Last week, I went to take some photos in Riverside Park. Unfortunately, I forgot my equipment which would allow me to take extreme close-ups, so I went back a couple of days ago. Normally, for the sake of download speeds, I put up optimized photos, frequently in smaller sizes. Since some of the bug pictures are fun to see at a larger scale, I’ve decided to put up larger versions of a few of them. For that reason, I’m putting most of them “below the fold.” Here’s a flower teaser.
Monthly Archives: August 2016
Day 9 – Classes
Yesterday, I brought up the subject of social class. One interesting thing about the internet is that when you have people reading what you write in other parts of the world, it makes you stop and define what you are saying a little bit more precisely sometimes.
Many societies have had hierarchies. In Europe in the Middle Ages there were Royalty, Hereditary Nobility, Non-Hereditary Nobility, Freemen and Serfs. Social class was baked into the laws. The word privilege comes from the Latin word privilegium, meaning a law pertaining to an individual that gives some advantage. In the Middle Ages, privileges were laws that applied to a particular strata of society, variously called ranks or estates. Sumptuary laws decreed that people couldn’t wear articles of clothing above their station. People in the lower classes could not own land. Some groups were exempted from some taxes. Different groups were allowed or disallowed roles in governing, and so on. It was not directly related to wealth. Some peasants could become quite wealthy.
With the rise of cities, a new class began to emerge, the bourgeoisie.
In the 17th and 18th cent., the bourgeoisie supported principles of constitutionality and natural right, against the claims of divine right and against the privileges held by nobles and prelates. The English, American, and French revolutions derived partly from the desire of the bourgeoisie to rid itself of feudal trammels and royal encroachments on personal liberty and on the rights of trade and property. In the 19th cent., the bourgeoisie, triumphantly propounding liberalism, gained political rights as well as religious and civil liberties. Thus modern Western society, in its political and also in its cultural aspects, owes much to bourgeois activities and philosophy.
A bit of free association… Boy, do I ever love Ingres!
So, to some extent, today’s social classes in Europe and her legacy cultures outside of Europe proper are derived from those older European ranks.
Most famously, Karl Marx took a look at that history and derived his notions about history and class struggle, which I won’t go into here because other people have explained it so much better than I could in a short paragraph.
I’m brought back to the book I mentioned the other day, The Revolt of the Elites by Christopher Lasch. Lasch points out that nineteenth century perceptions of social stratification were not the same as we have today. Robert Rantoul was a lawyer and politician who lived from 1805 to 1852.
Robert Rantoul thought he was stating the obvious when he told an audience of working men that “society, as you very well know, is divided into two classes – those who do something for their living, and those who do not.” These terms, staples of nineteenth-century political discourse, did not necessarily refer to the privileged classes at the top of the social scale and the hardworking but impoverished masses at the bottom. The class of “idlers” included vagabonds and beggars as well as bankers and speculators, while the category of productive workers, as Rantoul defined it, was broad enough to include not only those who worked with their hands but anyone who “superintends the employment of capital which diligence and prudence have enable him to acquire.” In the language of nineteenth -century producerism, “labor” and “capital” did not mean what they mean to us. The term “capitalist” was reserved for those who, producing nothing, lived off speculative profits, while the “laboring class,” as a Democratic party broadside explained, referred to “the producers of wealth; the yeomanry who till the soil; mechanics, manufacturers, operatives, traders, whose labor sustains the state.” Whigs no less than Jacksonian Democrats took an expansive view of the “working classes,” defined by Levi Lincoln as the “practical agriculturist and husbandman, the manufacturer, and the mechanic.” Rufus Choate considered it appropriate to speak of the “laborious, trading, and business portions of the community” in the same breath. Daniel Webster claimed that “nine tenths of the whole people belong to the laborious, industrious, and productive classes.” They typically owned a little capital, he said, but no so much “as to render them independent without personal labor.” Those who “combine capital with their labor” were referred to interchangeably as working-class and middle-class.
Levi Lincoln, Rufus Choate and Daniel Webster were all politicians during the first half of the nineteenth century. There were two Levi Lincolns, father and son. I’m not sure which one Lasch has in mind.
In Lasch’s book, it is the upper middle class that is highly criticized.
The upper middle class, the heart of the new professional and managerial elites, is defined, apart from its rapidly rising income, not so much by its ideology as by a way of life that distinguishes it, more and more unmistakably, from the rest of the population.
Since this discussion of class was started with yesterday’s post about Aaron M. Renn’s essay about J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy, it is worth noting here that the upper middle class is the one to which Vance migrated.
Class is a difficult subject to pin down and people disagree quite a bit about how many classes there are and who belongs to which, but I’m going to have to leave it here for today.
Day 9 – The White Underclass
To coffee or not to coffee? That’s always the question when I wake up at an odd hour and I look at the clock and I’ve had less than my usual amount of sleep. Do I resign myself to being awake for the day and get myself some coffee, or do I hope that I will fall back asleep soon. I woke up about an hour ago. I managed to fall back to sleep for about forty-five minutes, so I guess it’s coffee now.
There was an interesting article on the City Journal website the other day. I like reading the City Journal because it’s one of the few outlets truly interested in making life in the cities work well that leans towards being conservative. It’s not healthy that much of the interest in our cities comes only from the left. When that happens, assumptions can calcify into truisms and approaches that have failed to work continue to be repeated. So, even when I disagree with it, I find the City Journal to be a breath of fresh air. It’s also healthy for conservatism because the people writing for it take seriously issues and populations that conservatives often dismiss.
