Cultural norms are self-imposed limitations on speech and actions, meant to preserve peace and order in a society. It is like a stream with banks that allow our public discourse to flow responsibly. When that stream is broadened and deepened, dangerous ideas flow in from both sides.And I defend the evolutionary advantage of bourgeois norms so frequently a reader might think I get paid by the mention. (I don't. Listen up anyway.)
Bourgeois interacts with bourgeois: agreements are made, agreements are kept, mutually beneficial interactions emerge, living conditions improve.I've generally limited my policy recommendations to Higher Education and Thought Leaders, Do No Additional Harm. To wit: "Perhaps it is time to stop enabling the destructive life-mismanagement habits of the underclasses. Otherwise, the gentry liberals are likely to continue to fret about poverty and inequality in the abstract whilst living apart from it in the concrete."
Underclass interacts with underclass: lives are made worse, or lives are ended.
Underclass interacts with bourgeois: someone gets swindled, or the gentry intellectuals seek the sanction of the victim to get the bourgeois to kick in for the maintenance of the underclass.
Law professors Amy Wax. of Pennsylvania, and Larry Alexander, of the University of San Diego, recently got more provocative. Their concluding policy recommendation might be heard in the break room at Cold Spring Shops. "But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it." But that came after an excursion into applied anthropology which triggered people.
Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.For the most part, the collegians at elite institutions, and their counterparts at the land-grants and mid-majors honor these norms in the observance, whether or not they accept the deconstruction thereof in the abstract.
The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.
That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
The professors, however, presented their evolutionary-stability argument in a blunt way. (Note: blunt, not incorrect.)
All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all.That "preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy" matters: we can evaluate cultural norms relative to the environment in which they emerged. To be blunt: a modern kid lost in the woods without a mobile 'phone is going to last about two days without some understanding of things a Plains Indian could do without even having to think about it.
Would the re-embrace of bourgeois norms by the ordinary Americans who have abandoned them significantly reduce society’s pathologies? There is every reason to believe so. Among those who currently follow the old precepts, regardless of their level of education or affluence, the homicide rate is tiny, opioid addiction is rare, and poverty rates are low. Those who live by the simple rules that most people used to accept may not end up rich or hold elite jobs, but their lives will go far better than they do now. All schools and neighborhoods would be much safer and more pleasant. More students from all walks of life would be educated for constructive employment and democratic participation.
Unsurprisingly, virtue-signallers lit enough fires to burn the redwood forests of California.
Rod Dreher notes, this is no time for Professors Wax and Alexander to go wobbly.
It is a sign of the utter stupidity of our times that not only does a piece like Wax’s and Alexander’s need to be written, but that a herd of academics would denounce it as racist, sexist, and the lot.Heather MacDonald follows up on the firestorm with a statement of opportunities for further research.
Seems to me that if you want to have the best shot at building a decent life for yourself and for your children, you’ll do what Wax and Alexander say. If not, you’ll follow the advice of the herd of academicians. Anyway, Prof. Wax is right: her critics aren’t going to come out and endorse anti-bourgeois values, or live by them. But they lack the moral courage and the common sense to affirm what everyone knows — or used to know — to be true.
Are bourgeois virtues a solution to today’s economic and social ills? Should the country’s so-called thought leaders affirm the value of temperance and thrift? Is the rising illegitimacy rate a good thing for children? These are the core matters raised by the Wax-Alexander op-ed, but the piece by [Dorothy] Roberts and her colleagues, like the manifestos that preceded it, is silent about them.Law professor Ann Althouse, of the University of Wisconsin, also notes the paucity of scholarly inquiry among the objections.
I can understand feeling outraged and combative in response to these ideas, but how do you categorically reject them without saying more than "We categorically reject Wax’s claims"? There are no references to studies, no arguments at all. It's just a stark expression of hating these ideas — or fearing them. It feels so insubstantial, as if they're only saying we don't want to talk about this and we want to make you feel the same way. It's not very inspiring to people like me who feel bad about the op-ed and are looking for a way to talk about it. I admit that I don't want to talk about it, but the 33 lawprofs are indignantly proud of their complete refusal to talk about it.Strictly speaking, an academician doesn't say "wrong;" he or she or xe or it says "As a [insert descriptors as required] I am offended."
Reasoned discourse is out the window. Expect a future in which everyone leans into the microphone and says "Wrong."
It's Donald Trump who Professor Althouse has leaning into that mike, and it's Donald Trump, the first post-modern president, who might be inspiring the Angry Deconstructive Left to rediscover bourgeois norms.
Trump has started the conversation through his amorality. It shouldn’t end with his amorality. It should go on to examine a moral rot which allowed him to rise. And I don’t mean decadence. I mean a lack of basic human decency.I claim no special knowledge about "right and good." I suspect, however, that there is strong overlap among "moral grounds" and "bourgeois convention" and "evolutionary advantage for adopters."
Again, I know a lot of liberals may shudder at the thought of connecting morality on the left to politics the way conservatives have connected their morality to politics on the right. The danger is more self-righteousness. But that doesn’t necessarily follow. We talk a great deal about identity politics and interest politics. Why not a morally driven politics — a politics that looks to tolerance, kindness, charity, compassion and community in nondogmatic and expansive ways, not, as conservatives would have it, to buy off constituencies, but as liberals should have it, to do what is right and good.
When you are in a crisis, you need change. The only way to change America, reallychange it, is to change its values. The only way to change American politics, really change them, is to incorporate truly moral values into them and hold those who don’t accountable.
Trump is a danger to this country not because he is ignorant and incompetent or because he has no regard for constitutional rights. He is a danger because he is amoral and has no regard for basic human values — and because he legitimizes amorality. Fight him on political grounds, where power is the only thing that matters, and you are likely to lose. Fight him on moral grounds and you cannot lose, because he has no moral armor with which to defend himself.