Category Archive 'Class Warfare'
19 Jul 2017

Lunching With Liberals

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Charlie Martin is the latest in line to poke some fun at David Brooks’ identification of Italian cold cuts as a signifier of grand social superiority.

[T]hree bits of media: David Brooks’ famous sandwich story, this story about a village in Nunavut (the First Nations province in Canada) that buys great quantities of stuff from Amazon, and an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods in which he drives up the Pacific Coast Highway to sample the local delicacies of coastal mid-state California.

Brooks first. I imagine you all have already been exposed to this column, in which he argues that the lower economic classes are being held down because they don’t learn the “cultural signifiers” that mark the upper educated classes. Here’s the core paragraph:

    Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Presumably, she was more comfortable with tamales and enchiladas and menudo than sandwiches named “tomato” and “godfather.”

In Zimmern’s show, he went to sea with a fisherman and then had dinner with the fisherman’s family (which had been fishing professionally for generations), then went into the tidal zone with a Hmong couple who showed him where you could forage for mussels and whelks and limpets and make a meal of them, then went to an Elks Lodge where bartenders pour heavy and the Elks get together and cook big chunks of top sirloin on a spit. Zimmern was just ever so impressed with these folks living the American Dream, out there working and bringing in fish and raising cattle. And amazingly enough, not one of them had a bone through their nose.
Sponsored

Then we look at the village in Nunavut, where the story was that the whole village loved Amazon Prime, because they could order food and furniture and tools and supplies and get them with second-day delivery. The prices were far better — and the selection even more so — than the stores in the villages. The money quote to my eye was one person who said that Amazon Prime had done more for their quality of life than years of government programs. The bulk of the story, however, was that they were afraid Canada Post was going to not want to continue to deliver to their village because they were using so much shipping, along with people from the government saying that Amazon Prime wasn’t good because some people didn’t have credit cards, or were on assistance and so couldn’t buy things from Amazon.

The point is that for all Brooks’ talk about “social signifiers” and how the different signifiers were preventing the less-educated classes from moving up, when his female friend was confronted with this menu, he didn’t say: “Look, ‘Pomodoro’ and ‘Padrino’ are just names they gave the sandwiches, soppressata and capicollo are kinds of salami, and the other one is a kind of bread.” Instead of “insensitively” explaining things to her and giving her a chance to try something new, he “sensitively” took her to a Mexican place, and so preserved her from needing to learn all those “social signifiers.”

I used to frequent a steel mill bar in my old home town in Pueblo, where there would be a bunch of guys eating capicollo and soppressata sandwiches and drinking michelada (a Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka). All those guys were wearing jeans with slag burns and had heavy work gloves and hard hats; not one of them had a crease in their pants leg. David may think that’s “gourmet” and exotic — but to people with real jobs, that’s just lunch.

Which is exactly the problem. In all of these stories, the underlying assumption is that they are the civilized people, and they’re out on the reservation where the unenlightened are living.

22 Apr 2017

A Populist-Nationalist Revolt is Coming in France, Too

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Christopher Caldwell, in City Journal, discusses the untranslated three-book oeuvre of French commentator Christophe Guilluy, a specialist observer of French demographics, real estate, and economic developments, who describes the development, in France, of a similar practical separation and conflict of interests between the prosperous urban community of fashion elite and La France périphérique, the Gallic equivalent of Fly-Over America.

[T]he urban real-estate market is a pitiless sorting machine. Rich people and up-and-comers buy the private housing stock in desirable cities and thereby bid up its cost. Guilluy notes that one real-estate agent on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris now sells “lofts” of three square meters, or about 30 square feet, for €50,000. The situation resembles that in London, where, according to Le Monde, the average monthly rent (£2,580) now exceeds the average monthly salary (£2,300).

