Review: Twilight of the Elites – America After Meritocracy

4 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Banks, Fed, Money, & Concentrated Wealth, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Civil Society, Congress (Failure, Reform), Culture, Research, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform)
Amazon Page

Christopher Hayes

4.0 out of 5 stars Strongest on Collapse Part, Very Weak on What Next…,July 1, 2012

This is one of two books I read on the plane back to DC from Seattle, the other was Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream

This is a light book with a poor bibliography, more of an essay turned into a book than a book proper. The author focuses on the “near total collapse of every pillar institution of our society.” Yes, this is not news. Many of us have been saying this for some time, my own 2008 version is easily found by looking for < Paradigms of Failure >, free online.

The author loses one star for being so oblivious to the reality of 9/11 such as any informed citizen can determine (see the 30+ Amazon reviews easily found as a group at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog).

He touches on three themes generally, in a useful juxtaposition:

1) The ignorance of the elites

2) The end of upward mobility in the US economy

3) The evaporation of trust, the collapse of trust

While I find his essay interesting, I am continuously disappointed by the narrowness of his reading. Matt Taibbi’s brilliant Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, a work I consider seminal and of lasting value to future generations, is not noticed by this author.

The author focuses on out of control compensation schemes and on the permissible codes of secrecy, the one the accelerator of misbehavior, the other the enabler of misbehavior. He does not delve into the failure of government as much as I would have wanted (the only thing we need to set us right is the restoration of integrity into our electoral process and thence our government–all three branches) but offers numerous gifted phrases and quotes worthy of being remembered.

QUOTE (98): When cheating becomes an accepted norm within an institution, it produces a distinct and dangerous psychology in those who rise to the top. They come to view themselves as libermenches and being to hold in comtempt those not in on the secret.

This happens in government. Daniel Elsberg’s most memorable quote from Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers is this:

speaking to Henry Kissinger: “The danger is, you’ll become like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours” [because of your blind faith in the value of your narrow and often incorrect secret information].”

Secrecy, as Daniel Patrick Monyhan knew so well, has been the death of democracy as well as the death of capitalism.

QUOTE (107): Together, the discrediting of our old sources of authority and the exponential proliferation of new ones has almost completely annihilated our social ability to reach consensus on just what the facts of the matter are.

Max Manwaring et al addresses this for the world at large in The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century. It all boils down to legitimacy, and the need to address the legitimate grievances on all parties to any community in being.

I credit this author with a very fine inter-mingling of secrecy, legitimacy, efficacy, rings of proximity and hence unethical uninformed buy-in), and find one of his most compelling points to be that the struggle of the day is NOT between left and right, but rather between the individual versus failed institutions. This is less of a libertarian argument than one that I have been making, about the need to restore intelligence with integrity to every aspect of our being.

The author is off the wall on climate change. A truly informed reader would absorb the combination of High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them and A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and understand that Poverty and Infectious Disease come before Environmental Degradation, and Climate Change is 10%, at best of the latter (third in ten threats to humanity).

I find the author’s brief focus on “platform versus substance” to be of great interest. Sarah Palin was worth $12 million when she captured the imagination of a large segment of the public, and is worth $20M (while Al Gore, who rolled over and played dead in 2000 is worth $100M — betrayal still pays more than charm).

There are MANY quotes that I isolated but there is a limit here, so I will highlight just two:

QUOTE (128): We live in an information interregnum. The old gatekeepers have been discredted but not discarded.

QUOTE (155): …extreme inequality produces elites who are less competent and more corrupt than those in a more egalitarian social order.

The book ends with a whimper, but there are two judgments in the concluding portion of the book that rescue the forth star:

01 Our era has not been about bad information or erroneous judgments (or even despicable corruption within every institution in our society) but rather about losing the ability to think about the world and be serious about diversity and respecting the totality of sources and methods of information.

Since reading the above I have read Edgar Morin’s Homeland Earth : A Manifesto for the New Millennium (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity and the Human Sciences) and will elaborate on this point in that review. As I have been saying for over a decade now, all eight information communities I have studied — academia, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-governmental/non-profit — every single one of them, lacks BOTH intelligence AND integrity.

02 The social distance between elites and the public and between the elected and the public has broken all of the feedback loops. Buckminster Fuller would strongly agree, and his own book, Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure as well as Will Durant’s first book, Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition and his last book with Ariel, Lessons of History 1ST Edition all point to the foundational importance of what the public needs and wants and thinks–ignoring the public is not a sustainable posture.

I certainly recommend the book as a quick read, but it is nowhere as compelling as GRIFTOPIA or Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It, The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism, and so many others that I have reviewed here. If you want to see my top 10%, go to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog and in the middle column halfway down, select 6 Star.

My two master lists of positive and negative books reviewed in the process of writing my last two books, can be found by searching for the below words, all reviews lead back to Amazon:

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)

Robert David Steele
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust

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