Our Modern Hubris Factory 2

Being elite means never been wrong or questioning yourself.

How many times have you heard or thought, "Well, what that bigshot is doing seems awful strange, but he must know what he's doing - after all, he's a bigshot, and I'm not!"

Sometimes the bigshot actually does know what he's doing.  It must have seemed the height of arrogance for young financier George Soros to bet against the Bank of England regarding the value of pound sterling, but he was right: he became "The Man who Broke the Bank of England" and a billionaire many times over.

That, however, was a long time ago, and it's been a while since the commanding heights of the Great and the Good have been right.  All the talking heads claimed a massive stimulus would fix the economy in 2008; it made things much worse.  Everyone who was anyone thought that the Euro was a good idea; instead, it's destroyed half of Europe's economies and looks likely to destroy the rest in its death throes.  We need hardly remind you of Saddam Hussein's WMDs which - as even the liberal Snopes.com had to admit - everyone including all major Democrats thought he had in dangerous quantity.

Of course, Saddam had been chasing WMDs for years as everyone knew and there's reason to believe that he himself thought he actually had some.  Maybe some minion didn't wish to be the bearer of bad news to a man famous for gunning down people who'd displeased him.

As we discussed in the first article in this series, most people have a hard time thinking that there will be a serious and sharp change in their way of life or accepted facts; why would the known truths about Saddam suddenly change?  Apparently, though, they had, and the entire world - including, as noted, all major Democrats as well as every major spy agency of every major country - were just plain wrong.  Well, we all make mistakes, don't we?

Being Elite Now Means Never Being Wrong

You do, and I do; and most likely we can recall a time when our parents forced us to admit it.  Confession is good for the soul, and all that.

It wasn't all that long ago when even our highest leaders were willing to admit to the occasional mistake; President Eisenhower, for example, admitted to two first-class blunders, both of whom were alas seated for life on the Supreme Court.  As recently as the 1980s, Reagan publicly apologized for making statements about the Iran-Contra affair that turned out to be untrue.

That was pretty much the last time.  Did Mr. Clinton apologize for lying under oath, much less sexually harassing an intern?  Not on your life:

While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information... I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression.  [emphasis added]

Has Mr. Obama apologized for his totally failed stimulus?  Of course not; it's all Mr. Bush's fault.  Did Eric Holder apologize for the murderous ineptitude of the Gunwalker scandal?  Nope; in fact, when specifically pressed to under oath by a United States Senator, he refused.

This absolute "perfection" on the part of our leaders is a relatively new phenomenon. not merely in American political life but in the world.  Sure, powerful people have always been reluctant to admit being wrong; it's humiliating and embarrassing.  There was a time, however, when even the highest and mightiest knew that it was even worse to keep insisting that you were right once the opposite was crystal clear to everyone else, it just looks ridiculous.

Yet time after time, we see our most powerful leaders looking at us square in the face and refusing to admit that the sky is blue.  How could it not be wrong to intentionally give mortgage loans to people with no hope of ever paying them back, and then selling those camouflaged and hopeless loans to some other sucker?  How is it possible for the demonstrably-corrupt Reps. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters to not feel the slightest smidgen of shame, and do not admit to one iota of fault?  How could anyone live with themselves to accept the Secretaryship of the Treasury while knowingly not paying their own taxes?

There is an answer, and it's not just that these people are amoral monsters.  Their entire life has been involved in pursuing the image of perfection.

Spinning To The Top

To understand this, consider how people get to join the elite.  The obvious way is to be born into the elite by virtue of inherited wealth, but not everyone in high office is a Kennedy.  Many actually came from somewhat humble origins.

Of those, the overwhelming majority got there via an Ivy League college.  This is no secret; that's why Harvard and Yale reject 10 applicants for every one they accept - graduating from those schools almost automatically makes you a card-carrying member of the elite.

With odds like that, and with such a mammoth prize on offer, what do you do as the parent of a talented high-schooler?  You manipulate life so as to present an awe-inspiring life story - and first and foremost, that means no failures whatsoever.  Whatever Junior did needs to be puffed up as important-looking as possible, and without fail, must be a success.

Of course, nobody is perfect.  This means that whatever failures the poor kid has actually had, must somehow be spun into a success story.  Did they try to get people to help the homeless and nobody wanted to?  Well then, they "single-handedly fed 50 needy people."

To get around fluffed resumes, elite colleges often like to do personal interviews.  This creates a worse problem: the kids themselves must know how to convincingly deliver spin.  Not too many 17-year-olds are Academy-Award-class actors; ambitious parents find it far easier simply to persuade the kid of the truth of the spin.  That way they'll deliver the narrative more naturally.

Alas, this has created a nightmare.  Our elites are primarily composed of people whose entire lives have been spent in the pursuit, not of perfection and accomplishment, but of the image of perfection and accomplishment.  That's how they got where they are: not by being perfect, but by making other people think they are perfect.

The image of perfection and actual perfection are not at all the same thing, as we'll see in the next article.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
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