Saturday, February 20, 2010

Low Class Warfare

A common refrain on the right has long been a denunciation of the "elitist" liberals' views because of their penchant for wine & cheese (consumed, one supposes while discussing the idiocy of redneck culture).  What's weird about this attack is how screwy the logic is.  But its staying power is a testament to its "truthiness".

So, a working-class conservative appeal is to the feeling of being looked down upon.  Ancient stuff, been around since the dawn of time.

One would imagine then, that those who do the looking-down-upon are from an upper class.  (And lets remind ourselves here that "class" doesn't really mean income, but a certain "cultural capital": plenty of hillbillies are upper-middle class and plenty of college graduates are lower middle class).  This upper class is then defined by its traits - generally an interest in "distinguished" music, clothes, food, entertainment, etc.

So the attack is then set up thus: pick an upper class trait for maximum rhetorical effect and then describe those who would look down on you thusly.

A-ha!  What do you know!  They do seem to have those traits!  Funny thing is, how could they not?  In order to look down on a class, you must be of another, higher class.

Now, lower class people have always looked down on the upper classes.  Except we can't really call it that, right?  When they walk into the rural bar in their clean, well appointed attire, nails trimmed and obviously "not from around here".  Just what is it that makes them seem so god-damned faggoty?!!  Yet, realize at this point, they haven't done anything.  They probably feel a tad awkward.  Certainly not comfortable being stared at (who is?).  No, they're just kind of "existing".  And that may be plenty, in an abstract sense.  But not in any kind of humane, or moral sense.

Class injustice isn't pretty.  It would be nice if we could all say we came from the same background, had all read the same books, had the same sets of skills, etc.  Putting together a car engine will never be as distinguished as reading Plato.  In any society.  One is physical.  One is mental.  One the body.  One the mind.  One is active.  One is reflective.  One animal.  One transcendent.

This has always been the blunt cudgel from which populist appeal attacks.  It is based in resentment.  In hatred.  In anger and fear.  These are politically powerful emotions.  If you can harness them to your cause, your ideas no longer need to persuade, they simply seem true.

So the fact that the liberal drinks lattes suddenly seems proof that what she believes in is wrong!  No matter that her ideas may have nothing to do with her class.  If they become associated with that which you feel has been denied you, that you feel scorned for, then certainly they must be wrong.

Because someone out there is looking down on you, and that person must also be drinking a latte.  And listening to world music.  And watching foreign films.  And living a life that by its very definition is mocking you.

Of course it is all bullshit. Just because someone is a plumber and didn't take college courses doesn't mean their ideas are wrong.  And just because someone went to college doesn't mean their ideas are right.  But the resentment is still there.  And so as a political strategy, it works.  Things can be simplified.  And rhetoric loves simplification.  The difficulty between complex political and cultural philosophy can be distilled into a simple: Us vs. Them.  "Real" Americans and well, "fake" Americans, I guess.

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