Friday Ephemera
Jam At The Intersection

An Explanation Comes To Mind

George Francis on the rise of “imposter syndrome” – and its possible causes:  

This study tracked 818 college students to look for what triggered the syndrome… Their most illuminating results were the simplest (as is usually the case) - the correlation matrix of their variables. Exactly in line with the theory that imposter syndrome is caused by incompetence, they find low course grades, low attendance, low course engagement (lack of curiosity), and classroom competition (the perception of others working harder than you) predict feelings of being an imposter. People have imposter syndrome because they are incompetent people pretending to be something they are not - a good student… Despite the good evidence for imposter syndrome being caused by students actually being imposters, the study never once brings itself to mention why low grades are associated with feelings of being an imposter. 

It’s a topic we’ve touched on before, when marvelling at the woes of Celia Edell, a “feminist philosopher interested in social justice,” including “critical race theory,” and her struggle to be taken seriously. Ms Edell, who signalled her gravitas and intellectual heft via the medium of endlessly changing Day-Glo hair colour, is accustomed to making claims with no obvious evidential support. When not, that is, making claims for which any evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary. We’re told by Ms Edell, who is also an “online creative,” that her feelings of being “unable to internalise” her own awesomeness are a result of sexism and “oppression,” not something more humdrum and, dare I say it, plausible.

As noted at the time, it may be worth considering the extent to which Ms Edell’s chosen environment, academia, has been politicised and annexed by the left, such that the ludicrous Nina Power, who boasts of finding rioting and arson “uplifting,” is employed as a senior lecturer, and such that “critical race theory,” so favoured by Ms Edell, is deemed intellectually respectable.

If a person’s career is even partly dependent on signalling their possession of the approved, rather narrow political views – and Ms Edell’s are almost exactly what you’d expect – then problems may arise if that signalling trumps expectations of coherence, probity, and rigour. You may score Career-Advancing Lefty Points by, for instance, invoking “whiteness” or “patriarchy,” or some other intersectional woo, or by claiming that women are paid less than men for doing exactly the same work; but a mismatch with reality seems likely to exacerbate any feelings of fraudulence.

Update, via the comments:

As Mr Francis notes in the piece:

Maybe all this concern about imposter syndrome is just caused by those with a political agenda grasping at straws to claim their favourite groups are oppressed in insidious ways. But with substantial affirmative action for women and ethnic minorities, I wouldn’t really be surprised if many had got into prestigious positions with a sense of being an imposter. Any intelligent black person at an Ivy League must wonder whether their admittance had something to do with their race.

Given the prevalence of racial favouritism in admissions policies - and given the desperation to find even remotely qualified applicants, with all the inadequacy and barrel-scraping that entails - the rise of ‘imposter syndrome’ is hardly surprising. Nor is the correlation with poor grades. Not only will there be doubts as to competence for the reason quoted above, which can be rather unfair to the capable, but there will also be plenty of actual and obvious incompetence - people invited into an environment for which they have neither the temperament nor cognitive wherewithal. Many of whom will drop out of courses beyond their abilities and find consolation, of a sort, in Angry Studies activism.

Heather Mac Donald, among others, has been documenting this phenomenon for quite some time.

As Amy Wax put it not too long ago,

On the one hand, all good people are for affirmative action. That’s a sign of virtue. On the other hand, to talk about the predicate, the reason that affirmative action is needed, which is that there are these gaps in educational achievement and proficiency, is verboten. So, we kind of twisted ourselves in knots that we have to embrace something but deny the factual underpinning of it.

And so, to a very large extent, the feelings of mismatch and fraudulence, of being an imposter, and any consequent alienation and resentment, and crippling debt, are caused by the very people who claim to be fixing things.

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