Taylor Swift conspiracies, Neanderthal reincarnation, Gen Z political divide, elite tutoring keeps sucking
Desiderata #20: links and commentary
The Desiderata series is a regular roundup of links and thoughts, as well as an open thread and ongoing AMA in the comments.
1/10. Since the last Desiderata, The Intrinsic Perspective published:
Why is it so hard to know if you're helping? Even sending mosquito bed nets to Africa carries uncertainty.
(🔒) Choose two of the three: career, family, community. The rule of threes.
The Intrinsic Perspective's subscriber writing: Part 3. The last entry sampling the state of the 2023 blogosphere.
Is 2024 the year of reckoning for academia? Or, How Steven Pinker plagiarized and why it's fine.
Neuroscience is pre-paradigmatic. Consciousness is why. Nothing in the brain makes sense except in the light of consciousness.
2/10. New York magazine published a behind-the-scenes look into the secretive tutors that the rich and well-connected hire for their children. Unfortunately, these tutors are hired not to educate, but to craft college applications.
He started by editing college essays from his Yale dorm room for $50 an hour but now charges the parents of his company’s 190 clients—mostly private-school kids, many of them in New York—$120,000 a year to help them create a narrative he believes will appeal to college-admissions officers… Command employees do everything from curating students’ extracurriculars to helping them land summer internships, craft essays, and manage their course loads with the single goal of getting them in.
It offers a cold dash of reality about how the slots at elite institutions are actually filled:
…being rich in and of itself is still a golden ticket. A damning analysis published last year found that kids of the one percent were 34 percent more likely to get into elite universities than other applicants with similar SAT or ACT scores and that students from families in the top 0.1 percent were more than twice as likely to be admitted.
But what disturbs me most is not the undeniable inequity. It’s the fact that this money is being wasted from an education perspective. In an older age, this kind of cash would go toward what I’ve called “aristocratic tutoring”—the ignored history of how aristocrats, especially in Europe, would pay for one-on-one tutoring for their children, and how this was the primary elite method of education (and one we know is scientifically the most effective). At least, if the money were spent that way, our elites might care about art and science and philosophy, about something more than just managerial striving. For $120,000 a year you could get a one-on-one tutor every day to teach your child the beauty of mathematics (a beauty denied most human beings because of our terrible education system). Here’s an example of this from Bertrand Russell’s education:
But what used to be “teach my kid the classics” or “teach my kid how mathematics is about ultimate truth” is now “navigate my kid through the academic obstacle course.”
Tutoring is the ultimate victim of Goodhart’s Law: the measure has become the metric (academic success alone matters), and modern high-end “tutoring,” if it even deserves the name, has become completely fixated on improving the metrics. The article was a tough reminder that the older kind of tutoring, the effective kind, the one that produced all those great geniuses, isn’t practiced anymore.
3/10. For some reason, Penguin Random House (fair warning, my publisher—I’ll just note they have a lot of divisions) thought it was a good idea to lean into a vapid TikTok conspiracy that the real author of an anonymous YA book they just came out with is… Taylor Swift? Here’s from Publishing Confidential:
Bantam, an imprint of Penguin Random House, released the book Argylle by the “author” Elly Conway on January 9, 2024. Technically, it is a movie tie-in edition. The movie “Argylle,” directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Jason Fuchs, will be released on February 2, 2024…
If you aren’t a Taylor Swift fan, you may not know she has a Scottish Fold cat she carried in an Argyle backpack in her documentary “Miss Americana.” Not-so-coincidentally, it is that cat and backpack inspired the movie Argylle…
It didn’t take long before Swifties (a mighty group of super sleuths) picked up on all of this and debated whether or not Elly Conway, author of Argylle the book, was Taylor Swift…
Well, the author is obviously not Taylor Swift (which has been confirmed), but the real scandal is that Penguin Random sent out messages to “Book Tok” playing along with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the ghost author of this YA movie-tie-in was the most famous person alive.
4/10. The above entry is indication of how difficult it is to avoid Taylor Swift lately. The gravity of her fame is currently larger than arguably anyone else alive, every incident drawn into her orbit. Not that I actually personally dislike her, but she’s definitely everywhere—and then that very unavoidability triggers its own discourse cycle (one that reflects most poorly on the conspiratorial “Taylor Swift is a PsyOp” crowd, who then wonders why they can’t get anyone in their 20s to vote for them; Ross Douthat had an essay in the Times on that issue). Personally, I did have a good chuckle at this widely-shared photo on X:
But is there anything… beyond Taylor Swift? Anything at all? Please?
I know! Let’s check in on how it’s going reincarnating neanderthal brains. Because that’s actually kind of happening.