So did De TocqueVille, who observed that absence of set class boundaries, Americans continually aimed to use whatever vague symbols they could find to assert their position, given this uncertainty.
Btw, Fussell's Class is a fabulous book, well worth the read.
Anyway, I pilfered a copy and read it, mostly because I was already familiar with Fussel from his classic work _The Great War And Modern Memory_, about the damaging long-term psycho-social effects of WWI. I don't think the underlying anger and disdain of _Class_ can be readily perceived unless you've read that book.
I had also just read Douglas Coupland's _Generation X_, and Fussel's "X Class" seemed like an eerie prophetic vision of the 90's hipster.
The reviewer is correct to point out the weakness of the Class X bit; but then most of even the direst eschatologies leave someone to be saved. Why not the people that Fussell liked, worked with, wrote letters of recommendations for?
I've had an ongoing internal conflict because I am doing projects for the sheer fun of it with no predetermined outcome, but I feel like I should be #growthhackering instead. I hustled for years, and now I don't need to. I should just let myself be a dilettante. Thank you.
i didn't read the book or read scott's article (because his writing tends to be affliatively biased, ironically similar to the middle class signaling fussell critiques). but based on some quick reviews/summaries found via search, the simplest critique of fussell is that he's trying to will his class system into being, attracting acolytes through its writing so as to coalesce sociopolitical power for himself. in short, it's self-serving and that makes it unlikely to be enlighteningly representative. people are constantly trying to segregate and one-up each other (around things like taste, a primary marker of class for fussell), and a static class system like his is just not flexible or fluid enough to represent a highly chaotic and idiosyncratic dynamic.
we have entirely too much of this kind of bullshit to wade through already, obscuring and dispersing the entirely-too-few real pearls of wisdom. sure, it can provide fodder for further, genuine consideration, but that seems to be largely eclipsed for most by identitarian cheering/booing.
Judging from how many apparently-jokey parts where I was in a position to judge their accuracy were entirely accurate, I'm inclined to believe he's rarely joking in the book. What he writes may be funny, even intentionally so, but I think only a very little of it, if any, is misleading or substantially exaggerated.
It became clear, reading Fussell, that no matter what we thought about ourselves, our tastes, clothing and habits fit squarely into his high prole category, and everything suddenly seemed to make more sense, including the very belief that we thought we were middle class.
(Anyone hungry for more Fussell should read his classic: "The Great War and Modern Memory", about WWI and its place in 20th century Western society and literature. His book of essays "The Boy Scout Handbook and other Observations" is also great. It includes one about his personal experiences as a Princeton grad who went into WWII as an enlisted man.)
Sandra wrote what is imo the definitive book review of Class.
It's a much better review than Scott Alexander's, although that's an unfairly low bar given he doesn't appear to have caught on the book is supposed to be funny, a "cocktail-party-ready argument" as Sandra Tsing Loh puts it.
Haven't read it myself but he sounds right. Jokes like that aren't funny if they don't have a lot of truth in them.
[EDIT] That is, I wouldn't take it as a straightforward academic effort or something like that, but I wouldn't dismiss it because it happens to be entertaining. Not one thing I had first-hand knowledge of in it make me go "oh come on, that's not quite right". I'd guess if it contains such, it's a very small portion of the book.
Two other examples of this genre I know of are the original Peter Principle book, and the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity . Both of them wrap some hard truths in this format because it's the only way to get them past a lot of people's filters...
having been to this dog park, i can't help giggling at this description:
> "This is not the brand-new Ramones T-shirt sported so conspicuously by needy soul-patched 50-ish alternadads at the Silver Lake dog park."
to be fair, (nearly) everyone at the dog park is nice and friendly.
and on ego fragility as it relates to urbanization:
> "In the relatively affluent post–Cold War era, the search for self-expression has evolved into a desire to not have that self-expression challenged, which in turn necessitates living among people who think and feel just as you do. It’s why so many bohemians flee gritty Los Angeles for verdant Portland, where left-leaning citizens pride themselves on their uniform, monotonously progressive culture—the Zipcars, the organic gardens, the funky graphic-novel stores, and the thriving alternative-music scene. (In the meantime, I’ve also noticed that Portland is much whiter than Los Angeles, disconcertingly white.)"
and quoting gyourko:
> "The city’s new product was lifestyle."
exclusive lifestyle is in exceedingly high demand, so the pressure is to limit immigration and inflate prices in desirable cities.