So the article in mind is “Culture, Circumstance and Agency: Reflections on Hillbilly Elegy” by Aaron M. Renn. It touches on several of the themes that often swirl around in my head regularly.
I hesitated to read the article because I thought it was going to be another empathy challenged, morally superior strutting self-aggrandizement like David French’s defense of Kevin Williamson. In fact, I was quite wrong.
Hillbilly Elegy, the book Renn reviews, is a memoir. The New York Times calls it “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass.” The Times continues:
“Hillbilly Elegy,” in my mind, divides into two components: the family stories Mr. Vance tells — most of which are no doubt better experienced on the page than they were in real life — and the questions he raises. Chief among them: How much should he hold his hillbilly kin responsible for their own misfortunes?
In Mr. Vance’s estimation, the answer is: a lot. Economic insecurity, he’s convinced, accounts for only a small part of his community’s problems; the much larger issue is hillbilly culture itself.
Renn makes more than a few excellent points in the discussion, or at least I like them because they echo thoughts I’ve had. Often, when I ramble about these subjects to my mother, she asks me where I get my ideas and if anyone else has them. That always leads me to feel as if there is something perhaps a bit wrong with my thoughts. If I’m the only one who’s seeing something, I’m either extremely insightful or terribly wrong. So, it’s always with a bit of a relief that I find echos of my own thoughts elsewhere.
The Times’ review describes the author of the memoir, J. D. Vance, as a conservative. Renn writes:
He comes down firmly on the side of individual agency and the ability of people to overcome obstacles through hard work and adopting the cultural habits of successful groups.
Hillbillies are descended from the Scottish/Northern English. The best description of the origins of this cultural group was written by David Hackett Fischer in his highly influential book Albion’s Seed. The former senator Jim Webb, who ran for the Democratic nomination during these last primaries, has written about this group as well. They moved to the mountainous region of Appalachia and formed a distinct subculture within the United States. They have generally been despised by the larger culture, exemplified by the movie Deliverance.
Vance grew up in a horribly dysfunctional family. Regrading his maternal grandparents, Renn summarizes:
They were poor money managers, with Papaw buying new cars on impulse. He was also a violent drunkard. Mamaw, with her own reputation for violence, once threatened to kill him if he ever came home drunk again, and, after he promptly transgressed, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire….
His mother, if it can be believed, was even more dysfunctional;
He told conservative writer Rod Dreher that his mother had 15 husbands and boyfriends. None of his many brothers and sisters was full-blooded. Indeed, Vance’s family relationships boggle the mind…
He did not know how many siblings he had or how to count them since many were half-siblings and step-siblings. Making matters worse, his mother is a drug addict.
He then applies to and is accepted at Yale Law School, where the cultural gulf between his hillbilly upbringing and the American elite first comes into full relief. He discovers the role that social capital, mentors, and connections play in success.
Renn takes a look the appeal of the book:
Another aspect of the book that appeals to non-Trumpian conservatives is also what powerfully attracts it to the Left: its placing of the locus of responsibility for white working-class malaise in its own culture. Intellectuals on the left and right have been aghast at support for Trump from the white working class. Vance tells them what they want to hear: that the travails of this class stem in large part from their dysfunctional and self-destructive culture. Vance acknowledges that the white working class faces legitimate hurdles, such as the decline of union manufacturing jobs, an analysis that resonates with the Left. But ultimately he sees this demographic’s failure to overcome obstacles… as stemming from personal and cultural flaws, notably a lack of a sense of agency….
Rather than seeing the working class as victims of, say, current economic policies, which would require addressing underlying structural inequities, Vance says that these people are in large part the authors of their own demise. Their predicament thus requires no fundamental change of course economically—a great relief to those prospering under the current regime. This flattering of audience sensibilities, combined with Vance’s immensely compelling life story, helps explain why Hillbilly Elegy has received so much praise and so little substantive criticism, despite some limitations.
I mentioned that Renn echoes thoughts I’ve had myself. One of these is the way arguments about cultural dysfunction take one segment of society and make it stand in for many other segments. U.S. society gets divided into two groups, one symbolized by the uppermost level of the upper middle class, and the other by the lowest end of the Appalachian working class, or, in other versions, ghettos.*
Renn points out that he had a very different working class experience growing up.
Vance’s culture has no living memory of anything else, so it’s natural for him to see the culture of his people as overwhelmingly influential in their fate. But this is not the case for the majority of the white working class. For example, sociologist Robert Putnam had a different experience in his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. The Port Clinton of his 1950s upbringing, as related in his book Our Kids, certainly had its share of working class poverty, but it was socially intact and functional—a world away from that experienced by Vance’s family.
I grew up in white, working-class, rural Southern Indiana during the 1970s and 1980s. While it had some Appalachian cultural influence, its demographic and social conditions were different. German was the dominant ethnic background of the area. My family is of mostly German Catholic stock, with one Sicilian grandfather added to the mix. … I was a classic case of “poor but didn’t know it.” There was certainly a lot of poverty around. Yet I, too, recall a functional and socially intact, if hardly idyllic, community.
Sometimes, our wealthy feel like it’s a good idea for their children to see “how the other half lives.” They encourage them to go to an impoverished area and do some volunteer work. This is usually lauded as a good thing. However, it’s often occurred to me that it can give the rich children who will become the majority of our ruling class a mistaken impression of our society being made up of two types. I think, to get a better idea of how society really works, they would do well to embed themselves in a struggling lower middle class community.
