Sunday, June 05, 2005

Conservative Multiculturalism

When I was an undergraduate, most of my friends were convinced that lower class people were in every respect better and more interesting than their families and friends: they were, in the adolescent parlance of the day, "real."

I knew that reality very well and my aim was to get as far away from it as possible. My childhood friends' mothers drudged in housedresses all day and at dinnertime leaned out of the door and yelled for them at the top of their lungs--"An-thon-EEEEEEEEE"!!! Their fathers beat them. The adults in their lives were were ignorant, brutal, crude, dull, bigoted, cynical and fatalistic. They took it for granted that everything was corrupt--and regarded that as normal, immutable and ok. In their world, the only sin was stepping out of bounds and there were 1000 unwritten rules setting those bounds, all of them arbitrary and strictly enforced.

My college friends however wanted to be working class and lead the Revolution of the Proletariat: they read Marcuse, joined the IWW, and pretended to be poor. Most played at it for a year or two; some dropped out of school and achieved authentic downward mobility; none did anything that actually benefitted the working class. Playing at poverty doesn't benefit the poor; joining the working class doesn't make working class people, who want nothing more than to get out or at least to get their children out, better off. Professing admiration for their culture, emulating them and attempting to enter their world does nothing for them.

I think I get George W. Bush's redneck fantasy. Like my college friends, Dubya was a patrician who wanted to be a regular guy: he was simply more astute. There were no working class intellectuals in the US reading Marx or Marcuse and planning class warfare, singing old union songs or affirming solidarity with the International Workers of the World. American working stiffs believed that God, guns and guts made America great, promoted militarism and domestic get-tough policies, despised intellectuals and their subtleties, drove SUVs, hated big government, were proudly inarticulate and, when they spoke, had bad accents.

Dubya got it right and the masses loved him for it. But he didn't do any better for them than we did. The trade-off was the same: trade real benefits for psychological goods--material improvement, economic security and exit opportunities, for cultural affirmation. It was the same old multicultural story: you beat us--don't try to join us; we love your culture--don't ask to belong to ours.


Boofykatz said...

I thought you didn't do "heart on my sleeve" posts? One of the few things our UK new labour has got right is to promote a culture of aspiration, but in doing so they have forgotten the things to which we might usefully aspire. If they ever knew. Does it never occur to them that the only aspiration worth having, above the blindingly obvious one of making money, is to have political influence? There is a political class in every 'democracy'. I was not born to it and, by inference, neither were you. You could be, and I suspect are, one of the brightest and best of your generation; and yet your chance of achieving political influence is virtually zero. GWB, by contrast, was born to the ruling elite and has transcended, if I might use that term in an wholly appropriate context, the limitations of his intellectual endowment. I don't know if you are inclined towards stoicism, but under the circumstances it is a hard act to follow.

H. E. said...

Indeed, the perennial philosophical puzzle: what is the Good Life? to what should we aspire?

Can't go wrong with a tautology: we should aspire to what we want, whatever that is. Money is just an all-purpose device for getting (almost) whatever we want--whatever that is. Political power--maybe. For those of us who live in minimally decent democracies (and the US is minimally decent) it's more useful in the ethical project--achieving the social good--rather than in getting the prudential good for oneself. I've got pretty much what I want and I'm not very morally driven, so I'm not all that interested in political power.

If you have access there's a nice little article in the current Ratio, Neil Levy . DOWNSHIFTING AND MEANING IN LIFE . Ratio, Volume 18, Number 2 (June 2005), pp. 176-189

Brian Larry said...

Talk about a fatalistic, cynical, cruel and bigoted post--if your aim is to get as far away from these things as possible I'd suggest you start moving.

My question is why do many of the dull, brutal people you describe agree with you on election day?

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