Category Archive 'The Elite'
28 Sep 2016

Malfeasance of the Ruling Class Produced 2016 Election

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Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.

In Claremont Review, Angelo M. Codevilla describes how “the malfeasance of our ruling class” has transformed America and brought us to the point of this year’s disgraceful presidential election.

in today’s America, those in power basically do what they please. Executive orders, phone calls, and the right judge mean a lot more than laws. They even trump state referenda. Over the past half-century, presidents have ruled not by enforcing laws but increasingly through agencies that write their own rules, interpret them, and punish unaccountably—the administrative state. As for the Supreme Court, the American people have seen it invent rights where there were none—e.g., abortion—while trammeling ones that had been the republic’s spine, such as the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech. The Court taught Americans that the word “public” can mean “private” (Kelo v. City of New London), that “penalty” can mean “tax” (King v. Burwell), and that holding an opinion contrary to its own can only be due to an “irrational animus” (Obergefell v. Hodges).

What goes by the name “constitutional law” has been eclipsing the U.S. Constitution for a long time. But when the 1964 Civil Rights Act substituted a wholly open-ended mandate to oppose “discrimination” for any and all fundamental rights, it became the little law that ate the Constitution. Now, because the Act pretended that the commerce clause trumps the freedom of persons to associate or not with whomever they wish, and is being taken to mean that it trumps the free exercise of religion as well, bakers and photographers are forced to take part in homosexual weddings. A commission in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts reported that even a church may be forced to operate its bathrooms according to gender self-identification because it “could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public.” California came very close to mandating that Catholic schools admit homosexual and transgender students or close down. The Justice Department is studying how to prosecute on-line transactions such as vacation home rental site Airbnb, Inc., that fall afoul of its evolving anti-discrimination standards. …

No one running for the GOP nomination discussed the greatest violation of popular government’s norms—never mind the Constitution—to have occurred in two hundred years, namely, the practice, agreed upon by mainstream Republicans and Democrats, of rolling all of the government’s expenditures into a single bill. This eliminates elected officials’ responsibility for any of the government’s actions, and reduces them either to approving all that the government does without reservation, or the allegedly revolutionary, disloyal act of “shutting down the government.” …

The ruling class having chosen raw power over law and persuasion, the American people reasonably concluded that raw power is the only way to counter it, and looked for candidates who would do that. Hence, even constitutional scholar Ted Cruz stopped talking about the constitutional implications of President Obama’s actions after polls told him that the public was more interested in what he would do to reverse them, niceties notwithstanding. Had Cruz become the main alternative to the Democratic Party’s dominion, the American people might have been presented with the option of reverting to the rule of law. But that did not happen. Both of the choices before us presuppose force, not law. …

In today’s America, a network of executive, judicial, bureaucratic, and social kinship channels bypasses the sovereignty of citizens. Our imperial regime, already in force, works on a simple principle: the president and the cronies who populate these channels may do whatever they like so long as the bureaucracy obeys and one third plus one of the Senate protects him from impeachment. If you are on the right side of that network, you can make up the rules as you go along, ignore or violate any number of laws, obfuscate or commit perjury about what you are doing (in the unlikely case they put you under oath), and be certain of your peers’ support. These cronies’ shared social and intellectual identity stems from the uniform education they have received in the universities. Because disdain for ordinary Americans is this ruling class’s chief feature, its members can be equally certain that all will join in celebrating each, and in demonizing their respective opponents.

And, because the ruling class blurs the distinction between public and private business, connection to that class has become the principal way of getting rich in America. Not so long ago, the way to make it here was to start a business that satisfied customers’ needs better than before. Nowadays, more businesses die each year than are started. In this century, all net additions in employment have come from the country’s 1,500 largest corporations. Rent-seeking through influence on regulations is the path to wealth. In the professions, competitive exams were the key to entry and advancement not so long ago. Now, you have to make yourself acceptable to your superiors. More important, judicial decisions and administrative practice have divided Americans into “protected classes”—possessed of special privileges and immunities—and everybody else. Equality before the law and equality of opportunity are memories. Co-option is the path to power. Ever wonder why the quality of our leaders has been declining with each successive generation?

A must read.

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.

01 Aug 2016

Recommended Reading

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St. Paul’s

What with the rebellion of the low-information voter and the ascent of Donald Trump, the white working class is in the news a lot these days and everyone is reading J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (previously mentioned here), a personal eulogy from an upwardly-mobile ex-Marine to his rust-bucket hometown and left-behind family and friends.

