On Preference, Briefly

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158 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    I think we know what Murray is shooting for, even as we see his questions as completely missing the mark… right?

    It’s a fun exercise to try to come up with questions that would succeed at asking what Murray failed to ask.

    Also, Coors in the yellow can isn’t bad.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      I think most of the previous conversation was spent on talking not about what he was shooting for.Report

      • I’m not sure how you can construct this quiz better if your only goal is teasing out the disdain that one group of consumers has for another group of consumers. It might be fun to try, but I can’t escape the thought that Murray started with a conclusion and built backward to develop the evidence he needed to claim the conclusion’s existence.Report

    • renee in reply to Jaybird says:

      As Johny Paycheck would say:

      Hey barmaid, bring us all a big, tall glass of that Colorado Kool-Aid.
      How about it?Report

  2. Patrick Cahalan says:

    Well done.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    I agree with this post far more than not, so consider this comment mostly “in addition to” rather than a real disagreement.

    You’re right that there is a problem of attributing moral, intellectual, or aesthetic (to break “factual” down a bit) superiority to our preferences. And it’s certainly not just the snooty upper class that’s doing this. I do think, to some degree, that there is a more specific concern when it is people of greater means making these judgments against people of lesser means. I’m not sure the extent to which I share this concern (I go back and forth), but I recognize it as being different.

    I have, more than once, seen commenters by iPhone people that iPhone haters are “just jealous” of the awesomeness of the phone. This is absurd (which is not the same thing as saying that iPhone-hatred is rational) because for nearly the same price that the iPhone-hater got his Android phone, he could have gotten an iPhone. So the preference for, and against, the iPhone is relatively neutral. However, when people with smartphones look down on people with dumbphones, there is an element that is missing from the iPhone/anti-iPhone discussion.

    The same applies, I think, when it comes to cost-neutral things if those things are symbols of economic or cultural status.

    The problem is that we never know the extent to which the preference is based on these things. Whether we’re talking about iPhone lovers and iPhone haters or people of class talking about people of no class because they watch cars going round and round and call that entertainment. Given that these things do occur in class-neutral contexts, it can’t be said that it’s all class-based. At the same time, the degree of status-differentiation – in a class context – suggests that there is a degree of classism involved. And it’s worth taking note of, even if we should not assume that all taste moralization is rooted in class.

    From the downside looking up, it’s easy and gratifying to assume that it’s largely or entirely class-based. From the upside looking down, it’s easy and gratifying to assume that it’s just not about that at all.

    Also, just wanted to say that your second paragraph was brilliant.Report

    • -Thank you for the kind words.

      -I understand your argument about status differentiation, but isn’t it equally possible that the people who choose Budweiser over MicroBrews are doing precisely the same thing? I don’t think we can assume that everybody would choose MicroBrews if only they could, but class prevents them from doing so; I think there is much wrapped up in saying, “I’m a Miller High Life Man” as there is in being one of those pretentious douchebags on the Samuel Adams commercials (“We wanted a fruity, citrusy beer with Spring tones…”).Report

      • Oh, indeed so! I think the beer question is particularly interesting because it’s one of those things that you never really know where someone is coming from. It could very easily be – and might usually be – purely a matter of taste. It might be a matter of cultural preference apart from economic status (PBR suggests this is at least some of it). But, it also might be that other thing. And from individual to individual, it’s going to differ.

        To the extent that your point is that it often isn’t economic status at all, I would have to agree. I would point out that even if it’s not intentionally an economic thing, the mere fact that it does, generally, fall along certain economic lines can make it significant to economic discussion*. This is a very different statement than “people are drinking froufrou beer to differentiate themselves from the grubby passes, though.”

        An example: A little over a year ago, we bought a Subaru. Unbeknownst to us, this was completely a class marker where we live (I knew it was a class marker in Seattle, but here in the rugged, rural mountain west, a Subaru only makes sense!). One class of people buy Jeeps. Another Subarus. There are exceptions, but this is generally the way it goes. Subarus in the hospital employee lot, Jeeps at the feed store. So there is talk of Jeep people and Subaru people. This is, on one hand, talking about preference. But it is also talking about class. This, despite the fact that the most common Jeep I see (Liberty) is actually more expensive than the two most common Subaru models (Outback & Forester). But it becomes a proxy for other discussions. Again, this is different from what your talking about (I may be out of touch with the locals, but it is neither because of nor the cause of my owning a Subaru), but I find it noteworthy nonetheless. And, if I am wise, I might have reason to be more careful with my talk about Jeep people as I am about iPhone people.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

          Real Jeep owners buy CJ-5s that were built in the early- to-mid 80s.  CJ-7s are acceptable if you own a large dog.Report

        • Scott in reply to Will Truman says:

          That is funny, when I lived in ATL, it seemed that the majority of Subaru owners were lesbians and folks called them lesbarus. Even within the Jeep community folks some are purists and only think round headlight are real Jeeps

          This discussion of this vs. that seems to cut across every socio-political line when there are two distinct choices.  You should here people that own Glocks talk about other pistol choices ( I prefer Sig) or those that prefer 9mm vs. .45.  Maybe it is just human nature to let your choice become part of your identity. (Like those folks that put Apple stickers on their car which I always thought was a bit much)Report

  4. Mo says:

    The Applebee’s/Outback Steakhouse question is very much of the Ford/Chevy type. Some people prefer ethnic food because they were raised around it, their friends like it and exposed them to it or because they’re actually ethnic. The thing is most ethnic restaurants are cheaper than casual dining experiences. I can get some terrific drunken noodles or delicious lamb vindaloo for 75% the price of a meal at Applebee’s. But if you say you prefer ethnic food to casual dining, you’re considered a snob.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Mo says:

      This.  But the issue is not snobbery for Murray. What he wants to say is that you are essentially of a different class if you are the “kind” of person who is likely to make that choice.Report

  5. James Hanley says:


    Nice guest post.  I think you’re right on in making the distinction between having a particular preference and looking down on those who have a different preference.  And you’re right that Murray does conflate the two.Report

  6. Tod Kelly says:

    This is excellent Sam.  And your argument is one of those things that had been trying to find a voice in my brain back when Jason posted the two Murray pieces.Report

  7. Steve S. says:

    There are a couple of things about Murray’s methodology that I’m still not getting and if someone could explain them to me I’d be obliged.

    First, am I the only one who has noticed that the things the rubes supposedly consume and the elites supposedly know nothing about are in fact sold to the rubes by the elites?

    Second, I am again getting the impression from the above that Murray is retrofitting facts to his conclusion.  “Elites don’t understand the rubes, and how do I know this?  Because elites don’t drink the same beer.”  Sorry, but it should go something more like this:  Do elites and rubes drink different brands of beer?  Let’s find out.  Then, if we find out that they drink different brands of beer we’ll figure out why; maybe it’s because elites are out of touch, maybe it’s because the rubes would drink better beer if they could afford it, maybe there are other factors involved.  Now, maybe Murray isn’t so backwards in the meat of the book, I haven’t read it, but if his entire approach is like the excerpt above then he’s on the wrong track.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Steve S. says:

      They’ve actually found that millionaires are more likely to drink Bud.

      This is one reason why they’re millionaires.

      Yes, Murray is suffering from a lot of observer bias in that he’s trying to construct the (undoubtedly) liberal, (certainly) out-of-touch elite as a class.Report

  8. Jimmy says:

    Great post. There is a dormant Austrian economist living somewhere inside you – something about interpersonal utility comparisons.


  9. James K says:

    Think of a person who enjoys soccer more than baseball. Does that person enjoy soccer more than baseball because they are a snob?

    Soccer as an example also points out the cultural complexities involved here.  For example, in most of the world soccer would be the normal sport to follow, it would if anything be snobbier to follow an obscure foreign sport such as baseball or American Football.

    This applies within countries as well as between them.  If you are a Latino American then it entirely possible you will prefer soccer to any of those sports native to the US.  Such a preference would certainly not be a marker of snobbery.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to James K says:

      I agree with all of this. And, of course, there’s nothing particularly different about liking soccer, and certainly nothing wrong with it (unless you ask Chuck Klosterman or Orin Judd). But that well has been polluted by the soccer fans who lament America’s backwardness for failing to appreciate soccer… hey, like they appreciate soccer.

      When I meet a soccer fan, I don’t assume that they are soccer scolds unless they give me reason to. Unfortunately, such people are often the ones that get opinion articles in the paper, leading to a probably unfair common perception. And the others are just regular sports people that irritatingly push the sport for capitalistic reasons (their networks always want more sports to sell).

      I’m not much of a soccer person myself. Rugby, now, there’s a sport I wish we would embrace!Report

      • Trumwill Mobile in reply to Will Truman says:

        One other thing about soccer: World Cup was *huge* when I was in Mormonland. My coworkers would all root for the team of whatever country they did their mission it.

        To tie it in with the main post, they would definitely fall in the category of soccer fans that aren’t snobs. Utah is, of course, one of the three most conservative states in the country. Idaho is, too, due in part to Mormon Idaho where the same World Cup fervor would apply.Report

        • Honestly, I think soccer snobbery is starting to die, though anti-soccer snobbery is alive and kickin’, at least if the change in MLS demographics over the last few years means anything.  It’s basically becoming the summer sport of 20-something drunken louts who lack the patience for baseball and enjoy singing drunk.

          One thing that in retrospect makes little sense to me is that baseball (which I still enjoy, don’t get me wrong….the 86 Mets are responsible for the only championship one of “my” teams has ever won!) is always billed as the “thinking man’s game”….yet it’s soccer fans who are snobs?Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman says:

        Next to basketball, the most outright ongoing all entertainment sport I’ve seen is Australian rules football.

        I love baseball and all, but you must be a baseball fan to understand why a 1-0 game can be fun to watch.  It’s about the perception of tension; if you can’t see it, you’re not entertained.  American football has this problem, too; I had people telling me that the Giants-49er game was “boring” because “the offenses weren’t doing anything”… as if there’s only half a game going on (most American football watchers are terrible fans).

        Rugby is up there, too.  Lacross and field hockey.Report

    • Sam in reply to James K says:

      To be fair to Murray – something that I hate doing – he’ll fall back on the argument that he wasn’t talking about Latinos; his only concern was with white Americans. However, plenty of white American kids play soccer too.Report

  10. renee says:

    Good post.  I agree with much of what you have to say.  I think there may be an interesting discussion to be had regarding “authenticity.”  It’s hard to argue that people who drink Coors and Bud are snobs . . . but what’s important to them socially speaking isn’t uniqueness or taste, per se, but rather authenticity.  They are “real” Americans.  And they (and I sometimes) drink “real” beer.  This is, in its own way, just as pretentious as Chimay drinking snobs – but it is also different in a way that I am not sure I can identify.  Maybe I shouldn’t have posted after 4 margaritas . . . (Don’t worry, they were “real american” margaritas [what??])


    • Sam in reply to renee says:

      Respectfully, I disagree with you about the conclusion that the people who drink Coors and Budweiser are concerned with authenticity. They might be concerned with cost. They might be concerned with tradition. They might preference Coors and Budweiser having tried every variation of MicroBrew available throughout the United States. There’s simply no way to automatically assume the reasons behind choosing something.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Sam says:

        It’s true that Coors has the best malt.
        The best variety of two-row barley that will grow in North America is Klagas, and most of the Klagas grown in North America is grown under contract to Coors.
        There have been breeding programs to produce native varieties of hops that would be ‘better.’ Most of these focus on the noble hops (alpha to beta acids ratio, low farnesene) and improving the storage characteristics.
        And Coors has some good water for brewing pale lagers, much better than to be had in the Mississippi River.