> "All I had to offer was babysitting. Inquired the Wellesley girl: “Can you send me a job description?” I wrote back: “BABYSITTING! $12 an hour!” She took it."
wonderfully terse. strunk and white would be proud.
Miss Tsing Loh has a small advantage here by not having been in diapers in the period that probably offers context for Fussel's musings.
I was trying to convey that people that live through an event oftentimes have the benefit of localized context, over others that only read about it. In this specific example: Miss Tsing Loh had the benefit of knowing the classes described by Fussel as contemporaries - in University, in the shops, at the beach. She might have noticed subtle cues in their behaviour that make obvious to her that the book is only meant as humour, where Scott can only assume it is, which to my reading, he does plenty.
Scott Alexander didn't write a long dunderheaded review of Class because he was too young in the 80s.
Roll 1d6. Phrase your response in the manner of the class indicated by the result of the dice roll, as follows: 1: upper ; 2: upper--middle ; 3: middle , 4; high prole; 5: mid-prole ; 6 low-prole.
(HN is mostly Prole-and-proud and, especially, Middle-who-erroneously-think-they're-Upper-Middle-because-they-can-afford-expensive-hiking-clothes, with some actual Upper-Middle but not that many—most of the Upper Middles in tech are in more people-person roles, if not ownership or management, than pure technical ones, even if they have some kind of tech background, or sometimes are in the more academic wing of tech)
Sounds about right. HN is mostly educated in engineering with a smattering of business, both eminently sensible subjects which are too practical to be middle class. There are some pure science/math folks among us, which can be counted as middle class, but they are few and far between.
Nevermind, not middleclass -- definitely interested in privacy.
It's funny to see Scott laugh at the hierarchy of flowers in a garden, but things like that are common in the UK. I mean, they can be ignored to a greater or lesser degree but they do exist.
1) The company one (employee, manager, director, etc.)
2) The UK class system
3) The techie machismo ladder (who is the biggest ninja, 10x, Superman programmer)
They interact in surprising ways. You never know who is going to defer to whom.
Book's a ton of fun. Recognizing the elements of one's own class roots, reflected in Fussell's mirror, if you will, is entertaining. Fascinating tool for analyzing (sorry to bring him up, but, it's really interesting) Trump & family's, uh, fashion and decorating preferences.
[EDIT] And on actually reading TFA, Scott notices and covers all of this, because of course he does. There's a reason I like his stuff.
I might have some insight into this one because in the early 00's (pre-blogs), while working in tech, I invested in my social life by writing newspaper columns on men's fashion and style, and have since made it a point to be as helpful as I could to new immigrants to the country to help decode some of the nuances of the culture so they didn't feel like they had to take shit from anyone.
The question I spent a lot of time on in my early 20's was whether mere taste could be sufficient or necessary for class mobility, and whether it could matter by creating real opportunity. The answer is complicated. Jenny Holzer's truism, "money creates taste" is even only partially true.
That book from 1983 is part of a storied genre with a long history of selling manuals to hopeful people, and they're really variations on etiquette manuals and Cinderella, Pygmalion.
First, there is a smarter way to look at it. One of my favourite maxims is from management and political theorist Jeffery Pfeffer who stated, "They forgive you when you win."
It's in one of his most popular books, which if you are keeping track, was on one of his Stanford courses, and was on a Davos reading list from the FT. Fancy, surely, but if you start with the insider/outsider worldview, nothing will cure you of feeling like an outsider. One of the most famous gold medalist olympic show jumpers said he only ever beats his last round and the course, not his competitors. That's how you succeed. I'm crassly name dropping these ostensibly fancy things because the other thing someone interested in this stuff needs to understand is that there is no there there. There is no peak experience of luxury that will make you become something, but experiencing it can change you if you understand it, especially with very young people. I think the most valuable experience a child can have is, even for a brief period, to experience real freedom and power, because that high water mark (peak) experience will form a key co-ordinate in their identity, and this can change their life course to a significant degree by just knowing what it feels like and wanting to feel that way again. (just as people often use low water mark experiences to define themselves by their peak negative experiences. btw, if you did this without knowing it, you aren't what happened to you, you are free.)
