Class: you have less of it than you’d like to believe

Clap along if you feel like a roof without a room. If you’re living under a tarp down by the creek on a modest psychiatric disability pension while the property owner, who lives in a house that he owns free and clear, strings you along for unpaid farm work, that’s probably you. And yes, if you have to hazard a guess about the owner’s demographics, guess that he’s a Boomer.

Clap along, kid. Make a joyful noise.

The category error of Occupy Wall Street’s 99% gloss is that the greed needed to keep the American rentier-mountebank regime from disintegrating in spectacular fashion would be impotent if it didn’t also infect the haute bourgeoisie and large numbers of people in the classes below. The rapaciousness of one percent of a society’s population, as Occupy diagnoses the problem, is easily deterred by normal social pressure. It’s different when the day-to-day habits of rapaciousness have infected the top ten or twenty percent, greed is systematically instilled in the entire population by an advertising campaign verging on total information war, and dissent is suppressed by a warrior caste whose enforcers have been paid the king’s shilling.

It’s a lot more than just a shilling these days. The rotten borough police who have been brutalizing Ferguson and nearby municipalities are mostly mercenaries who live in nicer parts of St. Louis County or, if they’re really white and uptight, St. Charles County. They aren’t actually protecting their own neighborhoods; they’re protecting and serving municipal tax-farming operations straight out of Charles Dickens, and they’re doing so for a hefty fee. At the limbic level, some of these cops are deploying because they’re freaked out about the specter of black racial violence and want to protect their families, and this rationale is exactly the one that every racist authoritarian shitbird demagogue in the country wants them to use, but don’t worry, they’ll flip their shit if the paychecks are late; that’s one of the reasons why they have such intransigent unions.

If they were deploying off the clock in ad hoc town militias in bougie-ass Florissant or St. Charles to protect their neighborhoods against underclass bandits from Ferguson or Jennings, they’d have a case for genuine self-defense, but they aren’t. The Ferguson protesters are too invested in the reform of their own city to give a damn about the fancy neighborhoods in someone else’s municipality. Besides, the cops in St. Louis County, like cops in many metropolitan areas, are careful to live in economically segregated middle-class neighborhoods, away from the riffraff. They know how to look out for Number One. Even Apartheid-era security services in South Africa, which took full advantage of the unwashed bigotry and paranoia of Boer bruisers, made sure to pay their goons enough that they weren’t stuck living in shanties in cracker townships.

Around St. Louis, there’s this assumption on the paranoid right wing that the police are trying to hold the line against black underclass violence and disorder, even though they’re clearly trying to hold the line only when the lower classes are revolting directly against the police. There was, and may well still be, a problem with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department getting enough cops on the streets in Bevo to deter white-girl-bleed-a-lot assaults and murders. In a black-white dichotomy, Bosnians are a kind of white meat, but black vs. white is not the operative dichotomy. What ultimately matters to the SLMPD, even if its officers can’t or won’t articulate this, is that the Bosnians being attacked and threatened aren’t cops. They aren’t fellow warriors. There would be an incredible all-hands-on-deck mobilization if the racial violence ever spread into Sam Dotson’s neighborhood of St. Louis Hills, and I doubt that he’d be the only well-placed bougie making it happen. I’m guessing, however, that the violence is nowhere near the point of spreading to St. Louis Hills, and that this is probably why it’s a neighborhood inhabited by the kind of people who are on a first-name basis with the chief of police.

