Category Archive 'Community of Fashion'
11 Aug 2018

White-Bashing Can Be an Excellent Career Move

, , , , , , ,

Reihan Salam is of Bangladeshi extraction and went to Harvard, so he is in a position to explain precisely where Sarah Jeong’s animosity toward white men is coming from.

In some instances, white-bashing can actually serve as a means of ascent, especially for Asian Americans. Embracing the culture of upper-white self-flagellation can spur avowedly enlightened whites to eagerly cheer on their Asian American comrades who show (abstract, faceless, numberless) lower-white people what for. And, simultaneously, it allows Asian Americans who use the discourse to position themselves as ethnic outsiders, including those who are comfortably enmeshed in elite circles.

Think about what it takes to claw your way into America’s elite strata. Unless you were born into the upper-middle class, your surest route is to pursue an elite education. To do that, it pays to be exquisitely sensitive to the beliefs and prejudices of the people who hold the power to grant you access to the social and cultural capital you badly want. By setting the standards for what counts as praiseworthy, elite universities have a powerful effect on youthful go-getters. Their admissions decisions represent powerful “nudges” towards certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and I’ve known many first- and second-generation kids—I was one of them—who intuit this early on.

Consider the recent contretemps over Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policies. Critics argue that the university actively discriminates against high-achieving Asian American applicants by claiming that a disproportionately large number of them have lackluster personalities. One obvious reaction to this charge is to denounce Harvard for its supposed double standards. This reaction might be especially appealing to those who see themselves as the sort of people who’d be dismissed by Harvard’s suspect screening process, and who’d thus have every reason to resent it. Viewed through an elite-eye lens, though, this sort of reaction can seem a little gauche. You’re saying, in a sense, that you can’t hack it—you just can’t crack the code. To a successful code-cracker, that could seem more than a little pathetic.

So what if you’re an Asian American who has already made the cut? In that case, you might celebrate Harvard’s wisdom in judiciously balancing its student body, or warn that Harvard’s critics have a darker, more ominous agenda that can’t be trusted. This establishes you as an insider, who gets that Harvard is doing the right thing, while allowing you to distance yourself from less-enlightened, and less-elite, people of Asian origin: You’re all being duped by evil lower-whites who don’t grok racial justice.

And if you’re an Asian American aspiring to make the cut, even with the deck stacked against you, you might eschew complaining in favor of doing everything in your power to cultivate the personal qualities Harvard wants most, or at least to appear to have done so. One straightforward way to demonstrate that you are Harvard material might be to denounce Harvard as racist, provided you’re careful to do so in a way that flatters rather than offends those who run the university and are invested in its continued success. For example, you might reject the notion that affirmative action is the problem while arguing that Harvard shouldn’t endeavor to increase representation of rural and working-class whites, on the spurious grounds that all whites are privileged. That you’ll make these claims even though you yourself are hardly among the most downtrodden is immaterial: The important thing is to be interesting. What better way to demonstrate that you’re not a humdrum worker bee, afflicted with a lackluster personality, than to carefully and selectively express the right kind of righteous indignation?

I certainly don’t mean to single out Harvard. As the senior assistant director of admissions at Yale recently observed, “for those students who come to Yale, we expect them to be versed in issues of social justice. We encourage them to be vocal when they see an opportunity for change in our institution and in the world.” Picture yourself as an eager high schooler reading these words, and then jotting down notes. You absorb, assuming you hadn’t already, what it takes to make your way in contemporary elite America. And as you grow older, you lean into the rhetorical gambits that served you so well in the past. You might even build a worldview out of them.

RTWT

15 Jul 2018

“Diversity”

, , , ,

In Hedgehog Review, Matthew B. Crawford explains precisely why “Diversity” is essential to the contemporary meritocratic Haute Bourgeois community of fashion.

[B]ourgeois society is fundamentally competitive. One has to enact one’s social value anew each day. …

The competition inherent in bourgeois society is responsible for its unprecedented ability to create wealth. But there is a problem. Furet writes that “the idea of the universality and equality of man, which [bourgeois society] claims as its foundation and is its primary innovation, is constantly negated by the inequality of property and wealth produced by the competition of its members. Its development belies its principle, and its dynamic undercuts its legitimacy. The bourgeoisie did not invent the division of society into classes, but by cloaking that division in an ideology that renders it illegitimate, they tinged it with suffering.”

The suffering is not confined to those who find themselves on the bottom. Furet is especially perceptive on the psychological effect of this contradiction on those who rise to the top: a kind of bourgeois self-hatred. He suggests that this sentiment is the secret source of the revolutionary passion (and in milder form, we might add, of liberal guilt).

The ongoing ferment on campus reveals the university as the site where the paradox of bourgeois society is most acute. As gatekeeper to the upper middle class, the elite university has as its primary social function the sorting of the population. (And it seeks rents commensurate with occupying such a choice position.) It detects existing inequalities, exacerbates them, and certifies them. And whatever else it does, it serves as a finishing school where the select learn to recognize one another, forging a class consciousness that has lately hardened into a de facto caste system. But for that very reason, by the logic Furet identifies, it is also the place where the sentiment that every inequality is illegitimate must be performed most strenuously.

