Category Archive 'Class Warfare'
21 Oct 2016

Words of Wisdom

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17 Sep 2016

Our Idiotic Elite Class

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

26 Aug 2016

The Community of Fashion and the Democrat Party

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Obama & admirers on Martha’s Vinyard

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

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

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

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

Hat tip to Althouse.

07 Jun 2016

Trump, the Second Emperor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

16 May 2016

The Trumpshirt Revoltion

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

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

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

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

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

I replied (this version slightly edited):

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

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

13 Mar 2016

“I Can Tolerate Anything, Except the Outgroup”

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Anti-Trump demonstrators confront Trump supporters in Chicago.

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

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

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was when something clicked for me. …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Claire Berlinski.

16 Oct 2015

Democrat Policy Proposals

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10 Aug 2015

“Who Do They Think They Are?”

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

28 Apr 2015

Urban Slaves Versus Rural Free Men

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Henry Dampier has a fine cynical essay on the class structure of contemporary America (and Europe).

[There exists] a cultural and political tension between the American cities and the outside. Within the cities, the people are soft, disarmed, and androgynous. They’re lead by something like a slave caste of bureaucrats and artisans, lead by a small number of oligarchical corporate capitalists who own most of the property and the access to legal and financial leverage points over the system of trade.

Especially since the 2007 financial crisis and the escalation of the cost of living in these cities, this slave caste (which is often quite wealthy, as slave castes often have been, particularly in the East) has become more squeezed and dependent. It’s not uncommon to hear of particularly ambitious corporate slaves who have achieved ‘success’ only to be able to barely afford to buy a humble, lower middle class home in their favored region near the seat of power. Outside the seat of power, even a truck driver can afford to buy a beautiful home which would cost millions of dollars in the central cities. Inside the seat of power, most of the slaves can only afford to rent from either higher-end slaves or members of the oligarchical class.

This slave class tends to look down on the more numerous classes of dependent helots, concentrated in the same cities, but with a sense of pity, occasionally with contempt. The slave class sees it as their moral obligation to support and even uplift the helots, who are usually darker skinned. The slave class both hates, fears, and ridicules the freer middle classes from the less densely populated regions in the interior, not understanding how and why the freemen tend to value their rights to bear arms and hold their own property so much. …

This is really the shape of the conflict that’s brewing on the North American continent. The higher end slaves and the oligarchs don’t like the freemen, their culture, and their resistance to their oligarchical masters who live in New York, Washington, and elsewhere, even around the globe. The Republican party essentially represents the freemen, but usually only in terms of their brokering the many surrenders to the oligarchs and their golden-chained toads.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

23 Apr 2015

Hating Lilly Pulitzer

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A Lilly Pulitzer dress.

Megan Garber collects criticisms of the Lilly Pulitzer clothing line and then opens up on it herself, sounding rather like (a more clever) Tom Buchanan denouncing Jay Gatsby, for “selling what cannot, in fact, be bought.”

I’d, of course, never even heard of Lilly Pulitzer, and I have some difficulty perceiving a connection between all those vivid pastels and what Mr. Burke used to refer to as “the unbought grace of life,” but reading this piece in the Atlantic I could not help but think, that if these women’s duds succeed in upsetting lefties so much, Lilly Pulitzer must be doing something right.

In January, the clothing-and-lifestyle brand Lilly Pulitzer announced that it would collaborate with Target, releasing a collection of 250 pieces of apparel, accessories, and home decor by way of the discount chain. This weekend, the results of that collaboration were put up for sale in Target stores and on its website. Both of these events would seem to be innocuous: yet another instance of the discount retailer’s collaboration with a high-end fashion brand, of luxury goods made accessible to the masses, of fashion (relatively) democratized. A win-win! Actually, a win-win-win!

There was something different, however, about this particular launch. #LillyforTarget ended up, remarkably … angering people. Lots of people.

The collaboration angered, first of all, fans of Lilly Pulitzer, whose clothes have doubled as a “preppy uniform” for decades. It angered Target customers who tried, and failed, to grab $40-ish “Lillys” during a sale that was meant to span several weeks and instead spanned mere hours. It angered Target executives, who were disappointed in the performance of the chain’s website during the sale and indignant that the products they’d intended for their customers were being resold on eBay for more than twice the original cost.

Most interestingly, though, #LillyforTarget provoked the vitriol of fashion critics and business-minded brand-watchers. “I have never seen a woman wearing Lilly Pulitzer who would not have looked better in a ratty flannel bathrobe,” the business writer Megan McArdle confessed. The fashion critic Robin Givhan noted that “the classic Lilly Pulitzer dress comes in shrill shades of yellow and pink that are vaguely infantilizing. They are clothes that can be shrunk down and worn by 7-year-old girls without changing a single design element—if there were actual design elements to change. But there are not. …

[I]n part, it’s the aesthetics of Pulitzer’s clothes. Which are, with their festively flora-fauna-ed prints, the sartorial equivalents of the people who can’t stop talking about the juice cleanse they’re on. They are perky, insistently so. They are self-absorbed, aggressively so. Your retinas aren’t currently up for seeing some bubble-gum-pink toucans, their bills interlocked in an explosion of avian paisley? Lilly Pulitzer does not care. Lilly Pulitzer does not even think to ask.

