Is There An American Cultural Divide?

Have Americans divided themselves into what are becoming increasingly different cultures?

Charles Murray made a name for himself on the right starting in the early 1980’s with his ground-breaking book Losing Ground a survey of the impact of 30 years of welfare programs that helped lay the groundwork for the welfare reform of the 1990s. He garnered even more attention, much of it negative, in the 90s when he co-wrote The Bell Curve that purported to examine the role of intelligence in the social and economic divides we see society. The book was widely, and incorrectly seen as promoting racism by many on the left but Murray’s basic premise was never really disputed. Now, Murray is out with a new book called Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 where he argues that white America is developing a cultural divide between elites and the working class that didn’t exist before. Murray talked about the premise of the book in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed published last week:

America is coming apart. For most of our nation’s history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world—for whites, anyway. “The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. “On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day.”

Americans love to see themselves this way. But there’s a problem: It’s not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s.

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

When Americans used to brag about “the American way of life”—a phrase still in common use in 1960—they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity.

Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.

As a basic premise, it’s hard to argue with this part of Murray’s argument. There’s little doubt that “working” and “professional” class people have much less in common today than they may have in the past, and that there are fewer changes that the two groups will socialize with each other in ways that they might have in the past. To some degree this is due increased suburbanization and the natural tendency that people have to associate and socialize with people who are generally similar to them. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up for debate, but it’s the kind of natural human behavior that strikes me as being hard to change no matter what kind of social policies you enact.  Where Murray sees the beginnings of some massive social calamity, it’s possible that all we’re really seeing is natural cultural evolution.

In the Op-Ed, Murray posits two towns called Fishtown and Belmont. One is made up predominantly of working-class people, the other people who have at least a Bachelors Degree or higher. In order to help support his contention that the cultural divide he talks about is not simply based on race or ethnicity, Murray assumes that these are all-white or predominantly white communities. A visitor to  these two hypothetical communities, Murray notes, would find vast differences between the two when it comes to marriage rates (higher in Belmont than Fishtown), out-of-wedlock births (higher in Fishtown than Belmont), what he calls “industriousness,” or the phenomenon of large numbers of working class men who have dropped out of the labor force (lower labor force participation rates in Fishtown than Belmont), crime (higher in Fishtown than Belmont), and Religiosity (higher in Fishtown than Belmont). All of these differences can be verified simply by looking at the relevant social science statistics, and they no doubt point to real differences between working class Americans and professional class Americans.

All of this leads Murray to observe:

If you were an executive living in Belmont in 1960, income inequality would have separated you from the construction worker in Fishtown, but remarkably little cultural inequality. You lived a more expensive life, but not a much different life. Your kitchen was bigger, but you didn’t use it to prepare yogurt and muesli for breakfast. Your television screen was bigger, but you and the construction worker watched a lot of the same shows (you didn’t have much choice). Your house might have had a den that the construction worker’s lacked, but it had no StairMaster or lap pool, nor any gadget to monitor your percentage of body fat. You both drank Bud, Miller, Schlitz or Pabst, and the phrase “boutique beer” never crossed your lips. You probably both smoked. If you didn’t, you did not glare contemptuously at people who did.

When you went on vacation, you both probably took the family to the seashore or on a fishing trip, and neither involved hotels with five stars. If you had ever vacationed outside the U.S. (and you probably hadn’t), it was a one-time trip to Europe, where you saw eight cities in 14 days—not one of the two or three trips abroad you now take every year for business, conferences or eco-vacations in the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

(…)

Taken separately, the differences in lifestyle that now separate Belmont from Fishtown are not sinister, but those quirks of the upper-middle class that I mentioned—the yogurt and muesli and the rest—are part of a mosaic of distinctive practices that have developed in Belmont. These have to do with the food Belmonters eat, their drinking habits, the ages at which they marry and have children, the books they read (and their number), the television shows and movies they watch (and the hours spent on them), the humor they enjoy, the way they take care of their bodies, the way they decorate their homes, their leisure activities, their work environments and their child-raising practices. Together, they have engendered cultural separation.