The laid-off, the less educated, the mistrained—all must rebuild their lives in what Guilluy calls (in the title of his second book) La France périphérique. This is the key term in Guilluy’s sociological vocabulary, and much misunderstood in France, so it is worth clarifying: it is neither a synonym for the boondocks nor a measure of distance from the city center. (Most of France’s small cities, in fact, are in la France périphérique.) Rather, the term measures distance from the functioning parts of the global economy. France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities. But too few such places exist to carry a national economy. When France’s was a national economy, its median workers were well compensated and well protected from illness, age, and other vicissitudes. In a knowledge economy, these workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants. …

Top executives (at 54 percent) are content with the current number of migrants in France. But only 38 percent of mid-level professionals, 27 percent of laborers, and 23 percent of clerical workers feel similarly. As for the migrants themselves (whose views are seldom taken into account in French immigration discussions), living in Paris instead of Boumako is a windfall even under the worst of circumstances. In certain respects, migrants actually have it better than natives, Guilluy stresses. He is not referring to affirmative action. Inhabitants of government-designated “sensitive urban zones” (ZUS) do receive special benefits these days. But since the French cherish equality of citizenship as a political ideal, racial preferences in hiring and education took much longer to be imposed than in other countries. They’ve been operational for little more than a decade. A more important advantage, as geographer Guilluy sees it, is that immigrants living in the urban slums, despite appearances, remain “in the arena.” They are near public transportation, schools, and a real job market that might have hundreds of thousands of vacancies. At a time when rural France is getting more sedentary, the ZUS are the places in France that enjoy the most residential mobility: it’s better in the banlieues.

In France, the Parti Socialiste, like the Democratic Party in the U.S. or Labour in Britain, has remade itself based on a recognition of this new demographic and political reality. François Hollande built his 2012 presidential victory on a strategy outlined in October 2011 by Bruno Jeanbart and the late Olivier Ferrand of the Socialist think tank Terra Nova. Largely because of cultural questions, the authors warned, the working class no longer voted for the Left. The consultants suggested a replacement coalition of ethnic minorities, people with advanced degrees (usually prospering in new-economy jobs), women, youths, and non-Catholics—a French version of the Obama bloc. It did not make up, in itself, an electoral majority, but it possessed sufficient cultural power to attract one.

It is only too easy to see why a populist and nationalist revolt against the elite urban community of fashion is an international development.

A must-read.

11 Feb 2017

The Intelligentsia Versus the Rest of America

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Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky, Stavrogin and Verkhovensky on the Bridge

E.M. Oblomov, in City Journal, discusses the rise, and historical parallels, to America’s current treasonous intellectual clerisy.

The most devastating critique of the Russian intelligentsia was mounted by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in a 1974 essay called Educationdom (Obrazovanshchina). Solzhenitsyn traced the sources of the Bolshevik revolution and its cataclysmic aftermath to the vices of the old intelligentsia, which included “a sectarian, artificial distancing from the national life,” unsuitability for practical work, an obsession with egalitarian social justice that “paralyzes the love of and interest in truth,” and a “trance-like, inadequate sense of reality.” There were other, darker vices, too: “fanaticism, deaf to the voice of everyday life”; a hypnotic faith in its own ideology and intolerance for any other; and the adoption of “hatred as a passionate ethical impulse.” Worse still for Solzhenitsyn was the intelligentsia’s fervent rejection of Christianity, replaced by faith in scientific progress and a mankind-worshiping idolatry. This atheism was all-embracing and uncritical in its belief that science is competent to dispose of all religious questions, finally and comprehensively. In Solzhenitsyn’s view, the intelligentsia had yielded to the temptation of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor—may the truth rot, if people are the happier for it. …

If only America could be Communist China for just one day, lamented New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. If only we could be ruled by an all-powerful junta of Harvard professors. Or by a plenary committee of nine eminent jurists.

Of course, mutual antipathy between intellectuals and democracy dates back at least to classical antiquity, when the Athenian assembly put Socrates on trial for corrupting the youth. The Athenian intelligentsia fought back. When Plato produced his blueprint for the ideal Republic, it looked much more like authoritarian Sparta than democratic Athens.

The United States was bound to be at odds with its intellectual class. Unlike Tsarist Russia, with its rigid system of castes and ranks, the United States was from the beginning an egalitarian republic, with no native intelligentsia. In the nineteenth century, Tocqueville found that, “there is no class . . . in America, in which the taste for intellectual pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune and leisure and by which the labors of the intellect are held in honor.” Tocqueville conceived of the intelligentsia in French terms and identified it with aristocracy. But Americans were doers, not navel-gazers. They lacked a “taste for intellectual pleasures” but possessed a huge appetite for acquiring practical knowledge.

