Friday, November 11, 2011

David Brooks dissects America's norms on "inequality"

They're complicated. A sample:

Academic inequality is socially acceptable. It is perfectly fine to demonstrate that you are in the academic top 1 percent by wearing a Princeton, Harvard or Stanford sweatshirt.

Ancestor inequality is not socially acceptable. It is not permissible to go around bragging that your family came over on the Mayflower and that you are descended from generations of Throgmorton-Winthrops who bequeathed a legacy of good breeding and fine manners.

Fitness inequality is acceptable. It is perfectly fine to wear tight workout sweats to show the world that pilates have given you buns of steel. These sorts of displays are welcomed as evidence of your commendable self-discipline and reproductive merit.

Moral fitness inequality is unacceptable. It is out of bounds to boast of your superior chastity, integrity, honor or honesty. Instead, one must respect the fact that we are all morally equal, though our behavior and ethical tastes may differ.

12 comments:

Ann Althouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Canuck said...

I don't entirely agree. I think they are all about subtlety.

Example: It's conventional for people to say they went to school in Boston rather then claim Harvard.

And people laugh at the "My kid is a honor student" bumper sticker.

Ann Althouse said...

The two things that he calls unacceptable are portrayed in terms of bragging/boasting.

The fact is it's no more acceptable to brag that you went to a top school or that you have an excellent body than it is to claim moral or ancestor superiority.

Set these things up as parallels: what is the tight sweats/sweatshirt -- he's sweat oriented! -- equivalent expression for morality and ancestors?

Maybe wearing a cross and being a member of the DAR. Isn't that acceptable.

Ann Althouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"Example: It's conventional for people to say they went to school in Boston rather then claim Harvard."

Yes, exactly. I've known people who do that, saying Boston (or Massachusetts) for Harvard.

Also a lot of people wear sweatshirts with names of schools they just like. Doesn't mean they went there.

Ann Althouse said...

@Canuck Sorry I deleted my original comment to expand on it. If you're responding to me, you were responding to the first 2 paragraphs of that comment of mine.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Example: It's conventional for people to say they went to school in Boston rather then claim Harvard.

On the contrary, people are looked down on if they act sheepish about referencing Harvard as opposed to Boston. For instance, I once happened to mention to someone I had just met that I went to law school in Ithaca. Usually I would mention Cornell, but I happened to mention only the "law school" and "Ithaca" details in that sentence. The person I was talking to laughed at me for this: "Wait, don't you mean you went to Cornell Law School? Why are people reluctant to admit they went to Cornell?" etc. Ever since then, I've made sure never to mention the "law school" and "Ithaca" facts before saying "Cornell."

Ann Althouse said...

John, it sounds like you ran into people who were onto that false modesty thing and found it irritating.

People will disapprove of all sorts of things and you can be damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Brooks traffics in big generalities. It's often pretty silly.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I think it's an insightful column.

Canuck said...

Like Althouse I've seen the friendly teasing some people get when dance around their Harvard answer.

Unlike Boston there's only one reason people go to Ithaca, aside from visiting the Finger Lakes. Meanwhile the multiple schools in Boston give Harvard grads a way to fudge and avoid dropping the "H-bomb." Harvard grads do this so often that your friend may have been teasing you--suggesting you were doing the same.

Class plays out a bit differently in Canada then the States. But in both, it's generally acceptable and even expected that one will drop subtle markers, while the obvious markers are seen as crass.

Subtlety itself can read as a marker of class while the obvious can mark as someone as a class/education poseur.

I agree with Althouse about the DAR. That's for Great Aunts and thus Not Cool. :)

Interesting discussion- thanks for the comments.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Like Althouse I've seen the friendly teasing some people get when dance around their Harvard answer.

You mean Cohen (me)?

Unlike Boston there's only one reason people go to Ithaca, aside from visiting the Finger Lakes

Don't forget Ithaca College.

Canuck said...

"You mean Cohen (me)?"

oh, I meant your mother. She remarked in comments that she's seen people who try to avoid dropping the H-bomb.

"Don't forget Ithaca College."

yes. It sounds like a nice liberal arts college.