Culturally Embedded Sanctimony


samchills: new york times, 2010 (CC)

From The Hedgehog Review:

What is clear is that the great divisions in our country rest on our different systems of cultural capital, including the language with which we communicate those systems. That our aspirational class embeds morality in its choices—culturally specific choices dependent on certain entrenched privileges and the habitus that comes with and reinforces such privileges—means that most Americans who opt out of the aspirationals’ game may actively seek alternatives to being patronized.

The cultural smoke and mirrors are everywhere. Urbanites pride themselves on organic, local food, when such things are simply part of the way of life for a rural or small-town Wisconsinite with her own vegetable garden and compost pile. Educated liberals are aghast at Americans getting together during the pandemic as if COVID-19 were not real. Yet these very people who tsk-tsk hold their own gatherings that are “so safe,” as if holding a gathering and recognizing the risk constitute a stronger moral position (and pose less danger) than obliviously eating dinner with friends. “Middle Americans” are thought to be myopic when they watch Fox News; yet coastal elites don’t question themselves when all they read is the New York Times.

When we talk about a divide in this country and the rise of an anti-intellectual movement that questions science, rationality, and meritocracy, we need to acknowledge the role of the aspirational class and its culturally embedded, implicit sanctimony. Anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism can also be weapons against condescension, double standards, and lack of choices. Moral superiority and cancel culture only further alienate the people already excluded from meritocracy and elite cultural capital.

Nor is it even certain that postmillennial children of the aspirational class are themselves that secure in or happy with the meritocratic game. More and more of those who have dutifully punched all the tickets, passed all the tests, and received all the degrees find themselves part of a surplus knowledge class, working in marginal or gig jobs and earning barely enough to afford those urban rents or pay off those student loans for tuitions that even their affluent parents couldn’t entirely foot. And it is not just a matter of economics. The aspirationals’ endless pursuit of better can produce psychic restlessness and doubts beneath the façade of confidence and accomplishment.

“The Endless Pursuit of Better”, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, The Hedgehog Review

Frontpage image: Torrenegra: New York Times Building, NYC, 2008 (CC)

Comments are closed.