        That said, there is so little of it in a beer that it doesn’t make any difference.
        The main difference between Coors and Bud is the yeast by-products. Coors will have a slight pineapple taste, while Bud has a slight apple flavor. And I have it on good word that this is the only reliable method of being able to differentiate the two in blond taste tests (George Fix, Principles of Brewing Science).

        I remember reading about how the bitterness content of Bud has gone down over the years. It’s not noticeable one year to the next, but comparisons ten years apart show a distinct difference.
        The American premium lager continues to get more and more watery. It’s consumer-driven, not the marketing. A lot of Americans really like a watery beer.

        But I think the preference of one to the other is usually due to branding or regionalism.
        A lot of the preference for the style comes from availability and knowledge base. I prefer bitters to American lagers, and I’m not British. But I know that style.

        Spiced beers and barrel-aging have become popular; at least, more prominent. I think these are to appeal to the micro-brew consumer that doesn’t know beer that well.
        I had a Shock Top one time at a restaurant, and I ordered another beer after drinking half of it. Haven’t touched another one since. The spices are too prominent, overpowering.
        Generally speaking, spices are an alternative bittering agent to hops, and the level in any particular style should be roughly equivalent.Report

  11. Michael Drew says:

    I appreciate this post from Sam as well, and I very much appreciate his general point about preferences and how the signaling or snobbery that they project run not in just one direction. But I have to say that I’m surprised so many who were at least somewhat positive about the “point” Murray tries to make in the previous discussions have been in agreement with Sam here.

    Where Sam says

    But it is just as likely that they grew up liking soccer, or they grew up with parents who liked soccer, or that the kids who played baseball in their hometown were pricks and the kids who played soccer weren’t, or a thousand other explanations that account for the preference for one over the other. In Murray’s world, such explanations simply do not exist; if you prefer A to B, it must be because you simultaneously assume the superiority of A to B and the inferiority of not only B to A, but of the person preferring B to A.

    …is he not significantly misunderstanding, or even reversing Murray’s point?  In Murray’s world, don’t explanations like growing up with parents who liked or did a thing very much indeed explain people’s current preferences and proclivities?  Isn’t that, indeed, Murray’s basic point – that classes of white people have erected hard borders around themselves that made of cultural habit, and which lead to people in the different classes existing in self-created bubbles?

    I guess I just simply remain confused as to what the strong upshot point to be drawn about all of this is.Report

    • Sam in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Murray’s allegation though doesn’t account for why those bubbles might exist except to say that it must be disdain for the other. My point is that people can have preferences for lots of reasons and that Murray, in ignoring this, is undermining the argument he wants to make by ludicrously stacking the deck in his favor.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Sam says:

        I can’t speak to what exactly he argues; what I say above is merely my impression of the argument from the little I’ve read about the book.  I haven’t gotten the impression he is talking about disdain as much as insularity and incuriosity. But I don’t know.Report

  12. Jaybird says:

    Is there a way to ask “are you a Brahmin who doesn’t know any, like *ANY*, Vaishyas?” without betraying some prejudices?

    When you have a guy’s night/gal’s night, if you have a college degree, is there anyone in your group who has only a high school diploma?

    In your guy’s/gal’s circle, did everyone vote for the same person in the last election? The last two elections? The last three elections?

    Look at the worst thing that has happened to you, financially, in the last year. Look at your guy’s/gal’s. Is it more or less in the same ballpark as the worst thing that has happened to them?Report

    • Sam in reply to Jaybird says:


      Are these questions you’re proposing? Or questions you want answered? Also, without consulting Wikipedia, I don’t know the difference between the Brahmin and the Vaishyas…stop building an insulated bubble which I cannot penetrate.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Sam says:

        I’m just looking for questions that would do a good job of doing what Murray failed to do.

        We’ve all heard about the 1972 story in which Pauline Kael allegedly said “I can’t believe Nixon won, I don’t know anybody who voted for him!” (Which, according to wikipedia, is not a story that has been demonstrated to be true… an actual quote which does some similar communicating was when she said “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”)

        That quotation says… *SOMETHING*. I think that it’s reflective of an extreme version of what Murray is talking about and shows that there is a phenomenon out there where there are people who live in a “rather special world”.

        Now, of course, perhaps this rather special world has evaporated since the Nixon era. Perhaps it’s gotten smaller. I suspect that it’s still there and that most of us are on its periphery… but I would think that, being me.

        I’m interested in this special world. If it still exists, of course. I’m also interested in our attitudes toward this special world and why being in it is seen as something to be vaguely ashamed of.

        I see what Murray was going for, even as he failed to get there. I think that what he was going for is fairly interesting, actually… but, maybe that’s because I just like taking online quizzes. (When it comes to “Which New Kid Are You” quizzes, I’m usually Joe.)Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

          Here’s my main thing. That phenomenon definitely exists. In New York City.  In a few other major metros & hip enclaves.  But any set of  questions you are going to come up with of the kind Murray did (but better!) is going to yield enough false positives as to render the exercise worthless and divisive in an unilluminating way.  People are going to fail it all over the country and they’re not going to turn out to bd the kind of people you’re trying to point out.  And what is really the advantage of putting forward a test like this that puts people on the spot in the way it does if it doesn’t really get at what you’re trying to et at.  For that matter, what does it accomplish even if it does?  It just seems divisive to me in any case.  I think you described the thing you are concerned about quite well there.  We can look at it, think about it, talk about what it means.  And it’s an accurate portrait, because we design it to be, and it doesn’t describe anyone it doesn’t actually describe.

          Whaddya say?  I think the only downside is we’re not naming and shaming particular people.  In other words, there isn’t a downside.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

            I think the only downside is we’re not naming and shaming particular people.

            I think that the fact that it’s somewhat shameful to be in this rather special world is also interesting. I don’t see it as necessarily so. (I see how it *COULD* be, of course… but I don’t see how it *MUST* be.)Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              No, it isn’t. “Naming and shaming” is a colloquialism for trying to shame someone about something the Namer-Shamer finds shameful.  It says nothing about an objective statement that the thing is actually shameful nor that the Namee-Shamee concedes that it is.  It isn’t shameful.  But naming and shaming is what you and Murray are trying to do, which is why I put it that way.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, I think so. Unless you’re willing to say you’re cool with just describing the phenomenon, not having a test to reveal it in individuals – that it’s better that we don’t.

                Murray definitely is.Report

              • BSK in reply to Michael Drew says:

                There are many reasons why people might live in a homogenous bubble.  Some of those I might find genuinely shameful, but there are enough reasons why someone could end up there for completely shameless reasons that I am not comfortable making that generalization.

                I think there is also an issue of perception versus reality.  People may say they don’t know anyone who does X.  More likely is that they do know people, perhaps SEVERAL people who do engage in X but they don’t know about it.  It might be because their setting is one where it is not okay to admit to doing X, so people do it quietly.  It might be because these people make assumptions about people and ignore evidence to the contrary.  It might be because certain things simply aren’t discussed.

                In speaking with my former headmaster, he stated that we don’t have any issues with gender orientation in our school because we have never had a gay or lesbian student.  I told him that we almost certainly must have issues with gender orientation in our school because there has never been a student who felt comfortable coming out.  Because, believe me, when you get enough teenagers together, there are going to be some gay ones.  He didn’t seem to grasp my point and happily went along thinking he never met a gay student.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to BSK says:

                I think there is also an issue of perception versus reality. People may say they don’t know anyone who does X. More likely is that they do know people, perhaps SEVERAL people who do engage in X but they don’t know about it. It might be because their setting is one where it is not okay to admit to doing X, so people do it quietly. It might be because these people make assumptions about people and ignore evidence to the contrary. It might be because certain things simply aren’t discussed.

                I would say that this is arguably more problematic than simply not knowing anybody. At least in some things. And particularly from parts of the country and from people that pride themselves on their broad-mindedness.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                See, I think that most of us (all of us?) are the type of folks who go to internet message boards to argue nuances of political/religious/philosophical theory. We argue alternate history for fun, read for pleasure, and appreciate the Muppets on a higher level than most people do.

                We’ve all self-sorted ourselves here.

                It seems to me that we all are, intellectually, Brahmin.

                That’s something to be proud of, I’d say.

                But there’s another dynamic underneath… I’d wager that most of our grandparents were *NOT* Brahmin. Which creates another dynamic.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I would agree with this, and indeed that means we’re all basically the same class.  We have to strain to make these distinctions.  Yes, it can be done.  If we want to go after class distinctions, we can go after class distinctions. But tests like this will reveal cleavages beyond that. (Unless they are focused in a way that I think you’d want to point away from – that Murray is engaged precisely in pointing away from  – like, you know, how much money did you make last year, how much money did your parents make on average while you were growing up, what did they do, where did you live?) And what’s the point of that?   What’s the point in going after intellectual distinctions and distinctions based on cultural ephemera? What’s the point of focusing on how we do this on a Friday night while some others go to Applebees and The Hunger Games, and others are snowmobiling?  And what about the people who are at fancy society cocktail parties? If those last are who we’re trying to single out, great (we still don’t need a test for it!), but among the previous folks why does it matter at all that we’re being intellectual Brahmins while the others in our class are doing other things?  It’s false divisions.  It’s preferences, and the meaning you want to say is there isn’t.  The meaning you want lies in other things.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think that it’s an attempt to single out as much as (lord, how I *HATE* this phrase) “raise awareness”.

                It’s the difference between Pauline Kael’s apocryphal quotation and the real one she gave.

                The apocryphal quotation was one that people sneer at… I think that we could hammer out that there is some justification to sneer at it (assuming it happened, of course).

                The sourced quotation, however, communicates self-knowledge.

                I’m not interested in sneering… but I think that more self-knowledge is awesome. (But “Joes” tend to do that.)Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh, and if Murray is, effectively, sneering at people pre-emptively, then that’s bad.

                However, if I were someone who would say the apocryphal statement, I’d like to have that pointed out (though, granted, I’d probably resent the crap out of it were it done publically).Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Awareness of what? These things don’t indicate self-knowledge of anything important or significant, is what I’m saying,.  Or, at least no one has told me what it is.  It’s just been, “Look.  See?  That.”  What?  It doesn’t matter that we’re both sitting here being Brahmins.  It might matter that you might actually be able to afford to be snowmobiling instead if you wanted and I couldn’t, but I’m not insisting we be talking about that, either. And, again, you are getting away from the question of quizzes about it all, which is the issue under discussion.

                Kael is a slightly different case… as I said, New York City, true elites (legendary head NYTimes film critic!), etc.  And still… over time, was the effect of Kael offering a statement of self-awareness to foster mutual understanding (I understand Murray says it doesn’t matter if Joe understands Pauline Kael so long as Pauline Kael understands Joe, but I’m not sure I buy that if Joe is actually doing really quite well for himself and is simply choosing what his cultural affiliations are going to be, and in any case, it would still be nice to foster mutual understanding if we’re going to be into fostering understanding at all), or did it marginally increase cultural distance and resentment between segments?  As you say, it got Telephone-ified into something that fueled cultural resentment by the out-culture.

                As a general matter, absolutely, people should try to have broad horizons.  But I think tests like this a) a don’t get to the things that they really ought to have those broad horizons about (in a few questions it did… a big part of my problem is the way it distracted from those by including many more of the ‘signaling’  questions… and I have this feeling that you and certainly Murray wouldn’t actually prefer a test that focused more on the mean-and-potatoes class questions), and b) alienates the people who’s awareness it is trying to “raise” by saying that beyond that awareness, if the test reveals a lack thereof at the outset, then there is a “point” to that – which is certainly the case, since the test is framed as an analytic tool as part of an analytic book, not an awareness-raiser.