Again, it’s hard to disagree with Murray’s basic hypothesis. It’s not common, for example, to find a doctor or a lawyer living in the same community as a factory worker who only graduated high school, and it’s hard to argue that these two people are likely to have different interests and different lifestyles. However, I’ve got to wonder how different today’s world really is from the ideal that Murray talks about. The Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin make this point:

I am skeptical that the gap is much greater than it was fifty years ago. Murray claims that the elite of the early 1960s was much more in touch with mainstream culture than today’s upper middle class (which he defines, roughly, as people in various professional occupations who are in the top 5% of the income distribution). He only offers a modest amount of evidence to support that claim, and on some points his evidence cuts the other way. For example, one of the differences between the upper middle class and the mainstream that Murray cites is that the former are much more likely to engage in foreign travel. But that gap was even greater in 1960, when foreign travel was much more an elite preserve than it is today, in the age of relatively cheap jet flights.

Somin makes a good point here. It’s not just Murray’s Belmont elites who are walking around with iPhones and watching the Super Bowl on big screen televisions. Sure, people who are better off financially have more things and are likely to have interests different from the guy who changes the oil in their care, but hasn’t that always been the case? Additionally, some of the differences that Murray notes are likely the result of changes in the culture as a whole. The Doctor drank the same beer as the factory worker in the 50s because, for the most part, wine drinking was something left to restaurants and the upper-upper class. That’s only changed as wine has become more commercialized thanks largely to the huge commercial success of Napa Valley. So, more people can afford to drink wine instead of beer. And that’s just one example of how increased consumer choices has created a supposed “divide” between the working and professional classes. But I ask, is it really a divide or just an example of people picking their preferences in a marketplace with more choices?

Murray’s proposed solution to this problem he believes exists seems not only impractical but rather silly when you think about it:

The only thing that can make a difference is the recognition among Americans of all classes that a problem of cultural inequality exists and that something has to be done about it. That “something” has nothing to do with new government programs or regulations. Public policy has certainly affected the culture, unfortunately, but unintended consequences have been as grimly inevitable for conservative social engineering as for liberal social engineering.

(…)

Life sequestered from anybody not like yourself tends to be self-limiting. Places to live in which the people around you have no problems that need cooperative solutions tend to be sterile. America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you’re not part of that America, you’ve stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special.

Such priorities can be expressed in any number of familiar decisions: the neighborhood where you buy your next home, the next school that you choose for your children, what you tell them about the value and virtues of physical labor and military service, whether you become an active member of a religious congregation (and what kind you choose) and whether you become involved in the life of your community at a more meaningful level than charity events.

How, exactly, would Murray accomplish this? As I noted above, the tendency to associate with people who are like you is something that seems to be universally human. No amount of social policy or government action is going to change that. Even if you accepted the idea that this cultural divide is both new and harmful, and I’m not sure I accept either, if it’s little more than human beings acting like human beings then there’s really nothing you can do about.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mattb says:

    As an anthropologist (which includes doing historical work) of American culture, it seems pretty clear to me that this entire premise of an initially “unified white culture” with the US is pure BS on its face. We have always have differentiated and structured cultures within the country, both in terms of farm/city divides and then class divisions within the city.

    What gave that illusion — something that really only belonged to the middle years of the 20th century — was a moment of “mass cultural consolidation” enabled by a momentary influx of wealth, social mobility, the rise of national media sources, and national brands.

  2. Loviatar says:

    Typically you’re a$$holedness is bearable, but you lost me as a reader with this comment.

    He garnered even more attention, much of it negative, in the 90s when he co-wrote The Bell Curve that purported to examine the role of intelligence in the social and economic divides we see society. The book was widely, and incorrectly seen as promoting racism by many on the left but Murray’s basic premise was never really disputed

    Here is a major refutation of the Bell Curve – Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns – published by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association. That was first on the page from a simple Google search of “Bell Curve refuted”.

    I’ll not hold my breath awaiting your retraction.

  3. mattb says:

    BTW, I’ll put the de Tocqueville quote up against the complete writings of Mark Twain (one of the greatest chroniclers of cultural and class divisions within the US).

    @Loviatar thanks for mentioning the bell curve thing… I just couldn’t summon up the energy.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    “…It’s not common, for example, to find a doctor or a lawyer living in the same community as a factory worker who only graduated high school, and it’s hard to argue that these two people are likely to have different interests and different lifestyles…”
    Really?
    Last night I had drinks with a Contractor, a Millworker, a Shipwright, an Engineer, a Parole Officer, a Private Nurse, an Artist, and a former States Attorney now in private practice. I’m an Architect.
    Next topic.

