Things Right Now 014
Reading for Week of 01.22.24
The Them-vs.-Us Election or Political Bipolarization
The Wall Street Journal wrote up new polling results from The Committee to Unleash Prosperity. (If the name wasn’t a dead give-away, this research was conducted by Scott Rasmussen’s RMG Research—so if you want to control for pollster bias, categorize this on the right.) Find the full doc here.
That America’s electorate and institutions are at odds comes as no surprise—but what’s most interesting about this bit of research is that it contains a coherent definition of ‘elite.’ If you earn more than $150,000, have a postgraduate degree, and live in a ZIP code housing more than 10,000 people per square mile, you are an elite by this survey’s definition.
Conveniently, about 1% of Americans meet the criteria. The survey also created a subset of ‘elites’ based on selective college attendance. While they label this ‘Ivy League graduates,’ this sample includes Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, and the University of Chicago along with the eight members of the actual Ivy League.
I found the most illuminating data point to be the most vague—and the most telling:
When Americans are asked if there is too much or too little freedom, Elites are three times more likely to say that there is too much individual freedom in America than all Americans. Almost six out of ten of the graduates from Elite colleges think there is too much freedom.
I wish this survey had a larger data set over time. I’d be curious to see if the anti-freedom sentiment among US elites has always been so high or if it grew substantially after 2016.
Class by Paul Fussell or High-Low Horseshoe Theory
This book was recommended to me by my friend Isaac Simpson. Originally published in 1983, I was delighted to discover Mr. Fussell came to the same conclusions I did.
Here’s something I wrote about the upper middle class in 2022:
An old friend, worried that selling an NFT was a “cash grab” and a “bad look” for anyone involved. To which I replied, “It is a cash grab and so what?” He was from a helicopter-parent suburban background, upper middle class in that tedious status conscious way. He had long ago left the culture industry for a white collar bullshit job, which he endlessly complained about, but wouldn’t deign to quit. You know the type.
If I was a little smarter, it wouldn’t take hindsight to see the angle here. Crypto was a “bad look”—to those who escaped 2020 with their institutional faith intact. Just like not having a job at a Fortune 500 company is a “bad look” to my friend’s status-anxious suburban parents.
“Bad look” as a phrase is a dead tell. I never hear the poor or working class say it. Nor do I hear actual wealthy people use the term. The rich and poor are alike in that they are doomed by fate. No matter how high you rise or how far you fall, you are marked. The middle class alone is gifted with the double-edged sword of self-actualization and status anxiety. Hence the fixation on career and credentials—hence the paranoia about anything that disrupts that. (Post-Cryptomania)
Here are some insights from Paul Fussell in 1983:
We now come to the upper-middle class. It may possess virtually as much as the two classes above it. The difference is that it has earned most of it, in law, medicine, oil, shipping, real estate, or even the more honorific kinds of trade, like buying and selling works of art. Although they may enjoy some inherited money and use inherited "things" (silver, Oriental rugs), the upper-middles suffer from a bourgeois sense of shame, a conviction that to live on the earnings of others, even forebears, is not quite nice.
And it's here that we begin to perceive one of the most wonderful things about the American class system —the curious similarity, if not actual brotherhood, of the top- and bottom-out-of-sights. Just as the tops are hidden away on their islands or behind the peek-a-boo walls of their distant estates, the bottoms are equally invisible, when not put away in institutions or claustrated in monasteries, lamaseries, or away in institutions or claustrated in monasteries, lamaseries, or communes, then hiding from creditors, deceived bail-bondsmen, and gulled merchants intent on repossessing cars and furniture. This bottom-out-of-sight class is visible briefy at one place and time, muttering its wayward fancies on the streets of New York in the spring. But after this ritual yearly show of itself it retreats. into invisibility again.) In aid of invisibility, members of both classes feel an equal anxiety to keep their names out of the papers. And the bottoms-"the lower or spurious leisure class," Veblen calls them-share something more with the top-out-of-sights. They do not earn their money. They are given it and kept afloat not by their own efforts or merits but by the welfare machinery or the correctional system, the way the tops owe it all to their ancestors. And a further similarity: members of both classes carry very little cash on their persons. We can say, in summary, that the virtual identity, in important respects, of top- and bottom-out-of-sights is a remarkable example of the time-proven principle that Extremes Meet.
I’ll likely share more, including my disagreements with the book later.
Tesla Drive-In or Neo Space Age LA
In the last report, I discussed how the Neo Space Age aesthetic would become a more dominant design vernacular this decade. Elon Musk’s new drive-in supercharger port on Santa Monica Boulevard bolsters my prediction:
Zoomer Aging or Neoteny Reversal
The general trend has been towards younger generations looking younger for longer. Neoteny is the term that explains this. As society becomes wealthier and more technologically advanced, humans live longer and take longer to reach full maturity. Some think of this phenomenon as technology domesticating humans i.e. in the same way humans bred wolves to look more like puppies and created dogs, humans are being “bred” by tech to look more like children.
According to The New York Post, Zoomers are bucking this trend and aging faster than Millennials. It’s all speculative. (And I’m not even sure if it’s true.) But if it is—I would think it’s less likely to be plastic surgery as The Post suggests—or vapes or stress or micro-plastics in our food or hormones in our water as many as commenters suggest.
It’s probably blue light from iPhones disrupting young people’s Circadian Rhythm. The fastest ways to age yourself as too much sun and not enough sleep.
Kim vs. Kanye or Winning the Divorce
Seems like Kanye might not have gotten his teeth removed, but compare the immediate plausibility the press gave to the story versus the glowing coverage Kim has gotten for her new Lana Del Rey SKIMS campaign. omeone is certainly winning the press…