Tom Wolfe’s whole career has been defined by his search for new status-spheres to explore, from the worlds of test pilots and NASCAR races, to the self-described “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street in the mid-1980s. This is how he defined what makes up a status-sphere to an interviewer in 1980:
Most people put themselves into a status sphere. Whether they’re intellectuals or stock car racers, they tend to emphasize values that, if they were absolute, would make them special people. About 1920, for example, we began to hear the phrase “the booboisie.” The idea was that Americans were in fact idiots, even if powerful idiots. That one notion — that the United States was dominated by a vast middle class made up of brutes and idiots — stayed with us for 60 years. It’s only amended from time to time.
Flash-forward 30 years, and one finds that among those who first coined the notion of “the booboisie” nearly a century ago, very little has changed in their thinking, Shannon Love writes at the Chicago Boyz Website, as he explores “Palin and the Left’s Status-Anxiety:”
Status-anxiety occurs most strongly when a group has no meritorious claims to its social position. The classic example would be the pre-WWII European aristocrats who inherited their wealth and position, and who therefore had no right to status in an industrial society other than from cultural inertia. Closer to home, the most vicious white racists were poor and working-class whites who knew full well that only racism kept them from being on society’s bottom status tier. As long as all non-whites were judged inferior to any white person, a poor white person still had some status. They bitterly resisted losing what little status they still had.
Leftism at its heart holds that a small percentage of humans have a vastly superior understanding of everything compared to ordinary people. The point of leftism is to empower these superior individuals to impose their superior understanding upon society by the force of the state. Leftists must be viewed by themselves and others as superior human beings if they are to have a claim to power and status.
It might seem that leftist elites would have little concern for a loss of status, but in the last 40 years society and political culture have changed a lot. Prior to the ’60s, the left could point to the real and imagined successes of the technocratic progressive era to justify their status. They could claim that they saved the country from the Great Depression, fought WWII and contributed to the post-war prosperity. America’s great cities were peaceful and prosperous under the benign rule of Democratic party machines. People voted with their feet, migrating from what we call today red areas to leftwing blue areas.
Times changed, but the left remained not only stuck in the ’50s but moved even farther left by mimicking the European left. After the ’60s, the left had few successes to point to. The Great Society failed, the ’70s were an overall train wreck and the once great Democratic cities of the Northeast collapsed. People voted with their feet again but this time migrating from blue areas to red areas. In this process the left lost its meritorious claim to status.
Since they have few meritorious indicators of a personal and group claim to status remaining, leftists are forced to fall back on the same standards employed by the European upper classes. They try to restrict status not by merit but by conformity to their own life pattern. They demand that people go to the right elitist schools. They demand that people live in certain communities. They demand that people have the right recreational interests. They demand that people enjoy uniform kinds of art and music. They demand that people have the proper modes of speech, accent and allusion. They demand that people have the right religious beliefs. And so on.
On this basis Palin is a nightmare: She went to a state college. She lives in the “backwoods”. She likes hunting, fishing and sports. She likes country music and representational art. She doesn’t have the right accent. She doesn’t dress appropriately. She’s a Pentecostal instead of atheist, Unitarian, Episcopalian, etc.
Palin’s success stabs them in the heart of their anxiety. If Palin can be a successful political leader, what does that say about the leftists’ claims of intellectual and moral superiority? If people don’t just instantly assume that leftists are smarter and better than everyone else, why would people trust a leftist government to make so many decisions about the people’s live, e.g., medical care?
That is why leftists see Palin as a genuine and significant threat of unusual magnitude. In the emotional thinking of leftists, she is a personal threat to everything each individual leftist has attained in life. They feel a sincere, visceral sense of danger about her because she attacks the very core of their egos. They feel the same hatred towards Palin that the European upper classes felt towards the upstart middle-class. They feel the same hatred that poor whites felt towards non-whites. They feel that way for the same reasons. If she succeeds, worse, if she is right, then they become nobodies.
No wonder the Ruling Class has become paranoid. (Incidentally, QED.) You can see that in action here, as the “Southern Poverty Law Center Completes Its Descent Into Madness,” caused by a massive case of Palin Derangement Syndrome, as law professor William A. Jacobson writes, though as another law professor notes, it’s been a long time coming at that palace guard firm.
Of course, as the Blogger known as “Bookworm” wrote at the American Thinker a few years ago, the very terminology that the left creates for itself are linguistic attempts to construct a status-sphere:
Language is anything but static, something for which we must be grateful. It’s the dynamism of the English language that, at the high end, gives us Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pope, Dickens, and at the low end, gives us the liveliness of slang and dialect.