The confusing thing, for those who can’t see past Bougie’s crude outward behavior and get a glimpse of the socioeconomic motivations stirring just beneath the surface, is that the crasser aging yuppie elements and the dippier constituencies of Occupy are driven by practically the same greed that drives American police unions today. It manifests itself differently, and thankfully with much less violence, but it’s ultimately just two different facets of the same ugly stone. In all three cases, the thinking basically comes down to, I needs to make money, dawg, know’m sayin’? I gots to make da Benjamins. There is a thriving cottage industry on the alt-right devoted to explaining that this mindset is crass, unbecoming, and unproductive on the part of poor black people, and maybe also on the part of poor white people if the sentiment is catholic enough. Well, no shit it is. But it’s one whopping big hell of a conceit to assume that this mentality is peculiar to the po’ nigga or the po’ cracka. Coming from the affluent and well-educated classes whose members usually articulate it, it’s an incredibly hypocritical exercise in ass-covering and moral self-aggrandizement. The poor, not having gone to finishing school, tend to advocate for their own economic interests using crude language, allowing their betters to point and smirk. This does not mean that the sentiment is materially any different. “I needs da job to make da Benjamins, dawg, know’m sayin’?” is a higher-workload, lower-pay demand to be included in the workforce than “I need #Occupy because I completed a BFA in puppetry at Columbia and am unemployed while my friends got $60,000 a year sinecures from their parents’ cronies.” It’s rarely even expressed that bluntly, since one of the advantages of good breeding is being tutored extensively in the fine art of polishing a turd. I’m pretty sure they teach that at Columbia, too, but if they don’t, you can always get academic credit for walking around campus with a mattress.

The established upper-middle class, of course, takes pleasure in looking down on both of these groups for being crass and lazy. Of course, Fox News and CNBC are much more interested in the advertising demographics of high bougies of a certain age than in their downwardly mobile grown children or poor folk in the ghetto, since Jim Cramer is somehow a man of taste and thoughtfulness who deserves regular gigs on television. Commercials from outfits like Charles Schwab (whom I had confused for a moment with his brother by another mother Les Schwab, since I often stay next door to one) and TDAmeritrade make facile comments about the amount of money that its target demographic will “need for retirement.” I should disclose again that I own some stocks (in fact, probably much financially sounder ones that whatever crap Charles Schwab is hawking–and unlike his bro Les, he doesn’t offer free coffee in the waiting room), and I’m thankful to still have this extra stream of income, but saying that one “needs” X, Y, and Z amounts spread across this, that, and the other asset class and that a one-day downward oscillation of 3% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is therefore a calamity beyond words, is no more decorous than saying, “Yo, homey, I needs da job fo’ da money fo’ my baby mama,” or, “Waaah, I graduated from college, where’s my sinecure?” It’s all like Hoyt Thorpe “needing” an investment banking job upon graduation when he’s too busy lounging on the couch in a beer-drenched haze to study for his exams.

While we’re on the subject of things that we need, I need Canadian permanent residency and a cold-hardy unicorn by the close of business Friday. If you pay attention to the amounts being demanded, you’ll notice that Bougie consistently demands larger amounts than the lower orders of poors. If every grand yuppie needs a cool million in his retirement account for a condo in Bradenton and walking-around-Aruba money or whatever, the money supply may not be a problem, but the actual work and actual productivity needed to back up the money supply so that it’s worth more than a bucket of warm piss will become a huge problem on short order. A lot of the same people who wax eloquent about the need for heavily capitalized private retirement accounts wring their hands about the insolvency of Social Security and the unsustainability of issuing $800 a month pension checks to people who contributed to the fund for their entire working lives, so they don’t really want a brokerage house level of prosperity to trickle down to machinists in Milwaukee or lettuce pickers in Salinas. Their version of “everybody” conveniently excludes the help.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time around Monterey, and I often wonder whether the abundance of Carmel or Pebble Beach is possible without the portapotty-on-a-trailer squalor of the Salinas Valley. I tend to think that it is not. Try to imagine the grating White Whines that would erupt if the romaine or arugula ran out in some clubhouse, and some line cook came out of the kitchen to tell the horrified guests, “Okay, my uncle called me last night and told me that all the Mexicans in Salinas took a vote, and they won’t be growing any of the stoop labor greens this year because their backs are sore. The artichoke crop’s looking pretty good, though, and he said they’re planting a lot more acreage to Brussels sprouts, and strawberries are still on, since they’re pretty good eating in the field, and they’re more nutritious than romaine, anyway. Sorry about that, folks. Let one of the waitstaff know if you have any special requests for how you’d like your Brussels sprouts cooked.” Fuck, try to imagine the high-decibel bitchfest that would erupt if salad greens merely got kind of more expensive than they are already because the Mexicans insisted on a pay raise for the sake of their backs, or on the use of raised beds. (Pay scales in the Salinas Valley are low even by American agricultural standards, and the work is unusually grueling because it involves an exceptional amount of stoop labor.)  Functionally, what “immigration reform” means to many Americans is the privilege of having a reserve labor pool that will gladly accept poverty wages and won’t ask the crew boss, “Dude, a portapotty on a trailer behind an old-ass short bus? What the fuck?”

