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The merit is no match for the alpha binary


In my favorite novel Red and black, the colors indicate the only way to ascend the born Frenchman. In the end, neither the army red robe nor the black church robe so much as the goofy hero elevates the white hero. The mayor’s wife and the daughter of the Marquis are among those who have led him so close to his longed-for status. I still think that this honorary “red” is a malicious joke: not the color of war but the color of sex, Parvino’s old friend.

Or at least an ex-boyfriend. The past two centuries have opened up more professional ways out of his classes than color can be called. At the same time, they shut down the old method of excessive romance. “Diverse mating” is the appropriate cold phrase for intermarriage among learners, who combine their physical and cognitive advantages in the process.

In the middle of the last century, the following notes made me curious. I hardly know a straight person of my age with a degree who has a husband without a husband. Among the spouses one earns a lot more, the other tends to bring cultural influence, greater relatives, an easy-to-use passport, or something like that. (The strategic value seems insufficient to bridge the gap.) As for Bachelors, out of a hundred or so appointments, the most active sit each year, about 90 of them with alumni of research universities. An offending evening is one you spend with a graduate of an art or drama school.

There is an idea that only female graduates are reluctant to marry without their qualifications. I’m sure cause and effect are all mixed up when men of high status routinely end up with less educated wives, it does not reflect preference, necessarily, so much as it reflects a lack of alternatives. Once access to universities and workplaces spread to women, both genders were liberated to be arrogant. How lavishly we have used the license since then. My conscience doesn’t bother with every habit of the urban liberal class that has been sullied and feathered in recent years. Her romantic isolation is the exception. Even private education does not do as much to create a harmful class

That is why, along with my unforgiving erudition, I was excited aristocracy of talent. In his new book, Adrian Wooldridge attempts to salvage meritocracy from the petrified supernumerary predicted by Aldous Huxley. Like all the best dialectical realist works, it falls in the stage of policy reforms. Ideas like “promotion of vocational education” can undoubtedly improve life chances. Tax law can wipe out inherited wealth more than it does. But a person who is serious about merit soon bumps into the untouchable limits of the personal sphere. Parents manage the lives of their children with an equally antisocial zeal for being normal. The most skilled of these dealers themselves will be the double-graduated teams. Society does not “do” anything about an intimate choice like marriage. It is the responsibility of society only to calculate the costs.

These matters go beyond social mobility. What stands out in the talk of the alpha couple is not so much the self-interest that lifts the ladder as the gentle grinding. Hypergamy recurs in dramas – Balzac, Kitchen Sink movies, Cinderella – Because he has a charm that doesn’t quite exist when someone at UBS marries someone in Freshfields.

The supposed subversion of gender between classes isn’t the point (after all, there’s still a lot of that around). It is the connection and ultimately the synthesis of two distinct experiences of life. Any children that result from it, insofar as they absorb a little of each, will be more roughly and imaginative in turn. The intermarried couples constitute perhaps the most disciplined, competitive, and high-performing ruling class the West has ever known, but also the least authentic. Wooldridge has never been better than when he draws the distance between their bohemian self-image and the monoculture in their own lives.

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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