Friday, October 14, 2016

“Brilliant and Liberating”! Charles Murray, Class War, and Our Diseased National Body


Charles Murray at the National Press Club, on September 26, 2016

A California Reader Writes about “Outer Boroughs Affect: Why Snobs Like Charles Murray Won’t Vote for Trump (Despite Agreeing with Him).”

Mr. Stix,

What is beautiful about the act of communicating is that while quietly sipping a Saturday-morning coffee, a life can be changed. You just did that for me with your excellent use of the case of Charles Murray to dissect our diseased national body.

You and I seem to share certain characteristics, the primary one is of class (and a common scheme for generating easily remembered, but updatable names, i.e.,, but I would save that trick for my passwords).

I am a blue-collar kid from Pittsburgh that wound up as a guest scientist at the Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology in Stockholm. But, not long after was cleaning out dog kennels in Oklahoma. (I'll bet I have more of a winding path than you!) Immediately, the hearer of this introduction, knowing little else, usually leaps to the hideous conclusion that I must have done something very, very bad--hideously bad. I know, I am not providing any contrary evidence, but there was no crime, nor misbehavior, nor lack of competency. My guilt: not being cool--and worse yet--not being cool and being fairly smart.

Now, there seems to be some hope of my academic career as well as my medical and scientific ventures taking off--but the big obstacle is that the polished snobs simply can instantly read my lack of polished snobbery.

I have always admired Dr. Murray. I defended him even when a close friend (and educational economist) snubbed Murray during a visit to my friend's institution. But you have incisively cut through the Murray paradox of Class Affiliation. Murray diagnoses well the plight of the blue-collar folks, but does so while maintaining disdainful distance. As I recall, he grew up in the modest circumstances of a Midwestern town. If I remember that correctly, then a man of his natural talent, having made it would probably develop an immune reaction to the womb he came from.

I likewise can become exasperated and repulsed by the unwashed masses at Walmart, especially when an unwashed, tattooed mass in grimy sweatpants is beeping around on a motorized, riding shopping cart. But this is not at all representative of the striving and self-disciplined, blue-collar American.

Using Mill's Methods of Agreement and Difference, I went in search of the cause of my rejection on all fronts. The various degrees of villains in my life have come from all religious backgrounds: many secularists, but also Protestants of all stripes, Jews (as a religion), liberal Catholics, Traditional Catholics, Muslims, Whites, Jews (as a race), Blacks, American Indians, Asians and Hispanics. I do get around. And there have been, of course, good representatives in all of those groups save--in my experience--for the Muslims. Myself, am Catholic.

In addition to the tensions due to class, you have really helped me understand something of which I was unaware: the tension between upper- and lower-class Jews. All of a sudden, many things in my life make sense. As a graduate student and scientist, I encountered mostly upper-class Jews. Pittsburgh had an upper-class Jewish section, Squirrel Hill, near the universities. I do not know of a lower-class Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The upper-class Jews that I have had to deal with were real S.O.B.s. My having a German last name did not seem to help, Indeed, in a few cases that I can recall, hearing my name for the first time would cause a transient--but noticeable--facial flash of hatred and disgust.

I eventually came to work on one particular research project where my supervisor, a professor at Pitt, was a fantastic guy and something of a father figure for me. He was a Jew, from New York I think, with a blue-collar background.

Again, thanks for that great piece of analysis and writing! More, more, we want more.



[N.S. responds: After reading the above letter, my head swelled three hat sizes!]

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