For that matter, it would be practically revolutionary for affluent kids in California to start dogfooding agricultural employment since they could use some extra money but don’t want to be tied down to a restaurant job all summer. “Man, I’d love to go to Pebble Beach and play the back nine with you, but I have to go cut some lettuce tomorrow. My dad’s suddenly gotten all hard-ass about how I have to pay my own way to Coachella, and I spent all the extra gas money he gave me trying to game bottle rats up in the city last weekend.” Alternate gloss: “Brah, I am fucking stoked to go to Coachella and get all up in that bong-ass Medjool crop. And I’m really fucking stoked that Joel Salazar is no longer responsible for the drinking water.”

Murica Derp assumes no liability for the failure of Google Translate to render any of the foregoing statements into idiomatic Spanish.

Just after Christmas, I ran into a guy who was visiting the Adirondacks from Lake Forest, of all places. After I mentioned that I’ve been doing farm work, he told me, “Obviously you aren’t a picker.” LOL. He was pretty impressed when I corrected him. To be fair, he wasn’t high-hatting me at all, and I was wearing a brand new navy blue knit sweater, making it a more surreal experience for both of us to have this conversation while I was dressed like Mr. Rogers. This fellow was visiting from a wealthy part of California where Mexicans have long done a huge amount of the grunt work, but even people who have never lived in California can get an exaggerated sense of how inherently critical Mexicans are to feeding the country on account of California’s cultural dominance. California has a huge film industry, and only a small, widely ignored part of it is Dave Wilson Nursery’s Fruit Tube (TM). Tom Spellman doesn’t talk or look like a Mexican, nor does he whine about how there aren’t enough Mexicans to do all the orchard grafting work that has to be done, since he’ll gladly do it if a Mexican isn’t available. He doesn’t look like one to lord it over Mexicans for doing menial orchard work when he also does menial orchard work.

In other words, Tom Spellman isn’t nearly alpha enough for Hollywood. Maybe I’m hella beta not just because I do farm work and watch pruning tutorials on YouTube from time to time, but also because I’m unimpressed by women who are much more top-heavy and blatantly narcissistic than the better class of hookers on Backpage. Dan Bilzerian, one of the premier wankers on the American scene today, has over a million Twitter followers and 6.5 million Instagram followers. It’s easy to overly romanticize the Amish, who often have a rather odd manner about them, but there’s a certain wisdom in their shielding themselves and their children from electronic gadgetry and the mainstream pop culture that it transmits. This sheltering forces their youngsters to develop their sexuality either in marriage or through real interactions with real people in dive bars on rumspringa, not through the narcissistic electronic gaslighting of Dan Bilzerian and his entourage of douchebags and bimbos. Bilzerian has so many followers precisely because he’s a total wanker, a man of negative marginal utility to his society. The same thing is true of the Kardashians. Their father was a lawyer, and they’re part of the most vulgar and talentless class of entertainers, but the more disturbing part of it is that this is not widely considered to be an embarrassment to their family. What’s pathological about them isn’t just that they’re totally fucking useless, like the drugged-up recluses from Rob Ford’s old crowd in Etobicoke; it’s that they’re revered for being useless in some of the most vulgar and public ways imaginable. They’re of a much lower class than somebody like Lindsay Lohan, a legitimate actress who occasionally makes a spectacular public bellyflop into the goddamn sauce. Dan Bilzerian is a douchebag with a Gulfstream and a large arsenal of semiautomatic weapons; Kim Kardashian is lately famous for having liberally rubbed oil on her ample buttocks and gazed back coquettishly at the camera.

