Monday, January 14, 2019

The Liberal Equivalent of Fancy Cars

If you are a upper-middle-class political professional these days, you need to be something other than white. That's what Victor Davis Hanson argues in "The Game of Pseudo-Authenticity." It's like cars for successful guys:
Minority identity has become a brand for the upper middle class in the manner of a luxury car. One strives to drive a Mercedes or Jaguar not because it is more reliable or even all that much more drivable than a Toyota or Honda, but because it signals a particular cachet. And so too wealthy suburbanites often find emphasizing non-white identities useful even if it means occasionally constructing them.
Hey Victor! Whatabout Hyundai drivers? I mean, there is a sense in which Toyota and Honda drivers consider themselves a cut above Hyundai drivers -- not to mention, er, Kia.

But when you think about it, it all makes sense. We all use ways to sort ourselves into the hierarchy to demonstrate "where we are" -- as opposed to "who we are" -- and just as rising corporate stars seem to gravitate to Audis and BMWs it seems eminently sensible for rising political and academic stars to emphasize their specialness with ethnic identity, as everyone from Elizabeth Warren to Beto O'Rourke does.

But my claim to specialness is the conceit to see around the corner, to be wise to epiphenomena like rich kids appropriating minority status -- or luxury car brands, but seeing beyond all that to the real data. I remember, years ago a colleague at work winking that his father, an accountant, reckoned that 90 percent of Mercedes owners couldn't afford it. On the other hand The Millionaire Next Door that owns a few small businesses probably lives in an unexceptional house and drives an unexceptional car. So, if you look at the Mercedes driver, you are probably looking at a faker. I wonder what car Jeff Bezos drives.

The fact that ambitious liberals in politics are faking minority identity is nothing new. I am reading Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn and the truth is that Henry VII made it all up. He was an upstart that got lucky and won the Battle of Bosworth, and then set about creating the notion that the Tudors squared the circle between Lancaster and York to create a new, glorious Tudor dynasty. Actually what Henry did was root out and eliminate all possible claimants to the throne of England and repress anyone that dared to challenge him.

I had known before that Henry VIII nationalized the armed forces of England and thus disarmed the nobles. But it is clear that his father started the process of, shall we say, neutering the power of possible noble rivals. Also, it is clear that Henry VII understood that in England the City of London was where the money was.

What I am interested in is digging up true narratives that lie buried beneath the fake narratives of the ruling class. Obviously, the rise of populist nativists in the US and Europe is one such. The ruling class lost interest in the working class/lower middle class fifty years ago, and has inadvertently, through its celebration of minority rights, visited injustice upon the old working class for whom the welfare state was built. And now, finally, the old working class is revolting, probably too late.

Then just today I read iconoclast Ron Unz declaring that illegal immigration is a lot less of a problem that we are all led to believe, and thus that The Wall is a pseudo-issue. Moreover, Hispanic crime is a lot lower than people think, almost indistinguishable from white crime if you allow for the fact that the overall population of Hispanic males is younger (and thus more criminal) that the population of white males.

Which means..

Which means that probably Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is right, that a politician should aim to win the support of any and all voters on the premise that all voters want a job, an education for their children, and a safe community.

And that if a politician works hard on that angle, it doesn't matter what car he drives, or what ethnic identity he impersonates.

However, there is this. People don't go into politics to watch the grass grow. The whole point of politics is to rally the people against an existential threat. And if there isn't a genuine existential threat, we can invent one, can't we, climate change activists?

And maybe this is a requirement for a successful Homo Sapiens. For maybe if we all got our wish, and got jobs, and good education for the kids, and safe communities, we would all get weak and flabby, and then, when a true existential threat appeared, we wouldn't have the cojones to deal with it.

On this notion, we need to have troublemakers stirring us up to action and inventing fake existential threats. Just as an army needs to train for war in peacetime, maybe we humans need to live as if Armagedon was just around the corner.

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