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Someone at a social media site, who I will not dignify with a link, wrote, “I think we need to find a way to stop the working class from voting altogether.”
This individual, who is in the UK and is obviously a furious anti-Brexiter, also wrote: “Idiots and racists shouldn’t be able to ruin the lives of people who do well in life by voting for things they don’t understand. The problem in this country boils down to low information morons having the ability to vote.”
The above attitude reminds me of something written by that great historian and social analyst Harry Flashman, describing how people of his aristocratic class viewed the workers of the Chartist movement, circa 1848:
You have no notion, today, how high feeling ran; the mill-folk were the enemy then, as though they were Frenchmen or Afghans.
There are people in the US who have similar views of politics, only with reference to Trump voters rather than to Brexit. Many Democrats, and especially ‘progressives’, assume and assert that Trump voters are ignorant people who are failing economically. It is difficult for them to credit that there are quite a few Trump voters who are educated and thoughtful, and who in some cases are quite successful in career/economics terms. If such people exist, it is assumed that they must either be an insignificant minority or devious malefactors who are manipulating the ignorant masses in their own self-interest.
An example of this attitude appeared on MSNBC back in August, with anchor Chris Hayes and Washington Post writer Dave Weigel avidly agreeing about the characteristics of Trump supporters (of whom they don’t approve) … men without a college degree who have enough income to buy a boat (Hayes qualifies it as white men). Personally, I tend to admire people who have managed to do ok or very well for themselves without the benefit of a college credential. (And anyone believing that a college degree necessarily implies that an individual has acquired a broad base of knowledge and thinking skills hasn’t been paying much attention of late.)
The snobbery we are seeing today is partly income-based. it is partly based on a faux-aristocratic contempt for people who work with their hands, and it is — more than any other single factor, I think — credential-based.
Indeed, education-based credentials seem increasingly to fill the social role once filled by family connections. In his outstanding autobiography, Tom Watson Jr. of IBM mentions that in his youth he was interested in a local girl, but her mother forbade her to have anything to do with him because he didn’t come from an Old Family. The fact that his father was the founder of IBM, already a successful and prominent company, evidently wasn’t a substitute. Such ‘really, not our sort’ thinking would today be more likely based on the college one attended than based on family lineage.
Those expressing such attitudes exist in the Democratic Party in parallel with those who talk about their great concern for Working People. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, talked just recently about how physically tiring her work as a bartendress had been (I don’t doubt that this was so) and asserted that Republicans don’t tend to have any experience doing such jobs. Yet this same AOC posted a picture of her staring angrily at Joe Manchin–who one might think she would have considered as a possible ally on behalf of Working People–because he dared to question any Defund the Police policy. And this same AOC helped ensure that Amazon, with the jobs it would have brought for those Working People, was not made welcome in her district.
It appears that a lot of those to whom the we-care-about-working-people message is targeted aren’t believing it.
(I’m not fond of the term ‘working class’, by the way, it implies a fixed social structure and lack of mobility which is alien to American ideas. The fact that Class terminology has become so common is a worrisome indicator.)
Also, the columnist David Brooks, recently asserted that the problem with Rural Americans is that they have no contact with the Expert Class, which class he defines as journalists and academics. Brooks, evidently, believes that he has some form of meta-expertise that allows him to determine who all the other experts might be.
Just a couple of days ago, the newly-elected LA County district attorney, George Gascon, was confronted by a woman whose son had been tortured and murdered and who was understandably upset about Gascon’s go-easy-on-criminals policies. His response? “It’s unfortunate that some people do not have enough education to keep their mouth shut so we can talk.” Again, it’s the assumption of Education uber Alles as a metric of people’s assumed wisdom and their right to participate in the public dialog.
Fifty years ago, the writer and consultant Peter Drucker (himself of European origin) tried to warn Americans of some dangers involving education:
The most serious impact of the long years of schooling is, however, the “diploma curtain” between those with degrees and those without. It threatens to cut society in two for the first time in American history…By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve…I expect, within ten years or so, to see a proposal before one of our state legislatures or up for referendum to ban, on applications for employment, all questions related to educational status…I, for one, shall vote for this proposal if I can.
Drucker was particularly emphatic about the dangers of giving too much power and influence to the graduates of ‘elite’ educational institutions:
One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
The US today has come a lot closer to accepting Grande Ecole status for HLS than it had when Drucker wrote the above.
Discuss, if so inclined.
(Classic song reference in the title)
An earlier version of this post appeared at Chicago Boyz; it has been updated to include the Brooks and Gascon references and the Drucker passages. See also my post, Drucker on Education, 1969, for additional education-related thoughts from this perceptive analyst and observer.Published in