Paul Rossi, canceled math teacher and co-host of Chalkboard Heresy, joins the podcast to discuss the woke illness afflicting the nation’s elite and powerful institutions, and how to realign the institutional incentives currently overwhelming dissent. Paul and Inez also discuss whether the culture wars have reached a tipping point, and trade theories for why elite institutions have so enthusiastically grabbed onto their new religion.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. I’m so glad this week to finally have on Paul Rossi. Paul and I have had a lot of these kinds of conversations over drinks in bars in New York City or at just gatherings, of course mocking us here a little bit, but-

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, good times.

Inez Stepman:

… we’ve had all these conversations and I’m really pleased to be able to bring them to my audience here because I think they’re always really interesting. So Paul Rossi, he’s an advisor to Education Liberty Alliance and he’s also half of, I believe, a duo at a podcast, Chalkboard Heresy. So fundamentally, Paul is a teacher. He was a teacher, at least at a very tony private school in New York before he challenged the woke orthodoxy there and then consequently got himself both pushed out and widely canceled. At the same time he wrote this tour de force letter that went out in Common Sense, Barry Weiss’s Substack, that was just a really powerful declaration of, I think, a teacher’s role and responsibilities to his students and responsibilities to the truth. And so I really highly recommend, if you haven’t read that, that was a while back, that it’s well worth rereading. So welcome, Paul, to High Noon.

Paul Rossi:

Thanks for having me on, Inez. It’s great to be here.

Inez Stepman:

So let’s start with, to use, I hate the word woke and I hate the word canceled because I feel like they’re so vague and trendy and don’t really communicate something sharp, but I have struggled to come up with better words. So leaving that aside, let’s talk through what happened when you were a teacher. I think it was called Grace Church School, is that right?

Paul Rossi:

That’s the name of the place, yeah. Yeah. Grace Church. I had taught there for 10 years approximately, and I started with the high school. They opened a new high school, and they have a storied tradition on the East Side, downtown Manhattan. They’ve been around for over 100 years, and they opened a high school, really marketed and geared towards the colleges in terms of they had a progressive angle from the beginning, and they continue to have one. It’s a smart move because that’s what colleges want. They wanted students who are sort of woke weaned is how I put it, again with all the caveats around that word woke, but essentially progressive, social justice ideology informed with all the attendant things like gender ideology, critical race theory informed attached to it. And they started going that way from the beginning with increasing pressure and power as the years went on.

So I started to, at first I was gung-ho, I mean I wasn’t super gung-ho, but I was okay with it, and I thought it was generally good. And then as the years went by, I started to notice an effect on the students, which was not healthy: its effect on debate within the school and the way certain beliefs were being presented as knowledge, when in fact they were not knowledge, they are a particular theory, theoretical lens. And the most painful part that changed my mind was watching the students struggle with it, watching them try to handle a cognitive dissonance that comes around having no ability to articulate or pressure not to articulate doubt when it’s being pushed so hard.

And Grace is not unique in that regard, it’s actually something that we’ve been seeing over and over in the past year, a few before my article came out but many, many, many instances after that. Schools like Brearley, schools like Collegiate, schools like Horace Mann, these are the top tony private schools in the New York area and the same thing at West, you’ve got Harvard Westlake, in Chicago you have Chicago Latin, and these schools are all under the umbrella of a association called the National Association of Independent Schools. We can talk a little bit about them. But this is a trend long in the making. So when I started, the upshot of my article was that I no longer work at Grace Church School, and we can go into details on that, but essentially since then I really did a deep dive into NAIS, the National Association of Independent Schools, the conferences they hold, the professional relationships, the hiring practices, their principles of equity and justice, and how they really inform this sea change among all of these schools.

Inez Stepman:

Why do you think it is that our elite have been so wholly captured by these ideas? Because if you pull some of this, the underlying principles of critical race theory, systemic racism, implicit bias, some of these topics, or certainly if you pull some of the gender ideology, it seems like there’s a strong majority of Americans who are deeply skeptical of these ideas, at least in their most extreme forms. But that poll that’s about a lot of these issues are even 80/20 — but it seems like among our elite it flips to the opposite direction, like 20/80. And I wonder if, given that you worked in one of these essentially elite pipeline schools that a lot of your students went on to go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and then from those elite universities into places of real prestige and power in our country, whether that’s being in the halls of the New York Times or whether that’s in the halls of the DOJ or, frankly, as VPs and CEOs of most of America’s major corporations. So why do you think it’s been the elite that has been so easily captured and dedicated to these ideas?

