Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Politics

The Rump Professional Class and Its Fallen Counterpart

I’ve been thinking about the professional class–the class which sits between the wealthy billionaires and the ordinary workers. The professionals are college-educated and they are traditionally paid more than ordinary workers. But as economic inequality grows and the position of workers becomes more precarious, the professionals are less secure than they used to be. A university degree no longer guarantees a stable, robust standard of living, but it still separates those who have it from those who do not. Why? Because college students are socialised to pursue the degree as a means of demonstrating their merit. When that merit goes unrewarded, young would-be professionals grow very cross. They want their virtue to be recognised. Unable to earn more or enjoy a higher living standard than the workers, the would-be professionals retreat into the cultural realm. They use the language and ideas they learned at university to assert their moral superiority, gaining an imaginary victory over the workers. This condescension leads the workers to resent the professionals in turn, and makes it very difficult for these downwardly mobile professionals to form political alliances with the workers. All of this, of course, perpetuates the dominion of the rich.

To use a metaphor, the professionals are the house slaves of capitalism–they identify with the owners because they live better than the field slaves and are invited to participate in and contribute to the culture of the owners. But once they are deprived of their superior living standard and opportunity to culturally contribute, they can defend their feeling of superiority only by mocking the field slaves for being unable to read.

This is not to say that the whole of the professional class is going this way. Some college educated people still enjoy the economic and cultural advantages which historically belonged to all or most college-educated people. I want to explore how this group–what I call the “rump professional class”–interacts with the downwardly mobile group, which I call the “fallen professional class”.

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The Fear Surrounding the Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Unhealthy

Over the past week, there has been a very strong emotional reaction to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am not talking about the grief–it is perfectly normal for Ginsburg’s many admirers to grieve her loss. But it has gone beyond grief. There is a climate of intense fear surrounding Ginsburg’s death. Over the past few months, the Democrats have tried to make the 2020 election feel existential. They want us to feel that we have to vote for Biden, because otherwise democracy itself will be destroyed. This has led to a lot of exaggeration. I have been reluctant to write on it, because the reactions people are having are so extreme. But contrary to the increasingly hysterical narrative, there is little reason to think that Ginsburg’s death will have massive political consequences. Here’s why.

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The Left Case Against Supporting Joe Biden in the General Election

At the Democratic Convention, Bernie Sanders argued that the left should hold its nose and vote for Joe Biden:

The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together to defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.

My friend Nathan Robinson, at Current Affairs, made a similar argument, claiming that this is our “last chance” to stop Donald Trump, and that we will be “fighting for our lives against an aspiring dictator” if he wins.

This is a grave mistake. Trump, for all his faults, poses no existential threat to the republic. What’s more, Sanders and Robinson are deeply underestimating the damage a Biden presidency will cause. The Republican Party has become what it is because of Democrats like Joe Biden. These Democrats are pushing the Republican Party further and further right, and a Biden presidency will make the Republican Party even more dangerous going forward. Let me show you how it works.

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The Four Centrisms

Back in 2016, I argued that the centrist consensus of the 90s was breaking down, and that instead there was a wider menu, with three meaningfully distinct choices:

  • Left Egalitarianism, which critiqued the consensus on the grounds that it enabled capitalists to exploit workers
  • Neoliberalism, which defended the consensus through the traditional center-right and center-left parties
  • Right Nationalism, which critiqued the consensus on the grounds that it enabled foreigners to exploit citizens

I no longer believe that this menu exists, and it may never have existed. Instead, I think there are four different types of centrist position. These types of centrism are aesthetically different but substantively nearly identical. By differentiating aesthetically, the 90s consensus is able to accommodate a higher level of cultural polarisation while protecting the core commitments of the 90s consensus.

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Against the Stoics, Skeptics, Epicureans, and Buddhists

This is going to be an odd post about Greek philosophy and the contemporary analogues of Greek traditions. Its purpose is threefold. First, I’ll argue that the Stoics, Skeptics, and Epicureans had similar conceptions of the good life, that this conception closely resembles the conception preferred by Buddhists, and that this conception of the good life is mistaken. Second, I’ll argue that the Stoics and Skeptics both make similar–if opposite–errors with respect to meta-ethics, with the Stoics asserting an unrealistically ambitious epistemology and the Skeptics denying that epistemology without acknowledging less ambitious alternatives. Third, I’ll argue that many contemporary political and moral antagonisms are essentially new versions of the Stoic/Skeptic antagonism, and that there is a popular Epicurean response to this antagonism.

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