by Blake Smith
Tuesday, 18
January 2022
Campus Wars
07:00

The best way to get ahead is now to lie

We can't blame students for fabricating stories of hardship
by Blake Smith
Mackenzie Fierceton, back when she was a Rhodes Scholar. Credit: University of Pennsylvania/Instagram.

University education was once sold to adolescents as a place where they might ‘find themselves’ through the liberal arts. In this fantasy, students could discover a more ‘authentic’ self as they learned, through the fearless and broad-ranging inquiry of impassioned conversations in and outside of seminars, to question received ideas. Academia today is certainly a place where people can themselves anew, if not more authentically.

Scholars like Jessica Krug or Carrie Bourassa, both white women, reimagined themselves as women of colour. Rhodes scholar Mackenzie Fierceton, also a white woman, was recently revealed to have constructed an elaborate persona as a ‘first-generation’ college student who had been passed through the foster system and suffered horrific physical abuse. She had in fact been privately educated and raised by her radiologist mother.

Such cases are only the most visible portion of the constant, ubiquitous deceit that is now built into the application process, which rewards candidates who can most convincingly tell stories — that is, who can lie.

People aspiring to positions at elite universities, to prestigious grants, or, increasingly, to even rather menial employment, find themselves increasingly solicited to tell a false story about themselves. Many from the upper and upper-middle class, especially if they are younger than forty, carry in their heads at least one more-or-less fictitious autobiography, ready to present to potential employers. These narratives typically highlight the applicant’s ‘passion’ — their ostensibly long-held commitment to whatever line of work they are, for the most part, pursuing just in hope of a paycheque — and their ‘identity.’ The latter, instead of being a quality that makes each individual person unique, is rather what allows him or her to be sorted into categories recognised by institutions. Certain identities, we know, are more desirable than others; those are the ones that people pretend to have.

We cannot know how many applicants pass themselves off as more desirable races, social categories, etc., in order to improve their chances; but applications based on candidates’ stories about themselves necessarily invite them to.

We love stories about sufferers who heroically overcome hardship — and love to reward those who can convincingly present themselves to us as such triumphant underdogs. These stories satisfy two desires that are otherwise difficult to reconcile: our longings to help the unfortunate and to reward the successful. But those who are most capable of telling such stories, compellingly recounting their adversities and achievements, tend to be those who least need our help. They are, in fact, rather privileged, since it requires some degree of leisure, education, and well-being to learn the codes of storytelling needed to appeal to listeners whose sympathies, if manipulated, might open to the doors to still more material resources and prestige.

On the other hand, the most privileged are so rich and connected that they can by-pass the indignity of giving exaggerated accounts of their own abjection in order to get a job or scholarship. They will never be caught in the embarrassment of a Jessica Krug or Mackenzie Fierceton. Rather than directing our ire at the latter, who, however contemptible, are simply responding to incentives, we should ask what our elites gain from subjecting them, and us, to such perverse competitions in self-narration.

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Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
7 months ago

Fairly recently, it was revealed that a third of white students in the US had lied about their ethnicity in their applications.

Makes rather a mockery of the accepted narrative of ‘privilege’, doesn’t it?

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
7 months ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Can you share a link to the source for that please? I might want to re-post it next time I’m in an argument about privilege.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

I hadn’t realised how prevalent the practice appears to be in the US. The fact that no evidence appears to be demanded shows the performative nature of the exercise.
Just as migrant males with receding hair line and stubble can safely claim to be children on entering the UK because it is against their human rights to do anything to establish the true facts points up the performative nature of the immigration process where lies are expected to be accepted at face value.


Paul Scannell
Paul Scannell
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

As I remember it, Ibrahm X Kendi resposted this article on Twitter in a poorly thought-through ‘gotcha’ moment.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

Thanks very much for posting the link.

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
7 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

Thanks

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
7 months ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

It also clearly illustrates the near uselessness of “higher education”, which long ago became a racket.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
6 months ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

I saw an interview of a former aboriginal prison inmate in Canada who said he stopped attending aboriginal healing circles in prison because literally everyone else there was faking their identity.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago

The fault for this epidemic of lying or half-truth telling lies firmly at the feet of discriminatory practices embedded in HR and University recruitment practices which should be illegal. As soon as you want to fill some diversity quota you are going to encourage lying by some applicants.
My son told me of an acquaintance who had declared himself as bisexual on his job application form to fit into a diversity box. He made the mistake of admitting that he had no interest in men as sexual partners to one of the HR recruiters when out socially having secured the job. The HR person’s comment was that perhaps she wasn’t the best person for him to reveal this to.
No doubt HR recruiters expect some lying to fit into minority boxes but are content to have gone through the motions of supporting the ritual diversity aims of the organisation.
The only legitimate selection criteria should be the best candidate for the degree or job. Any other approach involves discrimination against the best candidate. It will be interesting to see if the increased conservative representation on the US Supreme Court will bring an end to the positive discrimination practices that Clarence Thomas has consistently spoken against.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Truly insane. I’m not sure I’d ever even consider sexuality as something that would go down on an application form/CV/resume. Even marital status and ethnicity seem redundant to me. They’re all just distractions from skills and experience.
“Tell me about your knowledge of cloud computing.”
“I’m gender fluid.”
“You’re hired!”

