So, I like to read a lot. However being in college and all has sort of put a hold on any extracurricular reading that I might have done. Now that I’m in the swing of things this semester, I’ve found that numerous opportunities to get some reading done. People like me swoon over that type of stuff when you can squeeze free time into productivity.
Nonetheless, I finally got the chance to finish a book that I’ve wanted to read for the better course of the last calendar year and that’s Twilight of the Elites by Christopher Hayes, of MSNBC fame. Hayes, whose wonkish weekend show is always a must-watch, might very well be one of the more sharper political analysts/journalists of my generation.
Twilight (no Edward Cullens here) might register at only 240+ pages when notes are taken out of it but it does an apt job at getting right to the point. Since many political/history analysts aren’t necessarily authors, they run the risk of reiterating points that makes their overall thesis a bit jumbled (Karen Sawislak’s Smoldering City as example A). Twilight is not like those books though as Hayes clearly has planned this book exceptionally.
The main point that Chris Hayes gets to is analyzing America’s so-called “meritocratic” system. Essentially for those wondering what that means basically it’s the saying that the hardest working and most brightest minds will always rise to the top while the ones that just shoot to “get by” will fall down the social ladder. While it sounds great in theory, as Hayes attests to, it doesn’t necessarily work nor is it exactly true even though Americans like to romanticize the “American Dream”.
One example that Hayes alludes to when it comes to meritocracy is his connection the famed Hunter College High School of New York City. Hunter is a school for the intellectually gifted and an entrance test that is given to prospective students when they are in sixth grade. To be eligible just to take the entrance test, however, students must possess high test grades on standardized exams.
In theory it sounds amazing. Test scores, just like times on the track, do not discriminate. Your score is your score regardless of who you are. No one can take that away from you. However, does a test like that really exemplify meritocracy? Given how there are numerous “test prep” courses available, that are not cheap by any means, students from upper middle class and above households are always at a pre-eminent advantage than their peers.
While New York City is famed for its diversity in its five boroughs, Hunter is sort of the antithesis to that as the student population is mostly comprised of those from white or Asian backgrounds.
Hayes then starts to shift the dialogue towards corruption. By weaving in the steroid scandal that haunted baseball in the late-90s, the collapse of Enron, the subprime mortgage crisis and the corruption surrounding the Catholic Church; Hayes goes into a detailed account on why Americans have lost faith in all major institutions. In fact, since the book has been released, you could throw in the scandals involving Penn State football and Lance Armstrong as other institutions engaged in forms of corruption.
Without spoiling too much of Twilight, Hayes talks about how groups such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have risen to the forefront of American politics. Anger at the institutions no longer belongs to exclusively the poor as now the upper middle class has showcased their revulsion towards politics, business and sports.
With the specter of climate change always floating innocuously behind us (and the lack of action done to stall it), Hayes does seem rather pessimistic about our future. Anti-elitism is running at an all-time high and he does have a point, the attitudes people have towards science, math and the “mainstream media” has permanently kept the public skeptical of any new development in the world.
Will action ever take place?
Regardless, Hayes book is an excellent look at the current state of American society. It’s at times gripping, at times wonkish but mostly entertaining. The fact is, that this book likely personifies you. Liberals, progressives, conservatives and moderates all seem fed up with one institution or an other. This book will speak to you if you ever raised an eyebrow at any field.
Do yourself a favor and pick it up.
FINAL REVIEW: 4/5