The meritocratic lie

That admissions scandal ripped off the bandage and exposed the suppurating ulcer of the “elite” university system, and gives me a handle to vent decades of frustration. I’ve known about this for a long time, but if you try to tell people that Harvard and Stanford are profiting off a facade rather than their actual, material quality, they don’t believe you — the names of those universities have become short cuts to an illusion of earned intelligence. Read this, Higher Education and the Illusion of Meritocracy, though.

The recently revealed admissions scandal seems to have it all: Three Stooges levels of ineptitude, crude Photoshops, six-figure payoffs, corrupt coaches, and a cadre of low-level celebrities for good measure. But those who see this scandal as anything other than a moment of levity are missing the forest for the trees. The U.S. Department of Justice filings confirm what we already knew — or should have known: Elite-college admissions exists chiefly to replicate class privilege.

This became depressingly clear to me during my three years as an assistant dean of admissions at an elite college. I saw how the system is rife with inequities and loopholes; how unscrupulous wealthy people are willing to pay admissions fixers to exploit those loopholes; and how grifters adjacent to the process cash in on whatever influence they wield. As I wrote in The Chronicle Review a little more than a year ago, “Admissions at elite institutions can make a fool and a liar out of anyone.”

It’s not just the abberrant criminality of this event, though, because the whole system is rigged.

Meritocratic admissions at elite institutions is the real scam. The idea of a phony soccer player is goofy for its novelty; Division III athletes being tipped into admitted classes through a warped quota system that benefits wealthy white men is a grim reality. The construction of a fabricated profile with illegitimate test scores and extracurriculars is tragicomic; a prep-school applicant carefully curated by elite counselors, tutors, essay writers, and independent admissions advisers is routine.

In short, the real corruption of elite-college admissions is more mundane than this scandal suggests, though far more deleterious to America’s meritocratic ideals. To view this scandal as the problem is to unintentionally reinforce the actual problem: In a truly meritocratic society, higher education should correct inequity; instead, elite higher education exacerbates inequity.

Worse — even if you get in (which is unlikely if you’re not a member of a privileged class), you’re screwed and are just perpetuating a criminally capitalistic system.

Jack outlines how top colleges and universities are and have long been havens of the wealthy. In 2017, a team led by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that students coming from families in the top 1 percent—those who make more than $630,000 a year—are 77 times more likely to be admitted to and attend an Ivy League school than students coming from families who make less than $30,000 a year. Furthermore, the study found that 38 elite colleges have more students who come from families in the top 1 percent than students who come from the bottom 60 percent (families making less than $65,000 a year). In other research, Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, have documented how just 14 percent of undergraduates at the most competitive schools—places like Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia—come from families who make up the bottom half of U.S. income distribution.

This got me pissed off enough to make a video about it last week, although I don’t think it’s very good — it’s too long, and I could have been a lot more pithy. I should have said “fuck” more.

But then this week I watched The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and realized that she’s just another symptom of the whole rotten system. She was a Stanford drop-out, which isn’t an indictment of Stanford … it says the system is screwed up when people attend that university, not for the knowledge they can learn there — which is the core function of the university, which they do very well — but for making the connections that will make them rich and be the entry way to the 1%. Holmes dropped out as soon as she realized that she didn’t actually need to learn engineering, or biochemistry, or medicine, or pharmacology, or any of the actual utility of a university education. She comes from a family with connections, she could make more connections with bald-faced lying. The chief lesson she learned from that “elite” university is that the pretense of merit is more valuable than the substance of merit.

She didn’t have to convince anyone in biomedicine. She knew where the power lies: in old white men. In James Mattis and George Schultz, Sam Nunn and Henry Fucking-Burn-In-Hell Kissinger. She got the backing of Rupert Murdoch and Larry Ellison and Bill Clinton. None of these people have any competence in biomedicine (one could even argue that they don’t have much competence in anything, other than leeching off the public, which they are very, very good at). The corruption runs all the way from an overly ambitious and not very knowledgeable 19 year old, to retired heads of state who’ve been coasting on wealth and power to more wealth and power.

You want to know where the rot in the “elite” universities leads? Straight to Elizabeth Holmes, the poster girl for pseudo-meritocracy. It was so predictable that on the day the Wall Street Journal broke the story of the Theranos fraud, Holmes was unavailable because she was off being inducted into the Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows. Of course she was. Rich liars are exactly the kind of people they want at the top of university administration.

