Benjamin Studebaker

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

Tag: Professional Class

Two Kinds of Pride in American Politics

I’ve been thinking about pride’s role in politics. When I say pride, I am not talking about mere self-respect. I am thinking about vanity, about the insidious mistake of thinking we are superior to others when in fact we are their equals. This is pride in the grim, nasty, old-fashioned sense. I think there are two kinds of pride running amok today. One is associated with entrepreneurs, with those who consider themselves “self-made”. The other is associated with professionals, with those who consider themselves “educated”. Let me share them with you.

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A Serious Discussion of the Political Thought of Kwame Brown

Have you seen those Kwame Brown videos? Kwame Brown is a retired NBA player, and he’s been advancing a critique of the culture industry. Brown never went to college and he doesn’t work for anybody, so he isn’t bound by the usual rules of contemporary discourse. This means his critique has rough edges, but it is also free from careerism. Many commentators have focused on the rough edges, fixating on Brown’s tone or the norms Brown is violating. Brown himself has pointed out that no one in the media has discussed his arguments. I’ve been waiting days for someone to take a close look at the things Brown is actually saying, but no one is doing it. So it’s down to me…

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Are Declassed Professionals in the United States like Surplus Song Dynasty Civil Servants?

I’ve been reading Youngmin Kim’s A History of Chinese Political Thought. In one of his chapters, he argues that during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), a peculiar kind of “metaphysical republicanism” took root. As the Chinese population increased, the Song state struggled to create enough jobs in the state bureaucracy to accommodate larger and larger numbers of educated young men. Unable to pursue political power through the conventional pathways, these young men invented a new kind of political theory to make sense of their positions (or lack thereof). Kim’s description of this theory is eerily reminiscent of the kind of thinking that has become increasingly popular among what I like to call the “fallen” professionals–people with university degrees who have been unable to secure stable, prestigious positions within the power structure.

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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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