Tuesday, June 2, 2015


This thread runs through many reformster ideas and many of my responses to them. I just wanted to gather thoughts about betterocracy in one place.

Many reformsters have one fundamental point in common-- they don't really believe in democracy. They believe in betterocracy.

Betterocracy rests on one simple fundamental belief-- some people really are better than others. It's not necessarily the possession of a particular quality, though Betters are usually smarter, wiser, and possessed of superior character. It's that Betters are made of the right stuff. They come from good stock. They are just better than others.

This is not a new thing. Back in the earlier days of romance and story, we find tales of princes who were reduced to tatters and penury, but whose Inner Quality always shone through, and they always rose to their proper princely place. Our Puritan forefathers believed that God had chosen certain people, and you would be able to spot the Chosen because God would reward them for being Better. Horatio Alger made a career out of penning stories of young men possessed of fine character and plucky grit, whose innate superiority eventually lifted them to the level of society to which they truly belonged.

Some folks interpret the idea of American Democracy to be, "All humans are equal."

But other folks believe that promise is, "Any human can become a Better."

We have always had signifiers of Betterness. In the bad old days, those signs that you might be a better included  traits such as Being White or Having a Penis. More progressive bettercrats have come to understand that such signifiers are unreliable, but when they talk about opening the tent to folks of all race, gender and religion, it's not that they believe that all Black Muslim women are equal to white Christian guys. They just mean they are open to the possibility that a Black Muslim woman could turn out to be a Better, too. In fact, many bettercrats are delighted to find non-white, non-wealthy, or non-men who are Betters because it proves we really do live in an enlightened and liberal age. But they still don't believe in democracy, and they still believe that some people are better than others.

Non-believers in betterocracy often imagine that Betters are simply greedhounds in pursuit of stuff and money and power and prestige just to have those things. I don't believe that's true. Bettercrats like those things because they are signfiers of Quality. They are proof that the Betters really are Better. The money, the prestige, the stuff-- why would they have all of that unless they were Better? The right schools, the right clubs, the right houses in the right neighborhoods-- these are all proof that they really are Better.

Bettercrats can actually be dismissive of the stuff. After all, they have the stuff because they deserve it, and so if fate somehow burned down the house and rabble took the money, the Betters would still get it back. They deserve it, and as long as the universe is functioning properly, the Betters will not be denied their due. Failure is a temporary glitch and only happens on a real or permanent scale to Lessers.

Betters can come in all political stripes, defined mostly by disagreements about what the signifiers of Betterness actually are. Conservative vs. liberal bettercrats mostly argue whether anyone who's not white and penis-deprived can be a Better (mostly no), and how to treat the Lessers.

Because a bettercratic country has to be organized in strata. We must sort and stack, because Betters and Lessers should be subject to different regulations, different laws, different punishments, and, of course, different educational systems.

Betters can be allowed to roam free, and while they may need to get an occasional course-correction or wake-up call, we know they're The Right Kind of People. Lessers, however, have all sorts of Naughty Tendencies and we must do what we can to hold their Lesser natures in check. So a Better who is, say, busted for drugs, shouldn't have to suffer the rest of his life for a youthful indiscretion, but a Lesser who is busted needs to be taught a lesson without mercy. Betters should be cut some slack, but if you give a Lesser an inch, he'll take a mile.

Betters occasionally need a hand or some help, and that's only right. Betters owe it to other Betters to lend a hand, and of course Betters deserve every bit of help they get. But Lessers are always looking for a handout, and to give them help is just to encourage their dependent, lazy, lesser nature. Betters who have had a hard moment or two need understanding and support, but Lessers should be allowed No Excuses.

Bettercrats are in a tizzy these days because we have a problem as a country-- too many portions of the government have been taken over by Lessers, who in turn are pandering to large groups of Special Interest Lessers. This is Very Bad, because unchecked, Lessers will do Terrible, Bad Things. In fact, they might demand money and power and other trappings of success to which they are not entitled (though Better's will use the word "entitled" to mean "thinking they deserve things that they do not deserve). They don't seem to understand that the fact they need help proves that they don't deserve help.

