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Tuesday, August 1, 2023

In Search Of Excellence - Talent, Expectation, Ambition And The Corrosive Nature Of 'Diversity'

 The Harvard Red Book is a collection of diaries published for each five-year reunion.  The essays are tributes to Harvard's unique education which respects both the moral precepts of its Puritan founders and the pursuit of academic excellence.  Perhaps more than anything Harvard has always conferred a sense of confidence, duty, and purpose, and the Red Book is a chronicle of how graduating students have applied what they have learned - how this sense of intellectual achievement, ethos of high learning, and culture of purposeful ambition has affected their lives. 

The first five-year Red Book is not only a story of first career choices, but the alterations in career paths taken - changes in direction which show both the versatility and supreme confidence of early alumni.  Many, persuaded that the law would be the best conduit for the disciplined learning and rigorous logic acquired at Harvard and immediately went to law school, decided that it was not for them.  Despite the personal and financial investment, confinement in a predictable place was not to be; and on they went to new careers in art, music, medicine, and science. 

This particular Harvard ethos was best exemplified by the Kennedy Administration which, according to historian David Halberstam in his book, The Best and the Brightest, was comprised of a community of Harvard men, all of whom shared the same intellectual brilliance, desire for patriotic service, and commitment to the foundational values of John Harvard and later Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams. 

While such a sense of intellectual and moral superiority had its downside - an overweening assumption of moral right and an often overvalued estimation of personal ability - the Kennedy White House comprised a unique genius cluster; talented men who had made their mark in business, finance, law, and academia, and who welcomed the opportunity to serve a young president who was certain to revitalize the country after the quiescence of the Eisenhower years. 

Kennedy made no apologies for the elite, privileged character of his appointees.  He, unlike the homey, populist Lyndon Johnson who was to follow him, valued intelligence, talent, and style above all else.  There was no room in the White House of an impatient, ambitious president for 'representation'.  Unlike current Democratic presidents who want their administrations to 'look like America', Kennedy wanted his to look like Harvard and Beacon Hill.

Harvard has always valued the process of learning as importantly as the subjects learned; and once a student has become quick and adept at logical analysis and fluent expression of the conclusions obtained, he can master any discipline.  Kennedy expected his Cabinet and staff to contribute to all policy discussions.  Intelligence was not a siloed trait.  War was a complex enterprise and battlefield strategy was but only one of the factors determining engagement.  Presidential policy decisions relied on comprehensive analysis and in Kennedy's mind his smart men were capable of providing a broad but focused review.  

The hardest thing for this elite group to do was to shed prior assumptions - perhaps the one classical element of disciplined reasoning that trumped all others.  Hard as it was to ignore the assumptions about monolithic Communism, Russian and Chinese hegemony, and the universal expansionist notions of Marxism, such objective reasoning was essential to solving the puzzle of conflict.  Surprisingly few of Kennedy's coterie could manage such analyitical objectivity; but they at least were not given to the random, conspiratorial interpretations of the unschooled. Better brilliance with holes than pedestrian consistency. 

The best managers today whether in the public or private sector, choose their staff according to the very same principles as Kennedy.  Choose candidates from Harvard and you will be at least assured of a fungible intelligence, an ability to sift through clutter, to decide rationally and objectively.  Figuring out the nuts and bolts will come.  Of course some degree of specialization will always be required; but good managers can always tap technical resources and use them as needed.  The success of all programs depends on good judgment, an array of talents and skills coalesced into a well-functioning whole, an understanding and appreciation of environmental, exogenous factors, and eyes on the prize - tunnel vision focus on outcomes. 

The culture of 'inclusivity' and 'diversity' is antithetical to this notion of intellectual excellence. The culture of identity places a premium on race, gender, and ethnicity; and focuses more on democratic populism than inherent brilliance. For all Harvard's insistence on affirmative action, it is still regarded by many as an elite place, too far removed from the common people, the oppressed, and the minority poor to be of relevance.  Better minority applicants with a public school record than members of an insular elite who ipso facto are far removed from the unwashed. 

Like it or not, inclusivity and diversity represent a dumbing down of American culture, for by its very nature it values intelligence and talent less than racial, gender, or ethnic identity.  A company as intellectually heady as that of the Kennedy Administration but without diversity cannot stand.

'Diversity' corrupts at all levels.  Primary schools which should be the crucibles of intellectual excellence have lost all authority as they promote the idea of 'multiple intelligences'. Coloring between the lines, singing a tune, or running fast are equal in importance to high performance in math and reading.  Secondary schools are in turn forced to accommodate these ill-prepared students and do so by devising courses which make learning 'more accessible' - familiar offerings about the black experience or visual aides to prompt the most basic reading skills.  

Universities abiding by affirmative action assumptions, admit students with few real academic qualifications - students who will quickly fall behind, drop out, or graduate with few of the skills and abilities to make them viable, productive citizens. 

Companies, under pressure to become more diverse, hire these graduates and suffer the consequences. It is the turn of the screw with no remediation in sight. 

Progressives have succeeded in their principal intention - to disassemble elites and to ensure the patchwork quilt of America where color, sex, and street culture replace brilliance, enterprise, and ambition - but they and we will pay the price.  Our adversaries - Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea - can only laugh at America's dissolution, a country with no universal moral center, no national ethos, no regard for history or historical determinism.  A country of whim and incidental policy.  

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