“Blood alone moves the wheels of history!” Dedicated watchers of The Office may recall an episode in which Dwight is named Salesman Of The Year at Dunder Mifflin and has to give a speech. His frenemy Jim “helps” him by writing a speech supposedly drawn from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, featuring the above line. Apparently, Mussolini did say this, in 1914 when he was he was suggesting that Italy join the Allies in attacking (or defending against, depending on one’s biases) Germany.
It’s hard to see where ol’ Benito was wrong about that. Human history is an endless parade of winners and losers, with the former continually feasting on the latter. Usually metaphorically. Usually. It takes a lot of losers to grease the wheels of Progress, and a lot of blood.
The massive societal changes of 2020 are no exception to this rule. Target and Amazon are winners; small businesses are losers. Capital wins; labor loses. Billionaires thrive; the middle class craters. Broadly speaking, it’s been a year of victories for the Blue Tribe, losses for the Red Tribe, and profound unease for the Greys. Yet the machine requires some Blue blood in the wheels if it is to move smoothly, thus the two profoundly disturbing stories we’re about to discuss and the two tough questions raised by these stories.
The first one is simpler: “The 31 Day Campaign Against QAnon”. It’s the story of Kevin Van Ausdal, a mild-mannered thirty-something man who loses his job, his home, and his wife in an abortive attempt to run as a Democrat for a House seat in Georgia, all in the coure of a single sad month. His opponent is Majorie Taylor Greene, a fit and forty-ish AR-15-toting blonde who, we are reliably informed, is a big supporter of “QAnon”.
(Brief digression: QAnon, for those of you who don’t know about it, is a movement spawned by the message board 4chan. Supposedly, a top-ranking Trump official periodically posts Q Drops revealing parts of a plan within the administration to purge the country of pedophiles, traitors, and corrupt government officials. I don’t personally believe in “Q” — Occam’s Razor says it’s a LARP (live action role play) undertaken by some bored Internet nerds — and much of Q’s supposed “intelligence” is written in the kind of horoscope style that allows it to be wrapped around many different possible outcomes. That being said, Q appears to have directly predicted Epstein’s Pedo Island and all the drama that proceeded from that — plus it’s worth noting that everyone in the major media who is now labeling QAnon a “conspiracy theory” said pretty much exactly the same thing about the Epstein allegations up to and even beyond the point that there was direct evidence of their validity. It’s also worth noting that Tony Podesta purchased, commissioned, and proudly displayed a variety of disgusting child porn during his heyday in the Obama years. Oh well. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, right?)
I know the Kevin Van Ausdal type like the back of my hand. He’s a thirty-something IT worker of the generation after mine that kept our social anxiety and horrifying personal aesthetic while dispensing of the 3SD IQ and the polymath competence that made these qualities even vaguely acceptable in the workplace to begin with. This is not the sort of person who is equipped to handle even the mildest interaction with the public. It’s obvious to me just from looking at a still picture of him, let alone a video. It was no doubt obvious to the Democratic handlers who skulk their way into the Post story as it grinds to its inevitable conclusion, too — but they aren’t constrained by basic human decency as they order him into the front lines of an unwinnable campaign and bully him into making ever-more-forceful statements against his opponent.
Those statements generate anger in return, with which Van Ausdal is ill-equipped to deal. He punches a wall. His wife leaves him with frankly repugnant alacrity. He then realizes that he doesn’t have any money on which to live, forcing him to literally flee the state, abandon the campaign, and live in his parents’ basement, at which point his own people come after him for being a coward. I physically cringed all the way through this story. After all, it’s common for “tech nerds” to do things that are supposed to be edgy or funny or ironic, like running for Congress as a Democrat in Georgia. You see the same thing with Republican candidates in California. It’s always some middle-class computer dude who thinks it would be amusing to have it as a resume point.
In this case, however, the Democratic machine saw this as a change to wage some fourth-generation warfare. They used Van Ausdal as cannon fodder so they could paint the Republicans of Georgia with the QAnon brush. Surely they knew he would collapse in the effort, just as Grant knew he’d repeatedly have to put another ten thousand kids in the meat grinder just to back Lee up ten miles, and they made the decision in similar pragmatic fashion. The whole story is wrapped up with a neat bow by the Post as an example of, uh, the all-powerful might of QAnon in, uh, rural Georgia. I swear, the way the media has been going on about QAnon lately you’d think they had burned two dozen cities to the ground and caused multiple people to get shot in the head, instead of just taking up space on Internet message boards.
