By Chet Yarbrough
By Charles Murray
Narrated by Traber Burns
By Susan Cain
Narrated by Kathe Mazur
Both “Coming Apart” and “Quiet” are disquisitions on America that have an apparent appeal to a consuming audience. “Coming Apart” points to a belief that America has become an aristocracy of education and money. “Quiet” makes the sociological case that human beings are either extroverted or introverted and that extroverts rule American government and business because they talk the most, and argue the best. Both books infer american cultural homogenization. Beyond these mildly interesting observations, Charles Murray and Susan Cain offer a series of inane proofs from “social science” surveys (some say junk science) and anecdotes. It is not that there is not some truth in their observation but the evidence is less than scientific.
Charles Murray (1965 Harvard graduate) argues managers from the upper-economic-class (educated at Harvard, Yale, Princeton; etc.) manage the most important government and business organizations in America based on like-minded university’ academics that are out of touch with laboring-class’ America; i.e. “Coming Apart” argues that Ivy League schools indoctrinate wealthy upper-class’ white men with a distorted view of how the majority of America works and lives. Murray argues that Ivy League universities teach a select group of people who become a separate and distinct management’ class that think and act in a predictably similar, if not, same way; Murray argues that America is coming apart because graduates of the Ivy League, the present leaders of big business and big government, become isolated from the reality of life for most Americans; i.e. the primary leaders of government and business move into neighborhoods of like-minded, similarly-educated’ Americans; enroll their children in private schools, and steer them to storied universities that are self-perpetuating pathways to money, privilege, and social isolation. There are recent events in American politics that suggest Murray has a valid point.
America has millionaire candidates for public office that argue education is critical to success; e.g. one well-known “patrician” politician says do whatever you need to do to get a good education; i.e. do things like “borrow from your parents to complete your education”–an example of an obvious disconnect when mothers and fathers are working for $10/hour or less–barely making enough money for food, clothing, and shelter; let alone, healthcare and education. The upper-economic-class of America does not understand the majority of Americans but they manage or influence most of America’s government and big business operations. Murray argues that a widening separation of social and economic classes is pulling America apart, creating a reality gap between the movers and shakers of government/business organizations and the general public.
Murray observes that Ivy League universities dominate and perpetuate a management class in the United States that is out of touch with the majority of American’ society. The exclusive culture of Ivy League’ universities is separating managers of government and business from the truth of living in middle America; this disconnect dooms lower economic class Americans to a life of hardship; it stultifies opportunity for the majority of Americans because the upper-class is so isolated that they forget how ladders of success are made and presume those ladders still exist. However, the ladders are disappearing because government and business leaders have become insulated from the hurley burly of American life by their disproportionate salaries, wealth, and education which has isolated executives from the truth of a widening socio-economic gap between management and labor.
Susan Cain supplements and magnifies the negative consequence of Murray’s argument by claiming that much of America is being led by extroverts that fail to appreciate contemplative insight of introverts. Cain suggests that extroverts preternaturally look to action rather than contemplation when solving problems. She provides anecdotal stories of Ivy-League school’s like Harvard Business School that emphasize debate skill, business presentation, persuasion, and public speaking as keys to success. Cain suggests that these action oriented disciplines are used by extroverts to sell ice boxes to Eskimos without any research into what Eskimos are more likely to need. An extrovert can sell but may fail to think about the inherent value of what is being sold. Cain is not denigrating the extrovert but she suggests that success is a combination of skills that require abilities of both introverts and extroverts. She argues that a purely extroverted view of the world creates a “keep up with the Joneses” mentality; i.e. a mentality based on appearances rather than substance
David Riesman made a similar argument in the 1950s book, “The Lonely Crowd”, suggesting that Americans are becoming more “other” rather than “inner” directed; i.e. being concerned more about what other people think than what one thinks themselves.
Fareed Zakaria makes a compelling argument in “The Future of Freedom” about politicians that vote based on polls rather than on their own considered opinion. Polls become the substance upon which arguments are made; conscience becomes less important than one’s interpretation of the poll; being elected becomes more important than voting one’s conscience.
If Murray is right about the homogenization of American management and Cain is right about being misled by too much extraversion and not enough introversion, maybe America is “Coming Apart”. On the other hand, maybe Murray and Cain are just selling books.