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

So many people of non white ethnicities absolutely hate these policies as they can never be sure when appointed that they ARE the best person for the job. And the doubt of their white colleagues doesn’t make for productive workplace relationships either.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Yes, a point made by Clarence Thomas but the liberal Justices on the bench didn’t seem to think their black colleague understood things properly.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
6 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Glen Greenwald had some doubts about the huge uptick in young people claiming to be LGBT – most were claiming to be bisexual but were in heterosexual relationships https://www.newswars.com/glenn-greenwald-called-transphobic-for-commenting-on-results-of-gallup-lgbt-survey/

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
7 months ago

This reminds me of Meghan Markle who, towards the end of the Oprah interview I think, wittered on – approvingly – about how we must tell ‘stories’. But if everything is a story then it’s all improvised narrative and truth has no standing, which is exactly what we saw in the interview.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
7 months ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

If there were a contest for the whitest-looking “black” person on the planet, Markle would be a strong contender. That she’s on probably her third or fourth nose is a factor, but if I had to guess her ethnicity I’d have said she could be Thai or Malaysian.
I also note that the whiter the “black” person, the more they play the race grievance card. I wonder why?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

No reply

Last edited 7 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
7 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I might br wrong but wasn’t there a La-La Land publicity blurb where she was described as caucasian. If push came to shove I suppose she could say that it was written by someone else and she hadn’t seen it. I mean, even Tennis Players say it these days.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
7 months ago

“we should ask what our elites gain from subjecting them, and us, to such perverse competitions in self-narration.”

Assuming the elites are indeed in charge of this trend … I guess the same gain they get from buying an expensive Tesla – a modish sense of environmental responsibility ticked off at no inconvenience to themselves.

The moral gain in this case is, well ultimately Tom Holland would point to the Christian moral framework – the last shall be first. The idea is to privilege the most down-trodden. A less sophisticated view could be that they are putting themselves on the side of fashion, which, for some time, has decreed that nothing is more boring than white, middle class, suburban lives. The cool people are the creative, bohemian, multi-racial victims of white, middle class oppressive prejudice and hypocrisy. So, ultimately the elite gain from offering token support to woke movements, as it points to their moral superiority and good fashion sense, while, like the Tesla, really costing them nothing.

Last edited 7 months ago by Russell Hamilton
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago

Yes, being white and middle-class has become counter-cultural.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
7 months ago

This is probably a big part of why some men insist they are women. There are advantages to being a woman and quotas in their favour where there are none for being a man, ever.
There’s more to it than just that but this must have something to do with some of it.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
7 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I can’t wait for the day a male footballer, a reserve for say Grimsby Town, identifies as a woman. A big 6’4″ brute, square-jawed with five o’clock shadow; a Duncan Ferguson type. Suddenly he’s playing for The Lionesses, smashing all records in women’s football.
At the Ballon D’Or gala he’s stood on stage, towering over Lionel Messi as they stand posing for photos as the best male and female footballers on the planet

Howard Ahmanson
Howard Ahmanson
7 months ago

But I hear there’s actually more trans men among the younger folk.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
7 months ago

The “best” way to get ahead might be to lie, but at least don’t tell an easily falsifiable lie. The lies told by this Rhodes scholar were so blatant that they were easily called out. Vague statements, unfalsifiable lies, shifting identites, half-truths, that is the way to get ahead. Once Mackenzie Fierceton learns this, whe will have a bright future in politics.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
6 months ago

All you have to be is shameless and brazen. Justin Trudeau positioned himself as the great woke hope for Canada even though he knew there were photos of him – as a teacher – in blackface in a high school yearbook. He ejected people from his party on mere allegations of sexual harassment even though he knew that there had been newspaper coverage of him groping a female reporter when he was younger. I am sure there is much else we don’t know about – but these things were literally public and it still didn’t stop him.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
7 months ago

Worked in academe for a couple of years,admittedly a couple of decades ago. Easily the nuttiest workplace I encountered.

J Bryant
J Bryant
7 months ago

“Guilty Admissions” by Nicole LaPorte is an interesting account of the Varsity Blues college admission scandal in the US where very wealthy parents cheated to help their kids secure places at top universities.
The book’s a bit too sympathetic to the parents, imo, but it does show how from kindergarten onwards parents must play an elaborate game (all legal) to get their kids into the best schools, at each step hire ‘tutors’ to write compelling CVs, make charitable donations (again, legal) to the schools and generally massage the truth to ultimately secure a shot at an Ivy League university for their kid. Varsity Blue happened because these parents went a step too far but it was an illegal, final step in a long, mostly legal process of exaggeration and pay-offs (in the form of legal donations).
The irony is now the Ivy Leagues have so many well qualified applicants from elite schools it’s almost impossible to get these kids accepted. I wonder when the ‘elites’ (I hate that word) will decide the Ivies aren’t worth it anymore and take their offspring (and future donations) elsewhere?

Andrea X
Andrea X
7 months ago

“Academia today is certainly a place where people can themselves anew, if not more authentically.”

First paragraph. I feel there is a bit missing at the end.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

‘Make’ before ‘themselves’?

Al M
Al M
7 months ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Correct; also remove ‘more’ and you’re pretty much there.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
6 months ago

Lying and hypocrisy are just evolutionary survival strategies in the face of competition and limited resources. These are innate social behaviours. We cannot cancel them, or wish them away.

Last edited 6 months ago by Vijay Kant
Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
6 months ago

Accepting people who have grown up white in white families and white culture, who then take advantage of whatever privileges being black offers are guilty of helping the universities disguise the racism they wrongly say is in everyone else. It raises the % diversity level to help them meet quotas.
This helps create an Aboriginal class divide.

Of course, certain lower class institutions such as sports have long outgunned (those believing themselves to be) elites in the acceptance of others based on character and merit.

I realised this as a 1/16th Aboriginal when I looked around and saw who were getting the jump on everyone else. Fakes. I too could have played this game to my advantage and a real Aboriginal’s disadvantage, but that is not me.

I am proud of my Aboriginal ancestry and have far more in common with true Aboriginal culture than these fakes, but I am not going to further exploit them.

Last edited 6 months ago by Karl Juhnke