Paul Rossi:

It’s a great question, and there are two explanations that I find compelling that both of them, I think, are going on. There’s this sort of numinous spiritual explanation, which — I would point listeners who haven’t read it to White Guilt by Shelby Steele, and the way that book articulates the vaporization of the moral authority of institutions, particularly academic institutions, elite institutions after the civil rights movement, this feeling that the very elite moral authority that these places held, and including objective truth, including righteousness and belief in the self, all the way, it’s a psychological vacuum, really. And so the spiritual quality of professing one’s, substituting essentially this void with this ersatz morality of social justice, this mania around social justice. These ideas, implicit bias, critical race, they’re not being evaluated based on the facts. They’re being evaluated for the psychological value they hold for the institutions. It’s a way for them to recapture moral authority in a very condescending, I believe, and degrading way to the very populations that they’re seeking to help.

The other explanation is one which is, I think, kind of in the inverse in that it’s a way for wealthy elites to simultaneously mask their privilege and blame everyone else for it. So what do I mean by that? So it’s a point that’s been made elsewhere. So it’s not that I have tremendous resources that I’m in the 0.01% as people who ran my school where, these are people that had enormous legacy wealth. The current head of school is a direct descendant of JP Morgan. I mean we’re talking about big old money here. It’s not that we’re super wealthy, it’s that all of us, you included, the middle class is that we’re white. So it simultaneously levels them with this racial block or we’re a man or male and it says, “Listen, we’re all to blame. We all share complicity with this thing.” So it kind of covers the ball.

But it also makes sense for them individually to adopt this. I know my own head of school, George Davidson, went through a kind of woke awakening because when your country club only started accepting Jews a generation or two ago and Blacks as well, and all of the people that are attending upon you in your Park Avenue mansion are people of color, then the critical race vision of America actually fits for you. It actually makes sense because it describes your childhood and adolescent and reality. So there’s a tendency while actually we are a racist country in all of these ways, and guess what, it is for all white people. So that projection, I think, and these are the people who actually decide in their board meetings whether to staff up in DEI for example, and the consultants will come in and do the dog and pony show and they’ll fall for it.

And they’ll fall for it because a lot of them, that was their parents’ reality or their grandparents’ reality and then the moral culpability that they feel gets pushed outward. Now, I grew up in a college town, but I went to a public school. I had friends of all different races. In my 20s and 30s, same thing. And that wasn’t my experience, it wasn’t a lot of white people’s experience. And so we’re all being subjected to this feverish projection of elite whites, in my view, that’s part of it.

Inez Stepman:

That reminds me of the line in Radical Chic by Tom Wolfe where he describes how these wealthy Manhattanites who are throwing parties for the Black Panthers, they have this difficulty in that they need to make sure that the help for their parties is always white because otherwise the impression would be that they’re participating in this racial hierarchy. So I guess all things are new again.

So what you’re describing is both a very deep discomfort with hierarchy and the existence of an elite and the kind of ruthless maintenance of an elite, which I suppose makes sense, I mean nobody wants their children to take a step down in life, but that’s necessarily what any kind of actual genuinely serious leveling scheme would be. So I think you make a really good point, especially about transferring guilt to a broader section, and especially, I think we talk about this concept a lot in the opposite direction where we talk about how the systemic, for example systemic nature of racism, the way that say Abraham Kennedy would perceive it really removes agency from young Black Americans and has a negative effect.

I mean Ian Rowe wrote this great book, he was on this podcast also talking about his book Agency, right? That it does remove in a very important way a young person’s sense that he is, at least to some degree, in charge of his own destiny. But in this case, you’re talking about it in almost the opposite way where it’s now a particular sort of elite band of society can wield enormous genuine privilege, wealth, and power, but can at the same time, even though they’re part of the “oppressor” categories, that’s a way of disengaging psychologically from your own role or your own actions. It’s just this larger systemic force that we’re all participating in rather than, “Hey, if you’re really dedicated to this idea of leveling, well then maybe you shouldn’t be charging $54,000 a year to go to Grace Church School.”

