Why Does Roger Moore Get all the Girls?
An old real estate salesman taught me everything I needed to know about equality when I was a know-nothing twenty-one year old.
“Jim,” he said, “if you gave a hundred different people a million dollars, in two years, a few of them would have ten million dollars and quite a few of them would have nothing at all.”
It struck me as undeniably true and it matched my entire life experience. Those were the Roger Moore Bond years, and I was, at best a girl-crazy lapsed believer. The fundamental unfairness of some guys enjoying an effortless bounty of female beauty and some guys figuratively walking the chilly plains, with nothing but a Siberian wallflower in their lapel, irked me, but it just seemed an incontrovertible life truth: we are born with not only different abilities and assets, but hugely different desires and ambition. If we all start walking towards Emerald City, some of us will get there quickly, some of us will tarry, and some of us will smoke crack in the poppy field.
So I was amused and irritated by George Packer of the Atlantic, as he struck out to invest in democracy, and equality, by subjecting his children to New York City public schools. I found his progressive sanctimony, his family’s sojourn in this morass, and even his partial comeuppance powerfully depressing. Reading this story made me feel like being locked in an Orwellian sanity-divide. Either I’m absolutely crazy, or much of America is. (How do we arrive at a place, in 2019, where people feel guilty about owning a back yard?)
As I’ve written before, the election of Donald Trump spells hope on this front, but the sheer number of people infected with an intellectual bubonic plague is staggering.
Packer seems to acknowledge, grudgingly at times, that parent volunteers shouldn’t have to change the soiled trousers of students not prepared for public places, that public school restrooms can feel prison-issue, that schools should objectively test students for performance, and that public school group-think can demand a conformity that would make 17th century religious zealots blush, BUT Packer finds himself comfortably concluding, against all the data, public institutions are under-funded and that we have no choice but to doggedly pursue equality of outcome even if it leaves our children feeling cynical about performance itself.
Going back to Emerald City, or Bond girls, if that’s a more interesting picture, very few of us would argue against working for equality of opportunity. I can remember an old fellow giving a sermon when I was a teenager. He said, “young people, if you have acne, go make an appointment with a dermatologist. They can clear that up these days.” I found his advice a lot more genuine than some high-minded admonition about young ladies needing to love the ugly boys too. Very bad things happen to society, and individuals when they pretend that aspirations and sentiment can make up for actual accomplishment. As Packer’s article makes clear, a thousand liberals can hold hands over equality, but they make an appointment with the principal after the sing-a-long to go over their own child’s special requirements.
When we demand equality of outcome, or something very close to it, we institutionalize guilt for the achieving and either dependency for the under-achieving or crass entitlement for opportunists. At one point, Packer’s fellow parents were pressured by school officials not to take standardized tests because they kept supporting problematic pattern confirmation about some ethnicity groups outperforming others. Rather than confirm, for example, that Asians outperformed blacks, let’s strike a bold bid for equality by refusing to test anyone. No one should succeed if someone has to fail. This is the football equivalent of suiting up and not playing the game at all.
It all screams voucher system to me so clearly that I have trouble understanding any opposition. If you give every parent in the country the ability to spend $10,000 education dollars in competing institutions, you will end up with glorious inequality but higher average learning. I suspect that “glorious inequality” will always bother the sort of mind that apologizes for his “privilege,” but which world will we occupy– the cheerful, neutral Kibbutz that doesn’t exist anywhere, or the vigorous meritocracy that allows ambition to invent light bulbs and smart phones?
Draw a chalk line on the track. Let everyone have a chance to start the race, but, please, for the love of God, allow someone to actually finish the thing.