Renn goes on the note that many of the social ills that plagued Vance’s childhood have crept into the more functional working class communities as well.
Today, however, both Putnam’s Port Clinton and my Southern Indiana are a lot more like Vance’s Appalachian world than Putnam or I would have believed possible, even after allowing for nostalgia. We face a different question from the ones that confront Vance. We must ask what changed in only a generation or two to damage communities that once did broadly sustain healthy working-class marriages, families, and community life. It’s harder to blame culture entirely here when that same culture was producing respectable if unglamorous success as recently as 30 years ago.
This is an excellent point and I’m so glad that Renn brought it up. He mentions drugs as one factor, although I am tempted to as if that is a symptom or a cause since mind altering substances have always existed. Renn said he never had to face the dangers of drugs growing up, but he’s a few years younger than I was and I recall drugs as having been rampant during my adolescence. Statics have shown that my age cohort have had among the highest reported consumption of drugs. Of course my age cohorts are the dysfunction parents of the last couple of decades, so I wouldn’t dismiss a relationship out of hand.
Renn calls on the right to face unpleasant truths about the changing economy.
“Creative destruction” is not so great when you’re on the receiving end of the destruction, and when it’s human lives rather than widgets or corporate profits at stake.
He then suggest that the left needs to acknowledge that the sexual revolution has been a disaster for the working class. I’m running out of time, so I’m going to put a quote here that I might want to deal with another day:
No-fault divorce and the diminishment of the stigmas attached to casual sex and single or divorced motherhood have been a liberating dream—or at least a manageable reality—for educated urbanites. But these changes have been a nightmare for the children growing up in a white working-class world, where broken homes and a string of romantic and sexual partners for Mom is the new normal. “Of all the things that I hated about my childhood,” Vance writes, “nothing compared to the revolving door of father figures.”
This is an important subject, but I don’t think it needs much more time than I have today. I both agree and disagree. Or I agree with the statement that this has been a problem for the working class, but the conservative response, that we just reimpose our former values, strikes me as wishful thinking.
Then Renn tackles a subject that I would really like to touch on, Vance’s innate abilities.
Vance also lacks self-awareness in some areas, especially in his rejection of the idea that talent—that is to say, good fortune—played a major role in his success. He instead attributes it to the character and work ethic he developed in the Marines, and explicitly rejects innate talent as a factor. “Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today,” he writes. “With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bullshit.”
But undoubtedly Vance won the genetic lottery for IQ. He got into Yale Law School. Based on the LSAT scores needed for admission there, his IQ is likely north of 140—probably genius-level. No wonder he didn’t think that the people there were any smarter than he was. No amount of hard work can substitute for this. Untold numbers of people have worked extraordinarily hard and yet failed to gain admission to the Ivy League.
As someone who won the “genetic lottery” myself, let me say that Renn is entirely on the mark here. Renn acknowledges the value of hard work and I do too. However, I’ve seen people with less aptitude struggle. I recall helping less intelligent friends with their school work in high school. In fact, they often worked harder than I did. To be successful academically, you need both hard work and intelligence. To parlay that into a successful career requires other things as well. Renn aptly points out why this error (and it’s too bad that this is winding up at the bottom of a long post because it was my real interest):
Thus, Vance falls into the trap of too many of today’s winners in a “meritocratic” (his term) system: he believes, in effect, that he morally merits his outsize success because he earned it through hard work. This is the flip side of his cultural condemnation. He understands that he benefitted from encouragement from Mamaw and others, which many kids in his milieu don’t receive: “Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me.” But he fails to recognize the role that unearned merit, in the form of those talent endowments, played in his success. This position is deeply unfair to the half of the population with below-average intelligence—tens of millions of them with significantly below-average intelligence—in a knowledge economy that greatly privileges brainpower over brawn. Someone born into a poor, chaotic community with an IQ below 100 can’t just solve his problems by bootstrapping himself into Yale, not even after a tour in the Marines.
I want to highlight the phrase “morally merits.” The following is another important point:
The larger problems come less from the book itself than from the way in which educated readers have seized on it to confirm their own negative impressions of the white working class—and, by extension, to flatter the superiority of their own cultural values and their sense of moral entitlement to the success they enjoy.
Again, “moral entitlement.”
Finally, there is the question of agency:
The poor and working class do face challenging, sometimes horrific circumstances. They also have agency in choosing how to respond. Too often, their culture produces bad responses, even when the opportunity exists to choose otherwise. This culture itself may be an inheritance that individuals did not choose. But people can have disabilities for which they are not to blame. That doesn’t change their real-world effect. Unless both the external circumstances and the culture of the working class, of all races, are ameliorated, broad-based change is unlikely.
Well, I’m out of time and I’ve barely scratched the surface, only highlighting the parts of Renn’s article that interested me without having much of a chance to respond or elaborate my own ideas.
The same themes keep arising in my head. I wish I could build them up into a more coherent statement.
*I just wanted to add a quick comment. I should have said “Appalachian underclass,” not “working class.” Our fixation on the exotic habits of the underclass allows us to turn a blind eye to the real struggles of the working class.
Day 8 – Free Association
Now that I’m back online, I need to get back into my habit of writing.
Even before my little break, my stats on this site were in the basement, leading me to believe that “Free Association” is not the best title for a post. I guess that makes sense. I write about so many different things people might very well look a the title before deciding if it’s something that interests them. I’m never sure how I feel about “stats,” though. This blog is just a hobby. I think we’re all vaguely aware (meaning people with a blog) that if we shade our writing a little this way or a little that way we might have more readers. However, I started this blog for myself. It’s interesting to think how it would be different if I was hoping somehow to segue into a writing career. Would I look at my most popular posts and try to write more like that?
