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 turmoil 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.