Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Korean turns against the liberals

The liberal BIG LAW Korean finally sums up the courage to attack liberals in response to an NYT essay on "Super People", who are high achieving kids with a slew of accomplishments.  How exciting!  Most of the time you hear him yapping about how the Dream Act is so great and how Mexicans are just as smart as Koreans, but this time it's him bringing down the hammer on "NYT liberals", aka, the SWPLs.

But sort the hundreds of comments by "Readers' Recommendations," and a disturbing trend floats to the top: attacking the achievements themselves, and celebrating sloth and ignorance instead. Indeed, even the criticisms that appear facially legitimate have an undertone of contempt for more knowledge, more experience and more doing.

The prevalent image invoked by the phrase "celebrating ignorance" might be that of a rabid right-winger denying evolution or climate change. But this troubling trend of anti-intellectualism is an American trait that infects the entire American culture, including the presumably well-educated, left-leaning New York Times readers. Achievement-denial, in fact, has become the liberals' version of evolution-denial.
I think it is fair to say that achievement celebration and opposition to affirmative action are two of the most common non-liberal positions assumed by Asian-Americans.  Celebration of achievement, especially with regards to academics, is a keystone of East Asian culture (though Mao and now Kim have done their best), therefore it unsurprising that Asian-Americans would be loath to celebrate sloth.  I agree with the Korean and say that we should celebrate these super people, many of them are genuinely passionate about all of their varied interests, and even if they are not, it does not lower the value of their achievements.  The Korean fumes at the most recommended comment coming from a fellow NYT columnist, Jane Gross.

When do these Super People have time to ruminate, to day-dream, to eschew GPS systems in their cars because it's interesting to get lost once in a while? When do they have time to be kind? To be a good friend? To go the woods with their dog? To dead head their gardens, mindlessly, for an entire afternoon? To sleep for 11 hours and let their bodies and mind do whatever bodies and minds do when they're sleeping? I couldn't do a square root in high school and still can't, unsure then and now what a square root even is is and why I need to know it. I remember nothing of my SAT scores except that they were very high, without benefit of tutors. I wasn't an extra-curricular activities kind of girl. My bandwidth was narrow then and far narrower now, at 64. But I held my own for 29 years at the New York Times. I wrote a book that a serious publisher paid good money for. Starting out in the world today, I'd be a loser. Why am I not properly ashamed of that?
What can we attribute the emergence of super people to?  It's not as Atlus suggests, higher income inequality , evolution (?), greater health consciousness (?).   Our world has become more competitive and the super people are simply a result of a different competitive environment.  As a character in the wire would say, "this here game has changed".  Jane Gross would be a loser today, she is right about that.  Like the Korean, it infuriates me that Jane Gross and many other commentators are suggesting that super people have no hearts and do not appreciate life.

But where the Korean goes wrong is in his approach to the nature of achievement.  
There should really be no debate about the fact -- the truth -- that the achievements listed in Atlas's essay, if genuinely attained, would lead to making of a better person. Musical training leads to increased brain activity and improved memory. So does bilingualism,which in turn leads to improvements in multitasking -- not to mention the obvious benefits of accessing completely different modes of thought taken from a different culture. Excellence in sport teaches the value of toughness, grit and teamwork. Travelling to a foreign land broadens one's perspective, and even more so if one volunteered to help the needy while traveling. These benefits are so obvious that the Korean cannot even believe that he has to spell this out.
The truth is that many people simply are genetically incapable of becoming a super person or even coming close to it.  Yes, there are many out there who squander their potential in a mire, but there are also many more out there who strive and strain, yet are still taking the bus out of an empty small town ball park sustained only by dreams of the big leagues.

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