One of the interesting things about English’s constant, beneficial mutations is the fact that some terms which start off as merely descriptive begin to degrade in meaning, eventually ending as insults. For example, the now archaic word “beldam” started off as a grand old lady and ended up meaning a miserable hag. ”Spinster” originally described a woman who spins, but came to mean a desiccated, narrow minded old virgin. Another word that ended with a completely degrade meaning was “bedlam,” which describes a completely insane situation, but that had its genesis in Christ’s natal town of Bethlehem.
And then there’s the word “liberal.” It comes from the Latin “liber,” meaning free, so the word “liberal” originally referred to one committed to freedom. Over time, however — indeed, in our lifetime — it came to mean one thing: someone who could not win an election. Clearly, it was time for a change.
Liberals, after some bold attempts to reclaim the title for themselves (and they’ve got the bumper stickers to prove it), decided to jettison the term entirely and come up with a new word to describe themselves. They are now “Progressives.” The word “progressive” means to advocate beneficial change and progress, and that’s certainly what Progressives would have the American people believe they offer.
By giving themselves this label, however, the Progressives have proven yet again that there’s no delusion quite as powerful as self-delusion. The fact is that, if you pick apart each of the Progressives’ stands on any major issue of the day, you’ll see that either they have staked out positions that were either proven false or ineffective decades ago, or they’re still fighting battles that were long ago won, making their efforts redundant (yet still, somehow, harmful to the modern political process).
That’s a topic that we explored on Friday, in a post titled, “Trapped in his Father’s Time Machine,” the headline of which borrows from Dinesh D’Souza’s brilliant Psychohistorical profile of the president. We also mentioned those trapped in the imaginary cargo cult of the New Deal; add Dana Milbank of the Washington Post to that list, who’s sure, if we just spend another trillion or two, Keynesianism will work this time.
By the way, Shannon’s profile of the left and their obsession with Palin, is a reminder that for whatever his excesses, William F. Buckley, with his old world tone and infinitely expansive vocabulary, was perhaps the only person who could have smuggled conservatism past the gatekeepers of the overculture in the 1960s. But then, that was a period when there still was a mass media overculture, with only a handful of gatekeepers in charge of what we saw on TV and read in the newspapers. As Christopher Chantrill wrote in late July at the American Thinker:
In Generation One, conservatives fenced with the Ruling Class using foils, masks, jackets, and breeches. In Generation Two, conservatives roamed in the talk radio AM band hinterland around the Ruling Class’s NPR-fortified cities. Now, in Generation Three, conservatives move through the internet as a fish swims in the sea.
In Generation One, conservatives wanted to be treated as part of the elite. So they were, grudgingly; Bill Buckley got his “Firing Line” show on PBS, and Milton Friedman got his “Free to Choose.” Generation Two never got past the TV Nazis. No PBS shows for them. Rush’s syndicated television show was confined to middle-of-the-night time slots. Generation Three is different. It aims to get respect with hard-knuckle action in the mean streets of the internet. That is what Andrew Breitbart is all about, as Kyle Wingfield recognizes:
Breitbart is clear about his desire to turn the tables on liberal media and activist groups. That’s why he went after ACORN, and why it makes sense that he’d set his sights higher than an obscure bureaucrat.
Breitbart aimed to play the race card right back in the face of the racist NAACP. While the media was busy getting its knickers in a twist about out-of-context quotes, Breitbart had managed to make fools of both the NAACP and the Obama administration.
Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that the Rasmussen Presidential Approval Index dipped to -20 over the weekend.
You can’t hurt Andrew Breitbart by playing the “out-of-context” card, the one that leads into a demand to have the conservative racist fired. In the kind of ball that Breitbart plays, there is no appealing to the friendly umpire or the CEO who fears a call from the White House.
Breitbart is BigGovernment.com. He is BigJournalism.com, and BigHollywood.com, and BigPeace.com. He’s not shilling for some Mr. Big, some right-wing George Soros.
Which is yet another example of information workers now owning the means of production. You’d think that leftists would consider that the culmination of Marx’s 150-year old industrial era dream, but as America’s most influential self-described “progressive” was quoted as telling an interviewer last year, “As president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely, because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time.”
Related: Since we ended with an article that references Breitbart, here’s his speech today to 9/12 Tea Party in DC — don’t miss it:
Update: But of course: “Democrats pivot from Boehner, find exciting new villain for midterms.”