How thick is your bubble?
January 26, 2012 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Charles Murray, author of the controversial 1994 work The Bell Curve, has a new book coming out, entitled Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. He's included a twenty-five question, weighted quiz to get a feel for how in touch you are with mainstream, blue-collar American culture. It's not automated, so you'll need pen and paper.

CSPAN-2 lecture from April 2011, when he was still writing the book.
posted by valkyryn (358 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Murray on the quiz:
Some of the questions are ones that whites will get right more often than minorities, and that people who do not live in metropolises will get right more often than people who do. That’s because I am writing about the problems of the new upper class, the new upper class is overwhelmingly white and urban, and the readers of this book are overwhelmingly white and urban. Note, however, that had I included questions that would be more easily answered by minorities in working-class urban neighborhoods, your score would probably been even worse.
I think it could probably use more sports questions, particularly about college ball, but I'd have done even worse than the 30 points I did get.
posted by valkyryn at 6:40 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the fol-lowing restaurant chains? Applebee’s, [etc.]

What is it with these authors and fucking Applebee's?
posted by joe lisboa at 6:46 AM on January 26, 2012 [23 favorites]


mainstream, blue-collar American culture. It's not automated, so you'll need pen and paper.

Who is out-of-touch NOW!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:47 AM on January 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


They have the best salad bars.
posted by drezdn at 6:48 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I haven't scored my answers to the questions, but a quick perusal shows I can answer positively to nearly all of them. That's kind of surprising to me. I'll have to actually do my scores when I get home from working in the warehouse with a bunch of conservatives who smoke cigarettes.
posted by hippybear at 6:48 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is it with these authors and fucking Applebee's?

He explains that. The restaurants in that question are the top nine highest-grossing sit-down restaurant chains in the country.
posted by valkyryn at 6:51 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some of the questions are ones that whites will get right more often than minorities, and that people who do not live in metropolises will get right more often than people who do. [emphasis added]

That these open ended questions are ones that Murray sees as possible to "get right" says pretty much all that needs to be said about Murray.

Also, he appears not to be very familiar with hipster culture.
posted by OmieWise at 6:51 AM on January 26, 2012 [29 favorites]


I'm so unelite that my computer won't let me use Scribd.
posted by Jahaza at 6:57 AM on January 26, 2012


Interesting, but I thought Scribd links were not kosher?
posted by timsteil at 6:58 AM on January 26, 2012


Interesting, but I thought Scribd links were not kosher?

My computer will let me see enough of the page to see that it appears to be posted by his publisher, Crown Publishing Group.
posted by Jahaza at 6:58 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


A friend and I were brainstorming alternative titles for this book:

"How Whites Lost the Race"
"Bowling Alone 2: Electric Boogaloo"
"Downton Shabby"
"I stole all the ideas and data from The Big Sort but injected my trademark racism and culture war nonsense"
"Chosen Trauma/Chosen Subalterns"
"Rich White Dad, Poor White Dad"
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:59 AM on January 26, 2012 [37 favorites]


I took this quiz a few days ago when someone posted it on the National Review's blog (I have to see what the enemy is up to) and I just don't get what the point is. It rated me as being fairly out of touch with whatever, but I grew up in a working class neighborhood with lots of minority neighbors.
posted by empath at 6:59 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, if I fail to "get right" a majority of the questions/points, does that mean anything in Murray's eyes other than that I'm out of touch with the "real" America?

And would Murray think anything other than that getting the questions "wrong" marks one as effete and snobbish?
posted by a small part of the world at 6:59 AM on January 26, 2012


hah, 48. Joining the military seems to boost my score a whole bunch, since I've lived in small towns and wear a uniform.

I don't think he was thinking of my particular career situation though, when generalizing.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:59 AM on January 26, 2012


Well, it tells me that my bubble is big, or that I don't like beer and don't have time to consume popular culture. Interesting test, but I don't feel bad for "failing".
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 7:00 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


How perfectly timed - we're just about to start the class war and Murray gets to light the match!
posted by Leezie at 7:03 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


hat’s because I am writing about the problems of the new upper class, the new upper class is overwhelmingly white and urban,

Wait, what's new about this? Was there a significant period in the U.S.'s history (within, say, the last 150 years) when the upper class was not white and/or urban?
posted by rtha at 7:05 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


rtha: The Antebellum South?
posted by Grimgrin at 7:07 AM on January 26, 2012


"How well do you conform to the stereotype that a particular academic has of 'blue-collar' culture?"
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:09 AM on January 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


"The disdain of the new upper class for domestic mass-market beer is nearly as intense as its disdain for people who smoke cigarettes."

This sentiment always blows my mind. If you prefer beer that actually tastes like the genuine article, i.e. before Prohibition destroyed a generation's idea of what beer is and and before mass-produced beer started being made 100% from ingredients that run afoul of the Reinheitsgebot, somehow you are the one who hates beer.
posted by a small part of the world at 7:10 AM on January 26, 2012 [45 favorites]


Is it even possible to talk seriously about such a thing as "White America" anymore? Seems like a contradiction in terms, at the very least.

I can't figure out exactly why the title alone is so unsettling.
posted by Misunderestimated at 7:11 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


but .. he forgot to ask the important questions like "will you claim as a point of pride that you don't know what Branson, MO is, even if you've actually heard it spoken of before?" and "would you absolutely not buy a pickup truck because of, you know, the way some people hang plastic testicles from their trailer hitches?" I am glad he covered "is this question something I'd have to own a TV to answer 'yes' to?"
posted by jepler at 7:12 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really like seltzer water. Therefore, I really like mass-market beer, because it's seltzer water that gets you drunk.
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:12 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Grimgrin - that's what popped into my head as well, but it seems a narrow ledge on which to place an assumption that what's different about today's "new" elite is their whiteness *and* urban-ness, given that large chunks of Antebellum not-South elite were not rural.

/syntax is all fucked because not enough coffee yet; hope this is parseable
posted by rtha at 7:15 AM on January 26, 2012


If you're not part of the increasingly small white lower class, you're not really an American, because
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:16 AM on January 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


I can't make out what his point is in general, but so far as the beer goes, I'd say it's mostly getting at "Can you afford to buy beer based on how it tastes, or must you choose based on price?"
posted by tyllwin at 7:17 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?
Four points maximum. Score 2 points if you answered “yes,” and 4 points if you are an evangelical Christian yourself.


I don't see why people who are evangelical Christians deserve "extra credit" for having less of a bubble, but not those who were raised that way and whose families continue to be evangelical Christians. Something tells me he's got some sort of agenda here...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:19 AM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


It sounds like his new book is targeted at the NPR set, i.e., the same people who heard they should hate The Bell Curve. FWIW on the quiz I scored 29.

Did anyone else catch this mistake? "Two points maximum. Score 1 for 'yes,' a bonus point if you did so as part of your job, and a third point if it was while you served in the armed forces."
posted by exogenous at 7:19 AM on January 26, 2012


yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
yes
Waffle House, motherfucker.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:20 AM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


I got a 54, which either means I'm "a lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average television and moviegoing habits" or "a first-generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and moviegoing habits." (The score ranges overlap.) The first is not true at all. I suppose I technically qualify for the second category, but given my household income, lily-white neighborhood, education, political affiliation and interests, in most surveys I'm considered solidly upper-middle class.
posted by desjardins at 7:22 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


But his point isn't that today's new elite or white or urban... it's that they live lives which completely separate them from anyone who isn't white or elite or urban, and because they don't actually mix with other types, they have lost touch with exactly what those people hold as important in their lives, or look down with disdain upon those things.

Even more, he's making the point that it is this new elite which is making sweeping value judgements and moral choices on behalf of exactly those people about whom they have no knowledge or sympathy, and this is leading to increasing problems about policies of government which should be of, by, and for the people.

How true this thesis actually is, I have no idea. But that's what he's apparently arguing with his new book, and that's what this quiz is about -- trying to illustrate to one group of people exactly how little they understand another group of people, especially those they are supposedly trying to help through positions of power.
posted by hippybear at 7:22 AM on January 26, 2012 [20 favorites]


Also, I'm surprised there's really no mention of food beyond restaurants and beer.

Do you shop at Whole Foods?
Do you buy organic when you can?
Do you use coupons?
How much soda do you drink?
Do you use Hamburger Helper?
posted by desjardins at 7:24 AM on January 26, 2012


"Real" Americans are like *this*, but "Other" Americans[1] are like *this*, amirite?

[1] size(Other) >> size ("Real").
posted by rmd1023 at 7:25 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do I get negative points for trying to unionise as a grad student?
posted by hoyland at 7:25 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


But what's his point for a general audience? If this is a book for the political elite, I'd say he may be targeting too narrow a market to expect much commercial success for his project.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 AM on January 26, 2012


the way some people hang plastic testicles from their trailer hitches

IME, upper-middle-class truck owners disdain plastic truck testicles. They've upgraded to stainless steel ones.

I'm really confused by the premise of this book. The second paragraph starts out:
As the new upper class increasingly consists of people who were born into upper-middle-class families andhave never lived outside the upper-middle-class bubble,
When was this NOT true? Looking at what's actually on the quiz (outside the Life History section, which is just 'have you ever lived near poor folk'), I have a sick feeling that Murray is equating "upper-middle class" with urban and "ordinary Americans" with rural/exurban.

Which is, of course, completely false.

it's that they live lives which completely separate them from anyone who isn't white or elite or urban, and because they don't actually mix with other types, they have lost touch with exactly what those people hold as important in their lives, or look down with disdain upon those things

If this is true today, it's been true always.
posted by muddgirl at 7:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do I get negative points for trying to unionise as a grad student?

As long as you're neither black nor economically comfortable I think Murray's okay with you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:27 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


If this is true today, it's been true always.

Well, not if you'd read the introduction and de Toqueville's quote which opens it up...
posted by hippybear at 7:27 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you use Hamburger Helper?

The thought of Hamburger Helper makes me physically ill because I ate so much of it growing up. All I can think of is eating a dish of Hamburger Helper and finding one of those gross little tendon or bone pieces from the meat. It actually gives me the willies.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mr Murray got far too much credit when people trumpeted him as some kind of evil racist. In fact, he's a banal know-nothing who spends absolutely all of his time playing "gotcha" with people. But I will say this: he seems to know what it takes to get ahead in academia.
posted by koeselitz at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've seen a variation on this quiz before, and it baffles me. His definition of "mainstream" America keeps shifting. For example, the Evangelical Christian question. In the scoring notes, he admits that only 26.3 percent of Americans are. That's a minority. And therefore, by definition, not mainstream. It's a significant minority and culturally important, but so are Catholics. Yet he doesn't ask about that. Ditto the military insignia question. Most people aren't military, yet you get "mainstream" points for being a veteran? Que? Fishing is popular, but indulged in by only what, eleven or twelve percent of Americans? How is that mainstream, Chuck?

My personal favorite is the "Jimmie Johnson" question. (My first thought was of Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins and owner of the World's Most Ridiculous Hair.) Somehow, I'm out of touch for being a fan of football, the most popular sport in the United States, rather than NASCAR, which is much more niche? Are you fucking high?

What'd be more telling is determining what's actually the mainstream of modern America and building a quiz from there. "Do you live in an urban/suburban region?" Most Americans do, so guess what? That's the mainstream now. That a scholar needs this explained to him is sad. But as numerous critiques of The Bell Curve pointed out, Murray sucks at math.

Man, "Real America" must be friggin' tiny and shrinking. I'm out here in the United States of America, and it's fucking enormous and vigorous. Hey, come out here and join us! It's really goddamn cool around here!

And let me introduce you to this nifty sport we call "football." It's like NASCAR, only way better and with more concussions.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2012 [44 favorites]


Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?
In 2010, Americans bought about 1.6 million new pickup trucks.


...and more people buy small cars, which are typically cheaper than pickup trucks, and are more common among urban drivers. Yes, there are blue color poor in cities, too! So why ask about pickups, unless you're just hammering a stereotype?

Ok, I'm going to stop now. This quiz is inane.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:28 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


overeducated elitest snob

Murray is a stuck-up fucking elitist who thinks he's so special that the rules of English spelling don't apply to him. Fuck him.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:29 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those who aren't familiar with the unscientific, racist aspects of The Bell Curve, you should at least read the Wikipedia article rundown of criticisms:

"It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences."

I'm not sure why this is being linked on the Blue.
posted by defenestration at 7:29 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


I got 52 points, which accurately puts me into the life-long working class / first-generation middle class from working class parents range. The quiz seemed, broadly, fair to me.

I think Murray's the wrong person, with the wrong baggage, to be talking about the "white" experience in America. I don't think the inquiry "how are white people doing" is, in itself, out-of-bounds*, but it is something that should be done with a lot of care.

Desjardins: I suppose I technically qualify for the second category, but given my household income, lily-white neighborhood, education, political affiliation and interests, in most surveys I'm considered solidly upper-middle class.