  5. Mark says:

    While I won’t come down on you quite as hard as Loviatar has, he is correct. There have been tons of disputes as to the basic premise of The Bell Curve. It is way too easy to blow those concerns off as cries of racism by the left.

  6. Rob in CT says:

    Mmm, beer. Mmm, wine. What was the question again?

    Ah, yes… nostaglia for a past that I have the sneaking suspicion didn’t really look like Murray asserts it did. We all know there was less income inequality. But how do we verify what he’s saying about the lifestyles of the (white) rich and poor?

    I particularly like the assertion about how the rich guy’s vacation didn’t involve a 5-star hotel back in the good ‘ole days. Um, who was using 5-star hotels, then?

    Wine/Beer: I think you’re exactly right. Sure, maybe everybody in the 60s drank the same (crappy) beer, because the microbreweries hadn’t started up yet. Wine consumption has grown, but how much of that comes in a box (or is otherwise pretty cheap)? I’d say most of it. Granted, I’m not bringing hard data here, but neither is Murray (unless he’s got some in the book).

    Anyway, what’s the ultimate aim here? To make (white) America less stratified without doing anything about income/wealth inequality? By, like, going out of your way to associate with people not in your economic peer group? So basically if the Belmontians go slummin’ everything will be ok?

    but Murray’s basic premise was never really disputed

    That’s not my recollection. But I don’t really care to get into it. If others do, great.

  7. john personna says:

    There’s people who shop at Trader Joes’ and everybody else.

    (Those shoppers are self-organized, though.)

  8. Rob in CT says:

    The de Toqueville quote really rings false, given what I know of antebellum US society. The Planters and laborers, peas in a pod, amirite? That’s just one example.

    The Gilded Age? Hello?

    No, what created (sorta kinda) the era he’s talking about was the New Deal, WWII and subsequent New Dealish programs (GI Bill, etc).

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    Last night I had drinks with a Contractor, a Millworker, a Shipwright, an Engineer, a Parole Officer, a Private Nurse, an Artist, and a former States Attorney now in private practice. I’m an Architect.

    I’m not so sure, Hey Norm. What do your neighbors (not the people you socialize with) do for a living?

    25 years ago in my Chicago neighborhood we had a doctor, a lawyer, a newspaper columnist, a dentist, a political operative, a fireman, a barber, a Chicago school teacher, and an accountant living in our block. the doctor, lawyer, and newspaper columnist all moved to the North Shore and were succeeded by people who worked in the building trades. I think there’s a cultural sorting going on but IQ doesn’t have a great deal to do with it.

  10. Scott says:

    It seems as if Murray is really only talking abou the 50s. I think the 50s were a unique situation caused by 10 years of economic catastrophe followed by the catastrophe of WWII. Basically, American economic and cultural strata was tossed about and homogenized in those 20 years. The re-sorting out of American society began in earnest starting in the 60s. At least that is another hypothesis to explore.

  11. Rick Almeida says:

    The only thing that can make a difference is the recognition among Americans of all classes that a problem of cultural inequality exists and that something has to be done about it.

    It seems very wrongheaded to conflate diffferent cultures with unequal cultures.

  12. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    One of the shake-outs of a mobility/internet society is that where you live matters less. I mean, are we uniform here?

    (Livin’ in California, just spent an hour shooting hoops.)

  13. michael reynolds says:

    We went around on this at Dave Schuler’s blog a while back. I think Murray is an out of touch old dude.

    Facebook, people. Twitter. Even OTB. The relationships between “classes” didn’t disappear, they moved. I have zero friends in meat space, but regularly chat with thousands on Twitter and Facebook. I imagine a fair number of them are poorer than I am, and some are richer. Who knows? Wake up and smell the pixels.

  14. john personna says:

    @Scott:

    When I grew up in the 70’s, there was a good chance “we all watched 60 Minutes last night.” Those days are gone. I think mattb is right to pull that out as a moment rather than a pattern.

    But I disagree! (with myself) as I recall that kids today all play the same games. Maybe there are just different unifiers.

  15. Wayne says:

    I disagree with the premise that cultural divide is on the rise. It is pretty obvious the author cherry picked his examples and they fall apart under scrutiny. There have always been “good” neighborhoods and “bad” ones. Rich generally have always traveled more and live a “higher” lifestyle.