Seriously, look at the Theranos board. It’s a web of connections to other wealthy people, nothing more. If you see any of those names on any company anywhere, run. They’re empty figureheads who’ll screw everything up. Holmes belongs in prison, but so do all those untouchable fat cats who manipulate the system.

Is ‘litigiosity’ a word? It ought to be.

Good news for lawyers everywhere! We have managed to completely pay off our lawyer, Marc Randazza! The Carrier lawsuit is over, ending in victory for the side of goodness, he says, as he gazes out over the shambles of his finances. We paid him off, but all of us defendants together are in the hole for <gulp> $20,000, so we’re not closing our fundraiser yet, and I’m still holding out my hat for personal donations. Good lawyers, it turns out, aren’t cheap, and litigious assholes willing to sell their soul to misogynistic, racist haters can mobilize more cash than we can.

And our society does breed for litigious assholes. Case in point: Devin Nunes is suing Twitter, “Devin Nunes’ Mom”, and “Devin Nunes’ Cow” for $250 million dollars. It’s absurd. It’s doomed (although his lawyers will profit). All it accomplishes is to further promote people who are laughing at him. I would never have seen this, for instance, if it weren’t one of many insults featured in his filing:

You may be thinking that the defendants might need some help protecting themselves from this frivolous and excessive nuisance, but really, Twitter’s lawyers are laughing themselves sick right now. If you are inspired to help an underdog, donate to me instead.

Man, I’m thinking that if there were a poll to name the dumbest person on the internet, and the choices were Jim Hoft, Jacob Wohl, Charlie Kirk, Donald Trump, or Devin Nunes, I wouldn’t know who to vote for.

Gaslit by the alt-right

Here we go again. People are arguing that “subscribe to Pewdiepie” and flashing the OK sign are not Nazi signifiers. They’re half right. Pewdiepie is not a Nazi; he’s a Nazi stooge. Likewise, all those photos of idiots giving the OK sign to ‘trigger the libs’ aren’t literal Nazis, they’re just idiot Nazi enablers. Here’s a useful explainer from some asshole on one of the chans:

By the way, if you try to argue that you “simply enjoy Pewdiepie’s content”, which is stupid, repetitive, unoriginal, and obnoxious, I already have grounds to call you a liar.

They think it’s all a game, but they also know what they’re doing. Amanda Marcotte gets it.

Racism is no longer “ironic” when the racists are murdering people. It’s not just “trolling” when you shoot dozens of people in the head.

The fact that Brenton Tarrant is likely a mass murderer doesn’t mean he’s not a troll, however. He is both. He livestreamed his killing spree and posted an online manifesto that is stuffed full of alt-right memes and inside jokes, making it quite clear that one of his main goals in murdering all those people was, in internet parlance, “the lulz.” Messing with the libs is what trolls like Tarrant live for, and it turns out that nothing messes with people’s heads quite like mass murder.

The fascist strategy works this way: You “shroud your sincere ideas in cartoon characters and memes and then, when called out, you mock your accuser for being a clueless normie who isn’t in on the joke,” as vlogger Natalie Wynn explained in her indispensable video “Decrypting the Alt-Right,” released after the Charlottesville riot in 2017.

Another familiar term for this is gaslighting. They are playing with your head: they endorse atrocities right in front of you, and then deny that that’s what they’re doing. And then they commit atrocities and try the same game of plausible deniability, except it’s no longer plausible. It’s no longer funny in any sense if you’re trying to publicly show sympathy for a movement that murders innocents.

This is why, even though the era of the OK sign as a troll may be over, the larger dynamic behind it is still in effect. Public figures will make gestures of sympathy with white nationalism and then deny that’s what they’re doing. Journalists, unable to read their thoughts and prove they’re lying, are stuck over and over again having to write, “Well, there’s no way to know for certain.”

Perhaps after this debacle folks in mainstream media will be a little less quick to mock leftists for believing that people on the right are using symbols and other coded gestures to signal their sympathy for a toxic and hateful cause.

Also note that HBomberGuy pointed this out over a two years ago. Figure it out, people. It’s past due.

You’re in a group photo where everyone is making the OK gesture? Don’t try to laugh it off. All I’m going to say is “Fuck you.”

We aren’t giving the internet enough credit, or we’re giving people too much credit?

I found this on the internet (!), and had to share.