A lot of the questions are phrased "have you ever" which will necessarily overcapture the rural, blue-collar experiences of no-longer-rural, no-longer-blue-collar people. He addresses that below the scoring section:
If you grew up in a working-class neighborhood, you are going tohave a high score even if you are now an investment banker living onPark Avenue. Your present life may be completely encased in the bub-ble, but you brought a lot of experience into the bubble that will al-ways be part of your understanding of America.
* please understand that I think there are big, big caveats here.
posted by gauche at 7:31 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


That quote doesn't seem so out there out-of-context, but the claim is that IQ is genetic, and so is race, and that certain races are more intelligent because of their genes. As far as I know, there is absolutely no scientific basis for any of that.
posted by defenestration at 7:32 AM on January 26, 2012


Why a list of nine chains instead of the more natural top ten? Because one of the top ten is Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is to the casual-dining genre of restaurants as Whole Foods is to grocery stores.

What an odd way to take a shot at both Chipotle and Whole Foods without, you know, making a point at all.
posted by ndfine at 7:32 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Got 59.

"A lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average televi-sion and moviegoing habits."

Seriously? I'm a queer performance artist/writer/weirdo who runs a giant clock tower for a non-profit arts organization and who drove Citroens for years and now rides a scooter/a fancy-pants kraut motorcycle/the train. I grew up with artistic parents who subsistence gardened because they thought it was a good thing. I've got a dingo, for fuck's sake, and the only thing I watch on TV is Farscape and Mary Tyler Moore reruns.

It's complete and utter bullshit of the bullshittiest variety that ever done got shat out by some hack "social theorist" or whatever the fuck that guy would call himself.

Plus, I hate America, like terrorists do. Well, not really, but sheesh.
posted by sonascope at 7:32 AM on January 26, 2012 [24 favorites]


We're being trolled. I mean, really, it's possible to max out the life experience questions (worked on a factory floor, worked a job that makes you sore) and get zeroes on the culture questions (which of these movies, Avon (don't they make inflatable boats?) and NASCAR).

So you're going to get results that seem outlandish. No matter what. Murray's goal is to get people talking about his books to buy his books, and he's doing that.
posted by straw at 7:33 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I, too, find myself foundering for purchase on anything resembling a firm handle here.

I think straw nailed it.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:34 AM on January 26, 2012


He's included a twenty-five question, weighted quiz to get a feel for how in touch you are with mainstream, blue-collar American culture.

I read things like this and I always wonder what the fuck Charles Murray—a man with degrees from Harvard and MIT, a Thai Buddhist ex-wife, a house near DC, and a sweet, sweet think tank salary—knows about blue-collar culture. That's a serious question. Did he visit them in their native habitat like some 19th century African explorer posing for photos with his pygmy friends?

upper-middle-class truck owners disdain plastic truck testicles.

When you disdain TRUCK NUTZ, you disdain America.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:34 AM on January 26, 2012 [17 favorites]


Good thing I went to a heterosexual parade this year!
posted by escabeche at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2012


56 points.

This quiz means nothing to me but I was asleep when I logged on and now I am wide awake so thanks for that!

I also slipped on jimmy johnson and I don't get why carpal tunnel wouldn't count as job induced pain. I know some people who are really fucked up with that.
posted by bukvich at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2012


Here's an automated version of the quiz.
posted by Jahaza at 7:35 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


20. Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform? Two points maximum. Score 1 for “yes,” a bonus point if you did so as part of your job, and a third point if it was while you served in the armed forces.

21. Have you ever used an editor?
Two points maximum. Score 1 for "yes," a bonus point if you did so while telling people how smart you are and how out of touch they are.
posted by Madamina at 7:36 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


defenestration: “I'm not sure why this is being linked on the Blue.”

It was linked on the Blue because people love idiotic nonsense.
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's making the point that it is this new elite which is making sweeping value judgements and moral choices on behalf of exactly those people about whom they have no knowledge or sympathy, and this is leading to increasing problems about policies of government.

That kinda makes a little sense, but I wonder if that acknowledgment is worth the implicit assumptions about race that are built into his premise.

The idea of "White America" assumes that a) There is (and, implicitly, should be) an America separate from Other America, and that b) "White" as an idea and a class of people has any real meaning.

One of my professors in college pointed out that true progress in civil rights would not be when racial differences stopped mattering: It'd be when the idea of "white people" ceased to exist. Kinda blew my mind a little bit.
posted by Misunderestimated at 7:37 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the scoring notes, he admits that only 26.3 percent of Americans are [evangelical Christians]. That's a minority. And therefore, by definition, not mainstream. It's a significant minority and culturally important, but so are Catholics. Yet he doesn't ask about that.

He's not inquiring about the "mainstream", he's asking about conformity to what he thinks is a normative cultural experience. Whether his picture of that experience is well-founded is up for debate, and you raise a very good point about the normativity of evangelical Christianity being more a matter of perceived or residual cultural power than of population.
posted by gauche at 7:38 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform?

Do white sheets count?
posted by gimonca at 7:39 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well, not if you'd read the introduction and de Toqueville's quote which opens it up...

Again I said, "If it were true." I don't think it is.

Do upper-middle class people in cities really never interact with non-UMC people? Really?? I find it hard to believe that people with graduate degrees and a 'comfortable income' in NY hire a car service instead of riding the subway.

Conversely, do UMC people in towns never interact with non-UMC people? I grew up in a rural county seat, and there was no Whole Foods for rural professionals to shop at - I suppose they upgraded to the Safeway from the Pack n Save, but that happens at an income level well around lower-middle-class (my unemployed, disabled parents still shop at Safeway)

Look, my partner has a graduate degree and we live on a comfortable income. That describes 90% of my coworkers. Many of them are evangelical Christians. We still eat out at Chilis. This quiz isn't describing class differences, it's describing the difference between living in NYC and living in Abeline, TX, at ANY class level.
posted by muddgirl at 7:39 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Semi-snark: What, no rifles?

Are you a rifle owner? Do you know any hunters? If so, how many? How recently have they been hunting, and was it on a private reserve or public game lands? Did they bring anything home? What percentage of your freezer is currently filled with game meat?

Add five additional points for each leftover shotgun shell you have removed from your husband's or child's pockets before laundering their hunting gear. Bonus bonus points for copies of "American Rifleman" in the bathroom.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2012


I do not know what to think of question #9, even if he is trying to explain and it makes me sad. My best friend ever, the one who sat with me all night at the hospital when my son was undergoing surgery, the one who brought me countless meals when I could not cook, the one who introduced me to country music, the one who could not read a sewing patter and needed me to explain, the one who died horribly from lung cancer metastasis, never even could get as good as a C in high school. (She married at 15 with a phony birth certificate.)

Are we so changed as society that we no longer know or want to associate with beautiful people like Kathy when our income or position in society reaches a certain level?
posted by francesca too at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


We begged for an edit window, but all we got was an Overton!
posted by defenestration at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lionization of the white working class reminds me of a particular political movement from the 20th century. I know it's uncool to bring up, but I will say in my defense that the intellectual worth of a Charles Murray argument comes pre-extinguished; it cannot be further diminished by Godwinization.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, good ol' Charles Murray, burned a cross in some kind of youthful prank but no, he's not motivated by racism at all.
posted by latkes at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


hippybear: “Even more, he's making the point that it is this new elite which is making sweeping value judgements and moral choices on behalf of exactly those people about whom they have no knowledge or sympathy, and this is leading to increasing problems about policies of government which should be of, by, and for the people.”

Also, his other point is that 'White America' is disappearing, as all of the hallmarks of its existence (rural living, factory working, being able to actually afford to buy things like trucks, etc) rapidly become rarer and rarer. For instance, he asks at one point if one has ever lived in a rural area; then he himself notes that at this point only 21% of Americans actually live in rural areas.

So, in short, his point is that there is a new elite which is making sweeping value judgments on behalf of a group of people they know little about – a group of people which has pretty much disappeared.

Can we see yet how incredibly incoherent Mr Murray is?
posted by koeselitz at 7:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, the interesting omission from this list is anything around sex, dating, relationships. Probably the realest really real Americans in this quiz are going to turn out to be Bud-drinking, football-watching, pickup-driving hypermacho gay men.
posted by gimonca at 7:43 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rewording my objections slightly, it seems to me like Murray is making two claims:

(1) American Class Mobility used to be true, but now it is not so
(2) Upper Middle Class people and higher are increasingly out-of-touch with normative Americans.

I think 1 is false because Class Mobility has never been particularly or uniquely available in America. I think 2 is false because UMC people are no more or less out-of-touch than they have ever been.
posted by muddgirl at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Murray has the sort of baggage of someone who's constantly paranoid that he's "out of touch" has, so he runs around trying to find every stereotype of what he thinks "real Americans" like and fetishizes it, without thinking it through.

Evangelicals are, as someone said, 26.3% of Americans. Catholics are 25%. Why is knowing or being evangelical more "authentic" than, say, knowing a Catholic union member from Ohio? It's because he's fetishizing a certain American subgroup as the "normal" one. If anything, I'd venture to say that Murray's real problem is that the ability to become college-educated and take up middle class professions used to be limited to what Murray would think of as "normal Americans," and when those opportunities opened up to a larger swath of the population, it caused this sorting he complained about.

There are some interesting generational things going on, of course-- in my father's generation, almost all my relatives served in the military. In my generation, regardless of how middle class or upper middle class we are, none of us has been in the military.
posted by deanc at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


"It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences."

I find the whole "race" topic interesting because it always runs into the ditch so fast.

My experience:

I'm white. Raised solidly middle class (father was an engineer and civil servant). College educated. Grew up in southeastern VA, but live 25 years post-college in the affluent white suburbs of NoVA. Most of my decades-old friends are white and six figure earners.

Six years ago, I moved back to southeastern VA, and now live in an area that is overwhelmingly lower and lower-middle class black. I have plenty of local friends now on "the other end of the spectrum", as it were.

My takeaway is that there isn't a nickel's worth of difference between the two groups. There are differences in superficial ways, certainly; different activities and forms of expression and such. But the similarities far, far, far outweigh the differences.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:45 AM on January 26, 2012


Also, coastal hipsters and their affection for PBR, and the fact that we drank all of that stuff in college because it was cheap.
posted by deanc at 7:45 AM on January 26, 2012


Quoted from Wikipedia:
Evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves described the Bell Curve as an example of racist science, containing all the types of errors in the application of scientific method that have characterized the history of Scientific racism:



  • claims that are not supported by the data given

  • errors in calculation that invariably support the hypothesis

  • no mention of data that contradicts the hypothesis

  • no mention of theories and data that conflict with core assumptions

  • bold policy recommendations that are consistent with those advocated by racists.
  • posted by defenestration at 7:46 AM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


    I don't know why he threw white into the subtitle other than for controversy. I've seen this in every race. Coming in as a 44 type of person into an Ivy league school it was really easy to tell just how old somebody's money was. Across countries or whatever. The America part isn't that big a deal.

    Now that I've lived in NYC, LA and now DC... I know what this dude is talking about, but it really is a class thing and the fact that people get to a point where they can't enjoy popular fun stuff non-ironically and then after a generation, they can't even fathom popular contemporary fun stuff any more than they can grasp a historical foreign culture.
    posted by nutate at 7:46 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    But in all seriousness -- as far as I can tell, this is a quiz for rich educated people, which is about 75% "questions that most rich educated people would say no to" and 25% "questions that rich educated people who are politically conservative or outside cities would more likely to say yes to rich educated people who are politically liberal or who live in cities," thus guaranteeing that rich educated urban liberals can get a "mediocre-to-bad" score and feel bad about themselves, while rich educated exurban conservatives can get a "mediocre-to-good" score and feel good about themselves.

    Why "I've worked in a factory" but not "I've never worked a minimum-wage service job?" Why "I have close friends who are evangelical Christians" but not "I have close friends who are black or Hispanic?" Why "I know who Jimmie Johnson is" but not "I know who Duane Wade is?" Why "I have hitchiked fifty miles" but not "I have ridden municipal transit three times in the last month?" Why is it that marching against a war doesn't keep you from being elite, but marching against abortion does?

    Presumably because Charles Murray thinks that the cultural and behavioral habits shared by middle-class people and rich educated conservatives are muy authentico, while the cultural and behavioral habits shared by middle-class people and rich educated liberals are smelly.
    posted by escabeche at 7:47 AM on January 26, 2012 [38 favorites]


    It is amazing how these guys just keep coming at us trying to scream as loud as they can that we should be very afraid for the future of the master race. They have three or four cards they play, over and over again, including the pseudo(social)science option that has been Murray's specialty.

    I prefer my cartoon Nazi maniacs to have skinheads, white power tattoos, and the balls to come right out and say they are afraid of non-white people, however they define that, en suite.

    Yeah I went there. Murray is a properly disgraced intellectual charlatan, and we shouldn't be giving him any more attention here than we'd give Stormfront.
    posted by spitbull at 7:49 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Question #7: "During the past year, have you stocked your own fridge with domestic mass-market beer?"