    There have always been a divide among some of the subset groups of the elites and working class. Quantifying it is tough to do. Back in the “days” the only ones that had cable, satellite TVs, and computers were the rich. Now it is common, however the rich tend to still have a higher quality and more options like HDTV and the big package channel deals.

    What I think has change is the percentage of the working class whose perspective that the elites are all that elite. With the help of the internet, many can see that some elites are full of bull.

    I think one of the reasons there seem to be a bigger divide today is that the working class is more in a upfront conflict with two elite groups which is the political establishment and the MSM. Both groups think they know more and are better than anyone else. They push their agenda on others and will ridicule them if they don’t fall inline. People are not falling for it as much now and they are kicking back on that.

  16. mattb says:

    One more point about “The Bell Curve” — much of the critique, beyond how the data was constructed and analyzed, was not so much it was intentionally racist on it’s face (though there’s a strong argument for an unintentional racism within its construction), but that it was then USED to “scientifically” support racist beliefs (similar to previous movements like Eugenics).

    I’ve still run into people in the academic and policy world who seriously cite it as a reason to reduce education spending in low-income, primarily minority areas, and reroute that money to where it can be put to more effective use (i.e. middle and upper class, predominantly white, school districts).

  17. Hey Norm says:

    @ Shuler…
    One guy sells bait…a Banker, another works at the local 7.11, a Cop, a landscaper, and the lady across the road is retired.
    It’s what Sarah Palin calls the Real America…only it’s Connecticut…so she doesn’t think it’s the Real America.

  18. Gerry W. says:

    There seems to be a lot of division lately. Politically, its the worse since the Civil War, as someone said on TV. And globally, we are being more torn apart, as no one is “getting it” on how or where the jobs will be.

    As I have said before, since the fall of communism, we have added an additional 2 billion cheap laborers. Now, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand what that does to our middle class jobs and middle class wages. Add to that automation and more loss of jobs, six sigma and more loss of jobs, and mergers and consolidation and more loss of jobs.

    But there is a new dimension upon us. We have seen it with Apple. The suppliers of products will have to be in a close proximity to the end product. And the advantage of cheap labor (Apple) is that you can wake up 8000 employees, give them breakfast, and have them work 12 hours. We cannot do that here or any westernized country.

    For many a year, we had people sit on his own line and build up inventory. Then as the Japanese came along, a first in first out method was introduced and the worker was pushed from one line to another and from one part of a plant to another. Now, the new dimension is to have the supplier close to the finished product. It means that we will lose more of our manufacturing to cheap labor and the vicinity of the finished product. It means that we will lose more jobs as the supplier and the finished product is in other countries.

    It means that we may have more professional people in our country, but the manual labor jobs will be in other countries. And somehow, our government, the political parties, and the private sector needs to recognize our problems instead of the same old ideologies and fighting over things that is not going to mean a hill of beans to the unemployed and to our future.

  19. ed says:

    The book was widely, and incorrectly seen as promoting racism by many on the left

    Indeed, indeed. Why just last night, some of my fellow members at my country club in South Carolina and I were discussing this very topic as we sat in a quiet room, drinking decent people drinks and eating decent people food. What is it with many on the left and racism, anyway?

  20. Hey Norm says:

    @ Gerry…

    “…since the fall of communism…”

    Haven’t you been paying attention? We are all communists now. And only Newt Gingrich can save us. Or maybe Romney.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    @john personna:

    It matters a great deal. We fund schools and elect representatives based on geography, not online affiliation.

  22. MBunge says:

    There have always been cultural and social divisions. It’s foolish to suggest otherwise. But it’s just as foolish to ignore that those divisions existed within a more cohesive, overarching, common civilization. You don’t think America had a common culture before the 1950s? Go look at the films of the 1930s and 40s, particularly at the kind of heroes they offered up.

    Mike

  23. Dave Schuler says:

    @MBunge:

    That’s an interesting point, MBunge. However, the films of the 20s are even more interesting: much more diverse. The 30s saw the big and increasingly rich studios propagandizing to demonstrate how American they were.

  24. mattb says:

    @MBunge:

    You don’t think America had a common culture before the 1950s? Go look at the films of the 1930s and 40s, particularly at the kind of heroes they offered up.