In times of broadly shared upward mobility, this contradiction was perhaps less keenly felt. But for reasons that are only now coming to be broadly understood, once the Cold War ended, the economy increasingly took on the shape of a winner-take-all competition. The self-applied, legitimizing balm of campus progressivism became more necessary than ever.

But simply becoming more noisy about equality wouldn’t do the trick. Some conceptual innovation was needed, one that would shift the terms in such a way as to ease the contradiction. Enter “diversity.”

This concept claims descent from a lineage of shining democratic moments in the struggle for equal rights that we rightly celebrate: John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration, Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the statesmanship by which Nelson Mandela averted civil war in South Africa. But the family resemblance turns out to be superficial when one grasps the function “diversity” serves as a principle of administration in today’s political economy.

As Michael Lind has written, “Neoliberalism—the hegemonic ideology of the transatlantic elite—pretends that class has disappeared in societies that are purely meritocratic, with the exception of barriers to individual upward mobility that still exist because of racism, misogyny, and homophobia.” Marking out the corresponding classes of persons for special solicitude is thus key to sustaining the democratic legitimacy of our major institutions. Or, rather, the point is to shift the basis of that legitimacy away from democratic considerations toward “moral” ones. These have the advantage that they can be managed through the control of language, which has become a central feature of institutional life.

The concept of diversity first germinated in the corporate world, and was quickly seized upon by academia in the 1990s. It arrived just in the nick of time. The previous two decades had seen the traditional mission of the university undermined, if not abandoned, under pressure from a highly politicized turn in the humanities that made its case in epistemic terms, essentially debunking the very idea of knowledge. The role that the upper-tier university soon discovered for itself, upon the collapse of ideals of liberal learning, was no longer that of training citizens for humane self-government, but rather that of supplying a cadre to staff the corporations, the NGOs, and the foundations. That is, the main function of elite schools is to supply the personnel required to run things in an economy that has become more managerial than entrepreneurial.

The institutional desideratum—the political antipode to hated “privilege”—is no longer equality, but diversity. This greatly eases the contradiction Furet identified, shielding the system from democratic pressure. It also protects the self-conception of our meritocrats as agents of historical progress. As was the case with the Soviet nomenklatura, and the leading Jacobins as well, it is precisely our elite that searches out instances of lingering privilege, now understood as obstacles to fulfillment of the moral imperative of diversity. Under this dispensation, the figure of the “straight white male” (abstracted from class distinctions) has been made to do a lot of symbolic work, the heavy lifting of legitimation (in his own hapless way, as sacrificial goat). We eventually reached a point where this was more weight than our electoral system could take, as the election of 2016 revealed. Whether one regards that event as a catastrophe or as a rupture that promises the possibility of glasnost, its immediate effect has been panic in every precinct where the new class accommodations have been functioning smoothly, and a doubling down on the moralizing that previously secured them against popular anger. We’ll see how that goes.

The term shibboleth is interesting. Its definitions include “a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons” and “a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.” It is a random Hebrew word that acquired its present meaning when it was used by the Gileadites as a test to identify members of an enemy tribe, the Ephraimites, as they attempted to flee across the Jordan River. Ephraimites could not pronounce the sound sh (Judges 12:4–6). I think it is fair to say that one’s ability to pronounce the word diversity with a straight face, indeed with sincerity made scrupulously evident, serves as a shibboleth in this original sense. It answers the question of whether one wants to continue as a member in good standing of those institutions that secure one’s position in the upper middle class.

RTWT

18 Jun 2018

The Arrogance of the Ill-Educated Elite

, , , , ,

Joseph Pearce responds with understandable frustration to the chief problem of our time: the combination of arrogance with lack of real education.

Recently, sitting in traffic, I saw this .. bumper sticker on the car in front of me… which declared the following: “What you call the Liberal Elite, we call being well-educated.” …

Clearly designed to offend other motorists, it is supremely supercilious and extremely arrogant. We, the average Joe, whoever we may be, are not as “well-educated” as the royal “we” driving the car in front of us. This pompous “we,” who is presumably a she, presumes that anyone who disagrees with her is poorly educated, whereas she, of course, is well-educated. If we were as well-educated as she, we would agree with her.

To be fair to her, she is basing her presumption on data that shows that those who are “well-educated” tend to vote for the Democrats whereas those who are less “educated” tend to vote Republican. She votes Democrat because she is well-educated. We, who are presumed to be Republicans (because we are presumed to be stupid), complain that those who are better educated than us (and are therefore better than us) are part of an elite.

The problem is that her education is not as good as she thinks it is. …

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of philosophy, or, if she does, she will believe that there was no philosophy worth taking seriously before René Descartes. She will know nothing of the philosophy of the Greeks, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and still less of the great Christian philosophers, such as Augustine or Aquinas. Insofar as she’s even heard of these people, she will presume that they did not know what they were talking about: “What the ancient philosophers call error, we call being well-educated.”