Yes, it’s obvious. The United States is an anomalous mess, and when you compare it to other countries, it’s hard to believe people still think we are and have been the greatest country on Earth. The catch is, though, that people aren’t rational. The operative phrase is “our country”, where anyone criticizing any aspect of what is ours are attacking us and insulting our personal shambles, and instead of thinking that we could improve by taking those criticisms to heart, we embrace our flaws as evidence of our greatness.

And it’s killing us.

It’s hard to believe, but a large percentage of the US population would rather sicken and die than challenge the system that fastens insurance company parasites on us from the day we’re born. That would rather fatten CEOs and corporations than see a fair work load for the middle class. That would rather maintain systems of inequity than help our brothers and sisters prosper.

So, yes, the internet should make us aware of better alternatives. It’s too bad that so many of us would rather watch Fox News and be told how great we are.

Our useless social media

It’s been depressing watching these social media services scramble to cover their butts after a tragedy they fed.

So, Facebook, you’re telling me you’ve got 1.5 million assholes under your wing who rush to display pornographically violent videos, and you’ve managed to block individual instances of scumbaggery? That’s supposed to make me happy to be part of your big internet party? What I’d like to see is more thorough screening of the sources of this poison, but that’s not going to happen. You want to sell ads to neo-Nazis.

Right, YouTube. You’re a haven for right-wing jerks; you’ve built algorithms that drive traffic to, and monetize, misogyny, racism, and stupidity. You ought to look in the mirror at yourself and recognize that if vapid, worthless content like that produced by Pewdiepie and the Paul brothers is the most popular shit on the service, you’re doing something wrong. Something seriously wrong. You reward scumbaggery. But oh yes, when you’ve got a narrowly specific item that you can remove without offending legions of trolls, you can clean that up and pat yourself on the back for it.

People are being murdered and our governments are a shambles, and the big players in social media like to pretend that they are apolitical purveyors of totally free speech. Nothing is apolitical, and free speech has become an empty mantra recited by the deplorables to defend shitposting. Thanks to you.

Rush Limbaugh has a theory

Of course he went there, because Limbaugh is a malignant fusion of a puckered asshole with a gasbag filled with toxic flatulence. He rushed to claim that a terrorist attack with 49 dead is a “false flag”.

Another thing that happens here when these events happen, you have all kinds of speculation that erupts. And there is an ongoing theory — Mr. Snerdley, correct me if I’m wrong about this. There’s an ongoing theory that the shooter himself may in fact be a leftist who writes the manifesto and then goes out and performs the deed purposely to smear his political enemies, knowing he’s going to get shot in the process. You know you just can’t — you can’t immediately discount this. The left is this insane, they are this crazy. And then if that’s exactly what the guy is trying to do then he’s hit a home run, because right there on Fox News: “Shooter is an admitted white nationalist who hates immigrants.”

He even precedes it with the mention of all kinds of speculation, and then goes ahead to excrete that nonsense. The left is this insane, crazy, but at least we aren’t trying to bury other peoples’ pain in an avalanche of shitty “theorizing”. Here’s an alternative theory that is much more plausible.

People still listen to that noxious pill-swilling, sex-trafficking scumbag? What a world.

Fraser Anning says, “hold my beer.”

Right after I declare that I’ve found the worst take on the Christchurch terrorist attack, what happens? I find Australian politician Fraser Anning’s declaration of who is really at fault here.

The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place. And he quotes the Christian bible.

Fuck me. I’ve got to get off the internet for a while.

The worst take on the Christchurch mass murder

So I wake up bright and early this morning, and first thing on my mind is the horror in New Zealand — I can’t imagine the nightmarish terror the victims suffered, and most of all, I can’t imagine the baseless hatred that inspired the murdering Nazis to open fire with assault rifles on unarmed men, women, and children. I’m still trying to understand.

And then I run across this one article that stopped me cold. I could not believe anyone wrote this. You see, one of the terrorists, who was live-streaming his evil, told everyone to subscribe to Pewdiepie on YouTube.

Soon after the world heard the gunman utter ‘PewDiePie’, hate had begun on the Internet.

Think about that. Hate had been festering on the internet long before those words were spoken; the evidence is that the terrorists had been fueled on 8chan and other sites where hating Muslims is de rigueur. And the terrorists were clearly motivated by hate. But that’s not what the writer was concerned about.

They were appalled that people were hating on Pewdiepie. The bodies were lying cold in their blood on the streets and the floor of the mosque, and oh no, we must be concerned about the real victim here, a poor innocent YouTube multimillionaire.