These dipshits are mainstream role models. They’d be harmless if ordinary people gawked at them for a few seconds, like, seriously, what the fuck, but that isn’t the main reason why they have such a following. They’re idols. Dude-what-the-fuck reactions to celebrities are reserved for train wrecks of the sort that Bruce Jenner has made of himself, or of herself, but he, or she, is merely the stepfather, or stepmother, of the Kardashian sibship. Middlesex is but tangential to greatness in our day. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Jenner sex change thing is just a publicity hoax. I’ve read that it’s already the subject of a reality (sic) TV show. It’s good business if one is craven or disturbed enough to make it work.)

There’s a weird ethnic angle to these fuckheads, and it’s hidden in plain sight. The Armenians are the Jews of Fresno, so I used to think that it was a good thing to have the Kardashians standing apart as a sui generis clan of attention whores who prove that not all Armenians are like that (Bilzerian works too, of course), but when I think about their fame in terms of its aggravation of the already deranged habits of cutthroat striving that dominate Americans at all levels of leadership today, I’m on the fence. Fresno-style Armenians are definitely worse at a local level, for communal relations and for civics. They’re pretty low-key, but they have disingenuous high-hat tendencies of the sorts that absolutely must be checked by countervailing social pressure and law. It’s bad news to allow an ethnic minority to go around acting like its own shit doesn’t stink and (this seems to be happening, although I’m not entirely sure) shutting out other ethnic groups in favor of their own kin in what should be meritocratic business decisions. The sleazier sorts of Jews do that sort of thing all the time, and you can be damn well sure that it’s bad news for them and for the gentiles; shanda fur die goyim scandals are rarely very well hidden from the goyim. On the other hand, Fresno Armenians are competent businessmen, not deleterious twits, so if their goy neighbors (including Jews in this case, because it’s fucking Fresno) imitate them in order to replicate their success, they’re may end up running profitable carpet stores or orchards, not making the tabloids again because they put a hearty sheen of coconut oil all over their backsides and offered a tarty smile. So, at the national level, the Bilzerian/Kardashian type is much worse.

Another argument in favor of the Fresno Armenians is that they tend to comport themselves like minor old money, not in-your-face new money jackasses of the sort that have proliferated so in Hollywood since the late nineties. Ironically, some of the most famous attention-whoring dipshits on the Hollywood scene are actually from quite affluent families, like the Kardashians, or downright wealthy ones, like Bilzerian and Paris Hilton. Their antics are of a sort that would have gotten them shipped overseas by their parents had they refused to tone it down during the Great Depression, and specifically for being shitheads about their socioeconomic station in life. The generationally wealthy got seriously rattled by the intensifying populist sentiment of the thirties. They had been obnoxious about their wealth during the fin de siècle, and even into the twenties, but by around the time of FDR’s inauguration, they were starting to have premonitions of pitchforks and lamppost hangings. They knew that they had to be more discreet for their own safety. Many of them had lost large amounts of wealth in the stock market crash, and more had colleagues who had gone from riches to rags. The ones who still had fortunes started moving their fancy shit out deeper into the woods, where the impoverished erstwhile middle classes would not have it in their faces all the time. They would have blown head gaskets to see their useless, intellectually dissipated grown children entering into agreements with Life to regularly publish photos of their travels on chauffeured aircraft to visit high-end burlesque show, get plastered in Hemingway-approved bars in Havana, and fuck around with military assault rifles and explosives in the desert.

This is the point at which I start to feel like I really am waiting on a unicorn, and that Canadian permanent residency will come quicker and easier. People like Bilzerian, Hilton, and the Kardashians have a qualis rex, talis grex effect. It’s hard to say just how strong it is, since they’re obviously extreme cases and many people are genuinely put off by their antics, but they definitely have some effect, and it’s definitely a negative one. Mainstream media continue to lionize these useless, self-promoting airheads who show all the tact of bad seed Roman emperors. This fare is cheap to produce, so it will continue to be produced either until it is censored by state fiat or the audience gets tired of it. Both of these possibilities are currently beyond the event horizon. The implications are demoralizing.