The perfect counterpoint book to read, I think, is Shamus Rahman Khan’s Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School.

J.D. Vance describes how History and Culture have failed our society’s losers.

Shamus Rahman Khan describes, with a mixture of astonishment and congratulatory applause, just how one of the absolutely snobbiest and most expensive secondary boarding schools in America (the place that educated John Kerry and Doonesbury’s Gary Trudeau) educates future winners in a combination of graceful personal ease, the ability to fake your way through anything you don’t actually know, and a nihilistic belief in the complete equality of all things (excluding only your own special elite status).

St. Paul’s often touts its academic program as the best in the nation. In its advertising literature, the school boasts that it has “the highest level of scholarship” and that its “students stand at the top of their peer group in terms of academic preparation.” And according to eager administrators and lackadaisical adolescents alike, the centerpiece of St. Paul’s academic program is undoubtedly the humanities. The humanities program introduces students to the history, literature, and thoughts of different moments in world history. The humanities division describes in some project is an interdisciplinary, multi-vocal investigation of “great questions.” …

This program, significantly, does not teach students to know “things.” The emphasis is not on memorizing historical events, for example. Instead it is on cultivating “habits of mind,” which encourage a particular way of relating both to the world and to each other. …

The enormity of this program is both thrilling and terrifying. The thought of knowing all of that, being swept up and carried through the tide of history, is tantalizing. It is also the product of St. Paul’s hubris. How can any one person possibly teach everything..? As I prepared to teach my own class at the school, I soon found out that I was asking the wrong question. Of course the expectations were ridiculous. No high schooler could ever learn all that the course offers. The more important question, I eventually realized, is much harder to answer: what this mean to present material in this way to teenagers?

Perhaps the point is not really to know anything. The advantage the St. Paul’s installs instills in its students is not a hierarchy of knowledge. As we have seen, knowledge is no longer the exclusive domain of the elite. And these days, information flows so freely that to use it to exclude others is increasingly challenging. By contrast, the important decisions required for those who lead are not based on knowing more but instead are founded in habits of mind. St. Paul’s teaches that everything can be accomplished through these habits, even while still in high school. What strikes me as presumptuous, even shocking, about this vision of the world is taken for granted by pretty much every teenager at St. Paul’s.

Though I marveled at how impossible it seemed to teach students all these things, the school itself seems largely unconcerned about this. Indeed, St. Paul’s approach seems closer to Plato’s outline of education in Republic. Building upon his famous cave metaphor, Plato tells us, “Education isn’t what some people declare it to be, namely putting knowledge of the souls that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes …” ..In short, education is not teaching students things they don’t know. Rather it is teaching them to think their way through the world. …

“I don’t actually know much,” an alumnus told me after he finished his freshman year at Harvard. “I mean, well, I don’t know how to put it. When I’m in classes all these kids next to me know a lot more than I do. Like about what actually happened in the Civil War. Or what France did in World War II. I don’t know any of that stuff. But I know something they don’t. It’s not facts or anything. It’s how to think. That’s what I learned in humanities.”

“What do you mean how to think?” I asked.

“I mean I learned how to think bigger. Like everyone else at Harvard knew about the Civil War. I didn’t. But I knew how to make sense of what they knew about the Civil War and apply it. So they knew a lot about particular things. I knew how to think about everything.”

The emphasis of the St. Paul’s curriculum is not on “what you know” but on “how you know it.” Teaching ways of knowing rather than teaching the facts themselves, St. Paul’s is able to endow its students with marks of the elite –ways of thinking or relating to the world– that ultimately help make up privilege. As the exclusionary practices of old the become unsustainable, something new has emerged from within the elite. …

