The privileges of privilege

Jane Galt pointed me to this Matt Yglesias post about this New York Observer article about Ross Gregory Douthat, the young Atlantic Monthly prodigy and author of a memoir about his privileged years at Harvard, aptly entitled Privilege.

I haven’t read Privilege, but I did read Douthat’s article excerpted from the book in The Atlantic (sorry, subscription only — but worth it!). In Douthat’s article (and I imagine the entire book), he expresses his disappointment in the education he received at Harvard.

Mostly I logged the necessary hours in the library and exam rooms, earned my solid (if inflated) GPA and my diploma, and used the rest of the time to keep up with my classmates in our ongoing race to the top of America (and the world). It was only afterward, when the perpetual motion of undergraduate life was behind me, that I looked back and felt cheated.

Uh-huh, we all snicker, me and Jane and Matt and everyone else, sure you’re cheated: cheated with your plum job at The Atlantic, cheated with your $120,000 advance on your tell-all memoir.

I had my own version of privilege, I suppose, attending an almost-Ivy (the University of Chicago), landing a not-quite-so-plum job at a textbook publisher, getting a chance to actually write a textbook at about the same age Douthat must have been landing his big advance. I suppose others would snicker at me, just as I snicker at Douthat, and tell me what it’s like to have an entry-level job at an insurance agency, or a car dealership, or God knows where.

I sure didn’t have William F. Buckley offering me internships when I was in school. I didn’t have an experience like Douthat describes in the Observer article: "The Atlantic Monthly's chairman, David Bradley, 'sort of swept into The Crimson and said, "I'd like to interview 10 or 15 of your best people."'" Nobody ever “swept in” to the offices of the Chicago Maroon (nobody ever swept them out, either).

One place I differed from Douthat is that I didn’t feel cheated by my education at Chicago. Not one bit. What I feel is that the real world hasn’t lived up to the promise of that education. Ironically, apparently you need to go to Harvard to get that. Would I rather be satisfied with my education, or with the rest of my life? I’m striving for both, but if I could have had the chance to have the latter without the former, I would have jumped at it.

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