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of history, or, if she does, she will know it only from her own twenty-first century perspective, or from the twenty-first century perspective of those who taught it to her. History is not about learning from the people of the past, their triumphs and their mistakes, but is about sitting in judgment on the stupidity of our ancestors, who are presumed to be unenlightened, or at least not as enlightened as she is or her teachers are. “What the people of the past believed to be immoral, we call being well-educated.”

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of great literature, or, if she does, she will have misread it from the perspective of her own twenty-first century pride and prejudice, or from the proud and prejudiced twenty-first century perspective of those who taught her. She would not think of trying to read the great authors of the past through their own eyes because, living in the past, such authors lack the sense and sensibility which she has.

RTWT

The usual argument over free enterprise versus the regulatory administrative state economy erupted over the weekend on my Yale class list. The usual three classmates who’d operated businesses defended freedom against the larger group of lefties who’d spent careers in academia.

The left-wing arguments were, as usual, actually embarrassing expressions of relativism combined with glib attempts to deflect substantive points by simple word-play. Reading the leftists’ efforts at debate, it is impossible to avoid noticing that what they really believe in is the absolute reliability of the consensus opinion of the community of fashion. The common culture of the establishment elite cannot possibly be wrong.

They fail to recognize at all just how dramatically that consensus has changed, even within their own adult lifetimes, because the accepted narrative is everything, History and Reality are nothing.

Their Cliff-Notes-based education has merely trained these people in the skillful manipulation of numbers, symbols, and ideas. Each of them is, of course, competent, even excellent, in some professional specialty, but if the gods of fashionable opinion decreed that college professors should go around barking like dogs, our universities would sound exactly like hunt kennels. They could be persuaded to accept anything, and they view with bitter hatred and disdainful contempt anyone daring to dissent.

12 Jun 2018

“A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad President Builds an Empire”

, , , , ,

Niall Ferguson points out that the supposedly oh-so-smart people just don’t get it. Trump is winning.

To most highly educated people I know, President Trump is a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad president.

For two years, the people with at least two university degrees (PALTUDs) have been gnashing their teeth about Trump’s every utterance and move. To the foreign policy experts, he is a bull in a china shop, trampling the “rules-based international order” underfoot. To the economics establishment, he is a human wrecking ball, smashing more than a half-century of consensus that free trade really works better than protectionism.

A striking feature of all this dire commentary is how wrong it has been so far. …

Despite all the trade war talk, the US economy is at full employment, the dollar is rallying, the stock market is up 30 percent since Trump’s election, and the only countries in any trouble are the usual suspects with their usual problems (e.g., Turkey).

It is not that Trump is an underrated genius, nor for that matter an idiot savant. It is just that his intuitive, instinctive, impulsive way of operating, familiar to those who have done business with him, is exposing some basic flaws in the conceptual framework of the PALTUDs. …

Think of the world as a three-empire system. It is dominated by the United States, China, and Europe, in that order. Each empire is evolving in a different direction. The American empire, having experienced overextension in Afghanistan and Iraq, has not retreated into isolation. Its latest step down the road to empire is domestic. …

All the accompanying symptoms of the transition from republic to empire are already visible. The plebs despise the elites. An old and noble senatorial order personified by John McCain is dying. A cultural civil war rages on social media, the modern-day forum, with all civility cast aside and character assassination a daily occurrence. The president-emperor dominates public discourse by issuing 280-character edicts, picking fights with football players, and arbitrarily pardoning convicted criminals.

Meanwhile, the Chinese empire becomes ever more centralized, ever more invasive of its citizens’ privacy, and ever more overt in its overseas expansion. The Western world regards Xi Jinping as an almighty potentate. Few observers appreciate the acute sense of weakness that has motivated his tightening grip on party and state and his surveillance of his own people. Few see the risks of imperial ventures such as the Belt and Road Initiative, which is drawing Chinese investment into economically unpromising and strategically dangerous locations.

The weakest of the three empires is the European Union. True, its central institutions in Brussels have the power to impose rules, fines, and taxes on the biggest American and Chinese corporations. But Europe lacks tech giants of its own. Its navies, armies, and air forces have melted away, so that it can scarcely defend its frontiers from penniless migrants, never mind hostile invaders. And the political consensus on which it has been based for the past 60 years —between social democrats and moderate conservatives in every member state — is crumbling under a nationalist-populist assault.

The logic of Trumpism is simply to bully the other empires, exploiting the fact that they are both weaker than the United States, in order to extract concessions and claim victories. The Chinese sincerely fear a trade war and will end up buying a very large amount of American produce in order to avoid one. The Europeans dare not stand up to Trump over his Iran sanctions and secretly agree with him about China, and so are reduced to impotent seething (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) or sycophancy (President Emmanuel Macron of France, until last week’s G-7 summit). If they unite against him, he brings up Russia and divides them again.

To the PALTUDs, who remain so certain of their intellectual superiority to the president, all this is incomprehensible. They will continue to find fault with Trump’s every success, nitpicking their way through the small print, failing to realize that in the imperial transition such details cease to matter.

31 May 2018

“The Permanent Adolescence of the American Left”

, ,

Steve McCann has really got the American left nailed.

