Dispatch from a Kashgar kitchen

Opinion by Chapman Caddell
Jan. 7, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

Value-neutrality’s the new value. You’re flipping screens between low-depth content on The New York Times, mostly headlines and photographs, and a Google Calendar that looks like the Post-it Note of a psychedelic nightmare. You think you’ll go to Goldman for a few years to equip yourself with the tools to liberate the huddled masses (that you made to huddle in your two-to-three-turned-ten years on the teeming shores of global capital), and then you’ll put that decision-making model (and soft skills, don’t forget soft skills) to work. I mean, sure, you acknowledge as you clutch your double americano and your raison d’être, it’s not doing good, but it’s not doing bad, and in a few years it’ll enable me to do good so, well, you know …

Doing good requires qualifications.

But so, it seems, does doing bad. Evil isn’t banal. Evil’s resume is so extraordinary that, if you have any sense, you’re going to be chomping at the bit to hire this kid. Evil has a double major in economics and political science, a spectacular GPA and an interest in — a real class act, this Evil — the intersection between computer science and social good that (only in private, very discreetly) he calls a “slam-dunk résumé stamp.”

Since by now you’re figuratively invested in Evil’s future, his success, his potential for personal growth on the gilded streets of Boston/Seattle/Silicon Valley, here’s what happens to Evil. He ends up on a recruiter’s desk, digitally. He gets flown to an office for an on-site in a room with a clear day’s view of “flyover country,” on D-day just a ghostly glimmering on the Kansasward horizon. And the interviewer is impressed. She gets the relevant parties to give Evil an offer, sends the kid the paperwork and, whoosh-de-doo, Evil’s on a value-neutral plane to Kashgar!

Today, that future’s about as distant as East Turkestan: Evil’s just a work-in-progress. So I sometimes walk from my dorm to the Kashgar kitchen to watch them cook him up. The kitchen’s dark with ivory tile and he’s in the big pot in the middle — fluid, as Hellspawn tend to be — where he’s stirred by an invisible hand. He leaves, only occasionally, to attend mathed-down lectures in economics to tenderize the brain. But when he’s in the pot, big and boiling and always in flux, I begin to see his other incarnations. They’re underdone for now, but by summer’s end, they’ll be well prepared to leave the kitchen, move to Riyadh, and finally do some social good.

They’re already damned impressive. Take Kappa Sigma Mike. He’s the least viscous, still more broth than bones, but his trust fund and for-the-boys attitude have “apologist for Ukrainian autocrats” written all over ‘em. Then there’s the rep from Stanford Women in Business (SWIB) — a little burnt around the edges, Patagonia-clad, but still ready for Istanbul come June [1]. She says her politics are impeccable. Papa Tayyip agrees. One budding expert in international relations is even (once out of the pot) a promising candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship. Hey, who knows? Maybe that Rhodes résumé stamp will take her to the top of McKinsey!

But before we leave, cut back to Evil in his purest form, his most dashingly elemental, riding a Bactrian camel through his post-collegiate future on nothing but a saddle, six figures and a Stanford degree. Confronted with his ungulate, brought face-to-face with Kashgar in the flesh, he may ask himself — we hope — well, how did I get here? But thinking about the here, Evil says, is the problem with the way we think. It’s a few “value-neutral” years at McKinsey, sure, but you have to weigh that against a lifetime of changing the world with The McKinsey Way. At McKinsey, Evil says, “You don’t just come to work, you come to change.” And it’s true. Just ask the Uighurs.


[1] If I’m so critical, you ask, how does my kitchen look? On with the stove, drop five eggs in a pot and fill it with water until the eggs (on their sides) have two inches of liquid between air and shell. Bring it to a serious boil. Now put the lid on top if you haven’t already and wait ten minutes, timed to the second. Breathe. Then dump the water, no need for a strainer, and peel all five eggs before you salt and pepper them and eat them for breakfast. It’s critical — for your own sanity — that you peel all five first. Delicious? Of course they are. This is Good.


Contact Chapman Caddell at jcaddell ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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