For more than a century after Tocqueville, intellectuals remained at the margins of American society. American elites were industrial and financial, and the nation’s rude and boisterous culture reflected their tastes and preferences. But change was inevitable. New universities—notably Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago—were being founded along Germanic lines. These were not social clubs for the scions of railroad barons and banking magnates, but factories of pure knowledge. Then, in the 1930s and 1940s, the intelligentsia received a huge boost from an infusion of large numbers of refugees from Nazi Europe, including Viennese philologists with a taste for Proust and Mahler. But it was only after World War II that the American intelligentsia really came into its own. Economic changes were making possible increasingly large returns on investment in university education. The GI Bill exposed ever-larger numbers of Americans to the world of professional intellectuals. And, with the establishment of the Educational Testing Service, the academic elite created a highly efficient engine for sorting Americans according to intellectual ability and channeling them, by means of the university admission system, into different social strata.

More than 70 years of this social sorting have given us a distinctive, insular, and powerful intellectual elite, shaped by the prejudices, anxieties, and affectations of the faculty lounge; separated from the rest by ever-greater social, economic, and cultural distance; and hardening into a self-perpetuating caste. This ruling intelligentsia—or “educationdom,” in Solzhenitsyn’s biting formulation—more and more resembles the ruling aristocracy of Tocqueville’s day:

    In an aristocratic people, among whom letters are cultivated, I suppose that intellectual occupations, as well as the affairs of government, are concentrated in a ruling class. The literary as well as the political career is almost entirely confined to this class, or to those nearest to it in rank. These premises suffice for a key to all the rest.

Read the whole thing.

04 Feb 2017

Hermeneutics of an Audi Commercial

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Jack Baruth, at The Truth About Cars, explains the real message of Audi’s Superbowl commercial.

At first blush, the spot seems to be nothing but the usual corporate slacktivism, a feel-good fluff-vertorial making a “brave stand” in support of an issue that was decided long ago. I’m reminded of Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator, arriving in full armor as soon as he can do so without any risk. “Father, have I missed the battle?” Well, Audi, you’ve missed the war; if there’s a place in the United States where women are actually paid significantly less for doing the same job as men, it’s not evident from what I’m reading.

After watching the one-minute advertisement carefully, however, I understood feminism, or equal pay, is the last thing Audi wants you to take away from it. The message is far subtler, and more powerful, than the dull recitation of the pseudo-progressive catechism droning on in the background. This spot is visual — and as you’ll see below, you can’t understand it until you watch it and see what it’s really telling you. …

I think you’ve figured out what the real message of this Audi advertisement is, but just in case you’ve been napping I will spell it out for you: Money and breeding always beat poor white trash. Those other kids in the race, from the overweight boys to the hick who actually had an American flag helmet to the stripper-glitter girl? They never had a chance. They’re losers and they always will be, just like their loser parents. Audi is the choice of the winners in today’s economy, the smooth talkers who say all the right things in all the right meetings and are promoted up the chain because they are tall (yes, that makes a difference) and handsome without being overly masculine or threatening-looking.

At the end of this race, it’s left to the Morlocks to clean the place up and pack the derby cars into their trashy pickup trucks, while the beautiful people stride off into the California sun, the natural and carefree winners of life’s lottery. Audi is explicitly suggesting that choosing their product will identify you as one of the chosen few. I find it personally offensive. As an owner of one of the first 2009-model-year Audi S5s to set tire on American soil, yet also as an ugly, ill-favored child who endured a scrappy Midwestern upbringing, I find it much easier to identify with the angry-faced fat kids in their home-built specials or the boy with the Captain America helmet.

At the end, what does this ad do? It just reinforces our natural biases. Poor is bad, rich is good, and most importantly, rich people deserve their fortune because they are inherently better than the rest of us. You might not like that message, but it’s been selling cars for a very long time. If Audi wanted to try some authentic activism, they might consider showing us an African-American man or woman who overcame a tough upbringing to become an actual customer, or perhaps a differently-abled person who’s achieved enough to buy himself an S8 as a reward for his hard work. But that’s not terribly aspirational, is it? Who wants to be those people? And, by the same token, who wouldn’t want to be that handsome father lifting his beautiful daughter out of someone else’s winning race car?

04 Dec 2016

The Dilemma of Working-Class White Voter

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shendo
A sad view of my ruined hometown. The big boarded-up building is where I went to high school.

Brad King is writing a book about Appalachia.

