Another Thought or Two about Class

My recent post, “Class in America,” offers a straightforward taxonomy of the socioeconomic pecking order in the United States. The post doesn’t address the dynamics of movement between classes, so I want to say something about dynamics. And I want to address the inevitability of class-like distinctions, despite the avowed (but hypocritical) goals of leftists to erase such distinctions.

With respect to dynamics, I begin with these observations from “Class in America”:

Class in America isn’t a simple thing. It has something to do with one’s inheritance, which is not only (or mainly) wealth. It has mainly to do with one’s intelligence (which is largely of genetic origin) and behavior (which also has a genetic component). Class also has a lot to do with what one does with one’s genetic inheritance, however rich or sparse it is. Class still depends a lot on acquired skills, drive, and actual achievements — even dubious ones like opining, acting, and playing games — and the income and wealth generated by them.

Class distinctions depend on the objective facts (whether observable or not) about genetic inheritance and one’s use (or not) thereof. Class distinctions also depend on broadly shared views about the relative prestige of various combinations of wealth, income (which isn’t the same as wealth), power, influence, and achievement. Those broadly shared views shift over time.

For example, my taxonomy includes three “suspect” classes whose denizens are athletes and entertainers. There were relatively few highly paid entertainers and almost no highly paid athletes in the late 1800s, when some members of today’s old-wealth aristocracy (e.g., Rockefeller and Ford) had yet to rise to that pinnacle. Even those few athletes and entertainers, unless they had acquired a patina of “culture,” would have been considered beyond the pale of class distinctions — oddities to be applauded (or not) and rewarded for the exercise of their talents, but not to be emulated by socially striving youngsters.

How the world has changed. Now that sports and entertainment have become much more visible and higher-paying than they were in the Gilded Age, there are far more Americans who accord high status to the practitioners in those fields. This is not only a matter of income, but also a matter of taste. If the American Dream of the late 19th century was dominated by visions of rising to the New-Wealth Aristocracy, the American Dream of the early 21st century gives a place of prominence to visions of becoming the next LaBron James or Lady Gaga.

I should qualify the preceding analysis by noting that it applies mainly to whites of European descent and those blacks who are American-born or more than a generation removed from foreign shores. I believe that the old American Dream still prevails among Americans of Asian descent and blacks who are less than two generations removed from Africa or the Caribbean. The Dream prevails to a lesser extent among Latinos — who have enjoyed great success in baseball — but probably more than it does among the aforementioned whites and blacks. As a result, the next generations of upper classes (aside from the Old-Wealth Aristocracy) will become increasingly Asian and Latino in complexion.

Yes, there are millions of white and black Americans (of non-recent vintage) who still share The Dream, though millions more have abandoned it. Their places will be taken by Americans of Asian descent, Latinos, and African-Americans of recent vintage. (I should add that, in any competition based on intellectual merit, Asians generally have the advantage of above-average-to-high intelligence.)

Which brings me to my brief and unduly dismissive rant about the predominantly white and

growing mob of whiny, left-wing fascists[.] For now, they’re sprinkled among the various classes depicted in the table, even classes at or near the top. In their vision of a “classless” society, they would all be at the top, of course, flogging conservatives, plutocrats, malefactors of great wealth, and straight, white (non-Muslim, non-Hispanic), heterosexual males — other than those of their whiny, fascist ilk.

The whiny left is not only predominantly white but also predominantly college-educated, and therefore probably of above-average intelligence. Though there is a great deal of practiced glibness at work among the left-wingers who dominate the professoriate and punditocracy, the generally high intelligence of the whiny class can’t be denied. But the indisputable fact of its class-ness testifies to an inconvenient truth: It is natural for people to align themselves in classes.

Class distinctions are status distinctions. But they can also connote the solidarity of an in-group that is united by a worldview of some kind. The worldview is usually of a religious character, where “religious” means a cult-like devotion to certain beliefs that are taken on faith. Contemporary leftists signal their solidarity — and class superiority — in several ways:

They proclaim themselves on the side of science, though most of them aren’t scientists and wouldn’t know real science if it bit them in the proverbial hindquarters.

There are certain kinds of “scientific” dangers and catastrophes that attract leftists because they provide a pretext for shaping people’s lives in puritanical ways: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming; extreme environmentalism, which stretches to the regulation of mud puddles; second-hand smoking as a health hazard; the “evident” threat posed by the mere depiction or mention of guns; “overpopulation” (despite two centuries of it); obesity (a result, God forbid, of market forces that result in the greater nourishment of poor people); many claims about the ill effects of alcohol, salt, butter, fats, etc., that have been debunked; any number of regulated risks that people would otherwise treat as IQ tests thrown up by life and opportunities to weed out the gene pool; and on and on.