Bettercrats expect Lessers to know their place. After all, they wouldn't be poor and powerless if that wasn't what they deserved. After all, the nicer word for betterocracy is "meritocracy," the system in which people get what they deserve-- and not everybody deserves the best. If they deserved it, they would have it. Trying to give it to them is just violating the natural order.

So we need different education systems-- one to prepare Betters for lives of well-deserved privilege, money and power, and another to prepare Lessers for their proper role in society. Better schools are for providing opportunities and enrichment for America's future leaders. Lesser schools are for training America's future employees. In addition, in the dreams of liberal-minded bettercrats, the system should also provide a means of discovering and rescuing Betters who are, by some accident of birth and zip code, trapped amongst the Lessers. This rescue mission makes bettercrats feel more progressive. But, again-- progressive bettercrats do not believe that all humans are created equal; they believe that individuals from almost any background could turn out to be Betters (but only if rescued from the influence of Lessers).

And if the two-tier system is set up and managed in such a way that it reverse the regrettable trend of giving Lessers too much control, too much power, too much say-- well, that's a bonus.

Bettercrats know that not everybody should have a say. Betters should be in charge. Lessers should not. Letting just anybody have a vote, even if he's a Lesser, leads to bad, messy, stupid decisions. Preferable to sweep away voting rights (from electing Presidents to choosing school boards) in predominantly Lesser communities. Dump the school board, and install leadership by a Better. Do not engage or discuss with the members of the community; if they deserved to have money, power,or a say, they would already have it.

Bettercrats sometimes succumb to anger-- why don't these Lessers see that their schools suck, their children are ignorant, their neighborhoods are holes, and that their communities are awash in unworthy Lessers. Some of them don't even have the decency to feel bad about it. Man, if we could just get some solid proof that their world sucks and rub their faces in it until they finally hollered uncle and begged for their Betters to come straighten everything out for them. But some of them just keep acting like they deserve to have a voice, like they have a right to love their lives and their families and their communities.

The bottom line is that bettercrats believe that democracy is, really, a bad idea. Some people just don't deserve to have a say. Some people just don't deserve to be in charge of anything. Some people just aren't important. Some people just don't matter. Some people just can't have nice things. Bettercrats may, out of generosity and a general sense of noblesse oblige, give Lessers the nice things that they don't deserve, but those will be nice things that the Betters have selected, and Lessers can have the nice things under terms dictated by the Betters. Why shouldn't Betters have an outsized disproportionate influence on government? The fact that they have the money and power to wield influence is proof that they are right to do so.

None of this is democracy, not even a watered-down republic-styled democracy. Bettercrats mostly would not recognize democracy (they most commonly call it "socialism").

And that's why we've got the refomster programs that we have. Our Betters are trying to give the Lessers the system they deserve while rescuing Betters who have been trapped by zip codes in dens of Lesser iniquity. Our Betters are creating a system that disenfranchises Lessers (who, after all, do not deserve to be enfranchised in the first place because if they deserved to have power, they would have it). Our Betters are trying to create a system that further reinforces their own power and control, because they deserve to have them. Our Betters are even trying to get Lessers to understand that they are, in fact, Lessers.

The genius of America is that of a country that makes room for all voices and treats them all as equals, tied together and forced to create systems that accommodate all our citizens. It envisions a level playing field in which all voices and ideas can compete in the grand marketplace of thought. We have never fully lived up to that genius, but Betters do not even recognize it as genius to begin with. Right now their lack of vision is bad for education, but in the long run, it's bad for the entire country.


  1. The better word for this is "meritocracy", which was coined by Michael Young in his book, "The Rise of the Meritocracy", a satirical parable about the formation of a society run by those who have been found to posses superior IQ and show more effort (IQ + effort = merit). Young wrote the book in 1958, reflecting the starry-eyed belief in many back then (think James Bryant Conant and the Conant Commission) that computers and science would solve all of our problems. Of course, Young has turned out to be quite prescient about all the absurdities and corruptions of the idea.

