Rebecca Nicholson writes in The Guardian about social mobility in the UK:
I was born into a working-class family in north Lincolnshire…. I was the first in my family to get A-levels, and then the first to go to university…. [At Oxford] I learned that one of the key markers of the class divide is confidence – if you’re born into an advantaged background, confidence practically comes home with you from the hospital; otherwise, you have to learn it as carefully as you would a musical instrument.
I’ve been interested in the question of why lots of history’s greatest social reformers, saints, and other religious and social leaders come from backgrounds that were somewhere between privileged and princely; and I think that this kind of confidence is one of the keys. Nicholson puts her finger on the way privilege makes confidence– confidence in one’s self, in the fairness or easiness of the world, and in a belief that one can change it for the better– simply part of one’s character and inheritance, rather than something you have to struggle to claim.
A line from Keynes’ obituary of Marshall, about the intellectual qualities necessary to be a good economist:
The study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject, at which very few excel! The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher-in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.
This is a pretty good description of the skills you have to possess to be a futurist, too!
Another quote from Seneca:
Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow. For what new pleasure is there that any hour can now bring? They are all known, all have been enjoyed to the full. Mistress Fortune may deal out the rest as she likes; his life has already found safety. Something may be added to it, but nothing taken from it, and he will take any addition as the man who is satisfied and filled takes the food which he does not desire and yet can hold.
From Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life:”
everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is busied with many things… since the mind, when its interests are divided, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn.
Alain de Botton, on “The Citizen in Frightened Times:”
It is an enormous and very rare privilege to have lived in the days of good government. Across nations and centuries, few people have ever done so. By a rare bit of luck, certain groups in a few corners of the globe tasted decades of this remarkable, anomalous blessing. They might even, foolishly (especially if they traveled little, seldom read history books or had a very high estimation of their own populations) have started to assume it was a natural or God-given norm.
Yet the default state of almost all nations is quite other; it is authoritarianism, bullying, demagoguery, corruption, monopoly, racial segregation and state-sponsored aggression and murder. We will not now, it seems, be living in dramatically unusual times; it was the years before that will be remembered as unusual: a daring bet against the facts of human nature. We aren’t sliding into a new age of darkness, we are reverting to a mean. Civilization was always, simply, an unlikely concept….
We shouldn’t be surprised by our fellow citizens. That is what the human animal is really like: very sweet at points from close up, usually generous to small children and the elderly, hard-working, but highly prone to delusion, tribal, offended by strangers, disinclined to rational analysis and with a fondness for slaughter and reckless messianic plans. The elite are not “out of touch” because they forget what a gallon of milk costs, but because they forget how dark and broken human nature is.
It’s like being Charlie Manson’s foxtrot instructor. You go out there, you teach him a few moves, and you think, ‘Hey, look at that, he can learn the foxtrot.’ And the next thing you know, he’s trying to put a pen in your eye, because he’s Charlie Manson.
Source: Live Coverage of the Republican National Convention: Day 4
Ezra Klein has a piece on why “Donald Trump’s speech introducing Mike Pence showed why he shouldn’t be president.” It’s full of entertaining stuff about his introduction of Mike Pence, but it also explains why his performance matters.
Back in May, EJ Dionne wrote that the hardest thing about covering Donald Trump would be “staying shocked.” Watching him, day after day, week after week, month after month, the temptation would be to normalize his behavior, “to move Trump into the political mainstream.”
But today helped. Donald Trump’s introduction of Mike Pence was shocking. Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the mainstream for normal human behavior….
As with all things Trump, the speech was funny and magnetic. The guy is great TV. But it was also wrong. It was a blue stand-up set delivered at a board of directors meeting, a cruel roast offered at a child’s birthday party. Selecting and introducing a vice president is a heavy duty in American politics; it is the most power one person will ever have to potentially choose the leader of the free world. But Trump couldn’t see past himself to match the moment.
Los Angeles journalist Maria Bustillos on critiques of globalization and the possibility of an American Brexit:
The American working class, just like the working class in the United Kingdom, has been betrayed by elites at every turn: Ordinary working people have been given no project to advance in their own world, no path toward building a better future for themselves. Seen from this angle, it’s no wonder that economically exploited Britons took the chance to disobey their leaders like a shot.
Source: The Democrats just ceded economic justice to Donald Trump – LA Times
This is a really interesting data-point on the changing nature of authority:
For 16 years, Edelman’s company has been surveying people around the world on their trust in various institutions. And one of the firm’s findings is that people are especially likely these days to describe “a person like me”—a friend or, say, a Facebook friend—as a credible source of information. A “person like me” is now viewed as twice as credible as a government leader, [founder Richard] Edelman said at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “We have a reversal of traditional influence. It is going not top-down, but sideways.”
This is part of a larger divide that has been opening up between “mass populations” and “informed publics”…. The 2008 financial crisis, he argued, produced widespread suspicion that elites only act in their own interests, not those of the people, and that elites don’t necessarily have access to better information than the rest of the population does. The sluggish, unequal recovery from that crisis—the wealthy bouncing back while many others struggle with stagnant incomes—has only increased the skepticism.
Source: From Trump to Brexit: Trust in Government Is Collapsing Around the World – The Atlantic
This rapid rise in the number of Chinese students crossing the Pacific is the product partly of rising affluence in China and frustration with the relative inflexibility of the Chinese higher-education system. But it’s also been driven by U.S. colleges and universities looking to counter a decline in the number of college-age kids in the U.S. and, in the case of state universities, big cutbacks in government aid, especially since the financial crisis of 2008…. [W]hen it comes to American colleges and universities, I really don’t know how many of them could survive without foreign students in general and Chinese students in particular.
Source: How Chinese Students Saved America’s Colleges – Bloomberg View