Offhand, I can think of two realistic hopes for a resolution to this horseshit. One is that the event horizon is closer than it appears, which is not unthinkable at all in times as unsettled as ours. The other is that it’s really just a marginal chorus of civically disengaged morons, many of them Eurotrash with no significant civic effect on the United States in any event, who give a shit about orgies of celebrity excess. This seems less likely.

When the wealthy become famous and even wealthier by being total ass clowns about their privilege and suffer at worst negligible social blowback for being such shits, they provoke a Red Queen’s race among their socioeconomic inferiors, one that may reach straight down to the bottom of the heap. This is a good way to understand the red pill game scene. Many of Dan Bilzerian’s pictures feature scantily-dressed women who are either actively involved with him in a sexual or cryptosexual capacity or publicly offering themselves to him. This is the opposite of how a decent man would consort with prostitutes, and it’s the opposite of how a sensible, tactful prostitute would consort with her clients. In effect, and maybe in intent as well, Bilzerian is rubbing his sexual success in the faces of other men, insinuating that they’re little bitches and that he can be a preening asshat about his reign over a rotating harem without provoking positional violence. But this is really just his sociosexual regime at the moment. He looks like the sort of fellow who has an above-average chance of getting murdered or ending up in prison on an O. J. Simpson-grade sentence. It wouldn’t come as a huge shock to learn that he has been indicted for first-degree murder.

Of course people like Dan Bilzerian have a coarsening effect on their societies if other people take them seriously. Other guys start thinking that maybe they should up their Gulfstream game. Most of the effect, however, is subtler than that. Some of it is perniciously subtle. Solipsistic moral relativists from the lower classes (including most of the upper classes in this case) can point to people like Bilzerian and argue that they really aren’t that crass and cutthroat. When there’s that much aggressively marketed variation between the trashy Hollywood jet setters and the rest of us, moral relativism suddenly becomes a lot more doable.

This helps explain some important but enigmatic cultural phenomena, like Downton Abbey and the 1%/99% dichotomy. It probably isn’t a bad way to explain everything about PBS and NPR. Focusing on a stuffy-ass family of English toffs and their hangdog household staff is a good way to ignore the possibility that one is only a marginally less insufferable haut bourgeois pain in the ass. So is focusing on the lowest integer above zero as a mathematically backwards shorthand for the percentile cutoff beyond which there is only socioeconomic assholery and before which there is nothing but Edenic virtue. Maybe Reihan Salam has some thoughts on this:

I first encountered the upper middle class when I attended a big magnet high school in Manhattan that attracted a decent number of brainy, better-off kids whose parents preferred not to pay private-school tuition. Growing up in an immigrant household, I’d felt largely immune to class distinctions….So high school was a revelation. Status distinctions that had been entirely obscure to me came into focus. Everything about you—the clothes you wore, the music you listened to, the way you pronounced things—turned out to be a clear marker of where you were from and whether you were worth knowing.

By the time I made it to a selective college, I found myself entirely surrounded by this upper-middle-class tribe. My fellow students and my professors were overwhelmingly drawn from comfortably affluent families hailing from an almost laughably small number of comfortably affluent neighborhoods, mostly in and around big coastal cities. Though virtually all of these polite, well-groomed people were politically liberal, I sensed that their gut political instincts were all about protecting what they had and scratching out the eyeballs of anyone who dared to suggest taking it away from them. I can’t say I liked these people as a group. Yet without really reflecting on it, I felt that it was inevitable that I would live among them, and that’s pretty much exactly what’s happened.

So allow me to unburden myself. I’ve had a lot of time to observe and think about the upper middle class, and though many of the upper-middle-class individuals I’ve come to know are good, decent people, I’ve come to the conclusion that upper-middle-class Americans threaten to destroy everything that is best in our country. And I want them to stop.