I’m surprised, in retrospect, that I haven’t written about sex more. Believe it or not, I have a lot to say on that subject!
Politics. Right now, I feel like I just want to keep my head down until everything blows over. Still, I’m not worried about the election itself so much as I’m terribly worried about the aftermath.
I mentioned a few months ago an article by David Frum explaining why Donal Trump had gained traction. Of course, for even trying to understand he was accused of supporting Trump and in his subsequent articles he’s stopped even trying to understand, or at least trying to explain that understanding to other Republicans who clearly don’t want to listen.
I sometimes think that I have a strange view of politics because I have a strange view of human nature. Now, I call my view “strange” not because I think it’s wrong, just because I don’t see it reflected in the usual discussions about politics and society.
It is often said that political theories are based on notions of human nature. The simplistic way of putting it is that the left thinks human beings are inherently good and the right thinks human beings are inherently bad. Off the top of my head, that sounds like it corresponds to different notions of child rearing, one that thinks children need encouragement to explore and do what they want and another that thinks children need discipline and instruction. I think most people in fact fall in the middle. Phrasing it that way makes it seem as if the two points of view are mutually exclusive, and for some people they are. However, when I look at reality, most people are, as I said, in the middle. Kids need discipline and instruction sometimes and need encouragement to explore at other times. Different children might need them in different degrees. One might be tempted at that point to say that the center is “non-ideological,” however I don’t think that’s true.
Ideologies are useful because we are constantly confronted with situations in which we cannot know from past experience what will be the best path to take. When confronted with a new situation, we take what we know of the world and, from that, try to extrapolate what the best course of action will be. To do that, we try to determine what our options are and make an educated guess about what outcome each option might yield. That educated guess is based on how we think the world works, in short, on our ideology. For instance, people on the religious right who say that allowing marriages to be contracted between people of the same sex will lead to bestiality really believe that a belief in a deity with consequences in the afterlife is necessary for people to behave in what they consider a moral manner.
Giving that as an example, it is easy to see the divide that I described a minute ago as “simplistic.” The compliment on the left to the religious right point of view is that expanding the definition of marriage won’t lead to other, unpalatable, expansions. Why do they think that? Because not enough people are immoral enough to want bestiality to be legal. It hinges on the notion that people are, at least mostly, good.
I have a problem with both these positions largely because I don’t believe that an objective morality exists. That might on the surface look as if I am embracing moral relativism, but I am not. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.
The very short summary gives two reasons for moral relativism:
A common, albeit negative, reason for embracing moral relativism is simply the perceived untenability of moral objectivism: every attempt to establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles runs up against formidable objections. A more positive argument sometimes advanced in defense of moral relativism is that it promotes tolerance since it encourages us to understand other cultures on their own terms.
I tend to agree with the first position, that it thus far has proved impossible to “establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles.” The second part, regarding tolerance is something I don’t especially agree with. I don’t agree that “tolerance” is a virtue in and of itself without reference to a particular situation. Secondly, it would imply that “tolerance” itself is a universal value. I’m not sure who the “us” is in the phrase “it encourages us.”
The summary of the critics of moral relativism is as follows:
Critics claim that relativists typically exaggerate the degree of diversity among cultures since superficial differences often mask underlying shared agreements. In fact, some say that there is a core set of universal values that any human culture must endorse if it is to flourish. Moral relativists are also accused of inconsistently claiming that there are no universal moral norms while appealing to a principle of tolerance as a universal norm. In the eyes of many critics, though, the most serious objection to moral relativism is that it implies the pernicious consequence that “anything goes”: slavery is just according to the norms of a slave society; sexist practices are right according to the values of a sexist culture. Without some sort of non-relative standard to appeal to, the critics argue, we have no basis for critical moral appraisals of our own culture’s conventions, or for judging one society to be better than another. Naturally, most moral relativists typically reject the assumption that such judgments require a non-relativistic foundation.
Regarding the criticisms (as summarized here): I am insufficiently familiar with anthropology to know if the first statement it true, if the differences among cultures truly are substantial or not. I tend to agree quite a bit with the second statement and, if I get into this subject again, I will develop this idea further. I’ve already mentioned the third. The last part, however, is something I disagree with substantially. In short, I reject some aspects of both moral relativism and moral objectivism.
Now, here we are at one hour later, so I will happily stop. This is something I tend to mull over a lot in my head while going about other things, so I will probably come back to it again.
So, I bet everyone who was following my last few posts thinks I just pooped out! I have an excuse! My internet was down for a few days.
Anyway, one of the things I’ve been meaning to do is to go to the park where I sometimes go for exercise and take some photos. Riverside Park is a long, narrow strip along the west side of Manhattan. Due to its shape, it’s better for some things than others, mainly walking, strolling, jogging, walking the dog, anything that lends itself to a long narrow path. There are a lot of benches for sitting and relaxing and a few plots of grass. Generally, it’s very pleasant.
I’ve chosen the pictures that I think best give a feel for the place. They aren’t necessarily the best photos.
As always, although I like taking pictures of people, I often hesitate because I don’t want to be invasive. I don’t post any photos I feel that I wouldn’t want posted myself. However, if anyone spots themselves and wants the photo taken down, just let me know.
Damn! Day 7
This exercise is not exactly going as I hoped since I really don’t want to write today. It’s supposed to be getting easier, not harder!