    I drink PBR, but my hipster manservant keeps my fridge stocked.
    posted by octobersurprise at 7:50 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Oh, man, now I totally want to be a hipster manservant. Is that a thing?
    posted by gauche at 7:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    I can't be bothered to score this stupid thing but reading it over, it doesn't apply to Jews at all. And also (obviously?) wouldn't work for any 1st or 2nd generation immigrant. Oh, and also basically full of shit.

    Charles Murray: someone who, even if he were to miraculously show up in a metafilter thread, I would still be calling an asshole.
    posted by latkes at 7:52 AM on January 26, 2012


    deanc: “Evangelicals are, as someone said, 26.3% of Americans. Catholics are 25%. Why is knowing or being evangelical more "authentic" than, say, knowing a Catholic union member from Ohio?”

    And, as I said, it's not just that. Less controversially, only 21% of Americans live in rural communities. And do you have any idea how few factories there are in rural areas in this country? I feel like there must only be about 100,000 people in this country who fit all of Mr Murray's parameters for "White America" as it is.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:53 AM on January 26, 2012


    I love this guy being so bonkers. He could be Ron Paul's culture czar.
    posted by nutate at 7:53 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    I have a sick feeling that Murray is equating "upper-middle class" with urban and "ordinary Americans" with rural/exurban. Which is, of course, completely false.

    It's probably a lot closer to true if you're looking at only white people, which Murray apparently is. (Not defending that choice, but it seems pretty clear that he's making it.)
    posted by Kadin2048 at 7:53 AM on January 26, 2012


    Murray writes: "If you have never lived or worked in a small town, you must be ignorant about day-to-day life in a small town, no matter how many movies set in rural Georgia you’ve seen." But presumably if you have never lived or worked in a large city, you'd be pretty ignorant about that, no matter how many episodes of Friends you've watched.

    And there's another difference: if you live in Chicago, you probably know a lot of people who moved there from small towns. If you live in rural Georgia, the odds that you know a lot of people who moved there from a big city are slimmer.

    Murray asks: "Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and was not where your college was located?"

    68% of Americans live in urban areas with more than 50,000 people. Which is the bubble?
    posted by escabeche at 7:53 AM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


    Of course PBR doesn't count, because hipsters.

    Seriously, though. I have a funny story I tell about vacationing in Banff, Canada with my Upper-Upper-Middle-Class in-laws. We're having dinner at a Spagetti Factory (because yes, even 'the Rich' can't afford to have dinner at the Fairmont every night)

    It's probably a lot closer to true if you're looking at only white people

    Yeah, maybe, if you also ignore white immigrant communties, which Murray probably does.
    posted by muddgirl at 7:55 AM on January 26, 2012


    I say this as a white American:

    Fuck white America. That's "the state of white America."
    posted by Edison Carter at 7:55 AM on January 26, 2012


    We're being trolled.

    Half-credit to straw. But the other half of Charles Murray's point seems to be an intellectual justification of continued conservative ideological dominance. First the ongoing exclusion and poverty of blacks in the post-civil-rights era was neatly justified by victim-blaming; now the working class markers are (quite ironically, when I think about it) being delimited and policed by the conservative elite.

    Am I working class? I got a 53 on that nearly-worthless test. My mom (a single parent) is a nurse, I grew up conservative Protestant in a white working-class neighborhood in Michigan. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese with tuna.

    Also I'm gay, I don't own a car and I have a liberal arts degree and I like decent beer. So am I elite now? And if so why can't I find a job?
    posted by tivalasvegas at 7:56 AM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Gawd I wouldn't even try to engage Murray's arguments on the premises or the facts. They are nothing but a smokescreen. It's a mistake. It's racist trolling, folks.
    posted by spitbull at 7:57 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    muddgirl sayeth:

    upper-middle-class truck owners disdain plastic truck testicles. They've upgraded to stainless steel ones.

    Mitt Romney has his on the roof of the station wagon. . .
    posted by rdone at 7:57 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Umm, posted my beer story too soon:

    Seriously, though. I have a funny story I tell about vacationing in Banff, Canada with my Upper-Upper-Middle-Class in-laws. We're having dinner at a Spagetti Factory (because yes, even 'the Rich' can't afford to have dinner at the Fairmont every night). At the table next to us was a fairly well-off looking family. The father ordered a Bud Light, even though in Canada of course it is an 'import' and a couple dollars more expensive than local beer.

    So there does exist, in this crazy world of White America, a man well-off enough to visit Banff, Canada (a foreign country!) but 'in touch' with ordinary Americans to pay a premium for American Lagers.
    posted by muddgirl at 7:58 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    How Media Let The Bell Curve's Pseudo-Science Define the Agenda on Race

    Should we add MeFi to the list?
    posted by defenestration at 7:59 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


    I have a feeling that this guy's score comes out as an imaginary number on his own test.
    posted by nutate at 8:01 AM on January 26, 2012


    defenestration FTW
    posted by spitbull at 8:03 AM on January 26, 2012


    Got a 68, btw.
    posted by Edison Carter at 8:04 AM on January 26, 2012


    score = 66

    and yes, PBR counts
    posted by pyramid termite at 8:04 AM on January 26, 2012


    Yet another demographic that I have a hunch would score really, really high on this test: Native Americans. Domestic beer? Pickups? Military insignia? Smoking? Fishing? Been in a parade? Check, check, check, check, check....
    posted by gimonca at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    In a proposal outlining the book, Murray wrote that there is "a huge number of well-meaning whites who fear that they are closet racists, and this book tells them they are not. It's going to make them feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say."
    posted by defenestration at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2012


    Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?
    I have, but I think this is sort of a weird question, speaking as someone who has mostly lived in places where most working-class white people were Catholic.
    posted by craichead at 8:07 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Why am I letting this guy troll me so hard? YET I CANNOT STOP.

    "In the 2000 census, 92 percent of Americans lived in zip codes in which the majority of adults ages 25 and older did not have col-lege degrees. Seventy-seven percent lived in zip codes wherefewer than a third of those adults had degrees. You should makeyour judgment with regard to your neighborhood, not your zipcode."

    Then why did you include the completely irrelevant statistic about the zip codes? Zip codes are big. Only about a quarter of adult Americans have college degrees. So yeah, most zip codes are going to have a majority of adults without degrees. I've lived in such zip codes myself. So what? He asked about your fifty nearest neighbors. That's one medium-sized suburban block. What proportion of Americans live on a block where the majority of adults have college degrees? I have no idea, but it's going to track the proportion of college-educated Americans a lot more closely.


    "Zero points if you are thinking of a gentrifying neighborhood in which you were one of the gentrifiers."

    So let me get this straight. If you get a college degree and stick around other rich educated people, you're in the bubble. But if you move to where the "rest of America" lives, you're ... also still in the bubble?

    Please tell me how to be a white American correctly, Charles Murray, I am so lost and confused! Will fishing really help?
    posted by escabeche at 8:07 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    If by defining the agenda you mean scratching our heads and rolling our eyes then yeah, we've let it define the agenda alright.
    posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:07 AM on January 26, 2012


    I hate this guy, so I'm not going to talk about it anymore lest I get pissed.
    posted by Edgewise at 8:08 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Finally, some new material for Jeff Foxworthy.
    posted by pantsonfire at 8:08 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    TeachPost the controversy!
    posted by defenestration at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2012


    I can't be bothered to score this stupid thing but reading it over, it doesn't apply to Jews at all.

    Let's not get into whether Mr. Murray thinks Jews are white.

    Also, I got 5, but I'm not American so that doesn't really count.
    posted by atrazine at 8:09 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    What I find interesting is that Murray's ideas would seem to dovetail quite well with many of the left leaning members on MF were it not for the baggage he brings along. He seems deeply concerned about inequality.

    Libertarian economist has some interesting thoughts on Murray's book.
    posted by 2N2222 at 8:10 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    My privileged upbringing tells me this needs to be an online quiz.
    posted by madajb at 8:11 AM on January 26, 2012


    I took the automated test, and apparently, I don't live in a bubble, despite my occasional taste for using stilted archaisms like "foundering for purchase." So I guess that makes me part of Murray's Real America. Since I already knew I was both real and American, no surprises there, really.
    posted by saulgoodman at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2012


    I got to the question about beer and answered yes. Then I got to the part where he says what he means by mass-market domestic beers and found that I had apparently not bought mass-market domestic beers, since there are apparently only four. And Sam Adams doesn't count, despite Boston Beer Company being the second largest domestic beermaker.

    It would've helped if he'd said "Beer that isn't anemic piss doesn't count."

    But really, he lost me at the first question. How the fuck would I know who has a degree among my nearest fifty neighbors?
    posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2012


    What I find interesting is that Murray's ideas would seem to dovetail quite well with many of the left leaning members on MF were it not for the baggage he brings along. He seems deeply concerned about inequality.

    Jim Goad would be the more intelligent, better-respected bridge between those worlds.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 8:12 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Yet another demographic that I have a hunch would score really, really high on this test: Native Americans. Domestic beer? Pickups? Military insignia? Smoking? Fishing? Been in a parade? Check, check, check, check, check....

    I think the race angle is kind of odd, but growing up in the small town south most of the people I knew would score pretty high, no matter what their race. This really reads more as a urban vs non-urban culture quiz. Going to the Applebee's is not an especially white thing to do, as pretty much anyone who has ever set foot in an Applebee's can attest. That point goes triple for the fucking Waffle House, whose clientele has always been majority non-white anywhere I lived that had enough non-whites to count.

    I think there's actually some value to rural/small town and urban folks having a conversation about the ways in which their lives are different, but hanging it on the race thing is counterproductive to that end.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:13 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Score 2 points if you got any high school varsity letter except for the debating team or chess club.

    FORGOT TO EXCLUDE MATH TEAM, HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW?
    posted by escabeche at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2012 [26 favorites]


    2N2222: “What I find interesting is that Murray's ideas would seem to dovetail quite well with many of the left leaning members on MF were it not for the baggage he brings along. He seems deeply concerned about inequality.”

    Nonsense. He's deeply concerned with trolling. For years he's been playing "gotcha" trying to tut-tut at people for their 'hidden biases' while doing absolutely nothing to describe the real problems in the world or offer a solution. He is the very worst that academia has to offer, and that's saying a lot. Charles Murray is a sham, a fraud, an idiot, and someone who shouldn't get any attention whatsoever. And if he gave even a quarter of a crap about inequality, he'd spend less time writing pointless quizzes designed to shame people for not being NASCAR fans and more time actually writing about that inequality.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:17 AM on January 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


    I only did the automated test and got "you don't even live in a bubble". I thought the questions were skewed towards the male gender (factory floor but not domestic service?,fishing but not Tupperware parties?) So, does this make me an honourary American Man?
    posted by saucysault at 8:18 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    64
    I am a feminist, socialist college professor who spent the morning teaching African-Americans, recent immigrants from all over the planet, and exurban, Southern, evangelicals about evolution. But I also grew up in the rural South.
    posted by hydropsyche at 8:18 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    From the scoring guide for question 1: "Zero points if you are thinking of a gentrifying neighborhood in which you were one of the gentrifiers." No, we weren't the gentrifiers. The people in the next neighborhood in from us were the gentrifiers. There were stickers and everything.

    (Also, when he asked "what does Branson mean to you?" I thought "well, I'm thinking of Richard Branson, but he probably wants me to think of the place with the theaters in Missouri...")
    posted by madcaptenor at 8:19 AM on January 26, 2012


    FORGOT TO EXCLUDE MATH TEAM, HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW?

    LOL indeed. I lettered in both Academics (Honor Roll FTW!) AND orchestra! And neither of my parents graduated from college!
    posted by muddgirl at 8:20 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The one that sent me over the edge:
    Q21. "Over 25 million Americans rode Greyhound in 2008 alone."

    For fucks sake 35 million people ride Portland's Tri-Met Light Rail every year, 45 million ride MUNI and 100 million ride BART in the Bay. Over 25 million Americans rode the NYC subway since Monday, around lunchtime. WHO IS THE BUBBLE-DWELLER AND WHO ARE THE REAL AMERICANS NOW MOTHERFUCKER.
    posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:20 AM on January 26, 2012 [27 favorites]


    He is the very worst that academia has to offer, and that's saying a lot.

    AEI ain't even academia.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Libertarian economist has some interesting thoughts on Murray's book.

    I have to admit that the second link makes a provocative point-- if the "elites" are so much more well off because they have a lower rate of divorce, drug use, and social dysfunction, shouldn't Murray be glorifying the elites and advocating that the working class whites be more like them rather than glorifying a specific subset of the white working class as the ones that the "elites" should be more in touch with?

    Score 2 points if you got any high school varsity letter except for the debating team or chess club.

    Ha! Fencing counts!
    posted by deanc at 8:21 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    26. Which web site pointed you to this test?

