The Way We Was

But is no more

Much can be—and has been—written about the shortcomings of the WASPocracy. As a class, it was exclusionary and hence tolerant of social prejudice, if not often downright snobbish. Tradition-minded, it tended to be dead to innovation and social change. Imagination wasn’t high on its list of admired qualities.

Yet the WASP elite had dignity and an impressive sense of social responsibility. In a 1990 book called “The Way of the Wasp,” Richard Brookhiser held that the chief WASP qualities were “success depending on industry; use giving industry its task; civic-mindedness placing obligations on success, and antisensuality setting limits to the enjoyment of it; conscience watching over everything.”

Obviously I was never high on the list of admired qualities, yet

But is the merit in our meritocracy genuine? Of the two strongest American presidents since 1950— Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan —the first didn’t go to college at all, and the second went to Eureka College, a school affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Eureka, Ill. The notion of Harry Truman as a Princeton man or Ronald Reagan as a Yalie somehow diminishes them both.

Apart from mathematics, which demands a high IQ, and science, which requires a distinct aptitude, the only thing that normal undergraduate schooling prepares a person for is… more schooling. Having been a good student, in other words, means nothing more than that one was good at school: One had the discipline to do as one was told, learned the skill of quick response to oral and written questions, figured out what professors wanted and gave it to them.

I seem to have a knack for pissing off the elites. “Doing as one was told,” was never a forte either. I suppose I will have to come up with a disparaging name for this collective so I can leave the poor Germans, long since past all of that, alone. In fact I believe that growing up where I did, in a highly disciplined and paranoid town, where even the Santa Fe bridge incident was not to be spoken of, only loathed and feared, the phrase was quite common enough for me to have picked up on it as a child. On that note, I promise my German readers to refrain from doing so again in the future.

Just to add, later on in life I used to cross that bridge everyday on the way to Lee Harvey Junior High. I suppose all of that has changed too.

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