03.25.19 | Collapse of Trust

Psychologists sometime speak of the false self. Now apply the term in the most literal sense to the unfolding world of the elite college selection process -- from the extremes of the reported world of photoshopped faux athletes and bribed entrance exam proctors to the more mundane examples of the oft-cited ghostwritten essays, fudged transcripts and tightly focused preparation courses. The notion that certain applicant "positioning" may be quite legal (e.g. one's check-the-box performance for years and years in advance as if to edit oneself into some sort of standout doppelgänger) does not change the fact of the underlying motivation is essentially one of creating an inauthentic self.

While there has long been the suspicion of tilted scales out there, the poignancy of the recent revelations is due to most everyone's personal experience with the underlying application process. Those who ran the gauntlet straight best understand what it means to run it crooked. Therein lies the rub and the resentment -- it's George Bailey (Mr. Everyman) in It's A Wonderful Life appealing to Mr. Potter (Mr. Concentrated Wealth) for a certain sense of common decency and fundamental fairness only to hear, "sentimental hogwash."

Sentimental hogwash. Trust. Our focus article Why we stopped trusting elites | News | The Guardian, which predates the current entrance exam scandal, is an impressive and compelling piece, not on the scandal per se, but on the broader encompassing issue i.e. the role of diminished trust in the fabric of society. Lessons learned in gaming one system set the stage for the broader arena. 
The trust so essential in a properly-functioning representative democracy becomes even more so with increasing government complexity. We previously addressed the phenomenon of growing government complexity (MM 3/27/17 | Kludgeocracy in America) and, with it, the opportunities to exploit such (MM 5/7/18 | Land of the Lawless). Complexity leads to a greater emphasis on the letter (i.e. the more laws/regulations the more loopholes to exploit) than on the spirit of the law. Yet, not even the most hyper-legalistic government could survive an establishment fundamentally rooted in deceit.   

Yes, we've addressed the well-understood issues surrounding the current administration's "liberties" with the truth in this "postmodern" era (MM 2/26/18 | Truth and Postmodernism). But this is a non-partisan matter. Those making up the entire liberal establishment -- journalists, politicians, judges, experts -- likewise have a fundamental responsibility to sustain the complex web of trust relations. 

May such trust start with the selection and education of the elites in the first place. Therein lies the importance of the current elite college entrance exam scandal.    

Steve SmithComment