A Portrait of the Ticket Takers

An analysis of those who are chosen by the elite reveals that it is not talent, ability, or cognitive capability that determines “success” by the elite’s worldly standards, but rather ruthless ambition and desire for external approval.

While I often assume that prestige is a big driver of human behavior, my poll respondents hardly admitted to putting much weight on prestige when picking experts. And many complain that I put too much emphasis on the concept. However, these elite employers strongly confirm my view, as they focus overwhelmingly on prestige when picking junior employees.

They only recruit at the most elite colleges, and they want recruits to be attractive, energetic, articulate, socially smooth, and have had elite personal connections, jobs, and extracurriculars. They don’t that much care about your grades, what you’ve learned, or what you did in your jobs or extracurriculars, as long as they were prestigious.

I noticed several interesting patterns worth pondering. For example, employers have little patience with candidates who didn’t pick the most prestigious possible college or job, but were swayed by other considerations. Such as topics of interest, limited money, or the needs of a spouse or family. A “serious” person always picks max prestige. Always.

Yet for extracurriculars, you are not supposed to connect those to your career plans, as “nerds” do. You must instead do something with no practical value, but that is prestigious. Like varsity athletes in lacrosse or crew, sports that are too expensive for ordinary folks to pursue. Excess interest in ideas marks you as a “boring” “tool”.

An interesting criteria is that you must tell a mesmerizing story about your life, a story told almost entirely in terms of choices that you made to pursue your internal goals, without external constraints having much influence. And even though you have been chosen for your very consistent lifetime pursuit of prestige, that is very much not allowed to be one of your main goals. You were instead pursuing other goals, and prestige just happened as a side effect. Lucky you.

The author convincingly argues that this is not that much of a “meritocracy”, in that the features sought are much easier for elite parents to promote in their kids, and many of them are not actually that useful to society.

The key phrase: “A “serious” person always picks max prestige. Always.”

I ruled myself out of the elite game the moment I chose Bucknell over Princeton, Yale, and Stanford. That was a unconsciously fortuitous choice, given the way in which events proceeded over the next 5-6 years. Because what the elite are selecting for is not intelligence or potential, but rather, one’s anticipated willingness to sell one’s soul to them.

Don’t ever envy those high midwits who are accepted to elite universities and offered every form of easy success at every step along the way. They are literally on the conveyor belt to Hell without having any idea what the path they have chosen is leading toward.

Politics is full of people who want to prove they’re the smartest person in the room but they almost never realise that the room they’re in rarely has any really smart people in it! 

Dominic Cummings