                People should try to gain broad experience of the world, but they should do this in the course of not trying to be anything else but who they are, and not pretending to be able to understand people who are quite different from them.  They shouldn’t be closed off and disdainful of them, but lack of exposure doesn’t indicate any of this, and that is what tests like this will reveal, at best.  And if they’re asking about Applebees and Coors Light, they don’t reveal anything at all.

                If you want to rewrite Murray’s quiz as a post, I think that would be an interesting exercise. Otherwise, can we agree the whole test approach is crap?  We can raise awareness by just saying things.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think it is dreadfully important if we are interested in setting social policy.

                I think it’s effectively trivia if we’re not.

                If we wish to set up rules for how “they” are going to be living, I think it’s quite important to make sure that “we” have *SOME* knowledge of how they live… lest we find ourselves wondering “how in the hell did so-and-so get elected??? I don’t know *ANYONE* who voted for him!!!”Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think it is dreadfully important if we are interested in setting social policy.

                “It” = *what*? If it = having “*SOME* knowledge of how they live,” I’m not arguing against that; I’m saying that tests like this are completely crap tools for assessing how much of it we have. But you don’t seem to want to address that argument.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Pardon me. “It” being the very specialized self-knowledge that this test would impart were it well-written with better questions.

                See it as analogous to the Iraq War somewhat. Should we have known that we would not, in fact, be greeted with flowers? Are there questions about Iraqi culture that would have told us that would we have answered them honestly?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s sounding increasingly mythical, but on the upside perhaps you’d choose to include some minorities. Presumably it would have to be updated.  Elites (but would it really be elites? Even if you could snap your fingers and make it so?) taking a new “How abreast of the ways of the common folk?” survey every couple of years.  I’m not sure how much in love with that vision I am.

                You wouldn’t be okay with it if the knowledge was come by by some other method?


              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’d kind of prefer “leaving people to their own devices”, actually but if we are determined to create new and improved social policies, I’d really, really prefer that the people making the policies knew the culture and customs of the people whose lives would be influenced by these new policies.

                If anything, not knowing the answers to a number of ideal questions would indicate that, perhaps, the folks might not, in fact, know from shoeshine.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Can you give a paradigmatic case of one of these social policies where knowledge of the culture would have made the policy better, and the question that would have alerted the policymakers to their lack of such knowledge?

                Generally, of course, one can hardly disagree with the idea that policymakers should have some considerable level of understanding of the cultures that are affected by the policies they make.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                In the US? No, not really. All of the examples that come to mind involve Religion and that’s a real can of worms right there.

                However, it seems to me that the “bubble”, if you will, is getting thicker and thicker and we’re not pointed in a good vector for when it comes to social policy. The assumptions about the limits of government and such ideas as privacy are evaporating… and one thing I’ve yelled at conservatives that I get to yell at liberals:

                If you make the case that X is appropriate grounds for your side to meddle in when you have the majority, you’re implicitly acknowledging that X is appropriate grounds for their side to meddle in when the pendulum swings back.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Just so that the thrust of my issue is clear, I have much less problem with anything that gets narrowly targeted at actual policymakers.  They should be put through their paces in any number of ways and asked for it by signing up. If a test is useful for helping them gain relevant knowledge, so be it (I remain skeptical as the claim continues to rely on the idea of a “good” test that no one is asserting yet exists, but I remain open to being presented with it).  Murray did not target his quiz at policymakers, but rather at an entire subclass of the population, from which many policymakers emerge, and I hadn’t until now gotten the sense that those promoting the idea of a test if not Murray’s were proposing a test that would be given to policymakers only.  But if that is the proposal, I am much more okay with that.  Again, though: not what Murray did (by publishing it as a mass market book), nor how he presented it.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

                Can you give a paradigmatic case of one of these social policies where knowledge of the culture would have made the policy better, and the question that would have alerted the policymakers to their lack of such knowledge?

                Robert MosesReport

              • James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

                In a similar vein to Kolohe’s response, the Embarcadero Freeway project in San Francisco.  Back in the day, Cal Trans (California Dep’t of Transportation) was a law unto itself; an unstoppable and unquestionable force that determined from above where freeways should go without thought or concern for the local populace and, really, without any real procedural constraints at all.  When it began building a freeway along the Embarcadero (the street that runs along the San Francisco waterfront) to connect freeways to the Golden Bate Bridge, San Franciscans rose up in what was perceived by all to be a Quixotic battle to stop the monstrosity that would cut off the city from its waterfront (think Seattle’s abominable Alaskan Way Viaduct).  Amazingly, the hippies and localists beat the gigantic state agency.  The freeway was only half built, terminating in downtown San Francisco.  That portion was heavily damaged in the ’89 Loma Prieta quake and was ultimately demolished.

                As another example, in the ’60s, iirc, there was a federal decision made that Indian reservations should be divided up as private property, rather than communally held.  Nobody asked the people who lived there.  Where this was done, many parcels ultimately ended up in the hands on non-Native Americans.

                Outside the U.S. there are examples of forest land that has been communally and sustainably managed in Africa for generations upon generations, then government comes in and decides the locals aren’t educated enough to manage the resources properly, imposes a system from the top-down, and ultimately overharvests the forests.

                In Spain, fishing villages have had well-demarcated territories for centuries, and local cofradias (brotherhoods) act something like cooperatives, ensuring that nobody overfishes.  EU rules require open access, meaning the cofradias can’t prevent overfishing in their territory anymore–any large fishing operation from any EU country can come in and overfish the local fishery.

                Local populations don’t know everything, but they do know what matters to them, and usually, or at least often, figure out how to manage those valuable things for the long term.  It depends a lot on a) experience and b) commitment to place (which explains why this pattern did not hold in the American west during the dustbowl and contemporaneously among slash and burn agriculturalists in the Amazon).Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

                Also, Vietnam.  Reminded of this when Chris Matthews said that JFK understood the common man, while Bush Sr didn’t.  The correct answer is that neither did, but that’s not particularly important depending on what one is doing.   And the proper question (which I neglected to address in the last comment) is “What the fish are we trying to do?”Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                James and Kolohe,

                These are excellent examples; as I’ve said, I don’t disagree for a moment that policy makers need to be knowledgeable of the cultures over which they make policy.  (Though I do think that some of these examples illustrate more generally the need to study and understand the entire situation one proposes to govern before acting, which includes understanding culture as a component of that, rather than illustrating the particular importance of culture particularly, especially the finer points of entertainment and literature. Which is not to say I think it’s good if policymakers are ignorant of those things, but these examples do continue to beg the question why they policymakers to know the value of the Twilight saga to make land-management decisions.  As to Robert Moses, I think that more demonstrates the pitfalls of just not giving a shit about the human consequences of your vision at all, Le Corbusier-style. First you have to care.)

                I was really just wanting to get a sense of what Jaybird had in mind when he talked about the principle generally.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Or, if you’re just not, you’re just not, that’s fine too.  I don’t want to insist you take a test.  It just seems like you are.

                It’s a little bit less dramatic than a true name & shame, where the name is literally released publicly.  this is more like, “Yes, YOU!”; “And yes: You!.”  But the divisive effect is little different.

                Basically what’s happening here is Murray is trying to divide people of little or no class distinction (as illustrated by Will’s Jeep-Subaru example) by exaggerating ephemeral cultural signifiers. Ugly stuff. If he wanted to focus on real class distinctions, he could very well do that, but he isn’t and so he doesn’t.

                But I’ll withdraw the accusation that you want to do the same thing.  You should speak for yourself.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      Oooh! We can work gender into this!!!

      If you have a gal’s night, is the circle composed entirely of gals who are married to the guys who have a guy’s night together?Report

  13. minimalist says:

    You are simply showing the complexity of sub-cultures and how our alignment with them affects our views of members of other sub cultures.  Subcultures can be based on wealth but more times than not they are simply based on group identification (foodie, hipster, joe six pack, banker, lawyer, sorority girl, tween Bieber superfan, metalhead, bookworm, etc).

    Of course it is always wise to make a habit of not taking our self-identifications so seriously that we dismiss others without giving them a fair shake.   But if you have nothing in common with another person then its hard to want to spend time with them or forge a relationship.Report

  14. Tod Kelly says:

    Hey Sam, just wanting to make sure you knew this post got picked up by the Dish.Report

  15. beejeez says:

    Well, there are a number of interesting discussion points  here. Are consumer habits good indications of class status? Does it tell us anything useful if they are? How cohesive is a class status? I’d like to discuss one that’s been touched on only as a tangent: Is it even possible to disagree with someone else without it being about something other and bigger than the point being debated?

    I run into this because of political disagreements with friends and family. We get along fine just by having normal sensitivity to each other, but we do find it impossible to talk about politics without it triggering some other baggage. Even an effort  by me to say something like “I’d like to debate this with you, but I don’t want it to affect our relationship negatively” is perceived as a suggestion that they’re going to fly off the handle.

    For whatever reason, I’m not wired to get angry debating. This isn’t because I’m such a great guy; I have the same issues and flaws everyone else does with the added perversion of actually enjoying a good debate. I guess I’m open to suggestions on how we can individually and in general debate issues without it becoming threats to people’s humanity. Because I don’t seem to have a clue.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to beejeez says:

      I don’t know if anybody knows how to have those conversations, without at least committing beforehand to parameters for the discussion. But even that seems unlikely.

      Another fun conversation though, perhaps for somewhere else, is whether or not it is possible to enjoy something “ironically.” It seems to me that if you’re enjoying something, you’re enjoying it, and any attempt to subdivide your enjoyment is only an attempt to save-face amongst those people you fear will judge you for the pleasure you take in whatever.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Another fun conversation though, perhaps for somewhere else, is whether or not it is possible to enjoy something “ironically.

        Definitely, but it involves more than drinking PBR while wearing tweed.  Examples include the Rocky Horror Picture Show (the ur-text of something enjoyed ironically), the entire run of MST3K, and a lot in the So Bad It’s Good  genre.  But as the first two examples show, it takes a little something extra to make it work.Report

  16. Michael Slater says:

    I very much enjoyed this article, but particularly this:

    “It is possible, although you wouldn’t know it from Murray’s loaded quiz, to simply enjoy one thing more than another.”

    This struck a chord with me because I have been thinking upon similar lines recently, ever since I had a conversation with a friend about “hipsters”. I would argue that this tendency to reduce simple preferences to “snobbery” is similar to the commonly-heard assertion that “you only like/dislike this movie/book/band/fashion accessory because you want to be cool”.

    Some examples:

    In response to some negative opinions regarding the movie Avatar: “What, so hating Avatar is cool now?”

    In a discussion about hipsters: “They only wear those clothes because they want to fit in with other hipsters.”

    Both assertions could be true! But how could we possibly know? It seems to me that this is a matter of trying to win arguments by assuming motivations on the part of our opponents without any clear evidence.

    To be clear: there are hipsters, just as there are snobs, emos, film nerds, whatever. But I think it is a step altogether too far to reduce every preference down to to some innate desure for cultural capiital, a metric of coolness and of looking good in front of our friends. I mean, that’s what those damn hipsters do!Report

  17. Will Truman says:

    MikeD (& Jayb),

    I think tests are actually useful. A long time back I kept butting heads with my now-coblogger Sheila when she would talk about how different my experience was than hers. When she wrote her Prole Test (very unscientific), it started giving me an idea of what she was talking about.

    The problem with Murray’s test is that it didn’t do the legwork. And considering the sensitivity of the subject matter, as well as the somewhat-inflammatory word Bubble (nobody wants to admit they live in one!), that fairly lead to a whole lot of the criticisms lobbed his way.

    But I don’t think a test, if properly written, would be so inherently useless as you think. And I think giving people an idea of where they stand is helpful. I don’t think the beer and dining questions are useless (more on that in a sec), though they were misapplied on such a comparatively short test.