    Score 5 points for Fark, 4 for Digg, 3 for Reddit and 0 for MetaFilter.
    posted by wensink at 8:21 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I lettered in both Academics (Honor Roll FTW!) AND orchestra!

    I should probably lose points for needing a good 15-20 seconds to even parse the "lettering" question. I still don't really know what "lettering" entails, actually.
    posted by uncleozzy at 8:22 AM on January 26, 2012


    You know, I'd love to see Murray tour with Jeff Foxworthy, but that might be a little too blue-collar for him.

    I scored between a five and an eight on the online test. WTF? How do you get a three point spread?

    Murray's book isn't trolling as much as it's a PR exercise. It's basically an ad campaign for the Fox News demographic. Like any other advertiser, Murray's selling a lifestyle.
    posted by octobersurprise at 8:23 AM on January 26, 2012


    I liked his book better when it was written by Pat Buchanan.
    posted by scalefree at 8:23 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    For fucks sake 35 million people ride Portland's Tri-Met Light Rail every year, 45 million ride MUNI and 100 million ride BART in the Bay. Over 25 million Americans rode the NYC subway since Monday, around lunchtime. WHO IS THE BUBBLE-DWELLER AND WHO ARE THE REAL AMERICANS NOW MOTHERFUCKER.

    Yeah, that factoid stuck out to me as well. Nothing about Amtrak, though. I guess it's probably elitist.

    Also, we've made it 120+ comments and no "Christ, what an asshole" yet?
    posted by ndfine at 8:24 AM on January 26, 2012


    Previously.
    posted by ob1quixote at 8:25 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Geez. Lightning rod, much?

    Baggage aside--apparently I wasn't aware of all this guy was bringing to the table--I still think there's some value here. For one thing, it doesn't surprise me to see a lot of MeFites getting decently high scores. MetaFilter is pretty damn diverse, and doesn't include a ton of people who would be considered "elite". So it stands to reason that there aren't that many people who are going to get single-digit scores.

    Further, the race issue is actually kind of interesting, normative questions aside. I think what the results here are suggesting is that people who may be radically different, politically speaking, from the stereotypical small-town white blue-collar worker may actually have a lot more in common with them than their political identification would suggest, because lots of people have the experience of growing up in blue-collar environments. This is not a novel observation.

    So, for all the people getting relatively high scores on this, guess what? You aren't what most people would think of as "elite," and that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, should it? Most of us aren't. As a rough rubric for telling how in touch you are with what a significant chunk of the country thinks about and knows about, I haven't seen any comments suggesting that this little quiz lacks merit.

    Lastly: since when does MetaFilter not think that there's a growing cultural disparity between "the 1%" and "the 99%"? And since when is anything which encourages people to think about which category they belong in a bad thing?
    posted by valkyryn at 8:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Charles Murray needs to watch him some "Roseanne" episodes if he thinks that working class equals conservative. Also maybe read some history.
    posted by jfwlucy at 8:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Hah! My result: "0-4 pts-In other words, your bubble is so thick you may not even know you're in one"

    I do live in Brooklyn.
    posted by overhauser at 8:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Yeah, that factoid stuck out to me as well. Nothing about Amtrak, though. I guess it's probably elitist.

    I don't know how Charles Murray feels, but Amtrak outside of the Northeast is anything but Elitist. If Charles Murray wants to meet a ton of people who would answer yes to most of these question, he just needs to get on the train in Rocky Mount.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I haven't seen any comments suggesting that this little quiz lacks merit.

    Really? Despite all the comments which suggest that this 'little quiz' lacks merit?

    Lastly: since when does MetaFilter not think that there's a growing cultural disparity between "the 1%" and "the 99%"?

    Sure, but this 'little quiz' doesn't say anything about the 1% vs. the 99%. It is pitting the 21% who grow up in a certain semi-rural environment (no matter their class level) vs. the 79% who grow up in a different environment (again, no matter their class level).
    posted by muddgirl at 8:30 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    hah, 48. Joining the military seems to boost my score a whole bunch, since I've lived in small towns and wear a uniform.

    Just being a military brat will up your score big. Unless your pop was a jag or physician, he was not in a prestige job, even if he was Omar Bradley or Colin Powell. And "American community under 50,000" summarizes every US military base outside the US, and a bunch within it.

    At the same time, though, living in married-officers' housing on a military base is about as far from a blue-collar world as you can get.

    summary: Charles Murray sure is an idiot.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:31 AM on January 26, 2012


    Charles Murray needs to watch him some "Roseanne" episodes if he thinks that working class equals conservative. Also maybe read some history.

    Admittedly, I've only looked at the quiz, but does he connect it with conservative politics anywhere? The only question I saw that touched on politics was the parade question, but the real question there was about parades, not politics.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:33 AM on January 26, 2012


    It gives extra points to people who are evangelical Christians (but not, say, Catholics, who tend to be more liberal). That's a pretty big indication of political bias right there.
    posted by muddgirl at 8:34 AM on January 26, 2012


    Nonsense. He's deeply concerned with trolling.

    Perhaps. But it sounds like his big schtick is the hand wringing act. Over inequality. Yet, as Bryan Caplan says, it seems to be a big case of "glass half empty" gloomerism. This is an age when people who would bemoan the demise of traditional virtues the most, simultaneously seek to draw classist lines between out-of-touch "elites" and the rest of the red blooded American folks, when in fact it's those out-of-touch (often coastal blue state) elites who seem to be carrying the torch of those values better than his so called middle America.
    posted by 2N2222 at 8:34 AM on January 26, 2012


    Geez. Lightning rod, much?

    Well, racist, discredited works tend to get sensible people up in arms.

    Baggage aside--apparently I wasn't aware of all this guy was bringing to the table--I still think there's some value here. For one thing, it doesn't surprise me to see a lot of MeFites getting decently high scores. MetaFilter is pretty damn diverse, and doesn't include a ton of people who would be considered "elite". So it stands to reason that there aren't that many people who are going to get single-digit scores.

    Further, the race issue is actually kind of interesting, normative questions aside. I think what the results here are suggesting is that people who may be radically different, politically speaking, from the stereotypical small-town white blue-collar worker may actually have a lot more in common with them than their political identification would suggest, because lots of people have the experience of growing up in blue-collar environments. This is not a novel observation.


    You can't put the baggage aside when you've packed the substance of your argument inside of it.

    These paragraphs can be translated to: If you grew up blue-collar, you know about blue-collar stuff. No shit?

    So, for all the people getting relatively high scores on this, guess what? You aren't what most people would think of as "elite," and that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, should it? Most of us aren't. As a rough rubric for telling how in touch you are with what a significant chunk of the country thinks about and knows about, I haven't seen any comments suggesting that this little quiz lacks merit.

    But that's not true. A lot of the people who scored high would be looked at as elite, because of their education, where they choose to live, their political sensibilities, etc, regardless of how "in touch" they are with the "blue-collar experience."

    Lastly: since when does MetaFilter not think that there's a growing cultural disparity between "the 1%" and "the 99%"? And since when is anything which encourages people to think about which category they belong in a bad thing?

    This is disingenuous. You're trying to recast the suppositions of the quiz in Occupy language, knowing that many people on this site that may disagree with the veracity of this quiz or the assumptions it's based on support that movement.
    posted by defenestration at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


    As a rough rubric for telling how in touch you are with what a significant chunk of the country thinks about and knows about, I haven't seen any comments suggesting that this little quiz lacks merit.

    This little quiz lacks merit. It's basically "Which Middle Earth character are you?" in National Review drag.
    posted by octobersurprise at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


    69, effete liberal snobs!

    Ha ha, I kid, I'm a kidder. Included my orchestra letter, the summer during high school that I was a factory janitor, the blue-collar contractor who was head of one of four households that I lived in growing up, etc. Did not include Sam Adams as a "domestic, mass-market beer" even though it totally is. I should probably get bonus points for having visited a Bass Pro Shop in the last week (on my way to see Haywire; I'm still not sure if I was more amused or alarmed to see a child-sized compound bow in hot-pink camo.)

    And, yes, these questions seem incredibly arbitrary, with no particular rhyme or reason as to whether it mattered if you'd done something once, did it recently, or had just heard about it.
    posted by Halloween Jack at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Let me sketch out a math point of view on this.

    Let's say you have a universe of 1000 questions concerning cultural habits, preferences, history, etc. We set these up so that in each case the majority of Americans would answer "yes."

    Now let's say you have a disfavored small group in mind: let's say coastal educated affluent liberals, though this works for any group that doesn't represent too big a slice of the population. Call that group S (for "smelly.")

    Now of your 1000 questions, you see if you can find 25 to which most S people would answer "no." With 1000 options at your disposal, it's not very hard to find these. Now publish your 25 questions as a quiz. Bingo -- the S people are totally different from the average American!

    You can actually see this selection process taking place in Murray's quiz. For instance:

    "These were the ten television series (omitting a sports series, NBC Sunday Night Football) with the highest Nielsen ratings forthe 2009–10 television season."

    Why omit football, the most popular sport in America? Not liking football would really put you out of touch with mainstream USA values. But the NFL is massively popular with S people too; so out it goes. Similarly, for the movies:

    "These represent the ten top-grossing films of 2010 that were not principally directed at children or teens."

    Note that he has carefully excluded Toy Story 3, the highest-grossing and best-reviewed movie of the year. Why? Because it doesn't separate the S people from the other people. In fact, seven of the year's 10 top-grossing movies, including the top 3, were missing from his list.

    It would be a fun exercise, and not very hard, to choose 25 questions which would decisively separate "the old upper class" -- you know, the 1%! -- from the rest of America. Or Newt Gingrich voters, or Jews, or what have you. And the fact that you could do this would tell you absolutely nothing.
    posted by escabeche at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2012 [34 favorites]


    This little quiz lacks merit. It's basically "Which Middle Earth character are you?" in National Review drag.

    Jonah Goldberg is Sam Gamgee.
    posted by scalefree at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    You can actually see this selection process taking place in Murray's quiz. For instance:

    He explicitly excludes Chipotle, even though the Chipotle is one of the most popular restaurants in the US.
    posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Baggage aside--apparently I wasn't aware of all this guy was bringing to the table

    You had his Wikipedia entry as the first link and the Bell Curve as the second link. Both Murray and his work are famously discredited. Why would anyone take him seriously? It would be like trusting Michael Behe on the science of speciation, or David Irving on WWII history.

    As a rough rubric for telling how in touch you are with what a significant chunk of the country thinks about and knows about, I haven't seen any comments suggesting that this little quiz lacks merit.

    Except this chunk, as drawn by Murray, is an arbitrarily Protestant, non-train-riding, rural, NASCAR-loving chunk. And that's not even counting the inconsistencies within the identity of the sort of person he's testing for.

    As far as picking "significant chunks" of America, you could could make just as many other quizzes about whether people have affinity for traditionally African-American culture, or for being Southern, or for being from the midwest. Murray's fictive person is much more arbitrary than he realizes.

    Lastly: since when does MetaFilter not think that there's a growing cultural disparity between "the 1%" and "the 99%"?

    This quiz was not about the difference between the 1% and the 99%. At best, he's talking about the white working class as compared with multiracial bourgeoisie.

    And since when is anything which encourages people to think about which category they belong in a bad thing?

    Since when have we lowered our standards so much?
    posted by Sticherbeast at 8:39 AM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


    Just listened to his entire lecture. NOW I know that I can blame welfare and social security transfer payments for the fact that the lower class of whites (who even CARES about other races, including you white latinos... you do not count in this calculation!) are losing touch with the core values of America. And that the upper class (that I'm totally in!) hasn't a clue about Inside Edition, A Current Affair, Oprah or ANYTHING! The values of marriage, working hard, community service and optimism in the face of rampant SOCIALISM!
    posted by nutate at 8:40 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I'm still not sure if I was more amused or alarmed to see a child-sized compound bow in hot-pink camo.)

    I'm enough of a redneck that I think buying kids bows is a fantastic idea, but don't spend $300 on a kid's bow. That's just dumb.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:41 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Here's a shortcut to taking the whole damn quiz:

    Do you have health insurance?

    [Y] [N]
    posted by spitbull at 8:41 AM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Also, the comparisons between football and NASCAR are worth pointing out. NASCAR's popularity is declining even within its own preexisting fanbase.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 8:41 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yet another demographic that I have a hunch would score really, really high on this test: Native Americans.

    Many of my Alaska Native friends call themselves "slednecks" in jest.
    posted by spitbull at 8:43 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Chipotle seems a little weird among the rest of the restaurant list, which is Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Fri-day’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse. If I'm not mistaken (and I've eaten at all of them but Waffle House at some point, because I am not Southern), these are all restaurants where you sit down at a table and someone comes to take your order. Chipotle is not. I'm not sure I entirely understand what "casual dining" means, and in particular why Chipotle is not considered "fast food".

