11.7.17

PRIVILEGE IS CIVILIZATION.

David Brooks is catching on.
Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.
He's correctly got the bourgeois conventions ahead of the Lucky Sperm Club, and the expenditures on everything from Harvard Prep Day Care to nannies to College Board prep courses.  He's got the snob zoning, and he could point out that the land-grants and mid-majors aren't doing as good a job providing higher education as the Ivies and the state flagships allegedly are.  Maybe that's OK: one of these days I can acknowledge Mr Brooks getting on the Cold Spring Shops cause.

But what got him into a lot of trouble was his attempt to call out the Arch Deluxe in upscale comfort food.
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”
The status markers we have always had with us, perhaps it's using the lobster fork to pick at the oysters.
To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.
You'd think Mr Brooks had made fun of Starbucks-speak.  Plus: #MakeASandwichScary.

But he's onto something.  There's no longer a John T. Molloy giving advice on how to signal class status, and Rod Dreher notes that being able to navigate the social milieu matters.
I’m really sensitive to this stuff because for years I had to live with the disdain of some members of my Louisiana family for my allegedly fancypants and inauthentic tastes. It was all class anxiety on their part, but they found a way to put the knife in emotionally over these things. They were reverse snobs, and were at times really mean about it. I don’t believe that is excusable. That said, the fact that I was far more comfortable moving in cosmopolitan settings, and had more cosmopolitan tastes, meant that I had doors open for me, professionally and otherwise, that they would not have had.

Much of this is just normal sociology. Every society has its codes of behavior. A New York City lawyer who relocated to small-town south Louisiana would find himself totally at sea, culturally, until he learned the local ways.
Yes, and if you're used to buying a cup of coffee and you have to confront assorted roasts, let alone "venti" and "grande" it can be baffling.

That brings us back, dear reader, to the land-grants and the mid-majors, and perhaps to the common schools not modelling the behavior of high status people for all their charges to observe, and to emulate.

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