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You Can’t Fall Behind or Get Ahead on a Pointless Merry-Go-Round

August 9, 2020


In her thought provoking Salon article Mary Elizabeth Williams questions the whole concept of “falling behind” as a result of the pandemic. Her article is full of one-liners like Lily Tomlin’s observation that “if you win the rat race you’re still a rat”, but it also includes the chilling fact that 1/3 of the Harvard freshman class is legacies. It was the fact about Harvard admissions that led me to observe that it’s hard NOT to fall behind when the rules of the game are rigged… and led Ma. Williams to this conclusion:

I was one of the first in my working class family to go to college. I’m — perhaps foolheartedly — starting a master’s degree program in the fall. I’m not anti-intellectual. I am, however, increasingly anti-pointless busywork. I am anti-test taking while the world burns. And I am definitely anti-anybody else’s vague concept of “success,” which as far as I can tell is defined solely by monetary “return on investment.” It’s certainly not measured in personal satisfaction, mental health, service to others, or even actual learning

I’ve quoted a recent New Yorker article observing that the pandemic is giving us an x-ray of our society, helping us see where it’s broken. As Ms. Williams accurately observed, our culture’s metrics for “success” might be the first place to look.

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