The broader criticism, though, is the performance of identity that the Pulitzer brand represents. “Lilly” is not about luxury; it is about privilege. There is an important distinction between the two, Givhan notes. The brand, she writes, “suggests an advantage of birth. The clothes stir up scrapbook notions of ancient family trees, summer compounds, boarding school uniforms, and large, granite buildings inscribed with some great-great-grandfather’s name. Lilly Pulitzer represents something that money cannot buy.”

Which is another way of saying that Pulitzer’s clothes evoke not just wealth, but class. They speak to a status that is conferred rather than earned, and that cannot—with apologies to hard work and good luck and all the other vehicles of the American dream—be fully democratized. The garments are evidence in that sense not (just) of conspicuous consumption, but rather of privilege as it plays out as an economic system. They nod to, and then politely ignore, Thomas Piketty. Those whimsy-dripping pineapples, those insouciant peacocks, the designs that are often described as “eye-popping”—they are evidence not just of “resortwear” gone mainstream, but also of the ease of living enjoyed by those who can use the term “resortwear” unironically. These are clothes that are worn by people for whom life is, in relative terms, a permanent vacation.

Read the whole thing… and marvel.

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Typical Lilly Pulitzer patterns.

19 Apr 2015

Economic and Social Classes Today

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Economic Classes

Devon Helton has an excellent, really-nails-it column discussing the realities of the complex class structure in contemporary America. He differentiates social from economic classes. Here’s a bit of his tale upon the plebs:

Sixty years ago a pleb might live in a tight-knit, urban, ethnic community. The neighborhood would have very low crime, safe schools, and strong churches. Censorship laws promoted family values in movies and on TV. The upper class would live blocks away from the lower class. In ensuing decades, a combination of demographic changes, “urban renewal” projects, and legal changes rocked this world. The great migration brought into the city a poor, uneducated African-American population from the south. This migrant population had a much higher rate of criminal behavior. Housing projects and forced integration mixed this population into the ethnic white enclaves. Legal changes made policing much less effective. Crime in these neighborhoods rose dramatically. Court rulings and policy changes stripped public school teachers of tools to discipline unruly children.

After these changes, the only way a person could avoid a high-crime neighborhood was to move to a neighborhood where the underclass cannot afford to live. If a parent wants to send their kid to a school where class is not continually interrupted by underclass children, they must send their kid to a school with no underclass children. That means they must buy a home in a school district where the underclass are priced out. Parents use the coded, politically correct language of “finding a neighborhood with good schools.” But in reality, school spending, pedagogy, and teacher qualification do not differ much between the underclass inner city and suburban neighborhoods. What parents are really doing is “finding a neighborhood with good students”.

Schools no longer view instilling traditional morality and character as part of their mission. The Hays code that guided movie censorship is long gone. As a result, parents must take on the full burden of controlling their children’s media intake. Parents must live in neighborhoods where the other parents uphold the same values, otherwise their children will pick up the wrong values from their friends.

Some plebs manage to work extra hard, stress finances to the max, and buy their way into a classier neighborhood. But they will live on the edge – a layoff or furlough could bankrupt them. Their landlord will boot them right back into the underclass neighborhood.

Many plebs cannot afford to exit the underclass neighborhood. They live in neighborhoods with high crime, drug dealers on the street, and wild schools. They might get mugged on the street. Their children may end up falling into drugs or a gang. Their daughter might follow her friends and get knocked up at 17. The pleb who remains in the underclass neighborhood lives in constant danger of falling into the underclass.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

11 Jan 2014

Equality at the University

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Some years ago, one broilingly hot July day, I was in New Haven going to the air-conditioned Sterling Memorial Library to do some research for a writing project.

Beside the front entrance steps, a colored Yale maintenance staff employee was working in the hot sun, perspiration pouring down his face, chipping out the aged mortar from between sandstone blocks in preparation for re-pointing them. It was a nasty job, picking out the old cement using a small sledgehammer and a cold chisel, and it was an exponentially nastier job when performed in 100+ degree weather under a bright sun.

As I approached, I couldn’t help noticing that the entire crowd of typically left-wing, conspicuously socially conscious liberals passing directly past the maintenance guy were utterly oblivious to his predicament and to his very existence. He might as well have been a potted plant or a steel trashcan standing beside the library’s elaborate oaken doors for all the attention he was receiving.

