23.6.17

ART IMITATING LIFE TOO CLOSELY?

On one of my visits to You Tube (to post a train video, of course) the algorithm that suggests things to watch came up with a movie now streaming there, The Thinning.  The premise: the United Nations gets enough power to keep the world out of a Malthusian trap, and the population must be culled.

There's nothing new in such premises.  Years ago, there was Soylent Green, in which the useless eaters became useful food, and Logan's Run, in which there were resources to support a young population, but upon hitting thirty or so, people departed this life in a spectacular ritual offering the hope of reincarnation.

Perhaps The Thinning hasn't caught on in the same way because the premise is too real.  The useless eaters are identified by high-stakes tests, starting in grade school.  Score too low:  you disappear.

As if that wasn't exactly how the vocational tracking system in the government schools has always worked.  As if that wasn't the rationale behind calling the military draft the Selective Service System.  The Wise Experts never quite got around to drafting people who had an aptitude for mathematics as rocket scientists, or who had good social skills and quick minds as paediatricians.  The student deferments might have been a way to steer people into such occupations, particularly if they were granted on a discretionary basis by local draft boards (something that did not happen in practice.)  But fail to register, and you're screwed, particularly if you had a rough start in life.

And how else explain the resources spent on granite countertops to buy into good school districts, on Harvard Prep daycare, on College Board test prep.  It's enough to drive the nachalstvo and the cherry pickers curators of entering classes crazy.
In modern America, [sociologist Mitchell] Stevens argues, preparing one’s children for college and then enrolling them in the most desirable one possible is the culmination of “social reproduction.” He explains this sociological term as “the transfer of knowledge, cultural perspective, and social position from one generation to the next,” or, more broadly, “all the things parents do to ensure that their children will have good lives.”

Formal education has become central to social reproduction. Few American parents now transfer a family farm or business to their offspring. The “business” for a huge majority is a career selling labor on the open market rather than, as once was common, owning and operating some enterprise. Nor do more than a handful of parents bring children along in their own trade, schooling having displaced formal and informal apprenticeships as the pathway to careers. And smaller families mean that parents’ social-reproduction efforts are concentrated on fewer offspring.

Stevens shows how very selective colleges’ flexible understanding of “diversity” squares the circle between helping those less fortunate and giving one’s children a leg up.
That requires the herd to be thinned.
Similarly, diversity in education, from preschool to postgraduate, and the resulting holy war on privilege, requires denouncing but not renouncing. Despite its stated intent to subvert unjust hierarchies, multiculturalism facilitates rather than impedes careerism. A degree from a selective college, one racially integrated in a carefully curated way, does wonders for those getting on in the world. “Checking your privilege” never involves transferring to Jerkwater A&M, diverse in ways selective colleges never will be, and thereby surrendering one’s spot in the Ivy League so that it can be filled by a cashier’s or opioid addict’s kid.
And thus do we find ourselves in a world of privilege hoarders.  Implicitly, the thinning requires Jerkwater A&M to do anything but recognise they are in the same business as the Ivies, which would help the poor, determined, and striving to avoid the usual gatekeepers.

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