22 December 2020

Uncredentialled Link Sausage Platter

Neither "journalistic credentials" nor any other kind.

  • So there's a book out decrying not so much the concept as the implementation of so-called "meritocracy." The book — and, for that matter book reviews from multiple sources — misses by a wide margin: "Meritocracy" doesn't come from input potential as measured by not just imperfect, but class-predictive, instruments like "test scores" and "grade-point averages." Both the book and the reviews fail to see the Jimmy Carter problem: The greatest achievement being admission to "the club" in the first place, with the four years thereafter largely wasted, diffuse, spent hobnobbing with some extremely questionable characters (whether "Skull and Bones" or "Senators" is immaterial), and (to put it extremely charitably) not marked by significant achievement — other than coming out at the end with the credential. "Degree from selective school." "Ex-President." Hell, that last is the same credential that the Orange One will be able to claim in a month; he will demand to be addressed as "Mr President" for the remainder of his natural life, and it wouldn't surprise me if his executors demanded such in material published after his death.

    The real problem with measuring "meritocracy" this way is that it neglects the costs and barriers involved not in getting "admitted to the club" — as considerable as they are — but in maintaining membership in the club. There's not a word in there concerning, say, a decision not to try to stretch "student aid" to cover a family, or deal with medical challenges, or the racism involved in the pre-admission measuring instruments, or perhaps most damningly interests not well served by the meritocratic institutions like "laboratory science" and "engineering" and "accomplishment in the arts." Really: Name a top scientist, engineer, composer, author, etc. who has/had a multiple-degree "pure Ivy" education. (I'm carefully ignoring the outlier area of study here — it does work for law, or at least more so than in other fields; that, however, is more an indictment of law than anything else.)

    This argument is ultimately equivalent to pontificating perforce that a burger made with free-range grass-fed beef is always superior to one that isn't. Even when the one with "superior" beef was oversalted and left out on the counter for 45 minutes before serving. In short, it's really easy to ruin the "superior ingredients"…

  • Which runs right into another "elitism" problem: The military academies. On one hand, Mr Cohen's piece at The Hill aptly points out how little connection the future meritocracy has with the military, which is all to the good. The fundamental problem, though, is that Mr Cohen makes the mistake of identifying "the military" with "the Academies." Bluntly, if the objective is to cross-expose officers and civilians, do it with ROTC programs and shut down the damned monasteries (whose actual educational mission ceased being necessary some time in the 1920s).

    The monasteries themselves have consequences, as the Air Force has "recently discovered" to its chagrin. Reading between the lines of that report will disclose what became apparent to those of us who were nonrated line officers in the 1980s: That the combination of "monastic Academy environment" and, umm, demographics resulted in frequent miscommunication and misperception between junior-officer Academy graduates and the enlisted force under their supervision. There was still a distance with the college-graduate ROTC and OTS junior officers, but not nearly so distinct nor so unacknowledged. And the Air Force (more than the other services) further reinforces this problem with the rated/nonrated distinction in promotion and senior leadership… and the infiltration and cooptation of the Academy since the 1970s by white evangelicals, but that's for another time. Once again, we have a presumption of "input determines output" that is not justified in any sense. Except, perhaps, that of maintaining the status quo, a job at which it excels.

  • All of which is a reflection of other credentialling issues. I have frightened and not-so-fond memories of walking through coding and system-interface "issues" in the 1980s concerning aircraft that even then were in the nine-figures-per-airframe range… I didn't have a CS or EE degree, they did…
  • …which sort of leads right into the question of exactly what those well-credentialled "economists" who continue to advocate for trickle-down economics really learned. Despite their fancy formulae, they never did any lab time, so they don't really understand divide-by-zero errors (hint: there's a potential divide-by-zero built into the math purportedly underlying the Laffer curve), let alone "GIGO" or "unfavorable excursion" or "Monte Carlo simulation" or "Markov chain." Most especially those economists who've never had to do a 10pm delivery of food to the dependants of a suddenly-deployed NCO so that the kids would have enough to eat — and it wasn't "bad planning by the NCO," either. <SARCASM> I wonder if Purple Hearts trickle up? </SARCASM>
  • Actual musical creativity — whether "compositionally" or "performance" — sure as hell doesn't. Except in certain subareas of music, that is, and that leads to more, and more disturbing, inquiries than are probably appropriate this close to a near kiss between an old god and an even older god (who ate all of the old god's siblings).