[S]tudents learn to consume from an enormous variety of sources. They learn to work and “interact” with art, literature, history, from the popular to the scholarly, and have a huge range of materials their disposal. For example, one of the major assignments in Humanities III is to compare “Beowulf” to Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Students are asked to think about the ways in which Beowulf is a monster [Beowulf is the hero. Grendel is the monster. –JDZ] that man must confront, just as “Jaws”‘s monster prowls the waters of humanity (and perhaps even our own internal waters [And the BS keeps on flowing. –JDZ]). The goal is not to endow the students with a kind of highbrow elite knowledge. Rather, they are taught to move with ease to the broad range of culture, to move with felicity from the elite to the popular. They learn to be cultural egalitarians. The lesson to students is that you can talk about “Jaws” in the same way you can talk about “Beowulf.” Both become cultural resources to draw upon. And most important, the world is available to you –from high literature to horror films. They’re not things that are “off-limits” –limits are not structured by the relations of the world around you; they are in you. Students are not to stand above the mundane, perhaps lowbrow horror flick. Instead they are taught the importance of engaging with all aspects of culture, of treating the high and low with respect and serious engagement. As our future elite, the students are taught not to create fences and moats but instead to relentlessly engage with the varied world around them.

The consequences of St. Paul’s philosophy can be seen all over campus, evident even in how students carry themselves. Students have the sense that they could do it. The world is a space to be navigated and renegotiated, not a set of arrangements or a list of rules that are imposed upon you. The students are taught that they are special, and they begin to realize this specialness. This is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy –thinking everything is possible just might make it so.

25 Jul 2016

Fed Up With Humanities-Trained “Experts”

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NeilArmstrong

Michael Ginsberg is fed up with experts trained neither in facts or real skills, but in the Humanities-style “How to Think in General” kind of elite education.

I trained to be an engineer in college and graduate school. When I went to college, I viewed it as job training. School had a purpose, and I had a mission: prepare myself for the working world by developing skills and a vocation. It was hard work: hours upon hours in labs, in libraries working on problem sets, or studying in my dorm room. It wasn’t easy, but I kept going because I believed engineering was one of the most essential disciplines to Americans’ quality of life and the defense of the nation.

Yet throughout my time in school, it always gnawed at me that my fellow classmates in other disciplines—the students of government, political science, and policy, masters of words, theories, and rules—were going to graduate, occupy positions of power, and determine how I would be able to live my life and run my career. Never mind that many of them started their weekends on Thursdays and probably never took a class in the hard sciences while I was sweating away night and day in the engineering library. They were going to grow up and make decisions that would control my life.

I went to an Ivy League school, and the piece of parchment with the school name was going to open the doors to the gilded life that would allow them to, as one of my schoolmates put it, “rule the world.” Use the school name to get the right internships and make the right connections, and the world would open up for them. (Instead, I repeatedly had job interviewers tell me, “I didn’t know your Ivy League school had engineering.”) I resented it deeply.

That resentment dissipated over time, but never quite went away. …

My resentment, long in remission, came back and crystallized in the following thought: Americans are governed by politicians who see fit to reimagine entire sectors of our economy and, indeed, our lives despite having little, if any, experience in the areas of life they seek to reform wholesale. This means Americans, seeing the failures of government from Obamacare to the Veterans Affairs, from the Environmental Protection Agency dumping toxic materials into a Colorado river to the Dodd-Frank regulations strangling local community banks, have had just about enough of their credentialed but utterly inexperienced supposed betters reordering their lives and livelihoods.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.

15 Jul 2016

The Alleged Meritocracy

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This is the Meritocracy?

Helen Andrews casts a jaundiced look at The New Ruling Class in Hedgehog Review.

Meritocracy began by destroying an aristocracy; it has ended in creating a new one. …

Not since the Society of the Cincinnati has a ruling elite so vehemently disclaimed any resemblance to an aristocracy. The structure of the economy abets the elite in its delusion, since even the very rich are now more likely to earn their money from employment than from capital, and thus find it easier to think of themselves basically as working stiffs. As cultural consumers they are careful to look down their noses at nothing except country music. All manner of low-class fare—rap, telenovelas, Waffle House—is embraced by what Shamus Rahman Khan calls the “omnivorous pluralism” of our elite. “It is as if the new elite are saying, ‘Look! We are not some exclusive club. If anything, we are the most democratized of all groups.’”

Khan’s Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School is a fascinating document, because he seems to have been genuinely surprised by what he found when he returned to his old boarding school to teach for a year. Khan, the grandson of Irish and Pakistani peasants, worked his way to a Columbia University professorship in sociology via St. Paul’s and Haverford College. So he thought he knew meritocrats—but today’s breed gave him a bit of a fright. For one thing, they proved to be excellent haters. Consider how they talk about a legacy student whose background can be inferred from the pseudonym Khan gives him, “Chase Abbott”:

    After seeing me chatting with Chase, a boy I was close with, Peter, expressed what many others would time and again: “that guy would never be here if it weren’t for his family.… I don’t get why the school still does that. He doesn’t bring anything to this place.” Peter seemed annoyed with me for even talking with Chase. Knowing that I was at St. Paul’s to make sense of the school, Peter made sure to point out to me that Chase didn’t really belong there.… Faculty, too, openly lamented the presence of students like Chase.

