This is worth reading. It’s an analysis of the Occupy Wall Street movement not as a truly populist movement, but as a revolt among the elites: an expression of resentment by relatively privileged people who thought they were on the fast track to elite status who accurately sense downward mobility, and who are freaking out because of it. Excerpts:
The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing — and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one. It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else. It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor. So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do. It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work. Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.
In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts. The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites. But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits — the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.
The OWS protestors are a revolt — a shrill, cri-de-coeur wail at the betrayal of class solidarity — of the lower tier New Class against the upper tier New Class. It was, after all, the upper tier New Class, the private-public finance consortium, that created the student loan business and inflated the bubble in which these lower tier would-be professionals borrowed the money. It’s a securitization machine, not so very different from the subprime mortgage machine. The asset bubble pops, but the upper tier New Class, having insulated itself and, as with subprime, having taken its cut upfront and passed the risk along, is still doing pretty well. It’s not populism versus the bankers so much as internecine warfare between two tiers of elites.
Read the whole thing. It helps explain why OWS has not grown. Where were these lower New Class elites (people like me, I confess) when the working class and lower middle class were being gutted? As I recall, we said, pretty much, “Too bad, but that’s capitalism, that’s globalism, guess you’d better retrain for something else.” We had our college diplomas, and we were going to be fine. Except when we weren’t.
Again, I don’t blame the lower New Class elites — my people! — for being pissed off and protesty. I’m just saying that we ought not be surprised when working class people and others don’t rally to our side. The solidarity of the so-called 99 percent looks like a sham to them. Obviously OWS is going to go away, but whatever comes after it is going to have to be led by people who are capable of building a broader base, and reaching across class lines effectively.
Via Megan McArdle, who adds a lengthy and quite fascinating discussion on Orwell and class anxiety as it relates to the demographics of OWS. Excerpt below the jump:
Orwell’s next passage points out that it is the lower-upper-middle-class who have the most venom towards those below them–precisely because to preserve their status, they have to keep themselves sharply apart from the workers and tradesmen. And I think that that does apply here as well, at least to some extent. One of the interesting things about going back to my business school reunion earlier in the month was simply the absence of the sort of cutting remarks about flyover country that I have grown used to hearing in any large gathering of people. I didn’t notice it until after the events were over, because it was a slow accumulation of all the jokes and rants I hadn’t heard about NASCAR, McMansions, megachurches, reality television, and all the other cultural signifiers that make up a small but steady undercurrent of my current social milieu, the way Polish jokes did when I was in sixth grade.Some of my former classmates now live in flyover country, of course, but mostly, I think, they just didn’t care. No one seemed very interested in the culture war.So why is it so important to so many of the people that I know in New York and DC–“the intellectuals”, as one of my classmates laughingly called us, when I started dropping statistics in the middle of cocktail chitchat, and then lamely explained that this is kind of what passes for fascinating small talk in DC.It’s not entirely crazy to suspect, as Orwell did, that this has something to do with money. Specifically, you sneer at the customs of the people you might be mistaken for. For aside from a few very stuffy conservatives, no white people I know sneer at hip-hop music, telenovelas, Tyler Perry films, or any of the other things often consumed by people of modest incomes who don’t look like them. They save it for Thomas Kinkade paintings, “Cozy cottage” style home decoration, collectibles, child beauty pageants, large pickup trucks, and so forth.