Sheri's Reviews > Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Twilight of the Elites by Christopher L. Hayes
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's review
Jul 22, 2012

really liked it
Read in July, 2012

This is oddly an interesting book to read with/after Reality is Broken. A lot of the systemic societal problems discussed are the same in both books. Hayes and McGonigal are coming at the same problem from very different perspectives.

There's a sort of parallel between Hayes' idea of fractal inequality and the progression through difficulty levels in video games that I find fascinating. The system Hayes describes, of endless social climbing with no hope of actually making it to the top because of the increasingly steep inequality, reminds me of how video games used to be designed. Early games were, for the most part, literally impossible to win. The levels and difficulty were procedurally generated, which means the computer can always make the next level harder than the last. Games like Zuma or Bejeweled could be designed like that still, but game designers have abandoned that type of hopelessly continuous game play because it is a deeply frustrating and dispiriting experience to play a game you will never ever win. Game designers now create artificial end points to allow the player to win. If accumulating wealth is a game, then right now it's an MMO with no level cap and finite equipment. There's no end game, only level grinding. Only those at the top have the resources to get good experience, while the rest of us noobs are stuck in the starter area trying not to be killed by rabbits.

I'm not really sure what could or should be done about fractal inequality, but it is very apparent that something needs to change. Hayes makes a convincing argument for the surprisingly popular (if difficult to actually implement) idea of taxing the rich. In Reality is Broken McGonigal proposes what I think is a much more dramatic societal shift away from seeking extrinsic rewards (such as wealth) towards an emphasis on the importance of intrinsic rewards from meaningful work and community engagement. If we can get our society to a place where we don't care so much about money, it may be easier to implement true progressive taxation. But then again, we may need to have progressive taxation to create a more equal society in order to help people make the mental shift away from seeking monetary rewards to seeking meaningful rewards.
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