November 26, 2006


How the Yes Man Learned to Say No (ALAN EHRENHALT, 11/26/06, NY Times)

Wherever he looked, Whyte found what he called the “social ethic,” a set of values that “makes morally legitimate the pressures of society against the individual.” In the boardroom, in the office cubicles, in the Park Forest cul-de-sacs, in the schools and churches, the young adults of the 1950s were being trained to think and act in unison, to absorb the values of the team, to suppress any truly innovative ideas in the interest of harmony. “In our attention to making organization work,” he complained, “we have come close to deifying it.”

Not only that, but the American middle class was transmitting the ethic of mindless conformity to the children it was raising. When parents in Park Forest were asked what they thought the schools there should emphasize, most responded that schools should teach children “how to get along with other people.”

One might spend an interesting evening debating whether Whyte really captured midcentury American culture with the precision that most critics applauded — or whether he simply defined it in terms so vivid that they achieved a status as intellectual dogma impervious to challenge.

What we can say with confidence half a century later is that Whyte got the future almost entirely wrong.

Intellectual dogma has never gotten anything right, which is why American anti-intellectualism, which intellectual dogma saw as a dangerous flaw, has been our salvation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2006 11:03 AM
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