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, I mean they do have financial aid. Grace Church, to its credit, actually had more financial aid than any other of its peer schools. But there’s two things going on. One I think is that these are schools that their feature actually has become a bug. So the feature is that we’re elites and you come to us because we are elites, we are the access for your child to get into the halls of power. So that’s a huge selling point. But that very explicit or lightly coded advantage that they offer, that everybody knows they at least for now continue to offer, or offer the appearance that they continue to offer it, which is kind of like offering it. But that now is something that you can be pilloried for because as democracy gets broader and broader, then elitism is sort of the greatest sin. So now they still structurally want to maintain their elitism, but the marketing is terrible, so they need to hide their light under a bushel basket of social justice and diversity and all these other things.

The other thing going on is that for most of the people that can pay this amount, pay the full ride, it doesn’t matter whether their kid can read Chaucer or understands the themes of Dante’s Inferno or whatever, because their bread is buttered either way. So if part of the compromise means lowering standards of intellectual competency and mastery of skills, they’re okay with that. These are not the kids that are competing at the SHSAT schools, the specialized high schools in New York where you actually have to have the skills. You’ve got to be like the immigrant kids that come in here and bust their ass, actually need to be super smart and know how to do it and work hard. They’re going to be fine. These are patronage networks more or less.

So that’s also going on is that it’s costly signaling of a species of animal. We’re going to be educated no matter what in the things that we need to know, which is power. So we don’t need to insist that students have all of these great classical training skills, we can just run undercover of the brand for as long as it’ll carry us while we also get the benefit of this elite denying discourse around us is I guess how I would put it.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. So I guess I have two observations and questions to volley back to you. The first is they do need it, especially, and I think this is one of the things that you and I agree I think most strongly on, I think especially in a world in which one’s meaning in life is not essentially handed to you, we’re not living in the integralist Middle Ages where we are handed a faith and a place in society, in a hierarchical society and that’s just our fate. And there are many negative things about that, don’t get me wrong, I actually am a small L liberal, I don’t think that’s the ideal way to organize society, but it seems to me that in post-enlightenment and capitalist society, which has produced enormous amounts of prosperity, unheard of in human history, but we are now facing the problem of atomization and meaning.

And especially when traditional religion seems out of reach to so many people… Look, I went to a public high school, but it was one of these essentially public prep schools. It was right next door to Stanford, extremely academically high achieving, very, very, very high-pressure environment. And the number of “mental illnesses” that people had, their inability to cope with adversity was extremely high. And I think part of that is that lack of a base that comes sometimes from religious practice, sometimes from community practice, sometimes from family. But if you knock out one by one, those pillars underneath people, people-

Paul Rossi:

Oh yeah, don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with that. I’ve commenting from the cynical materialist perspective, but of course if I’m looking at it from the perspective of the parent that works at Goldman Sachs and just is like, “Yeah, just put your head down and you’ll be fine.”

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, anyway I think-

Paul Rossi:

I think the level of meaning, the level of children, yes, it’s a catastrophic decline in meaning and to know, to understand and appreciate our traditions, and I use the O-U-R broadly is super important to understand what it means for you and I think a lot of parents take that for granted when they go along with this other stuff, which is kind of the ersatz morality that’s substituting.

Inez Stepman:

So both from the materialist perspective and the perspective we’ve been talking about, I mean how, at some level the project, I feel like… Well, let me back up one second. Let me ask you, do you think we are reaching some kind of tipping point? Obviously, it’s becoming easier to express, at least in certain outlets and circles, some kind of objection to what I would call a cultural revolution that’s building. On the other hand, it seems like the power of this ideology within those institutions is only growing stronger. So where are you? Do you think we’re at some kind of tipping point or do you think it’s going to get worse from here, not better?

Paul Rossi:

I think it’s going to be a long, hard slog, decades long hard slog because you’re right, there’s the tiny little hole that if only a few electrons shot through is now getting wider and there’s more freedom. There’s sort of a Glasnost around — Perestroika, I get them confused — around what can be said and what is tolerated, and maybe Twitter will be helpful with that. But at the same time, all those people still have jobs and they’re still hiring. So there is just tremendous momentum, structural institutional momentum around DEI philosophy. And it’s ensconced. You’re not going to… And those people don’t know how to code, so you’re not going to be able to pry them out with an oyster knife and they’re going to work through the system and either, who knows? Maybe an economic catastrophe would be the best thing to end wokeness because then maybe these companies and schools will realize that having 259 DEI executive directors or managers is a bad thing, it’s not sustainable.

