03 Mar 2008

The New Snobbery

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The Telegraph has an amusing story on the rise of eco-snobbery.

What was it, this frisson that passed between the young woman behind the counter at Pret A Manger and me? It wasn’t flirtation, exactly. It was more conspiratorial than that. A knowing look. A social judgment shared.

As she asked me if I wanted a plastic bag for my two items – a (wild) salmon sandwich and a banana – the man at the head of the queue next to mine was asked the same question by another assistant. He had a sandwich and an apple. The point is, I said no. He said yes. That was when the look was exchanged.

That, I am ashamed to admit, was the moment I felt superior, if only by one degree, if only for a second. The man had committed a faux pas. He had transgressed an unwritten ethical code. He had fallen foul of the new morality, which actually, if you think about it, is also the new snobbery.

It is apparent everywhere. In a restaurant the other night our companions asked us if we wanted sparkling water or whether we were happy with a jug of tap. The clue to the correct answer was in the word “happy”. We went with the tap. It wasn’t that we were being cheap – but we probably were being a little smug. My wife and I are paid-up members of the enlightened middle classes, you see. Our consciousnesses have been raised. We are E, the modern equivalent of U.

Just as Nancy Mitford divided society into the upper classes and the aspiring middle classes – that is, into U and Non-U – so society is being divided into the environmentally aware and environmentally unaware, or E and Non-E. It satisfies a need we seem to have to judge one another.

Read the whole thing.

Today’s spoiled haute bourgeoisie extend aspirational self-affirmation far beyond mere careerism and materialistic consumption into realms of spiritual narcissicism and ethical pretension undreamt of by previous generations.

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