As it happens, he’s a bit too universally magnanimous towards Bougie. Having attended Dickinson College, a mistake that I would not make twice if it were 2001 again and I were aware of Chico State and Humboldt State, I know better than to broadly describe that lot as “polite,” “good,” or “decent,” since doing so would inflate these compliments at a time when their full face value is needed for the truly polite, good, and decent people I’ve known from Humboldt State and College of the Redwoods. As a Dickinsonian, I lay down with dogs, and it was a huge fucking pain in the ass to brush off the fleas afterwards. It’s equally accurate to say that many people make lifelong friends in federal prison, but it doesn’t mean that you, too, should go. Under Mencius Moldbug’s caste model, I was raised by a strongly Brahmin family, but once I got to Dickinson, that didn’t stop me from getting high-hatted by a bumptious twit whose parents ordered takeout from Boston Garden. (It was the Insurance Schmuck again. A strange bird, that one.) Bear in mind, too, that Dickinson actually has quite strong undergraduate academics and an intellectually diverse student body, much of which sincerely gives a shit about the life of the mind, and it was one of the least selective schools at its academic level when I applied. None of this was enough to hold the line against snooty bitches with pastel Capri pants and personality disorders.

It figures, then, that a middle-class immigrant kid from Brooklyn would be a bit sore about his new socioeconomic milieu at the same alma mater that coughed up Mark Zuckerberg. It’s too bad that Stuyvesant High School has also gotten overrun by the high hats, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Imagine being raised in a normal neighborhood in the outer boroughs where the locals have more or less grounded opinions of themselves, and then suddenly being beamed up through a meritocratic wormhole into the “Summer: yes, Taylor, that’s an excellent verb” crowd from the East Seventies. The high hats at Dickinson repeatedly drove me up a fucking wall, and I was already familiar with their kind from my prep school days. Also, if Stuyvesant is that bad, the private schools in New York must be unfathomable. It’s well known that affluent New York parents desperately pull strings to get their special snowflakes into prestigious kindergartens (yes, you read that right), so Reihan Salam is cross for some good reasons.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that Salam’s piece is the opening blow in a bum fight that the Koch brothers and their peers would very much like to see waged between Lesser Bougie and Greater Bougie for the betterment of the nation. Much of Salam’s argument is that, well, you know, there are a lot more affluent people than hella goddamn rich people, so they inevitably have a worse cumulative sociopolitical effect. This argument is unassailable on its intrinsic merits, but the problem is with its extrinsic vices. It’s a perfect opening for troublesome billionaires to aver that there just isn’t enough habitat in the ecosystem for all the affluent people who want to claw their way to the top, so it really would be better to reserve privilege for the dignified few, who just happen to include troublesome billionaires. This is a perfect analogy for the condescension of old money to new money for being crass arrivistes, which is probably the single most vile thing that old money in its classic form does to anyone in the social sphere. Meanwhile, the merely affluent are leaning out the window and dumping chamberpots on the lesser poors for being too lazy to compete in the world like good meritocrats who discreetly benefit from systemic regulatory capture regimes. Another step down, the back-to-the-land crowd runs its farms on the illegal use of unpaid labor, with or without major mental illness, housing, and plumbing, because good vibes, man. Basically, the United States has become a daisy chain of highwaymen with a small class of slaves at the bottom.

The kicker is that the only way to fix this clusterfuck is for the country to have a genuine change of heart, a spiritual awakening of the sort that Joel Osteen would consider a buzzkill because it is actually spiritual, not profane in its crassness. The perverse thing about these back-to-the-land fuckers is that they have such high opinions of their own altruistic ethics, which conveniently do not extend to providing their employees with earned income or equivalent in-kind compensation in accordance with duly enacted labor laws. It’s a much better idea to work for an unabashed capitalist who has ethics than for a hippy-dippy good vibes asshat who talks about his ethics in the apparent belief that he can articulate them into existence in his own mind and in the minds of all others present.

Talk is cheap. That’s why it’s so highly esteemed these days.

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