Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Class and money dominate the politics of the USA.  Sex, in my view, though significant is secondary — mostly attempts to justify the class and money. to show them off, to convince oneself if no one else that there is entitlement, a natural development.

This linked absorbing article suggests four new books.

“The 9.9% Is the New American Aristocracy” by Matthew
“Twilight of the Elites” by Chris Hayes
“White Working Class” by Joan Williams
The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution” by Ganesh

I don’t know why these folks have lit on 9.9% as a better number than just plain old ten percent, but I guess it’s precisely because “ten” is plain and old.  Or maybe it’s the top ten percent after the even more top 1% is removed.  Among the new additions are descriptions of how this less-than-ten bunch manages to guarantee that they remain among the elite in the same way that the old English landed gentry did.  The mechanisms of systems, academics, connections, heritage, match-making, all manage to reinstate a closed club of influential people who control the nation.

Another new thought is the complexification of the remaining ninety per cent who are neither de facto aristocrats nor the inevitable poor.  This context is about the rather more blurry boundary between the middle class and the working class.  Middle class people work in family-owned businesses or upper management or as successful entrepreneurs like professionals.  Working class people have wage jobs and less prestige.  They’re a little touchy about it.

This is pretty much as it’s always been.  But maybe we’ve never had so many gig workers before — computer itinerants, nomadic musicians, artists of many kinds, private therapists — but probably that’s naive.  Times of change and disorder have always made niches for the brave and resourceful, as well as the con artists.

But maybe not since the beginning of the Enlightenment in the 1600’s has there been such a powerful change in thinking as that brought on by the avalanche of new perceptions into ancient times, nano-processes in our bodies, interpenetrating DNA, and far-cosmic order.  Here we were, looking for the missing link, when there were layers and layers of hominin evidence all around us.  We’re more than a little bit overwhelmed.

David Brooks made me look at class first, by noting that Republicans with whom he tried to discuss the evidence of today’s scandals simply couldn’t hear him.  They looked away, put their fingers in their ears, changed the subject.  But there was another bunch who also made him aware of a divide between the classes that wasn’t about prestige or income — it was an intellectual divide.  People on one side simply couldn’t understand the people on the other side and each resented the other for being so unintelligible.  Partly it can be blamed on those wicked French et al who challenge everything and drive home truths as though they were stakes through the heart of society.  (Maybe they are.)

Brooks interests me because he tries so hard to overcome the distinctions of assigned class or status as though “virtue” might be a way to escape from that terrible division that creeps into everything, but especially politics.  In some ways “Bobos in Paradise” started the whole thing.

Alas, virtue is also framed differently according to class and status.  A praiseworthy person may be highly educated in one place but not considered that way in another.

Brooks doesn’t seem to attempt my own goal, which is a sort of universal wisdom that is irrelevant to wealth and fame, that isn’t self-conscious or intent on approval.  How do you get there?  I fall short by a mile.  Tribal rural people seem to do it better than urban people with media swarming all around, constantly holding up mirrors and cameras, always diagnosing and laying the odds.  Maybe the loner focused on some scientific or literary project manages to achieve it.  Brooks mentions “love,” whatever that is: maybe an invitation to deception.

But we are seeing a revival and rehabilitation of feeling, if only because it challenges the short-sighted idea that a brain is the essence of a person when it is in truth only an operating system for the rest of the body.  The body feels and acts -- the brain says "what about it?"   Beyond that, we begin to see how it is that a single person has to be a summation of interactions among many people.  Neither puppets nor lovers, we bring each other alive with our music, stories, antics, arguments, and love making.

People do tend to be shaped by class as much as ecology — I suppose class IS an ecology: what one eats and wears, the likely vocabulary, the knowledge of how to hail a cab or feed a cow.  People of different classes have as much to teach each other as people of different countries.  Whether one “way” is better or worse than any other way can only depend upon the circumstances.  You can’t eat a food that isn’t available, a fact that is lost on people with enough money to cause anything to be available regardless of season.

Among my English mystery series (subscribe on Acorn, it's snobbier than the others) is “George Gently” in which, like “Morse”, the running gag is that the lower echelon sergeant gets things wrong because of lack of fancy education.  (Tonight it was the sergeant thinking a photo of Che Guevara was of a boyfriend of the defiant young woman he was facing,)  People use this stuff against each other all the time, to the point that one can’t carelessly ask if someone has read a certain book, without the person asked blowing up, taking it as an insult if they haven't read it.  But the sergeant is always more cunning, more connected than the sophisticated Morse or Gently.  That’s the sort of thing the English have perfected, this class scarecrow.

Surely one of the elements that make intellectual difference or class blindness irrelevant is the enjoyment of the senses in a world we all share.  Recently Twitter posters have been showing super-closeups of “bee bums” as they guzzle their heads down into the hearts of blooms, drenching themselves in pollen.  Isn’t such appreciation of tiny things, often beautiful, a guard against taking babies from mothers simply because one can?  Unhappily, it is not.  Aesthetics and nature worship will not soften human authorities.  Pretty bugs don’t distract those who are revelling in power over the weak.  Plenty of Nazi officers loved sunsets and symphonies.

Bee on bergamot

Is this a class issue?  Does money or education create a better, more compassionate person ?  Evidence suggests not.  Sorry, David.  It makes me sad as well.  I’ll try some more.

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