The Achievement Gap

Andrew Sullivan's diagnosis of the real problem with the Democrats (TNR Online sub only, I'm afraid) is pretty astute. I think he's really go it. The Republicans do a better job of tappin into America's go-get-em-tiger!-ness. Sullivan finds it both in Team America and in Pixars new flick, The Incredibles. This is what Sullivan says it's about:

The fundamental moral of the movie is that this restraint is wrong and needs to be overcome: Letting the talented earn the proud rewards of their labor, and the fruits of their destiny, harms no one and actually helps those in the greatest need.

Is this a moral for the religious right? Hardly. The Incredibles in some ways portrays normal American life as stultifying. Its brutal parody of family squabbles is by no means an encomium to traditionalism. It's not anti-family, of course. But it is pro-talent and pro-opportunity. It is in favor of the urge to get out there and achieve things without apology. Within the right-left rubric of American cultural discourse, the movie is therefore rightward-tilting. And that's why many critics on the left have decried it.

A few paragraphs later, he offers the diagnosis:

This is what the left has lost sight of. Americans tend to believe that talent needs no apology; that action is often better than complaint; that their own country, despite its many faults, is still a force for great good in the world. The left tends to view things a little differently.

This strikes me as basically correct. The Republicans somehow seem more hospitable to simply human efficacy, the desire to stretch out, to accelerate to a good speed without all those damn speed bumps, to just do it, and all that. Twice the achievement, half the whining. Something like that. (And maybe this explains why I seem to keep dating Republicans.)

  • nobody.really

    Nice article, nice summary. But we could read that stuff anywhere. Want we want to know is, what does happiness research say about libertarianism?

    Fundamentally, the quality I derive from my life heavily depends upon my early relationships with my siblings? You mean, those guys I never chose to associate with, but rather were forced upon me? The jerks who borrowed my clothes and stuff, and poked their nose into my most intimate business? THOSE people?

    I rely on autonomy rights to provide barriers against other people taking value from me. But in order to actually mount and defend such rights, I end up taking value from myself?

    Really?

    You’re an insightful guy, Will. But as a libertarian, you suck.

    • Maybe I am person who thinks there is more to life than political ideology and who therefore doesn’t want to blog about politics all the time. Anyway, what does the fact that our relationships matter a great deal to our satisfaction in life (and it is a fact) have to do with libertarianism? Nothing much.

      In any case, you’re quite welcome to read my very long Cato paper on the policy implications of happiness research: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8179

      Enjoy!

      • nobody.really

        Apostate! Blasphemer! Complex, well-rounded individual! Stone him! Stone him! (Can I at least stereotype you enough to assume you support legalizing getting stoned?)

        You’ve apparently given this topic some thought; thanks or the link.

  • Talking about longitudinal studies, Will, it would be interesting to have your thoughts on the finding that “happiness is contagious” that has come from research using the data base of the Framingham heart study. Reported here: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/dec04_2/a2338

  • Jedi_Tiger

    What I disliked about this piece was the “moralistic” tone it used when discussing the value of relationships. It’s not clear to me why we human beings find relationships to be such a strong source of value (and I do, like everyone else, but it’s not a necessary truth). I think the way a study should approach something like the value of relationships to human flourishing is just to treat it like it’s any other desire. What frustrates me about the piece is the value statement that’s hidden there. “All that matters to human flourishing is the quality of our relationships, and isn’t that great!” is the sense I got.

  • Boston Educated

    It’s interesting to look at the orientation of the comments work like this study draws. The people responding online in no way constitute an unbiased sample, and I don’t intend for my observation to be viewed as any kind of science… but it is so clear in viewing the responses why there are unfulfilled, and/or unhappy people in society. It’s not a new concept, that supportive and loving friends and family relationships are what matters most in one’s life when it is all said and done (Christ tried to pass that little nugget along to us). But the emotionally immature, inward looking, and anti-social individual is more prevalent today than ever as a result of the isolating effect of increased wealth. And those people are so absolutely obvious (and oblivious), the need to conduct such research to remind us of the simple answer to the question: What’s important in life? is clear.