The Hothouse Flowers

It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi…

OK, OK. I’m kidding, of course. I was born into poverty and grew up in what is elegantly described as a white trash culture. There are a number of uninteresting reasons for it, but I was raised with decidedly lower class sensibilities. I still retain those sensibilities, despite a lifetime outside the world that created them. It’s why I live in the ghetto. It’s as close to home as I can get, even though I’m the minority.

The hillbillies have a saying, “don’t get above your raising” which means to never forget where you came from. The Irish like to say, “don’t outgrow your hat.” Those are the two that come to mind, but my guess is every culture has some pithy way of stating the obvious. While there is some random variation in all of us, we are products of the people and environment that made us.

A few years ago I was at Yale visiting with someone doing work there and I had the chance to spend a long weekend on campus. I don’t do this very often so I come to campus life as a stranger. Most of what the students and professors take for granted jumps out to me as new and different. For them it is just daily life. For me it is a trip to the zoo to see exotic animals.

One night, my friend took me to what I think was a grad student/faculty mixer. I’m not really sure what it was exactly, but that’s what it seemed like. I fell into conversation with some people doing post doc work and I flattered them by appearing interested in their studies. It’s the thing a guest should do and I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes I even learn a few things. One of them was working on currency issues, a subject I enjoy a great deal so I got to pick his brain a bit.

Anyway, one of the things that I found astonishing was just how naive they were about the world outside the campus. One guy was in his early thirties and had never held a job off-campus. The other guy had never held a job at all and he was about to turn thirty. He was expecting to land in a teaching position either at Yale or Princeton. To them, I was a visitor from another planet. They were far more curious about me than I was about them.

We had a good time swilling beer and talking about ourselves, but I came away feeling like John the Savage in Brave New World. These were not my people. They could never be my people. I’m sure they felt the same way about me as they pretty much said it to me. The guy without a job said, “I have no idea how you make it out there. I never could do. I’d never want to do it.”

This is common and why so many end up in fields that are similar to college life. Think tanks in and around DC are pretty much just privately funded faculty lounges. Rich people get tax breaks for funding people to write papers that extol the virtues of rich people. Government, and the companies that live off government, have gone from dreary bureaucracies to self-actualizing, nurturing workplaces, where everyone feels safe.

It is an important thing to understand when watching the political turmoils going on in the West. Everyone in the British managerial class, for example, thinks ever closer Union is the sensible thing to do. They look at Brexit as a sop to the chavs who need to blow off some steam. My bet is Cameron and his cronies just assume they will win. After all, everyone they know is for staying in the EU.

There is another element to it and what I heard that night at Yale. The sneering contempt we see on our televisions is really just the false bravado of the timid. For them, the typical citizen is like a bad odor. They may not be able to describe it, but they instinctively recoil from it.

It’s what’s so horrifying about people like Donald Trump or Nigel Farage. It’s not what these guys say about the issues so much as the working class odor that causes the beautiful people to crinkle their noses and flee the room. The coarseness reminds the hothouse flower that on the other side of the glass, there’s danger.

It used to be that the political class was populated by men, who had made something of themselves in the regular world. Many politicians started out in life by serving in the army and then working as a lawyer or in business. The civil service was basically working class people who were willing to take less pay so they could avoid the factory or field.

Rich people and their children had a dominant place. of course, but they had to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi, often serving in the military or private business. Jack Kennedy served in the military with an eye on a career in politics. He entered the Senate very familiar with and comfortable around normal men.

That’s not the case today. The political class is just the bit of the managerial class above the waterline. Underneath it is this class of people who pop out of the hothouses of academia into the grow rooms of government, thinks tanks and government contracting. Even the people with military service went from law school, to JAG and then back to a law firm that does government work.

This separation may be the undoing of the managerial class, assuming mass democracy and mass media are the future. These hothouse flowers look silly to the voters when standing next to Trump on stage at these debates. The reason is Trump lives in the world. He’s familiar to us. He’s normal. That just makes the actors on stage with him look even more ridiculous. Most people say Marco Rubio talking butch the other day and just laughed, thinking, “who is he kidding?”

Of course, the one way to protect the hothouse is to do away with mass democracy.

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Anon
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Anon

A couple of blog-posts from you would be very interesting to read. One, about why you choose to live in the ghetto (even though you sort of explained it now, there’s probably much more to tell). Another, about how you ended up doing professional work, the kind I gather few who grew up around you ended up doing.

james wilson
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james wilson

I would have thought the hot house could not survive outside mass democracy. It sure formed within it. What they lack are any self-correcting mechanisms.

james wilson
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james wilson

I have a friend who made his living through playing country fiddle for the Nashville stars. Zeke grew up in NE DC in the fifties. His parents had two masters and one doctorate between them, language and classical music, but the neighborhood was hick. Zeke speaks and lives hick to this day; his parents kinda divorced him. He also learned Latin and Gaelic, among many other things, on his tours.

