Jewish World Review Feb 14, 2012/ 21 Shevat, 5772
Life inside the (class) bubble
By Michael Smerconish
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Charles Murray thinks I live in a bubble, and it worries him. He believes that people like me are influential but detached, and that the level of isolation in which we live jeopardizes the well-being of society.
When he looks at me, here is what he sees: Big home, Ivy League law degree, kids in private schools, a Stairmaster in my office, and no domestic beer in my fridge.
I tried to convince him that he is mistaken, highlighting that I grew up in Doylestown, Pa., in a three-bedroom, one-bath home (with only a tub, no shower) on a quarter-acre lot. I worked at McDonald's when I was 16, and attended public schools.
So we put the issue of my detachment to a quiz contained in his new book: "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010." He told me the quiz was designed to show members of the new upper class how isolated they are. The questions, he said, could be answered by ordinary Americans in a heartbeat. Here are a few:
-Have you ever walked on a factory floor?
-Who is Jimmie Johnson?
-Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?
-Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform?
-Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through?
(My total score was a 42; 77 is a typical score for a lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood.)
Murray, a libertarian affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, is best known as the co-author of "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life." His new book is equally provocative. The focus is on class formation, which Murray writes is "a new form of segregation." Murray argues that America is coming apart at the seams, not from race, but from class, which is why he focused on whites in his book, despite believing that the trends do cross racial boundaries.
When he looks at America, Murray sees a divide between locales such as Belmont, Mass., and Fishtown, in the Lower Northeast of Philadelphia. While he fictionalizes both locales, the elements on which he draws are accurate - just exaggerated. The upper-middle-class residents of Belmont still embody the virtues of our Founders while the white, working-class in Fishtown are sliding down the socioeconomic ladder. A large part of the problem is that the people in Belmont are no longer connected to the residents of Fishtown, denying the latter a needed form of social order.
Marriage, work and community are important constituents of a satisfying life, says Murray, but those institutions are collapsing in Fishtown.
"We've always had classes in United States," he told me this week. "There have always been rich and poor folks who had somewhat different customs and mores. But there used to be a lot of interchange and it used to be that even the rich folks had grown up as either poor or middle class and knew what it was like personally. All of that is changing big time. It's going to get worse."
The danger seen by Murray is that power is concentrated in the hands of the new upper class, which lacks the requisite empathy to make decisions for the remainder of society. Given the impact the new upper class has on the economy and culture, it would be a "good idea," he told me, if its members could empathize with the rest of the country.
Murray views this as a continuation of themes he wrote about in "The Bell Curve" 17 years ago, a book that created a flash point because of its treatment of race and intelligence.
"Brains are worth a lot more in the marketplace than they used to be," Murray told me. "So when you get to these divisions of wealth, it's not that somebody is stealing money but that it is worth more to have a lot of ability in certain kinds of intellectual areas than it was 50, 60 years ago, and that's going to continue. And as that happens, you get development of what I call super zips - very affluent, extremely well-educated zip codes in which pretty much everybody is alike."
But his biggest concern is not my contemporaries. It's their children, who he believes are being raised completely detached from a society that they are being groomed to lead.
I asked him, sight unseen, to describe my bubble. He told me that the people who live around me don't watch TV like the rest of the country ("some brag they don't even have a TV or use it only to watch videos or DVDs"), are more concerned about their weight, have different dietary and child-raising practices, and bear very little relationship to mainstream Americans.
Sounds as if he just stepped off the R5.
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Michael Smerconish writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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