, schools, day cares, programs, (Henceforth referred to as “Institutions”) all are limited in what levels of “care, custody, and control” they can exercise, but the same logic applies to other children, after all, if one child hits another, that is obviously not assault in the mens rea sense.

That leaves a vast gulf between the perceived and actual physical power of the Institutions, and more importantly, their front-line personnel. To paint an all too realistic situation, if a child is perceived as troublesome, how hard is it for an underpaid employee to “turn a blind eye” while another child hits them? The victim, whatever their “offense” is, has no review, no appeal, no recourse to the courts, the event never took place as far as our society is concerned. Project this logic outwards and you end up with a “Lord of the Flies” situation.

Before our current social atomization, these situations was partially mitigated by family and traditional neighborhood structures. While it was not quite an interlocking series of relationships like the Roman Clientele system, presumably anyone living in a village or neighborhood had blood or marriage ties to other people, or as our economists might say today, Detection and Reputation Risk. In a socially atomized world, there aren’t any structures other than Institutions, and the State to deal with these situations, to the extent that people even know or are willing to accept that they occur in the first place.

In recent decades, it has generally been understood that avoiding physical violence, outside scholastic or collegiate sporting fields and State employment, is a requirement for status. Since at least the 1940s, one did not get good job offers with a reputation for street fights, making avoidance of any paper trail a requirement. The “Zero Tolerance” movement of the 1990s actually made things far worse, turning into a way for administrators to remove or otherwise neutralize “disruptive” children and blaming higher authority. It turned out that neutralizing “disruptive” students from status-seeking families was far easier when violence against them would result in an administrative proceeding to threaten their future status, or as it used to be referred to as, “The Permanent Record”. For those that the respective personnel did not want to neutralize, there was always appeals, fact-finding, and the simple expedient of never reporting the incident.

In the above examples or situations, there was fairly little malice, as it is commonly understood, by the Institution proper, only decisions, perhaps made in seconds when dealing with children, made by front-line personnel that may or may not be employed by that institution, may or may not have their own legal, moral, and family obligations, and may or may not rely on that institution for their status and/or livelihood. There does not need to be a formal decision on a memo that “we will make Chad king of the playground”, there only needs to be quiet indifference from one or two front-line personnel that Chad may engage in violence without effective response. In fact, if another child engages in defense, that would create an altercation that must be responded to, which makes that front-line personnel’s day more difficult. The incentives are for these problems to go away.

From an individual actor perspective, the issue has been resolved by the simple expedient of not becoming an issue in the first place. From a legal perspective, there is no issue. From Chad’s perspective, violence worked. From a social and systems viewpoint, the de jure authority of the institution has been effectively de facto usurped by Chad without any response.

Polis Architecture, now and then

“The entire character of a base and its inhabitants can be absorbed in a quick trip to the Rec Commons. The sweaty arenas of Fort Legion, the glittering gambling halls of Morgan Bank, the sunny lovers’ trysts in Gaia’s High Garden, or the somber reading rooms of U.N. Headquarters. Even the feeding bay at the Hive gives stark insight into the sleeping demons of Yang’s communal utopia.”

-Commissioner Pravin Lal, “A Social History of Planet”

We live in an era of unprecedented engineering accomplishments.  A member of the Western Middle Class, bearing the right passport, can eat breakfast in their hometown, and have dinner on another continent, time differences permitting.  All but the smallest and most remote regions of the developed world are served by a regular and reliable set of transportation nodes.  Modern construction equipment can move literal mountains in months, assuming one has the proper paperwork (or bribes).

Historically, most city-states, the polis as the Greeks (and later Romans) termed it, have had some form of public architecture.  In fact, as late as the 1940s, it was considered rather unusual for a city not to have a distinctive architecture, see much of the negative commentary directed towards Orange County developments in California, and the negative public views towards the sprawl of post-war London.  From Egypt, the Forbidden City, Palatine Hill, the Hagia Sophia, Westminster, to Wall Street, the powerful Polis of the day has always had architecture to demonstrate it’s power, and to provide key services.

