Saturday, February 13, 2010

In all seriousness, I'd love to see some solid empirical exporation of this hypothesis

In a society where one extra-familial system or institution, the first young people enter, distributes rewards, those who do the very best therein will tend to internalize the norms of this institution and expect the wider society to operate in accordance with these norms; they will feel entitled to distributive shares in accordance with these norms or (at least) to a relative position equal to the one these norms would yield. Moreover, those constituting the upper class within the hierarchy of this first extra-familial institution who then experience (or foresee experiencing) movement to a lower relative position in the wider society will, because of their feeling of frustrated entitlement, tend to oppose the wider social system and feel animus toward its norms.

That's the thesis sentence of this interesting little essay, which is just the development of a hypothesis in need of empirical exploration. It makes intuitive sense to me, and certainly fits in with what I've seen in a life that has involved a lot of interaction both with rednecks and the most toweringly self-impressed of intellectuals. But just because something is intuitive, doesn't mean it's true.

Four things certainly do seem true to me, however:

1. The "chattering class" doesn't like free markets very much.

2. The chattering class (at least insofar as I dealt with it at Princeton and have observed it since in print and media) has an absolutely impenetrable sense of its own innate superiority to persons who lack proficiency in chattering.

3. In pretty much all of the characteristics that actually determine human value to society (honor, self-discipline, humility, courage, intellectual integrity, generosity, the capacity for self-sacrifice without drama, simple honesty, and common sense) the chattering classes are generally speaking inferior to those persons who have invested their lives acquiring skills other than proficiency in chattering.

4. Therefore if the free market genuinely rewards people based on their value to society, I would expect the chattering class to feel underappreciated and under-rewarded, and to feel that there's something wrong with the free market.

But my own evidence is anecdotal -- it's based entirely on my experience and perception -- and so I'd be very interested to see how it would hold up under empirical fire. Nozick's hypothesis is close enough to my own take that I'd be happy to accept it as a proxy. Here's hoping somebody honest and professionally responsible (which excludes the vast majority of sociologists in American academia, alas) goes to work on it.


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