But thankfully, there are sane people too in this world. And on the Internet. At the time of writing this, #PewdiPie is trending on Twitter and lots of them have come out to show support to the YouTuber.

WHAT THE FUCK. There is a mass murder by terrorists, and we’re supposed to be relieved that, thank god, at least #PewdiPie is trending on Twitter. Jesus.

How dare you bring up a “political agenda” now in order to question the political agenda that has been thriving in the alt-right infested sewers of Twitter and YouTube. Not now. Not after that political agenda has successfully managed to murder at least 50 people. News18 and this ‘MightyKeef’ wackaloon are representative of a political agenda that they don’t want questioned.

But here’s the thing: I don’t hate Pewdiepie, and I don’t think anyone else should, either. He’s a racist idiot who has lucked onto a popular strategem. He didn’t tell anyone to go murder anyone else. He’s a symptom not the cause, the recipient of an ugly glitch in YouTube’s algorithm for recommending channels, which apparently reinforces popularity with a swirling vortex of chaos that makes him more popular. Fuck Pewdiepie. He’s a talentless nothing, so don’t blame him.

Instead, hate the 89 million mindless, mush-brained fuckwits who subscribe to his attention-seeking noise.

Unsubscribe from Pewdiepie if you’re one of them.

Uh-oh. I just encouraged an insane act of terrorism, I guess. Reducing his subscriber count is worse than blowing a child’s head off with an AK-47.

Nazi terrorist on murder spree in New Zealand

A monstrous act by an evil radical. He filmed himself like he was playing a video game.

In the first few minutes, the gunman says, “Remember lads, subscribe to Pewdiepie,” a popular Swedish YouTuber who has spewed racial slurs and made anti-Semitic comments on his channel.

A Twitter account that appeared to be associated with the gunman posted photos of the weapons used in the attack footage. The user also appears to have shared links to a manifesto around the time the shooting began.

At more than 74 pages, the document outlines a white supremacist motivation for the attack. The writer, who identifies himself as a 28-year-old white man born in Australia, quotes the so-called 14 Words, the slogan shared by white supremacists worldwide. He said that while he supported white nationalist groups, he alone had decided to carry out the attack. He described the victims as “invaders” and accused them of seeking to replace white people. He wrote about attacking two mosques, one in Linwood and one in Christchurch. He focused on the latter because it was the largest, he wrote.

No more tolerance for fascists.

Puncturing the myth of the elite college

As an old college professor, I have a few secrets to reveal to you.

There is no such thing as an elite college. That’s something that rich colleges like to call themselves, and when other colleges claim that, all they’re really saying is that they aspire to be rich. Harvard isn’t a better educational institution than your local community college — in a lot of ways, CCs are better because the teachers are just as dedicated (they have to be, they’re getting paid a lot less) and the students may be more focused on actually learning something.

College is worth exactly as much as the student puts into it. I’ve had slacker students, and I’ve had enthusiastic, interested students. I’ve taught them both exactly the same things. Guess which one actually learns more?

The amount of learning isn’t at all correlated with tuition. It’s a funny thing, but paying more money to a school does not mean your experience will be upgraded. It may actually be the reverse. Big Fancy College will do most of their instruction with grad student TAs; Small Cheap College will expect the faculty to spend more time working with students.

What you’re paying for at an “elite” college is social status. That’s it. Not a better education, not better teachers, not esoteric knowledge you can get nowhere else. You get to hang out and make connections with other students from a socioeconomic background that can afford this overpriced place. That may be a valuable asset, but let’s not pretend that the school’s primary purpose is education, then.

Admission is rigged. Ever hear of “legacy” admissions? If a parent is an alumnus of a school, their children get preferential admission. It’s kind of the opposite of merit — you get in by accident of birth. Walk around some of the “elite” college campuses, and you’ll see all these buildings named after people. Sometimes they’re named to honor distinguished faculty, but more often it’s because some rich person dropped a few million dollars on the school. Do you think if the offspring of said rich fat cat applied, they wouldn’t be ushered in the door?

Well now, thanks to a major sting operation by the federal law enforcement, another layer of corruption has been exposed.

Federal officials have charged dozens of well-heeled parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, in what the Justice Department says was a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat college admissions standards. The parents allegedly paid a consultant who then fabricated academic and athletic credentials and arranged bribes to help get their children into prestigious universities.