Donald Trump’s remarkable and unpredicted victory in 2016 unleashed perhaps the pinnacle of all unintended consequences. By their ongoing nonsensical reaction to the Trump victory, the American left has exposed and validated their irrationality, obliviousness, and immaturity. As an immigrant to the United States, and thus a sideline spectator of the panorama that is American society, and someone who has spent most of his adult life in the field of international finance, I have been fascinated by the characteristics of the American left as compared to its counterparts in the rest of the world – and why the vast majority of Americans, who are essentially conservative or moderate, not only tolerate, but acquiesce to the left’s temper tantrums and manipulation of the culture.

On the surface, there may appear to be similarities to the left in other nations; however, when it comes to the motivation and personality quirks, it is only the left in Britain that bears any resemblance to the American left. In fact, the American version consistently denigrates “old white guys” as the scourge of humanity while ostensibly promoting the philosophy of “old white guys” such as Hobbes, Hegel, and Marx. In reality, American leftism is a unique amalgamation of socialism, Darwinism, and oligarchism requiring an army of foot soldiers who dwell in a state of permanent adolescence.

Among the traits of those in their adolescent years is the conviction that they are always right and the rest of the world is wrong – that they are, in fact, much smarter than those silly and inane adults around them. However, being part of the in crowd is really, really important, thus they must look for guidance to the cool guys to establish what they are supposed to believe in. And, as in the fairy tales relayed to them while in childhood as well as their current enthrallment with movies based on comic book heroes, there will always be some monolithic entity to rescue them and ensure joy and happiness. Therein are the basic personality parameters of the rank and file of the modern American left.

Read the whole thing.

19 May 2018

Tom Wolfe on the Contemporary Intellectual

, , , ,

“The intellectual had become not so much an occupational type as a status type. He was like the medieval cleric, most of whose energies were devoted to separating himself from the mob—which in modern times, in Revel’s phrase, goes under the name of the middle class. … Moral indignation was the main thing; that, and a certain pattern of consumption. In fact, by the 1960s it was no longer necessary to produce literature, scholarship, or art—or even to be involved in such matters, except as a consumer—in order to qualify as an intellectual. It was only necessary to live la vie intellectuelle. A little brown bread in a bread box, a lapsed pledge card to CORE, a stereo and a record rack full of Coltrane and all the Beatles albums from Revolver on, white walls, a huge Dracaena marginata plant, which is there because all the furniture is so clean-lined and spare that without this piece of frondose tropical Victoriana the room looks empty, a stack of unread New York Review of Books rising up in a surly mound of subscription guilt, the conviction that America is materialistic, repressive, bloated, and deadened by its Silent Majority, which resides in the heartland, three grocery boxes full of pop bottles wedged in behind the refrigerator and destined (one of these days) for the Recycling Center, a small, uncomfortable European car—that pretty well got the job done…”

HT: The Barrister.

04 Mar 2018

Why Do Conservatives Keep Losing the Culture War?

, , , ,

David Brooks notes the paradox in which conservative Republican America is able to win at the ballot box, but commonly loses anyway because the Left controls the culture.

Republicans control most legislatures. To get anything passed, I thought, it would be necessary to separate some Republicans from the absolutist N.R.A. position. To do that you have to depolarize the issue: show gun owners some respect, put red state figures at the head and make the gun discussion look more like the opioid discussion. The tribalists in this country have little interest in the opioid issue. As a result, a lot of pragmatic things are being done across partisan lines.

The people pushing for gun restrictions have basically done the exact opposite of what I thought was wise. Instead of depolarizing the issue they have massively polarized it. The students from Parkland are being assisted by all the usual hyper-polarizing left-wing groups: Planned Parenthood, Move On and the Women’s March. The rhetoric has been extreme. Marco Rubio has been likened to a mass murderer while the N.R.A. has been called a terrorist organization.

The early results would seem to completely vindicate my position. The Florida Legislature turned aside gun restrictions. New gun measures in Congress have been quickly shelved. Democrats are more likely to lose House and Senate seats in the key 2018 pro-gun states. The losing streak continues.

Yet I have to admit that something bigger is going on. It could be that progressives understood something I didn’t. It could be that you can win more important victories through an aggressive cultural crusade than you can through legislation. Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles. …

[P]rogressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed. The boundaries are being redrawn across society.

As Andrew Sullivan noted recently, “workplace codes today read like campus speech codes of a few years ago.” There are a number of formerly popular ideas that can now end your career: the belief that men and women have inherent psychological differences, the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, opposition to affirmative action.

What’s happening today is that certain ideas about gun rights, and maybe gun ownership itself, are being cast in the realm of the morally illegitimate and socially unacceptable.

That’s the importance of the corporate efforts to end N.R.A. affiliations. It’s not about N.R.A. members saving some money when they fly. It’s that they are not morally worthy of being among the affiliated groups. The idea is to stigmatize.

If progressives can cut what’s left of the conservative movement off from mainstream society, they will fundamentally alter the culture war. We think of the culture war as this stagnant thing in which both sides scream at each other. But eventually there could be a winner. Progressives have won on most social issues. They could win on nearly everything else.

