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Ruminations of a Native Son


Greater Washington. DC., United States
February 06
Compulsive writer (mostly memoirs and sociopolitical rants), musicologist, hermeticst, fiscal conservative, radical centrist, agrarian socialist; Charter member, Factualist Party; born and raised in DC, healthcare professional, retired businessman, civic and political activist on two coasts, civil rights movement veteran. An empiricist's worst nightmare, I believe in everything but I don't believe everything, including many things I believe in. Turned down by US Army in 1966 for medical reasons, thrown out of Col. Hasan's Black Man's Army in 1967 for being "too militant." Scion of a family only Tennessee Williams could have dreamed up. There's more. There's always more.


OCTOBER 24, 2010 6:06PM

Charles Murray's "New Elite": We are All Out of Touch

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I was simply going to share my thoughts on this in a brief blurb on Facebook, but I soon discovered I can not confine my rage to such a tiny diaglogue box. Charles Murray today had an article published in the Washington Post, here,  that has had me beside myself all day.

Murray started out with what seemed a possibly reasonable premise, that the left doesn't really get the right on a very basic level. But he then proceeds directly to reductio ad absurdum. That's where I got pissed. 

Even with the link you will miss the print version's formal 10-question quiz to determine whether or not you are one of those New Elites Murray says the Teapartiers claim are "out of touch with America," then goes on to say the TPers are "right" (not making this up), even citing Glenn Beck's ravings as perhaps justified and maybe even true and correct.

Well I'll be god damned!

Some of the items in the quiz are mentioned in the linked article, though not in quiz form, a quiz which, from all appearances was thought up by Jeff Foxworthy (You might be an elite IF...". I will list here for your convenience the entire quiz that will decide whether or not the Tea Party actually has your number as an out-of-touch-with America "elite" (I have not changed a word):

  • Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? (The really famous one, not the football coach). Yes/No
  • Can you identify military ranks by uniform insignias? Yes/No
  • Do you know what MMA and UFC stand for? Yes/No
  • Do you know what Branson, MO, is famous for?
  • Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis or Rotary Club?Yes/No
  • Do you know who replaced Bob Barker as host of "The Price Is Rght?" Yes/No
  • Have you ever lived in a town with fewer than 25,000 people? (During college doesn't count) Yes/No
  • Can you name the authors of the "Left Behind" series? Yes/No
  • Do you live in an area where most people lack college degrees? (Gentrifying neighborhoods don't count) Yes/No
  • Can you identify a field of soybeans? Yes/No

The answer key to this quiz might amaze you. If you answer "yes" to 0-2 of these you are, in fact, one of the "New Elite" and have no earthly ties to "ordinary" America. If you answer "yes" to 3-7 "you need to get out more." If you Answered yes to 8-10, "it doesn't matter whether you went to Yale or Georgetown. You're part of the American mainstream."

Murray says we're "touchy" about being regarded this way. I can't speak for anyone else, but I sure as hell am.

Murray also says, citing Glenn Beck,  we've "taken over the country." I see. Then Election Day should be a piece of cake for Dems. Relax. We're in control of this circus.

Well fucking excuuuuse me! Apparently the the fact NASCAR holds no charms for me until they replay the Big Wreck a few times and did not know (and still don't care) who Jimmy Johnson is puts me in a league with that howling elite Howard Dean (Yawoooo!); that I don't watch Mixed Martial Arts or Ultimate Fighting Competition on the teevee (even though I am martial arts trained) means I am some sort of highbrow; that I prefer Nashville to Branson makes me some sort of country music snob (I had a hard time typing that one through the wheezing caused by laughter); that I've never attended a Kiwanis or Rotary Club meeting means...means...Jesus, I can't even imagine what this does to my standing as a "real" American, but obviously I'm doomed as doomed can be; that although the city in which I reside has less than 25k population, greater Laurel, MD, holds near 100,000 souls, meaning I'm not from Podunk anymore (it used to be, but I didn't live here then); that though I am aware of the name of at least one of the "Left Behind" authors because how does one escape this information, but don't know them both, I am either too inquisitive or not enough, I just don't know; that I live in an area where...HOLD ON!! I think...I THINK...Prince George's County, MD, may just have a majority of its populace without college degrees. I'm not sure. Frankly I don't care. I'm too out of touch; But I, like anyone who's ever been to Delaware, been involved in the Civil Rights or Labor movements, can recognize a beanfield, which gets me points, as does my ability to recognize the meaning of military rank insigniae (I worked for years at Bethesda Naval Hospital, so I'd damn well better). That gives me 2 definite yeses. That makes me One of Those. Not having quite made it to less than double the poverty level (one of the most meaningless financial/demographic formulas ever devised) doesn't even get me into the "You need to get out more" group.