    (Although then why not ask "have you eaten at McDonalds in the last year?"?)
    posted by madcaptenor at 8:43 AM on January 26, 2012


    I haven't seen any comments suggesting that this little quiz lacks merit.

    You should check mine out, I've made, like, seven!

    since when does MetaFilter not think that there's a growing cultural disparity between "the 1%" and "the 99%"?

    The data I'm aware of, and that's discussed here a lot, suggests a growing financial disparity. I think there is a cultural disparity, but I don't know whether it's growing, nor do I know how to measure it -- but not the way C Murray does, that's for sure.

    More importantly, Murray, as I understand it, is not talking about "the 1%." He is making a rather different claim: that there is a "new upper class" which is culturally distinct from the rest of America, and that adjunct English professors who live in Queens and don't smoke are the real elite, not the folks who have all the money. That's not a claim that can be justified by a quiz, and nothing in the quiz gives me confidence that he justifies it in his book.
    posted by escabeche at 8:44 AM on January 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


    Jonah Goldberg is Sam Gamgee.

    No, as many times as Jonah took the test, he'd always get Lotho Sackville-Baggins. And he would take it many, many times.
    posted by octobersurprise at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    He explicitly excludes Chipotle, even though the Chipotle is one of the most popular restaurants in the US.
    But on the other hand, I got a point for having seen The King's Speech, because it was one of the top ten non-child-oriented movies of 2010.
    posted by craichead at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2012


    Also, David Brooks is the genteel media face of this same bullshit conflation of race, culture, and class (and the hidden term these days, "intelligence" -- tweet that dog whistle, motherfucker).
    posted by spitbull at 8:46 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I think it would be amusing to compare the small universe of knowledge this quiz attempts to describe with what Netflix's software could tell us about America.

    It just seems so last millennium.
    posted by dglynn at 8:47 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Chipotle doesn't have a drive-through, which is one indicator of 'Fast Food.'

    There's kind of a grey area between Fast Food and Casual Dining that Chipotle (and a lot of other restaurants here in Texas) kind of slot into. We have a lot of restaurants here where you order at a counter, but I would not consider them to be Fast Food. Pasha, for example, which nominally has waiter service to bring you your food, but where you order at a counter and get your own beverages.
    posted by muddgirl at 8:48 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Besides, you're not really salt of the earth unless you eat at Furr's Cafeteria every Sunday after church.
    posted by spitbull at 8:49 AM on January 26, 2012


    ...and that church better not be Catholic, Mormon, or protestant denominational, either!

    Southern Baptists and evangelical Methodists... aww, you're alright!
    posted by muddgirl at 8:50 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I thought I was going to be outed as the Snooty McSnooterson Out Of Touch With Real America that I am, only to find that I scored 54, solidly in the Real American demographic. Turns out that growing up rural and living in the South will do that for you. I'm not sure what it's supposed to say about my political opinions, which don't correlate at all with the dog whistles he's blowing. Is it wrong of me to wish I could move to a place where people routinely "flunk" this quiz?
    posted by Daily Alice at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    Chipotle doesn't have a drive-through, which is one indicator of 'Fast Food.'

    I've spent most of the time since Chipotle came into existence in cities where even the fast food places don't have drive-throughs, so that didn't occur to me. Which probably says something about my bubbliness.
    posted by madcaptenor at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    15. Unsurprising.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    Besides, you're not really salt of the earth unless you eat at Furr's Cafeteria every Sunday after church.

    I can't tell anyone in my family this, since they already think I've moved to Yankee land and gone native, but the food from the A & W Cafeteria tastes really bad to me now. Like we got some take out for my granddad when I was last home, and everyone was raving about the chicken pan pie, which basically tasted like really high end cat food.

    I think I might have become an elite.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:54 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    A first- generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and moviegoing habits. Range: 42–100. Typical: 66

    I scored 62. FWIW, I think this is pretty much right on for me. I grew up as an Air Force brat of the enlisted variety. I answered no on the poverty line question even though I'm pretty sure a SSGT in the USAF probably has a poverty line salary when raising a family on that money. However, the free housing has to count for a lot... Mom was a waitress - which always plays to the stereo type. Although growing up, I thought we were middle class.
    posted by COD at 8:55 AM on January 26, 2012


    He explicitly excludes Chipotle, even though the Chipotle is one of the most popular restaurants in the US.

    Wow, that's egregious.

    Although then why not ask "have you eaten at McDonalds in the last year?"

    Murray explicitly answers this: because the people he wants not to get points would get points from that question. "However much they disapprove of fast food in theory and re-strict their visits, almost all members of the new upper class at least know what the inside of a McDonald’s looks like."

    Here are the top 400 grossing restaurant chains in America. Applebee's is #11. Starbucks is #4, with eight times as many locations as Applebee's and triple its sales. Maybe he should have asked whether you'd made a purchase at Starbucks in the last year. Because that's what real America is doing.
    posted by escabeche at 8:55 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    He's not talking about popular restaurants, he's talking about casual dining chains. Neither Chipotle, McDonald's, nor Starbucks are casual dining chains.

    ...

    FAST FOOD SPECTRUM

    CHEAP FAST FOOD White Castle, Church's Chicken, Kennedy Fried Chicken
    FAST FOOD: McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy's
    FAST FOOD EQUIVALENT: Chinese food, pizza
    HEALTHIER THAN FAST FOOD, BUT STILL FAST FOOD IF YOU THINK REALLY ABOUT IT: Subway
    MORE UPMARKET THAN FAST FOOD: Chipotle, Quizno's, Starbucks' food options
    posted by Sticherbeast at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2012


    The thing that bugs me the most about Murray isn't his crypto-racist, unscientific past attempts at making it poor people's fault that they're poor. It's that, despite his apparent intellect, he goes down this whole list of ways that working people's lives are becoming less and less stable, yet can't seem the draw the line through to the fact that if you want people to have stable lives they have to have stable jobs.
    posted by ob1quixote at 9:01 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Alright, then, why leave out Olive Garden, #16 on that list? Why are they not casual dining?

    (I suspect the answer is because Olive Garden is "ethnic" food.)
    posted by madcaptenor at 9:02 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    No, as many times as Jonah took the test, he'd always get Lotho Sackville-Baggins. And he would take it many, many times.

    And his mom as Lobelia. So perfect.
    posted by Edison Carter at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2012


    OK, let's look at 10 top-grossing Casual Dining Chains from 2009:

    (11) Applebees
    (12) Chilis
    (16) Olive Garden
    (18) Outback
    (19) TGI Fridays
    (20) Red Lobster
    (24) Denny's
    (25) Cracker Barrel
    (27) IHOP

    There are pretty significant differences between this list and the one that Murray presented. Why? Did Chilis and Olive Garden and Red Lobster really sink so low between 2009 and today?
    posted by muddgirl at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    He's not talking about popular restaurants, he's talking about casual dining chains.

    Right. But he's choosing to do that because that's the variable that separates the two classes he wants separated. If coastal metropolitan liberals with advanced degrees loved Applebee's but not Chipotle and Five Guys, he would have put that market segment on his quiz.
    posted by escabeche at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Well his reason for excluding Chipotle is this:
    Why a list of nine chains instead of the more natural topten? Because one of the top ten is Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is to the casual-dining genre of restaurants as Whole Foods is to grocery stores.
    posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:04 AM on January 26, 2012


    Ha, 53 points. I raked 'em in by living for years in a town with a population of 5,000, working as a gardener, and going to the movies. Also living in a warehouse full of high school dropout potheads in the middle of West Oakland. I bet Murray didn't have that in mind when he wrote the question about college degrees. Also I have ridden my horse in a Cinco de Mayo parade.
    posted by oneirodynia at 9:05 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Take this quiz and see how well you conform to my not-so-well-founded stereotype!

    I'm sick of being told that I'm something other than American, even though (or because) I have spent most of my life living in the same stupid American city that I was born into—because American means Cowboy Anglo Rural Evangelical Nascar! I grew up in a blue-collar family, but I don't see why that should make any fucking difference; even after the '87 crash, we were a lot better off than families with non-unionized, white-collar breadwinners. I listen to the rock and rolls and the hip hops instead of country music, I do not accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, and I think Applebees sucks ass. Doesn't matter. I am nothing if not American. What else would I be?

    It would have been a hell of a lot more interesting if Murray had tackled the issue of integration in America: how people of different cultural and economic groups are segregated from one another, and how that affects our country's ability to function as a unified whole. I do think it's important for people to consider how much of a bubble they're in with respect to outside communities, and how that informs their opinions about public policy. That extends to lawmakers, who are often isolated from the issues faced by their constituents (like, say, not having health insurance), or isolated from issues that affect regions that are outside of their districts, but within the scope of the laws they vote on (my congressperson votes on your agricultural bills, your congressperson votes on funding for our housing projects, etc.).
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:05 AM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Also, for what it's worth, I scored "between 5 and 8" on Jahaza's automated version of the quiz. I don't get out much.
    posted by ob1quixote at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2012


    Also, why is the top ten natural than the top nine? I suspect Murray might find it more natural for people to have nine fingers, because they lost one on the factory floor.
    posted by madcaptenor at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2012


    Man, I'm glad I decided to stop being White a few years ago. Otherwise I would find this pretty irritating.
    posted by benito.strauss at 9:07 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is to the casual-dining genre of restaurants as Whole Foods is to grocery stores.

    What is this even supposed to mean, anyway? Whole Foods is more expensive than other grocery stores. Chipotle is cheaper than Fridays or Chilis or IHOP. They don't serve organic stuff as far as I know.

    Oh, I know what it means! It means "I am arbitrarily excluding this measure because it doesn't serve my purpose."
    posted by escabeche at 9:08 AM on January 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


    Ah, I see - Murray didn't use restaurant gross, for some reason he used 'number of outlets,' which should still include Chilis and Olive Garden. Chilis isn't even ethnic food! Although considering Murray has probably never been to a Chilis I can forgive his mistake - after all, he lives in quite a bubble!
    posted by muddgirl at 9:11 AM on January 26, 2012


    There are pretty significant differences between this list and the one that Murray presented. Why?

    Because he's Charles Murray, that's why. When you don't like the facts, get new ones.

    Did Chilis and Olive Garden and Red Lobster really sink so low between 2009 and today?

    He probably left out Olive Garden because it's generally better-liked amongst the bourgeoisie, just as he did with Chipotle. Red Lobster and Chili's may have fallen into a similar trap - I know *I* like Red Lobster, as well as Olive Garden - although I don't know how popular they are nowadays, as compared with 2009.

    But he's choosing to do that because that's the variable that separates the two classes he wants separated. If coastal metropolitan liberals with advanced degrees loved Applebee's but not Chipotle and Five Guys, he would have put that market segment on his quiz.

    Yup. He wants to underline an arbitrary difference that he himself defines.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 9:11 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Seriously folks: when did the author say or suggest that particular groups are less American than others? A lot of this opprobrium seems misplaced.
    posted by downing street memo at 9:11 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Nah, he just said one group was 'ordinary Americans' while the other group was 'elite.' Completely different.
    posted by muddgirl at 9:12 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I love how I got a super-white trashy score and yet, if you knew me, you'd consider me one of the least "white" white people you'd ever met. Go figure.
    posted by Edison Carter at 9:13 AM on January 26, 2012


    A lot of this opprobrium seems misplaced.
    A lot of the opprobium comes from the fact that Murray made a name for himself as a professional racist. He's also an extremely elite guy (Harvard undergrad, MIT PhD, town house in Georgetown last time I checked) who is telling us all what working-class culture is about, and that's a little annoying.

    (I scored 13-16 on Jahaza's quiz. I find that amusing, especially because I got a point for taking a Greyhound bus to visit grad schools.)
    posted by craichead at 9:14 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    It's classic divide-and-conquer - there's no reason to worry about rising economic inequality! We really should be worrying about the fact that people with PhD's who live in Chicago never eat at Denny's!

    (Umm... ignore those PhDs who live in Peoria and eat at Denny's. They clearly have a blue-collar background.)
    posted by muddgirl at 9:15 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    He probably left out Olive Garden because it's generally better-liked amongst the bourgeoisie

    Really? Is this something I'd have to be from someplace where there aren't lots of Italian-Americans who have some idea what this food is supposed to taste like to understand?
    posted by madcaptenor at 9:15 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Ah, I see - Murray didn't use restaurant gross, for some reason he used 'number of outlets,'

    Note that he said he used outlets because he could not find numbers for "meals served," which is also a bizarre metric.

    Of course, you were able to find rankings by restaurant gross within minutes, which would have been a much more logical way to find out which restaurants are actually more popular than others, but those numbers probably wouldn't have given Murray the results he would have wanted.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 9:15 AM on January 26, 2012


    I find that amusing, especially because I got a point for taking a Greyhound bus to visit grad schools.