Anon
Guest
Anon

Well, if everyone around you talks in Latin and Gaelic, it’s bound to rub off on you eventually.

Severian
Guest

When I’m in charge of this place, I’m bringing back universal conscription, and you’d better be missing a leg if you want to think about a deferment… we’d even have a fatty platoon to PT Millennials’ candy asses into shape. That would do more than anything to get us back to our roots. The Yale crowd have to serve with the rednecks, so they’d learn about real Americans. Plus, they’d be less inclined to start wars. Win-win!

SidVic
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SidVic

Read Heinlein’s Starship troopers.

Karl Horst (Germany)
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Karl Horst (Germany)

Here in Germany, we had mandatory conscription up until just a few years ago. Starting at 18-years of age (and depending how far along one was in their education) males had the choice of either 1-1//2 years military service or 2-years in civil service. Civil service would include working in old age homes, hospitals, youth clubs or other areas that serve to benefit the general public. To be honest, conscription was not such a great system. The problem is you can’t really train anyone in that short period to be proficient at much of anything. With a low Federal budget… Read more »

Drake
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Drake

In Starship Troopers, the system was set up that way because of a collapse of liberal government – it was not imposed. I think we’ll get our chance to rebuild after the collapse soon enough.

SidVic
Member
SidVic

I’ve begun to think along these lines as well. We’re overdue for a big war. Not to put on my tin hat but i’ve come to believe that a collapse is coming. Conscription isn’t the point. Restrictive voting rights are the only way to make it work in my view. Make full citizenship (with voting rights) only available to those that serve fro 2 years. Actually any reasonable barrier would probably work wonders on the Take voting right from anybody that doesn’t contribute more than they get from benefits. I would also include reproductive rights. norplant those on benefits. Ahem

alzaebo
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alzaebo

You know, the great division did start when the Draft was ended. Good point.

SidVic
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SidVic

I am an academician and think i had a similar upbringing as the author but in east ky. Not white trash, but conversant with their kind. The hothouse flowers, the yalies dukies and other assorted pukes are so clueless it is hard to believe at times. One must be careful, but it is possible to go behind enemy lines and plant subversive thoughts. For instance; why would anybody hunt? whats the deal with that. I ask them if they like hiking. They always claim to like it. Well, hunting is like hiking except you bring a gun and occasionally get… Read more »

pathfinder
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pathfinder

Academician here too — and raised in a poor, rural area by a combo small farmer family and blue collar union worker family. I, too, am amazed by the absolute cluelessness (and prissy behavior exhibited by nearly all of my colleagues) — sad thing is: they seem to insist upon themselves. I don’t have tenure, have worked on farms and in factories, and I’m the “pet hillbilly”…good for telling stories, but addressed with a condescending tone and constantly harassed with discussions where I am talked at, demanding that I give up my heathenish ways, and embrace their lifestyle. Some have… Read more »

Delbert McClintock
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Delbert McClintock

“Wild And Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1396227/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

while I find white trash antics amusing, I would spend my last borrowed buck not to live anywhere near them. Romanticized trash is still trash. Care to share why you haven’t moved away from the ghetto?

Member

I live in a neighborhood with a bunch of retired professors. I would much rather live on a farm on the other side of town, but this is what my wife wanted and it will sell very quickly if we ever need to. The only consolation is that our particular lot is huge enough to hunt on, is covered with large oaks, and has a 900 ft driveway so we never see our neighbors. Still, I can’t hardly stand to even drive in and out of the place because of having to see the snooty bastards walking their dogs and… Read more »

Terry Baker
Guest

The great redeeming quality of “white trash”, aka border folk, is that they are free. Truly free. Dr. David Fischer’s book, Albion’s Seed explains all this wonderfully.

They may be offensive to some, like the North Shore of Chicago people I grew up around, but they win wars and are the final bastion of freedom in America.

A few examples of border folk; Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Abraham Lincoln, Elvis, and many more. They will never be conquered and will always be free.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I happen to live in Wild and Wonderful WV. I’m a retired accountant and I find that living here is free and easy. I have encountered folks like the Whites, but I don’t get drunk with them. It works out OK for all of us. I completely understand why one would be repelled by crazies like the Whites.