    If I were writing the test, it would probably start by asking you to make lists. Your 10 closest friends, ten friends you’ve kept up with since high school, your ten closest relatives in your generation (start with siblings, then in-laws if you’re close to them, then cousins), six relatives a generation in front of you, and things like that.

    Then I’d ask, how many of your ten closest friends got college degrees within five years. Say my answer is eight. Say the median answer (in a broad poll that Murray failed to conduct) is 2 and the mean is 3. I would say that’s significant. Ask the same question for each list. Then ask how many served in the military as an NCO. My answer is zero almost across the board. The average answer is two (I’m making this up, like I said, this test would require legwork – a lot more than “millions of people do!”). Again, significant. What percentage of the men on the list do physical work as a primary function of their job? My answer would be maybe 5%, and if the average answer is 20%, that’s significant.

    On any given question, especially any consumer ones, there are always explanations as to why that individual answer is not indicative. But ask enough questions and they will start adding up and generating an idea much more useful than a vague “some people in New York City are this way.” If I eat at different places, shop at different places, share a different level of education, then… I think it’s fair to say that my experience is fundamentally different from theirs.

    If anything, Murray’s test was overly generous to me in giving me gravel road cred. I am helped, I suppose, by the places my wife’s career has taken me. Places I never would have picked. If it weren’t for her career, I would be safely ensconced in a city somewhere, spending more time with people like me*. I make no apologies for this, though it is something helpful to be aware of.

    Sheila’s test was less so (and maybe unduly stingy, though she wasn’t exactly asking the same broad question as Murray).

    * – Just to be clear, this isn’t a racial thing. But it is, to some extent, a class thing.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

      The problem with Murray’s test is that it didn’t do the legwork.

      We can agree on this.

      But I don’t think a test, if properly written, would be so inherently useless as you think.

      This could be one of those, flying cars would be so cool things.  Or not.  I guess I’m just sitting here waiting to see.

      But the problem comes when we think about what information it is going to give us, and what we are going to try to say that information means.  I’d want you to say very clearly at the outset what the test was designed to show.  And we still run into the problem of whom it reveals to be what.  My suspicion is that we’re still going to be giving it to people who are actually much closer together in both class and preference than the actual distribution of qualitative and quantitative differences of those people would look like on the chart.  You think about this stuff a lot, but you’re pretty well aware of what “their” culture looks like – and yet I think you still consider yourself on the other side from them.  I think you think you’re concerned with raising awareness of people located far out on the tail of the distribution, but in practice i think, because of who you’re going to be able to flog this tool to, you’re simply going to be working to increase divisions between people a little to your right on the curve and people a little to your left.  (I guess one of the things that separates us in looking at these things is a basic instinct that this is a fundamentally accusatory enterprise, so for every measure of awareness raising that is done, some additional measure of self-defensive balkanizing will result, scuttling those gains). I don’t think that’s very valuable.

      I would certainly agree that policymakers in realms where these things are clearly relevant should be working to achieve this understanding (and that perhaps, but i still have to be convinced, that a well-written test like this could be useful in that regard).  But as much as that is the example that you guys go to when pushed, in practice what this actually is going to do is divide, basically, neighbors in an Imagined Communities sense – that the test is not going to reach the right people, but that it is going to reach people who don’t need their differences from others emphasized.  Subaru people versus Jeep people in the same town.  Do you feel that such people need these differences underscored and have social analytical weight placed upon them?  I guess I’m not clear on that, but I really think that will be the greater effect of pushing this ind f test. But I get the feeling that, despite saying this is about true elites or even power-holders, you guys are actually okay with that outcome, because there is a “point” to be made that is valuable to the person who makes this set of consumption choices rather than that one.  If I’m wrong, great, but then what’s your strategy for getting the thing in the hands of the right people and limiting the dividing that this can do among different people doing their different things at the same level of society – where heightening distinctions seems far less profitable, at least to me?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        My suspicion is that we’re still going to be giving it to people who are actually much closer together in both class and preference than the actual distribution of qualitative and quantitative differences of those people would look like on the chart.

        This is a misstatement of what I was trying to say.  What I mean is that we’ll be giving it to people who we think are farther out on the tail of the class-preference(-power) distribution than they would turn out to actually be on the curve.  (Or, if, we’re aware of how close together they actually are, I need to have it explained to me what the value of raising awareness of/heightening the cultural distance between those people is.)Report

      • MikeD,

        I’m mulling over your comment. A couple things so that we’re on the same page:

        Could you explain what you mean by this:

        My suspicion is that we’re still going to be giving it to people who are actually much closer together in both class and preference than the actual distribution of qualitative and quantitative differences of those people would look like on the chart.

        And if the above doesn’t cover it, I’d like clarification on who you mean by “their” here:

        You think about this stuff a lot, but you’re pretty well aware of what “their” culture looks like – and yet I think you still consider yourself on the other side from them.


        • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

          I clarified the former above. Let me know if that doesn’t get it.

          “Their” is just whatever the culture is that Murray (or you?) is saying that the “new upper-middle class” is bubbled off from. Real America, the white working class, ordinary Americans, whatever.  Murray’s argument depends on there being such a thing; if yours doesn’t you’re going to have to reformulate for me what the basic schema of the thing you are trying to illustrate would be.Report

      • MikeD,

        First, I pretty disinclined to ever use the phrase Real America. Not just because of its derogatory implications (towards “Fake Americans”), but because the ruralia that Sarah Palin describes is… rather atypical. Outnumbered by the Fake Americans to an extraordinary degree.

        Second, rather unrelated and trivial, but out of curiosity, are you copying and pasting from Microsoft Word?

        Now, to the guts of it…

        If we were looking at a more monolithic culture like, say, Montana (Utah was going to be my original example, but the parallel societies make for a more special case, and I can’t use Idaho because it isn’t really a state), you could get a fairly specific account of who the Average Montanans are.

        Spread that out to White America, and you’re likely to find less in common. But I still believe you’re likely to find that they have a lot in common (in terms of day-to-day life) with one another that they do not have in common with the guy that lives down the street. I don’t have any proof of this, but I think a well-constructed test would tease some of this out*. We can say “but they have these other things in common with the guy that lives two neighborhoods over!” and that would be true. Are the similarities more useful or the differences? I think they are both useful.

        Now, if we expand this to America more generally, you’re going to find even less in common. Maybe to the point that it ceases to be fruitful, though I’d like to see someone try to do it for real before I came to that conclusion. In the event that it does cease to be fruitful, I think it’s still useful to break it down into more illuminating parts.

        I do think that there are policy implications here. Particularly those things we can look at by gleaming the overall, but also by looking at the main norms of individual groups as we consider policy impacts on them. But mostly? I find this stuff interesting because I think it can positively influence the conversation. I’m not a policy-maker. I’m a conversationalist.

        I think you think you’re concerned with raising awareness of people located far out on the tail of the distribution, but in practice i think, because of who you’re going to be able to flog this tool to, you’re simply going to be working to increase divisions between people a little to your right on the curve and people a little to your left.

        I’m honestly not sure what to make of this comment. If you’re concerned that I am attempting to use this to flog the left, that’s not exactly right. I would understand the concern, though. I do wonder about Charles Murray. And it’s something that conservative outlets have used quite cynically. I believe more accurate measurements would actually take some of the wind out of those sails. They’ve figured out what to say – at least with regard to whites – but I don’t think that they have a more fundamental understanding of the people they claim to champion.

        Do you feel that such people need these differences underscored and have social analytical weight placed upon them?

        I think these distinctions are made every day. That’s one of the reasons why I think these distinctions should be better examined. But mostly? For me it’s about having a greater context through which to discuss things. I spend some time, on NaPP as well as my non-political blog, talking about a run-down town (pseudonymically) called Redstone. Now, I am on one side of the median (economically, culturally) and they are on the other. But even I, with my interest in such things, forget that the average Redstonian is much closer to the median than I have ever been. Yet, for a lot of reasons (popular entertainment, people I know and have gotten to know, and of course having been raised there), my old ‘hood seems more like a baseline than Redstone does.

        * – Based primarily on anecdata, to be sure. But it’s one of the things I’ve noticed moving around (urban/suburbanish south, micro-urban Mormon west, urban/exurban southwestish, urban upper West Coast, and now rural west), whenever I find myself outside of pockets of education/affluence such as the workplace or affluent suburbs.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

          I think I’m just kind of losing you, Will.  I’m not getting “it.”

          Just on the things I said. Obviously, I wasn’t advancing the phrase Real America myself as the thing to describe “them,” just throwing out possible bywords for what Murray is talking about.  But, frankly, I don’t have nearly as much of a problem with that phrase as you seem to, if that is how certain people actually feel about themselves or some subgroup. If you feel it, say it, I say.  I couldn’t tell if you offered an idea of what you’d replace it with, or whether you’re not on board with the whole idea that there’s a “them.”

          On “flog the left,” the left and the right I was referring to were not political views, but just one’s location on the class-power(-preference) distribution, like on a bell curve (though it might not be a standard distribution, who knows).

          As far as examining the subtle quasi-class distinctions we’re talking about, perhaps it’s my (very limited) academic background, but for me that would generally tend to involve something more like deconstructing them than formalizing and emphasizing them, which is what I feel tests drawn up to reveal and illustrate them tend to be.  I feel what I understand you to be interested in (and again, I think we just have a pretty basic disconnect going here) is about placing greater emphasis on what i think are some pretty ill-examined and potentially unimportant distinctions than it really is about examining them ex ante.  I feel we could examine them first to see if they’re fundamentally faulty before deploying tools to try to apply them to actual people and places; that doing the latter before the former is to actually skip doing the examination altogether and to embrace application.Report

          • Sorry if I seemed to go off the deep end with the “Real America” thing. It is something that annoys me, I guess, because it clouds the discussion. It adds an unnecessary moral dimension and is normalizing something that isn’t any more typical than what I thought was normal before all my moves.

            I do think there is a them. I think the lack of a name is telling. I would probably go with something like Real Middle America or maybe Median America. But these terms are not in regular use.

            Your summary of my view is more correct than not, though it’s not necessarily how I would put it. I am looking to more be able to define and point out something (a division) I believe to be very real and significant. It’s not so much about pitting the people to my right and my left (on the graph) against one another. With the division I am looking at, I am not in between or a moderate. Yes, there are people on my right, people of a culture that I would fail to insert myself into even if I tried, but they’re not a part of this specific discussion. Who knows, though, maybe once a test was set, we’d find out a lot about how they differ from people like me, in addition to how people like me differ from Median America.

            When it comes to discussion of race and ethnicity, we’ve more-or-less managed to sort people out to our own satisfaction (we could talk about Cuban Latinos vs Mexican Latinos, and their significant differences but we agree they are Latino). Gender is pretty straigtforward. Regionalism we can see on a map.

            But with social class, we don’t have an easy and straightforward way of talking about it. That’s why I do think the identification is important. I am less interested specifically in things like consumer choices, and even income tells only part of the story. But it often relates to who congregates with who, who picks up their norms from where, and how we view one another.

            Now, in some ways I think it’s a good thing we don’t have a super-formal structure. India is still dealing with the fallout from that (and, of course, we’re still dealing with our formal race structure). The downside, however, is that it makes pertinent things difficult to discuss. Not (just) in the sense of uncomfortable, but in the sense that we lack terminology to even begin to. Except when it suits a particular argument, and due to the lack of terminology we can tailor it to the argument we’re saying (we all consider ourselves middle class, unless we are among those who want urban planning to be geared towards attracting “our kind” and not middle classers in general, then we say Creative Class).