They are in constant search of victims to free from oppression, whether it is the legal oppression of the Jim Crow South or simply the “oppression” of hurt feelings inflicted on the left itself by those who dare to hold different views. (The left isn’t always wrong about the victims it claims to behold, but it has been right only when its tender sensibilities have been confirmed by something like popular consensus.)

Their victim-olatry holds no place, however, for the white working class, whose degree of “white privilege” is approximately zero. To earn one’s daily bread by sweating seems to be honorable only for those whose skin isn’t white or whose religion isn’t Christian.

They are astute practitioners of moral relativism. The inferior status of women in Islam is evidently of little or no account to them. Many of them were even heard to say, in the wake of 9/11, that “we had it coming,” though they were not among the “we.” And “we had it coming” for what, the audacity of protecting access to a vital resource (oil) that helps to drive an economy whose riches subsidize their juvenile worldview? It didn’t occur to those terrorists manqué that it was Osama bin Laden who had it coming. (And he finally “got” it, but Obama — one of their own beneath his smooth veneer — was too sensitive to the feelings of our Muslim enemies to show the proof that justice was done. This was also done to spite Americans who, rightly, wanted more than a staged photo of Obama and his stooges watching the kill operation unfold.)

To their way of thinking, justice — criminal and “social” — consists of outcomes that favor certain groups. For example, it is prima facie wrong that blacks are disproportionately convicted of criminal offenses, especially violent crimes, because … well, just because. It is right (“socially just”) that blacks and other “protected” groups get jobs, promotions, and university admissions for which they are less-qualified than whites and Asians because slavery happened more than 160 years ago and blacks still haven’t recovered from it. (It is, of course, futile and “racist” to mention that blacks are generally less intelligent than whites and Asians.)

Their economic principles (e.g., “helping” the poor through minimum wage and “living wage” laws, buying local because … whatever, promoting the use of bicycles to reduce traffic congestion, favoring strict zoning laws while bemoaning a lack of “affordable” housing) are anti-scientific but virtuous. With leftists, the appearance of virtuousness always trumps science.

All of this mindless posturing has only two purposes, as far as I can tell. The first is to make leftists feel good about themselves, which is important because most of them are white and therefore beneficiaries of “white privilege.” (They are on a monumental guilt-trip, in other words.) The second, as I have said, is to signal their membership in a special class that is bound by attitudes rather than wealth, income, tastes, and other signals that have deep roots in social evolution.

I now therefore conclude that the harsh, outspoken, virulent, violence-prone left is a new class unto itself, though some of its members may retain the outward appearance of belonging to other classes.

Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
The Cocoon Age
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Leftist Condescension
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick
Psychological Insights into Leftism
Nature, Nurture, and Leniency
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
A Word of Warning to Leftists (and Everyone Else)

Bigot or Tribalist?

There’s a world of difference between these three things:

  1. hating persons who are different because they’re different
  2. fearing persons of a certain type because that type is highly correlated with danger
  3. preferring the company and comfort of persons with whom one has things in common, such as religion, customs, language, moral beliefs, and political preferences.

Number 1 is a symptom of bigotry, of which racism is a subset. Number 2 is a sign of prudence. Number 3 is a symptom of tribalism.

Liberals, who like to accuse others of racism and bigotry, tend to be strong tribalists — as are most people, the world around. Being tribal doesn’t make a person a racist or a bigot, that is, hateful toward persons of a different type. It’s natural (for most people) to trust and help those who live nearest them or are most like them, in customs, religion, language, etc. Persons of different colors and ethnicities usually have different customs, religions, and languages (e.g., black English isn’t General American English), so it’s unsurprising that there’s a tribal gap between most blacks and whites, most Latinos and whites, most Latinos and blacks, and so on.

Tribalism has deep evolutionary-psychological roots in mutual aid and mutual defense. The idea that tribalism can be erased by sitting in a circle, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya — or the equivalent in social-diplomatic posturing — is as fatuous as the idea that all human beings enter this world with blank minds and equal potential. Saying that tribalism is wrong is like saying that breathing and thinking are wrong. It’s a fact of life that can’t be undone without undoing the bonds of mutual trust and respect that are the backbone of a civilized society.

If tribalism is wrong, then most blacks, Latinos, members of other racial and ethnic groups, and liberals are guilty of wrong-doing.

The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”

Here we go again, into “all men are brothers” territory:

“Morality can do things it did not evolve (biologically) to do,” says [Joshua] Greene [author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap between Us and Them]. How can it do this? By switching from the intuitive “automatic mode” that underpins our gut reactions to the calculating, rational “manual mode”. This, for Greene, means embracing utilitarianism, “the native philosophy of the manual mode”. Utilitarianism takes the idea that “happiness is what matters, and everyone’s happiness counts the same”, generating the simple three-word maxim, “maximise happiness impartially”.