I’ve got all these things mixed up in my head and I’m not really sure I want to talk about any of them.
About a decade ago, I had a boyfriend from France. He said to me one day, “I can’t figure out which party in the U.S. represents the working people.” I said, “Neither.”
From the time of FDR until the era when Bill Clinton was running for office, the Democratic Party was more closely associated with the working class. Bill Clinton, however, courted Wall Street and financial interests in a way the Democrats hadn’t until then. Some segments of the working class had already notoriously broken with the Democrats when Reagan ran for office. The would become known as Reagan Democrats. However, Reagan was a union buster and many of the unions, and their members, continued to back the Democrats. The unions backed Clinton, too. Still, he had made an important change. I’m working from memory, by the way. If this was a regular post rather than one of my experimental days, I’d want to look up that and check it. That would take a lot of time… and then this would become yet another abandoned post.Still, that is how I remember it. Before Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party could be said to be the party of the working class and after Clinton it was not.
The working class, broadly defined, is inevitably the largest group of people in a given society. So, for twenty years a significant sector of society has lacked any real political voice. You know what they say: “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
I only have a typical high school education regarding U.S. History and none at all regarding U.S. Political History specifically. There was an article today on Politico, “Why Hasn’t the Republican Party Collapsed?” which had the subtitle, “We shouldn’t be asking whether the GOP is falling apart. We ought to be wondering why it isn’t.”
The writer has one truly terrifying suggestion:
Geography and state representation still play a role in the American political system. But when the first conventions were held, New York had a population of about 200,000. A system developed today might do even more to represent Americans by age, gender or ethnic background (the parties have adopted reforms to ensure delegate representation along some of these lines), and to take into account the differences between Americans who live in urban and rural areas.
Wow, that would turn politics in the U.S. into a Hobbesian nightmare. The idea that you band together with your concitoyens to work for the common good would be entirely blown to bits. The vision that springs to my mind of collectivities with no motive for compromise. What the French call “communautarisme.”
So, basically what the writer is saying is that the two political parties in the U.S. have been around for a long time and that they struggle to put new ideas in with the old alliances. She calls the Democratic Party “party of process.”
The early party included members who disagreed on slavery, westward expansion and tariffs. Yes, they had policy commitments—originally centered around limiting the federal government’s influence—but they were more a pragmatic alliance than an ideological crusade.
From another source:
Yet by the 1850s, the issue of slavery divided the party even further. Northern Democrats, like Stephen Douglas, believed the slavery issue should be decided by popular sovereignty. The more conservative Southern Democrats like John C. Calhoun, however, insisted that slavery was and must remain a national institution. Many Northern, antislavery Democrats flocked to the Free Soilers coalition and joined Northern Whigs to form the Republican Party, whereas Southern, pro-slavery Democrats coalesced to form the Southern Democratic Party. As a result, the Democrats became almost entirely a Southern party platform, alienating any existing Northern supporters who were largely antislavery.
The Republican Party, meanwhile, has long been a party of ideology, created in the 1850s with a much more specific guiding principle in mind: stopping the expansion of slavery. Ever since, that difference—one party, a pragmatic alliance; the other, an ideological one—has meant that the Republican Party is more prone to ideological fights blowing up into potential existential crises.
As long as all Americans were becoming better off, few cared that some Americans were becoming better off than others. But since 2000, something has changed. Incomes at the middle have ceased to rise. The mood of the country has soured. Conservatives who disregard the mood of unease may forfeit their power to defend the more open and productive American economy they did so much to build.
It’s widely understood that abundant low-skilled immigration hurts lower America by reducing wages. As the National Research Council noted in its comprehensive 1997 report: “If the wage of domestic unskilled workers did not fall, no domestic worker (unskilled or skilled) would gain or lose, and there would be no net domestic gain from immigration.” In other words, immigration is good for America as a whole only because — and only to the extent that — it is bad for the poorest Americans. Conversely, low-skilled immigration enriches upper America, lowering the price of personal services like landscaping and restaurant meals. And by holding down wages, immigration makes the business investments of upper America more profitable.
Middle-class Americans surely share in the cost-lowering benefits of immigration. But the middle class also pays the higher local tax bills that can result from immigration. Immigrants do not qualify for many federal benefits, but they do use the roads, schools, hospitals and prisons supported by state and local property taxes — the taxes that fall most disproportionately on the middle class.
Equality in itself never can be or should be a conservative goal. But inequality taken to extremes can overwhelm conservative ideals of self-reliance, limited government and national unity. It can delegitimize commerce and business and invite destructive protectionism and overregulation. Inequality, in short, is a conservative issue too. We must develop a positive agenda that integrates the right kind of egalitarianism with our conservative principles of liberty. If we neglect this task and this opportunity, we won’t lose just the northern Virginia suburbs. We will lose America.
In 2008, the Republican Party was not ready to hear Frum’s advice. Perhaps they’re ready now.
I’m not going to be able to write for a full hour today since I need to get up early tomorrow and I absolutely must get to bed at a reasonable time tonight.
In addition to trying to write regularly, I’ve also set about the task of programming regularly. I found that I had gotten very much out of practice. Right now, I’m just making myself some simple little games as sort of exercises. It’s amazing how quickly one forgets, but I’m remembering quickly, too.
I’m also cleaning my apartment for one hour each day. It had gotten badly out of control. I’m making progress.