    That’s my point actually. The common culture he’s writing about coalesced the advent of national media (movies, recorded music, and national radio) in the early days of the 20th century (I won’t get into all of the sub-cultures that were excluded from this scene). It greatly accelerated with the advent of Television and the rise of national media networks. It also was partially enabled by the rise in wages and the decrease of media equipment.

    But, looking at the full history of America, this was (a) a blip in our overall cultural history, and (b) largely limited to areas that had the supporting media infrastructure.

    All of this began to fragment (I’d argue) starting in the mid-to-late 60’s and early 70’s. The advent of cable sped things up a bit more. And then additional forces came into play (everything from the internet to the microbrewing movement).

    The truth is, in many respects, our current “fragmented culture” is far closer to the way things were for most of American history prior to the advent of mass media.

  25. sam says:

    Jesus, it’s as if F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser, and John O’Hara had never written a word.

  26. ed says:

    It’s difficult to take someone with an established race problem seriously when they author a book titled, “The State of White America.” This makes it even more difficult:

    The only problem with Murray is that he’s really hard to parody since he’s routinely kicking parody’s decaying corpse. Example one is this excerpt from Murray’s book, where he provides what is essentially a whiteness quiz. This is great stuff:

    12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products?
    13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?
    14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge?
    15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing?
    16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s,IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Fri-day’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse.

    Of course, Murray is conflating whiteness with heteronormativity and political conservatism.

    No kidding.

    And the premise seems to be a rehash of John Edwards’ Two Americas dumbed down and pseudo-intellectualed up for the SWPL LOL set.

    Three word pre-review: Worse than Bobo.

  27. MBunge says:

    @mattb: “But, looking at the full history of America, this was (a) a blip in our overall cultural history,”

    1. America hasn’t been around long enough for a span from, say, the 1930s through the 1980s to be considered a “blip”.

    2. The question is whether that era of common culture produced benefits and advances that did not exist before or are being lost now in a more fragmented society.

    Mike

  28. Barry says:

    Doug: “The book was widely, and incorrectly seen as promoting racism by many on the left but Murray’s basic premise was never really disputed. ”

    This just a flat-out Andrew Sullivan-level lie. His book was ripped like it was soaked in blood and tossed into a shark tank.

  29. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hell, with the ways in which the public K-12 schools have disintegrated over the past few decades, and with the inevitable concentrations of wealth inherent in left-wing economic policies, pretty soon the real divides in America, especially in big liberal cities on the coasts, will be as follows: (1) the totally illiterate and unemployable, (2) the barely literate and barely employable, (3) the overeducated and yet still unemployable, (4) the staggeringly wealthy.

    As for the topic at hand, whether there’s an emerging cultural divide among whites, I don’t buy it. Virtually every dichotomy posited by the author of that piece largely can be explained away by occupational mandates and by relative incomes and costs. Those items transcend time. White construction workers in the 1960’s didn’t drive Fleetwood Broughams and white doctors in the 1960’s didn’t frequent horse racing tracks during the work week. Walk into any dive bar in a white neighborhood on the night of a big game, however, whether in 1962 or in 2012, and you’d see professionals in suits and ties standing shoulder to shoulder with mechanics in coveralls and tattoos.

    The real issue with the white demographic is the shrinking of the middle class. This issue is one of employment, income, savings and investment, however, not of sushi versus steak.

  30. Hey Norm says:

    “…the inevitable concentrations of wealth inherent in left-wing economic policies…”

    Sometimes I just sit here…and the people around me wonder what I’m laughing at.

  31. RalfW says:

    I think what has changed and what working class and middle-income people (that’d be families making $51,914, btw) is that they know in their gut that social mobility has decreased in the past 30 years.

    It’s not that there wasn’t a divide before. I live in a $100K condo with a lovely view of 100 year old mansions from what was some of the best addresses in Minneapolis. But for at least a couple generations, a key part of the American Dream was dreaming that you’d be better off at 50 than your dad at that age.

    We’ve dropped a lot in social mobility.

    That Europe that Mitt likes to scoff at? Has more social mobility than the US these days!

  32. @Dave Schuler:

    It matters a great deal. We fund schools and elect representatives based on geography, not online affiliation.

    You’ve just gone from diversity of association, to how we should fund schools.

    Certainly it is the role of the federal government to transfer wealth in this area. A poor but diverse town in Alabama should indeed draw funds from the Hamptons.