Greene is not the first to think that he has found “a universal moral philosophy that members of all human tribes can share” and that those who disagree are simply not being rational enough. Many a philosopher will raise an eyebrow at his claim that “the only truly compelling objection to utilitarianism is that it gets the intuitively wrong answers in certain cases”.

At least one strong objection is suggested by what Greene himself says. He knows full well that the kind of absolutely impartial perspective demanded by utilitarianism – in which the interests of your own child, partner or friends count for no more than any others – “is simply incompatible with the life for which our brains were designed”. Greene takes this as a flaw of human beings, not his preferred moral theory. But when someone, for example, dedicates a book to his wife, as Greene does, this does not reflect a failure to be appropriately objective. A world in which people showed no such preferences would be an inhuman, not an ideal, one. A morality that values human flourishing, as Greene thinks it should, should put our particular attachments at its core, not view them as “species-typical moral limitations” to be overcome.

That’s an excerpt of Julian Baggiani’s commendable review of Greene’s book and two others (“The Social Animal,”, January 3, 2014).

Greene makes two errors. First, he assumes that it’s wrong to prefer those who are closest to one, geographically and by kinship, to those who are farther away. Second, he assumes that happiness can be added, and that what should matter to a person is not his happiness but the sum of all the happiness in the world. The errors are so obvious that I won’t dwell on them here. If you want to read more about them, start with “Liberalism and Sovereignty,” “Inside-Outside,” “Modern Utilitarianism,” “The Social Welfare Function,” and “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty.” And by all means read “The Fallacy of Human Progress,” which addresses Steven Pinker’s rationalistic thesis about overcoming human nature (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined).

Yes, human beings are social animals, but human beings are not “brothers under the skin,” and there is no use in pretending that we are. Trying to make us so, by governmental fiat, isn’t only futile but also wasteful and harmful. The futility of forced socialization is as true of the United States — a vast and varied collection of races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures — as it is of the world.

Despite the blatant reality of America’s irreconcilable diversity, American increasingly are being forced to lead their lives according to the dictates of the central government. Some apologists for this state of affairs will refer to the “common good,” which is a fiction that I address in the third, fourth, and fifth of the above-linked posts. Other apologists like to invoke the “social contract,” another fiction that Michael Huemer disposes of quite nicely:

[I]t is often said that the government derives its powers from a “social contract,” whereby the people have granted these special powers to the government. The only problem with this theory is that it is factually false—I have not in fact agreed to have a government, to pay taxes, or to obey the government’s laws.

A number of suggestions have been made as to how, despite my protestations to the contrary, I really have agreed to all those things. Here I will just mention one, because it is the one most often heard in conversation. This is the suggestion that I have “implicitly” agreed to have a government merely by residing in the government’s territory. (“If you don’t want a government, simply move to Antarctica!”) Very briefly, the problem with this suggestion is that it presupposes that the state owns all the territory over which it claims jurisdiction, or that for some other reason it has the right to exclude people from that area. But there is no way to establish such a right on the part of the state, unless one has already shown that the state has legitimate authority. This therefore cannot be presupposed in an argument designed to establish the state’s authority. In this case, the statist’s claim seems analogous to the leader of a protection racket claiming that his victims have voluntarily agreed to pay him protection money, merely by living in their own houses. There are other ways in which social contract enthusiasts claim that we have accepted the social contract, but as I explain in the book, each of them falls to equally serious objections, which show that the social contract does not come close to satisfying the generally accepted principles of real, valid contracts.

Another popular suggestion is that, in democratic nations (about half the world today), the democratic process confers authority on the government. The motivation behind this view is initially puzzling. Recall that the problem is to explain why the state may undertake actions that would be considered rights violations if anyone else were to perform them. Typically, if some type of action violates someone’s rights—for instance, theft, kidnapping, or murder—the action will not be converted into an ethically permissible, non-rights-violating one if a larger number of people support the action than oppose it. If you’re in a group of friends, and five of them decide they want to rob you, while only three oppose robbing you, this does not make it ethically permissible to rob you. Similarly, even if every law were directly authorized by a popular referendum of everyone affected by the law, it is unclear why this would render legitimate a law that would otherwise have been a rights violation. Matters are only more problematic in a society in which a minority of people vote, and they vote merely to select representatives who may or may not keep their promises, and may or may not do what their supporters wanted.

