Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Identity politics is also silly when the right does it.

I am sort of confused about Charles Murray's column about the "New Elite." In it, he claims that the rule of this class is problematic because it has failed to experience a wide enough swath of America. Though the column is somewhat problematic because many of his markers are off or oddly chosen, I have a different problem with it.

One possible explanation: I should care because navel gazing is fun. Hells yes it is. Otherwise, what is the point of having a blog? But I imagine Murray had grander ambitions, and so I ought to toss this thesis aside.

Another: it is good to have an elite that has "experienced America" because they will create more interesting art about it. There is a fantastic essay in Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up in which he argues that modern literature has grown far too insular and that writers really ought to forget the delicate epiphanies bourgeois and go pound the pavement looking for America. I agree entirely with respect to literature. But the paragraphs about the Tea Party at the beginning suggest that Murray is writing a column about what is wrong with elite politics, not elite literature.

Which brings me to my biggest point of confusion: what, precisely, does Murray think would change about this elite class's policy views if it did experience a wider swath of America? Is watching Oprah supposed to make us rethink the economic stimulus? Will reading Harlequin novels change our positions on Obamacare? The bailout? Social conservatives like to argue that more time in middle America would make us more religious, but Murray himself has always been more of a libertarian than a social conservative. It ends up sounding as silly as the endless left-liberal paeans to the benefits of "diversity" -- read: proportional racial and gender representation -- in, say, the physics classroom or an Agriculture Department Peanut Farmers Advisory Board or teams of class action securities lawyers. Except that Charles Murray is supposed to know better.

He tries to wiggle out of it by saying "The politics are not the main point" near the end. But if the politics aren't the main point, then what is? Especially since the Tea Party has primarily positioned itself as a political movement?

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps if Oprah, Harlequin romances, and MMA more effectively ground conventional gender norms into our elite psyches, we ladies could content ourselves with a more traditional role, thereby reducing the number of obviously comparable high-IQ, high-achiever females available to elite men and undermining the production of assortative-mating-produced Übermenschen that Murray seems to fear.

    I found his citation of Kiwanis and Rotary clubs as quintessentially American to be particularly revealing. Those organizations didn't even begin to admit women until the late 1980s.