But I think that all of the professors, all the teachers, all the young teachers coming to the ed schools, all the HR departments, that’s not going to go away. There are millions, tens of millions of people who are part of these industries and you either need a Curtis Yarvin-ite to come in and start swinging the ax, which I don’t think is necessarily a good idea, or you need a massive cultural transformation, you need it in Hollywood, you need a counter cultural movement, which isn’t just a lot of podcasts and intellectuals, it’s actually an artistic movement. And I don’t see a lot of signs of that in Hollywood. I don’t see a lot of signs of that in television. A few green shoots like in White Lotus is an interesting show I’ve been watching that points to some potential. So it’s going to be a big sea change and I think that there have been a lot of PR wins in the public, but institutional wins I haven’t seen yet. A few maybe.

Inez Stepman:

That’s a really good way to put it. I just talked actually the last episode of this podcast I do every month with Emily Duszynski, we talked about the artistic angle to this and I actually am quite hopeful in the artistic space that there will be at least some kind of counter movements, by which I mean not explicitly political counter movements, but I do think that there has reached a point where it’s extremely rote. And so even very talented artists who have no interest in the political battles are kind of finding themselves just, in the Soviet Union by the way, but kind of finding themselves at a crossroads where they have to sacrifice not just to say the right things at the party or to write the DEI statement, but that their work itself has to conform with the equivalent of Soviet realism and that there’s an artistic imposition that’s now happening that I think is engendering a kind of artistic backlash.

Because if you are an artist or somebody who wants to produce some art of value, there has to be some respect, I think ultimately, for the control over your artistic project and the integrity of that project. And I think we have finally gotten, I mean in some sense it means it’s gotten bad enough, but I do think there is some hope in that. But it seems to me, if we’re going to have any political hope of building our way out of this, it’s got to be institutional as you say. And it seems like in some cases, maybe those institutions are salvageable, in a lot of cases I think they’re not and we’re going to have to build around them. So my question to you is, at what point are some of these people who maybe aren’t quiet objectors to this? It seems to me there’s not really a way around the fact they are going to have to be willing to exit the elite pipeline.

Paul Rossi:

Right. And this is a big problem, right? So you have this prestige problem. You can take a brand, let’s say you take a luxury brand, I don’t know, I don’t know fashion, but imagine, and then basically that brand becomes corrupted from within. Materials start to degrade, it’s just the stitching isn’t that great in the handbag or whatever, and eventually it has this name though, and imagine that, but imagine there are no other competitors or all the other luxury brands are deteriorating at the same rate. And then the lower brands are deteriorating too. So you have this condition where instead of a lowering tide is lowering the quality of education all across the land.

Now, you are someone who has a lot of resources and you’re looking at this picture, where do you send your child? Now we’re not talking about handbags, we’re talking about schools. So where would you send your child? Well in the absence of any high prestige alternatives, you’re going to stick with the horse which is aging poorly, to mix a few metaphors, but you’re going to stick with the thing which is deteriorating maybe at the same rate, or even slightly faster, as long as it has the prestige attached. So you need to have this effort to create other institutions that are new but have enough prestige attached so that they will attract enough new entrants who are scared. Because the scared money is always the ones with the most money in a sense, except for the few exceptions.

So, how do you do that? How do you rustle up enough brave, rich people to try to change what’s going on in that world when those people know exactly the costs of bucking the trend because, well if I send them to this school, which is… Well then maybe they’re not going to get in anywhere else. And are they going to have to go to Hillsdale? I mean really? That’s the mindset is, am I really going to have to send my child to a second-tier school? And in some ways, it’s kind of comic and it’s depressing, but understand, sympathy for the devil, understand that Brahmans throughout history have always Brahmaned and that’s what they do. And I want to challenge people to speak up and be courageous and all the things, but I also am pretty clear-eyed about incentives and the incentives are more important than courage in a way. You kind of need both, but I’ll take incentives over courage any day of the week.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I mean I agree with that, the incentive structure has to change. But I do think at some level it has to start with the courage of talented people because there won’t be any alternative built in the scenario that you’re referencing. And there is a moral dimension to this, this is where I’ve started to find it disturbing, and starting to verge into the contemptuous I guess, and maybe I shouldn’t be, maybe you should tell me that I shouldn’t be, but you’re not just talking about whether or not your children will be able to go to Yale or Harvard, the motto is Veritas still as far as I know, laughably. It’s not just that, yes, your kid can go to Harvard and maybe go work in Goldman Sachs, but at this point there’s a non-insignificant chance that your daughter might be sterilized before she gets there or that something else horrible, because of this ideology, will actually affect your child’s identity, how he or she sees him or herself.