Oh yeah. I did know (though still cannot understand) that Drew Carey had replaced Bob Barker as host of The Price is Right. Whew! I only need to get out more. (I knew it, I do not watch it). Murray says we can discuss "Mad Men" or a few other "trendy" shows, but apparently not "The Price is Right" or perhaps "Minute to Win It" or "America's Got Talent." Yeah, I know. What a bunch of dipshits we are.

And "elites" "cluster" and "marry each other." Really? Murray cites some unnamed couples from various elite universities who have done this very thing. Marry someone you met in college? That's a new one. He doesn't bother to tell us who many of this small sampling are, but one of the couplings involved a 3rd year cardiology resident marrying a 3rd year pathology resident. Sounds like we're doomed for sure.

I am no stranger to elistist snobbery, and it pisses me off every bit as much as this article. But this article is telling us we are all elitist snobs ("elites" is not what I take it Murray really means here. All my friends are "elite").

Murray might have included in his quiz "Have you ever attended a Klan rally? Extra points question: Unintentionally?"

Never mind I only was born and worked at Georgetown, never actually attended any classes there, let alone Harvard. Never mind my having been born to poor parents neither of which got past the 8th grade (they were both brilliant autodidacts, but there's no GED for that), or that I grew up in a crazy, violent, inner city neighborhood decades before gentrification began. Never mind I eschewed (Whoa! He said "eschewed!" Fucking elite!) NASCAR for drag racing which I didn't watch on the teevee but participated in. Never mind my 40 years involvement in fire/rescue as a dumb-ass yahoo volunteer.

Eric Hoffer, Studs Terkel, Cesar Chavez; Norman Cousins (to represent gifted academic achievers), those guys were part of the elite. Wendell Berry is.

Never mind. Just never mind.

Read the linked article if you have the time. The quiz above, word for word written by Murray and included in the print edition, really says it all. The Tea Party is right. We who have managed to live with faith and passion regardless of the financial diffculties, personal setbacks, congenital defects (such as undereducated parents who somehow made themselves elite for real), unfortunate events, illness, loss, failure to be born wealthy, we still, by dint of having accreted some taste and intellect despite our humble upbringings (or even those not-so-humble, because goddamit, even privilige yieds a lot of superfine individuals who just don't give a rat's ass about Jimmy Johnson or Ultimate Fighting which may well be this generation's version of "wrasslin'," with a thin veneer of respectability applied. Screw the Mystic Plumber as Physicist and Protector of the Nation's Health. He is now officially out of touch with "real" America. Hey, it gets no more real than keeping our shit from backing up into the streets. (Borrowed that line, apologies to D., but it's so goddam true).

There are references in the article to "The Bell Curve" and "Bobos in Paradise," as though these out-of-context mentionings somehow tie it all together, this sinister club that's taken over the country. Not taking, taken.

No, we're all out of touch. If we know shit, if we are not amused by gladitorial competitions, if we are not all rednecks per Foxworthy, then we are not only the New Elite, but we are clueless about our nation and its people.

Except that's bullshit. 

Dude! If you know what a beanfield looks like, have you ever walked in one? Worked in one? Lived alongside those workers like I did at age 15? Those are your elites my man. Those are the people who still show up even though life, for them, generally sucks like you can't even imagine.

I got your fucking beanfield right here.

Oh, and WaPo, cancel my subscription. I was never a paper boy but the guy who delivers this shit now does it drive-by style. Talk about  out of touch. Jesus...



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This reminds me of the Palin crowd who tries to make Alaska out to be "Real America" while Hawaii is not. Or Hillary Clinton making hay of Obama's arugula reference. Liking literature rather than bowling, preferring wine to beer, or thinking there's a whole lot more strategy in baseball than NASCAR does not make one inferior in any way. One is not better than the other.
Who comes up with this stuff?

