Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times about intra-elite rivalry was embarrassing, the Serious Newspaper Person’s version of last month’s disastrous first-person-plural-heavy BuzzFeed essay about how natural and reasonable it is for rich kids like the writer or Julia Salazar to tell fake stories about hardships in their lives, so they can feel more real and authentic. Just admit it, both writers say:
[P]art of what we’re watching is one group of meritocrats returning to their undergraduate resentments and trying to pin on Georgetown Prep graduates the vices that define our entire depressing class.Douthat
I suspect so many of us have been embellishers, especially when we were young, in the stakes to abjure privilege, to claim uniqueness in the form of obstacles, to show our guts and thorny individualism in rising above ordinary roots.Not Douthat, or was it?
Discord at the Ivies, according to Douthat, is driven by the narcissism of small differences between truly elite prep-school kids and the kids from expensive but less truly elite prep schools, like Brett Kavanaugh’s or Ross Douthat’s. Somewhere off in the distance are the True Poors who somehow got in; almost invisible or incomprehensible on Douthat’s map is the middle ground of people who go to Ivies from normal public schools, and who despise both the cosseted upper-upper crust preppies and the insecure merely preppie strivers like Douthat, but who know that at least the upper-upper ones don’t go around pretending to be relatable.
Douthat’s feat of telling on himself, though, was nothing compared to the parade of evolutionary psychologists, phrenology enthusiasts, and other Intellectual Dark Web stalwarts jumping up to praise the project in which intrepid critics of academia tried (and frequently failed) to plant hoax papers in journals belonging to academic fields they considered obviously unworthy.
Their writeup itself was too sloppy and self-defeating to get through—among other things, their ideas for hilariously farfetched topics included warning of the dangers of “masculinist, imperialistic, rationalist data” in A.I., which is just a known fact among A.I. researchers—but it was enough to see Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist whose writings are indistinguishable from Henry Darger’s, gloating over the supposed exposure of slipshod academic standards. Jordan Peterson has lectured on how ancient images of intertwined snakes show that premodern cultures understood the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule. The day incoherent nonsense gets drummed out of the academy is the day Jordan Peterson has to stop telling people to clean their room and start cleaning their rooms for them, as a job.