All of this leads to a question: Why was/is it necessary that we maintain a two-party illusion everywhere in the country, at all costs? There’s no Democrat momentum in Georgia and no Republican momentum in San Francisco. Who benefits from this idiocy? The answer, of course, is that the two-party system is falsely legitimized by this process. It prevents what would otherwise be a natural splintering of viewpoint between Left and Hard Left in SF, Right and Hard Right in Georgia. Given enough time to flourish, this sort of thing would naturally generate several legitimate political parties and a mode of governance via coalition, as is seen in other democracies. I find it difficult to believe that we would not be better served as a country by such an arrangement. In that situation, Van Ausdal isn’t a sacrificial lamb; rather, he represents a particular viewpoint which may or may not attract a useful number of voters.
The problem with such a model is that it is considerably less amendable to the near-permanent exercise of power by a limited number of moneyed interests. Right now, Bezos&Co. know that they will never need to write more than two sets of checks in order to have a chokehold on American politics. Lately, they’ve only really needed to write one set of checks.
Until that changes, the system will continue to have a need for a nonzero number of Kevin Van Ausdals. Alright, let’s get to the second half of this. Let’s take our flying carpet from Georgia to… Connecticut.
But a little over a year ago, during the Fourth of July weekend, Sloane began to think that maybe it was time to call it quits. She was crouched in the vestibule of the Bay Club in Redwood City, strategizing on the phone with her husband about a “malicious refereeing” dispute that had victimized her daughter at the California Summer Gold tournament. He had his own problem. In Columbus, Ohio, at the junior-fencing nationals with the couple’s two younger girls and son, he reported that their middle daughter, a 12-year-old saber fencer, had been stabbed in the jugular during her first bout. The wound was right next to the carotid artery, and he was withdrawing her from the tournament and flying home… Similar tales of woe flowed through neighborhood gossip channels and chat boards across Fairfield County. The junior-Olympic fencing champion and straight-A student who was recruited by Notre Dame and signed a National Letter of Intent, only to have his application rejected at the last minute because he didn’t take enough AP classes. A top-25 squash player with a perfect SAT score who didn’t even get a reach-out from Amherst. The rower who committed to Yale without properly decommitting from Brown—and was dropped by both. Were elite youth sports working out for anyone? Or was it all a regatta to nowhere?
In this second article, we learn that one-percenter families are spending six or even seven figures to ensure that their children excel in certain sports like lacrosse, squash, fencing, and rowing. Along the way, children receive multiple concussions, families are strained beyond the breaking point, and “exhaustive portfolios” of potential competition are assembled by worried parents before each squash game using nannies as conduits for furtive scouting reports assembled by private coaches at outrageous rates.
Under this strain, the children falter, fail, lose matches — and are promptly assigned a new retinue of coaches and sports psychologists as a consequence. If they can’t keep up? They have to go to Ohio State. (Yes, that is seriously the threat used by a parent in the article.) For every high-flying Harvard admission, there are multiple kids who are crippled for life, emotionally and in some cases physically, and who end up being just like everyone else around them.
None of this stuff was happening when your humble author had his Dartmouth interview (with the chief operating officer of Borden, as fate would have it; he gave me top marks but my high school record of fighting and arguing with teachers banished me to Miami University) so why is is happening now? Well, it’s simple. Ivy League schools love the kids who are produced as a result of this process, and for three reasons. The first is that they can pay full tuition, no questions asked. The second is that they will be good alumni, paying into the endowment with reckless abandon. The last is that they are plausible admissions. This is an era where every college in America is faced with the necessity of justifying every single European-American boy or girl they let in the door. It used to be enough for them to have perfect SAT scores — but the tests have been discredited as racist. Then it was enough for them to have perfect high school records, filled with extra-curriciulars — but those schools, and those activities, are now part of “privilege”. So now we are down to the last line of defense, which goes something like this: “We admit only the best athletes, and it just so happens that the best squash players, unlike the best linebackers, pay full tuition.” Ergo, as a white kid you had better be America’s best squash player, or an Olympic-level fencer, or you’re going to Ohio State.