In addition to the rhinestone zipper that I photographed and posted online the other day, I ordered some other notions from another site. They haven’t yet arrived and it’s now been a week. I’m going to have to contact the vendor. That’s the sort of thing that makes me freeze up. I don’t know why. I’m sure it’s some little problem that can be fixed. Still, I have a sort of strange anxiety reaction about having to deal with people in that situation. I’ve ordered the fabric from yet a third source. However, I’ve ordered from them before so I’m confident there is no problem. Furthermore, I’ve spoken on the phone to them about other problems in the past and they’ve always been very friendly and fixed whatever the problem was.
Still, I’m eager to get my hands on the neoprene to see how it goes.
Well, that is all for today.
I know, that was really boring, wasn’t it?
Free Association – Day 5
I think it’s day five. I’ve lost count.
So, it’s late, but I wasn’t procrastinating today. I was trying to accomplish other things. As I mentioned at the start of my free association exercise that the point of the exercise is to become more fluid in my writing. To be able to get my ideas out more quickly. If you’re any of the people who talks to me on the phone or communicates with me via email, you know that I’m always referring to that post I’m going to write on some subject or another which I somehow never get to. Unfortunately, rigor and speed are often at odds. Still, I’d like to increase the speed.
Okay, now I’m blanking.
I’m not really blanking. I have three threads going in my head at once. One is about the contemporary fondness for physical fitness among the upper middle class. The second is a photograph I recently took of myself and the fact that I keep most photos of myself offline. The third was what I was writing about writing itself.
I mentioned at the start of this exercise that I had taken a writing course and writing your thoughts as the came into your head was a technique that was highly recommended for getting around writers block. However, what this current exercise doesn’t take into account is that the next stage was rereading and revising things. It wasn’t supposed to stay in that raw state. This is one of the conundrums of blogging. Blogging by its nature is speedy. It is a different literary beast from a well-developed article. I allow much more of what I consider “slippage” in a blog post than I ever would have allowed in an article I might have submitted for publication or written for class. In those cases, often several times more time is spent on the revising than on the rough draft. Trying to eliminate every spelling error and every grammatical error is seen as an attainable goal, if not in every article, then at least in the vast majority. When I first started blogging, I held myself to a similar standard, but I soon realized that that missed the point. Spending that much time revising and correcting was not a possibility if one wanted to publish with the sort of speed blogging implied.
So, how to improve quality in blogging?
I’m such a nasty, judgemental bitch. Really. I think I’m so superior to everyone. Sometimes, I annoy my own self.
Getting back to the “contemporary fondness for physical fitness” that I mentioned before, I saw a post about “sporn” selfies, pictures men take of themselves working out at the gym. Some academic wrote a paper about it. Now, I should qualify what I am about to say with the fact that I didn’t read the paper itself, I only read the coverage of it on a website. However, the parts they quoted made the academic who wrote the paper sound like someone who is entirely ignorant of any history. I looked him up and he apparently has a Ph.D. in “media studies.” The part that was quoted sounded so stupid, then I felt snotty, superior and like and asshole. There’s a side of me that wants to rip the guy’s ideas apart, but then there’s a side of me that pulls away from doing that because I don’t want to be mean.
Anyway, the reason that the sporn selfie thing interested me at all was because I had recently mentioned Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites. Now, he draws some parallels between the behavior of the elites in the current day (although he was writing in the mid nineties, the social trends he noticed at that time have only increased since then) and the behavior Jose Ortega y Gasset noticed among the people he called “mass men.” (It is probably worth pointing out that Ortega believes that the “mass man” can appear in any strata of society.)
(An aside: My high school American History I teacher used to make us, when taking notes about an event, write down what events led up to it and what events resulted from it. It is always tempting, indeed, it may be necessary, to break history into eras and chunks. Yet, in the end, it is one stream. Where does the era described by Ortega end and our own begin? Indeed, ours is in fact, an outgrowth of the previous ones.)
One of the commonalities Lasch notices between the mass man of the 1920s and the elites of the 1990s is the fondness for physical fitness. Lasch summarizing Ortega’s description of the mass man writes:
His attitude toward the body was severely practical: He made a cult of physical fitness and submitted to hygienic regimens that promised to keep it in good repair and to extend its longevity.
This appears in a list of several other qualities, including no use for obligation, no feeling for history, incapable of submitting to direction, lacking an understanding of “the fragility of civilization or the tragic character of history,” a lack of romance or interest in erotic love. In conclusion, Lasch writes:
It was, above all, however, the “deadly hatred of all that is not itself” that characterized the mass mind, as Ortega described it. In capable of wonder or respect, the mass man was the “spoiled child of human history.”
Lasch then continues:
All these habits of mind, I submit, are now more characteristic of the upper levels of society than of the lower or middle levels.
They [the working class] understand, as their betters do not, that there are inherent limits on human control over the course of social development, over nature and the body, over the tragic elements in human life and history. While young professionals subject themselves to an arduous schedule of physical exercise and dietary controls designed to keep death at bay – to maintain themselves in a state of permanent youthfulness, eternally attractive and remarriageable – ordinary people, on the other hand, accept the body’s decay as something against which it is more or less useless to struggle.
For now, the gentle side of me will win out. I will only recommend that Jamie Hakim read Ortega y Gasset, as well as Christopher Lasch, and look for other historical treatments of his theme.
Before I go, I’d like to throw out a quote from an article in The New Statesman about Pierre Bayle, someone with whom I trust all my freethinking friends are familiar.
When a clergyman questioned him about his religious views, he supposedly replied that he was a good Protestant, “in the full sense of the term”, because “I protest against everything that is said, and everything that is done”.
