Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Don't Hate You

This post is for the rural man, or at least the man rural-at-heart.  It is for the working class, high-school educated, plainspoken and plain-minded man.  He's a man of common sense.  He's a man of modest means and traditional values.

And similar women, who like a man's man.

These women are stay-at-home moms, or if they work they stick to traditional professions that don't require a college degree, such as clerking, waitressing, or dental hygiene.   The men tend to work in trades, or operate small businesses.  They build stuff, fix stuff, make stuff with their hands.

They know how to change the oil and they'll be damned if they're going to pay someone to do it for them.

They speak their mind.  What you see is what you get.  (What else could it be?)

Adherence to gender roles.  Common, popular pastimes such as hunting, fishing, and quilting.  Popular music such as country, rock, and pop.  But mostly country.

They believe in God.  Or at least assume they do - maybe they don't really need to give it much thought.  That's just what you do.

You just do what you do.  There's a reason you do it: because everyone does it.  And so do you.  Because once you start questioning things, well, then you might as well start questioning everything.  You begin to sound "fancy", think a little high of yourself.  What, do you think you're better than us?

Well, that's the point of this post.

Much has been said after the election of Trump about the "forgotten man", the "silent majority".  One of the things that has been said is that liberal, cosmopolitan, coastal "elites" such as myself look down on, and feel superior to these people.

Kevin Drum outright assumed it to be the case.

"is there really any question that liberal city folks tend to sneer at rural working-class folks? I’m not even talking about stuff like abortion and guns and gay marriage, where we disagree over major points of policy. I’m talking about lifestyle. Krugman talks about fast food, and that’s a decent example. Working-class folks like fast food, which explains why Donald Trump liked to show pictures of himself eating McDonald’s or KFC. It’s a sign that he’s one of them."
He was responding to  Krugman column that dismissed the idea.  Krugman said his inbox was flooded with people accusing people like him of sneering at them.
Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it — the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles.
But conservatives weren't having it, and published Drum's piece as a stunning admission.

It kind of makes you wonder, what is it to sneer?  When I play complex music, go to an art museum, follow a niche fashion trend, see a foreign film, eat an interesting type of food.... am I sneering?

It's hard to say.  I've tried Coors beer and it is terrible.  So many of those pop songs are written by committee, and don't do anything interesting.  I don't like hunting because it seems mean.  I stopped believing in God when I was a teenager because my questions very quickly overtook their answers.  Why can't guys cry?  Have you seen the scene in Latcho Drom where everyone in Romania comes out of their houses at once, their gypsy music synchronized - it's incredible!

So, am I sneering?  I suppose more info would be required.  Let's assume I'm not merely being a jerk.  Jerks can "sneer" at anything they don't like.  That tells us very little about the rural/cosmopolitan, white collar (WC)/ blue collar (BC) divide.  Let's focus on the element of "sophistication" in our interests.

But what is "sophistication"?  It is difficult to define.  From Wikipedia:

Modern definitions include quality of refinement — displaying good tastewisdom and subtlety rather than crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity. In the perception of social class, sophistication can link with concepts such as statusprivilege and superiority.
Quality of refinement.  OK, so something labored over, come to after much thought, maybe an evolution of iteration.  But not necessarily the product of enjoyment itself.  An ancient text is the exact opposite of this.  However, how we come to appreciate the text definitely requires a cultural refinement.  One does not get up one day and arbitrarily set out to find and read ancient texts.

So, we're onto something here.  An appreciation that has been refined, delicately labored over - maybe for hours, months, years.  The refinement can be a repertoire of understanding of a class of things (music, food).  But it can also be an attitude or response to certain things (religion, culture).

Yet is this type of appreciation the province only of the educated, cosmopolitan class?  I can think of many ways in which a rural BC type has refined tastes.  His interests and abilities will be greatly refined.  How to weld, how to ride a horse, how to tie down a load, bow hunting versus bow fishing, the difference between Hank Williams Sr. and Hank Williams Sr.  Note: I'm shooting in the dark here because it ain't my culture.  But let's just assume that every culture has its own tangled history of refinement.