“Openly lamented”! Poor Chase. This hatred is out of all proportion to the power still held by the Chases of the school, which is almost nil. Khan discovers that the few legacy WASPs live together in a sequestered dorm, just like the “minority dorm” of his own schooldays, and even the alumni “point to students like Chase as examples of what is wrong about St. Paul’s.” No, the hatred of students like Chase feels more like the resentment born of having noticed an unwelcome resemblance. It is somehow unsurprising to learn that Peter’s parents met at Harvard.

Of course, Peter is not at St. Paul’s because his parents went to Harvard; as he makes clear to Khan, he is there because of his hard work and academic achievement. Here we have the meritocratic delusion most in need of smashing: the notion that the people who make up our elite are especially smart. They are not—and I do not mean that in the feel-good democratic sense that we are all smart in our own ways, the homely-wise farmer no less than the scholar. I mean that the majority of meritocrats are, on their own chosen scale of intelligence, pretty dumb. Grade inflation first hit the Ivies in the late 1960s for a reason. Yale professor David Gelernter has noticed it in his students: “My students today are…so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are.… [I]t’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the twentieth century—just sees a fog. A blank.” Camille Paglia once assigned the spiritual “Go Down, Moses” to an English seminar, only to discover to her horror that “of a class of twenty-five students, only two seemed to recognize the name ‘Moses’.… They did not know who he was.”

Hat tip to The Barrister.

21 May 2015

Letterman’s Missing Indiana Soul

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John Nolte explains how David Letterman responded to losing to Jay Leno by becoming a toady to the urban establishment.

I didn’t leave David Letterman, David Letterman left me.

It was sometime around 2003 when I began to realize Letterman didn’t like me anymore. His anger was no longer subversive and clever, it was bitter and mean-spirited and palpably real. He was a jerk playing to his loyal audience — urban, cynical, elite, Blue State jerks. The humble, self-deprecating Dave had become the nasty, arrogant Letterman, an unrecognizable bully who reveled in pulling the wings off those he saw as something less.

Chris Christie’s weight; Rush Limbaugh’s personal life; everything Bill O’Reilly; Bush, Cheney, Palin, and the last straw, a statutory rape joke about Palin’s 15 year-old daughter. Suddenly you were a dangerous idiot for protecting the most Indiana of things — your gun.

The man who could make you laugh at yourself now wanted to hurt and humiliate.

Letterman’s politics were never the issue. You can’t share my passion for show business and movies and let politics get in the way. Carlin was probably to the left of Letterman, but Carlin was funny and thoughtful and smart. Watching Letterman berate and hector and attempt to humiliate conservative guests over guns and the climate and the brilliance of Obama was boorish. Describing Mitt Romney as a “felon” was just sad.

The American Heartland had disappointed its own Indiana son, and for more than a decade the son was out for payback.

Or maybe Letterman was just so scared and insecure about losing what little audience he had, that he sold out his genius and Midwestern decency to bitterly cling to them? He certainly never again displayed the courage to challenge them, or to make them feel in any way uncomfortable.

Night after night the man who became my hero for biting the hand was now licking the boot — and convinced while doing so that he’s superior to the rest of us.

How I pity him.

Read the whole thing.

09 May 2015

Ace Nails It

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Why, one well might wonder, are all sorts of people on the Left, and even Bill O’Reilly on the Right, hurrying to condemn Pam Geller rather than the Muslims extremists who wanted to murder her for the violence in Garland, Texas?

Ace has it figured out.

This is about class. This is all about class.

This is about, specifically, the careerist, cowardly, go-along-to-get-along mores of the Upper Middle Class, the class of people whose parents were all college educated, and of course are college educated themselves; the class that dominates our thought-transmitting institutions (because non-college educated people are more of less shut out of this industry).

It is a class which is deathly afraid of social stigma, and lives in class-based fear being grouped with the wrong people, and which is more interested in Career, quite frankly, than in the actual tradecraft of that Career, which is clarity of thought and clarity of expression.

