[lbo-talk] "Anti-intellectualism

Wojtek S wsoko52 at gmail.com
Mon Dec 19 08:24:27 PST 2011

[WS:] I dnot think it is uniquely American. There are not that many places on this planet where people of low social status are universally revered. On the other hand, most people in Etats Unis love 'self-made" (or just "made" ;) men who pulled themselves from rags to riches. So it is clearly more complicated than simple hatred of those of low social status.

A more useful approach is look into broader social systems of roles and transgressions of those roles. On the pain of oversimplification, people of lower status are "hated" by those of higher social status when they transgress their low status roles in a manner that is not socially acceptable. For example, if a low status person transgresses his role by work or entrepreneurship - he me still be looked down by higher ups as parvenu but his new social status is likely be accepted because it was achieved by "legitimate" means. If on the hand that person transgresses his low status by delinquent behavior, breaking the law or usurpation - he will be met with much hostility even from those who did not suffer any material loss from his behavior. Transgression of conventional roles in an illegitimate manner threatens the every social status of higher ups, hence the hostility.

For example, the "untouchables" in India often face open hostilities and even lynching when they demand equal treatment accorded to them under Indian law.

So evoking "racism" or "hatred of the poor" amounts to simple demonization instead of taking an intellectually difficult task to understand the behavior. It does not do anything to change this behavior, it entrenches it.

This, btw, reminds me of a situation that I experienced many years ago in Baltimore. I was sitting in a public laundromat, located not in the best neighborhood to say the least, waiting for my laundry to finish. The time was about midnight, so nobody else was in the room. At one point, a white guy walks in, starts his laundry and then strikes a "conversation" with me. I used quotation marks because the "conversation" was a thinly veiled racist diatribe about the safety of the neighborhood and the criminal character of its residents. I could not walk away, so I just nodded and then replied that I lived in this neighborhood for a while and had never been threatened by anybody. The guy felt nonplussed and then started explaining himself that he was not a racist but he had never lived with Blacks, he just moved to Baltimore from West Virginia looking for a job, and the experience scared him.

It is easy to see that had his rant been met with sympathetic reception, his racist opinions would have been socially reinforced. This begs the question whether he *was* a racist or merely acted as one because he thought that expressing such views is socially expected.


On Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 10:26 AM, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com> wrote:
> On Dec 19, 2011, at 10:05 AM, Eric Beck wrote:
>> I know attributing anything to race is gauche around here these days,
>> but really, the tea party can only be understood as the latest
>> expression of good old American racism.
> True enough, but American (right) populism has long had a hate the poor strand.
> Doug
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