The Price of Privilege

First, welcome to all my new followers, thanks so much for paying me the compliment of signing up to see every blog post. I tend to write about higher education, teaching and education reform, psychology and history of science. Sometimes about several at once. But of course around this season my thoughts turn to politics… So there will be a few posts about politics before back to your regularly scheduled programming.

I have of course enjoyed the past few days in politics. A few things I find fascinating about the election:

1) It is mostly predictable, even being this close. Yes, Nate Silver is a genius (but I kind of hate him for taking over twitter). But the big point here should not necessarily be that he is a witch, but that there is a discoverable pattern; there is a science to political science. Plug in a few of the rights variables, allowing for the events that actually influence people (conventions, debates) you could draw a trend line in February that would come pretty close to how it turned up. Some minor convention bumps, an incumbent dip following a predictably horrible first debate performance, followed by recovery to previous levels. Despite a media horserace narrative, the election is much more like a cannonball. Nate Silver is just our Kepler, telling us where it is going to end up (and reminding us that minor breezes don’t really make that big a difference).

2) Despite this important fact (which Silver is certainly not alone in realizing) most of the Romney campaign somehow did not get it. This piece by Josh Marshall at TPM was interesting, in that he is just in disbelief that the Romney campaign was as shocked as they claimed to be. 

3) Reading into Project Orca, the Romney campaign’s answer to Obama’s GOTV efforts, was to me a final straw in actually believing that the campaign was just completely incompetent. Read this piece from an insider web developer on how it actually went down. It ends with 

The bitter irony of this entire endeavor was that a supposedly small government candidate gutted the local structure of GOTV efforts in favor of a centralized, faceless organization in a far off place (in this case, their Boston headquarters). Wrap your head around that.

This piece in particular resonated with me, and it left me feeling that there is another lesson in addition to all the political and demographic ones. This kind of incompetence shows that privilege can also be a disservice to the privileged, not just to those who are born into a system stacked against them. Many of Romney’s supposed gaffes this election have been mocking his privilege (elevators for his cars!) and disdain for common folk. But in the final analysis, his blindness ran into a brick wall of reality that it couldn’t wave away. The privilege of never being told when you are wrong is no privilege at all. The comforting blindness of “unskewed” polls is still blindness. The ignorant dismissal of the motives of half the country is not just an insult to these people, but in limiting your view of the world, it limits what you can do with the world. 

Again, from the insider web developer:

From the very start there were warning signs. After signing up, you were invited to take part in nightly conference calls. The calls were more of the slick marketing speech type than helpful training sessions. There was a lot of “rah-rahs” and lofty talk about how this would change the ballgame.

This engineer is conservative Dilbert, realizing that the people at the top of the Republican party are all Pointy-Haired Bosses. This is a group of management consultations and executives who never actually have to use their product. This is school reformers who think that they can just take a few tired cliches, mix in some VAM formulas, apply “simple principles of supply and demand” and get a better education system, without actually knowing anything about content or pedagogy.

The price of privilege may be a comforting, reassuring confident ignorance, but it is ignorance just the same, and in those rare moments when it actually has to make a prediction and live by it, it withers like every other kind of ignorance does.





About Cedar Riener

College psychology professor, husband, father.
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