Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Culture

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 Republicans are Sticking with Kavanaugh for Purely Political Reasons

Remember when Antonin Scalia died and Barack Obama tried to replace him? I remember because on that occasion I wrote one of the most mistaken pieces I’ve ever published on this site: “How Obama Can Replace Scalia“. In that piece, I argued that because previous Supreme Court justices had been replaced in time periods much shorter than the remainder of Obama’s term, Obama would surely also be able to replace Scalia before leaving office. After all, if Republicans attempted to block him for almost a full year, the public would be furious with them for playing politics with the court, and would play a price at the 2016 election. I even had a nice chart:

Scalia Replacement

I was completely wrong about this because I underestimated the degree to which the Supreme Court has become transparently political, even in the eyes of ordinary Americans. Our political parties hardly even have to excuse politicising the court (though they try to do so anyway). We all know that some of the justices are conservative and some are liberal, even if they couch their political ideology behind legal theories like “originalism” and “textualism”. We recognise that there is no such thing as an apolitical judge, that when judges claim to be politically neutral they are being disingenuous. So we now treat Supreme Court nominations like any other political issue and fight tooth and nail to ensure that the next judge is someone we can ideologically live with. And we may have to live with their ideology a long time–between presidents picking younger judges and judges living longer, the average bench time for a Supreme Court justice has quietly increased by around a decade. Having learnt from my mistakes, I now look at the fight to replace Anthony Kennedy quite differently.

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Migrants Don’t Destroy Traditional Values–The Market Does

The other day I ran across a survey–apparently 40% of British people feel that “having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture”. When people say that western culture has been undermined, they are implicitly saying that at one point in time western culture was better. Many socialists, liberals, and progressives don’t agree with that–they think traditional values are wrong and moving past them is good. But today, instead of relitigating social issue debates about changing values, I want to make a case to our socially conservative friends on their own terms. To be clear, this doesn’t mean I agree with traditional values. I merely want to show that the values social conservatives treasure are not threatened by migrants–they are instead threatened by the very markets many on the right so deeply prize.

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The Collapse of Artistic Criticism Under Trump

The Trump presidency has been bad for art and the way we evaluate it. Yes, there’s newfound popularity for far right art forms that speak to dark impulses. “Martial industrial” music–often set to images of Nazis marching–is spooky stuff, and in the last few years it’s quietly spread all over YouTube:

But mainstream art critics have mostly ignored the niches of material which are nakedly far right. They prefer to focus on more popular stuff. And here they have done us a number of disservices, aiding the right even as they attempt to resist it.

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The Right Doesn’t Know What the Word “Bourgeois” Means

A friend of mine sent me a link to a bizarre opinion piece by Robert Woodson published in The Wall Street Journal. In the piece, Woodson claims that “black Americans need bourgeois norms”. He echoes and cites an earlier piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Amy Wax and Larry Alexander, which argues:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.

This argument is instructively bad for many reasons. (Are bourgeois values even something we want?) But today I want to focus on the fact that the right seems to have forgotten what the word “bourgeois” means and where “bourgeois values” come from.

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