Member

We moved from the barrio to the lily white suburbs when I was ten. Liked it so much there so much that I commuted about two hours a day to go to high school with a lot of the same kids I went to grammar school with back in the barrio. I just never could understand white upper middle class antics nor did I want to be around them. The preoccupation with money, the denigration of manual labor, the need to keep up with the Joneses (there’s a phrase you you don’t here much anymore) all kind of turned my… Read more »

jinxy
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jinxy

Stop beating around the bush Zman, the problem with the US and its political class today is that they have been taken oven by NYC intellectuals and their media, the Neocons weren’t country hicks but Trokyists from the Big Apple, the “conservative” prestige media (NR, Weekly Standard, Commentary,..) is all based in NYC and staffed by Neocons who are mostly former Troskyits and Democrats.

UKer
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UKer

Many of us here, I suspect, had upbringings where real poverty was the issue. I was born in an industrial city in England where you saw old newspapers stuck to windows because the families inside couldn’t afford curtains. It was either buying drapes or not eating. As it happened my grandmother had a corner shop and among all the usual stuff she sold in the store there was, for a half-penny, broken biscuits (Biscuits came not in packets, but tins, so there were always broken ones left over). The thing was that this was the staple diet of a lot… Read more »

yellow umbrella
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yellow umbrella

My grandmother grew up in the East End of London during world war 2 and when food rationing was introduced, which we today would see as a hardship, she said that for many people it was a great step up. These were people who ate meat once a year and eggs or cheese 3 or 4 times a year.They lived on a daily diet of bread,sugar,jam and tea…and now they were guaranteed to get eggs,milk, cheese, meat and bacon every week. Thats how hard off people were that one ounce of cheese a week was a huge improvement in your… Read more »

michael x.
Guest

Yellow Umbrella: Like your grandmother, I, too, was born near London just before the war. Whatever we had materially speaking, I never thought of us as being poor. Of course, our neighbors were dirt poor, too. That changed, however, when we moved to Canada in ’45. My mother was determined to live a better life, at least as far as appearances went, so we moved to a new subdivision with a brand new house. The problem was that it left no money for food or clothing. My brother and sister and I grew up virtually malnourished and dressed in very… Read more »

Member

My dad was a doctor who was raised in poverty and then saw to it that we were raised similarly. We had money, but you could never tell.

Old Codger
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Old Codger

I often remind my kids that the best gift I ever gave them was “the gift of poverty!” Since around here “poverty” means driving a used Ford and (instead of a new Beemer), while being forced to do without the latest video game console or computer toy, they laugh at me. Yet, all have solid jobs as professionals, after avoiding the “hothouses” of Ivy and Ivy-wannabbe institutions of higher learning. They’ll figure it out as their kids come along.

MissAnthropy
Guest

I find it particularly telling that in the USA, the #1 health problem among the “poor” is obesity. I would imagine it’s a similar story in the UK.

Member

Nothing separates the Right like the fear of being perceived as a Dirt Person. Or the dirtiest of Dirt Person legacies: “stupid.” Twitter is full of people assenting to the CloudPundits’ fears of the Dirt Monster.

John
Guest

Robert Heinlein was right again! It’s not what is right or fair that we should strive for in Government but do what works. (That’s works better for the entire country, not one group…BTW)

His “Starship Troopers” plot line that any elective office or to even vote required prior Federal Service is looking a lot more helpful than the ‘Native Born’ stick.

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Drake
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Drake

“I have no idea how you make it out there. I never could do. I’d never want to do it.” This is fear. They are terrorized of competition, of jobs that have numbers they would have to meet, quotas, etc… They have never left the shelter of academia and never will. And like most things we fear, they eventually despise it and the people involved. I grew up upper-middle class and enlisted in the Marines as a reaction to this sentiment. Had to know if I could do it. Looking around my training company, I wasn’t the only one –… Read more »

Member

I graduated from a mid level state college in 1972 as a liberal, with an icing of elitism. I don’t recall any specific indoctrination to feel that way, but I did. Getting a good corporate entry level job and salary helped boost my self image. Then being a good Green and member of the Sierra Club who wanted to prohibit logging in the nearby National Forest, I was actually “surprised” that the local townspeople weren’t appreciative of our efforts to preserve their natural habitat. I had no idea that logging paid their bills! Sheesh I even voted For Jimmy Carter,… Read more »

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fifth_disciple
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fifth_disciple

Wow, it’s a good thing you had that white privilege thing working for you or you would have really been screwed.

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JK Brown
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JK Brown

Similar analogy but with much different expectations of the university environment “The idea is, of course, that men are successful because they have gone to college. No idea was ever more absurd. No man is successful because he has managed to pass a certain number of courses and has received a sheepskin which tells the world in Latin, that neither the world nor the graduate can read, that he has successfully completed the work required. If the man is successful, it is because he has the qualities for success in him; the college “education” has merely, speaking in terms’ of… Read more »

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