Free Association – Day 4
When I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror these days, I have the odd sensation of not recognizing myself at first. Then, when I realize the person I am looking at is me, I have this overwhelming sense of disgust. I’ve been struggling with my weight for about four or five years. Actually, when I really think about it, I’ve been struggling with my weight for about a decade, however, I’ve been losing the struggle for about four or five years. At first, I was able to keep my weight down by exercising more. However, when I got to the point that I was exercising an hour and a half a day, I realized that simply adding more exercise was no longer an option. Making matters worse, I don’t actually like exercising. I’d finish exercising feeling like I hated myself, hated the world, hated my life. Why, I would ask myself, I was trying to stay in good health to prolong a life I hated? Anyway, a bout of tendonitis a year ago did prove that I’d reached the point where increasing my exercise was no longer an option.
I should probably add, before I go farther, that I’m not looking for diet or exercise advice. That’s always the danger when you bring up this subject. Every self-righteous asshole wants to lecture you about what to do. Frankly, I’m probably smarter than the people looking to lecture me (Who’s the self-righteous asshole now?), I’m perfectly capable of doing research and have done so in order to maximize my efforts. If I want advice, I’ll ask. And in the past I have. I worked with personal trainers on a couple of occasions to develop exercise routines. I’m not dismissing professional advice. It’s just that I’m not looking for it at the moment. I want to talk about how I feel about my body.
So, it’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally accepted the reality. No matter what anyone says, as I’ve aged my metabolism has slowed down. Thyroid tests come back fine and I’m in pretty good health otherwise, so I’m not really worried. It used to be something of a truism that your metabolism slowed down as you aged. People don’t seem to say that anymore. I don’t know if it’s actually been disproven. However, I have heard people say things like people shouldn’t be told that their metabolism is slow because it will give them and “excuse” to be fat. Oddly, since I’ve come to terms with the idea that my metabolism is not what it used to be, I’ve finally lost some weight. I just said to myself, “Look, you can’t eat like you used to.” I’ve stopped trying to eat in the manner that experts would consider “healthy.” The truth is, I eat a lot less.
As I mentioned, I’m still in reasonably good health. I am officially overweight according to the doctor, but I probably wouldn’t stand out of crowd on account of it. I just come across as a sort of dumpy middle-aged woman. You probably wouldn’t notice me at all. The thing that causes the disgust when I look in the mirror is not so much that I look fat as I look matronly. It’s not simply a matter of attractiveness. It’s a matter of self-image, self-conception.
You see, I’ve always seen myself as being a little bit androgynous. This was long before talk about gender identity was commonplace, and I don’t know quite how this fits into that, if at all. Still, I’ve always felt that I wasn’t a typical girly-girl. I wasn’t a tomboy either. Although I never had a truly boyish figure, I wasn’t really curvy either, and I’d wear a lot of menswear. Actually, my buttocks were too big to fit into things actually cut for men, so I’d look for “menswear” inspired women’s clothes. The seventies had been a heyday for androgynous clothes, but they were usually of the casual sort. I found that I was far more influenced by the figure of the male dandy.
I never tried to pass as a man and it was only rarely that I’d be mistaken for one. When I was younger, it came across as Marlene Dietrich. Now, I’m afraid I look like one of the guests in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
So, now, I’m somewhat conflicted. I look far better in dresses and more feminine things than I used to. But now, what I look good in, and what my personal taste is are totally different. My sister tells me that I should wear what I like and to hell with trying to look pretty. My mother tells me I look fat.
I was looking at fall 2016 runway photos, trying to get some ideas for future sewing projects, and I saw this:
I would so absolutely love to wear this. Of course I can’t afford it and my sewing skills are not to the point where I can copy it.
After having successfully made my pants and a shirt to go with them, I’m now looking at my next project. I’ve been dying to work with neoprene. It was the trend last summer, but I didn’t quite get it since it seemed too warm to me for summer. Now with fall coming, however, I want to make something out of it. I was going to make a sheath dress. I wanted to put a big black zipper down the front as a sort of nod to scuba suits. However, when I was looking for an appropriate zipper, I came across this:
Free Association – Day 3
Man, I really don’t want to write right now. It’s only day three and this exercise feels like exercise. Don’t wanna do it! And I’ve been putting it off for much of the day.
When I first started blogging, I tried to post something, anything, everyday as a way to get established. This time, my objective is slightly different. I actually want to develop a greater facility to write. This isn’t what inspired the idea, but I have a recollection that Jack Kerouac, in the days before he wrote On the Road, used to write in a freely associative manner in order to develop the fluidity he needed. In fact, journal keeping is something of a mainstay in writing courses. Of course, I did that way back when. A writing course was required of all incoming freshmen at my college. We arrived about a month before the regular year started and spent everyday in an intensive writing course. Overall, I think it was very effective in teaching us how to write.
It had some rather unfortunate social side effects, at least for me. In most other similar intensive courses you find yourself with very intense friendships. This was no different in that regard. However, unlike other similar situations, we didn’t part afterwards. We were the second incoming class to be subjected to this program and the older students complained that there was less fluidity among classes. It was a small school and they were used to all classes socializing together. The writing program, by bringing freshman in ahead of time, created division that had not previously been there. This would become a little bit of a problem for me when my social life blew up in my face and I lost all my friends. I was alone in a school of eight hundred students, but my peers in my class only numbered two hundred.
Well, this is a rather fucked up situation, because I’m now thinking of an incident I didn’t really plan on discussing today. Free association sort of sucks.