            But outside of those specific arguments, I think that like attracts like, and what we like is marked by our educational and cultural and economic backgrounds. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it skews our perspective on what’s normal. I think it useful to know where we (the type most likely to be discussing these things) deviate from normal and how it’s significant.

            (Of course, none of this matters if you consider all of the differences trivial. If you think the only distinction that matters is the 1%/99%, for instance. Or if you think all of this pales in comparison to regionalism. Or that cultural differences is all that divides the wide swath of people we call “Middle Class”.)Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

              I didn’t think you went off the deep end at all.  Just wanted to make clear I wasn’t using that term with any animus nor saying it’s the best way to talk about “them,” rather I was just throwing candidates out there willy-nilly.

              Basically, I also think it’s important we figure out how to talk about class, but that essentially the whole conversation we’ve had stemming from Murray has pointed us away from doing it well rather than toward it.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

              …But that’s just my take. If you or others feel this is helping define an approach, I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel that way.  And in the sense that we’re at least talking about it (if we all agree that in this conversation, class is indeed what we are talking about…), I suppose doing it wrong is closer to doing it right than not doing it at all.  And I don’t have a strong suggestion for what the right way is for my own part either, so… people should do what they want to do.

              I’m just giving my personal point of view.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:

          Not sure what makes you ask about Word, but no, I’m not doing that.  For me, frequently parts of my comments appear in a small font, perhaps that’s why you ask.  I think it happens sometimes when I highlight and drag text I’ve already put in the combox to another part of the combox (In other words, basic editing). So it does involve cut and paste (the shortcut way), but I’m not bringing it in from Word or anything – it’s all just ahppening within the League combox.Report

  18. Rufus F. says:

    I don’t entirely agree with you, but what I really love about this post is it helps me to tease out what bugs me about Murray’s thesis, or at least how I’ve heard it discussed. It seems like we’ve been debating whether or not the bubble that the stereotypical Yale prof is in constitutes a problem, while agreeing that the bubble of “real Americanism” surrounding the stereotypical truck driver is peachy.

    I guess this is totally obvious by now, but I have a pretty big streak of cultural conservatism, in that I really do believe that some cultural items are elevating, some are lowering, and the majority are just stultifying; and that we should do everything we can to preserve the first, limit our time with the second, and let the third evaporate as quickly as they’re going to.

    Is this snobbery? Sure it is! But it really doesn’t come across that way in my behaviour- so I’m told- because I tend to think of myself as a bit of a goony dopey kid, instead of one of the elite- I’m a snob about art and think of myself as a person as “not worthy”. So I apply the categories to works of art and tend not to give a shit about who likes what and what that says about them. I get along with practically everyone, and probably did so well on Murray’s test (71) because I come from a working class background and am generally a social kind of guy. Nevertheless, if an angry mob ever comes to my door and asks me whether they should burn Wild Strawberries or I Don’t Know How She Does It, I feel like I should know the right answer. If my neighbour prefers the second to the first, well God bless him, we all have our tastes. If he says the second is a higher quality work of art than the second, God bless him, but he’s wrong. I do believe there are right and wrong answers to cultural questions.

    This is what bothers me about these nonsense ideas of “authenticity” that people push with these sorts of tests. Does it matter that the Yale professor knows Shakespeare and the jes’ folks know Sandler? Well, yes, it’s a huge problem that the elites who make policy decisions don’t know squat about the culture of the people who are affected by those decisions; I agree. But, for God’s sake, let’s stop pretending it’s no problem if the “real Americans” are insulated from works of art that would elevate them and broaden their mental landscape and quite likely enrich their lives. Sorry for the “snobbery”, but I wouldn’t be doing my job right if I thought I should have the Shakespeare and they should have the Sandler. I think I’d be a worse sort of person if I believed (as I do!) that certain works of art have enriched my own life but, as for the truck driver, oh, well they’re just suited not for him! When we start flattering ourselves about the supposed authenticity of popular mass media and the inauthenticity of Yale profs, I think we’re doing a lot more condescending than bridge building.Report

    • wardsmith in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Rufus, you still haven’t parked your snobbery at the door. Are you going to tell me the truck driver doesn’t appreciate his art as much as your Yale professor appreciates his? Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to wardsmith says:

        No, Ward, that’s not what I said at all. Actually, two things here: 1. I said quite clearly that I am a snob when it comes to making judgments about art, so uh guilty as charged- I think some art is simply more valuable than other art, and  2. I said quite clearly that I don’t apply said judgments to how other people appreciate art. So, yeah, I’m not going to tell you that truck driver doesn’t appreciate his art as much as the Yale prof because that wasn’t what I was talking about, or really what I’m interested it. As for that particular artwork, I suppose that it elevates a bodily organ, even if it’s not a mental one.Report

        • wardsmith in reply to Rufus F. says:

          My bad, I should have posted the full picture. Trust me, to my biker friend this is a far finer work of art than a crucifix in urine that the Yale prof thought was so marvelous.Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to wardsmith says:

            Ward, clearly you’re going to ignore whatever I write here in order to post the usual condescending insults about the liberals and academics of your imagination. So, if anyone else grokked that I had in mind, say, Caravaggio’s Betrayal of Christ, instead of “Piss Christ”, please feel free to explain to me why the former is not appropriate or elevating for specific audiences, provided that they’re working class.Report

            • wardsmith in reply to Rufus F. says:

              Rufus, Would it be my “usual condescending insults about liberals and academics of [my] imagination” if I pointed to a REAL event that happened in the real Yale Institute of Sacred Music where a real academic (sort of  Andrew Hudgins a visiting prof) read a real poem that mightily offended many?

              If we did not know it was cow’s blood and urine,
              if we did not know that Serrano had for weeks
              hoarded his urine in a plastic vat,
              if we did not know the cross was gimcrack plastic,
              we would assume it was too beautiful.
              We would assume it was the resurrection,
              glory, Christ transformed to light by light
              because the blood and urine burn like a halo,
              and light, as always, light makes it beautiful.

              We are born between the urine and the feces,
              Augustine says, and so was Christ, if there was a Christ,
              skidding into this world as we do
              on a tide of blood and urine. Blood, feces, urine—
              what the fallen world is made of, and what we make.
              He peed, ejaculated, shat, wept, bled—
              bled under Pontius Pilate, and I assume
              the mutilated god, the criminal,
              humiliated god, voided himself
              on the cross and the blood and urine smeared his legs
              and he ascended bodily unto heaven,
              and on the third day he rose into glory, which
              is what we see here, the Piss Christ in glowing blood:
              the whole irreducible point of the faith,
              God thrown in human waste, submerged and shining.

              We have grown used to beauty without horror.

              We have grown used to useless beauty.

              Even with that sendup, I’m still not convinced Serrano created a work of art. He had no intention of creating art, he merely wanted to shock and give himself a name.

              I know quite a few Yale profs, I walked away from a full-ride scholarship there because I didn’t like the indoctrination nor do I believe in moral relativism . Now maybe I made a mistake, but my head is still my own (I scored a 74) and I had beers last night with the biker friend I’m talking about even though we are polar opposites on the “class” spectrum that everyone else seems to live by. I’d rather have him as a friend than a thousand “Brahmins”. I also know if my back’s against a wall who I want in my corner. YMMVReport

              • Jaybird in reply to wardsmith says:

                If we are discussing matters of taste, “moral relativism” has nothing to do with the argument.

                Additionally, Brahmin are not morally better than Vaishyas. There is more than enough room in the universe for both. Indeed, there is a *NEED* for both.

                To bring us back to Murray, it is not a bad thing to have a thin bubble. It’s quite a good thing, actually.

                I see Murray’s question as interesting because there are soooo very many Brahmin who do not know a single Vaishya. Maybe acquaintances, maybe they nod and say hello in the hallway… but they’d never share a table. Believe me, that strikes me as bad/unsustainable for a culture.

                We (as in you and I) remain, however, the type of people who discuss religion and politics and philosophy for pleasure. We remain the type of people who read poetry. We remain the type of folks who prefer, as Rufus so eloquently put it, Shakespeare to Sandler.

                What we need to also be is a better class of Brahmin.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I see Murray’s question as interesting because there are soooo very many Brahmin who do not know a single Vaishya.

                Do you mean as a proportion, or just that there are a lot of them out there?

                 Maybe acquaintances, maybe they nod and say hello in the hallway… but they’d never share a table. 

                How do you come by this knowledge?  

                Believe me, that strikes me as bad/unsustainable for a culture.

                Which? And why?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                It strikes me that there are a lot out there *AND* as a proportion of them.

                (By “know”, I want to re-emphasize: know personally beyond interactions at places of business. I’d compare to race relations, almost, in the whole “has your family eaten with his or her family” or “we hang out together on busy weekend evenings because we are friends” sense of knowing well and having the white guy respond with “I’M NOT RACIST!!! I AM FRIENDS WITH THE BLACK GUY IN ACCOUNTING!!!” misses the point of the question almost entirely.)

                How do you come by this knowledge? 

                By making observations when I’m out and about, reading personal accounts of folks, and coming to conclusions about what I see and read.

                Which? And why?

                Brahmin ignorant of others? Remaining in bubbles where they never really talk with people who aren’t like them?

                Well, like anything, if you want your memes to propogate, you either need to have a lot of children or have one hell of a missionary network. If the Brahmin abandon their interactions with others, they’re going to be stuck with indoctrinating their kids… which, it seems to me, they’ve stopped having.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                By “which?” I meant: bad, or unsustainable?

                So it’s bad for the Brahmins to self-isolate (and here is where the question of whether they are actually doing that any more than they ever did comes in… whether any process is actually afoot, or just a continuing feature of a class) because if they do their ideas and values will spread less far?  Is this self-evidently bad, except inasmuch as it would be good for the Vaishya to be exposed to a little goddam culture?

                I was under the impression that the Vaishya in our case were doing their thing more or less of choice, that they weren’t being deprived of opportunities to engage in Brahmin culture, except perhaps as a function of not having the available income to do so – something I take Rufus to be trying to point at, with you resisting.  If you’re telling me it’s simply a matter of broadening inclusion in Brahmin culture, I’m all about that.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                It seems to me that, once upon a time, there were cultural expectations that the Brahmin would mingle with most of us in two particular institutions.

                The military and Sunday Church.

                Now, of *COURSE*, if someone from Kentucky joined the military he’d go one place (probably as a sniper) and the Brahmin would end up being an officer and they wouldn’t be bunking together or anything like that… but not all of the officers began as Brahmin.

                There is no longer a cultural expectation that the Brahmin should join the military.

                As for Sunday church, we’ve got the Episcopalians over there for the Brahmin and New Life for everybody else. I suspect that the only churches that service both groups are likely to be big city Catholic churches where Captains of Industry take the host right next to the Janitor.

                Well, assuming they go. There is no longer a cultural expectation that the Brahmin should show up on Sunday.

                By “which?” I meant: bad, or unsustainable?

                Why wouldn’t you assume I meant both?

                Is this self-evidently bad, except inasmuch as it would be good for the Vaishya to be exposed to a little goddam culture?

                If all we’re talking about is what entertainments will people pick for themselves on a Saturday night, then awesome. These people can read Twilight, those people can read À la recherche du temps perdu and everybody’s happy.

                These are matters of taste, after all.

                It is bad for a group that will be in charge of setting policy for the country (and, let’s face it, for much of the planet) to do so without knowledge of the cultures that they’re setting policy for. Complete and total ignorance of such things as Nascar and The Shack and such indicate a problem.

                Is it a problem when it comes to Saturday night? Hell no.

                The weekend is only a couple of days, though.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                There are actually two or three little dynamics that bug me about this whole thing and I suspect that many of them are squished together.