Which raises another uncomfortable question: Why can’t private American colleges take whomever they want, on whatever terms they want? The Kevin Van Ausdal in me wants to pose this as a logic trap, so let’s give him a chance:
So what if Harvard wants to take nothing but rich white kids from Connecticut for a decade? Since we know that diversity makes everything stronger, and diversity candidates always improve a school, won’t the end result of Harvard’s racist policies be a decade’s worth of underachievers, at which point the school’s prestige will drop behind the other, more enlightened schools, thus proving the wrongness of their wrongthink?
I see this sort of thing on the Internet all the time, by the way: a bunch of Smart Boys who think they can engage their opponents in a Socratic dialogue that ends with a triumphant victory and a knowing sneer as the inevitable logic of their conclusions vanquishes all opposition. Real life doesn’t work like that. In real life you’re lucky if you get O’Brien from 1984, who can at least ponder the hypocrisy of it all with you as he puts your face in the rat cage, but most of the time you just get screamed at by someone with a 110IQ who has absolute power over how you live and die and who is not interested in your autistic fantasy of a Socratic dialogue. An outstanding example of this: the Asian-American applicants who assembled a fearsome and frankly overwhelming amount of proof that Harvard discriminates against them in favor of Black applicants, up and to and including statements from Harvard itself and the results from an internal Harvard audit that reached the same conclusion, only to have a federal court reply, literally, with Nuh-uh, they don’t, and it’s cool even if they do. So much for Smart Boys. The person who said the pen was mightier than the sword never had to engage in an actual pen-v-sword fight.
In the theoretical world, it makes perfect sense for schools to pick and choose their applicants any way they like. In the Real World, admission to Ivy League schools constitutes multiple forms of real power. Being admitted to the school gives you power; being able to control who is admitted into the school gives you even more. For a long time, this power was controlled via social networks of America’s pseudo-illuminati. Then we got a brief Venerable Bede moment of pure meritocracy in the GI Bill years — then the politicians started putting their thumbs on the scale. A whole generation of supremely qualified and exquisitely educated young people, from the right families and with all the advantages, now faces the unpleasant fact that they can be simply wished away by a coalition of Frankfurt School types in the admissions departments. The only possible way out: be five times better than the politically-desirable applicant plus be an Olympic fencer.
Basically, it’s part The Hunger Games and part The Dosadi Experiment.
It would be tempting to close this article right now and note that these kids, like Kevin Van Ausdal, are supplying the blood to move the wheels of history, lubricating a gradual change in the Ivy League from a social selection to an explicitly political one… but that’s not quite right, there’s a deeper level to it, and it goes something like this: America’s elite are playing a game of sorts, using selective pressures. Their slice of the Ivy League pie has gone from 95% to 30% or less — but every member of that thirty percent is now going to be someone who arrives at university as a battle-hardened meritocrat, someone who believes unequivocally that she has earned her place in society through a lifelong death march of practice and competition and study and self-denial.
When it is time for all the Harvard graduates to go out into the real world and compete, particularly in areas like investment banking where there’s no grading on a curve and success is measured in raw dollars, you’ll have two groups of grads. Only one group will know how to get a 1600 on the SAT while simultaneously rowing at an Olympic level. Only one group will know how to perform at their maximum during every waking hour, said waking hours starting earlier and ending later than that of their competition. And only one group will have the ironclad certainty that they have earned their position, rather than having it deemed to them via political or social expediency. They won’t even have the liberal guilt that the wealthy people of my generation have, because how can you feel over-privileged when you know you had to row three hours a day and throw up every evening for years just to get the same college spot that someone else got with a 1200 SAT?
A few minutes ago, I suggested a Frank Herbert novel to you — The Dosadi Experiment — and that wasn’t accidental, because I wanted those of you who know his canon to start thinking about it. Can you think of a world in which the youth of the elite are brought up under strict, almost military-style physical training, endless instruction, perfect discipline? Of course you can. That’s how you get Paul Atreides and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, these warrior-princes who have been conditioned to advance the interests of their families by any means necessary. The only difference between “Sloane’s” children and Duke Leto’s children is the length of the blade with which they fight! Of course, there will be thousands of kids who don’t quite measure up, who endure all the misery without the attendant rewards, but that’s okay. Even if you don’t believe that “blood alone moves the wheels of history”, then you’ll surely agree with a motto employed by so many of those early-risers out there; you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.