Thus, our institutions of thought propagation are dominated by the very people who can be easily cowed by the Social Justice Warriors, and who will, therefore, adjust their speech in order to not run afoul of the thoughtless — and frequently lunatic — thugs of the censorious left.

Read the whole thing.

06 Nov 2014

Smugness Fails as Election Strategy

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Jim Geraghty responds to actual WaPo column headline.

The real problem for Democrats is that “smug” isn’t really their strategy; it’s how they emotionally react to their conclusion that their viewpoint is better, more moral, smarter, wiser, fairer, more sensitive, more compassionate, and so on than the opposition. It’s not a campaign issue; it’s a character issue.

20 Jun 2014

Why the Redskins Trademark Ruling Matters

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Robert Tracinski explains what the Patent Office cancelling the Washington Redskin’s trademark shows about the state of American democracy.

This name-bullying has become a kind of sport for self-aggrandizing political activists, because if you can force everyone to change the name of something—a sports team, a city, an entire race of people—it demonstrates your power. This is true even if it makes no sense and especially if it makes no sense. How much more powerful are you if you can force people to change a name for no reason other than because they’re afraid you will vilify them?

Given the equivocal history of the term “redskins” and the differing opinions—among Native Americans as well as everyone else—over whether it is offensive, this was a subjective judgment. (One observer suggests a list of other sports names that could just as plausibly be considered offensive.) When an issue is subjective, it would be wise for the government not to take a stand and let private persuasion and market pressure sort it out.

Ah, but there’s the rub, isn’t it? This ruling happened precisely because the campaign against the Redskins has failed in the court of public opinion. The issue has become the hobby horse of a small group of lefty commentators and politicians in DC, while regular Washingtonians, the people who make up the team’s base of fans and customers, are largely indifferent. So the left resorted to one of its favorite fallbacks. If the people can’t be persuaded, use the bureaucracy—in this case, two political appointees on the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

That’s what is disturbing about this ruling. Our system of government depends on the impartial administration of the laws by the executive. In this case, executive officials declared that a private company doesn’t deserve the protection of the law: if the ruling survives an appeal in the courts, the federal government will stop prosecuting violations of the team’s intellectual property rights, potentially costing it millions of dollars.

This ruling isn’t a slippery slope. It’s a slope we’ve already slid down: bureaucrats in Washington are now empowered to make subjective decrees about what is offensive and what will be tolerated, based on pressure from a small clique of Washington insiders. Anyone who runs afoul of these decrees, anyone branded as regressive and politically incorrect, is declared outside the protection of the federal government.

That this is happening, and that we have no idea where it will stop, is what should terrify us—even if, like me, you don’t particularly care one way or the other about the Washington Redskins.

03 May 2014

The Economics of Political Correctness

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Kristian Niemietz argues that political correctness constitutes what economists call “a positional good,” i.e., one differentiating you from others and defining your place in the social hierarchy.

PC-brigadiers behave exactly like owners of a positional good who panic because wider availability of that good threatens their social status. The PC brigade has been highly successful in creating new social taboos, but their success is their very problem. Moral superiority is a prime example of a positional good, because we cannot all be morally superior to each other. Once you have successfully exorcised a word or an opinion, how do you differentiate yourself from others now? You need new things to be outraged about, new ways of asserting your imagined moral superiority.

You can do that by insisting that the no real progress has been made, that your issue is as real as ever, and just manifests itself in more subtle ways. Many people may imitate your rhetoric, but they do not really mean it, they are faking it, they are poseurs (here’s a nice example). You can also hugely inflate the definition of an existing offense (plenty of nice examples here.) Or you can move on to discover new things to label ‘offensive’, new victim groups, new patterns of dominance and oppression.

If I am right, then Political Correctness is really just a special form of conspicuous consumption, leading to a zero-sum status race. The fact that PC fans are still constantly outraged, despite the fact that PC has never been so pervasive, would then just be a special form of the Easterlin Paradox.

Read the whole thing.

18 Mar 2011

“You Will Be Assimilated”

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David Brooks

Dan Calabrese explains why David Brooks thinks NPR must be federally funded.

I sort of like having David Brooks around. He serves as a living demonstration of a lot of troubling things. By the standards of the New York Times and much of official Washington, Brooks is supposed to be some sort of conservative. And that probably tells you everything you need to know about officialdom.

