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 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.

44 thoughts on “The Hothouse Flowers

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  2. 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 horticulture, forced those qualities and given him certain intellectual tools with which to work-tools which he could have got without going to college, but not nearly so quickly. So far as anything practical is concerned, a college is simply an intellectual hothouse. For four years the mind of the undergraduate is put “under glass,” and a very warm and constant sunshine is poured down upon it. The result is, of course, that his mind blooms earlier than it would in the much cooler intellectual atmosphere of the business world.

    “A man learns more about business in the first six months after his graduation than he does in his whole four years of college. But-and here is the “practical” result of his college work-he learns far more in those six months than if he had not gone to college. He has been trained to learn, and that, to all intents and purposes, is all the training he has received. To say that he has been trained to think is to say essentially that he has been trained to learn, but remember that it is impossible to teach a man to think. The power to think must be inherently his. All that the teacher can do is help him learn to order his thoughts-such as they are. ”

    Marks, Percy, “Under Glass”, Scribner’s Magazine Vol 73, 1923, p 47

    We should note that up until about 1920, one had to know a lot about the world and have done useful work just to get to and from school, excepting the very wealthy. Hitch and handle horses, monitor the weather, wash clothes, cook from scratch, etc.

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  4. 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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  6. 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, Twice!
    In my defense Nixon, Ford, the Bush Dynasty, McCain and Romney weren’t much either, though I voted for Bush II Repubs on to the present.
    Now, I’m spitting nails at all of these DC NWO putzes, Neocons and Progressive Marxists alike. Definitely they aren’t my Tribe.

  7. “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 – tribe recognizes tribe.

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  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 of kids in the area. They would be given a half-penny to go and get their meal (and broken biscuits were the cheapest) and locked out of the house because their father was having an egg for his main meal. There was no way the children would be allowed in when dad was eating.

    This was how poverty — real poverty — was. Yes, there was some crime but no one had much to steal and if anyone hit anyone else they could guarantee someone would hit them back harder. It might even be the local bobby. But no one carried weapons, no one had any ambition but to get a job as soon as they could and perhaps lock their own kids one day out of the house while they had an egg for dinner. No, it wasn’t some dewy-eyed vision of honest folk in paradise: it was a tough, poor and hard life for many.

    These people would be astonished at the new poor today being given money and televisions and houses, people who are not expected to either repay the cash or even get a job. The new poor don’t even have to look after their own kids because the State will do it for them, but then for many there is little danger of the child being locked out at meal times because dad isn’t to be seen. A relative of mine worked for a time for Social Services, and the new poor not only knew exactly what to ask for when they rang up demanding new this or new that, but there was at least one person in the department who would coach them in what to ask for and what they might expect.

    Now we have the great and good loudly championing the cause of ‘poor’ people, who are free to watch daytime TV all day. You can always tell the ‘poor’ when you pass by their houses: the curtains are wide open and the family lounge round in pyjamas or vests drinking lager because the central heating is turned up so high.

    • 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 diet. Poverty is all relative it seems…If people were limited to one ounce of meat a week now you would have a riot on your hands.

      • 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 shabby clothing. The only emotion I remember feeling until I left home to join the Air Force, was acute embarrassment.

        Even today, while I am quite well off, I am uncomfortable living in an affluent neighborhood. I feel like an imposter. While I own a Lincoln, I prefer driving my 2002 F150. These days, I don’t even own a suit and will not go to any social functions that require me to wear one.

        You cannot undo the formative years.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 stomach to the point where when I was younger, I had a noticeable look of revulsion on my face sometimes when I was around them. Hell, I broke off an engagement before I married a girl from that world.

    • 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 monitoring how close to the 20 mph speed limit I’m at.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  14. 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 to blast something. At this point you laugh uproariously (especially pleasant because of their stunned expressions) . Gentlemen, tenure is a wonderful thing. Have bookmarked this blog.

    • 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 gotten nasty about it too.
      I don’t think they’ve ever talked to a person outside of their perceived “social class” (and this includes for some of them their own parents, who, if they were rural/blue collar are spoken of, if at all, with hushed tones of sorrow: they were not ‘educated people’); certainly not spoken to them like they were real people. A few of them married Third World immigrants that they met at school — and to be honest I can’t get over the feeling that they didn’t marry those fellows out of any true fellow feeling or affection but as trophies.(a couple are pretty nice guys and relatable with, as they were scholarship students). Nobody is worth anything as an individual; it’s all about the clique, the maintenance of the “salon” appearance.
      And the irony is: they don’t really know jack about teaching, and have very little understanding of the Western Canon/Western Civ. (I’m a lit. instructor…life is not easy for those of us who love the classics). They research all manner of pedagogical theory…but they seem incapable of relating to students well, unless the students take on their personalities, and a lot of them do — they replicate, if you will.
      I’m sorta ok with things going belly up at this point; just for the potential entertainment value.