                1. I don’t like the idea of the people in charge of policy not understanding the cultures of the people they’re setting policy for.
                2. I don’t like the idea of such places as museums, theatres, etc (and, by extension, such things as art) being subsidized by taxpayer dollars given that we’re talking, essentially, about matters of taste. Today maybe we’ll subsidize a Paganini revival, tomorrow, Metallica’s S&M.
                3. I see the idea of people hanging out with each other over classes as something that is a good in and of itself. Murray’s test, ideally, I’d think, would tell the test taker whether or not he was isolating himself in a bubble.


              • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

                You know how you, JB, always tell people to write a post?  Well, you should write a post; there’s a lot of good stuff in here.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:


                Some very sound points.  I struggle to find any disagreement with the first one.

                On the second point, as others have pointed out, there is subsidization of lots of different cultural institutions and lots of different cultured lifestyles.  Sports teams get heavy subsidization and, while both groups attend them, sports in general is probably more of a V thing than a B thing.  And there are many more museums than just fine art… I’ve been to boating museums, airplane museums, farm museums… all publicly subsidized.  How many B’s attend those?  Also, the lifestyle of most V’s is subsidized by  most B’s.  Look at the numbers that show the difference between federal money out and federal money in between the states… most of those in the red are heavily V.  Without that inflow of money, much of their lifestyle, which is generally more rural, wouldn’t be possible.

                On the third point… yes, the more mixing, the better.  I think part of the problem is that we have become a society focused on differences.  There are probably a great many things that a B and a V can enjoy together, in exactly the same manner.  And many, many more that can be enjoyed together by each side taking a step toward the other and meeting in the middle.  Unfortunately, we focus so much on the differences and/or fail to use the areas of common ground to foster a better mutual understanding.  The CEO and janitor may high five each other after their hometown team wins a big game, but their conversation never moves beyond what happens on the field.  Which is a shame.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Kohole, I can’t think of either an opening paragraph or a closing one.

                All I have are middle paragraphs.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I didn’t assume you meant both because I assumed if you definitely meant both you’d have written “and” instead of “/”.

                It is bad for a group that will be in charge of setting policy for the country (and, let’s face it, for much of the planet) to do so without knowledge of the cultures that they’re setting policy for.

                I’ve said we agree on this, it’s just that I’d like to focus on the people who actually will set policy, not on engineering the social lives of the entire class from which they come.

                Complete and total ignorance of such things as Nascar and The Shack and such indicate a problem.

                I differ here. I’d like them to focus on more fundamental aspects of culture, in particular (but not only) those aspect of the cultures whose constituents can put into language the political implications thereof – in other words, as much as possible I’d like to discuss politics at the level of politics, assuming people have the political agency to do this, and not work inferentially from their entertainment or other habits.  This is not an inscrutable foreign people, we can actually communicate in a political lingua franca.

                I see the idea of people hanging out with each other over classes as something that is a good in and of itself.

                I do to (Dick Cheney saw conservation and green energy as a sign of “personal virtue”; I take this stuff to be somewhat more important than that, but I’m not sure how much more…), but one can see it as a good without seeing its absence as a critical ill, much less civically unsustainable. One has to make that case (and again, I agree that policymakers need to be clued in; we’re talking about an entire class here).

                Murray’s test, ideally, I’d think, would tell the test taker whether or not he was isolating himself in a bubble.

                It seems to me that if the issue is whether or not you have people of other classes over for dinner, then the test is, “Do you have people of other classes over for dinner?”, which is only tendentiously a “test”; it’s just the question at hand (if it is).Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s not binary, though. There are a whole bunch of little things that indicate a whole bunch of other little things.

                “Do you have black friends?” doesn’t really address race issues… but, you know what, if there were a dozen questions of which that was one, I think we’d agree that the test would indicate whether the taker was living in a particular kind of bubble… and some bubbles are thicker than others.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jay, I really appreciate your contributions to this thread. So here goes:

                1. I don’t like the idea of the people in charge of policy not understanding the cultures of the people they’re setting policy for.

                Yeah, me neither. I think my first assumption here was just that we all agree about the ill effects of brahmin self-isolation. I’m just not clear why people might think vaisha self-isolation is peachy, even if they’re not setting policy.

                2. I don’t like the idea of such places as museums, theatres, etc (and, by extension, such things as art) being subsidized by taxpayer dollars given that we’re talking, essentially, about matters of taste. Today maybe we’ll subsidize a Paganini revival, tomorrow, Metallica’s S&M.

                Fine, but how do we cut off taxpayer dollars for “matters of taste” without it winding up that ten years down the road only the affluent counties still have libraries? Trust me, I’ve lived in places in the US where there was a heated debate about why “we” should be paying for libraries for “them”, since we all know that “they” don’t read books anyway. Communities that don’t have libraries and museums- what happens to them over time?

                3. I see the idea of people hanging out with each other over classes as something that is a good in and of itself. Murray’s test, ideally, I’d think, would tell the test taker whether or not he was isolating himself in a bubble.

                Ding, ding, ding! This is my whole problem with the test: it’s geared towards pinpointing whether the Brahmin is in a bubble because, after all, he’s the one who really matters. If the Vaisha is in a bubble, well that’s just quaint and authentic- let’s leave him alone. Some folks just don’t benefit from leaving their bubbles. I still find that attitude insulting.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                The CEO and janitor may high five each other after their hometown team wins a big game, but their conversation never moves beyond what happens on the field.  Which is a shame.

                It is a shame, though I’d argue that it’s still an inherent virtue when these interactions happen in any case.  But yeah, it’s worth noting that we’ve had this entire conversation without using the word anti-intellectualism, which (the oft-remarked-upon high high level of which that distinguishes the U.S., propagated in large part by conservative elites who are in a position to do otherwise, who do a disservice to those with whom they have a relationship of trust by doing so) is really at the heart of much of the substance here.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                It’s not that I think that Vaishya isolationism is a good thing, it’s that, between the two groups, who is more likely to have free time that doesn’t need to be devoted to recuperation from the last X days? Who is more likely to have a extra cash in their pockets? If we (those of us with Brahmin sympathies/inclinations) want the Vaishya to feel welcome coming to Brahmin entertainments, what would that entail for us?

                To bring us back to the Piss Christ, that was a *MAJOR* cock-up on the part of the NEA. Holy crap, was that stupid on their part. And so close to Mapplethorpe!

                (To answer that last question, I’d say that, at least, “we” ought not put our thumbs in the eye of the people we want to show up.)

                Fine, but how do we cut off taxpayer dollars for “matters of taste” without it winding up that ten years down the road only the affluent counties still have libraries?

                I have no idea. I’ve complained before about the mind-boggling number of comic books and video games available for lending at my local library. But I also don’t know that “asses in the seats” is the number one metric we ought to be going for.

                This is my whole problem with the test: it’s geared towards pinpointing whether the Brahmin is in a bubble because, after all, he’s the one who really matters. If the Vaisha is in a bubble, well that’s just quaint and authentic- let’s leave him alone. Some folks just don’t benefit from leaving their bubbles. I still find that attitude insulting.

                If I may say something that will come across as more sneering than I intend it: The Vaisha will not be purchasing this book. The Vaisha will not be reading this very comment. This argument is an argument given by those with Brahmin sympathies to Brahmin.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Just to be clear, not all art subsidies are made with the idea of expanding access.  No one thought we were trying to attract Vaishya by funding Piss Christ; that was the doctrine of Advancing Art in America For Its Own Sake at work there. But I don’t argue the effect wasn’t how you state (via great amplification by enraged conservative Brahmin).

                But here I think is where B-V analysis breaks down.  I actually think this argument will be given mostly by those with Brahmin sympathies to others with Brahmin sympathies, which is what is happening here.  Actual Brahmin, and here we have to substitute back in unfashionable real power-and-class distinctions, are going to float above this.  If we could get it in their hands, I’s be fine with that but in fact all we’re doing is emphasizing cultural distinctions between just us, the middle class schlub Brahmin-pretenders (and those who do a little less pretending). We should pop our own bubbles.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Kohole, I can’t think of either an opening paragraph or a closing one.

                All I have are middle paragraphs.

                That is exactly what I have felt the absence of in this conversation as well.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I will ruminate on it.

                If I can think of an opener, I should be able to think of a closer.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to wardsmith says:

                Note: For the love of Pete, this is a response to this comment way above.
                I appreciate that you’ve come by your contempt for academics honestly, Ward, but what irks me is that I’m still really not interested in that question and you haven’t really responded to what I wrote.

                I asked a question about people on the working class end of the spectrum and whether or not it’s a sort of discrimination against them to take the attitude that the great artists, by which I meant scores of people, not limited to but definitely including: Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Thucydides, Plato, Shakespeare, Balzac, Tolstoy, Bergman, Bresson, Shelley, Keats- oh, the list is nearly endless; my question is whether it’s not the worst sort of condescension to say that working class people have no need for the great works and that it’s no problem if they’re isolated by their culture from those elevating works of art.

                That was what I was interested in discussing, but you have now responded to that question by: 1. Calling me a snob because you think I’m saying that truck drivers don’t really appreciate “their” art, 2. Pointing out that Yale profs are assholes and that “Piss Christ” sucked, and 3. Reiterating that Yale profs are assholes and “Piss Christ” sucked, this time with some guy’s poem. I mean, the best I can connect this to my question is with something like: a. Yale professors are assholes and Piss Christ sucked, b. Therefore, Ttitian, Bergman, and Shakespeare also suck. But I can’t imagine that’s really your conclusion.

                And you know, it’s cool- you don’t care for academics and liberals. That’s fine. But, here’s the thing: I was born and raised in the working class and I’m pretty goddamn glad that I had parents and grandparents who made me read those books and dragged me along to those plays and museums and concerts, instead of leaving me to my Fangoria magazines, patting me on the head, and telling me that high art just wasn’t for “folks like us” and, besides, Yale profs are assholes.

                We all agree that Yale profs could stand to get out of their bubble- my point is that so could everyone.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Rufus F. says:

                @Rufus, I don’t believe it was I who coined the term “ivory towers” although I’m certain you’ve heard it before. I don’t have contempt for all Yale professors, some of them (retired) are still friends. My brother went there, and I don’t have “contempt” for him but do for many of his ideas (and on poking and prodding have discovered that they aren’t really /his/ ideas but he is merely parroting others). He learned a lesson early on in education, which is that you get an easy “A” if you agree with the teachers. I took the same class from the same teacher he did and performed an experiment. I turned in his paper from 3 years before that he’d received an A on and got a B-. That teacher gave me that grade because I’d argued with him at least one too many times in class.

                That’s the problem for me of a school that places too great an emphasis on the “liberal” in “liberal arts”. I’m not bullshitting when I say that liberals are the most intolerant people I know. They play at tolerance, they accuse others of woeful intolerances (occasionally justified) but their actions speak louder than their words. So am I hating on the liberal or their intolerance? The answer is behind door number two. Blaise is a self-proclaimed liberal  but I’d be happy to be his friend, or absent that continue to engage in civil discourse with him as long as he is willing. One thing I can tell about Blaise is he is NOT intolerant. Others including some on this site are clearly not cut from that same cloth.

                I don’t know that you personally know many truck drivers. I can tell you that I go to a truck stop all the time to buy books on CD, which vastly outnumber their music CD’s. Therein I’ve found amazing works including Shakespeare, Yeats, Voltaire and others you might find illuminating. I’m going to guess there’s a royalty angle on this, because they don’t need to pay old Voltaire any shekels and his publishers aren’t part of that abortion called the DMCA. However asking the clerks who sell them, I’m told the “classics” move like crazy. So while in your self-proclaimed snobbery you look down your nose at the truck driver running that $400K tractor-trailer combo next to you on the freeway, perhaps you’d be surprised to hear what he’s really listening to. He might just be a hell of a lot smarter than you think and he likewise might just be more than a little ticked off at how so much of society is looking down /their/ nose at him, while he delivers their arugula.

