Thursday, May 3, 2012

Elizabeth Warren and the System Gaming Gap

Elizabeth Warren is all over the news and the blogs presently for what amounts to gaming the system---or min/maxing as one of our regular commentators is inclined to put it.
With a shaky claim to 1/32 blood quantum, she claimed to be American Indian on her application for employment at Harvard Law.
Now, with the 'Rules as Written', if she actually crossed all her T's and dotted all of her eyes (which she didn't apparently), she could technically qualify as Cherokee, although she'd have to get registered and so forth.
But in the court of public opinion, what she has done is far worse, violating the spirit of the rules or 'Rules as Intended'.  The level of respect for 'rules as intended' has changed tremendously from when I was a teenager.  Consider,
The author could have taken his stepfather's last name, which is EXTREMELY Spanish, and claimed to be 'Hispanic' on all of his relevant applications.  This would have resulted in substantial additional amounts of scholarship support and probably a full ride through graduate school without need to secure various research and teaching assistant positions.  The author could also have claimed American Indian ancestry with a slightly higher quantum than Warren---just about anyone with substantial portions of their ancestry running through Georgia can.  But he did not, and such was nearly unthinkable.
A friend of the author's wife could have claimed, very honestly, to be 'African American', as she was a US citizen born in Ethiopia.  But she's whiter than Warren, and did not.  While she often jokes about it, it is and was similarly unthinkable to her.
Why was it unthinkable?  Basically what HalfSigma refers to as 'Middle Class Honor'.  Lots of other things were considered beneath the board by this group also...for instance

Redshirting children...beneath the board, in fact WAY beneath the board
Taking SAT/ACT preparation classes as such...beneath the board
Taking the SAT more than once...considered sketchy
Doing various activities/volunteer work solely for how it made you look on relevant applications...way beneath the board
Running for elective positions to pad one's resume...beneath the board

Now almost all of these things are considered really normal, and many are practically expectations.  The meta-rule back then was, it was considered disreputable to attempt to game any sort of metric and the definition of 'gaming it' was very expansive.

Honestly speaking, it would be a better world if nobody gamed any of the metrics, as such is a negative sum game.  But it is simply stupid not to game the system once a critical mass of your counterparts have begun doing so.  New rules need to be drawn up such that the gaming of such is less destructive, since any consensus against gaming them has utterly collapsed (the upper middle class and upper classes never had anywhere near the degree of compunctions against gaming the system anyway).

But lots of the electorate still remembers the old rules and is incensed at Warren.  Lots of them COULD have gamed it with even less questionable minority claims than hers, but didn't.  Both ethical outrage and being made to feel like a chump play a part in the hostility she has uncapped.


Greg said...
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Greg said...

I have an aunt that gamed the system in a similar manner. She became a lawyer. In the end, I'm okay with it because she has now represented aboriginal interests in dozens of cases pro bono.

Jehu said...

Australian or Canadian? I've heard aboriginal used by both of them.

CLAR said...

perhaps this is just another symptom of me being what you would probably describe as non-neurotypical, but i was more pissed that she didn't own up and say that she was gaming the system or something to that effect.

making the best of a bad system and looking out for your own interests in that framework is ok by me so long as you aren't actively hurting others.

plus, more people gaming 'diversity' numbers is yet another way to subtly undermine the moral authority of that pillar of the cathedral, always in our long term interests.

Jehu said...

Saying, 'yeah, I gamed the system' would really piss off middle class neurotypicals. This is, of course, assuming she can't fake sincere contrition like Bill Clinton could. It remains to be seen whether that would hurt more long term though than hemming and hawing about it.
Of course, if you really wanted to piss off the neurotypical, just take a leaf from 'The Magician's Nephew' and claim that such rules are only for 'the little people', not the 'masters of the universe' or 'the annointed'.
Honestly, I don't really have a dog in this fight---I see it from a who...whom perspective. What does it matter to me whether someone with 1/32 blood gets the zero sum goodie vs someone with say, 1/2 blood? But I understand the outrage of the public over the issue, and it entertains me.

Greg said...

@ Jehu

Canadian. So not an aborigine, rather North American Indian