It seems to me that there is a moral imperative at some point, better that my kid is whole and works as a firefighter than goes to Harvard and chops off her breasts. There has to be a bottom here, I guess is what I’m saying, that there has to be some level of courage to say, yes, it is better at some point to give up the prestige and hopefully become part of an institution like Hillsdale. I mean Hillsdale’s standards have been able to be shooting up through the roof now, right? Because-

Paul Rossi:

Oh God, yeah. I mean believe me, don’t get me wrong, I am putting my brain in the brain of the elite person. But I would say absolutely, and that would mean an inversion of values and an inversion of shame. So it would be like instead of virtue signaling that we’re so progressive and our child is doing all these wonderful things for social justice and aren’t we great? The inversion is actually, if you push this on your kid, you’re a bad parent. I think social program needs to invert and we need to get to that place, exactly what you’re talking about, where it’s a moral failing not to put your kids’ mental health first and their physical health first, which would mean chasing status, at the exclusion of all else, would kind of become anti status. So that’s what I think. That’s the way I think. If you ask Paul Rossi, that’s what I think. And there are many, many parents that think that, but not enough. Not right now.

Inez Stepman:

It’s exactly the kind of parents though that… So like I said about Hillsdale, Hillsdale is… So, they have always had a world-class education. I mean I’m jealous every time I interact with Hillsdale students, I’m jealous of the actual education that they received. But it’s true that on SAT scores or rankings, Hillsdale is not where Harvard is, right? It’s by no means bad, but they’re able to accelerate their academic profile of their students and the talent of their student body exactly because they’re still maintaining this academic standard that no one else is.

I think St John’s does it less explicitly, although I don’t know, they might be captured at this point too, but for a long time, because it isn’t built into the very school’s mission that they’re going to be teaching the great books. And so even if they, I’m sure they now add all this ideological gloss on top of it, still fundamentally if you’re going to St. John’s, you’re reading the great books of Western civilization. So that has allowed those institutions, I know for sure about Hillsdale, I would guess St John’s, they are able to build a new sort of prestige because now they’re able to attract student quality that they could not have done 10 or 15 years ago because those students would be going to Harvard. But now some small percentage of the students who would be going to Harvard are going to Hillsdale and-

Paul Rossi:

Nice. I like that. I mean you’re dropping white pills and I’m here for it.

Inez Stepman:

But that kind of project replicated everywhere in every institution, to make things that are genuinely worth according honors and prestige too and elite positions in institutions that are genuinely worth the prestige assigned to them, that is going to require more and more people who could make it into Harvard to go to Hillsdale it seems to me.

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, you need to get to, you talked about a tipping point, you need the gold rush moment where parents are going to be like, “Wow, these people who went to these places, and they’re actually getting high and they’re actually doing really well in their life because it’s grounded, the prestige is actually grounded in quality.” And then it would be like, “Well if I don’t apply here, if I don’t send my kid, then I’m missing out.” Then that’s when you’re going to see the massive acceleration kick in, rather than it being like, it’s a quality alternative which you should not overlook to, crap, I’m going to be outcompeted if we don’t go here. Do you see the difference?

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Which impulse do you think is going to save us? Because right now we’re talking about the creation of a counter elite essentially, and you mentioned Yarvin, because it seems to me that there are two ways this could go, either one of them potentially not successful. I don’t know. But there is a small D democratic backlash. In other words, the backlash of the many against these ideas being imposed institutionally by an elite. And so there’s an anti-elitist backlash and then there’s the Yarvin case, which is you need to build a counter elite and work within the elite because there has always been, as you said, Brahman’s going to Brahman, right? There’s always been, I guess the corollary would be Brahman’s going to Brahman and Brahman’s always going to rule, right? But I haven’t been ever convinced fully of that, because it seems to me that America’s always had actually a very prosperous, educated middle. So which way do you think this is-

Paul Rossi:

I think both, right? So the easy answer is both. But yes, there’s a tremendous energy from people, and I don’t mean to… It is the people at the school board meeting with the pictures of the dirty books and saying, “What the hell is going on?” And they vote, they’re engaged. And the more people that get engaged like that, the better. But I think the other side is also true is that people are busy and they’re busy living their lives. The people who are going to be elected and actually make decisions in the smoke-filled rooms, which will always be there, are going to be the people that can keep enough of those people happy and give them options. And so you have the school choice movement and everything.

