Thursday, October 28, 2010

Plebian Acts

The Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, seems to be channeling my writings about the cultural Stevensonians all this week. He talks about the cultural blindness in The Fruits of Our Blinkered Elites:
“That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial,” Charles Murray wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. “That its members differ from former elites is not controversial.” Murray went on to explain what this means; according to Murray, this “New Elite” differs from earlier elites in that its members earn their status through high performance in universities and then in graduate schools.

After that, they inter-marry—and breed. The process starts again.

According to Murray, older elites attained their status the old-fashioned way—through blue blood and inherited wealth. This general picture is not controversial, Murray said.

Is it true that these notions aren’t controversial—presumably, among sociologists? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea, but we’d urge progressives to consider the general drift of Murray’s thesis. Over the past many years, progressive interests have endlessly been harmed by the work of various clueless elites, including one elite called “the mainstream press” and another called “the liberal intelligentsia.”

Yet another hapless elite might perhaps be called “the academy.” Or as your country slides toward the sea, have you seen brilliant, spirited work emerging from the professors?

Our elites are clueless in various ways which seem to reflect Murray’s thesis. In our view, progressives should welcome the chance to consider the ways our training, our outlooks and our practices so reliably fail. Instead, liberal writers have reacted to Murray’s piece in typically childish, defensive fashion; in essence, we’ve taken turns defiantly saying that no such elites could exist, and that no one we know could be in them. To consider the unfailing instincts of a failing, unintelligent tribe, we’ll suggest that you review Steve Benen (just click here), linking to Claire Berlinski’s silly “Are You a Plebe?” test. In such ways, the children gambol and play—and deny, deny—even as the progressive project continues to flounder and fail.

In such ways, we announce the pleasure we take in our own defeat, in our dim-witted irrelevance....

I was intrigued by the "plebe" quiz and went to Benen's blog to take a look. Gag. Not so much the quiz itself as the answers given by Benen and the commenters. They don't seem capable of gaining distance from their own protestations of superiority. Take a look at the quiz, then compare it to this counter quiz by poster AMJ on Kevin Drum's blog:
Assuming we don't, as progressives, think that the very concept of an out-of-touch elite is compete nonsense (or do we?), it might be more illuminating to try to come up with an alternative test that better captures that idea. Here's one such attempt:

Which of the following describes you and/or at least one close friend or relative who is your contemporary or younger?

1. Have no college degree.
2. Have received means-tested public assistance, or have children that have received it.
3. Have held a job, for longer than a summer, that any able-bodied person can do.
4. Have worked a night shift or swing shift.
5. Have worked paid overtime.
6. Have held a paying part-time job, in addition to a paying full-time job.
7. Have held a paying job that involves manual labor and/or continuous standing.
8. Have been involuntarily out of work for longer than six months.
9. Have had to avoid paying some bills that were due in order to be able to pay others.
10. Have received a payment-overdue notice that was neither a mistake nor an accident.
11. Have intentionally been late with a rent check or a mortgage payment.
12. Have consciously eliminated a food item from the diet due to its cost.
13. Have worked unpaid in a family small business.
14. Have made a choice about where or whether to go to school, based primarily on cost.
15. Have been personally responsible for making a payroll.
16. Have been homeless.
17. Have joined the armed forces in an enlisted grade.
18. Have forgone or delayed medical or dental care due to cost.
19. Have liquidated savings in order pay current expenses.
20. Have accepted (or refused) charity.
Hmm, this one is better. It asks economic questions, not cultural ones. That seems to be the true cultural divide - those who want to talk about eroding wages and those who want to pat themselves on the back for their moral superiority.

Why is this so hard for the Stevensonian elite to understand?



show me said...

Read that you had done a few posts over at The Confluence. Came right over. Always glad to get a piece of your mind.

Your writings were the first I thought of when I read about the Murry piece at The Daily Howler.

Koshem Bos said...

The progressive elite, which is neither progressive nor elite, suffers also from narrow mindedness. Nebraska is a state of hardworking people; it's also mostly Republican.

These hardworking people are "our" people. Real progressive want them to widen their profit margin, have a better and cheaper health care, better and timely retirement, yet we never try to reach them. They are not urban highly educated people. We like dysfunctional and educated people such as Obama.

Another fact that supports Murray indirectly. The rich, and obvious subset of Murray's elite, in this country are Democrats. Aspen, CO, voted 70% for Obama. In the crazy right state of Wyoming, the only county that goes Democratic is Jackson Hole. Of the 49 richest counties in the country, 47 vote Democratic in 2008.