Saturday, September 11, 2004

Ruling Class war

Earlier this week, Davie was in deep moral thoughts zone - a zone he is manifestly not comfortable in. Today he returns to more comfortable ground: off-the-cuff insta-sociology, slicing and dicing the population into niches gussied up with cutesy demographic monikers which are intended to hide the fact that they don't really make much sense.

Today's effort to further polarize the American political landscape (uniters, not dividers, anyone?) takes on "the information-age elite", the symbolic analysts who are, per Robert Reich etc., the new leading class of American society. (Since when do conservatives embrace political models based on economic class? Since now, apparently.) Brooks gives us the categories "spreadsheet people" and "paragraph people" as the red-blue divide within the information-age elite. Spreadsheet people, like CEOs and accountants, are pro-Bush. Paragraph people, like academics and journalists, are pro-Kerry. Brooks supports his claims with data from a survey of political donors broken down by profession, carried out by

Why is this cute idea so stupid? Let's put it this way. Brooks doesn't bother to mention one group you'd think would qualify as classic "spreadsheet people": economists. Who could possibly be more spreadsheet-oriented than an economist? Brooks leaves economists out of his column for a simple reason: in's survey, the ratio of economists for Bush to economists for Kerry No economists gave money to Bush. Thirteen donated to Kerry; the rest of the 61 economists surveyed overwhelmingly gave to other Democratic candidates or to the DNC. (Just 3 gave to GOP candidates; one gave to LaRouche.)

Let's go through the groups Brooks terms "spreadsheet people". Actually, there are just three: CEO's, bankers, and accountants. Not exactly a broad donor base, but what they lack in breadth, they make up for in depth...of pockets. Now, what do these three groups have in common? They're all heavily affected by federal tax and regulatory practices which the Republicans are trying to curtail or abolish. For example, the GOP is currently trying to eliminate taxes on corporate dividends, and prevent stricter government oversight of the accounting and banking industries. The reason CEOs, bankers and accountants are Republican isn't some mystical affinity of thinking styles; it's that the Republicans are in the pockets of bankers, accountants, and big corporations. Bankers, accountants, and CEOs give to the GOP because they are buying legislation that puts more benjamins in their briefcases. Or that allows them to deceive clients, form cartels and misuse insider information without being punished.

Now let's look at Brooks's "paragraph people": academics, journalists, actors (?), authors, librarians, lawyers. Does it make sense to argue that any of these people are voting their wallets? Trial lawyers, maybe. And I guess you could make a case that librarians are voting against tax cuts that force libraries to close. But for most of these people, it seems obvious that their opposition to Bush stems from conviction - or, especially in the case of economists, from EXPERTISE. Economists are just as much "spreadsheet people" as CEOs. The difference is, economists are impartial. CEOs support whoever they think is good for their business. Economists support whoever they think is good for America.

This, in sum, is a sneaky little column. Bush's donor base is overwhelmingly composed of the tiny business class - CEOs, bankers, and accountants - whom his policies directly benefit, at the expense of the rest of America. Brooks is trying to disguise this fact by making it look like just an innocent difference of intellectual proclivities, no more serious than the choice of majors in college. In fact, it's what the title of the column aptly suggests: class war. But only one class is fighting.

A few choice bits out of the column:

"Paragraph people work with prose, don't shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats."

Shine their shoes? Would that be while debarking from the 20th Century Limited, or perhaps exiting Ebbetts Field? Someone please alert Mr. Brooks that it is no longer 1956.

"Professors, on the other hand, are classic paragraph people and lean Democratic."

Would that include, like, professors of particle physics? How about professors of environmental biology? Or do spreadsheets only count when the data that's on them is money? How about professors of medicine - surgeons, say? "Paragraph people"?

"Academics have had such an impact on the Democratic donor base because there is less intellectual diversity in academia than in any other profession."

There may be little POLITICAL diversity in academia. But support for George Bush is not "intellectual diversity", unless you argue that, to be intellectually diverse, a group must include a fair proportion of stupid and greedy people.

"Why have the class alignments shaken out as they have? There are a couple of theories. First there is the intellectual affiliation theory. Numerate people take comfort in the false clarity that numbers imply, and so also admire Bush's speaking style. Paragraph people, meanwhile, relate to the postmodern, post-Cartesian, deconstructionist, co-directional ambiguity of Kerry's Iraq policy."

"Numerate people" could support George Bush only if the sole thing they're enumerating is the number of dollars in their tax refunds - and then, only provided they make more than $200,000 a year. "Numerate people" would have to recognize that an administration that turns a $397 billion projected surplus (for FY 2004 as of end 2000) into a $422 billion actual deficit has gone fiscally mad - and that, furthermore, an administration which deliberately issues wildly inaccurate , politically biased deficit estimates, over and over again, is not to be trusted. And to speak of the "false clarity that numbers imply", at a time when the numbers show that we are mortgaging our children's future to pay for billion-dollar tax giveaways to the richest people in the world, is simply evil. It's like the casino barker telling you not to pay attention to those scary thousand-to-one odds - that's just the false clarity that numbers imply. Go ahead! Put it all on 17! You might win big! Oh, you lost - too bad. Try it again! Maybe you'll win!

And then to contend that Bush's speaking style appeals to "numerate people" because he states things in short, declarative sentences, even though these sentences are frequently false, and never contain accurate or detailed numbers...this is just bizarre. Bill Clinton's speaking style was filled with numbers - percentages, budget amounts, population sizes, down to the last detail. But apparently "numerate people" aren't attracted to speakers who are actually numerate. They like speakers who say short, decisive things, which never actually include any numbers.

The "paragraph people" relating to Kerry's "postmodern" blah blah - apparently there were no progressive academics supporting the decidedly non-postmodern, unambiguous Howard Dean. Oh, wait - actually the campuses were for Dean; Kerry won the nomination because of a bunch of folks in Iowa. Gosh, those Iowans are so...postmodern.

"...people who majored in liberal arts subjects like English and history naturally loathe people who majored in econ, business and the other "hard" fields. This loathing turns political in adult life and explains just about everything you need to know about political conflict today."

Except for the fact that "hard" economists overwhelmingly support Kerry. Incidentally - business is a "hard" field? Funny, I thought physics and pre-med were "hard" fields. I always thought of business as a "bullshit" field.

"I myself am thinking of founding the Class Traitors Association, made up of conservative writers, liberal accountants and other people so filled with self-loathing that they ally politically with social and cultural rivals."

THis would be funny except that it touches on a truly upsetting, deeply held conviction of Republican thinkers: they actually feel that to do something political which would be good for anyone other than oneself is to be guilty of "self-loathing". This dismal Nietzschean heritage goes a long ways towards explaining the behavior of, say, Dick Cheney. Democrats, fools that we are, actually believe that human beings can occasionally help each other out without being guilty of self-hatred. What they call "self-loathing" we call "solidarity", or, sometimes, "patriotism".


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