The Myth Of Horatio Alger That Justifies Our Own Oppression

We were told that electing Hillary Clinton would have been a daring, unprecedented step.
On right-wing media we are told that electing Donald Trump is a bold break with tradition.

Both claims are based on a myth.

It’s all in the family for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — the presidential front-runners are reportedly related.
The genealogy website Geni.com tells entertainment show “Extra” that the GOP and Democratic White House candidates are 19th cousins.
The first Duke and Duchess of Lancaster are Trump and Clinton’s 18th great-grandparents, according to the site's analysis.
“John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, married Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, and John and Katherine are Donald and Hillary’s shared 18th great grandparents,” reports “Extra.”

This may sound like a weird fluke of genealogy, but in fact presidential candidates being related to the ruling elites of the past is the rule, not the exception.

What do Barack Obama, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush and the other past U.S. presidents have in common? Besides holding the coveted title of commander-in-chief, it appears that all of them but one are cousins.
The remarkable discovery was made by 12-year-old BridgeAnne d’Avignon, of Salinas, California, who created a ground-breaking family tree that connected 42 of 43 U.S. presidents to one common, and rather unexpected, ancestor: King John of England.
...The only former commander-in-chief not linked to King John is the eighth president, Martin Van Buren, who had Dutch roots.

As bizarre of a coincidence that this sounds, it gets even more interesting when you keep going down this rabbit hole. Recall that King John was a Norman.

By the end of the process, I had come to a slightly disquieting conclusion: we are still being governed by Normans.

Take house prices. According to the author Kevin Cahill, the main driver behind the absurd expense of owning land and property in Britain is that so much of the nation's land is locked up by a tiny elite. Just 0.3% of the population – 160,000 families – own two thirds of the country. Less than 1% of the population owns 70% of the land, running Britain a close second to Brazil for the title of the country with the most unequal land distribution on Earth.

Much of this can be traced back to 1066. The first act of William the Conqueror, in 1067, was to declare that every acre of land in England now belonged to the monarch. This was unprecedented: Anglo-Saxon England had been a mosaic of landowners. Now there was just one. William then proceeded to parcel much of that land out to those who had fought with him at Hastings. This was the beginning of feudalism; it was also the beginning of the landowning culture that has plagued England – and Britain – ever since.

The Battle of Hastings wasn't just the beginning of feudalism in the Anglo-Saxon world. It was the beginning of a ruling class that has continued far beyond Britain and long past the end of feudalism.

Any idea that you've had of the U.S. political system having some sort of meritocracy is dead wrong.
It's literally a corrupt and extended ruling family that seized power 1,000 years ago.

It's not as if it's news that America is increasingly unequal and social mobility has declined to alarmingly low levels. Much lower than is commonly known.

Now, new research suggests that social mobility in America may be even more limited than researchers have realized. In a new paper, Joseph Ferrie of Northwestern University, Catherine Massey of the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rothbaum of the U.S. Census Bureau draw on a newly constructed dataset about American families reaching back to 1910. Unlike past studies, which have mainly compared parents and children, the new work adds data on grandparents and great-grandparents to show just how fixed the fortunes of many Americans have become.

Some may ask 'so what?'
Well, consider its effects on children.

“Students who are told that things are fair implode pretty quickly in middle school as self-doubt hits them,” he said, “and they begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”

Barrett’s personal observation is validated by a newly published study in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development that finds traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years. The research is considered the first evidence linking preteens’ emotional and behavioral outcomes to their belief in meritocracy, the widely held assertion that individual merit is always rewarded.