                For the rest, I’m not really looking for a fight here. The point I thought I’d made about taste and arts especially as pontificated “on high” by the Brahmins (hat tip to Jaybird) was I thought self-explanatory. JB is brilliant (as usual) to deflate the tension from self-identification by using terms somewhat alien to our sensibilities. We can pick on Brahmins and Vaishya’s to our heart’s content and perhaps only Murali could be offended here. There was no Brahmin in 1701 demanding that Shakespeare be considered “a classic”. Shakespeare stood the test of time, because his work was that great. The same is true of Bach, Chopin, Beethoven and the rest. Shania Twain may not last that long, but you don’t know the popular contemporaries of Bach who /didn’t/ survive the ensuing centuries’ dismissal. Shania’s great ^6 grandmother may have been packing the beer halls while Mozart was starving. Good for her and too bad for him – no one said art was a brilliant way to earn a living. On the other hand, great artists are the closest thing we have to immortality on this plane, so there is that. I’ve been to the Vatican many times, I’m more than certain there were plenty of “truck drivers” in attendance with me admiring the artwork. No one needed to tell them it was great.

                Perhaps we can revisit this discussion after Jaybird frames it in his inimical style. He could even call it cats and dogs (just in case Murali /is/ offended).Report

              • Jaybird in reply to wardsmith says:

                Dude, I had an opening paragraph (opening sentence: “Maribou called me an idiot.”) but I read it to her and she explained to me that I misunderstood what she was saying.

                (Essentially, those of us who aspire to Brahmin taste wouldn’t ever be fully accepted by the Brahmin as Brahmin because, well, we are *NOT* Brahmin. The analogy I came up with was something akin to their valets insofar as no man is a hero to his and how we do what we can to help the Brahmin be better Brahmin but she pointed out that we’re doing no such thing given that we’re not interacting with them, like, *AT ALL*. We’re just arguing stuff on the internets and we shouldn’t pretend to be the Bunters to their Wimsey (that one came from her. I assumed that “bunters” referred to a cricket position).)

                All that to say… I don’t have an opening paragraph anymore.

                I don’t think that I am capable of a reframing.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Wondering if this was meant as a reply to me?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                …Not that it’s unrelated to WS’s comment either…Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                It was directed toward Wardsmith but it’s out there for anyone who thinks “Jay should write a post about this.”

                I don’t mind not having a punchline if I have a killer opening ‘graf but if I don’t have either? I know better than to try.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh flip, I didn’t see the last graf where WS mentions the previous reframing discussion, sorry Guys.  So anyway.  This discussion has been in need of any quality framing at all, not just a reframing, since it was launched last week.  It started out as, “Hey this guy wrote this book and there’s this quiz in it… whaddya think?” …which there is nothing wrong with.  But it’s not a frame.  And it kind of snowballed from there in terms of kaleidoscoping perspectives.

                I’ll try to think about it too, but it really is a heavy lift (this being of course tied up why this is such a challenging conversation to begin with), so I’m not expecting any better results than Jay’s having myself.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to wardsmith says:

                I give up. Seriously. I said that I am a snob about art in that I think that Shakespeare is better than Sandler. Full stop. Your weird insults about me looking down my nose at truckers aren’t based in what I wrote or in anything else, so far as I can tell. I’ll tell my father about my supposed problem with truck drivers. He drove one for 22 years. I only drove one for two. My cousins, and my neighbor, still drive them. I literally have no idea what you’re going on about.
                I had a problem with a certain line of argument that Murray and some others have made about the working class culture, which I found condescending. What I see Murray doing is saying that working class culture consists of NASCAR, Applebys, and Shania Twain, and it’s not a problem if working people have less access to high culture because he doesn’t think they’re going to do anything consequential anyway. I have a problem with that argument, having been raised by working class parents who instilled in me the same thirst for culture that they have. That didn’t have to do with whether or not liberal academics are in a bubble, which I’ve agreed since the start of this thread they are, but wasn’t what I was talking about. It also had nothing to do with whatever negative opinion you imagine I have about bikers and truck drivers. I’m tired of this. You’re talking to someone here, but it’s not me.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Rufus F. says:

          “I said quite clearly that I don’t apply said judgments to how other people appreciate art.”

          “As for that particular artwork, I suppose that it elevates a bodily organ, even if it’s not a mental one.”




    • Will Truman in reply to Rufus F. says:

      At least a part of me wants to agree, Rufus, but I keep getting caught up into the question of who, exactly, decides which falls into what category.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Will Truman says:

        Right, and none of us really wants to do so. The problem is, even if you set out trying not to do so, you still wind up making the distinctions. You look at ten paintings and you might have preferences, but after 100,000, you’re going to start having educated preferences- even if you didn’t want to! And, after 100,000 when someone tells you that a black velvet painting of Al Pacino in Scarface (a very accessible work where I live) is a finer painting than, say The Descent from the Cross (not accessible at all where I live), you have no idea how to respond. My sense is that the trick is to make the great works of art accessible to everyone and let them decide- a masterpiece will out itself.

        Let me put it this way: one of the first things I wrote here was about seeing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion performed by a baroque orchestra in Toronto. You can imagine the sort of audience that usually attends these concerts- they’re exactly who Murray is talking about, but Canadian. For Murray, the real source of our social problems is that the people who can go see Bach played by a baroque orchestra on original instruments don’t also listen to Shania Twain, even though her ticket prices are comparable. Once upon a time, conservatives were the people who thought social problems would be lessened if the cultural exchange went the other way. Not anymore, apparently.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Rufus F. says:

          …Or is his problem really that the sort of people who go to see the Bach are now no longer conservatives, so the conservative elite needs to rush to where its flock has resettled, sanctify the cultural territory they have claimed, and decry the decadence and isolation of the New Elite?Report

          • Rufus F. in reply to Michael Drew says:

            That’s a really good question. I’d be fascinated in finding the answer to it.Report

          • Though it is of course an unprovable and non-falsifiable suggestion, this is quite the piercing comment. And I do really suspect that it’s one of those things that feeds into the right’s cultural populism.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman says:


              It’s worth saying: To whatever extent it’s true, I look at it like, good for the jes’ folks for doing whatever it is that floats their boat.  Indeed, it is important to remember that the shift in question is just happening in the higher-culture venues.  Non-fancy people are basically doing what they’ve always done, except that now that elite culture is taken to be something of the left, the working class has reacted by turning their political identity further toward the right.  So you can hardly blame conservative elites for going along (and indeed, plenty of conservatives do still quietly go to hear the Bach, they just don’t talk about it the next day publicly very much).

              The question is, what triggered this change in perception of higher culture from just being elite to being elite and leftish?  I think Ward et al. actually make a decent case that it’s things like Piss Christ, postmodernism, and the dreaded moral relativism that were the culprits, though not because they alienated jes’ folks, but because they alienated the conservative elite (of which people who turn down full scholarships to Yale out of moral or aesthetic disgust with the intellectual trends there are a subset) from the elite generally (which was always trending liberal), at which time conservative elites began signaling to jes’ folks that the (liberal) elite had abandoned fundamental values or Pursuit of The Good and were no longer in tune with them (which they never really were, but the folks never gave much of a shit before).

              This story probably has limited real explanatory power, and in any case is only a part of the whole process of how a once-politically-heterogeneous working class open to some ideas of a reasonable Left turned decisively to the right in large numbers politically and culturally, but I think as far as it goes, it’s not totally wrong.  And yes, it does reveal a marginalized Left that is reaping the results of following its own intellectual and aesthetic consciences where they led them, without regard for appealing to the masses. I plea no contest on their behalf (which I really am not in a place to do with any legitimacy).


        • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Let’s spend tax dollars to subsidize (if not outright pay for) a new music venue. We can also devote wall space in this venue to Canadian Artists.

          Pop Quiz!

          Is the venue more likely to host:

          1. Dead folks (more precisely, people playing dead folks’ music)
          2. Shania Twain

          Is the art more likely to involve

          1. dead folks
          2. biker chicks


          • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

            Oh, let’s just skip ahead to the implication you’re drawing out here. I’m getting tired and it’s hard to see it when I have dinner on my mind.

            So, I’ll say that most of the venues where I go see the dead people music are churches that rent out and orchestras that are funded by private donors, like my in-laws. I don’t know that any government outright subsidizes entire museums or concert halls any more. But, I think you want me to say that this hypothetical music venue would play dead folks’ music and show dead folks’ art, right?

            So, there’s an implication here to do with liberals and conservatives?Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

              I wouldn’t say “liberal” or “conservative” here. I would probably say “Brahmin” vs. “Vaishyas”.

              And, yes, the hall would probably be sold under the banner of “bringing art and culture to *EVERYONE*” but, of course, be Brahmin art and Brahmin culture and there wouldn’t be that many, if any, Vaishyas running about.

              Well, maybe if “Phantom” came to town. (Snicker.)Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

                Okay, gotcha.

                The history of museums and concerts is pretty interesting. It’s a holdover from a bunch of Enlightenment ideas mixed with some Victorian notions. The old norm was the Brahmins had their own “galleries”, “libraries”, and “museums”, which were, naturally, very private and kept for only the best and richest on private estates. In the 1800s, there was a huge push to make high art available to everyone via free or dirt cheap venues, such as public galleries and museums. The idea was that it was elitist to decide for them that truly great works of art couldn’t be appreciated by the rabble, so they should have access. So, is it now considered elitist that the museums don’t feature more biker art? And, if a museum is funded by private donors, but has free entry on certain days, is it still elitist if they exhibit what those donors want to see?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                I’ll answer the last question first:

                And, if a museum is funded by private donors, but has free entry on certain days, is it still elitist if they exhibit what those donors want to see?

                Not at all, not in the slightest, not in the least. People like my parents would probably have been dragged to this museum by their parents in an effort to give them some goddamn culture… resulting in my parents having children like me who knows the difference between a Rothko and a Klee.

                So, is it now considered elitist that the museums don’t feature more biker art?

                I would certainly hope so. Most biker art hardly even rises to the level of kitsch. I would not want my elite institutions featuring garden gnomery.

                With that said, it’s difficult to escape the fact that we’re discussing matters of taste.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird says:

                Okay, I’ll concede that we’re discussing matters of taste. Let me ask, would it be elitist if a cultural expert said that the working class should not be taxed for art galleries, since art really isn’t for them?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                I’d certainly advise the cultural expert to change his phrasing.

                “We recommend that the museum charge admission that would allow it to remain open (and, of course, court philanthropist donors). This is in opposition to the taxpayer-funded model where people who would never walk through the doors would be expected to support the museum.”

                I’d compare to the argument we’ve heard about, for example, sports stadiums being paid for by temporary sales taxes.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Incidentally, I grew up with very blue collar parents who dragged me to concerts and art galleries with the same hopes of getting me some goddamn culture, so when I hear people from better backgrounds than mine say things like it’s class discrimination to spend the tax money of working class folks on art galleries when wrestling is what’s for them, I tend to get a bit prickly. Not that Bill Donohue is representative, of course.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                The actual quote was: “After all, why should the working class pay for the leisure, e.g., going to museums, of the upper class? We don’t subsidize professional wrestling, yet the working class has to pay for the leisure of the rich. Not only that, because the elites don’t smoke, they bar the working class from smoking in arenas. This is class discrimination and should be opposed by those committed to social justice.” Again, not that Bill Donohue is representative of anything.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Putting aside Bill Donohue’s assumptions about the lower classes, do you have an answer to his opening question?Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Well, I thought I did. We were working class and going to museums was our leisure.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Actually, the point of public funding of museums is so they won’t become the leisure of only the rich, as they once were. I think people who say art galleries aren’t suited for the working class are full of shit, so it’s hard to overlook his assumptions before answering that question, given that I disagree with the assumptions behind the question.

