Die, yuppie scum


I reread David Brook’s horrible column, How we are ruining America, now that the red hot scales of rage over my eyes have cooled a bit, and realized it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. It’s still oblivious and stupid, but the real issue is who he is talking about when he says “we”. Who is “we”?

It’s got a photo of a college grad up top, and he keeps talking about the “educated class”, but he seems to have confused that with the “upper middle class”, which is what he’s really talking about. I am a member of the “educated class” — you can’t get much more imbedded in that group than a professor at a liberal arts college — but his descriptions of those people look nothing like my experience.

I come out of a working class background. My colleagues come from a range of backgrounds. My students are similarly diverse; sure, there are some who come in with a free ride from their parents and drive fancy cars (and that’s fine), but others are scraping by on financial aid and are working long hours outside of the classroom to keep afloat. Universities are generally not elitist, but especially at the community college and state college levels are all about reaching all strata of society.

They can be a path to upward mobility — you generally will make more money with a college degree than without — but they’re more of a way to do what you want with your life. You do not become a sociologist to get rich. You do not become a college professor because you dream of owning a yacht someday.

That’s the lie behind his column, the part where he’s detached from reality. He uses “educated class” and “wealthy” interchangeably, and he just doesn’t get it. Extremely over-educated Ph.D.s with science degrees are more likely to be scruffy and dressed in jeans and hang out at the brew pub than to demand incessant frou-frou dining experiences (although we’re also likely to be more open to novelty, and aren’t averse to trying anything).

Nothing in his column speaks to the experience of educated Americans. It’s all about the bubble the rich live in.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible. The rest of America can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there.

It begins to sink in: the “we” who are ruining American is not the students who better themselves with an education — it’s pampered spoiled rich people who have more money than they deserve. The “we” is you, David Brooks. You are ruining America, along with all the other undeservedly wealthy people who contribute nothing to our culture. They’ve managed to substitute greed and a superficial desire for the trappings of the rich for real knowledge and a more human awareness.

The real targets of his complaints are people represented by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, product of a private girls’ school education, but a college dropout — someone who isn’t really well-educated, but has been groomed to fit into the parasitic class so well populated with people like David Brooks, who get well-paid columns in the NY Times while not being particularly bright or insightful or even interesting.

His column reads much better if you interpret it as a confession that he deserves to be lined up against the wall in the Revolution.

Comments

  1. says

    You do not become a sociologist to get rich.

    But in the course of becoming a sociologist you’re very likely to read Bourdieu’s Distinction, which Brooks is just ripping off and twisting by trying to replace class with education (which unsurprisingly serves the interests of his class quite well – he knows how to make himself useful to capital).

    The real targets of his complaints are people represented by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, product of a private girls’ school education,

    Also of a movie star and producer-director.

  2. says

    It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly [!], also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

    I suspect it’s largely the prices.

  3. says

    Yes. College education gives a boost to your income (which is highly variable, depending on your field of interest), which allows you to splurge now and then. Not having that boost limits your choices.

    Although I’d also have to say there is no intrinsic virtue to shopping at over-priced Whole Foods, only that wealth removes the constraint of price. I have no interest in indulging Whole Foods, even if they were cheaper.

  4. says

    It should be noted that John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, identifies as a libertarian, is not fond of unions, and apparently doesn’t accept a major human role in climate change. Not exactly the 21st Century hippie you might expect the head of an organic grocery chain to be.

    I have the suspicion that when Brooks mentions “barriers to mobility” he’s thinking social programs.

  5. cartomancer says

    In my experience (admittedly not huge, and of British society rather than American) the big difference is not between educated and less educated but between those plugged in to the public school old boy network of privilege and support and those who have to make do without it. I tend to avoid the latter sort like the plague (which has seriously affected my opportunities as a teacher of Classics, but some things are more important). When I was at university it was obvious how separate such people tended to keep themselves from hoi polloi like myself. I got to watch gatherings of them at times, and what struck me most about their system of privileged solidarity was that It wasn’t about social signalling on matters of taste, culture and refinement. Anyone can learn those. The toffs tended, if anything, to prefer getting blind drunk and talking about rugby and sex, while it was the less privileged of us who discussed philosophy and art and social issues of an evening (well, sometimes!). No, the system of exclusion was about which expensive private school you went to, which exclusive clubs you belonged to, and which expensive foreign holidays your family took. Family wealth and status seemed very important to these people.

