Saturday, November 29, 2014

How much does luck and privilege bear on libertarian ideas of meritocracy? Plenty


There is an article by Elbert Ventura on p. 122 of the Fall 2014 Democracy Journal, “Self-Made I America”, link here.
      
The subtitle is telling. “Self-reliance is good thing – but its fetishization has created an elite oblivious to the role luck and privilege play in people’s lives.
   
He makes an example of Mitt Romney in his essay, and coins the words “Randian” or “Randiose” from the John Galt character of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” (which, by the way, is even mentioned in “Boys in the Band” way back in 1970). He also mentions our “libertarian age.” 
    
He says that Elizabeth Warren stops short when she says, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”  Warren keeps it in the range of depending on government and public infrastructure and services, like all good Democrats. But her analysis is “transactional” – and that doesn’t mean “I’m OK, you’re OK”, such a popular mantra in the 1970s.  Earlier writers about this, like David Callahan with "The Cheating Culture" (2004), while criticizing the inheritance of privilege, had kept the ethical discussions within more traditional ideas of "personal responsibility." 
   
Elbert talks about “the capacity to be humble in the face of success, and grateful in the face of privilege.”  He also notes, “the concomitant of self-satisfaction over one’s own achievements is smugness about others’ failures.” 
   


All of this puts me in a double-edged position, of seeing two worlds from the same mountaintop (which might get removed).  If I remain unwillingness to extend myself in the mode of complimentarity at some point, when it really costs something, the less lucky can reasonably get the idea that rules don’t matter.  Indignation and even rage follow.  Just look at current events.  It can get personal.  Besides Noam Chomsky, even teenagers know that now.  


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