Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

You think you’re so clever and classless and free…

with 2 comments

If people haven’t seen this essential openleft post, they should check it out. The take-away point is that, contrary to conservative rhetoric, ideological mapping has consistently shown that the richer you are, the more likely you are to be conservative, and the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be liberal.

No doubt there are individual exceptions, but by and large class maps onto ideological patterns pretty consistently.

What struck me about this was how much huge chunks of the left has actually internalized the conservative message that the working class is conservative and don’t possibly understand what their own interests are. This is, I think, especially true of academic liberals who too often assume working class racism/homophobia while ignoring far more destructive (though more genteel sounding) discrimination coming from the top. How many liberals bemoan each electoral loss by complaining about how the working class “vote against their interest?”

Of course the far bigger problem is, and always has been, the well-off who very much vote in their interest.

The problem is not, then, with the lower classes, but with our own understandings of class.

I think a lot of people misread Thomas Frank about this. Just recite the title, What’s the Matter with Kansas and everyone thinks they know that the working class is duped to vote against its own interest. But I read Frank as saying the backlash narrative is primarily about how conservative elites understand themselves not how they manipulate other people. So rich people in Kansas or wherever imagine elitism purely in cultural traits (lattes, Volvos, The Decembrists, etc…) and sell themselves in opposition to that as the salt of the earth. The fact that a statistically negligible but vocal minority of liberals in Hollywood or New York City are rich gives cover to this idea. Meanwhile they get free rein to act in their crass economic interest, since their supposed cultural egalitarianism shields them from accusations of elitism. (See Bush, George W.)

Academic liberal guilt, in its own way, perpetuates this. When I saw Walter Benn Michaels speak a week ago he kept harping on how privileged everyone in academia was. Fair enough, we’re not starving. But compared to, say, Harold Ford, we will always be- to quote John Lennon- still fucking peasants as far as I can see. But we get convinced of our own elitism (which is only true only insomuch as we generally adopt certain cultural norms, but not really at an economic level), know we’re liberal, and then confuse the two.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

February 1, 2010 at 10:00

2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting. I do wonder what happens when you control for things like race, ethnicity or religion. American Jews, who are almost all white, consistently vote Democrat, which is against their “economic interests” though they are only a small portion of the population. Blacks also vote Democrat. I believe Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans do too, though Cubans are more mixed, obviously. I think Asians also tend to vote Democrat, except the Vietnamese. Pre 9/11, Arab-Americans, who were usually wealthier and Christian, voted Republican, though now they vote Democrat. My point is mostly this: my suspicion is that non-white Americans are more likely to vote with their economic interests than white Americans. Again, all these stats are just based on what I’ve heard or read unsystematically, so a lot could be wrong. But I think this could be an important caveat to the study.


    February 2, 2010 at 08:23

    • I’d love to see simply White Christians Voting broken down very into status, wealth and denomination…even region. Also, while the groups you listed probably do vote more democratic, they’re also (most, not all) less likely to actually go out and vote. The Fox News type is powerful because they’re so active and unified which for them is the case due to fear mongering and hating of OTHER and, of course, the extremely simple sound bite minds they have. It’d be interesting to compare or study, say, the Kansas people from Frank’s book with Southern Black Baptists in Mississippi or even urban impoverished Christian blacks in Chicago. Many (of course not all) have that mentality where everything you ever need to know is in the bible, that culture of anti-intellectuality at pretty much all costs. Yet the black’s gonna vote D, and the white’s gonna vote R. Same book, same only what the book says counts, different choice at the polls. We all know why that’s the case. But I’d love to see extensive interviewing as to their distinct psychologies and philosophies of life and the parts of the bible they focus on, all that sort of stuff. Really juxtapose how their paradigms.


      February 4, 2010 at 00:05

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