RTWT

There are obviously plenty of conservative intellectuals. Conservatives at universities are, frankly, smarter than liberals. Conservative ideas, conservative critiques of Progressivism are more substantive, more rigorous, and more serious.

The Left always wins, it seems, by a combination of appeals to sentimentality and emotionalism communicated by simplistic, manipulative slogans which obfuscate and commonly totally misrepresent the issue and the facts. Their final victory comes by making their preferred position a class identifier and a fashion statement. Once that happens, the entire elite establishment is committed and on board.

Standing in opposition to the edicts of the God of Fashionable Opinion is undignified, uncomfortable, and has recently become a very possibly career-limiting decision.

Conservatives are perfectly able to win the debate. We can even win elections. But we seem, as David Brooks recognizes, totally impotent at affecting the Culture or having the slightest influence on Fashion.

Why is this the case? How can it be possible that the better ideas consistently lose in the marketplaces of ideas that matter the most? Any thoughts?

25 Feb 2018

The Snobbish Revolutionary Left

, , ,


Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1883, Tretyakov Gallery.

Jeffrey Folks has got the Social Justice Warriors, the Reformers and Improvers, the Holier-than-thous pegged.

For liberals, the distinction between the “dumb masses” and their enlightened selves renders life meaningful. Disdain for ordinary folks is not just an ancillary trait of liberalism. It is fundamental to the its nature.

At its heart, liberalism is a gnostic religion, and the essence of that religion is the believer’s faith that he possesses the means of changing the world for the better. The belief that the world must be changed requires there to be a mass of individuals whose lives are in need of change. Following this logic, it is the liberal, not those deplorables in need of change, who knows what must be changed. For liberals, there must be a mass of people in need of this knowledge for life to make sense.

Above all, liberalism is a hubristic faith. Its followers share the fatal flaw of pride in their own intellectual capacity. This is why liberalism appeals so strongly to those in the knowledge trades: teachers, journalists, writers, psychologists, and social workers. The sense of “knowing more than others” is its strongest attraction – particularly to the young, who otherwise know so little. Liberalism confers, or seems to confer, almost immediate power and authority to those who embrace it.

The left’s obsession with superior knowledge runs through its entire history. As Woodrow Wilson remarked, the “instrument” of political science “is insight. A nice understanding of subtle, unformulated conditions.” Lyndon B. Johnson thought “a president’s hardest task” is “to know what is right.” And the most hubristic of all is Obama’s “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Yes, we are wonderfully bright, and we’ve been waiting eons for ourselves to appear.

The problem for the liberal is that most people do not want to be transformed.

RTWT

06 Feb 2018

“I Detest Trump, But a ‘Redneck’ Fixed My Prius with Zip Ties”

, , , , ,

Ruth Mayer knows that she is a superior person for holding progressive political opinions and despising Trump, then one of those deplorable Trump supporters comes along and helps her out!

After the march, Katherine and I hit the road in the late afternoon, feeling good; we had done our part to express our outrage. We were about 90 minutes south of D.C. when I heard a terrible popping sound. I assumed I had blown a tire and headed toward the nearest exit. The popping was followed by screeching — were we now driving on metal? Luckily, there was a gas station right off the exit.

Before I could do anything but park my gray Prius, a man rushed over. “I heard you coming down that road,” he said. Before I could say much he started surveying the situation. He didn’t so much offer to help us as get right to work.

It turned out that I hadn’t blown a tire; a huge piece of plastic under the front bumper had come loose, causing the screeching as it scraped along the road. After determining that he couldn’t cut the plastic off, he ran over to his car to grab some zip ties so that he could secure the piece back in place.

He did all of this so quickly that I didn’t have time to grab the prominent RESIST sticker on the side of my car, which suddenly felt needlessly alienating. As this man lay on the ground under my car with his miracle zip ties, I asked if he thought they would hold for four more hours of driving.

“Just ask any redneck like me what you can do with zip ties — well, zip ties and duct tape. You can solve almost any car problem. You’ll get home safe,” he said, turning to his teenage son standing nearby. “You can say that again,” his son agreed.

The whole interaction lasted 10 minutes, tops. Katherine and I made it home safely.

Our encounter changed the day for me. While I tried to dive back into my liberal podcast, my mind kept being pulled back to the gas station. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man who called himself a “redneck” who came to our rescue. I sized him up as a Trump voter, just as he likely drew inferences from my Prius and RESIST sticker. But for a moment, we were just two people and the exchange was kindness (his) and gratitude (mine).

As I drove home, I felt the full extent to which Trump has actually diminished my own desire to be kind. He is keeping me so outraged that I hold ill will toward others on a daily basis. Trump is not just ruining our nation, he is ruining me. By the end of the drive, I felt heartbroken.

When my husband and I first moved to Charlotte eight years ago, I liked to tell people that our neighborhood represented the best impulses of America. In our little two-block craftsman-home development, we had people of every political persuasion from liberal to moderate Republican to tea party, and we all got along. We held porch parties in the summer and a progressive dinner at Christmas. We put being a cohesive neighborhood above politics.