But these types of refinement have different value in society.  They come from different places and mean different things.  Sure, tying down a load is an important skill when you're hauling lumber, but it doesn't help you understand modern art.  And understanding a Pollack surely won't tie down a load.   But they each have different significance in different groups.  In the country, knowing the Allegory of the Cave won't help you by the barbecue.  In the city, changing your own oil isn't so useful if everyone is riding the subway.

One way to think about types of refinement might be in the degree to which they are defined locally, either geographically speaking or by concrete utility.  A narrow cultural group identifies what it refines, the utility of a type of knowledge guides its refinement.  For example, a traditional recipe for mashed potatoes.  The best way to fish for trout.  By contrast, other forms of refinement are defined globally, and by abstract utility.  For example, coffee from different continent.  The difference between liberal and illiberal democracy.

But beyond being useful in conversation or daily living, what about the value of these types of knowledge in larger society?  What does it mean for a society to value a type of knowledge?

You could get at the question empirically, once you decide what determines value.  How useful is the knowledge in one's life, and then how will people treat you when you demonstrate that knowledge?  When high status people demonstrate certain types of knowledge, or an appreciation for them, the knowledge is being "valued" by larger society.  It is a reciprocal process, as high status both reflects the knowledge - the knowledge plays a role in their attainment of status, as well as amplifies the knowledge - the knowledge becomes more valuable as it is displayed by those with high status.

When the president endorses gay marriage knowledge, it gains status (at least among some segment of society).  But his endorsement as well shows us that that gay marriage knowledge has become valuable enough to have been a part of the president's rise to his current position.  In the case of Obama, he never campaigned on it, but when he came out in support, it fell in line perfectly with his progressive values.

So, I think we've arrived at a couple of things here.  First, the more certain forms of knowledge are identified with status, the more valuable they become.  Likewise, the less other knowledge is identified with status, the less valuable they become.  Secondly, some forms of knowledge are political, which inherently implies conflict.

Our political moment, occurring across the globe, in the West and East, between the rural and the cities, is very much about a clash of status.  The march of globalism is aligned with a march of liberal, progressive values.  The modern world has given enormous status to global, complex knowledge, in terms both of utility in personal achievement, but as well in terms of what the "elites" are seen as valuing.  The world leaders, the TV pundits, the movie stars, the professors, the scientists - are all giving status to the refinement of global, complex knowledge.

One can imagine how someone who has not spent their time refining their global, abstract knowledge, but instead has spent their life refining the local, concrete knowledge, and sees their knowledge losing status, might feel resentment creep in.  It must not feel good to be in the possession of low-status knowledge.

And here's the kicker: what if your knowledge is now not only seen as uninteresting, but harmful?  What if your views on civil rights, feminism, homosexuality, religion, regulation, government, science, etc. are seen by those with global, abstract knowledge as damaging to people and the planet?  It must be tempting to take this personally, and see them as hating you.  Even when they say, "we don't hate you, just your ideas", would they believed?  After all, when the fundamentalist Christian says, "We don't hate gays, we just don't believe homosexuality is a sin", are they to be believed?

Well, maybe that is a good question.  If they act to limit the rights of gays, treat them unequally, or in any other way insult their character, then they are acting in a way that has historically been synonymous with hatred.  The bible is followed by interpretation, and that is an interpretation that aligns with hate.

So, the question has become: when I drink my microbrew, when I watch my foreign films, am I acting in a way that resembles hate?  Surely not.  But what about my thoughts on political issues?  Here I acknowledge that many of my views can be considered hateful.  I hate discrimination against women, gays or people of color, the treating of them in any way as less worthy.  I hate the dismantling of regulations that would protect people or the environment.  I hate the ignoring or dismissal of science, especially when it impacts our world.  I hate the callousness with which some would rather see less government even if it results in more misery and less opportunity for others.

I might even sneer at those who would act in such a way as to support such actions.

But do I sneer at you simply because you have spent your life refining a different type of knowledge?  Do I hate you?

I really don't.

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