    I got a point for Greyhound because I was studying at one fancy school in New England and used it to go visit high-school friends of mine who were studying at other such fancy schools.
    posted by madcaptenor at 9:16 AM on January 26, 2012


    Is this something I'd have to be from someplace where there aren't lots of Italian-Americans who have some idea what this food is supposed to taste like to understand?

    YOU'RE ELITE FOR KNOWING THAT THERE COULD EVEN BE A DIFFERENCE
    posted by Sticherbeast at 9:16 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    He probably left out Olive Garden because it's generally better-liked amongst the bourgeoisie

    Really? Is this something I'd have to be from someplace where there aren't lots of Italian-Americans who have some idea what this food is supposed to taste like to understand?


    I know people born and raised in Brooklyn that prefer Olive Garden and Papa John's...
    posted by defenestration at 9:17 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I got a point for taking a Greyhound bus to visit grad schools.

    I got a point for taking a Greyhound bus on my way back to Boston from the opera at Lincoln Center where I went to celebrate finishing my Ph.D. (I've taken Greyhound other times, but that was pretty much the most "culturally elite" situation in which I've taken a Greyhound bus. And was it really that elite? Being an opera fan was pretty much the norm among middle class whites in NYC a generation ago).
    posted by deanc at 9:19 AM on January 26, 2012


    A lot of the opprobium comes from the fact that Murray made a name for himself as a professional racist. He's also an extremely elite guy (Harvard undergrad, MIT PhD, town house in Georgetown last time I checked) who is telling us all what working-class culture is about, and that's a little annoying.

    I'm aware of all this, but at no point does he actually seem to be making value judgments about the various cultures, just making the point that they are diverging.
    posted by downing street memo at 9:24 AM on January 26, 2012


    Sticherbeast, you totally tipped your hand as a Northeastern Liberal Elitist. White Castle is Midwest and NYC-area only, and Kennedy Fried is definitely a NYC thing, even though they have other locations, and what may be the world's most awesome logo.

    (According to Wikipedia, Kennedy Fried, Crown Fried, and Royal are related! All this while, I thought I was shopping around for my chicken. Also, where are you getting cheap fried chicken in Park Slope? I'm asking for...a friend.)
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:24 AM on January 26, 2012


    It's so 'strange' to include Greyhound and not Amtrack. And Amtrack is actually, legitimately a bus on many routes. And the price isn't much.

    Well, not strange, because people on the East Coast ride Amtrack and it's such a different experience than riding Greyhound.
    posted by muddgirl at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2012


    Small detour: can somebody tell me about Golden Corral? I don't think we have any here, but I watch WWE programming, which is apparently sponsored solely by K-Mart and Golden Corral (and Nickelback).

    I fully understand that this makes me an effete milquetoast who somehow non-ironically enjoys professional wrestling, but the commercials make it seem horrifying.

    First, the Marvin Gaye soundalike that makes it sound like I should be chocolate wonderfalling my shvantz; and then the ad that implies that $20 is too much to spend on two dinners and an appetizer.

    I mean, I'm not above a shitty Chinese buffet sometimes, but something about these ads squicks me out.
    posted by uncleozzy at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    32. His profile of me was more accurate than Google's.
    posted by stargell at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2012


    Well, Greyhound in the northeast is a different sort of thing than Greyhound in the rest of the country (a lot like Amtrak)! I remember the first time I took the bus from South Station, I was amazed at how much nicer the bus depot was than Lambert Airport.
    posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2012


    Being an opera fan was pretty much the norm among middle class whites in NYC a generation ago
    This survey was carefully designed, though, to ensure that such people, their descendents, and their current counterparts don't qualify as "real Americans." The places they live are too big and/or metropolitan. They probably don't hunt, fish, or go to Branson. They're Catholic, not evangelical Protestants. The whole thing is rigged against working-class white ethnics.
    posted by craichead at 9:25 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    ETA: or do you mean non-ethnic middle-class whites? One of my childhood memories is going along with my dad when he got a haircut at a barber shop run by an ancient Italian guy who blared opera constantly. I now know that opera is elite, but my oldest associations with it have to do with old-school barbershops and the immigrants who ran them.
    posted by craichead at 9:28 AM on January 26, 2012


    the ad that implies that $20 is too much to spend on two dinners and an appetizer.

    I think the ad is actually criticizing the notion that one has to share an appetizer for $20.
    posted by downing street memo at 9:29 AM on January 26, 2012


    Kennedy Fried is definitely a NYC thing, even though they have other locations, and what may be the world's most awesome logo.

    Another contender
    posted by stargell at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    just making the point that they are diverging

    Again, he's making two incorrect statements:

    (1) Class differences are equivalent to differences in local culture between urban and rural/urbanized areas (this isn't true in any way)

    (2) The difference between these two cultures is growing larger (actually, it seems to me that America is becoming more homogenized, not less so).

    I could add a third:
    (3) We can determine an 'ordinary American' experience.

    The factory floor question really threw me, actually, because my mother worked in data-entry for a paper company, and I worked odd jobs in relation to that. The qualifications were actually really similar for the two jobs - data-entry didn't even require familiarity with computer. But women tended to have the upstairs jobs and men tended to have the floor jobs. It's interesting that the question doesn't say 'worked an entry-level job at a factory' (which I could say yes to) but rather 'worked on the factory floor'.
    posted by muddgirl at 9:30 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Sticherbeast, you totally tipped your hand as a Northeastern Liberal Elitist. White Castle is Midwest and NYC-area only, and Kennedy Fried is definitely a NYC thing, even though they have other locations, and what may be the world's most awesome logo.

    Ha. Well, when you're right, you're right. I don't know if there really is a nationwide chain equivalent of White Castle or Kennedy's, though. I imagine that every area has some sort of local or regional equivalent, however, of the bottom-tier-and-proud-of-it fast food chain.
    posted by Sticherbeast at 9:33 AM on January 26, 2012


    I think the ad is actually criticizing the notion that one has to share an appetizer for $20.

    Yeah, actually the :30 version, which I have never seen on TV, makes it clear that the problem is the limited menu and shared appetizer, but still... who balks at sharing an appetizer?
    posted by uncleozzy at 9:34 AM on January 26, 2012


    ...and this quiz sort of angers me because, in reading reviews, it really has nothing to do with what is nominally the thesis of his book (which has more to do with divorce rates, joblessness, etc. of the lower-middle and working classes).

    But again, talking about income inequality doesn't get people to buy your book, while setting up fake class dichotomies does.
    posted by muddgirl at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2012


    Wait a minute. Did someone touted as a distinguished, but misunderstood, academic just write an entire book embodying the No True Scotsman fallacy?
    posted by dhartung at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Fucking hell, I hate the term "out of touch" in this context. As though cultural differences are a moral failing.
    posted by brundlefly at 9:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I don't get this quiz at all. Do other people really know how much money their parents made when they were kids or what grades their friends got in school or the education level of their 50 nearest neighbors in every place they've lived as an adult? I mean, I've lived in my house for almost 8 years and I don't even know the names of my 50 closest neighbors.

    As an aside, the scoring system is completely fucked up. I scored 18, which means that I fall into 3 of the 5 scoring groups. Thank god I smoke.
    posted by Maisie at 9:44 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Do other people really know how much money their parents made when they were kids or what grades their friends got in school or the education level of their 50 nearest neighbors in every place they've lived as an adult?

    Um, yes? :-)
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:46 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Small detour: can somebody tell me about Golden Corral? I don't think we have any here, but I watch WWE programming, which is apparently sponsored solely by K-Mart and Golden Corral (and Nickelback).

    Golden Corral is kind of like Shoney's or Bonanza. Did that not help? Anyway, Golden Corral is a steakhouse/buffet. You go in, order a steak if you want one, and then go to the buffet and, if nothing has changed in 20 years, get some really fantastic sweet potato sticks. Then they bring you your steak and you eat sides and such off the buffet. Or you can just eat at the buffet, which is what my family tended to do.

    They're a North Carolina based chain, and I grew up in NC, so I can't really speak to how widespread they are, but I think they've got some reach. Unlike Bojangles, I feel no special home state pride in Golden Corral.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:47 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    And another thing, I'm pretty sure our bar fridge is stocked with Coors Light, but Mr. M. is the one who does the beer buying in our household. So up yours, Murray.
    posted by Maisie at 9:48 AM on January 26, 2012


    Do other people really know how much money their parents made when they were kids or what grades their friends got in school or the education level of their 50 nearest neighbors in every place they've lived as an adult?

    Um, yes? :-)
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:46 PM on January 26 [+] [!]



    Well, then I guess I really am in the bubble.
    posted by Maisie at 9:49 AM on January 26, 2012


    I think the Northeastern equivalent of Golden Corral was Ponderosa?
    posted by Sticherbeast at 9:49 AM on January 26, 2012


    From what I understand, Golden Corral = Old Country Buffet
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    Maise, I'm in there with you. I gave it a best guess, but then gave up when I got to the scoring section.
    posted by brundlefly at 9:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    Golden Corral is kind of like Shoney's or Bonanza. Did that not help?

    Actually, it did. I used to have family in Tennessee, and Shoney's was always a treat. (I was ten.)

    Golden Corral = Old Country Buffet

    I used to live across the street from an Old Country Buffet. I ate there once, and it was one of the most depressing meals I'd ever eaten. Probably more depressing than the time dinner was sauerkraut eaten directly from the can.
    posted by uncleozzy at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    at no point does he actually seem to be making value judgments about the various cultures, just making the point that they are diverging.

    The value judgement is in the framing - he doesn't say that the two cultures are diverging, he says that urban elites don't know about mainstream culture. This is a problem for two reasons.

    1) As has been pointed out, the culture he's identifying is not "mainstream," it's a culture that includes a minority of Americans on every possible metric. So he's trying to instantiate as the dominant culture something that is not actually dominant, numerically speaking. This is to say nothing of his decision to entirely exclude nonwhites from the equation, which is not surprising, since Charles Murray is a racist.

    2) His framing is uni-directional. He's hyperventilating about how urbanites don't eat at Applebee's, but not, for example, about the fact that rural Americans have never had a banh mi. There's an implicit value judgement there.
    posted by Ragged Richard at 10:01 AM on January 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


    As someone who lives in a rural midwest town of 1800 and grew up poor, I SO ACED THIS TEST.

    What do I win?
    posted by jscalzi at 10:02 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Golden Corral is kind of like Shoney's or Bonanza. Did that not help?

    Actually, it did. I used to have family in Tennessee, and Shoney's was always a treat. (I was ten.)


    Oh, I totally understand. One year my birthday treat was that I got to ride with my dad when he drove to DC to pick up a rush passport. For dinner we stopped at Shoney's. I was eight and was pretty sure I had had the best birthday possible.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:03 AM on January 26, 2012


    I used to live across the street from an Old Country Buffet. I ate there once, and it was one of the most depressing meals I'd ever eaten. Probably more depressing than the time dinner was sauerkraut eaten directly from the can.

    From second-hand info, that is exactly what Golden Corral tastes like. The one up here was so bad that it closed from lack of business--people would go once to try it and never go again. They didn't have sneezeguards over their buffet and plates were dirty and food was crappy so once their population of new diners had been eliminated, they closed. I've never eaten there because I'm on the vegetarian end of the continuum and the name 'Golden Corral' didn't portend good things.

    Also, I scored a 51 (helps to grow up in conservative San Diego County) but am as godless and liberal as they come.
    posted by librarylis at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2012


    It gives extra points to people who are evangelical Christians (but not, say, Catholics, who tend to be more liberal). That's a pretty big indication of political bias right there.

    I figured it was there to filter out Hispanics, who might otherwise be counted as Real Americans.
    posted by gamera at 10:10 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Man, the snark is strong in here. Not knowing who this guy was, I read the link, took the quiz, and took his point to be:

    the danger increases that the people who have so much influence on the course of the nation have little direct experience with the lives of ordinary Americans, and make their judgments about what’s good for other people based on their own highly atypical lives.

    Not that elite americans are inherently bad, are incapable of understanding middle-class experience, etc. etc. People seem to be going out of their way to interpret his argument as it is put forth in the link as an insult. (Which is different than reading between the lines, which does reveal some disturbing ideas.) Obviously a large part of that is their pre-existing knowledge of Murray's other work.

    So, I am smack dab in the middle of the audience Murray is writing for - white, grew up upper-middle class, went to grad school. And I totally get what he is saying. I see it all the time when I go home and visit my family and their friends - people who are doctors, businessmen, lawyers. They constantly make patronizing assumptions about 'ordinary americans', because they just don't understand that reality is very different outside of their social and work circles. These assumptions come out all the time when we talk politics, even though they are politically fairly liberal.

    All of the back-patting in here about how diverse meta-filter is ignores the fact that it is possible to score well on this quiz while being completely elite upper-class, because the quiz isn't what class you are but whether you have a nodding acquaintance with the daily experiences of 'middle america', whatever that means. Everyone who says 'this quiz sucks cuz I'm upper-middle class and I scored a 68!!' completely misses the point.