What an odd list.
Way outta the damn mainstream over here.
Organized competition, like sports and wars,
no longer interest me. I am smart enough to be an elite,
but too narcissistic. MY Christ, for example,
gleaned from close reading of alot of important literature and shit,
including Gnostic gospels
and gospels i made up by myself,

could kick yr christ's ass, ya dumb hillbillies.
he would do it with his burning love and wisdom and say,
play yer games but know the outcome is pretty fixed:
the stupid fuckers win. Over the slightly less stupid fuckers.

There is never no winner, ya dumb white trash,
except the man who heeds the spark of wisdom ol Socrates
died for, or ol Jesus of Nazareth.
No man maketh himself outta children's games,\
that is for sure. You took that piece of the gospel sayin
be like a child to enter the kingdom
too f-ing literally, like ya took everything else.
Leave us elite alone. Or send us to G.w. Bush's refurbished moon
(whatever happened to THAT idea?) to sip our tea
and smoke our weed if we so prefer
and touch our gray beards in simple grief
as the earth overheats and goes gray someday.
I don't think the right really gets the left on a basic level either.
Lainey: Yeah, that's what I got from it, but a stealth version, in the pages of the WaPo, trying to divide us up according to our tastes, as though you can judge a person on one or two things he or she likes. I totally agree, one is not better than the other (in any of the cases). As Samuel Hoffenstein put it, "Some like golf and some do not." Thanks for reading.

Denise: Apparently Murray did, but not without some help, I'm sure. It is extremely odd, really. I'm not sure it makes any difference what the differences are, as long as someone points out we all have differences. Arrghh!

mr. sunshine: I love this response. There is more by far in it than in Murray's bumbling attempt to divide us then slice and dice us. Thanks for this.

used-to-be-Myriad: I'm certain you're right. Uh, I mean correct. Maybe both. It doesn't matter. We all have to do better or we will surely hang (each other) separately.
I finally went to the WP article, which was stupid. I was pleased to note that virtually all the comments said the same thing (tho I only read the first 20 or so).
used-to-be-Myriad: I was too annoyed to even read the comments, but am gratified they also found it stupid (it really, really was). Thanks for the followup.
What does that make Sarah Palin for signing an American flag last week? (I'm too frightened to hear how people will justify that).
cartouche: I honestly shudder to think. It's going to have to be dealt with though. Cringe...
Well, as a semi-reformed Yankee, I scored 8-10 on Chuckie's test, so that qualifies me to say Charles Murray is an educated fool. This test is about as valid as as The Bell Curve or the Laffer Curve. Damned few people outside of the South could pass this test, and by using a test that's so blatantly skewed, Murray evidences his own bigotry by suggesting that in order to be a dumb-ass, you have to be a white Southerner.
Tom, I think you hit right on the head why this got me so damned annoyed. See, as a southerner I simply must answer yes to the questions. Otherwise their's something wrong with me. It does, indeed, expose Murray's own bigotry, even though he'd deny it til he was blue in the face, just as many racists will. Thanks for your support here. I really appreciate your comments. Then again I always do.
Charles Murray is the one out of touch, not his imaginary ruling class. In Murray’s article in the Sunday Outlook section, he quizzes readers to determine their “new elite” status. His questions reveal how little the American Enterprise Institute scholar knows about mainstream America. Indeed, the picture he paints of ordinary America is part nostalgia and part a vicious vision of violence and ignorance. Next time, do some scholarly research before you quiz people about your fantasies, Murrays. As for the rest of the readers of this post: if Murray is so off base with his "quiz," how much do credence do you give to the opinions that followed it?

