Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Old-fashioned straight-up racism is a tougher sell in the age of Black Lives Matter than it used to be, so racists (and the people hired to get votes from them) must modernize. Some conservatives (including the allegedly reformed Andrew Sullivan) remain quite comfortable saying or at least dogwhistling that black people are treated unequally in this society because they're Bell Curve inferiors. But even they must qualify it: Look, we're not racist because we admit Asians are smarter than us! Look, we're only defending Charles Murray's right to free speech!

There's always the "Liberals are The Real Racist" dodge. But that's usually an unsatisfying balm conservatives apply after they've been laughed off the stage. However, maybe they'll get more pro-active with it -- David Brooks is working in his sociological meth lab to strip the "white" out of "white privilege" and put "liberal" in instead.

How's he doing it? By taking out the actual political and philosophical parts of liberalism, and leaving only the stereotype of sissies who like fancy books, food, and leisure activities, think they're better than you, and have found a way to be rich without quite being capitalists (sneaky buggers!).

Brooks' column, generously titled "How We Are Ruining America" (it's the last acknowledgement of his own possible complicity, though), starts with a long wheeze about how "upper-middle-class" people are soaking up all the good things -- education for their kids, "behavior codes" (presumably like marriage, which makes you rich!), maternity leave, etc. While a socialist, or a Christian or a decent human being, might think, okay, then let's use government to give less upper-middle people better access to such things, Brooks explains that what's really causing these inequalities are "the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent."

This isn't about the black guy who can't get a cab -- why, the fact that he's presuming to hail one shows he's in the upper 20 percent, and thus just as much an oppressor as the whites. The real oppressors are the ones who can pronounce simple Italian words, or who don't freak out when they can't (a sure sign of effeteness):
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree...
BULLSHIT BUZZER ALERT! Maybe she's his nanny.
...to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named "Padrino" and "Pomodoro" and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
What sort of person is class-shamed by an Italian deli? Mmmmaybe the "friend" was Mexican; maybe she'd just come up from Gopher Holler, where they have a Chipotle but not a salumeria. Here's how Brooks explains it:
American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”
Those fucking Italians! Always trying to make you feel small because you don't know which gabagool to use for the fish course!

Even worse:
In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.
That "rareified information" being the code to the security systems at their McMansions.
To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.
I know what all this shit is; I must be rich. Rich and rareified! Yet I'm wearing a cardboard belt. Why don't I just leave this stupid job I'm stealing time from to write this, and live on information?
The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.
I showed the cashiers that I know how to pronounce quinoa, but they still called security when I left without paying.
Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible. The rest of America can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there.
If you're still wondering why Brooks downplays the role of money as well as the role of race here, I'll spell it out: His target is not people of color, who don't need David Brooks to tell them what time it is, but 1.) the Trump voters out in the heartland who might resent that they can't afford a block of Pilates classes (but let's face it, they don't read David Brooks nor even know who he is, and would take him for one o' them liberal sissies if they ever saw him); and, more likely, 2.) rightwing operatives who have been peddling arugula-Grey Poupon visions of liberalism forever, and hope that the recent uptick in class consciousness can be exploited against liberals rather than against their coprorate masters -- perhaps with "I am the 80%" t-shirts, and symbolic anti-elitist state-lege bills taxing reiki or requiring yoga studios sell cigarettes, and rhymes like "If you're lib, I like the cut of your gib, if you're centrist, you get a good dentist, but if you're Right, brother, good night, good night."

As America goes further down the crapper, a lot of people are going to get mad at the rich, and the donors might find it worth their while to fund propaganda that says "Don't guillotine you, don't guillotine me, guillotine that liberal hugging that tree." Maybe they'll outfit their Porsches to roll coal so the rabble know they're alright. Since saner policies are out of the question, it's worth a try.

UPDATE. Holy shit, every wingnut in wingnuttia rushed to defend Brooks' imbecilic column. Here's the crest of Megan McArdle's tweetstream:

I mean, all those liberals have to have the same exalted social status as she, haven't they? Otherwise why would Twitter allow them to talk to her? And she knows lots of genuine working class people, like that lady who said such nice things to her on the bus -- although, hmm, that lady was black, so maybe she was on welfare.

Chris Arnade comes in with his usual bullshit -- "I would add, where David Brooks uses upscale delis, I use McDonald's to show the difference in cultural capital between front-row & back-row" -- just in case Brooks is thinking of jumping line, Chris Arnade has McDonald's, bitch (and possibly a licensing deal -- "ba ba ba ba ba, white working class!"). On and on he goes about how oh, you liberals all sneer at McDonald's! Like we're all 23, have trust funds, and dine at Le Diplomate every night -- or that the amount of crap food one has eaten (and I've eaten plenty in my time) is the measure of one's authentic something-or-otherness, instead of a marker for pre-diabetes.

This may be Arnade's nadir: "The online reaction to David Brooks column is largely this -- Snark from people who have cultural capital but not economic."  As if we could ruin people's hopes and dreams by making snide remarks from our studio apartments and crappy jobs! Again, we see the insistence that money has nothing to do with it, and therefore money can't help. It's a great excuse for not supporting government interventions -- because the real power is in positive thinking, and if we just reward that and punish "snark," then by the law of supply and demand we'll Make America Great Again.

This brings us back around to Murray who, looking to diversify from his Bell Curve shtick a few years back, promoted that Fishtown/Belmont "bubble test" hooey, purporting to show that if you didn't watch the right TV shows and listen to modern crap country music (not that rap stuff, though -- only you-know-whats listen to that), you were an elitist and therefore had nothing to say to the Little People. This led to the spectacle of pencil-necked wingnuts imagining themselves butch because they knew the names of some pickup trucks. And now we have the logical end result of this ridiculous obsession, Donald Trump -- on the one hand, the People's Choice, whom no one would call elitist; on the other hand, a golden-palace-dwelling narcissist, the ultimate Bubble Boy. It is amazing what lengths we'll go to as a country to evade paying the butcher's bill -- but I have a hunch the butcher will get real insistent real soon.

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