Saturday, October 15, 2016

Conservatism's Odious Upper Lip

Japanese Farting Contest (c. 1700)
Fascinating article in Cracked, of all places.
The theme expresses itself in several ways -- primitive vs. advanced, tough vs. delicate, masculine vs. feminine, poor vs. rich, pure vs. decadent, traditional vs. weird. All of it is code for rural vs. urban. That tense divide between the two doesn't exist because of these movies, obviously. These movies used it as shorthand because the divide already existed.We country folk are programmed to hate the prissy elites. That brings us to Trump.
I'm not quite sure how to process it. My main pushback is that rural Trump supporters have been sold and bought into a narrative that pits them against cosmopolitan liberals, when the conflict largely isn't so meaningful: Mexican immigrants slaughtering meat and picking crops in your town, gay marriage, Muslims, atheism doesn't have to be a bad thing, unless you buy into an ideology in which it is. So, to what extent are rural anxieties born out of actual experiences, and to what extent are they the product of the embrace of an ideology designed to inflame these anxieties? Trump sells solutions tailor-made to fix fabricated issues. My guess is that most of the issues Trump supporters complain about have little to no actual impact on their day-to-day lives, and yet somehow believe they do. White, Christian heterosexual men are not under actual assault - merely maybe some of their assumptions about how they could treat others. Neither is Christmas. But there is a "sense" in which they are. What if they simply treated others - women, gays, immigrants, Muslims, with respect? Problem solved. Ironically, one of the issues du jour - "safe spaces", trigger warnings, PC - could as easily apply to these old chauvinist attitudes. When conservatives tell fainting lefties to "get over it", one might as easily return the phrase.

The salient point in the Cracked piece is how much rural America feels condescended to by the cosmopolitan.... I'm tempted to add "elite". But that is an adjective loaded with baggage from the resentment narrative. Are they actually "elite"?

Websters defines elite in a few ways:

  1. the best
  2. the socially superior part of society
  3. a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence

This is obviously somewhat arbitrary - who decides what or who is superior?  There are indeed more elite members of society: journalists, academics, public speakers, media writers/creators, politicians. Historically this has been the city/townie schism.  

Rural resentment seems primarily motivated by civil rights resentments: religion, immigration, traditional sexual and gender roles.  Yet what is cast as a function of the elite telling urban liberals what to think, is as easily a function of the reverse.  One of the most striking elements of the gay rights triumph of the last decades has been how gays being "out" has simply shown the rest of us how normal and non-threatening in fact they are.  Larger cultural change in this way came not from the top-down but bottom up experiences in household across the nation.  The normalization of non-traditional sex roles and minority status is hardly different.  Institutional, constitutional reforms were vital -but one could argue they followed popular support as much as set popular opinion.

The use of the term "elite" signifies a power relationship in which the "non-elite" is being oppressed or disadvantaged.  As such, it is a morally righteous political attack.  It is certainly the case that there exists an urbane cultural and political elite who hold ideas that are threatening to the rural narrative of oppression.  However, it is not the elite who is doing the oppressing, but rather that larger cultural shifts that have occurred - with help from elite power,  but at least as much as the hearts and minds of individuals.  

When a rural white Christian male complains that people are speaking Spanish at the grocery store, that they can't mention Jesus in his son's homeroom, that his teacher is gay, that city-council members are openly atheist and women's basketball is being played at the boys and girls club, he is not being oppressed by elites.  He is being "oppressed" by the experiences of cosmopolitan gentry who have lived and worked with Mexicans, gays and atheists, and determined that they are deserving of respect and an equal place at the table.  

I place oppression in quotes because it isn't really oppression, is it.  Someone speaking spanish in line in front of you is not oppression.  However, if you have bought into a story that this is a bad thing,  then I could see how uncomfortable you might feel.  Yet the discomfort is of your own making.  If I decided that perfume and cologne smelled like farts, I suppose the environment might begin to feel quite toxic - oppressively so.  My that would be my problem.  

There's an old saying that expresses this quite nicely.  And it comes in language the emotionally and philosophically underdeveloped Trump supporter might understand:

He who smelt it, dealt it.  

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