When I read that, the first thing I thought was 'why would it be any different with many adults?'
If you grow up believing in a meritocracy, and the media reinforces this myth your entire life, it isn't hard to continue believing it your entire life.
Which naturally means that a lot of poor Democratic and Republican voters have self-esteem problems.

a new report published by the Boston-based non-profit United For a Fair Economy, states. The group has signed more than 2,200 millionaires and billionaires to a petition to reform and keep the U.S. inheritance tax. The report says the myth of "self-made wealth is potentially destructive to the very infrastructure that enables wealth creation."
The individuals profiled in the report believed they prospered in large part to things beyond their control and because of the support of others. Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world said, "I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I've earned." Erick Schmidt, CEO of Google says, "Lots of people who are smart and work hard and play by the rules don't have a fraction of what I have. I realize that I don't have my wealth because I'm so brilliant."
...
The term meritocracy is defined as a society that rewards those who show talent and competence as demonstrated by past actions or competitive performance. The term was first used in Michael Young's 1958 satirical book, Rise of Meritocracy, which describes a dystopian future in which one's social place was determined by IQ and effort.
Proponents of meritocracy argue that it is more just and productive, allowing for distinctions to be made on the basis of performance. When meritocracy is implemented in organizations, though, it invariably results in hierarchical structures. Meritocracy has been criticized as a myth which only serves to justify the status quo; merit can always be defined as whatever results in success. Thus whoever is successful can be portrayed as deserving success, rather than success being in fact predicted by criteria for merit.
Stephen McNamee and Robert Miller of the University of North Carolina, argue in their book, The Meritocracy Myth that there is a serious gap between how people think our economic system works and how it actually works.
...There is no correlation between hard work and economic success. In fact, those people who work the most hours and spend the most energy are usually the poorest, the authors argue. And really big money doesn't come from working, it comes from owning assets.

McNamee and Miller also challenge the idea that moral character and integrity are important for economic success. There is little evidence that being honest results in economic success. In fact, the reverse is true, as seen in the examples of Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson and the Wall Street debacle. White collar crime in the form of insider trading, embezzlement, tax and insurance fraud is hardly a reflection of integrity and honesty. Playing by the rules probably works to suppress prospects for economic success, compared to those who ignore the rules.

Once the Horatio Alger Myth is exposed for the scam it is, then the entire justification for our political and economic systems come into question.

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Comments

Meteor Man's picture

Yeah right!

Here are some of the findings from the respondents and my (comments):

24% said they would trade on inside information if they could get away with it (they all think they will get away with it)

52% believed their competitors engaged in illegal or unethical behavior (the other guys are always worse)

29% believe you have to engage in unethical behavior to be successful (have to have an edge)

24% fear retaliation if they were to report wrongdoing (don't want to be a rat)

https://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2013/07/18/survey-says-wall-str...

A lot of Horatio Algier wannabees are not happy campers. I checked DuckDuckGo for Wall Street suicides and got pages of hits. Here's a sample:

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/business/dealbook/tragedies-draw-a...

Medical and legal interns have similar problems with ethics and work/life balance. The Horatio Algier myth you described has Americans at every socio/economic level working themselves to death.

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"They'll say we're disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war." Howard Zinn

The problem is, TPTB are forced to promote meritocracy. If they promoted the reality (advancement through exploitation, theft of productivity, theft of resources/property etc.) it would create a villainous society (due to the lack of 'opportunities' at the bottom), along with the possibility of producing 'competitors' who could (and would) threaten the wealth and status of TPTB.
For their own protection, TPTB are forced to promote the illusion of meritocracy.

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Mike Taylor

thanatokephaloides's picture

@Mike Taylor

If they promoted the reality (advancement through exploitation, theft of productivity, theft of resources/property etc.) it would create a villainous society (due to the lack of 'opportunities' at the bottom), along with the possibility of producing 'competitors' who could (and would) threaten the wealth and status of TPTB.

That's happened.

The name of your "villainous society" is Italian: la Mafia.

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

The Aspie Corner's picture

Probably one of the best satires of supposed meritocracy ever written. It can be tough to grasp if you don't have a basic understanding of Chinese history or writing style, but it's worth a read.

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The Aspie Corner's picture

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TheOtherMaven's picture

Pick any two people (of European heritage) at random and they will probably prove to be related in a comparable degree. It's called "pedigree collapse" - there just aren't enough ancestors to go around.