But doesn’t the government have to coerce us in the ways that it does in order to maintain itself in existence, so that it can provide law and order? And without government, wouldn’t society degenerate into a constant war of everyone against everyone? The first thing to note about this argument is that it could at most justify a tiny minority of all the powers claimed by any modern state. Perhaps the government must make laws against violence and theft and provide a court system to adjudicate disputes, in order to prevent a Hobbesian war of all against all. But why must the government control what drugs you may put into your body, what wages you may pay your employees, how much wheat you may grow on your farm, and whether you buy health insurance? Why must they subsidize agribusiness, send rockets to Mars, fund the arts, provide college loans, and run their own school system? The question is not, “Why are those programs beneficial?” The question is, “How are those programs justified by the threat of the Hobbesian war that would supposedly result from anarchy?”

Granted, sometimes it is necessary to use coercion to prevent some disaster from occurring. But having done so, one is not then ethically permitted to continue using coercion beyond the minimal amount necessary to prevent that disaster. If we really stand in danger of some sort of all-out Hobbesian war, then the state would be justified in employing the minimum coercion necessary to prevent the state of war from occurring. This would not justify their continuing to employ coercion whenever it strikes their fancy, or whenever they think they can achieve some benefit by doing so. (“The Problem of Authority,” Cato Unbound, March 4, 2013)

A point that Huemer doesn’t make in his essay is to compare Americans with the “boiling frog“:

The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.

The metaphor is apt. Americans — or a very large fraction of Americans — have been “boiled” stealthily:

Power has been passing to Washington for more than 100 years, in defiance of the Constitution, because of … the Nirvana fallacy, unrepresentative government, logjams and log-rolling, fiefdoms and egos, and the ratchet effect and interest-group paradox. Thus Washington is able to exert its power on the entire country, bringing big government to places that don’t want it….

[G]overnmental acts and decrees have stealthily expanded and centralized government’s power, and in the process have usurped social norms. The expansion and centralization of power occurred in spite of the specific limits placed on the central government by the original Constitution and the Tenth Amendment. These encroachments on liberty are morally illegitimate because their piecemeal adoption has robbed Americans of voice and mooted the exit option. And so, liberty-loving Americans have discovered — too late, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water — that they are impotent captives in their own land.

Voice is now so muted by “settled law” (e.g., “entitlements,” privileged treatment for some, almost-absolute control of commerce) that there a vanishingly small possibility of restoring constitutional government without violence. Exit is now mainly an option for the extremely wealthy among us. (More power to them.) For the rest of us, there is no realistic escape from illegitimate government-made law, given that the rest of the world (with a few distant exceptions) is similarly corrupt. (“‘We the People’ and Big Government,” Politics & Prosperity, November 16, 2013)

And, no, “we” — that is all of “us” — don’t want it to be that way:

If there is an “American psyche,” it has multiple-personality disorder.

What do you think when a snobbish European generalizes about Americans — a bunch of crude, gun-toting, money-grubbers? Do you think that such generalizations are correct? You probably don’t. And if you don’t, why would you think (or speak and write) as if Americans are like ants, that is, of one mind and collectively responsible for the actions of government? …

There’s no need to look abroad for inapplicable generalizations about America…. [C]onservatives and liberals have been separating themselves from each other. Only a cock-eyed optimist — the kind of person who believes that living in the same (very large) geographic requires unity — would call this a bad thing. As if proximity yields comity. It doesn’t work for a lot of families; it doesn’t work for most blacks and whites; it doesn’t work for upper-income and lower-income groups. Why should it work for most conservatives and liberals? …

But aren’t “we all in this together,” as proponents of big and bigger government are wont to proclaim? Not at all. The notion that “we are all in this together” is just a slogan, which really means “I want big and bigger government” to “solve” this or that problem — usually at the expense of persons who have done nothing to create the “problem.” “We are all in this together” is a call for action by government, not proof of a mythical “national will.” If “we” were “all in this together,” we wouldn’t need to be reminded of it. Like a good sports team or military unit, we would simply act that way. (Op. cit.)

It’s true that most human beings crave some kind of social connection. But the gap between that craving and the faux connectedness of one-size-fits-all big government can’t be bridged by ringing phrases (“We the People”), by appeals to patriotism, or by force.

Government can take my money, and it can make me do things the way “technocrats” want them done — and it can do the same to millions of other Americans. But government can’t make me (or those other millions) love the recipients of my money or feel happier because I’m doing things the “right” way. It can only make my (and those other millions) despise the recipients and detest forced conformity. Only divisiveness can prevent the complete destruction of liberty in the name of “society.”

Social unity is found not in government but in genetic kinship:

[G]enetic kinship is indispensable to society, where society is properly understood as “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.” (“Genetic Kinship and Society,” Politics & Prosperity, August 16, 2012)

It takes overeducated dunderheads like Joshua Greene to denigrate the bonds of genetic kinship, even while openly prizing them.

*     *     *

Other related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Tocqueville’s Prescience
What Is Conservatism?
Zones of Liberty
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Rush to Judgment
Secession, Anyone?
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”