But this year, I realize, I retreated from my porch. Trump’s cruelty and mendacity demand outrage and the most vigorous resistance a nation can muster. Yet the experience with the man at the side of the road felt humbling. It reminded me that we are all just people trying to get home safe. It felt like a sign, that maybe if we treat one another with the kindness and gratitude that is so absent from our president and his policies, putting our most loving selves forward, this moment can transform into something more bearable? I want to come away from the march with that simple lesson, but it begs this question: How do we hold onto the fire fueling our resistance to the cruelty Trump unleashes, but also embrace the world with love? I wish I knew.

RTWT

Years ago, one day I had driven over to Bethel,CT from my Newtown home to do some shopping. I stopped for lunch at the Burger King, and when I’d finished eating and returned to my sexy and sophisticated TVR 2500 British sports car, it wouldn’t start.

I opened the hood and stood there confounded, and along came an older plumber out of a pickup truck. “You just need to see if you’re getting a spark and getting gas,” he explained. He first took a wire off a spark plug and held it near the engine. A spark jump the gap.

“Ok, there is spark,” he said. Then he opened the distributor, and examined the rotor and the points. “Aha!, dirty.” was his observation. He then produced a book of matches and used the striker to clear the contacts. He reassembled the distributor. I turned the key, and it fired right up.

I went to Yale and studied Renaissance Art, the Philosophy of Hegel, and Solar Mechanics. I was generally in the habit of looking upon myself as a few orders of superiority removed from the local working class rednecks, but there was factual, undeniable truth that the old fellow in the jeans could do a better job of logically thinking through the operations of the internal combustion engine than I could.

I puzzled about how all this could be so, and realized that I was better than him at all the highfalutin’ intellectual stuff probably largely because I was seriously interested in that kind of thing and worked at studying it to the point of acquiring the kind of familiarity and self confidence that produces competence. Just as he would be intimidated by a book of academic philosophy and experience a kind of intellectual paralysis preventing him from engaging it, so, too, in my own case, my lack of personal experience and long-term intense interest in automobile mechanics left me standing stupefied, despite my actually really possessing enough information to do all the things he had done.

It became apparent to me that the grand yawning class differences in brains were a lot more superficial than I had been in the habit of thinking. I drove away shaking my head ruefully at my past hubris.

15 Sep 2017

Ikea Humans

, , ,

Samuel Biagetti finds an important parallel between the youthful middle-class community of fashion’s preference in furniture and its inner life.

Suppose for the moment that our young couple of today… Jennifer and Jason, are members of the upper middle class, living off their smarts and social connections rather than manual work. They live in the Sun Belt, in some newly gentrifying neighborhood of Queens, or in its equivalent in Montreal or Melbourne. They have college degrees and, even more importantly, college friends, which help to pull them up the slippery slope of middle-class employment. They are part of a scrambled white-collar workforce, drawn from all parts of the country and abroad, a lumpenbourgeoisie squeezing itself into selected wards of a few expensive cities. They follow trends in food, and music, and long-form television. Their politics are probably (but not definitely) liberal.

Let us further entertain the idea that in our time as in Dickens’, life imitates furniture, and that we will learn something about our young couple if we consider where they house their underwear. If we picture Jennifer and Jason’s bedroom, it is not hard to guess what we would see there: a good deal of IKEA. Their IKEA dressers are probably black or white, or maybe covered in a veneer — something light but earthy, such as birch. Beneath the veneer, however, is not a cheaper wood like local poplar, but particle board — a material that would befuddle Dickens and his contemporaries.

Consider more closely where this IKEA dresser and its underlying substance came from. That story begins at a logging camp somewhere in the world — quite possibly in an illegally harvested old-growth forest in Russia or China. (It is impossible to say exactly, since IKEA has torpedoed laws that would require them to disclose their sources.) The loggers in this mystery forest fell trees of various sorts and pass them on to a logging company that might manage scores of camps. The logging company then sells the trees to a sawmill which gathers material from several dozen logging companies and cuts them into boards. Several sawmills in a region then supply the lumber to a larger board-mill that cuts the wood into even smaller pieces. Small suppliers buy the board from several board-mills and transport a portion of it to large suppliers, which in turn gather and pulverize the various materials in a chemical soup and press it into lighter, cheaper chunks. IKEA then buys this “composite material” to cut into the components of a Malm or Hemnes, sorts it into boxes, and distributes it to over 300 stores around the world, leaving the final assembly to the customers. Even a simple desk or dresser contains, by IKEA’s own admission, at least 26 different species of wood from at least 18 different countries — and usually far more. The result is a sleek but crumbly piece of furniture, sure to camouflage into any new apartment. Jennifer and Jason use their dressers every day without a thought as to the work or the materials that made them.

We must not sneer at Jennifer and Jason, many readers are sure to point out, for choosing IKEA. Their incomes, though high in the global scale, are likely to be lower than their parents’ were, and they often have to move in order to climb the employment ladder. It is only reasonable for them to buy something inexpensive, transportable, and replaceable. IKEA fulfills an important niche in the middle-class market — for cheap furniture that still retains a semblance of respectability. The company has exploited this market to become the global empire that Sweden never had, a kind of Viking revenge on the modern age.