1. Sure, I recognize Jimmie Johnson as a top NASCAR driver, and NASCAR may be the leading spectator sport in terms of ticket sales to races. But far more Americans watch NFL, MLB or NBA games (not all of these together, but each individually) on television than NASCAR. Nothing wrong with NASCAR, but it is not more popular than three other major sports that help define what America likes best: team sports.
2. Murray's question about recognizing ranks by uniform insignias is a stand-in for military service. While being a military veteran is an honorable thing, it apparently is not typical. According to the U.S. Census, in 2009 only 9.5% of people over 18 were veterans. It may be a sad thing that so few serve so many, but that is the way it is in mainstream America.
3. Watching people in cages pound each other in mixed martial arts (MMA) is what the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is all about – but is it a mainstream favorite? The broadcast of the fight called UFC 120 on October 16, 2010 attracted 1.9 million viewers.The elitist golf U.S. Open Championship in July pulled 10 million viewers.
4. Branson, Mo. is a great place to visit for country music, and 7 million people toured there last year. However, more 30 million visited the Smithosonian Institutions museums. Sorry, Murray, museums are more mainstream than country music.
5. Service and civic clubs like Kiwanis and the Rotary are great institutions, but there are only 240,000 Kiwanis members and 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide – hardly mainstream. Why didn’t Murray mention the 2.2 million community volunteers who were managed or mobilized by AmeriCorps members in 2008? He's former Peace Corps, after all. By the way, people with higher levels of education have higher rates of volunteerism – does that make volunteering an elitist thing?
6. Murray seems to think that The Price is Right is an indicator of mainstream America, but only 698,000 people watched it the week on October 21. That liberal showcase The View may not be mainstream, either, but more people watched it then (728,000 viewers).
7. Murray should wake up and smell the numbers – for a number of decades now, the number of people living in small town America has been tiny compared to the number in urban and suburban areas.
8. By Murray’s measurement system, sorcery is more mainstream than Christianity. Authors of the Left Behind series, a 16-volume fictionalizing of the Bible’s Book of Revelations, had total sales of 65 million copies worldwide. J.K. Rowling’s 7 books in the Harry Potter series have sold more than 400 million.
9. According to Murray, living in an area where most people lack college degrees is an indicator of being mainstream. That area is called the United States of America. In our “hometown” Washington Metro Area, with the nation’s highest education level, fewer than half of people over 25 have 4 year college degrees.
10. Identify a field of soy beans? Only 16 percent of Americans live outside metropolitan statistical areas – the largely rural places where you expect to find soy beans. There are more people waiting at big city bus stops to get to work than feeding chickens in the countryside.

In summary, Murray sees mainstream America as undereducated rural/small town veterans who enjoy watching fast cars, brawls, country music and game shows, who are hooked on apocalyptic religion and who join civic clubs. Well, what can you expect from an elitist with a Harvard BA and doctorate from MIT?
Morris 21654: All I can say is: Thank you! Brilliant, informed an a hell of a lot more calm than I was when I wrote my reaction here. Great, great analysis/appendix. Awesome!
No need to be all defensive about this - if "we" have taken over doesn't that by definition make us the mainstream?

Morris2xxxx's response - brilliant. Also proves my point.

(So has PG Co gone all elitist now? Wonders never cease.) ;)
and p.s., just for possible future reference and so you know, my son, who was born in Annapolis and lived there and in Montgomery County, MD until he was 14, mentioned in a group of Georgians who are Very Proud to be Southern that he was a southerner and they laughed at him quite harshly. Classifications are changing all over, apparently.
nerd cred: I'm almost over it now. :) Yeah, you'd think it would make us mainstream, wouldn't you? I guess we'll have a better idea of that in a few days.

Also: I lived in Montgomery County for over 45 years (with a break near the end when I spent 5 years in the OC and I don' t mean Ocean City) and only recently moved to PG. I've checked the decade-old demographic info and as of 2000 nope, PG was not even close to elitist, if college education counts for anything. I think it was 37% had at least an AA. So that brings me closer to Murray's ideal. I kinda doubt they've hit the 50% mark yet.

As for your son getting laughed at for saying he's a southerner, you'd think they'd still include the Mason-Dixon line in geography or American history. It hasn't moved. Neither have my hillbilly relatives. I Grew up in DC around all those delightful Jim Crow signs like the water fountain and rest room ones designated "White Only" or pointing to the theater balcony saying "Colored Seating" (which is where my mom always chose to take me to sit because it was more fun up there). But yeah, definitions or at least perceptions are changing. I realized that when John McCain's brother referred to NoVa as "Commieland."