That brings me back to the intensity of the original writing program. Some intensive workshops are more intensive on an interpersonal level than others. Writing is especially… especially… well, I’m not sure of the right word here. It’s especially conducive to these sorts of bonding experiences. When you’re writing in a journal, you’re supposed to write whatever comes to your mind. It winds up being very revealing. It’s like you’re telling everyone your darkest secrets. Even if you don’t happen to write anything particularly surprising, you still have the emotional feeling of having opened up to people. You’ve made yourself vulnerable.
Of course, after reading the journal, there are critiques and discussions. I think that was one thing that I got out of that course even more than developing my writing. We all really developed our abilities to read other people’s writing and to critique them in a productive way. That’s a harder skill to learn.
I’m not sure where else to go with this. For a time I was in a critique group with a group of artists and I didn’t think it was very productive. It felt less helpful. When you show someone some representational paintings and the response you get is that representational paintings are passé, it’s not helpful. It might be true, but it’s not a criticism that helps me be a better artist in any way. That’s really the point of that sort of critique, unlike the impersonal kind that one might find in a newspaper or journal. The reason you participate in a group like that in the first place is to improve your work. If people are just going to use the opportunity for intellectual posturing, then it totally defeats the purpose.
Dang, I really need to not look at the clock. Perhaps next time I should try setting an alarm.
So, right now, I’m feeling as if I’ve been used and screwed over by a man, but I have too much pride to tell him that. I’m really angry and I haven’t told him that either. I don’t think he much cares about me, but he’d kind of hate to think I was angry. Again, that’s not out of any concern about me, but only due to his own self-regard. Like most people, he probably likes to think of himself as a “good guy” and wouldn’t like to know that he might not be seen that way by me. That he basically used me, led me on and lied.
And if he read this, he’d probably briefly wonder if I was talking about him and decide it couldn’t be because he hasn’t done anything wrong. However, I’ve only had anything even vaguely resembling sexual contact with one person in the past couple of years, so there isn’t anyone else it could be.
The desire not to be that crazy woma. So, I’m angry at someone and I can’t tell him all the ways in which he’s hurt my feelings because I don’t want to be the crazy woman.
I remember a few years ago, a man I was dating said, “Did you ever notice that when a relationship ends men always say that the woman was crazy and women always say that the man was an asshole.”
There are things you don’t do because you don’t want to be “that” type of woman. In my case, I never press for a relationship. I never press for monogamy. I never press for a commitment. I don’t want to be the type of woman who “traps” a guy into marriage, that twists his arm into a commitment. So even if I want more from a man, I don’t say anything.
Of course, I’m single, so obviously this hasn’t been the most effective approach.
There’s a big element of pride to it, too. I hate the feeling of being a supplicant. I just hate it.
“I ask for nothing… nothing.” “And you shall receive it — in abundance.”
That’s pretty much my entire romantic history summed up in a nutshell. I attract a lot of men, but it goes nowhere.
I’m kind of feeling a little bugged about being lonely again. Not bugged. Antsy. I’m specifically talking about romantic loneliness. I kind of want to meet a lover. Unfortunately, I’m still not emotionally strong enough to put myself out there. That’s the thing that has been really, really awful about online dating. You have to be willing to open yourself up to emotional abuse. People tell you how much you suck to your face. There’s no way around it. In the past, I’ve tried various ways to filter those people out, but somehow they get through. Or I say so many negative things about myself people think I have some weirdly low self-esteem. Quite the opposite. I just want to say if you don’t like x, y or z, don’t bother contacting me. Or course x, y and z are negative things. We all have some negative things.
Jeez, I’m on the verge of whining now. I actually think my positives outweigh my negatives. For a time I dated a guy who said that his ex-wife would regularly keep him up all night yelling at him and telling him what an asshole he was. I asked what “regularly” was. He said it was several times a month. Really? And she was the one who left him! I never do anything like that, yet somehow I seem to never be good enough for men.
That’s a problem I tend to have in relationships. I never feel good enough. I always feel like I have to try to please. I never look good enough. I need to try harder. Lose weight. Dress better. Never dare show up without make-up even if the guy wants to drop in unannounced.
Be more successful in work. That’s the real killer. It might be the thing that really keeps me from trying to date again. I’m scared to death to talk about what I do for a living. I’m okay until the guy really begins to understand just how unsuccessful I am. I’m smart. I’m culturally literate. I have good enough taste that I can fit in with an upper middle class group. Sure, I might not be wearing any items with obvious logos, but most people aren’t at any given moment anyway. I look like I have more money than I do.
I was a trompe l’oeil painter, dammit! I know a thing or two about illusions.
I think I really embarrass men, sometimes. It’s received wisdom that women are concerned about the careers of their male partners. That may not always be true, but it’s generally accepted. Men I know with, ahem, career problems, know it’s a drawback when dating. It’s widely acknowledged, too. What people don’t acknowledge is that it’s a drawback for women. It’s not good enough to possess all the feminine virtues and look good – which I don’t anymore, but I once did. It’s subtle, because men don’t really expect women to earn quite as much as they do, especially if the woman is younger than the man. Yet they still sort of expect you to be earning at least half to two-thirds of what they’re earning.
I went through a period in my thirties when I would date a man for about six months or so. Towards the end, I’d find he’d be asking more and more probing questions about work and money. Then there would be statements like, “You’re so smart. I’m surprised you’re not more successful.” Shortly after that, it would be over.
I’m not complaining about not having money. I never really chose to pursue it, so that I don’t have it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. What I didn’t know when I was younger is that if you don’t have money, you won’t have love either.