    Ironically the actual aristocrats from ancient lineages (of whom there were very few) tended to be entirely unconcerned with that sort of thing, and were more personable than the loud public school set.

  6. carlie says

    And don’t forget the casual racism! Italian food is exotic and unfamiliar to uneducated working class people, but Mexican food is what they’re familiar with (according to Brooks). That is head-deskingly, fractally ignorant.

  7. says

    I’d suggest that it is the insult to the (pretend) person who is high school educated. To imply that such a person wouldn’t know, or wouldn’t ask, at a sandwich shop of all places, is to show just how far removed he is from real people. He is obviously making up the entire incident and he doesn’t even have a particularly good imagination.

  8. octopod says

    Huh, yeah. If you substitute “wealthy” every time he says “educated”/”well-educated”/”college-educated”, it’s a lot more sensible.

    It’s like the “family” -> “patriarchy” trick. Go figure.

  9. consciousness razor says

    I got to watch gatherings of them at times, and what struck me most about their system of privileged solidarity was that It wasn’t about social signalling on matters of taste, culture and refinement. Anyone can learn those. The toffs tended, if anything, to prefer getting blind drunk and talking about rugby and sex, while it was the less privileged of us who discussed philosophy and art and social issues of an evening (well, sometimes!). No, the system of exclusion was about which expensive private school you went to, which exclusive clubs you belonged to, and which expensive foreign holidays your family took. Family wealth and status seemed very important to these people.

    That’s like my experience, in the US. I went to private elementary/high schools (and cheap but good public colleges, with help from scholarships). But it was a Catholic school system, so although it was moderately expensive, there were poorer kids like me mixed in as well, if somehow our parents could manage it. Anyway, the big difference is apparently that rich fucks here are deeply concerned with football instead of rugby.

    What can I say? Brooks is an idiot — educated, idiotic, rich, and pathologically committed to defending conservatism. (Maybe that’s unnecessary…. if there were any non-pathological way to do that). Going on expensive holidays, ordering inscrutable sandwich ingredients, and so forth … these things are “cultural codes.” That somehow makes them similar to (if not essentially the same thing as) possessing “the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality” (as if all of those had much to do with one another). Having moral standards about some such things, making them a meaningful part of how you’re going to live your life, is not essentially different from having certain tastes regarding food trucks.

    In a few years, it will be some other trendy (and often expensive, annoying, etc.) thing that Brooks engages in, which he will simultaneously be cranky about. He’s perfectly happy being in this position — he is totally impervious to charges of hypocrisy. You could think of him as an investigative reporter of sorts, not an op-ed columnist, as his readers want a man (definitely a man) “on the inside,” who would be able to expose the more abstruse intellectual/social problems which they believe must be lurking somewhere under the surface. It’s a dirty job — it’s supposed to look like one — but somebody’s got to do it. If there aren’t any such things, he can of course just make them up as he goes, which is what happens. Everybody’s happy: they got what they believed they wanted, he got a paycheck, and the NYT filled one of their voids with some verbal diarrhea.

    Anyway, to get back to the point he’s supposed to be making, those things are all “barriers” for the less “educated” (by which he inexplicably means the poor), they are more important than anything structural he says, and they are ruining this country. He says shit like that because he’s a fucking idiot and his readers want to say idiotic shit. Whoever gets that crap published on a regular basis in the NYT (and the PBS Newshour) must be a fucking idiot as well.

  10. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Brooks and his ilk are diseased bloodsucking parasites on the body politics.

    Like ticks, you should get out the tweezers and pull off the head. You’ll be glad you did.

  11. randall says

    @5 & @11: You both neatly summed the crux of at least one of the major issues: status vs. real merit. I suspect we all know too well about too many estimable, intelligent, capable people who are either relatively uneducated or went to a relatively ordinary non-Ivy college. Would someone like to explain the many moronic examples ( I’m looking at you, Brooks and Bill-o) who have Harvard in their CV?