  33. Janis Gore says:

    When did Murray last buy a pickup truck? Damn things cost as much as a BMW.

  34. Jib says:

    The fact is 40 years ago, Doctors made less money than they do now and working people (steel workers, auto workers then, contractors today) made more. The economic differences between rich and poor are greater today than they have been in US history and the richer you are, the bigger the difference. The top 0.1% is much richer today than the top 1% today than was true 40 years ago.

    It use to be you could become upper middle class with just a High School education, now you need not just a college degree but the right degree from a good school or a graduate degree to get the same thing. That matters to culture.

    I was talking to a long time member of a yacht club the other day. Yacht clubs might sound very high end but they are like tennis clubs or golf clubs, it takes some disposable income to join, mainly upper middle class, doctors, lawyers, engineers, small biz people. He said the biggest change he has seen at the club is that they use to do all their own upgrades and maintenance with members providing the labor. That was because there was always a number of members who were working people and who know how to do the work and could supervise and organize the work. Now they have to hire out all work. No one who works for a living can afford to own a boat much less join the club. They just dont have the same skill set in the membership anymore.

  35. Brummagem Joe says:

    “where he argues that white America is developing a cultural divide between elites and the working class that didn’t exist before.”

    It depends a bit how you define elites surely. Of course the gap between really wealthy and the rest of America has widened enormously over the past 30 years but culturally I’d say the gap between upper middle class Americans (Family incomes 150k to 750k) and the rest of Americans apart from the very poor has narrowed enormously. Clothes, cars, entertainment, etc etc are largely indistinguishable. I grew up in a upper middle class family in the forties and fifties and the divide between us and blue collar or middle class people was considerable. It was all very Mr and Mrs Bridge. You judged people by the cars they drove for godsake.

  36. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Jib:

    I’m a member of a yacht club. Most of the members are upper middle class (and that actually in disposable income terms is a fairly wide band) but we have a few members with small boats or nice boats they’ve bought competitively and done over. In fact we have one guy with a very nice (ie. expensive) 38′ sailboat he’s renovated and he’s carpenter basically who does home improvement projects.

  37. James says:

    Doug,

    You keep stating how “hard” it is to argue with Murray’s points, much leads me to believe you’re not really interested in examining the premise as you are simply uncritically repeating whatever’s in the WSJ’s op-ed pages. I’m continually amazed how surprised you are when you find yourself at conclusions you’ve already assumed.

    It’s really unfortunate the quantity of your posts aren’t strongly related to their quality.

  38. tyndon clusters says:

    i don’t know about “cultural divide” but this kind of fits into what I call an educational divide.

    I grew up in southern california in the 60s and the public school systems, as a result of Sputnik and the cold war, started to panic in reaction (remember New Math and the metric conversion which never happened?)

    Anyway, from 1st grade to 6th grade, everyone from the neighborhood went to elementary school and everyone was grouped together regardless of intelligence in one classroom. In other words, it was egalitarian and based on the “little school on the prairie” paradigm of 30 students, one teacher, one blackboard.

    This drastically changed when I went to junior high school (now called middle school) for 7th grade.

    Gone were most of my friends as my classes were now based on intelligence and IQ scores. I was in what they called the H/AE or MGM program. This stood for Honors/Academically Enriched and the Mentally Gifted Minors programs. (anybody here from other states have the same experience?)

    My own little pop history of what divides us kinda goes back to this experience. I was selected as being smarter than my friends by an educational bureaucracy which judged students by “brains”. I am sure they had the best intentions, but 40 years down the road, i think the guys that were put in the “shop” classes or the B students who were excluded from the top hierarchy realized that they were basically discriminated against and pre judged as to what their mental capabilities were.

    This segregation by IQ and grades, has had a profound impact today. Of course the “stoners” and “juvy delinquents” were all put in the same classes and I am sure that subconsciously they knew they were the lower, “Spicolli” type students that society was basically writing off. No need to drag down the”smarties” by the unwashed masses of the lower IQers.

    Lets let the high IQ folks fly, unfettered by the dumb rednecks and “okies”. This educational caste system allowed my cohort to go to Ivy League schools, grad schools, Wall street, D.C.etc.

