"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Society’s One Percent–Unique, Creative, And Indispensable

Everything is subject to the Bell Curve, the normal distribution of people and events. Einstein, Kant, and Shakespeare were at one asymptote representing those with intelligence so rare that it is shared with very few. Severely mentally retarded adults are at the other end of the scale, doomed by crossed and defective genes to never advance beyond the age of a child; and the rest of us are in the middle, under arc of the curve, sharing modest intelligence with millions.

Bell Curve

Artistic talent, practical genius, and religious insight all are subject to normal distribution.  There are just as brilliant Jivaro Indians in the Amazon as there are Descartes or Picasso. You only have to know where to look. They are the best hunters, the most accurate prophesiers, and the most charismatic priests.  They have been gifted with native abilities and the particular energy and ambition to use them.

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Wealth is a result of brains, creativity, savvy, and energy; and it is no surprise that it too is subject to the normal distribution.  The One Percent have made it to the top of the economic pyramid – or in statistical terms, to the asymptotic end of the curve – because of these talents.  To be sure, many of the most economically advantaged Americans have been given a hand – inherited wealth, breeding, and social position– but many more have achieved status and wealth on their own.

The brief against the One Percent is that they have accumulated their wealth at the expense of others; but exploitation is at the heart of capitalism.  Businesses have always tried to sell products at the highest price and lowest cost, and if they can disguise poor inherent quality with ascribed value - sexiness, allure, status, or cool – so much the better. 

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“There’s a sucker born every minute” has been unspoken rule of business since the days of barter. 

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‘Progressive’ critics blame the mortgage industry and investment banks for the subprime crisis; but it would never have occurred if consumers had not signed up for loans which were too good to be true.  Businesses are not social service agencies, responsible for guiding uneducated buyers to the right and best purchases.  Caveat emptor has been increasingly regulated, but sellers have always found ways around them.

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In any case, the One Percent do what good capitalists have always done – find loopholes, live on the margins of ethics and the law, exploit consumer weakness, and carve out profitable niches.  They are wealthy because they have been born with natural talent, have had the drive and will to succeed, and have honed the abilities necessary to make it in a competitive economy.

The issues underlying the normal curve are excellence and disadvantage – how to promote, encourage, and reward excellence; and how to accommodate the needs of the less able and less fortunate. Most of the attention has been paid to the underclass. Public welfare, based on compassion and concerns for social equality, however, has inhibited the very factors that promote progress, enterprise, and socio-economic success. A culture of entitlement has resulted from decades of patronizing largesse, and the values of individual responsibility, discipline, and work have been eroded.

Little attention has been paid to promoting a culture of excellence, especially in education. The progressive ethos of communalism has consigned the intellectually gifted to the slow lane of cooperative learning.  Millions of dollars are spent encouraging self-esteem and multiple intelligences, and relatively few on identifying, nurturing, and promoting the especially talented.

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This inverted ethos has created a culture of mediocrity.  Children are not pushed to their academic limits, criticized for poor performance, or rewarded for excellence. It has become unseemly and anti-democratic to admit that there is a normal curve working within every institution; and that there will be students far more able than the majority in the classroom.

Everything in public education is skewed to the bottom end of the ability scale; and except for those unique public schools in wealthy suburbs which are comparable to their private counterparts, smart students are given short shrift. “They will always do OK”, goes the litany, “but the slower children need our help”.

While this is partially true, it ignores the importance of a competitive, challenging environment.  Intelligent students, already easily bored unless challenged, become intellectually listless and soon can lose whatever ambition they might have had.  The goal of public education is not just to accommodate children with special needs, modest intelligence, and low ambition; but to motivate the talented to achieve, perform, and execute to the maximum of their potential.

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The One Percent is a small but disproportionately influential group; and accession to it should be the goal of every student.  Not every graduate of P.S. 112 should aspire to Wall Street but to academia, the arts, engineering, or architecture.  The real One Percent – the positive asymptote of the normal curve – is truly diverse.  There is no accounting for high intelligence and the ways it is expressed.

The Harvard Red Book is a good example of the enterprise, confidence, and ability of this real One Percent.  It is a journal written by Harvard graduates five years after they graduate and every five years thereafter. The initial five- and ten-year editions display the intellectual energy and drive of former students.  They may have started off as lawyers, doctors, or architects; but when the found that their chosen career paths were less rewarding than they had expected, they changed them; and went on to perform well and succeed in them.

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Many of these Harvard graduates go on to become the economic One Percent, wealthy beyond expectation and far more than most of their classmates; but many more ultimately choose professions that are personally satisfying and beneficial to society. They understand that personal achievement almost always results in social gain.

The point is that the dimensions of the cultural One Percent could be significantly widened if excellence were given its due.  If success, achievement, creativity, innovation were held up as the most important standards of American culture.  These attributes, of course, have always been hallmarks of American culture; but they have been eroded and devalued over the years.  Those in the One Percent have risen there because of a unique drive for success, not because society has rewarded them from the beginning.  If less tolerance for failure were allowed and less credit given for those academic or personal characteristics unrelated to success in the competitive environment of 2015, the better off both students and country would be.

There is a vicious circle in public education.  The more that students flee failing schools for private institutions, leaving a hardcore of hard-to-educate children; the more teachers are trained and oriented towards meeting the needs of the lowest common denominator.  That, combined with the ethos of self-esteem and collaborative learning, produces an environment antithetical to excellence.

A culture of excellence benefits everyone – those talented children who need encouragement, those who can achieve more than previously expected of them, and the society that receives them.

The generic,‘real’ One Percent, is what makes America strong, dynamic, and entrepreneurial; and every attempt should be made to enable it to grow and prosper. Liberal critics who cry elitism, excessive privilege, and unnecessary wealth inhibit the growth of the country’s new, modern, inclusive version of The Ruling Class.

1 comment:

  1. That's true. Your writing was awesome. Many USA churches do need private source for church financing in USA since churches there are facing foreclosing.


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