My paternal grandfather and grandmother were 8th cousins - but I don't think either of them ever knew it, and I found out only when backtracing their ancestry to England. It was not, in either case, through the direct male line.

I'm an 8th cousin to a wide variety of people, from Darth Cheney (ugh!) to John Waters the cult film director. Most of them don't know it and I'm satisfied with that.

A closer cousin, and one I like better, is William Jennings Bryan, 6th cousin once removed. Yeah, he made an idiot of himself over the Scopes thing, but he was getting on in years by then and not as sharp as he used to be. And earlier in his career he threw himself on the machine as much as he could and not get mangled.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@TheOtherMaven
The Norman line of kings had ended when Henry I's only legitimate son drowned in a navigation accident in the English Channel. John was Angevin on his father's side (his grandfather was Geoffrey V of Anjou, and it was Geoffrey's chosen emblem, the humble broom plant, aka "planta genista", that gave its name to the family) and Aquitanian on his mother's (Eleanor of, where else, Aquitaine).

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@TheOtherMaven

John was Angevin on his father's side (his grandfather was Geoffrey V of Anjou, and it was Geoffrey's chosen emblem, the humble broom plant, aka "planta genista", that gave its name to the family) and Aquitanian on his mother's (Eleanor of, where else, Aquitaine).

I like to remind folks that French was not Richard Coeur de Lion's first language but his second.

His first language was Aquitanian Occitan, la lenga d'oc.

English was his third language -- and Richard, Eleanor's son and John's elder brother, was no intellectual powerhouse.

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

arendt's picture

@TheOtherMaven

You have 2 parents (2 to the 1), 4 grandparents (2 to the 2) ... (2 to the 19th) parents at generation 19.

2 to the 19th is 524,288. 19 generations is 380 years. Which works out to 1640.

British Crown[8]

Kingdom of England - 4,150,000
Kingdom of Ireland - 1,200,000
Wales - 250,000

List of countries by population in 1600. (Wikipedia)

So, your 500k 19th gen ancestors work out to be 12% of the entire English population. And, the breathless claim that this is somehow important is nothing more than a one-in-ten occurence. And, that is before you start subgrouping for people who came to America (like the people from East Anglia or people from London. Once you knock the originating population down to 1 million (which is 25% of 1600's England, not much of a reduction), you are talking a one-in-two chance.

I am not impressed.

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@TheOtherMaven

Pick any two people (of European heritage) at random and they will probably prove to be related in a comparable degree. It's called "pedigree collapse" - there just aren't enough ancestors to go around.

However, I'm not related to the Duke of Lancaster or King John. Nor Hillary or Donald.

Are you?

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hecate's picture

@gjohnsit
you are.

Everybody who was alive in Europe a thousand years ago and who had children, is an ancestor of everyone alive today who has some European ancestry.

Furthermore, that The Hairball and the broken old Clinton II woman are said to be 19th cousins, that is no big deal, when one considers that this tube says everybody is 16th cousins to everybody else.

The truth of it:

When we get right down to it, we must face the truth that we're all hopelessly inbred. It's a question of basic mathematics—there simply aren't enough ancestors to go around. To understand what I mean, let's say you were born in 1975, your parents were both born in 1950, your four grandparents were born in 1925, your eight great-grandparents in 1900, and so on. In other words, your number of ancestors doubles every 25 years the further back in time you go. If you take this back just 1,000 years, you'll find that you have well over 500 billion ancestors in a single generation. Considering there's fewer than seven billion people on this planet, there's something seriously wrong here. The solution, of course, is that you don't have 500 billion distinct ancestors, but rather a much, much smaller number of ancestors reappear over and over and over again in your family tree.

Demographer Kenneth Wachtel estimates that the typical English child born in 1947 would have had around 60,000 theoretical ancestors at the time of the discovery of America. Of this number, 95 percent would have been different individuals and 5 percent duplicates. Twenty generations back the kid would have 600,000 ancestors, one-third of which would be duplicates. At the time of the Black Death, he’d have had 3.5 million—30 percent real, 70 percent duplicates. The maximum number of “real” ancestors occurs around 1200 AD—2 million, some 80 percent of the population of England.