So it’s almost like, yeah, you need both. If you push too far, if the elite pushes too far and there’s a backlash, well then those people are an opportunity for other people to come in and give them what they want just enough to keep them happy. So the same time you’re gerrymandering, you’re sort of gerrymandering discourse, you’re gerrymandering… But yeah, there will… The existence of democratic small-D pushback, and to the extent that we have it, and I think it’s good as an educated populace, doesn’t subtract the universal necessity for some kind of elite. Now I don’t mean that as a necessity, like we’ll die without them, but that they’re always going to be there and that it’s better to have an enlightened one than a corrupt one. I mean they’re always corrupt, but you want to limit the corruption. It’s kind of how I would muddle through that question.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. So, I agree that there’s always going to be some kind of elite, but I guess I’m less certain about how much power, they’re always going to have some power, it’s always going to be disproportionate perhaps to their democratic proportion, but the balance of those things matters a lot and it seems to me that in the US there actually has been an enormous amount of self-rule, of true self government that has been bottom up.

Paul Rossi:

But I mean, again, you’ve got this problem since World War II. You have this tremendous bureaucracy around people whose…their goals in life are to get credentialed and serve in the quarters of power eternally, no matter who’s president. So that’s just a fact, and you can’t fire those people —

Inez Stepman:

I was thinking pre-World War II history and I think the 19th century in the United States is in many ways, a very… Actually even the problems of that kind of rule tend to be you develop sort of Tammany Hall type problems where you have the corruption of the low.

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, it’s kind of good corruption.

Inez Stepman:

[inaudible 00:38:53] building of explicit political power in a corrupt way, but I’ve always thought that the ills of that are perhaps overblown and the ills of exactly the managerial or technocratic elite that we’ve had for the last 70 years or 50 years depending on your… I feel like we underestimate the ills of our current setup and overestimate in some ways the ills of just your Tammany Hall-

Paul Rossi:

Oh yeah, no, I mean local corruption, there’s a way to look at that where it skirts the rules or whatever. As long as the patronage system is close to the ground and it’s granular and the actual community members benefit, in a way that’s still corruption, but it’s preferable to this nationalized corruption, which is severed from and far more exploitative of the population, the general population. I agree. I mean it’s kind of like the cartel is a dirty business and people get killed and it’s horrible, but then all the people of the province of Mexico, where it’s coming from, they’re fans. Why are they fans?

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I remember in 2007 actually, so I went to school in San Diego, so I remember in 2007 when they took out one of the major cartels, finally the Mexican government got their act together, they took out one of the cartels and things got infinitely worse because all of the cartels went to war with each other, that’s when the real bloody-

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, Chapo. Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Era happened on the border. And it does seem to really, if nothing else, it does seem to really —

Paul Rossi:

I’m not proposing that as a solution to our problem. I mean I’m saying, and that’s actually really bad because it’s in the national level too, it’s a narco-state so let’s be real. But to go back to your Tammany Hall example, there’s a set of rules handed down on high, there are people that cheat the rules at the local level, there are opportunities for people, they become sort of local heroes, even though they’re crooks. That’s a lot less bad than some kind of 5,000-person state agency that exists in perpetuity.

