The Cognitive Elite

Charles Murray writes:

There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven’t ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn’t count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don’t count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn’t count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.

Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody’s business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn’t intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn’t get America, there is some truth in the accusation.

Part of the isolation is political. In that Harvard survey I mentioned, 72 percent of Harvard seniors said their beliefs were to the left of the nation as a whole, compared with 10 percent who said theirs were to the right of it. The political preferences of academics and journalists among the New Elite also conform to the suspicions of the tea party.

Fred emails: Thanks for the link. I just read this article. I also read Murray’s book of about 15 years ago, The Bell Curve.

I agree with Murray that there are big fault lines through America. Murray thinks that the big fault line is the cognitive elite (people from elite universities and really smart people) vs. people outside the cogative elite.

There are other fault lines, e.g. religious right vs. people outside the religious right; rich vs. not-so-rich.

Murray thinks the real unbridgeable chasm is cognitive elite vs. those outside the cognitive elite.

There is some merit to what Murray has to say. People do self-segregate based on education or intellectual ability. I don’t think a Harvard grad is going to spend his free time with assembly line workers. What would they have in common?

There is, however, a substantial correlation between being in the cognitive elite and being irreligious. There is a substantial correlation betwen being outside the cognitive elite and being religous. There is a substantial correlation between being in the cognitive elite and being rich.

Murray focuses on cognitive elite vs. others because he thinks that fault line is becoming intransmutable and unchangeable. People with high-powered academic backgrounds wed and beget people with high-powered academic backgrounds. Non-college grads rarely beget offspring destined for high-powered academia. If you read his book The Bell Curve, Murray suggests that in large part heredity may be at play.

I suppose if you are just a traditional leftie, the real fault line is rich vs. poor.

If you are a religous nut, the real fault line is true believer vs. those of us wallowing in doctrinal error.

Since all three of these fault lines correlate with one another, they are all proxies for one another. Murray thinks that the key fault line is the cognitive elite vs. other, and this fault line is responsible for the rich vs. poor fault line.

Charles Murray. Back in the 80s, when being a Repub meant snappy bowties and round glasses and being smarter and snarkier than everyone, he wrote, in Commentary, how the Smart People needed to rule the world. However, now, that being Republican means being on the lower parts of his curve, he writes a hate piece against them derned Elites, and we know exactly who he means, those same Elites Controlling the World:

“They can talk about books endlessly, but they’ve never read a “Left Behind” novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).

They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn’t be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.”

We know who them are, them rootless Cosmopolitans who won’t read a good ole Christian book, if ya know what I mean. Them smartypants Jooz and their Asian friends at Stanford.

I remember the original Bell Curve article in Commentary. At that time, the George Will led Reupblican party was where the smart, snarky people were (myself included), and his argument was that the smart people should lead. Now he’s advocating the opposite, because the Republcans have become the home of his lower part of the curve?

Charles Joseph emails: “One solution would be to have more singles mixed dancing between New Elite and proletariat. Because the elite men can go at least one up lookswise if they choose from one social class lower, many of will take this option. Their progeny will not so easily become New Elite lacking the racial purity currently reflecting New Elite mating. Thus, the gene pool of the New Elite will be diluted, the classes mixed to some degree and this new class problem ( but wait, this doesn’t sound like a class but rather a meritocracy) slowed.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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