Pedigree collapse explains why it’s so easy for professional genealogists to trace your lineage back to royalty—go far enough back and you’re related to everybody. For that matter, you’re probably related to everybody alive today.

Also, the Normans were actually Vikings. People living in what is now France got so sick of Viking raids they offered to give the Vikings what is now Normandy if they would just leave off for chrissake. A substantial chunk of the Vikings agreed, and in the 10th Century settled into Normandy. Thereby becoming "Normans." But after a while they got bored with farming and such, and so sailed across the Channel and conquered England.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@hecate

Those Normans got around nearly as much as their Norse ancestors (the Normans never made it to America, though, as far as we know).

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@gjohnsit

but related to them you almost certainly are.

I mentioned Henry I's only legitimate son, but left out that he had a slew of others who weren't - and daughters too. Some of them can be traced, some of their descendants got lost in the general population.

Henry II was almost as much of a horndog, with the same results. And John was a chip off the old block. (Richard I was very very careful, or gay, or too much of a sword jock to think much about sex, or some combination.)

Henry III, Edward I, and Edward III had large legitimate families, and the younger 'uns had nowhere to marry but down. And down. And down. And before very long they were marrying into the rising merchant class because money. (Any other-than-legitimate offspring made the same trip faster.) Edward III, in fact, has been called "the father of the English middle class", and that's not speaking metaphorically.)

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@TheOtherMaven

(Richard I was very very careful, or gay, or too much of a sword jock to think much about sex, or some combination.)

Yes, yes, and yes, respectively!

Smile

"The Queens Regnant of England since 1066: Mary Tudor, both Elizabeths, Victoria, and Richard I!"

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

TheOtherMaven's picture

@thanatokephaloides

Richard always seemed to be planning a war, either the one he was in (or about to get into), or the next one. One or another of those Third Crusade movies had a really clanky, but ever so apt, line from Berengaria (Mrs. Coeur-de-Lion, played, I think, by Loretta Young): "War, war, war, that's all you think about, Dick Plantagenet!"

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thanatokephaloides's picture

If you're a nakedape human, the chances of your ancestors hailing from the Olduvai Gorge in eastern Africa are essentially 100%.

We are all Africans. And related.

(If you are not a nakedape human, please fill me in on just how you're reading this!) Wink

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

janis b's picture

@thanatokephaloides

Mama Africa ...

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@janis b

Miriam Makeba! Sweet!

Smile

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides Our small group got a lecture, a leisurely tour through the museum. It was just a wonderful day. I got to thank the guides and lecturers, chat privately with them, and I called them all my brother, and they called me sister.
I thought my heart would explode!

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Wink's picture

that "we" (modern man)
went from hunting and
gathering for millions
upon millions of years,
to a few generations later
suddenly building pyramids?
@thanatokephaloides
Did our brains suddenly kick into gear?
I'm guessing "we" had a little visit.
Our "ancestors" more likely from "up there."

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the little things you can do are more valuable than the giant things you can't! - @thanatokephaloides. On Twitter @wink1radio. (-1.9) All about building progressive media.

janis b's picture

@Wink

during their long years of living in and with nature. Who knows how much knowledge and vision can be achieved through that experience and passing it on forever. They would have learned much about how the universe works in their daily lives. Maybe there were some primal moments of realisation. It is interesting to consider.

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TheOtherMaven's picture

@janis b

A few hundred thousand, more or less. Earlier versions just didn't have the brainpower to have much imagination. (Jury's out on close relatives like H.s. Neanderthalensis, but they were having a hard time with the Ice Ages and may have had to concentrate on raw survival.)

It may be the end of the Ice Ages, and of that bitter constant struggle, that liberated humans to think and plan and dream for something more than just getting through until the next day.

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janis b's picture

@TheOtherMaven

It may be the end of the Ice Ages, and of that bitter constant struggle, that liberated humans to think and plan and dream for something more than just getting through until the next day.

Time for reflection is significant.

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