Had enough of being called “white trash”?
Something that puzzled me for a long time was how I managed to be a low-status man.
I made good money, worked for a name-recognition company, owned our family home and some investment rental property free-and-clear.
I have a marketable degree from an admittedly 2nd-tier public university; it’s all I could have afforded. I have a sesquipedalian vocabulary, which implies I’m well-read, and what used to be considered genteel manners, though things have changed in modern times. Nowadays, especially in the coastal areas of the USA, manners are associated with staff in service occupations. “Yes, ma’am. No, sir”.
The problem is lack of “indicators of success”: I don’t live in a sufficiently exclusive neighborhood, drive the right car, wear suits and ties, and post photos from exotic vacations.
None of those things would bring me happiness. A lot of high-living, high-status celebrities get mixed up with drugs, booze, and sexual vices trying to change their moods, because they’re not happy. Furthermore, the long-term health of my bank account requires that I invest in income-producing assets, not “use assets”. I also have a family to support; a lot of my peers gave that up to afford a higher standard of living.
So it’s a choice I made. I’d rather have peace-of-mind than short-lived status.
Now here is another observation: the longer governments and economies last, the more socially and economically stratified they become, and the more rigid the class system. Consider that in a hunting-gathering society, the man with the highest status goes hunting with the man of lowest status. His hut is in the midst of everybody else’s hut, and his standard of living is only slightly higher. The man of highest status does not feel the need to isolate himself from men of lower status: there’s no such thing as “exclusivity” in his world.
It takes a threshold of civilized infrastructure and culture to create and maintain exclusivity. Even after it exists, you don’t get to just inherit high social status; you have to fight for it. In early civilizations, there’s frequent changeover at the top. Aside from assassinations, kings used to regularly die in battle, the last one in Europe being Charles XII of Sweden in 1718. While brute force is not exactly “merit”, at least it required some of what Nassim Taleb would call “skin in the game”.
Entrenched, rigid, anti-meritocratic class structures tend to get entrenched after long periods of economic stability. They tend to end when governments destabilize as the result of rapid economic change. A good example would be the fall of Europe’s aristocracies in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution: you had people who inherited titles of nobility reduced to fish-mongering for a living because they failed to adapt to a changing economy and government. Other people who had been skilled craftsmen became wealthy hiring cheap labor to start factories.
We’ve had a long period of relatively stable economy and government. As a result, we’ve gotten quite socially-stratified. You can really see it in the attitudes of high-status people in the coastal cities of the USA. Here are some candid remarks that the Dean of Pierson College at Yale University included among her Yelp reviews:
“To put it quite simply: If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!”
(implication is that whites are too stupid to recognize or care about quality)
Excerpt from review of Koto Japanese restaurant
“These are not good and overpriced. They are ice cream mochi which are small in size and easily become freezer burned if not stored well … I guess if you were a white person who has clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you.”
Excerpt from review of The Mochi Store
“seriously I don’t care if you ‘lose your job.’ (I’m sure McDonalds would hire you.)”
Excerpt from review of Retro Fitness
These are just snippets from a few reviews; there were a lot more of the same before she deleted her account after it turned into a scandal. She refers to people who serve her as a customer as “morons” and “idiots”. Aside from the insults, she uses coarse language (not repeated here) freely for someone who calls other people “trash”. She also apparently gets into a lot of confrontations with the staff of various venues.
She got caught because it never occurred to her to hide her prejudices; that’s the way that people in her social circle refer to middle-class and working-class whites. She posted using her real name, and bragged about reaching a noteworthy threshold of reviews. Some curious students decided to look up her reviews, and were surprised by what they saw.
The meaning of “white trash” depends on who is using it. A lot of middle-class whites naively assume that it only refers to uneducated hillbillies living in squalor. Actually, in the dean’s world of ivory-tower exclusiveness, it is far more broadly-applied than that. It reaches right up through highly-skilled people like me who have to live simply to live sustainably in a highly-competitive local economy.
Aside from being cast broadly, it’s a loaded term: it assumes that poverty implies low value. I have met plenty of “hillbillies” who have fairly decent manners, and work hard. Some of them are perfectly intelligent, and simply got trapped in poverty for historical and geographic reasons. To tell the truth, I escaped poverty through sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time.
If college is truly a way up the ladder of social and economic success, there’s a gate at the base that they can’t get through, because they’re not welcome. College admissions policies block them completely from the 1st-tier universities, and financial barriers remain an obstacle at the lower tier universities. The situation has gotten worse in the last decade, with a high risk that money borrowed for college expenses won’t result in a job that pays enough to pay back the loan.
If they knew what they were doing, they could get quite a bit of credit relatively inexpensively, then transfer it to a degree-granting institution to get some credential, even if not particularly prestigious. I would suggest zooming in on specific training for specific marketable skills with a specific job or self-employment in mind. There’s still a boot-strapping problem but it can be done.
The current economic system is getting old, and is due for an upheaval. Globalization, resource-depletion, and automation will make it a challenge for anybody to stay employed at all. Most people will end up sliding DOWN, into the poverty-trap. I imagine that will include a lot of smug, stuck-up people, because they’re too complacent to see it coming.
Those of humbler origins who do see it coming have an opportunity to switch relative standing, mostly by not falling as far. If you want to be one of the winners, keep reading my blog.
I suggest losing the ego on the way. A big ego is a hungry ghost, never satisfied. Judging from her whiny complaints, my guess is that the Dean of Pierson College is not a happy person. How could she be? She’s surrounded by people she despises. From her point of view, the world is filled with “incompetent morons” who give her lousy service and serve up cruddy food. Her whole world is colored with reasons to be dissatisfied.
Don’t worry if people like her look down on you; your happiness does not depend on their approval unless you think it does. If you want to be a happy, soulful person, learn to see beauty wherever you are, and appreciate the people and things in your life.