To the great medieval cities, perhaps not on the level of the Imperial Capitals of the day, constructing a Cathedral was the act of becoming a major city, to stop up to being poleis, and they moved the proverbial “Heaven and Earth” to get there.  Venice’s great bridges could take years of taxation and contributions, and Cologne, perhaps not wanting to be outdone in the history of construction project overruns, took 632 years to finish to the original plan.  By comparison, the most impressive construction projects of the modern Western World, in dollar value, are either pork barrel projects like Boston’s Big Dig, or Casinos, most notably in Las Vegas.

Polis, in the traditional sense, do not exist in the modern western world.  If an urban center wished to spent 10 years of tax revenue to build a public building, it could only be a sports arena, and it would be conveyed to a private, connected interest.  Even then, this arena would be divided into different classes and sliced and diced like a mortgage backed security into so much ticket inventory.  While many of the most elite corporations and organizations in each city are willing to buy skyboxes, they are meant as tokens of their power to be shown to prospective clients or to family members, not to show their membership in the greater civic fabric.

While people generally do not value what is given to them, marketing everything to the price of a basic ticket means that entertainment must be marketed to the lowest paying denominator.  Tens of thousands arrive, masticate greasy food, cheer for a given set of mercenaries, and leave with little or no more connection to the polis then when they arrived.   Whatever else can be said about the great civic works of the past, they do not lack for inspiring some sort of feelings towards the polis.

 

The historical overview of Social Atomization

“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately” –Benjamin Franklin

By any reasonable standard, the median person in the Western world is more socially atomized, or an individual not attached to an identifiable group, or groups, in the larger society, than at any time in recorded history with the possible exception of Pharaoh’s Egypt. Some go so far as to hold this state as a virtue, of a victory of the powers of individualism over collectivism.  The later view can be considered reasonable when viewed in context, and will be explored in a future post.

In the United States, since President Lyndon Johnson’s creation of the Great Society, as expanded by his successors, the biggest single provider to the median working adult is either a large, probably publically traded bureaucratic employer, or one of the various levels of government. Environments where, except for those of us lucky enough to be blessed with a powerful relative, close knit social groups confer minimal advantage, and where such social groups might be seen as threats to the organization.

To give one of many examples, since the advent of cheap rag pulp paper, the “yellow tabloids” of the turn of the 20th century, the act of publicly reading news and ideas, previously a centerpiece of at least weekly cultural activity, has been completely replaced.  Where previously a newspaper was considered to be a valuable information medium to be publicly shared in the local public house, almost every city now has a free newspaper that is not even read.

Transportation, at least outside the noble class, was once difficult and rare. To move away from one’s entire friends and family was considered, at the very least, a rare event in the median person’s lifetime.  Only in the 1840s was the rail transportation system of England cheap and reliable enough to allow for holiday trips to home villages, so there was an incentive to put down roots as soon as possible in a new environment.  The same level of reliable transportation would spread throughout the world slowly, not until the advent of intra-city motorbus transportation was point to point transportation to any decent sized urban area an economically sound proposition.

Where even local politics were considered matters of major local import, if for no other reason than the spoils system of political patronage, now they can be seen as retirement jobs for local minor personages who are looking for a steady pension.  It is not difficult to find surveys showing an inability for most residents of the United States to name their local State legislators, or their federal legislators for that matter.

In the current year, Social Atomization should not be considered a hypothetical, but a baseline fact for anyone interested in the study of social dynamics, strategy, cultural development, or politics. To use the models popularized as recently as the 1980s, such as the direct mail campaigns that financed many political causes and organizations as recently as the 2000s, is to invite failure.

Overture

“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

Dune, Frank Herbert

This blog is meant to explore themes of our daily lives and the grand performance that is the opera of the current year.  As time goes on, this blog will fill up both with my “musings”, but also with the views of our fellow travelers and commentators.  For those who know of my writings and my views, welcome aboard.  For those of you not familiar with them yet, enjoy the ride.