Inez Stepman:

Why is our elite so homogenized now? Because as we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about you have the bosses of Tammany Hall and then even within New York, and I’m not no expert on New York history, but I do live near the five points so-

Paul Rossi:

Daniel Day-Lewis coming around with a meat cleaver.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, exactly. At least I die a true American. No, but first of all, you have competing bosses on the corrupt level and then you have the Brahmans of the upper, I don’t know, Upper West Side, Upper East Side, whatever, choose your ethnic group, but… So why is it that our elite is so homogenized now? And it’s funny because exactly the same people that were at your school are so concerned about diversity. And here I’m not even saying diversity of thought, although I think diversity of thought flows from this, but there’s no diversity of experience or trajectory or how people made their money so much anymore in this elite. It’s very, they all went to the same schools, they all had largely the same trajectory, and yes, you have different flavors of it. You have a Silicon Valley flavor of it, which is still a little bit more Wild West-y and then you have the East Coast finance flavor of it. But fundamentally, why have our elites homogenized so much? Where’s our… I don’t think SBX counts, like our top Tammany Hall.

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, there is this sort of professional professionalism, we talk about business schools and the institutionalization of corporate, what it means to have a corporation. They’re all kind of look the same. It doesn’t matter what business, it’s just almost like there’s certain things you have to do to do it right. You have to do this business plan, you have to do all the things, and it does homogenize experience. And that’s what I think it is. I think it’s almost the Byzantine decadent, the decadence of Byzantium, there’s all these different… There’s all diversity of things, but they’re all basically the same because everyone’s supposed to just do things by the book. There’s a book in other words. Maybe that’s my —

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, well what’s-

Paul Rossi:

… very uneducated take on it.

Inez Stepman:

What’s in the book? And more importantly, why is there only one book now? Because it seems to me that even-

Paul Rossi:

Well I think it’s got to be predictable. If you’re unpredictable, no one’s going to give you a dollar.

Inez Stepman:

Okay, but that’s a general thing that was just as true 100 years ago as it’s true now. And —

Paul Rossi:

I guess there’s a more, I think the book is that there’s a standard way to be predictable or there’s perceived to be a standard way to be predictable, rather than many different ways to be predictable.

Inez Stepman:

Well maybe it’s exactly… I mean I’m not usually the person who rants about globalization, but maybe it is, in this case, technological. Because the way to be predictable or the book in, say, Ohio versus New York versus California, even 50 years ago it wasn’t as frictionless. You had regional variations. And even more so if you’re talking about, for example, China versus the United States, but maybe it is the instantaneousness of communication, continuously.

Paul Rossi:

Also the loss of… We’ve become atomized, and with that you’ve lost those regional, cultural touchstones that allow, say, the folksy farmer to do business with a handshake. That’s the frictionlessness that you get with a sort of regional, cultural, the trust relationship when you have the same culture. And I think that the regulatory environment and the complexities around that, it’s like your car. You can’t fix a car anymore. You need a person who’s a computer geek to fix your car. It’s the same. I think it’s very similar.

Inez Stepman:

Let me wrap up by asking you this. What do you think people can and should do both inside and outside these kind of elite institutions? You said courage is not enough, but I mean America is nothing if not civically organized. There’s a pothole on the street in America, a week later, there are five committees and a blue-ribbon panel to devise what happens, the pothole still has to get fixed but-

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, and I believe in that. Believe me, that is where the hope is. It’s in that, it’s in the thing that prompts you to get and show up to the school board meeting and read the dirty book, you want that to be spanning time and go forward and get into other issues and to become a citizen again. So I think that there are these sort of great civic awakenings too that can draw more people into the process and then understand how the sausage is made and then they get elected. And I think there’s great hope there.

The great fear there, too, is the way organized political parties will capitalize on that and create their own patronage networks and exploit outrage for fundraising. And you get a whole slew of people that are professional politicians in both parties that are going to glom onto that and basically make whores of us all. So yeah, it’s the greatest opportunity, but it’s also like with… You have to watch out.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I think that’s a good warning to end on, both optimism and warning to end on. Thank you so much, Paul Rossi, for coming on High Noon. Where can people find your work? What’s your Twitter account?

Paul Rossi:

Yeah, I’m in various directions. I’m on Chalkboard Heresy: youtube.com/chalkboardheresy. And also on Twitter, you can find everything that I do on Twitter, pauldrossi on Twitter.

Inez Stepman:

Thanks again for coming on High Noon, Paul, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.

Paul Rossi:

Thanks so much, Inez. Great to be here.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. We have other productions like At The Bar, which is a podcast with me and my colleague Jennifer Braceras where we talk about issues at the intersection of law, politics, and culture. We also have She Thinks, which is hosted by Beverly Hallberg, which goes through more of policy and political news of the day. As always, you can send comments and questions about any of those things to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button, leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.