The Third Tribe

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J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam says:

    Thank goodness Brooks is doing his part by voluntarily going to the Applebees Salad Bar once a week to check in with the lower tribe.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    “Can we really talk honestly and effectively about growing divisions between the top and the bottom without taking the middle half into account, too?”

    I think we sort of can.  To be perfectly honest, no one really cares about the middle class. As long as you are in there, it’s assumed you’re doing just fine. Their money comes from a magical grove of money trees planted by the WPA during the New Deal.

    What people worry about is the bottom and the top because it is assumed that it’s a zero sum game between these two groups. If the rich get richer it was because they stole it directly from the poor.

    (Man, I am really feeling cynical for a Tuesday)Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Mike, you are a treasure.  I disagree with you plenty often, but this comment both made me laugh and made me think.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        It was only 50% tongue-in-cheek. People don’t really worry a whole lot about how the middle class is doing. They just look at the numbers of people moving south of that group on the income scale. And you hear even less about the people who move in the other direction.Report

        • Avatar kenB says:

          Reminds me of Mr. Bergstrom’s parting words to Lisa Simpson — “That’s the problem with being middle-class. Anybody who really cares will abandon you for those who need it more.”Report

    • I’m with Jason. I agree with you basically never, but this comment was gold.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I find myself seeking out lots more Times articles to read via external links than I ever did before because of the paywall.  Which just means their damn scheme is working like gangbusters, the bastards.Report

  4. Avatar t e whalen says:

    My understanding, based on what I’ve been reading on the various rightblogs I find tolerable, is that Murray is confining his “analysis” to white America, which is about 50% of the country, so dividing it into an upper 20% and a lower 30% could make sense.Report

  5. Avatar BSK says:

    And wouldn’t we expast a certain vastness to the difference between the top and the bottom?  I mean, they are opposite ends of a spectrum.  I can understand reason to be concerned about just how vast the gap is.  But without knowing what is going on in the middle, and whether the gap is exponential or linear or what, we really can’t do much with this information at all.  Nor should we be shocked by it.Report

  6. Avatar strech says:

    He’s not only missing the middle 50%; he’s missing the entire non-white population as well.  I’m not sure why Brooks didn’t notice this, since the book is Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Also, maybe Murray uses the same numbers elsewhere in the book, but he might be missing even more; Murray has a article in the WSJ:

    People who qualify for my Belmont constitute about 20% of the white population of the U.S., ages 30 to 49. People who qualify for my Fishtown constitute about 30% of the white population of the U.S., ages 30 to 49.

    So it might be even less than 50% of the white population.

    However, I think the whole thing becomes another lecture about elites being out of touch with ordinary americans.  The test linked around does assert itself as generalized (although defining mainstream around class is questionable in itself):

    In one sense, there is no such thing as an “ordinary American.” The United States comprises a patchwork of many subcultures, and themembers of any one of them is ignorant about and isolated fromthe others to some degree. The white ?fth-grade teacher from South Boston doesn’t understand many things about the life of the black insurance agent in Los Angeles, who in turn doesn’t understand many things about the life of the Latino truck driver in Oklahoma City. But there are a variety of things that all three do understand about the commonalities in their lives—simple things that you have no choice but to understand if you have to send your kids to the local public school, you live in a part of town where people make their living in a hundred different ways instead of a dozen, and you always eat out at places where you and your companion won’t spend more than $50 tops, including tip.
    …..
    So while there is no such thing as an ordinary American, it is not the case that most Americans are balkanized into enclaves where they know little of what life is like for most other Americans. “The American mainstream” may be hard to specify in detail, but it exists.

    He proceeds to write a test based on a certain regional, largerly white culture, that to a large extent trancends class (as noted in the discussions on this site).  And while those paragraphs above seem to want to go on about “The American mainstream” as a cross-racial thing, the book is supposedly about white Americans, as are all his statistics.

    Murray’s solution (in the WSJ article linked) – elites should move into non-elite (white) culture – has the effects of (a) not making any sense, (b) ignoring people that aren’t white; and (c) shaming elites for not being enough like real Americans “the American mainstream”.   How would elites moving to non-elite areas change anything?  Why would the non-elites follow their lead?  I doubt the non-elites are opposed to the values they’re supposed to learn, so is there something other than direct cultural factors causing the problems?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Nobody knows…

      what it’s like to have your town be the “rape reservation”, in which all rape goes unpunished…

      what it’s like to know about crimes, and equally know that you can’t report them.

      the wasteland that used to be mountains, now turned to dust.

      Where a hundred feet vertical means five more years of life expectancy

      Where the DMZ is, and why the police don’t go there.

      No, I don’t think Americans in general know about America very well. You win cookie (wif sprinkles) if you can name four of these places.Report

  7. People still read the New York Times?Report

  8. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This is a guess at what Murray is getting at. Or perhaps a projection of a subject that I would think interesting… but if I had to guess, he would be putting Belmont over here, Fishtown over there, and suggesting that the people of Belmont are alienating Middle America and therefore allowing Fishtown’s counterproductive behavior to creep up to the middle class. Reverse Prole Drift.Report

  9. Avatar Chris says:

    What strikes me about those numbers is that the variance within the upper 20% and the lower 30% alone makes those classifications suspect. I mean, we’re talking about several distinct groups lumped together, so that the difference between a person at the bottom of the top 20% and the top of the top 20% isn’t that much smaller than the difference between the person at the bottom of the top 20% and many of the people in the bottom 30%.

    Anyway, while I’m not going to read Murray’s book (I’ve made that mistake before), I am kind of looking forward to seeing the reaction among statisticians and social scientists to the book.Report