Imagine you are in your mid-forties, you have two children, and you live in a place where there’s been no new businesses developed in the last thirty years. You live well off the beaten path, along one of myriad state routes that used to be the lifeblood of the country but now largely serve as a reminder of how forgotten you are. That lack of transportation infrastructure and cost of doing business due to regulations— oversight that you know makes your life better— discourages corporations big and small from coming into your town.

With no new businesses, increasingly you are forced to depend upon the government to provide you basic services like healthcare and unemployment insurance. You hate that, but you also have little choice. You don’t have the money — or connections — to move…somewhere else.

In each election season, you find yourself making a choice: continue receiving government help, which you know will not make your children’s life better, or forego those basic services in hopes that your town—one forgotten by the country— has the chance to create jobs that may provide you, and your children, the chance to carve out a life.

The choice each election season is the same, but the circumstances in which you live are getting worse because where you live isn’t part of the growth of the country.

So which do you choose: government help that you know will be there but that doesn’t provide a future, or the chance to maybe build something new (and knowing that if you fail, you will be worse off than you are)?

You must choose one or the other. If you decide not to choose, then you’re told you have no right to complain. And— by the way— no matter which you pick, people will chide you for being too stupid to know the right answer? …

After two hundreds years, the choice between the do-gooder who ends up stealing your money and the asshole who doesn’t care whether you live or die is pretty simple: I’ll take the asshole every time. And the people who seem to care the least about meddling in their business aren’t the Democrats, who waged a war on poverty and who have come trying to tell them how to fix their world. No, the people who believe in the least government and have a laissez-faire attitude about helping people are the Republicans.

The people who you think are voting against their self-interest are doing something quite different. They are just looking for a level playing field, one where they control their land, their economy, and their community. They aren’t voting against their own self-interest.

They are voting on themselves because nobody else has ever come to help them.

Read the whole thing.

14 Nov 2016

The White Working Class Voted Trump

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white-working-class

Joan C. Williams, in Harvard Business Review, explains to the national elite why white working class men went overwhelmingly for Trump.

One little-known element of that gap is that the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich. Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo. Barbara Ehrenreich recalled in 1990 that her blue-collar dad “could not say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack. Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Annette Lareau found tremendous resentment against teachers, who were perceived as condescending and unhelpful.

Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk. Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money. “The main thing is to be independent and give your own orders and not have to take them from anybody else,” a machine operator told Lamont. Owning one’s own business — that’s the goal. That’s another part of Trump’s appeal.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, epitomizes the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite. The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables. Worse, her mere presence rubs it in that even women from her class can treat working-class men with disrespect. Look at how she condescends to Trump as unfit to hold the office of the presidency and dismisses his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.

Trump’s blunt talk taps into another blue-collar value: straight talk. “Directness is a working-class norm,” notes Lubrano. As one blue-collar guy told him, “If you have a problem with me, come talk to me. If you have a way you want something done, come talk to me. I don’t like people who play these two-faced games.” Straight talk is seen as requiring manly courage, not being “a total wuss and a wimp,” an electronics technician told Lamont. Of course Trump appeals. Clinton’s clunky admission that she talks one way in public and another in private? Further proof she’s a two-faced phony.

Manly dignity is a big deal for working-class men, and they’re not feeling that they have it. Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place. It’s comfort food for high-school-educated guys who could have been my father-in-law if they’d been born 30 years earlier. Today they feel like losers — or did until they met Trump.

Read the whole thing.

21 Oct 2016

Words of Wisdom

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17 Sep 2016

Our Idiotic Elite Class

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Experts, 1837, National Museum Warsaw.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb inveighs against the pseudo-intelligentsia whose excesses in America have resulted in the Trumpkin Jacquerrie.

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for. …

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in many countries, the government’s role is ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP). The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and rarely seen outside specialized outlets, social media, and universities — most people have proper jobs and there are not many opening for the IYI.

Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When Plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences.

Read the whole thing.

26 Aug 2016

The Community of Fashion and the Democrat Party

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Obama & admirers on Martha’s Vinyard

From Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (March 15, 2016):

I am thinking here of the summertime residents on Martha’s Vinyard –the sorts of people to whom the politicians listen with patience and understanding. No one treats this group as though they have “nowhere else to go”; on the contrary, for them, the political process works wonderfully. It is responsive to their concerns, its representatives are respectful, and the party as a whole treats them with a gratifying deference.