Still, there is a good chance that Jennifer and Jason actually like their IKEA dressers, and prefer them to the old oak chest that their grandparents tried to foist on them. Indeed, the extraordinary popularity of IKEA testifies not only to its convenience but to its ability to appeal to the middle-class self-image. Jennifer and Jason are drawn to IKEA because it reflects who they are: they too are modern, movable, and interchangeable, their wants satisfiable in any neighborhood with a food co-op and a coffee shop. More fundamentally, Jennifer and Jason are untraceable, a “composite material” made from numberless scraps and pieces. They have a long catalog of home towns, and their accents are NPR neutral. They can probably rattle off the various nationalities in their family trees — Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, and Jewish, maybe some Venezuelan or Honduran for a little color. From these backgrounds they retain no more than a humorous word or phrase, a recipe, or an Ellis Island anecdote, if that. They grew up amidst a scramble of white-collar professionals and went to college with a scramble of white-collar professionals’ kids. Their values are defined mainly by mass media, their tastes adorably quirky but never straying too far from their peers’, and like the IKEA furniture that they buy in boxes, they too cut themselves into manageable, packaged pieces and market themselves online. They are probably “spiritual but not religious.” They have no pattern or model of life that bears any relation to the past before the internet. For all intents and purposes, they sprang up de novo in the modern city. Whereas the Veneerings’ high fashion covered over an essential vulgarity, Jennifer’s and Jason’s urbane style masks a hollowness.

It may be tempting to call Jennifer and Jason, and the the group of people whom they represent, “cosmopolitans.” ( And indeed, IKEA, with its vaguely exotic Swedish names, provides a dash of cosmopolitanism on the cheap.) However, Jennifer and Jason are something newer and more bizarre than cosmopolitans: as Ross Douthat aptly pointed out in the wake of the Trump election, the increasingly insulated college-educated classes of the coastal cities do not grapple with real, substantive differences in beliefs and values, associating instead with cliques of like-minded classmates. …

Conversely, we must also avoid cheap epithets. The word “cosmopolitan” is a double-edged sword – long a shibboleth for worldly sophistication, it has lately turned upon its makers, serving as a political weapon against urban liberals; it is not surprising that a Trump spokesman recently attacked the “cosmopolitan bias” of a journalist who questioned the White House’s immigration policies. There is nothing particularly new or insightful about attacking urbanites tainted by association with the foreign, like the Judean exiles railing against the silken whores of Babylon. Still, as shallow and hackneyed as this rhetorical strategy might be, it packs a populist punch because the very concept of “cosmopolitan” is purely relative: since no one, legally speaking, is a citizen of the world, one can be “cosmopolitan” only in contrast to someone else – a “provincial” in the Victorian terminology, or a “xenophobe” in contemporary talk. In other words, the idea of cosmopolitanism carries an unavoidable subtext of class superiority.

Therefore, to be precise, the class of people of whom I am speaking are “cosmopolitan” neither in the idealized nor in the demonized sense of the word. They neither bridge deep social differences in search of the best in human experience, nor debase themselves with exotic foreign pleasures. Rather, they have no concept of foreignness at all, because they have no native traditions against which to compare. Indeed, the very idea of a life shaped by inherited custom is alien to our young couple. When Jennifer and Jason try to choose a restaurant for dinner, one of them invariably complains, “I don’t want Italian, because I had Italian last night.” It does not occur to them that in Italy, most people have Italian every night. For Jennifer and Jason, cuisines, musical styles, meditative practices, and other long-developed customs are not threads in a comprehensive or enduring way of life, but accessories like cheap sunglasses, to be casually picked up and discarded from day to day. Unmoored, undefined, and unaware of any other way of being, Jennifer and Jason are no one. They are the living equivalents of the particle board that makes up the IKEA dressers and IKEA nightstands next to their IKEA beds. In short, they are IKEA humans.

RTWT

HT: Vanderleun.

31 Aug 2017

Melania Trump’s Shoes, a National Issue?

, , , , , , , ,

Vogue’s “Fashion Muse” Lynn Yaeger (see photo below) saw a photograph of First Lady Melania Trump boarding a Houston-bound plane in stiletto heels and made a major thing out of it.

This morning, Mrs. Trump boarded Air Force One wearing a pair of towering pointy-toed snakeskin heels better suited to a shopping afternoon on Madison Avenue or a girls’ luncheon at La Grenouille.

While the nation is riveted by images of thousands of Texans wading with their possessions, their pets, their kids, in chest-high water, desperately seeking refuge; while a government official recommend that those who insist on sheltering in place write their names and social security numbers on their arms, Melania Trump is heading to visit them in footwear that is a challenge to walk in on dry land.

A spokesperson says she has other shoes to change into on the plane—and one sincerely hopes there is a pair of leopard-print Wellies-in-waiting to get her from the tarmac to the limo. But what kind of message does a fly-in visit from a First Lady in sky-high stilettos send to those suffering the enormous hardship, the devastation of this natural disaster?

And why, oh why, can’t this administration get anything, even a pair of shoes, right?