    Look, I don't mean to be defending Murray cause he is obviously an idiot, but there is a point here that is worth looking at, and most people seem to be uninterested in doing anything other than snarking. And getting the basic argument of the link wrong at the same time.
    posted by ianhattwick at 10:19 AM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I'm snarking because Murray has loaded a shitload of racial and cultural assumptions around that point, essentially hijacking a possibly interesting question about class and making it all about race (white) and culture (southern).
    posted by gamera at 10:26 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    What do I win?

    A lifetime habit of voting Republican, if you're lucky?
    posted by dhartung at 10:29 AM on January 26, 2012


    This:
    the danger increases that the people who have so much influence on the course of the nation have little direct experience with the lives of ordinary Americans, and make their judgments about what’s good for other people based on their own highly atypical lives.
    may be his intention, but is it what the quiz actually shows?
    • A lifelong resident of a working-class neighborhood with average television and moviegoing habits. Range: 48–99. Typical: 77.

    • A first- generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and moviegoing habits. Range: 42–100. Typical: 66.

    • A first- generation upper-middle- class person with middle-class par- ents. Range: 11–80. Typical: 33.

    • A second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person who has made a point of getting out a lot. Range: 0–43. Typical: 9.

    • A second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person with the tele- vision and moviegoing habits of the upper middle class. Range: 0–20.Typical: 2
    Look at the huge amount of overlap between these results. Think about the classes of 'white people' who are not included in these results. How can we talk about this as a useful quiz when your test result could put you in at least 3 different categories? Or where none of the categories reflect your actual living situation?
    posted by muddgirl at 10:31 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Man, the snark is strong in here. Not knowing who this guy was, I read the link, took the quiz, and took his point to be:

    the danger increases that the people who have so much influence on the course of the nation have little direct experience with the lives of ordinary Americans


    The problem is that his definition of "ordinary Americans" is totally absurd.
    posted by brundlefly at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    WTF are the "television viewing and moviegoing habits of the UMC?" Do rich people really not like Transformers 3?
    posted by muddgirl at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2012


    WTF are the "television viewing and moviegoing habits of the UMC?" Do rich people really not like Transformers 3?
    posted by muddgirl at 1:34 PM on January 26 [+] [!]



    No, I think that's separating out people with good taste.
    posted by Maisie at 10:37 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    It gives extra points to people who are evangelical Christians (but not, say, Catholics, who tend to be more liberal). That's a pretty big indication of political bias right there.

    I figured it was there to filter out Hispanics, who might otherwise be counted as Real Americans.
    15% of Hispanics in the U.S. are born-again or evangelical Protestants.
    posted by Jahaza at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2012


    What I find interesting is that Murray's ideas would seem to dovetail quite well with many of the left leaning members on MF were it not for the baggage he brings along. He seems deeply concerned about inequality.

    Yeah, but something like Jim Goad's Redneck Manifesto covers that ground a lot better. Also, Jim Goad actually comes from and is part of the American white working class unlike Murray.

    FORGOT TO EXCLUDE MATH TEAM, HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW?

    I'm sure Lacrosse also counts, right...?

    Chipotle doesn't have a drive-through, which is one indicator of 'Fast Food.'
    Does Chili's?
    posted by atrazine at 10:42 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    So, I am smack dab in the middle of the audience Murray is writing for - white, grew up upper-middle class, went to grad school. And I totally get what he is saying. I see it all the time when I go home and visit my family and their friends - people who are doctors, businessmen, lawyers.

    What Murray seems to be saying is "If you are familiar with the average American, you will score well on this quiz". What the people who are snarking are saying is "Scoring well on this quiz does not mean you are familiar with the average American, it means you are familiar with a particualr type of American who has not been shown to be average by any reasonable metric".
    posted by 23skidoo at 10:45 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Chilis is straight-up casual dining, which is why I think it's indicative of the kind of bias Murray is presenting in this list. In good faith I will assume that Murray is simply blind to the bias, and not intentionally throwing his entire book into question by artificially dividing the country into "rural/recently-urbanized working class whites" and "coastal upper-middle-class whites".

    I hope it's not controversial that there are other types of Americans.
    posted by muddgirl at 10:48 AM on January 26, 2012


    there is a point here that is worth looking at

    There is a point that's worth looking at, but it's not the one he's making. Even worse, his presentation of material seems to actively distract people from it.
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:49 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    at no point does he actually seem to be making value judgments about the various cultures, just making the point that they are diverging.

    Well, he does say that some answers are correct, while others are not. But, more to the point, his decision about what counts as the American mainstream is highly politically charged, and isn't really mainstream.
    posted by OmieWise at 10:49 AM on January 26, 2012


    After the Bell Curve? All Murray deserves is snarking and perhaps a good smack on the back of the head.

    Is "ordinary Americans" the same as the "Real America". What is a non-ordinary American?
    posted by edgeways at 10:49 AM on January 26, 2012


    the danger increases that the people who have so much influence on the course of the nation have little direct experience with the lives of ordinary Americans

    But how ordinary are these ordinary Americans, this salt of the earth normality that elitists can't understand?

    THIS CAN BE DETERMINED.

    I was curious, so I grabbed a national survey (the 2006 CCES) with a very large sample (about 15000 once I deleted missing cases).

    So, you may wonder, what proportion of Americans are ordinary? You know, born-again protestants, who have less than a BA/BS, who make under $70K, who shop at Walmart sometimes, who own a pickup truck, and who work in any kind of for-profit business?
    . tab ordinaryamerican
    
    ordinaryame |
          rican |      Freq.     Percent        Cum.
    ------------+-----------------------------------
              0 |     14,668       97.35       97.35
              1 |        399        2.65      100.00
    ------------+-----------------------------------
          Total |     15,067      100.00
    
    Ordinary Americans certainly have a lot of problems, outnumbered as they are.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:52 AM on January 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


    The one that sent me over the edge:
    Q21. "Over 25 million Americans rode Greyhound in 2008 alone."

    ...Over 25 million Americans rode the NYC subway
    since Monday, around lunchtime. WHO IS THE BUBBLE-DWELLER AND WHO ARE THE REAL AMERICANS NOW MOTHERFUCKER.

    Sorry, I have to take issue with this. The chance that more than about six million different people have ridden the NYC subway since Monday is approximately zero. Greyhound is going to have many more discrete riders for a given passenger count.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Murray in the WSJ last Saturday, riffing on the theme.

    I see where he's coming from. Lot of umbrage here on the blue over what's perceived to be his division of "good" or "real" Americans from the elite; but if you read the WSJ essay you get that he acknowledges that those "real" Americans are being crushed by social pathologies that just don't hit the elite urban college-educated types anywhere near as hard.

    It's almost a validation of the elites, though Murray would never frame it that way, and doesn't. But what he is arguing is this:

    that members of the new upper class rethink their priorities. Here are some propositions that might guide them: Life sequestered from anybody not like yourself tends to be self-limiting. Places to live in which the people around you have no problems that need cooperative solutions tend to be sterile. America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you're not part of that America, you've stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special.

    Such priorities can be expressed in any number of familiar decisions: the neighborhood where you buy your next home, the next school that you choose for your children, what you tell them about the value and virtues of physical labor and military service, whether you become an active member of a religious congregation (and what kind you choose) and whether you become involved in the life of your community at a more meaningful level than charity events.

    Everyone in the new upper class has the monetary resources to make a wide variety of decisions that determine whether they engage themselves and their children in the rest of America or whether they isolate themselves from it. The only question is which they prefer to do.


    i.e. - elite, save the proles!
    posted by kgasmart at 10:55 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Oh, and I scored 20. I got four points on the chain-restaurant question, entirely from Waffle House. (I feel like the fact that I ate in a Waffle House on Monday in a town with a population of less than 2,200 should get me a bonus point.)
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:56 AM on January 26, 2012


    I finally took the stupid quiz (57). Does this mean I get to keep living in this country? Although, since I now live in San Francisco, I probably don't live in "real America" anyway.
    posted by rtha at 10:57 AM on January 26, 2012



    Sorry, I have to take issue with this. The chance that more than about six million different people have ridden the NYC subway since Monday is approximately zero. Greyhound is going to have many more discrete riders for a given passenger count.


    That is a fair point. I wonder what % of those Greyhound (lets expand that to other bus companies as well shall we) riders where non-counting college kids.
    posted by edgeways at 10:59 AM on January 26, 2012


    he acknowledges that those "real" Americans are being crushed by social pathologies that just don't hit the elite urban college-educated types anywhere near as hard.

    Well... duh? And poor Americans (bottom-out-of-sight) are being crushed by social pathologies that just don't hit urban working-class types anywhere near as hard.

    And we ALL have it harder than top-out-of-sight Americans.

    But that's not his point at all:
    Life sequestered from anybody not like yourself tends to be self-limiting.
    HE HAS DONE NOTHING TO SHOW THAT UMC PEOPLE ARE SEQUESTERED FROM NON-UMC PEOPLE.
    posted by muddgirl at 11:00 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    65 points.

    Know who Jimmie Johnson is; don't like him.
    posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2012


    'Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?'

    Does my soul count?
    posted by pianomover at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I got a high score and knew that I would. But I am not white. So...

    Actually, I don't understand why people of color are excluded from consideration by Murray. I mean, kgasmart, you say you "see where he's coming from". Valkyryn, you too. So could one of the people who understands this explain to me why "America" and "Americans" are exclusively white? It seems so blatantly and baldly racist to me that I must be missing something that you are seeing.

    I read the WSJ article, trying to find out why his book focuses on whites only. Starting with this:
    America is coming apart. For most of our nation's history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world—for whites, anyway.
    Right, so what I read here is, "we (and by we I mean Americans, and by Americans of course I mean white people) maintained a cultural equality except for all those people who didn't count and for the purposes of my thesis they still don't count". But I don't know why they don't count. Then there's this:
    I specify white, meaning non-Latino white, as a way of clarifying how broad and deep the cultural divisions in the U.S. have become. Cultural inequality is not grounded in race or ethnicity.
    What does this mean? How does it clarify the depth of cultural division by excluding the experiences of anyone who isn't a non-hispanic white?
    posted by Danila at 11:09 AM on January 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


    HE HAS DONE NOTHING TO SHOW THAT UMC PEOPLE ARE SEQUESTERED FROM NON-UMC PEOPLE.

    Not to mention that the UMC people who are least sequestered from non-UMC people are UMC people who live in cities. But the urban poor don't count, for some mysterious reason, because they don't watch NASCAR.

    This is because Murray is using a really common right-wing dodge. He's talking about culture as a way to avoid talking about class.
    posted by Ragged Richard at 11:13 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I read Murray's article. I think I'm supposed to scold people who have children out of wedlock, because that's bad for them, but I'm not supposed to scold people for smoking, because that would be snobby. Did I get it?
    posted by escabeche at 11:18 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I don't understand why people of color are excluded from consideration by Murray.

    Sorry, guess you've been bell-curved out of relevance.
    posted by edgeways at 11:18 AM on January 26, 2012


    From the WSJ article linked above: "Cultural inequality is not grounded in race or ethnicity. "

    The reasoned response would be something about how it is disingenuous to pretend that there are not racial or ethic inequalities in this country. It would also point out that inequality can happen across multiple divides, including race, ethnicity, class, and economics. But I would really prefer to leave it at:

    AHAHAHAHAHA, no.
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I got 48 (49 if scrubs count as a uniform) and thought his questions were kind of arbitrary and chosen to try to prove his point. Many examples are given above but the one that jumped out at me was his decision to exclude Chipotle's from the list of top ten restuarants that Americans patronize. I ate at one in Chicago and enjoyed it, but it was certainly not that different from other chain eateries. And a lot of "ordinary Americans" must eat there if it is so popular.

    Also, I am a liberal in a medium sized Southern town and I would have to be a hermit to not score above 30 or so without trying. You can't go 50 feet here without tripping over an evangelical and/or conservative, not to mention everyone hunts and fishes and we have one of the highest smoking rates in the country.
    posted by TedW at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2012


    Yeah, Ragged Richard. It's almost an early European conception of class, except in this context "UMC elite" would be anyone who's been to graduate school/professional degree program in a big city, regardless of position in life or income or what-have-you. A second-generation UMC elite would, presumably, be an offspring of PhDs.

    By this logic, my rich in-laws are not "Upper Middle Class" because they got bachelor's degrees at a state school (so Murray would excuse my father-in-laws taste for big-budget action films as coming from his middle-class background). But that puts me in a tenuous position - my grandparents have bachelor's degrees, my parent's don't, and I married someone who is getting a PhD. What class am I?
    posted by muddgirl at 11:24 AM on January 26, 2012


    What does this mean? How does it clarify the depth of cultural division by excluding the experiences of anyone who isn't a non-hispanic white?

    As I understand it, he's arguing that previously in American history, there was some sort of uniform culture that united whites.* Now, he believes that are divisions that divide whites from each other, divisions that are not based on race ethnicity, but on other factors. If you're trying to prove this, you exclude the experiences of non-whites because they're not who you're talking about; your argument is only about whites, so their experience are what you're concerned with.