  15. 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!

      • 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 for the Bundeswehr, there’s not much money for training. Much of what is done here is often connected with the US Air Force or US Army in joint service training.

        A high turn-over rate of the entry-level enlisted ranks means the few professional NCO’s and Officers we do have never develop the esprit-de-corps with the lower ranks. Unlike the American military where soldiers and officers have a much closer relationship because they serve together longer (I believe 4-years is the minimum?). Because of our military history, most Germans look down on anyone who chooses a career in the military; they are not well respected because it is seen as the lowest of professions. If one couldn’t get into University, or an apprenticeship program, then the last resort was a career in the military.

      • 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.

        • 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

  16. 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.

    • There’s a theory that humans are imprinted by their environment during puberty. It’s why certain places always feel like home. I feel more at home around bikers than bankers, but I grew up around bikers.

      • This post hits home. I grew up in an Italian ghetto, a city within a city. My friends were all super confident tough kids who took shit from nobody. Of the ten or twelve of us I was near the bottom in terms of toughness and fearlessness. It all ended when the federal government built twelve high-rise “projects” right in the middle of our neighborhood. The flight to the suburbs was instantaneous. Out in the world I was shocked at how easy it was compared to my old neighborhood.However, to this day, I relate best to people who have street in them. Coda: I got into Yale, and when I took a visit I was unnerved by the weirdness of the kids on campus. I went elsewhere.

        • I spent most of ten years at an IVY during the ’60s to the early ’70s and thought it was normal as I was in a STEM field as were most of my friends there. After leaving there I realized how insular it was but the people I rubbed elbows with were almost universally bright boys who got there from middle class homes by having super high test scores.

          However I had a culture shock when l visited Stanford circa 2001 when my son interviewed for a grad school spot in their Mech. Engineering department.

          The weather was perfect. The Stanford campus was perfect with perfect grounds and spread out buildings in superb condition. Cars, many were converables, were filled with georgous co-eds and the walkways were filled with stunning girls in attractive outfits that said MONEY, MONEY. We were there during a school day.

          NO, my son didn’t go there. He was offered and took a full ride to a Ph.D. at another university. The babes there were normal unlike those glamor girls at Stanford.

          Dan Kurt

          • God, you make me wish I’d gone to Stanford!
            Eating my heart out now.
            The thing is, that every group is ‘insular’, to some extent.
            I once walked into an establishment in which almost everyone was a low-level drug dealer (or one step above) and that was an insular group too.

          • “Stanford University. You will never find a more wretched hive or scum and leftism. We must be cautious.”

      • This theory explains the behavior of Obama and Merkel. One only needs understand their upbringing to understand why they make the decisions they do. Something about leopards not changing their spots. Since Americans vote for a candidate, and not the party (as we do here) you should take a hard, critical look at Clinton’s and Trump’s formative years.There you will find the future foretold.

        • Karl, I’m enjoying your comments. My family is half German, half assorted British Isles. I instinctively get the Germanic point of view.

          A great way to really understand America is Dr. David Fischer’s book, Albion’s Seed. It explains how the major folkways here formed and where they came from.

          It may help us understand both Trump and Clinton. (He’s Border Folk, she’s Cavalier-Puritan)

          • Hallo Herr Baker! Danke! 🙂 I have recently downloaded the Kindle version and have been reading through it. Very interesting stuff. For so many years we have heard about the famous log cabins on the American frontier. Turns out they, and sod homes, came straight from England and the Scotland borderlands.

            With your German heritage, you might be interested in the in the book, A New Land Beckoned: German Immigration to Texas, 1844-1847, by Chester W. and Ethel H. Geue.

            Gruss – Karl

          • The settling of the American colonies, particularly the southern ones, in many ways mirrored the British Isles. By this I mean the wealthy coastal areas were settled largely by a mercantile class of English gentry, but they desired an effective buffer against attacks by native Indians from the interior. Into this hinterland settled the Scots and Irish, and they proved adept indeed at warring with the natives.

            This mirrors English practices in Britain itself, as the troublesome border raiders of lower Scotland were given lands in Northern Ireland and relocated there to serve as a buffer against the also troublesome Irish. These, the Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots, soon relocated again in large numbers, this time to the New World. A study of these people will reveal much about the American character to this day.

            A large number of ‘Palatine’ Germans and French Huguenots also settled in this area and mixed well with the Scots-Irish, each of these groups characterized by distrust of authority who relished rebellion.

      • Funny – I grew up around bankers. So, I am very good at identifying the honest ones from the the sleaze-balls. It would take me a lot longer to do the same with bikers.

        Probably says something about where Trump is getting support and not. I had him pegged as a sleazy con-man in a suit 30 years ago (as he burned the USFL to the ground on off-chance of a cheap NFL franchise).

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

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