For them, the Democrats deliver in all the conventional ways: generous subsidies for the right kinds of businesses, a favorable regulatory climate, and legal protection for their innovations. Hillary Clinton’s State Department basically declared access to certain Silicon Valley servers to be a human right.

Then there are the psychic deliverables –the flattery, for starters. To members of the liberal class, the Democratic Party offers constant reminders that the technocratic order whose upper ranks they inhabit is rational and fair –that whether they work in software or derivative securities they are a deserving elite; creative, tolerant, enlightened. Though it is less tangible, the moral absolution in which Democrats deal is just as important. It seems to put their favorite constituents on the right side of every question, the right side of progress itself. It allows them to understand the war of our two parties as a kind of cosmic struggle between good and evil— a struggle in which they are on the side of light and justice, of course…. And what is rightest and most inspiring about it is the Democrats’ prime directive: to defeat the Republicans, that unthinkable brutish Other. There are no complexities to make this mission morally difficult; to the liberal class, it is simple. The Democratic Party is all that stands between the Oval Office and whomever the radicalized GOP ultimately chooses to nominate for the presidency. Compared to that sacred duty, all other issues fade into insignificance…. The Democrats posture as the ‘party of the people’ even as they dedicate themselves ever more resolutely to serving and glorifying the professional class. Worse: they combine self-righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach-turning. And every two years, they simply assume that being non-Republican is sufficient to rally the voters of the nation to their standard….”

Hat tip to Althouse.

07 Jun 2016

Trump, the Second Emperor

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Nero1
Nerō Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, 15 December 37 AD – 9 June 68 AD. Younger, but has a definite bit of resemblance to Trump in the shape of the head, doesn’t he?

Angelo Codevilla, Last February, analysed precisely the country’s situation and warned presciently about just where we are heading.

Obama has been our first emperor. A Donald Trump presidency, far from reversing the ruling class’s unaccountable hold over American life, would seal it. Because Trump would act as our second emperor, he would render well-nigh impossible our return to republicanism.

Today, nearly all the rules under which we live are made, executed, and adjudicated by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and countless boards and commissions. Congress no longer passes real laws. Instead, it passes broad grants of authority, the substance of the president’s bureaucracy decides in cooperation with interest groups.
Trump’s career and fortune have been as beneficiary in the process by which government grants privileges to some and inflicts burdens on others.

Nancy Pelosi’s remark that we would know Obamacare’s contents only after it passed was true, and applicable to nearly all modern legislation. The courts allow this, pretending that bureaucrats sitting with their chosen friends merely fill in details. Some details! Americans have learned that, as they say in DC, if you are not sitting at one of these tables of power, “you’re on the menu.”

Trump’s claim to be an enemy of rule-by-inside-deal is counterintuitive. His career and fortune have been as participant and beneficiary in the process by which government grants privileges to some and inflicts burdens on others. Crony capitalism is the air he breathes, the only sea in which he swims, his second nature. His recipe for “fixing” America, he tells us, is to appoint “the best people”—he names some of his fellow crony capitalists—to exercise even more unaccountable power and to do so with “unbelievable speed.” He assures us that, this time, it will be to “make America great again.” Peanuts’ Lucy might reply: “This time, for sure!”
Deal-Making Expands Government

In recent years, Obama and the Democratic Party (with the Republican leadership’s constant collusion) have prevented Congress from voting to appropriate funds for individual programs and agencies. They have lumped all government functions into “continuing resolutions” or “omnibus bills.” This has moved the government’s decision-making into back rooms, shielding elected officials from popular scrutiny, relieving them of the responsibility for supporting or opposing what the government does. This has enabled Obama to make whatever deals have pleased him and his Republican cronies.

This has moved the government’s decision-making into back rooms, relieving elected officials of responsibility.

Trump touts his own capacity to make good deals. But good for whom? And who is to say what is good? Who or what causes would benefit from continuing government by secret deals? Who or what would lose? Trump’s stated objective is to wield whatever power might be necessary to accomplish whatever objectives upon which he—in consultation with whomever—might choose from time to time. But the difference between Trump and Obama amounts only to whatever difference may exist between each emperor’s set of cronies. …

Like Obama, Trump is not about persuading anybody. Both are about firing up their supporters to impose their will on their opponents while insulting them. Throughout history, this style of politics has been the indispensable ingredient for wrecking republics, the “final cause” that transforms free citizens into the subjects of emperors.
Both are about firing up their supporters to impose their will on their opponents while insulting them.