So when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Brooks the other day to make his case for why we should continue to give federal funding to public broadcasting, what could the elitist Mr. Brooks say? He couldn’t say there aren’t enough other choices, since there are thousands of them. He couldn’t defend NPR and PBS against the elitist charge, although, as an elitist himself, he probably has a hard time seeing the problem with that.

So he said this:

    “Here’s the case: You know we have a common culture. If we’re going to assimilate people, if we’re going to be one nation – it helps to have a common culture. There’s some things that do join us. And government has some role in help creating those things, in funding the things that join us. The Smithsonian museums do some of that. I think public broadcasting with shows like ‘The American Experience,’ they give us all something to clue into our history. They join us as a people. They assimilate immigrants and it’s worth a very small amount, and you should see my paychecks – a very small amount that we pay to this.”

Got that? It doesn’t matter that you can get upwards of 1,000 different channels on cable or satellite, or that you can get hundreds of radio stations on XM/Siruis – not to mention your local broadcast stations. Apparently those hundreds and hundreds of offerings don’t effectively “assimilate” you into the “common culture” of America, as defined and approved by snobs like David Brooks.

To really get a sense of where he’s coming from, you need to read more David Brooks, but since you would rather scratch a chalkboard, I’ll sum it up for you. Brooks believes the major division in society today is not rich vs. poor, nor is it liberal vs. conservative, but rather the educated vs. the uneducated. Guess which group David Brooks likes!

So you, the great unwashed, watching wrestling, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Operation Repo or the very worst thing of all, Fox News Channel, David Brooks has a problem with you. See, we have a “common culture,” and it consists of things David Brooks approves of. Stuff you find in the Smithsonian. Stuff you hear at the opera.

Read the whole thing.

It’s fun laughing at David Brooks’ pompous egotism, but his argument is really just more liberal establishment fantasy. NPR does not assimilate anybody. The availability of some Vivaldi on some FM NPR channel makes nobody switch over on the dial from Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh.

Federal NPR funding is simply a bien pensant gesture expressing our would-be ruling class’s cultural piety and affirming their authority to call the shots. The redneck gas station mechanic in Nebraska may be immune to conversion to membership in a culture that applauds exhibitions of Gay Portraiture at the Smithsonian and that likes to listen to Baroque music in the morning, but he can, by Jingo! be made to pay taxes to support the preferences of his betters.

13 Nov 2010

The American Elite Can’t Get No Respect

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Walter Russell Mead is a liberal, but he recognizes why.

All pundits, including yours truly, get it wrong sometimes, and normally there would be little point in dwelling on past blunders. But it this case, it is worth exhuming these vaporous and embarrassing stupidities for a few moments. Many of our nation’s intellectual leaders wonder why the rest of the country isn’t more respectful of their claims to be guided by and speak for the cool voice of celestial reason. That so many of them gushed over Barack Obama with all of the profundity of reflection and intellectual distance of tweeners at a Justin Bieber concert should help them understand why their claims of superior wisdom are sometimes met with caustic cynicism.

A significant chunk of the American liberal intelligentsia completely lost its head over Barack Obama. They mistook hopes and fantasies for reality. Worse, the disease spread to at least some members of the White House team. An administration elected with a mandate to stabilize the country misread the political situation and came to the belief that the country wanted the kinds of serious and deep changes that liberals have wanted for decades. It was 1933, and President Obama was the new FDR.

They did not perceive just how wrong they were; nor did they understand how the error undermined the logical case they wanted to make in favor of a bigger role for government guided by smart, well-credentialed liberal wonks. Give us more power because we understand the world better than you do, was the message. We are so smart, so well-credentialed, so careful to read all the best papers by all the certified experts that the recommendations we make and the regulations we write, however outlandish and burdensome they look to all you non-experts out there, are certain to work. Trust us because we are always right, and only fools and charlatans would be so stupid as to disagree.

They were fundamentally misreading the mood of the country, the political situation, and the ability of the new president even as they claimed that their superior and universal wisdom gave them the right and the duty to plan the future of vast swatches of the American economy. They were swept away by giddy euphoria even as they proclaimed the virtue of cool reason. Voters could see this; increasingly, they tuned the administration out.

26 Oct 2010

“Not An Elite At All”

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Glenn Reynolds observes that the pseudo-intellectual community of fashion is not really worthy of being described as an elite.