    Of course the "betterocracy" is not democratic; why would you let stupid people vote against the right programs of their betters? Betterocracy reflects the technocratic view of the Progressives, who believed that all of mankind's problems can be solved through technical means (i.e., we can use science to understand everything, and there is a way therefore to achieve what we want and need by applying an (optimized) science-based technique). Technocracy is also the watch-word of business management, as propounded by Frederick Taylor, who invented the oxymoronic phase "scientific management" and created the modern management class.

    All of this was introduced into public schools over a century ago by the original reformers, who made all the same claims about our children being at risk and not having "20th Century" skills. In reality, it was about the Fords, Rockefellers, and Carnegies (and other rich) wanting to ensure they would always rule. And their money was eagerly taken by the then new educational research programs at Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Stanford, etc., who all believed they would bring the millennium to the lower classes.

    I recommend reading Diane Ravitch's "Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform" and Raymond Callahan's "Education and the Cult of Efficiency" in addition to Young. And read Dewey's writings as well; you'll see how his naive ideas about abandoning the idea of a classical education for an engineered socializing backfired horrifically.

    1. I seriously doubt you've actually read Dewey if you believe he's all about "engineered socializing". Exactly the opposite, in fact.

      As for LEFT BACK, it was written when Diane was a still conservative shilling for "accountability" and seriously misunderstanding progressive education. I think she's come to a much better understanding and appreciation since.

    2. Sorry, Dienne, I have read Dewey. As I said, he was "naïve". In particular, if want proof of his ideas, consider this:

      "Men have long had some intimation of the extent to which education may be consciously used to eliminate obvious social evils through starting the young on paths which shall not produce these ills, and some idea of the extent in which education may be made an instrument of realizing the better hopes of men. But we are doubtless far from realizing the potential efficacy of education as a constructive agency of improving society.:

      From Democracy and Education p. 79.

      As the historian Christopher Lasch noted, "The very act of defining the purpose of the school in these terms forced Dewey back into the conception of education he wished to particularly avoid, the idea of education as a form of indoctrination in the values of the grown-up world." (The New Radicalism in America (1889–1963), pp. 159–160.)

      As for Diane's book, can you show me where she recanted any portion of it? Has she ever claimed that she was a "shill" as you claim? I've quoted from her book many times on her 'blog without any comment from her.

      Otherwise, perhaps you should try using evidence instead of slinging mud.

    3. Diane herself said she recanted.

    4. "Ravitch renounced her earlier support for testing and choice in 2010, in a best-selling book. She critiqued the punitive uses of accountability to fire teachers and close schools, as well as replacing public schools with charter schools and relying on superstar teachers, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010). In the book Ravitch sharply broke with policies she had formerly espoused[7] and the book became a surprise best seller a month after its release." - Wikipedia

    5. And I don't understand what you're saying about Dewey. What he wanted to abandon was the traditional idea that education existed in order to narrowly train students only to be worker bees, only learning a specific skill set for a specific job. He wasn't trying to "engineer" anything. He wanted students to learn to be intellectually curious and think for themselves so they could be responsible citizens and participate in ideas and projects that, in a democratic society, can make the society better. That's not "engineering."

      I don't know what you're referring to that "backfired horribly." Some of his disciples misinterpreted him for a time, he thought, and went overboard on being student-centered, and he had to explain that there has to be a balance between student interest, content, and teacher direction. I don't know if that's what you're talking about.

      And I don't know what you're trying to show with the one paragraph you're citing out of the context of the whole book. Naive? Because he thinks that it's possible to teach students to be critical thinkers and this would be good for society?

  2. Bettercrats also need to beware of the fact that there are more of the Lessers, and they can be riled up when they have nothing left to lose. The French nobility learned this lesson painfully, their armed help and their gated communities did not save them. History is often cyclical. Enough said.

  3. HG Wells saw one outcome of this arrangement, in The Time Machine.

  4. It's a long time ago, but when I was a kid I often heard the phrase "...your elders and betters". Not much changes, only the details.