Thursday, January 26, 2012

CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS. Charles Murray, best known for his book Niggers are Stupid (sorry, The Bell Curve), has a new one out called Kinder, Küche, Kirche 2.0 (sorry, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010). We saw last week his promotional essay at the Wall Street Journal, which posited an America desperately class-riven but insisted it had nothing to do with money, and prescribed that upper-middle-class people show a good example and a constant wagging finger to their lower-class brethren, who had fallen into the unfortunate habit of making illicit babies and such like.

Well, Murray's been making the rounds, as has a quiz from his book which is supposed to tell you "How Thick Is Your Bubble" -- that is, how isolated you are from the real down-home white America that Murray thinks needs redemption. Among the questions: "Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?" "How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House," etc., and "Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through?"

Nonetheless I scored 63, as many of the questions had to do with low birth, manual labor, cheap beer, and stupid shit on TV and at the multiplexes, notwithstanding that I have become over the years a hoity-toity scribbler.  But so what? Murray explains:
To my knowledge, sociologists haven’t gotten around to asking upper-middle-class Americans how much they know about their fellow citizens, so once again I must ask you to serve as a source of evidence by comparing your own experience to my generalizations. This time, I have a twenty-five-question quiz for you to take.

I hope it will serve two purposes: first, to calibrate the extent of your own ignorance (if any); second, to give you a framework for thinking about the ignorance that may be common in your professional or personal circles, even if it doesn’t apply to you.
Even if it doesn't apply to me? This sounds like an invitation to consider myself possessed of special knowledge, and thus prepared for the lower-class reclamation work Murray has in mind. But this wisdom might also prepare me to exploit the shit out of my former class-comrades by appealing to their tastes and prejudices with an ad campaign or a political candidacy or some other such wallet-extracting device. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Swaggart would have scored very high on this test.

Which is really what I think he's after. He and his adherents aren't interested in saving America, but in saving themselves.

Conservatives are convinced, and always trying to convince others, that liberals are all sissies who have soft hands and never drink Bud, and thus are Out of Step with America. Thus liberals are presumed to be ignorant of, and to despise, real Americans; and when Obama tries to spread a little of the nation's wealth among them, it cannot be to help them at a time of great need, because he's not one of them (and why, a conservative would reason, would anyone help anyone who was not of their kind?), and so must be due to his Kenyan anti-colonial socialist whatchamacallit.

It must have occurred to some conservatives, though, that they themselves don't have the common touch -- right now they're fighting over whether to nominate a rich asset-stripper or a college professor/lobbyist for the Presidency. And they don't think it has anything to do with their ruinous policies, which seem designed to make life harder for the working people they're hoping to woo. So they're interested in this test, and trying to figure how to ace it by using Murray's Cliff Notes. (I can imagine David Brooks crying, O I've got this, I've been to Applebee's! For a general consulting fee I will take part in this project!) They think if they can get the Branson and Budweiser thing down, they can go among the rabble and not get laughed off the earth.

I look forward to seeing them try. Come on, Mitt, tell them how much you enjoyed Little Fockers.

UPDATE. In comments, Batocchio is reminded of the "You might be a redneck" routine. (You knew it was by Jeff Foxworthy? 2 points!)

professor fate wants to know why Murray didn't ask about porn. Well, you must consider his audience, which is not actual lower-middle-class people but joy-popping nerdcons who want to hear about a cleaned-up Real America -- "Leave It to Beaver," not Wisconsin Death Trip, or even Winter's Bone. Imagine though if he'd taken the thing more seriously:

- Have you ever done meth? Maximum of 7 points. 3 points if you've ever done it, and 1 point for each tooth lost as a consequence up to 4. (No points if you took it at a gay orgy and called it Tina.)

- Have you ever had your credit card refused by the Home Shopping Network? 5 points.

- Are you still paying interest on a rear-projection TV you dumped in the woods last year? 3 points.

Etc. Comments are a joy in general. "'Have you ever had a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?' Yes. (sniffle) My heart," says Spaghetti Lee. "I've taken Cosmopolitan quizzes that were more scientific," says DocAmazing. "I got 60 (I know and have eaten at all the restaurants, but I'm on a diet)," says redoubt. "What's unusual about this? I'm African-American." No points for you, redoubt -- this test's restricted!

UPDATE 2. Har, Tbogg: "I took The Bubble Challenge and, well... 21. It would appear that I am Cornel West." This is despite his working-class bona fides, which Murray's finely-tuned calculus somehow missed. Also scoring low on the test, the insufferable Ilya Somin:
I managed a middling 37 on his 0–99 point scale. As Murray recognizes, one can easily quibble about the details of many of the questions. For example, I not only have “attended” a Rotary Club meeting, but actually gave a speech at one when I was 17. Maybe I should get extra credit for the latter.
I should think they'd take points off. "Here's Ilya from Little Libertarians, he's going to tell us why he wears a suit and tie to gym class."
I would also have achieved a higher score if there were more sports-related questions.
I expect all the pointy-heads will start asking for Bubble Test Affirmative Action. "No, I don't know any Skynyrd, but I know I'm supposed to like Drive-By Truckers." "No, I didn't participate in sports, but I used to pretend to be Tom Landry when I was yelling at the gardener."

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