Forget cultural insularity or smugness. The main problem with the “new elite” is that they’re not an elite at all. That is, they aren’t particularly smart, or competent. They are credentialed, but those credentials aren’t so much markers for smartness or competence, or even basic education, as they are admission tickets to the Gentry Class, based on good standardized test scores. That’s fine — ETS was berry, berry good to me — but it doesn’t have much to do with ability to succeed, or lead, in the real world. Worse yet, it seems to have fostered a sense of entitlement.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Very long-time reader and first time emailer. Just my two cents on the elitists.

    I am an elite anti-elitist Tea Partier and I made my first protest signs way back in March 2009. I’m a Yale [BA, Philosophy], Columbia [MA, International Affairs] former Wall Street trader and risk manager who is just about done getting another masters [in Library and Information Science] during a two-year “John Galt” sabbatical from work. I’ve met many, many Tea Partiers at this point and they are not anti-elitist in a general, superficial sense. Indeed, they most often admire those who have succeeded by dint of a good education or hard work or taking advantage of a bit of good luck. The subset of elitists that we are fed up with are the ones in the government, the media, and academia who think (erroneously) that they know better what we should be doing with our time every day and have the right to pick our pockets to fund it. Not only are we tired of being condescended to (and take my word for it, I could wipe the floor with most of them intellectually) but they’re obviously screwing everything up. So, to borrow Lee Harris’ word from his new book, we’re the “ornery” bastards who, from time to time, rise up to put the elite (and effete) corps of impudent snobs back in their place.

Places like Yale and Columbia (both of which I attended myself) are actually full of people with less than all that exciting SAT scores, who were really simply adequately professional performers of routine academic tasks. The lumpen Ivy League graduate tends to be sufficiently skilled in the rapid assimilation of cultural trivia and the manipulation of symbols and ideas to earn a comfortable place in the establishment community. But people of this sort are typically not genuinely intellectual, not well educated, and utterly and completely incapable of independent critical thought.

Members in good standing of the liberal community of fashion obtain all their ideas and opinions off the rack from the establishment media. They care deeply about politics because a strong commitment to fashionably leftwing politics is just like the right address, clothing, personal accessories, and automobile, a key class identifier.

Bad, stupid, and unfashionable people vote Republican, own guns, and remain committed to old-fashioned forms of conventional religion, just as Barack Obama observed aloud during the 2008 campaign. There is obviously something fundamentally defective about them. People who are chic, intelligent, and sophisticated, or at least who think they are, vote faithfully for liberal democrats and subscribe to a body of opinion simultaneously embracing Pacifism, Puritanism much modified by Epicureanism, and secularist Socialism.

The conservative critique of liberal political theory, liberal foreign policy, liberal economics, and liberal notions of environmental catastrophism is actually infinitely more substantive and serious, but conservatives are always being dismissed as stupid for failing to recognize that the smart people are the ones clever enough to identify the correct opinions and alert enough to the advantages of being aligned with the establishment.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

08 Aug 2010

The Best and the Brightest

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Historian Victor Davis Hanson points out that the past explains how America got where it is today.

If one were to survey the elite campuses around 1975 and talk to those in law school, poly sci, or the humanities, then imagine them 35 years later as our elite leaders in government, the media, the universities, the foundations, and the arts, one could pretty much expect what we now have.

The present symptoms that characterize both our popular culture and current governance — shrill self-righteousness; abstract communalism juxtaposed with concrete pursuit of the aristocratic good life; race/class/gender cosmic sermonizing with private school and Ivy league for the kids; crass and tasteless public expression; a serial inability to take responsibility for one’s actions; the bipartisan mega-deficits; the inability to cut pensions and social security for the baby boomers — from the trivial to the fundamental, all derive from a bankrupt cohort that came of age in the sixties and seventies.

We see the arrested adolescence and hypocrisy that come from that sermonizing generation, whether in Al Franken’s puerile face-making, the ideologically driven suicide at Newsweek, the steady destruction of the New York Times, John Kerry’s tax-avoiding yacht, the Great Gatsby Clinton wedding, Michelle on the Costa del Sol, Nancy Pelosi’s jet, Tim Geithner’s tax skipping, or the constant race-card playing of a Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters. Yes, one walk across the Yale or Stanford campus circa 1975, and one could see pretty clearly what sort of culture that bunch would create when it came of age and was handed power.

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