This style of politics has grown, along with a ruling class that rejects the notion that no person may rule another without that person’s consent. As I have shown at length elsewhere, America is now ruled by a uniformly educated class of persons that occupies the commanding heights of bureaucracy, of the judiciary, education, the media, and of large corporations, and that wields political power through the Democratic Party. Its control of access to prestige, power, privilege, and wealth exerts a gravitational pull that has made the Republican Party’s elites into its satellites.

This class’s fatal feature is its belief that ordinary Americans are a lesser intellectual and social breed. Its increasing self-absorption, its growing contempt for whoever won’t bow to it, its dependence for votes on sectors of society whose grievances it stokes, have led it to break the most basic rule of republican life: deeming its opposition illegitimate. The ruling class insists on driving down the throats of its opponents the agendas of each its constituencies and on injuring persons who stand in the way. This has spawned a Newtonian reaction, a hunger, among what may be called the “country class” for returning the favor with interest.

Ordinary Americans have endured being insulted by the ruling class’s favorite epitaphs—racist, sexist, etc., and, above all, stupid; they have had careers and reputations compromised by speaking the wrong word in front of the wrong person; endured dictates from the highest courts in the land that no means yes (King), that public means private (Kelo), that everyone is entitled to make up one’s meaning of life (Casey), but that whoever thinks marriage is exclusively between men and women is a bigot (Obergefell).

Trying to stop the cycle of political payback with another round of it, while not utterly impossible, is well-nigh beyond human capacity.

No wonder, then, that millions of Americans lose respect for a ruling class that disrespects them, that they identify with whomever promises some kind of turnabout against that class, and that they care less and less for the integrity of institutions that fail to protect them.

Trump’s voters expect precisely such turnabout. Within good measure, not only would this right any number of wrongs and restore some balance in our public life, it is also indispensable for impressing upon the ruling class and its constituents that they too have a stake in observing the limits and niceties that are explicit and implicit in our Constitution.

But not only do opposing sets of wrongs not make anything right. As I have argued (Sophocles did it a lot better), trying to stop the cycle of political payback with another round of it, while not utterly impossible, is well-nigh beyond human capacity.

Neither Obama nor Trump seem to know or care that cycles of reciprocal resentment, of insults and injuries paid back with ever more interest and ever less concern for consequences, are the natural fuel of revolutions—easy to start and soon impossible to stop.

Read the whole thing.

16 May 2016

The Trumpshirt Revoltion

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On my Yale Class email list, this morning, a left-wing classmate forwarded a link and a quoted section of Charles M. Blow‘s morally-self-congratulatory and intellectually-condescending New York Times editorial.

[A]s Joe Keohane wrote in the Boston Globe in 2010:

    “Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

Supporting Trump is a Hail Mary pass of a hail-the-demagogue assemblage. Trump’s triumph as the presumptive Republican Party nominee is not necessarily a sign of his strategic genius as much as it’s a sign of some people’s mental, psychological and spiritual deficiencies.

It’s hard to use the truth as an instrument of enlightenment on people who prefer to luxuriate in a lie.

I replied (this version slightly edited):

Trump supporters are supporting him, not in spite of his vulgarity, his lack of manners, his constant lying and self-contradiction, his ignorance, and his obvious lack of fixed principles; they are supporting him specifically because he is manifestly unconstrained by ordinary conventions of etiquette, ethics, or ideas.

They are so angry at people like you… and so resentful of how they feel they have been treated by the educated elites of this country that they are intentionally supporting a man they perceive as a ruthless thug, hoping to turn him loose on you. Donald Trump is being nominated as a great big “Fuck You!” to leftists like you for your ruthless and tyrannical imposition of your aberrant values and failed policies on America and to conservatives and Republicans like me for failing to stop you. The peasants are in open, and thoroughly irrational, revolt.

13 Mar 2016

“I Can Tolerate Anything, Except the Outgroup”

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Anti-Trump demonstrators confront Trump supporters in Chicago.

Scott Alexander reflects on American tribalism and the paradoxes of contemporary liberal tolerance.