So, what is that royal jelly, or that magical quality that very rich people seem to have, where clothes just seem to fit, skin seems healthy, and always seeming to say and do the right thing? What is that power? First, it's your perception. Second, it is an effect of other things. English has this almost sinister conflation of effect and affect, which pollutes the downstream culture and keeps people spinning wheels. Third, those things are when you prevail in your endeavours and do that often enough that it becomes a habit, and you just relate the world differently, and that is the effect you sense. Faking it until you make it presumes there is something to make. There isn't. Start with something real and humble and just grow.
Anyway, it would be really long personal exposition on what "class" looks like in 2021, but I'd say yes, it's still a thing, and no, it's not what we think it is, and warn that reasoning about it at all is a trap that subconsciously self-identifies you with a sense of inferiority that is not real, and finally, it's the effect of things you can choose.
Scott, if you are reading this, thank you for writing. You help a lot of people.
An interesting corollary is that close up they're neither intelligent, not competent, nor talented. They're simply entitled, well-connected, and often ruthless. It's almost impossibly hard for an outsider to decode the signals required to join them without having been through the sausage machine.
Being relentlessly self-interested and covertly ruthless will certainly help - they respect that - but it won't be enough to get true insider status. That needs 'breeding' - family connections. No amount of success will buy that, although outsiders are occasionally allowed to marry into it.
The US seems much the same. Access to the Big Money is a little easier, but access to the aristocracy is still very difficult. You can be successful and super-rich - usually from a rather privileged start - but the families who matter will still consider you an exotic specimen and not One of Them.
In both countries the extent to which the families who really matter manage to keep themselves out of the news is impressive, as is the extent to which the news is bread-and-circuses which keeps all of the lower classes distracted and off-balance.
This forms another class ceiling that outsiders can't break through, because they won't be able to find it - unless someone on the inside points them in the right direction.
This is really insightful. I first read it maybe 15 years ago, and it makes sense of my reaction to it.
I haven't read the book, just this review of it. But the review says:
> The upper class is old money. The people you think of as rich and famous - tech billionaires, celebrities, whatever - aren't upper class. However privileged they started off, they still had to put in at least a smidgeon of work to get their money, which disqualifies them. Real uppers inherit.
By that definition, the vast majority of "WASP" people are not "Upper Class". The "Upper Class" in the US would be heavily "WASP", but I would expect it is gradually becoming somewhat more diverse.
A fairly traditional name for this class is “Intelligensia”.
Graeber builds on this in Bullshit Jobs by taking a stab at why this is, which is in part because most of these jobs pay like crap and take a ton of time to get into, but are nonetheless desirable, so they're preferentially held by people who have enough family support to earn little or nothing for years and years and still not have to worry much (plus family contacts are a big deal in some of them). Graeber's analysis of the class-dynamics of desirable, seen-as-basically-contributing-to-humanity jobs is one of the more interesting parts of that book, IMO (the military is the equivalent for people who can't afford a PhD plus five years of unpaid internships in a high COL city, travel, etc.)
Things have moved on from “let’s go to the shopping centre and get loads of designer stuff” but Instagram is still selling.
But platforms try to sell this as a kind of counter-Amazon revolution.. despite being the same thing. It's a weird marketing headspace.
In short, class means something different in parts of the country. With inevitable mixing as people move to different states and especially cities, I've witnessed quite complex dynamics.
Shelling out our industrial/manufacturing economy for a "services economy" + big government/welfare economy has ended the middle class; meanwhile the political class (and media) have consolidated into a front group for an increasingly hidden ruling class/aristocracy, who like the companies behind shell companies are pretty hard to identify and lampoon.
This of course would be an intriguing book to read should someone dare to write it.
Which is due to OSHA, HR and other overhead increases.
Which is due to...(I dunno but probably some sort of economic surplus)
What relevance could some things that you have no proof he either said in the first place (yes, me and everyone else here can fabricate screenshots with ease) or still believes have to this particular book review?
Even if he does hold a belief that you label "horrifyingly racist", why would you assume that his "true intentions" pervade everything else he writes? That's not charitable at minimum, but more to the point it's conspiracy theory whack job level implausible. Do you seriously believe he's secretly trying to advance his pro-Jew anti-Black agenda with this...book review?
I promise you his words don't just sound smart, they are smart. He isn't a pseudo-intellectual, he's just a regular old intellectual. The fact that he might hold, or once held, some ideas that you or others place on the "wrongthink" list is irrelevant to the correctness of other arguments he makes.
I am quite sure that vast amounts of public scrutiny would uncover wrongthink in your past too, held09218.