Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Professional Class

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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A Left Critique of the Current Protests

There are a number of problems with the strategy of the current protest movement. No one seems to be writing about these problems. This is not to say that no one can see them. Many folks have reservations, but stay silent in the hope that the protests will succeed. Others see the problems but fear that pointing them out will attract hostility from fanatics on the internet. The problem is that the strategy is not just sub-optimal–it is counterproductive. It is going to blow up in our faces, and the sooner we face up to that, the better. Here’s why.

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What I Think in 2020

Now that the Bernie Sanders movement is comprehensively failing, it is time for those of us who supported it to take a step back and reflect. We can only learn from defeat if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and recognise it as such. This post is more autobiographical than most of what I run here. The aim is to do some hard introspection about how I came to support the Sanders movement and where its downfall leaves me, politically.

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The True Believer, Eric Hoffer, and the Contemporary Left

The main difference between small-c conservatism and Marxism is the level of optimism. Both conservatives and Marxists despise capitalism and the individualism it produces. But socialists believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that by going through the upheaval we can come to a better place. Old-fashioned conservatives think we are only going to fall ever further away from ancient virtue, and they fight to obstruct or delay that process in whatever ways they can. They defend the status quo not because they like capitalism, but because they think the future can only produce ever worse iterations of it. For this reason, I have always enjoyed reading old-fashioned conservatives and greatly prefer them to the libertarians who straightforwardly champion capitalism and relish in its intensification. In this vein, I find myself reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Read the rest of this entry »

Coronavirus and the Fable of the Bees

Coronavirus puts elected governments in a sticky situation. If they appear to fail to solve the public health crisis, they will lose the next election. If, in the process of solving the public health crisis, they create an economic crisis, they will also lose the next election. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. It all reminds me of Bernard Mandeville’s “Fable of the Bees”. Mandeville’s bees live luxurious, decadent lives, and their drive for ever greater pleasures pushes them to build an extraordinarily elaborate economy to keep up with their excesses. One day, a divine intervention rids the bees of their vices, leaving them full of modesty and virtue. But this collapses demand and destroys the bees’ economy, annihilating their living standards. The fable serves to highlight one of the paradoxes of capitalism–the welfare of the poor becomes dependent on the vices of the rich. If the rich stop spending money on frivolous nonsense, the poor lose their jobs and go hungry.

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