The Emperor summons before him Bodhidharma and asks: “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Tolerance Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why not.

Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”

The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”

And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”…

Freud spoke of the narcissism of small differences, saying that “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”. Nazis and German Jews. Northern Irish Protestants and Northern Irish Catholics. Hutus and Tutsis. South African whites and South African blacks. Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Anyone in the former Yugoslavia and anyone else in the former Yugoslavia.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward. …

The people who are actually into this sort of thing sketch out a bunch of speculative tribes and subtribes, but to make it easier, let me stick with two and a half.

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds. …

The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

    I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.

And that was when something clicked for me. …

[M]y hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe. …

One of the best-known examples of racism is the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” scenario where parents are scandalized about their child marrying someone of a different race. Pew has done some good work on this and found that only 23% of conservatives and 1% (!) of liberals admit they would be upset in this situation. But Pew also asked how parents would feel about their child marrying someone of a different political party. Now 30% of conservatives and 23% of liberals would get upset. Average them out, and you go from 12% upsetness rate for race to 27% upsetness rate for party – more than double. Yeah, people do lie to pollsters, but a picture is starting to come together here.

(Harvard, by the way, is a tossup. There are more black students – 11.5% – than conservative students – 10% – but there are more conservative faculty than black faculty.)…

There was a big brouhaha a couple of years ago when, as it first became apparent Obama had a good shot at the Presidency, Michelle Obama said that “for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.”

Republicans pounced on the comment, asking why she hadn’t felt proud before, and she backtracked saying of course she was proud all the time and she loves America with the burning fury of a million suns and she was just saying that the Obama campaign was particularly inspiring.

As unconvincing denials go, this one was pretty far up there. But no one really held it against her. Probably most Obama voters felt vaguely the same way. I was an Obama voter, and I have proud memories of spending my Fourth of Julys as a kid debunking people’s heartfelt emotions of patriotism. Aaron Sorkin:

    [What makes America the greatest country in the world?] It’s not the greatest country in the world! We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about.

(Another good retort is “We’re number one? Sure – number one in incarceration rates, drone strikes, and making new parents go back to work!”)

All of this is true, of course. But it’s weird that it’s such a classic interest of members of the Blue Tribe, and members of the Red Tribe never seem to bring it up.

(“We’re number one? Sure – number one in levels of sexual degeneracy! Well, I guess probably number two, after the Netherlands, but they’re really small and shouldn’t count.”)

My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Claire Berlinski.

16 Oct 2015

Democrat Policy Proposals

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DemDebate

10 Aug 2015

“Who Do They Think They Are?”

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Angelo M. Codevilla argues very cogently that Donald Trump’s ephemeral rise really signifies an unprecedented level of electoral dissatisfaction, not with a particular party or individual, but with the entire urban community of fashion establishment and ruling class. He contends that “The 2016 election is simple; the person who runs on the platform ‘Who do they think they are?’ will win.”

Donald Trump leapt atop other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination when he acted on the primordial fact in American public life today, from which most of the others hide their eyes, namely: most Americans distrust, fear, are sick and tired of, the elected, appointed, and bureaucratic officials who rule over us, as well as their cronies in the corporate, media, and academic world. Trump’s attraction lies less in his words’ grace or even precision than in the extent to which Americans are searching for someone, anyone, to lead against this ruling class, that is making America less prosperous, less free, and more dangerous.

Trump’s rise reminds this class’s members that they sit atop a rumbling volcano of rejection. …

[O]ur ruling class has succeeded in ruling not by reason or persuasion, never mind integrity, but by occupying society’s commanding heights, by imposing itself and its ever-changing appetites on the rest of us. It has coopted or intimidated potential opponents by denying the legitimacy of opposition. Donald Trump, haplessness and clownishness notwithstanding, has shown how easily this regime may be threatened just by refusing to be intimidated.

Having failed to destroy Trump, Republicans and Democrats are left to hope that he will self-destruct as Perot did. Indeed, Trump has hardly scratched the surface and may not be able to do more than that. Yet our rulers know the list of things divide them from the American people is long. They want to avoid like the plague any and all arguments on the substance of those things. They fear the rise of an un-intimidated leader more graceful and precise than Trump, someone whose vision is fuller but who is even more passionate in championing the many resentments the voicing of just a few channeled so much support to Trump.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

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