    The others went to Trade Techs or Cal States or they joined the Army or became what was expected of them, viz. non contributors to society,

    I think the backlash that we see manifesting itself in the tea partiers and the gingrich audience that whoops and hollers with glee every time he takes on the “elites” is a subconscious Janov type primal scream at all those “elites” who in the past condescended on those who were C students.

    Many of these C and D students went on to blue collar or low paying service industry jobs and are sick and tired of guys like me (and no doubt most of you readers) who got an artificial leg up by “government” through the educational apartheid that was foisted upon them by PhDs in ivory towers who thought they knew best.

    Well, now, the shrewd demagoguery of the conservatives have whipped them into a rabid state and facts are meaningless.

    If you call someone an idiot enough times, they can come to believe its true. If you send students off to grades 7 – 12 and they basically are subjugated to the same cohort for 6 years (never did my classes change much…it was the same 50 people every year) and tell them they are kinda doomed to mediocrity at best, is it any wonder why the white, male, working class stiff is pissed off?

    So, of course, the full fury of their anger is directed at the “elites”.

    P.S. To change the subject entirely, many years ago I had lunch with the founder of Trader Joe’s, Joe Coulombe. He said something i am sure you will find fascinating.

    He said the overriding philosophy of Trader Joe’s is to appeal to the “overworked and underpaid” consumer, viz. school teachers, journalists, middle managers, government workers, etc.

    He appealed to an educated crowd who wants quality and low prices. He said, “have you ever read ONE negative article in the press about Trader Joes? Ever? Thats because all the journalists shop here because they are one of the prime examples of the “overworked, underpaid” crowd”

    Brilliant! RIP Joe.

  39. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    It’s not like it was in the old days (and it wasn’t like that then either).

  40. mannning says:

    I am considering culture, its origins and its influences in the broadest sense, and not necessarily as some anthropoligists might define it. Our culture is sliced up into many pieces; so much so that the common elements are very few. Consider the following slices and dices:

    Rich man/ poorman
    Democrat/Republican
    liberal/conservative
    liberal/progressive
    educated/uneducated
    White collar/blue collar
    Religious/non-religious
    Christian/non-Christian
    Patriot/non-patriot
    elite/non-elite
    Givers/takers
    ethical/unethical
    Moral/immoral
    Cultural snob/cultural boor
    Pro-America/Anti-America
    Intelligent/unintelligent
    Strong/weak
    Gifted/ungifted
    upstanding citizen/criminal
    Caucasian/non-Caucasian
    American heritage/foreign heritage
    Skilled/unskilled
    Heterosexual/homosexual
    Native American indians/settlers
    Joiners/Loners
    Young/Old
    Healthy/unhealthy

    And, all shades in between.

    We are a multicultural hodge-podge living our separate very uniquely human lives, and many, many different lifestyles, but held together socially by six or so very strong beliefs: The value of strength in numbers; the rule of law; the joys of our freedoms; the best place to raise our children; the opportunities for betterment, and the love of this country. There must be more…

    All of our diverse cultural components contribute to a peculiar synthesis one might call an “American Culture,” but if examined closely, it quickly dissolves into some or even all of its constituent parts, and even harkens back to quite different historical origins.

  41. Gerry W. says:

    @mannning:

    That is a pretty good list and it holds true today. My problem is the political divide of the far left and right and outside influences like China and other countries with 2 billion cheap laborers who is undercutting our middle class. We have not had an upward movement for all groups (rich to middle class to poor) in over a decade. You have more income inequality since the Depression. Also, manufacturing will be going more to China as suppliers will be next to the end product for faster turn around. No longer will it be acceptable to wait a month. It will be overnight, that a product can be changed by waking up 8000 Chinese and working them 12 hours. So, one would have to think, what this does to our middle class.

  42. mattb says:

    @mannning:
    Actually, that’s pretty close (as long as we’re talking about the shades) as an anthropologist thinks about culture. Nice job.

  43. mannning says:

    @mattb:

    Kind words are appreciated!

  44. Stephanie says:

    Sadly, there will always be income inequality anywhere in this world. Yesterday´s walk through Toronto’s Lawrence Park, one of Canada´s ten richest neighbourhoods, was enough for me to realize that. Isn´t it sad that since the 1970s, the income of the wealthiest people has increased dramatically, while the income of the rest of society have barely moved in real terms? I am not talking about the ones who sit around on their butts all day, but there are certainly many people who work hard and get paid less every year.