“We’re talking about deception and fraud — fake test scores, fake credentials, fake photographs, bribed college officials,” said Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

Lelling said 33 parents “paid enormous sums” to ensure their children got into schools such as Stanford and Yale, sending money to entities controlled by a man named William Rick Singer in return for falsifying records and obtaining false scores on important tests such as the SAT and ACT.

Singer was the middle man, but he facilitated parents who lied and cheated, and school officials who collaborated. A bunch of coaches have been arrested — they would lie and say the sweet little darling prospective student was being recruited for an athletic program, even if they weren’t, to give them an edge in admissions. (That’s another big problem: athletics is a fertile ground for bringing in inappropriately qualified students.)

Describing how Singer worked to present his clients’ children as elite athletes, Lelling said, “In many instances, Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports. Other times, Singer and his associates used stock photos that they pulled off the Internet — sometimes Photoshopping the face of the child onto the picture of the athlete” and submitting it to desirable schools.

“Singer’s clients paid him anywhere between $200,000 and $6.5 million for this service,” Lelling said.

Rotten through and through. Athletics should not be a factor at all in getting into college.

And then there was widespread cheating on the standardized tests required to get in, with paid proxies taking the exams for the kids, or sitting right there with them in the testing room, feeding them the answers.

Other defendants in the case include university athletic coaches and college exam administrators — some of whom are accused of accepting bribes. Court documents state that the scheme targeted these schools as part of a “student-athlete recruitment scam”: Yale University, the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, UCLA, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, University of San Diego and the University of Texas, Austin.

“There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy,” Lelling said. “And there will not be a separate criminal justice system either.”

Yeah, right. There has always been privileged admissions for the wealthy. Does anyone want to break the news to him about our criminal justice system? It’s funny how the color of one’s skin is a major factor in admission to our prisons.

By the way — next time someone whines about affirmative action and how it lets in unqualified black students over superior white students, just haul off and punch them in the mouth. The system is set up to favor unqualified rich students over intelligent poor students.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” said U.S. Atty. Andrew Lelling. He said they “knowingly conspired … to help their children cheat or buy their children admission to elite schools through fraud.”

Prosecutors allege that Singer instructed parents to donate funds to a fake charity he had established as part of the scheme. Most of the parents paid at least $200,000, but some spent up to $6.5 million to guarantee their children admission to top universities, authorities said. The parents were then able to deduct the donation off their income taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

They can afford to drop a million dollars to smuggle their kid into school, and then write it off their taxes? Oh, America.

I was all prepared to cut the kids some slack — they may not have known what their parents were doing. But then I read about Olivia Jade Giannulli, daughter of Lori Loughlin (an actor?), who paid half a million dollars to get her into USC. Olivia Jade’s interests are fashion, beauty, instagram, and YouTube, where she has acquired almost 2 million subscribers who listen to her prattle while she puts on her makeup.

Juggling school, a personal brand, and a YouTube channel isn’t easy. In her first week, for example, Olivia Jade had to travel to Fiji for a work shoot. “I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend, but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all,” she said in a vlog beforehand. “But I do want the experience of game days, partying…” She paused. “I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

She doesn’t care about school. She’s there for football games and parties.

Fuck.

You know USC is a very good school, right? (They’re all good schools.) But apparently they are rather indiscriminate in the riff-raff they allow in. And this cheesy, shallow twit is taking up space that someone who could really use the educational opportunity would find productive.

And she has 2 million subscribers to her vapid channel? I’ve been experimenting with YouTube myself, you know, and I guess I’ve been doing it wrong. I’m gonna start recording my daily beauty routine — trimming my nose hairs, scrubbing the callouses on my feet, taking my Old Person Heart pills, while mumbling in a rheumy voice about getting off my lawn. It’ll be a hit!

Recall what I said about “College is worth exactly as much as the student puts into it“? That’s one of the biggest crimes here, that the system is rigged to allow rich students to waste the resources and opportunities of our educational system. And nothing is going to change because of this one-shot criminal proceeding.


More stories of the “students” who profited from this scheme are emerging — here’s Isabelle Henriquez, who gloated about how her parents had an expert flown in to hold her hand during the SATs, so she could get into Georgetown. Now her false pretenses are making expulsion possible.

Advice to children of rich parents who bought their way into college: shut the fuck up. Nothing you can say will help you, and everything you say is going to make others despise you. Lie low. Study hard. Prove you earned your education.