I also could not help but perceive that that workman was aware of how thoroughly he was being ignored (and implicitly despised). He was doing a man’s work, a difficult, painstaking, and unpleasant job under extraordinarily adverse conditions. Being only human, he naturally desired some kind of fraternal sympathy from his fellow man, and some recognition that he was doing an unusually tough job under unusually bad conditions. It was impossible not to see that finding himself invisible, divided from the dozens of fellow representatives of humanity passing with a few feet of him by barriers of class as obdurate and inflexible as the stones he was working on, was bitterly alienating and insulting. He was holding himself with an air of resentment, and I could see him muttering angrily to himself under his breath.

So I deliberately slowed, and paused next to him, and said: “It is sure a hot day to be doing that kind of work!” “Sho’ is,” he responded smiling happily and taking a moment to pull out his handkerchief and wipe his face. “Damn hot.” I nodded in the direction of the passing faculty and students. “Some people don’t know what a day’s work is like.” I said, and he laughed appreciatively.

It only took a few seconds, but I’d managed to give him the sense of human solidarity he obviously needed, while reassuring him that at least one passerby recognized the nature and cost of his personal contribution to physical survival of the University.

Anthony Esolen, who teaches English at Providence College, is also the kind of guy who has doubtless worked with his hands, and who is therefore capable of perceiving the yawning chasm between professoriate and the proletariat, between the people in America who actually work up a sweat and the members of the community of fashion elite who call all the shots.

We professors at Providence College have for two years now been working in the midst of invisible men, men… who in these times are almost as insane and as morally blinkered as the professors they serve. The men have built a large and handsome Center for the Humanities, out of brick and stone. They have had to transform a hill and a parking lot to get the project started. They have turned an old field into a new facility for soccer, field hockey, and track, complete with bleachers and a press house, and eighty foot tall lights for events at night. They have laid hundreds of yards of concrete pathways. They have cleared out a useless hill thicketed with scrub trees and made it into a decorative border for the campus. They have built temporary parking lots and torn them out again and replaced them with sod. They have dug out stumps and planted trees. They have worked with jackhammers, drills, chisels, backhoes, saws, scaffolding, trowels, wheelbarrows, sledges, and the indispensable hands, arms, legs, shoulders, and back. They have done all this while remaining as quiet and unobtrusive as they could be.

They work hard, at work that takes its toll on their bodies, in all seasons and in all but the filthiest weather. Yet I doubt that the feminist professor – and most professors are feminist – gives them a passing thought. Without men like them, we would have nothing; nothing to eat, no metal for our cars, no bricks, no stone, no wooden planks, no houses, no roads, no public buildings, no clean running water, nothing. They do work that is more than desirable. It is absolutely necessary. I teach English poetry; that is not necessary. I will not trouble to discuss sociology, feminist or otherwise.

We might be apt to shrug and say, “What of it? They are well paid,” and some of them are. Some of them are not, but then, don’t college graduates deserve to make more money than workers on the land, of the land, and under the land? And they do have the vote, don’t they? Everyone gets one vote, and that makes everyone equal.

Well, no, it doesn’t, no more than if everyone enjoyed the privilege of spitting once into a national spittoon. We are looking for equality as men, so that we can say what Mr. Morgan said. And the common laborers enjoy no such thing. They have virtually no influence over what their children are taught in school, and how. Their sons are regularly badgered for being boys, and bullied into ingesting drugs to conform their boyish natures to the ideal of mannerly servility. They are not pillars of their communities, because there are no more communities; there are political abstractions called “towns” and “cities,” whose leaders take their cultural instructions from the media and from the national government, and who themselves are less and less likely to have grease under their fingernails or freckles of carbon in their faces. They are not the masters in their own homes; the effeminate vices peddled by their “betters” have seen to that. They are likely to have fathered children out of wedlock, or to have been divorced, sometimes with good cause, far more often without. They ingest the poisons peddled by mass entertainment. Their sons surf the internet for porn, get fat, wear their pants around their thighs so as to look like dwarfs stretched on a rack, can’t dig a post-hole or sing a hymn, and are given comic books in school instead of Moby-Dick. Our need for these fathers is total, yet their authority is minuscule even in their own localities, and their influence upon national politics is zero.

If such men ever took it into their heads to strike, not against the owner of the coal mine, but against their masters in the media, the classrooms, the board rooms, the state capitols, and Washington, who knows what might happen? We might have a republic again. But I’m not holding my breath. A John Dickinson, mild-tempered though he was, would be at a loss for words to fathom the depth of our servility, both moral and political. What, after all, were a couple of pence on a bag of tea, compared with thousands of unread pages managing every facet of medical treatment for three hundred million people? Slaves do sometimes rise up. Pampered slaves, never.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

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