Should I read The Final Pagan Generation? I'm intrigued by it.

Is it well argued and well researched?

Even if so, maybe Aaron's very efficient summary is better than the time investment required to read the whole thing?

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Appreciated this a lot.

Relistened to the podcast on exploration as it was released.

Do you think explorers were elites primarily? Or was exploration an alternative route to elite status?

Was the Thiel fellowship like exploration?

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Feb 12Liked by Aaron M. Renn

Good piece, Aaron. There's actually an interesting synthesis here with Turchin's theories of elite overproduction triggering the emergence of "anti-elites", i.e. elites that revolt against their fellow elites in pursuit of a piece of the too-small pie. The appearance of a parallel Christian elite system in the Roman Dominate would seem to be just such an example.

From your piece:

"But in the mid-300s, the next generation of elites - that is, the children of the existing Roman elites - began to question the bargain. Watts doesn’t go into detail, but his book is suggestive that the rewards began to look less appealing or attainable to the young."

As I understand it, the (Western) Roman economy initially recovered strongly amidst the stability that accompanied the end of the Crisis of the Third Century, but in the second half of the fourth century it began to stall and sputter, for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Perhaps something was just broken in the Roman system that couldn't be repaired?

Although the Crisis of the Third Century killed some elites, it didn't involve a mass bloodletting of elites, at least in the West. The excess deaths fell more on the commoners/slaves, which means it didn't really undo the elite overproduction that had been ongoing through the Principate, and in Turchin's framing, elite overproduction was therefore very quickly a problem again for the Dominate.

Along those lines, here's an interesting paper:


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This is a good reflection on the role of Elites and the instituions that we all have to leverage in order to navigate the present world.

I would also recemmoned folks listen to a two-part discussion between Ben Horowistz and Marc Andreson: https://a16z.simplecast.com/episodes/fixing-higher-education-new-startup-opportunities-with-marc-and-ben-MPOOAKGJ

The two are "elites" in the sense of controlling $billions in VC money and are trying to break the stranglhold of higher education and the growing lack of confidence that many have at an RIO for the amount of money spent on higher education as well as the fact that it is inaccessible to many people.

As an example, the SAT was originally put in place as a way for someone outside to elite circles to be ablt to demonstrate theri academic skills in English and Math.

The problem with wtih the idea of crating your own alternative to institutioanl gatekeeprs is that you have to gain wide acceptance that your "test" for acumen in any given subject would be accepted by the populace.

Conservative seminaries have gained acceptance with conservative Reformed congregations that their accredation system "works" to say that an MDiv is an MDiv, but it's difficult to do that in other professions.

Obvioulsy, in the case of Thiel, his "proof" is that a company makes $billions. Most of us or are children are not necessarily going to be entrepenuers and it's OK to pursue professional degrees, but the problem remains that a lot of professional certifications (degrees or otherwise) are controlled by gatekeepers.

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Feb 12·edited Feb 12

Great post, the key insight being that elites are inevitable and the question is how can we move towards one that does greater good than the one we currently have in evangelicalism (the shadow system Aaron describes). I wonder if in sub-spheres of evangelicalism we had such a system as with Dutch Reformed youth naturally going to Calvin College, Dordt, etc (in a prescribed order). In the South we often heard of school X being 'the best school in the South', implying that academic elites did not aspire to Northern schools. I wonder if in Mormon circles BYU is still the preferred destination.

On the Thiel fellowship, while accepting all the points Aaron made, I would say that the aspiration to build a tech unicorn is still at a fundamental level aligned with the establishment - it is Wall Street that rounds up the funding and provides the valuations, and we know that the Facebooks and Twitters of the world were more than willing to do the bidding of the USG in censoring undesirable posts.

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Great piece.

Watts is a former mentor/colleague and a good friend - I taught at UCSD with him for a few years.

His book "City and School in late antique Athens and Alexandria" is also excellent on the sociology of knowledge institutions in the Roman empire. 

Everyone serious in the classical education movement should read it.

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