Friday, January 20, 2012

A new upper class?

Charles Murray knows that we have never had a "classless society" but argues that the class divergences now are qualitatively different—and more problematical—than those that existed as recently as the 1960s.
.... When two parts of America behave markedly differently with regard to marriage, the socialization of their children, their work habits, their criminality, and their religiosity, they differ on some of the most fundamental dimensions of life. Taking the white population ages 30–49 as a whole, those whose behavior is intrinsically problematic for the civic culture—men who are not making a living, women who are raising children without fathers, those who commit crimes, and those who are simply social isolates—amount to about 20 percent of the population. That, in rough terms, is a reasonable way to think of the size of the new white lower class.

It would be bad enough if America experienced just a new lower class pulling away from mainstream America. But during the same half century, a new upper class developed that pulled away from the other direction. They were new not just because they were getting richer, but because they constituted a class that shared distinctive tastes and preferences that increasingly isolated them from everyone else. ....

.... The problem is not the lifestyle of the members of America’s new upper class, which in many ways is attractive, but the degree to which the new upper class has become sealed off from the rest of America.

.... The members of America’s new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don’t go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don’t share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class—or, better yet, of the new upper class. ....

Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn’t have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor’s monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase “all of the children are above average,” but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.

When people are making decisions that affect the lives of many other people, the cultural isolation that has grown up around America’s new upper class can be disastrous. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale law professors. It is a problem if Yale law professors, or producers of the nightly news, or CEOs of great corporations, or the President’s advisers, cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. .... [more]
Belmont & Fishtown by Charles Murray - The New Criterion