Notes 2020-11-22.

More notes from the backlog. #

I just finished listening to Revolt of the Elites by Christoper Lasch. This choice was in line with the run of intellectual history books that I've read recently, and also with the books critiquing meritocracy.

I have to say that some of the critical theses put forward are almost eerily prescient. His ideas about what belief in ones merit does to elites is very close to Michael Sandel's arguments in the Tyranny of Merit.

I emailed myself a couple of quotes form the books that I was struggling with.

Luxury is morally repellent

The reason I struggled with this is revealing. My politics is left, and more specifically in line with the strand of leftism that thinks reducing work, sharing it more effectively is important. But, leisure and luxury are mixed ideas in our culture and it would take a lot of therapeutic effort to separate them. The American ideal of freedom is tied to choice and choice to luxury. Untying that from leisure is probably an important piece of work to be done.

Meritocracy is the parody of democracy

Another difficult passage for a current member of the professional managerial class. One of the things I struggle with is how exactly, in a socialist society, to share the difficult and unattractive work. Unlike at least some people in my current situation (law school grad with a good job), I've also worked a fair number of other kinds of jobs. I've worked in factories, warehouses, construction and lots of restaurants. Having washed dishes and stacked pallets full time makes it hard for me to imagine a world where the type of work you do doesn't contribute to your status. The gulf in social esteem between electricians and lawyers clearly doesn't make sense. As a lawyer I think I can safely say that the work done by electricians is more socially valuable. There are fewer slots for electricians (700,000 compared with 1.3 million). And the job is significantly more dangerous. I can certainly imagine a world where this gulf is closed. But, I have a hard time understanding how we can bestow the "dignity of culture" equally to the dishwasher. Maybe it's a false consciousness or failing of my convictions. In any event I think that this line of thinking is decisive for many people in rejecting a kind of sharing society. I'm not sure if this leads us back to a need for enlightened elites of some kind--or a heightened and improved democracy. Or maybe the technologists are correct that it's a problem we can solve with automation.

Next time I'll probably share my thoughts on 'automation and the future of work' which I just finished and which has also got me thinking in this direction.