                Incidentally, my internet connection will cut out in about six minutes for the day, so I apologize if I leave the conversation.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                So the answer to the question of “why should the working class pay for the leisure, e.g., going to museums, of the upper class?” is that, hey, going to museums is working class leisure as well?

                Fair enough.

                That’s why I use the term “Brahmin” to “liberal” or “conservative”. My mom was *NOT* a Brahmin (and her parents sure as hell weren’t) but she did her damnest to make sure that *WE* were raised as Brahmin. She made sure that we lived in Brahmin neighborhoods and went to Brahmin schools. (I am amazingly appreciative of this fact, for the record.)

                However, I don’t know that I like the idea of saying “Brahmin culture should be subsidized” because it seems that it will inevitably lead to the assumption that culture should be subsidized which will then, inevitably, lead to low culture being subsidized.

                There’s a joke that showed up the other day in the H&R comments, I’ll repeat it here.

                “What’s the idea for the next movie?”

                “Adam Sandler falls in love with a Golden Retriever.”

                “Great! We’ll call it ‘Puppy Love’!”Report

              • BSK in reply to Rufus F. says:

                JB- Can you explain the difference between B and V?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                It’s pretty much summed up in the difference between “highbrow” and “lowbrow”, I suppose.

                “Elite” vs. “common” might be another distinction.

                (I don’t want to say that it’s “white collar” vs. “blue collar” because it’s not necessarily that.)

                Here we go: Frasier/Niles vs. Frasier’s Dad.Report

              • BSK in reply to Rufus F. says:

                “Frasier/Niles vs. Frasier’s Dad”

                Must someone be one or the other? I am mostly highbrow when it comes to the books I read and mostly lowbrow when it comes to the TV I watch. And who decides what is what? Some folks dismiss a show like “Breaking Bad” because of thr rampant drugs, violence, and cursing, considering it lowbrow. Others celebrate it as highbrow because of the quality of the writing, plot development, and characters. And isn’t there a certain amount of relativity? In Yonkers or Monroe, I’m looked at and feel highbrow relative to those around me. Yet when I go to the gated community I work in and have to have it explained to me what court tennis is and an exception made when I wear jeans into jeans-free building, I am decidedly lowbrow in most eyes, even my own.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                It’s not a binary thing, it’s not off or on.

                But there does tend to be little confusion as to which one is, at the end of the day.

                I mean, we all ended up here, didn’t we?Report

              • BSK in reply to Rufus F. says:

                But doesn’t that create a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Maybe we are V’s dabbling in B indulgences?

                If a V becomes a B the moment he steps into a museum, then the whole system is moot.  Or must he declare his V-ness by laughing at the exposed breasts and claiming his 4-year-old’s finger painting looks just like the abstract paintings?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                I think that the bigger problem that’s starting to creep in is that Bs are dabbling in V indulgences.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Jay, the problem has always been that a B can play at being a V, while a V finds it nearly impossible to go the other way. It’s even more arbitrary after the end of high culture, of course.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                the end of high culture

                Maybe *THIS* is what I’m bitching about.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Rufus F. says:

                I think that the bigger problem that’s starting to creep in is that Bs are dabbling in V indulgences.

                When was the last time we had a B culture that actually held itself to a higher standard and eschewed these things as a matter of principle-in-practice? (of course, I’m not exactly sure which Bs and which indulgences you are thinking of).

                I could also speculate about the extent to which American anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism have undermined inherent self-worth for Bs in maintaing principled B-ism, but that really is not at all my stalking horse, so I won’t.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rufus F. says:

                It began with Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.

                From there, the Dadaists *REALLY* messed everything up.

                I think Andy Warhol tried to bring it back but he failed. (Not his fault, of course… I don’t know that he could have succeeded.)Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Jay, it could be what I’m bitching about too. What could high culture mean when Paris Hilton is our aristocracy?Report

  19. BlaiseP says:

    On more than one occasion I’ve seen a phenomenon in biker culture.   Though bikers have a reputation for a rootin’-tootin’ lifestyle, plenty of them are professional people, often quite wealthy, roaring down the road with their hoi-polloi friends in the biker club.

    And they’re not affecting anything!   They wear colors, they’re accepted as full members.   But it’s a bubble nonetheless:  they’ve become part of a tribe.

    I’ve seen scientists and lawyers from NYC at the fais-do-do at Whiskey River Landing in Henderson, LA, moved down there and settled in.  Something about that part of the world attracts people, makes them fall in love with it, enter into that culture with a will and heart which might surprise folks.  Chez nous.   It happened to me, for other reasons, but I’d rather be a Cajun than anything else.

    Murray misses an important point about Bubbles.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it from immigrants:  the USA is a country where we can define ourselves, where we aren’t trapped in the Bubbles of race and creed and caste.   We can move from one to another and if we put on the colors and behave ourselves accordingly, we can be accepted.

    The Bubbles are all leaking.   They’ve been leaking for two centuries now.   We’ve all been Taking the A Train down to Harlem as Americans:   can you imagine America without what Duke Ellington gave us, or Andre 3000 for that matter?   We are not a melting pot so much as we’re a very good stew, the tasty little chunks still intact, unified in the dark roux of all that’s leaked out of those bubbles.   No quiz by Murray could capture the magnificent dynamics of what we’ve become as a nation.Report

  20. BSK says:


    While I agree with and applaud much of what you’ve written here, I don’t think that this point always hols true: “We can move from one to another and if we put on the colors and behave ourselves accordingly, we can be accepted.”

    There do exist certain bubbles that are actively hostile towards outsiders and no amount of walking the walk or talking the talk will allow certain folks full acceptance. Hopefully these are few and far between and are decreasing in both size and influence, but they do still exist in some areas.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to BSK says:

      The Bubbles were always a bit porous.   There will always be some impenetrable Bubbles, I suppose, but there aren’t many of them.    Barack Obama talks about his own black Bubble in his autobiography, how convenient it was when he wanted to be a badass.   But we all know his ancestors never endured the legacy of slavery:  he could move effortlessly between his Bubbles, ever the chameleon politician.   I’ve often thought his time sitting in the pew of Rev.  Wright’s church was to master the patter of a culture to which he never belonged and still doesn’t… says the guy who learned to speak a fistful of languages in pursuit of the same goal.

      It’s awfully convenient not to belong in a specific Bubble but I’m pretty sure we self-select for those Bubbles.


  21. Patrick Cahalan says:

    A couple of quick notes that probably contribute nothing to this thread, really.

    Jaybird, you really ought to know who Bunter and Whimsey are. You know the difference between a Rothko and a Klee, though, so what the hell do I know?

    I think a number of those taxpayer-supported museums started off by a very rich person deciding to donate their collection to a foundation so that the Brahmins and the Vaishyas can both enjoy them.  And then Foundations being staffed entirely by Brahmins have Brahmin connections in City Hall, and those Brahmins in the Foundations point out to the Brahmins in City Hall that the museum looks good on the pamphlet, and the Brahmins in City Hall start by giving the Foundation free street parking, and things go from there.

    This may result in a higher likelihood that Brahmin art gets taxpayer support than Vaishya demolition derby events, but I’m not entirely certain that this is in all cases a net loss for the City coffers… the pamphlets do draw tourism.

    Now, that’s not saying that this isn’t an injustice, but on the scale of injustices out there I’m pretty sure the Vaishyas would rather we square away the whole disparity in front of the judge before we worry too much about maybe some rent-granting Brahmin chipping in 50K for a party at the Foundation’s pretty building where a bunch of Brahmins sip champagne… and maybe arrange for a bunch of Vaishya kids in public school to get a visit to the pretty building and see some art a dead guy made 500 years ago.

    And if some Brahmin is so concerned about being an elitist (or perhaps so concerned that they might be accused of being an elitist) that they foolishly let an occasional bit of Brahmin-offending stuff get called art and it also offends the Vaishyas… well, perhaps this serves to remind us that offending cultural norms isn’t as great of a crime as actually killing people.  Maybe we’re learning the wrong lesson from these events, when they happen.

    I think plenty of Vaishya events get plenty of taxpayer lucre, too… in fact, I’d hazard a guess that more taxpayer money goes into funding football stadiums than museums.  Of course, the return to the city coffers from the football stadiums is higher, too.

    Do they wind up being a net loss?  Always?

    Does it matter, if they bring in a bunch of money? Hey, maybe it does.  Any time you put a big pile of money in a bucket, there’s a powerful incentive for people to go after that bucket.

    Let’s say blowing 20 million of taxpayer money creates a couple hundred construction jobs and brings a football franchise with a bunch of players who spend thousands of dollars at the local luxury car dealer and buy 500K diamond rings when they piss off their wives and maybe one of them donates $ 1 million to the local cancer research hospital (probably at one of those Brahmin-fundraising events at the aforementioned pretty building).  Maybe the team goes to the Superbowl once in 10 years and that day 85% of the population buys bags of chips and beer and hot dogs instead of 50% and the city makes back that 20 million plus a whole bunch more.  Maybe the team signs a big TV contract and the owner of the team buys a 20 million dollar mansion in the town and pays property taxes for 20 years.

    Hell, maybe all that stuff doesn’t add up to 20 million over the lifetime of the stadium.  Maybe… maybe the whole stadium deal was crooked.

    But hey, maybe spending $1 to make $1.20 still isn’t something we want the government doing, because of… well, a whole lot of other reasons.Report

    • And if some Brahmin is so concerned about being an elitist (or perhaps so concerned that they might be accused of being an elitist) that they foolishly let an occasional bit of Brahmin-offending stuff get called art and it also offends the Vaishyas… well, perhaps this serves to remind us that offending cultural norms isn’t as great of a crime as actually killing people.  Maybe we’re learning the wrong lesson from these events, when they happen.

      Incidentally, it was twenty-three years ago that Jesse Helms shit his pants over “Piss Christ”, a work of art that really, among all its other problems, was a complete failure at conveying what it was intended to convey. And it definitely was a mistake for the NEA to get involved in that whole mess- they should’ve taken one look at the photograph and known it was going to be toxic. Nevertheless, I’m not sure how central this overblown controversy from the 80s is for understanding the whole of contemporary art. To some extent, this is starting to sound to me like, “I don’t ever listen to country music. I heard a David Allan Coe song twenty years ago and that told me everything I need to know about country music.”Report

    • I’ve always been more of a Wooster and Jeeves man.

      I don’t know that we should see government as a profit/loss center. If football cannot sustain itself on ticket sales, advertising revenue, and licensing then maybe it should tone it down to an ‘8’ for a while.

      What you say about how museums got started is fairly accurate, however. What’s happened is that we’ve moved from “subsidizing museums and the arts” to wondering why we shouldn’t subsidize Cats… and answering why we should subsidize Pagliacci but not Andrew Lloyd Webber is not entry level aesthetics (well… it used to be… but it’s not now).

      Edit: Jeeves and Wooster.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

        I don’t know that we should see government as a profit/loss center. If football cannot sustain itself on ticket sales, advertising revenue, and licensing then maybe it should tone it down to an ’8? for a while.

        Oh, hell, I don’t really have a disagreement with that.  Certainly on the federal level.  Likely at the state level.

        I’m a little less bent out of shape about locals deciding that’s what they want their city council to do; I think it’s largely the case that business isn’t the business of government, but I’ve also given up largely ever convincing anybody else of that.Report