  12. cartomancer says

    I had to titter at the comment about over-educated people tending to be scruffy and hanging out in less salubrious places than the posh restaurants. I remember back to when I was a postgraduate, and because of my college senior scholarship I was entitled to attend dinner at High Table once a week. I almost never went – these things are really not my scene – but when I did go, just to say I had done it, I turned up wearing my usual tatty track-suit trousers and old t-shirt. People pleaded with me to put on something more conformist, and I did get some funny looks from a visiting archbishop who happened to be there that day, but the acting Warden of the college quietly sent a note to me afterwards which congratulated me on my disdain for pointless formalities. I got the distinct impression that dressing up for formal dinners is a rigmarole most of them feel they could well do without.

  13. unclefrogy says

    I have never read any of Brooks’s columns a have only heard him on NPR and The News Hour, I have never heard anything that has tempted me to want to read more of his thoughts either. He is useful on NPR and The News Hour because he illustrates conservative attitudes I started to say thought but decided that was not accurate. Not the tea party types though he talks with them but the ones I assume he means here, white college educated upper middle class “protestants ” and naive ignorant Reagonites who still blame the “hippies” for the defeat in Vietnam.
    Sad to see that they still have their blinkers on and can not see what is really going on and prefer it that way.
    uncle frogy

  14. Matt G says

    In my experience, Brooks gets his ass handed to him by 95+% of the people who comment on his articles. Every one of these commenters is his intellectual superior.

  15. rietpluim says

    Isn’t it funny, well… not funny, more annoying than funny, how the elite call other people elite and blame them for their own shortcomings, and then people buying that crap? Nobody accuses Trump of being elite, though he was born with a solid gold spoon is his mouth.

  16. mntraveler says

    When you look up “vapid” in the dictionary there is a photo of Brooks as an illustration.

  17. zxcier says

    I perhaps read this a little more charitably – the fact that he is recognizing a class of people that are actively pulling the ladder up behind them, and that is socially and morally wrong, seems a big step for a conservative/libertarian. Sure, he mis-attributes the makeup of that class to higher education, but (at least in this article alone) he’s not faulting higher education itself. Stupid stereotypes and likely made-up “friends” aside, the fact that he seems to recognize institutionalization of inequality as a problem should be ammo to countering conservative policies he advocates.

  18. says

    ^ In the right wing bubble in general, that is, not David Brook himself, who seems to be at great pains to reiterate that he himself is part of the “educated class.”

  19. mmfwmc says

    You’ve forgotten. Poor people can’t afford an education in America anymore. If it’s not quite true already, in a few years wealthy and educated will be the same thing.

  20. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You’ve forgotten. Poor people can’t afford an education in America anymore.

    Yeah, that’s why I’m seriously considering leaving some of the estate to OUR (both Redhead’s and mine) nieces and nephews, who may have that crushing education debt. Nothing like a windfall to allow one to get out of servitude. I’m sure they would make better use of the monies than the “sisters”.

  21. says

    “Educated” meaning “attended the right kind of school” i.e. one expensive enough to keep the riffraff out. Nothing about book larnin or tedious stuff like that.

  22. says

    The irony here is that he knows perfectly well what you’re explaining about college professors. His father was one. I worked with him for about 10 years before he retired. Our university is a masters-granting regional comprehensive public institution that’s much like yours, PZ, except for its location in the upscale Philly suburbs. For what it’s worth, elder Brooks doesn’t seem to think much more of his son’s columns than you or I do.

    There was a blog post floating around a couple of years ago in which some local Philly-suburb gossip maven speculated that Brooks’ politics are his rebellion against his lefty dad. Sort of like Alex P. Keaton, but without the laugh lines.

  23. secondtofirstworld says

    @Seth Kahn #26:

    I was a huge fan of Cold Case (I still watch reruns), so now I can’t shake the thought from my head that detective Rush interviews Brooks Sr. about what was wrong with America, and he switches places with his son between takes to represent his younger self, and when the case is closed, the spirit of America looks at them.

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