The Washington Post chimed in:

Melania Trump is the kind of woman who travels to a flood-ravaged state in a pair of black snakeskin stilettos. Heels this high are not practical. But Trump is not the kind of woman who has to be practical. Heels this high are not comfortable. Comfort is not the point. Neither hers nor yours.

Trump is the kind of woman who knows that when she walks from the White House to Marine One there will be photographers, and so she will dress accordingly. On this soggy Tuesday morning, she wore her stilettos with a pair of cropped black trousers and an Army-green bomber jacket. Her hair was nicely blown out, and she was wearing a pair of sunglasses though it was overcast and drizzly at the time. As she walked to the chopper, she glanced toward a camera, and the photographer captured her with one hand in her pocket, her weight shifted slightly to one leg. She looked great.

Trump’s fashionable ensemble was defined by its contradictions. She was wearing a working man’s jacket but it was juxtaposed with sexy limousine shoes. The trousers and the top were basic black — utilitarian. The oversize aviator sunglasses were Hollywood. It’s an image that would have been at home in any fashion magazine, which is so often the case with the first lady. …

It was also an image that suggested that Trump is the kind of woman who refuses to pretend that her feet will, at any point, ever be immersed in cold, muddy, bacteria-infested Texas water. She is the kind of woman who may listen empathetically to your pain, but she knows that you know that she is not going to experience it. So why pretend?

Well, sometimes pretense is everything. It’s the reason for the first lady to go to Texas at all: to symbolize care and concern and camaraderie. To remind people that the government isn’t merely doing its job, that the government is engaged with each and every individual. Washington hears its citizens. That’s what the optics are all about. Sitting around a conference table and talking into a speaker phone are not good optics. A politician has to get on the ground in work boots and a windbreaker. Rolled-up sleeves. Galoshes. Baseball caps.

and the New York Times also eagerly joined fashionista firing squad:

Mrs. Trump’s heels… appear to be classic Manolo Blahniks …redolent of a certain clichéd kind of femininity: decorative, impractical, expensive, elitist (all adjectives often associated with the brand “Trump”).

Mrs. Trump, of course, actually emerged from the plane wearing a pair of white sneakers.

The president himself was also criticized by Jezebel for inappropriate flood attire, i.e. khakis. Tom Knighton notes that khakis were fine for hurricane wear when Obama wore them.

All this was started by Lynn Yaeger of Vogue. The same Vogue whose idea of fashion these days is a cover shot by Annie Leibovitz no less of Bradley Manning pretending to be female in a swimsuit.


Milo Yiannopoulos described the Vogue columnist as: “An unspeakable Eldritch horror from the depths of aeons and untouched by mortal creatures.”

12 Jul 2017

Course Catalog: David Brooks’ Elite Sandwich College

, , , ,


High Culture, according to David Brooks

“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 ‘Pomodor’ 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.”

— David Brooks, “How We Are Ruining America,” New York Times, 7/11/17

McSweeney’s has published the Course Catalog for David Brooks’ Elite Sandwich College:

Classic Italian Meats 205
Prerequisite: Basic Deli Meats 101

In this class we will go beyond the American deli meats like ham, turkey, and chicken breast and learn more in-depth about the classic Italian cured meats: Pancetta, Prosciutto, Capicola, and more. Students will learn about origin, curing techniques, and appropriate stacking method. Two lectures and two studio hours each week.

Fancy Condiments and Toppings 305
Prerequisite: Mayonnaise and Mustard Only 101

Students will learn the basics of topping a sandwich beyond just meat and vegetables. Techniques include the seasoned olive oil drizzle and distribution of aioli. If time in semester permits, students will dabble in use of cornichons and castelvetranos. Three lectures and one lab weekly.

Wrapping 101

A perfect sandwich wrap takes skills. This likely wasn’t covered in your basic high school sandwich courses. Wrapping techniques discussed include old style deli-fold, long breads, and double layer. Lab only.

Talking to Your Friends About Italian Delis 426

In this soft-skills class, students will learn how to help friends who have never visited a deli choose items on the menu. Students will learn how to gently correct friends when they pronounce “mozzarella” with the “a” sound at the end, when the right time is to explain that tomatoes were actually not native to Europe so marinara sauce is actually not traditionally Italian, and the right way to introduce that pizza is actually very different in Italy. Three lectures weekly. Includes unannounced quizzes/sandwich runs.

26 Apr 2017

If You Watch This Video, You’ll Be Sorry

, , , ,

Bill Nye the Science Guy (if anyone were ever tempted to accept this bozo as an authority on “climate change,” just refer them to this) introduces Rachel Bloom who sings (in the intrinsically annoying rap style) the bizarre recent perspective of the Community of Fashion Establishment that holds that sex is not binary, there is some kind of spectrum (if so I’m on the very extreme male end), and whatever “feels right” (boy scout uniforms, 1936 Bendix wringer-type washing machines, mashed potatoes and dwarves?), go for it!

22 Apr 2017

A Populist-Nationalist Revolt is Coming in France, Too

, , , , , ,

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.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'Community of Fashion' Category.

















Feeds
Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark