Frank Pasquale’s post on “college application packaging” at Prawfsblawg, which Frank describes as “an instance of a larger phenomenon: the rise of primarily position-enhancing information, not useful intrinsically, but only as a means of besting others in competition,” gets picked up by Orin Kerr. Comments on both posts reflect a healthy dose of distributive justice concerns. In my mind I connected them to last Sunday’s NYT piece on who turns out to be a world-class soccer player:
“I think the most general claim here,” [Anders] Ericsson says of his work, “is that a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it.” This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn’t spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.
The link, in other words, is baselines. What is the “natural” position that any of us do or should find ourselves in — whether competing for places at Harvard, or home run records, or spouses or mates — and why should we suppose that the distributive consequences of that allegedly “natural” distribution of characteristics are any more fair than the distribution that results post-SAT prep, or post-steroid, or post-Lasik surgery, or even post-hoursandhoursofdisciplinedpractice? Was it ethical for Tiger Woods to have his eyes lasered? This is hardly a new question. Steven Johnson has written about it, though I coudn’t quickly find a link. Questions about Kaavya Viswanathan’s admission to Harvard raise, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, some far greater dilemmas.