Friday, May 16, 2014

Meditations on a particularly odious piece of juvenalia

Recently a freshman at Princeton, who in a fit of almost certainly unwarranted generosity, I will refrain from naming or linking to, penned a petulant repudiation of the phrase "check your privilege", in the probably misplaced hope that sooner rather than later he will come to regret writing it.  Gods know why, but the piece was then published in the Princeton Tory and made a minor splash on the web.  Cerb at Sadly No wrote an excellent critique of the article and there I posted a version of the text below:

What joyful prose.  Another college republican boasts to the world that he has nothing of which to be ashamed.  He has made it to the rarefied summit of academia as a freshman at Princeton, by steadily treading the straight and narrow path of hard work and personal virtue.  He is a man who has made the good choices and stands at the cusp of his reward for virtue.  Never mind that his particular straight and narrow path is about 20 feet long, brightly lit and patrolled for those who would do him harm.  Certainly his path was harder than that of the scions of the truly wealthy who, one assumes, are conveyed to the gates of Princeton via private limousine.  He doesn't realize that someone less well starred than himself might have a straight and narrow path of virtue that leads to barely staying out of jail.

He is remarkably silent on the fact that making good choices are entirely dependent on having good options.  And, coming from  a home that valued education, hard work and had the prosperity to back that up gave him an enormous head start.  No one, no matter how much of an autodidact, raises themselves.  Our bright and beamish boy did not tag his parents out on his natal day, thank them for the fact of his conception and birth and inform them that further parenting would not be required.  They fed and sheltered him, they educated him at considerable expense, and regardless of how much of a sacrifice it may have been for them, they did it.  Which only means he is not a member of the .001%, not that he has a high score of martyr points in the suffering Olympics.   He is blessed in that his hard work was rewarded, and that any of "the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" didn't set him right back at square one.

Working harder than the children of our American aristocracy is a mighty low bar.  I might have accidentally done it the day after I ate a half pound of cheese in one sitting.  Working hard is, of itself not much to be proud of either, as anyone who has ever worked an 11 hour shift for minimum wage could tell you.  But despite what theologians as diverse as John Calvin and Creflo Dollar would have us believe, prosperity is rarely the reward of virtue.  Any number of well publicized news stories could illustrate that the prosperous and the virtuous are two distinct groups with little overlap.  So, even if he is the charity scholar attending Princeton on the strength of his academic excellence at the sufferance of his betters, he is mostly giving plausible deniability to the charge that the ivy league is far more about giving the children of privilege a place to drink to excess with a group of like minded affluent young men and women in a place where they won't end up puking on the heirloom rose bushes, than it is about education.

The day junior here first begins to regret writing this particular piece of embarrassing drivel, and opens his eyes to just how bad it is for just how many people, will be the day he can start to call himself a grownup.

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