Thursday, December 17, 2020

Saint Adjacent

A few years ago, I read an argument along these lines:

Middle-class students believe education is the gateway to the elite class, so they get the degrees that lead to elite jobs, but what they didn't realize was that the degrees are just a smokescreen for the elite children who have the inside track to those elite jobs.

And I cannot find that article anywhere now.

A similar-but-not-quite-the-same argument can be found in this 2015 Marianne Cooper article from The Atlantic, and a similar premise is behind Daniel Markovits's 2019 book The Meritocracy Trap, although I'm pretty sure I read this mystery article before then. I thought maybe I read it (or at least a response to it) on Arnold Kling's blog, but I can't find anything there. So I guess I'm plagiarizing the theory, but at least I'm letting you know that.

Basically, you can imagine three students in an art history program. There are two jobs as museum currators awaiting them. Two of the students are children of the ruling class who will get the jobs as a result of their connections, but you can't just give jobs out, so they are in college getting the degree that will justify their hiring. The third student is an earnest middle-class student who thinks if she gets an art-history degree from an elite school she has a two-in-three chance of getting a job as a museum currator. She thinks she is in a competition and she doesn't know that the winners were chosen before the game even began.

I have been thinking about this for a few days now, the idea of being successful and merely being success adjacent. In any endeavor, there is a group striving for some goal, and within that group are those who will succeed, mixed together with those who are doing all the same work but won't end up with the same success. Originally, the idea came to me because professionally I am success adjacent. But I realized that this idea can be generalized to other areas of life, particularly religious areas.

Two people have the same experience, but only one learns the lesson. Paul was on the road to Damascus with others, but only he saw the Lord. Both Cain and Abel made sacrifices to the Lord. Laman and Lemuel went through all the same character-building trials that Nephi experienced, but without building the character. And in modern times, there are those experiencing mortality and participating at church who will learn the lessons and come out transformed into the saint the Lord wants them to be, and there are those right next to them who have all the same experiences and come out the same as they had been. You can call these people "saint adjacent." And I am saint adjacent.

Ultimately, my being success adjacent isn't going to matter at all, but my being saint adjacent is a problem with eternal ramifications. But I don't know how to fix this. I don't think the explanation is the same for the saint adjacent as for the success adjacent, that they're playing a rigged game without knowing it. Nephi tells us "the way is prepared for all men" (1 Ne. 10:18). There is some difficiency in me that makes me saint adjacent. And it's depressing to realize this but not know how to correct it.

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