    *This argument is almost certainly garbage, but I haven't read the book
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:27 AM on January 26, 2012


    "America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you're not part of that America, you've stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special."
    I was right. He is like a 19th century African explorer posing for photographs with the native pygmies. Also, reading that quote and Murray's WSJ piece I'm reminded of Citizen Kane, the scene where Jed Leland takes Kane to task following his defeat by Jim Gettys:
    "You talk about the people as though you owned them, as though they belong to you. Goodness. As long as I can remember, you've talked about giving the people their rights, as if you can make them a present of Liberty, as a reward for services rendered. Remember the working man? You used to write an awful lot about the workingman. He's turning into something called organized labor. You're not going to like that one little bit when you find out it means that your workingman expects something is his right, not as your gift! Charlie, when your precious underprivileged really get together, oh boy! That's going to add up to something bigger than your privileges!
    posted by octobersurprise at 11:29 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    As I understand it, he's arguing that previously in American history, there was some sort of uniform culture that united whites.

    Well, I suppose there was "racism." :)
    posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Danila: "So could one of the people who understands this explain to me why "America" and "Americans" are exclusively white?"

    Murray focuses on "White America" because his last opus, The Bell Curve, was mired in controversy because he and his co-author opined that black people are genetically and environmentally predisposed to not be as smart as white people. Concentrating on white people appears to be Murray's cack-handed attempt to avoid this previous controversy by avoiding whatever role race may play in the difference in outcomes between the classes.
    posted by ob1quixote at 11:32 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    So could one of the people who understands this explain to me why "America" and "Americans" are exclusively white?

    I don't think he's saying this per se, but I think he's trying to speak to the alienation of the white working class. And they are alienated - or hadn't you noticed that the Tea Party happens to be almost exclusively white.

    Here are people who for a long time felt themselves to be the backbone of American society. We can say - yes but look who they excluded, everybody else, and that's correct. But it doesn't diminish their own belief that they used to be the very definition of American, and now the America they cherished - mythological though it may be - seems full of contempt for them and the lives they thought they tried to lead.

    Murray is saying, these people deserve to be respected. There are a lot of people who live this way, with the pickup trucks and the evangelical Christianity and the NASCAR fetish, they feel themselves to be the most patriotic of Americans, they feel themselves to be hard-working. They greatly resent anyone who looks down on them because, say, of the beer they prefer.

    And it is this resentment which has powered the conservative movement from day one, and continues to power it now. For those of us who think movement conservatism is a very dangerous thing, it helps to try to understand these resentments, rather than dismiss them out of hand.
    posted by kgasmart at 11:34 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I think a lot of his problems arise from the fact that he's basically trying to analyze class distinctions without defining a class model. "Ordinary" and "elite" are just a useless division -- even dusting off Marx would be better. It might be meaningful to say that "the cultural choices of the petit-bourgeois and the intelligentsia are increasingly mimicing those of the ruling capitalists and diverging from the proletariat and the peasants." (It may or may not be true, but it's a meaningful assertion.) But ill-defined categories make his whole argument so much smoke: you can't even say whether or not the data supports it.

    This was basically the problem with The Bell Curve, too. Without rigorous definitions for "race" and "intelligence" his arguments can't even be wrong.
    posted by tyllwin at 11:35 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    or hadn't you noticed that the Tea Party happens to be almost exclusively white.

    But are they almost exclusively part of the working class? That's not my impression.

    There are a lot of people who live this way, with the pickup trucks and the evangelical Christianity and the NASCAR fetish, they feel themselves to be the most patriotic of Americans, they feel themselves to be hard-working. They greatly resent anyone who looks down on them because, say, of the beer they prefer.

    And again, this has nothing to do with "working class." These are cultural distinctions based on where someone lives, not on 'class.' By making this an issue of "liberal elites" vs. "hardworking Americans," Murray is strengthening the conservative message rather than upending it. And it's a tactic that has been working for a very, very long time (according to Howard Zinn, at least).
    posted by muddgirl at 11:40 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    But...but...

    Murray is saying, these people deserve to be respected.

    But why are they especially deserving of respect while a brown person with the same cultural markers is excluded? As I said, I got a high score because even though I live in the city I am poor and always have been. I watch low-brow tv and movies. IHOP and Applebees are where my family goes for special occasions or if we have extra extra money, and Golden Corral is a special treat because we have to go to Jersey to get it. Most of the people I know well are like this. Okay fine, whatever, exclude these people.

    But, who cares if some small group of white people used to have it better and they have it worse now? Why is this a tragedy to anyone but them? And when I ask these questions, I am not saying I actually don't care about the sense of loss or the "disrespect", but I don't get the selling point of the book. Like, should black people care?
    posted by Danila at 11:45 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    They greatly resent anyone who looks down on them because, say, of the beer they prefer.

    That road goes both ways. Besides which, I don't see a whole lot of political rhetoric against God-fearing real Americans who drink Budweiser.

    It's kind of nuts that Murray goes out of his way to create a binary, only to criticize one half of that binary for being separated from the other half.
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:47 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    But are they almost exclusively part of the working class? That's not my impression.

    That's absolutely my impression. There has been an attempt to co-opt the Tea Party by the monied interests, and in some respects that attempt has been successful; but as for the people who are the quickest to self-identify as Tea Partiers, my own personal experience has been that they are absolutely lower to lower-middle-class whites.

    By making this an issue of "liberal elites" vs. "hardworking Americans," Murray is strengthening the conservative message rather than upending it.

    I don't think he's saying that the elites are exclusively liberal, though he does imply it (he's from the American Enterprise Institute, c'mon, of course he's going to imply it). Nor is he saying that the people who so long NASCAR are "hardworking" - in fact, he presents some evidence suggesting that members of that group have more of a tendency to be out of the job market (and thus not be working at all) than the elite, who do indeed tend to be "hardworking."
    posted by kgasmart at 11:49 AM on January 26, 2012


    I agree with muddgirl way up the thread that this is a sad attempt at proving that class mobility is on the decline. I don't know if class mobility is actually on the decline (it's working great for me, and I hope it keeps working, for my kids' sake), but this doesn't seem like a good way to prove it.
    posted by punchee at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    That road goes both ways. Besides which, I don't see a whole lot of political rhetoric against God-fearing real Americans who drink Budweiser.

    Political rhetoric isn't the only or even primary way in which people look down on other people. There is plenty of disrespect or derision directed at people who enjoy the kind of culture that Murray is describing.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    That road goes both ways. Besides which, I don't see a whole lot of political rhetoric against God-fearing real Americans who drink Budweiser.

    No, I don't see a whole lot of political rhetoric. But if you prefer, say, a hefeweizen - you do think those who like Bud are undeducated proles, right?
    posted by kgasmart at 11:51 AM on January 26, 2012


    There are a lot of people who live this way, with the pickup trucks and the evangelical Christianity and the NASCAR fetish, they feel themselves to be the most patriotic of Americans, they feel themselves to be hard-working. They greatly resent anyone who looks down on them because, say, of the beer they prefer.

    I think that for both them and Murray, these groups used to be considered "quintessential" Americans, and when the public sphere decided to cater to people other than those that fit a narrow set of stereotypes, resentment ensued and people like Murray got upset that their personal fetishes weren't being validated as the only ones worth having. But what Murray is harkening back to was not reality but a side-effect of a national media that was very limited in scope 50 years ago. With only 4 or 5 national TV channels, "someone" had to win the contest to be the "quintessential" American to be marketed to, and that group was it. Go into the pre-TV era, and Murray's thesis crumbles.

    as for the people who are the quickest to self-identify as Tea Partiers, my own personal experience has been that they are absolutely lower to lower-middle-class whites.

    Statistics say otherwise.
    posted by deanc at 11:52 AM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    But if you prefer, say, a hefeweizen - you do think those who like Bud are undeducated proles, right?

    Nope.
    posted by brundlefly at 11:54 AM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Let's look at NASCAR fans, since that's a favorite example:
    * NASCAR fans are middle class and just as affluent as the U.S. population: 45% earn $50,000+ per year (96 index vs. U.S. population)

    * 1 out of 5 NASCAR fans is a minority.
    40% of NASCAR fans are 'white collar'

    Let's look at Tea Party demographics - are they particularly 'lower-middle class'?
    ...supporters are slightly more likely to be male and less likely to be lower-income.
    55% of Tea Party supporters make more than 50,000 a year, compared to 50% of the average population. (On preview the NYT poll is even more comprehensive - 20% made over $100,000 a year compared to 14% average)

    kgasmart - I mirrored your use of the term 'hardworking.'
    posted by muddgirl at 11:57 AM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


    And if we're talking about class as determined by education, they are more likely to have some college through post graduate degrees (70%) than the average (53%)
    posted by muddgirl at 11:58 AM on January 26, 2012


    Y'know, muddgirl, those Gallup numbers just leave me amazed. That poll really isn't an outlier?
    posted by tyllwin at 12:02 PM on January 26, 2012


    But if you prefer, say, a hefeweizen - you do think those who like Bud are undeducated proles, right?

    Do TV ads for upscale beers make fun of Bud drinkers?

    A lot of what Murray and a few members of the aggrieved minority he's talking about possibly believe is that they're sure that there are people looking down on them. And that might be true! But it's more of a mindset on their side that "if you don't do as I do, it means you're looking down on me"... which might not be surprising from the conformist culture that Murray is part of and some of that crowd is part of-- if you insist that everyone behave as you do, it's likely that you look down on others who don't, and assume that everyone else feels the same way, in an act of projection.

    The "ideal" era Murray points to may well just have been an artifact of our fast rise in living standards after WWII-- then you had a lot of non-college educated people going to college while remaining in their original home towns. You had a national-scale mass media that could only really pick one standard to follow, without offerings for anyone else. You had the effects of prohibition and post-prohibition regulation which decimated smaller brewers leaving only Anheuser-Busch and a couple competitors to dominate the market.
    posted by deanc at 12:03 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    From the automated quiz: On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored at least 17.

    In other words, you're so embedded in mainstream America that you need to visit the bubble once in a while.


    Oh let me get right on that! Who's funding this trip to the bubble?
    posted by elsietheeel at 12:04 PM on January 26, 2012


    Y'know, muddgirl, those Gallup numbers just leave me amazed. That poll really isn't an outlier?

    It correlates pretty well to the NYT/CBS poll.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on January 26, 2012


    Statistics say otherwise.

    The NYT in that piece leads off with "Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public," but as support for the former claim, we get this:

    Tea Party supporters over all are more likely than the general public to say their personal financial situation is fairly good or very good. But 55 percent are concerned that someone in their household will be out of a job in the next year. And more than two-thirds say the recession has been difficult or caused hardship and major life changes. Like most Americans, they think the most pressing problems facing the country today are the economy and jobs.

    Not convinced that this speaks to their "wealth."

    I know several people who self-identify as Tea Partiers. One's a salesman who spends a lot of time on the road - listening to Rush. No college degree, company's been downsizing while heaping big bonuses on the bosses and more work on his head. He's pissed but has no options, he works his ass off and greatly, greatly resents what he sees as the "laziness" of those who aren't forced to hustle as hard as he has to. You can't talk him out of this impression, in part because he does work his ass off.

    I know another elderly (early 70s) couple who self-identify as Tea Partiers. They're living off part-time jobs with unpredictable hours and government benefits; if they lose hours at work, which happens occasionally, they're shit out of luck and have to go asking their kids for help to pay the rent. They are terrified that the expansion of government benefits for unemployment or some other social program will impact their Medicare - they're the classic "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" types. Love Bill O'Reilly and Fox News in general. And they greatly resent the "moochers" who, in their view, are suckling off the system. And when you point out to them that, you know, one might say the same of them (I did say this once), they look at you and respond - Yes but we deserve it.

    I know some other folks, but you get the basic gist. These are people who are on the edge, who believe that they have paid their dues and it counts for absolutely nothing. That both pisses them off and frightens them immensely. And then, when they perceive that anyone has dismissed or diminished their struggling, or suggested that others are somehow more deserving - that's one reason you get a Tea Party in the first place.
    posted by kgasmart at 12:05 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    He probably left out Olive Garden because it's generally better-liked amongst the bourgeoisie, just as he did with Chipotle.

    Idunno about that. This Northeastern liberal elitist (son of a public-school secretary, grandson of a firefighter, but we're from New York, so we are ispo facto not Real Americans) would much sooner eat in a Friday's than an Olive Garden. And Friday's kinda sucks.
    posted by breakin' the law at 12:07 PM on January 26, 2012


    But 55 percent are concerned that someone in their household will be out of a job in the next year. And more than two-thirds say the recession has been difficult or caused hardship and major life changes.

    My household makes around 75k a year, we are both college-educated with professional careers, and both of those things have been or are true for my household. That doesn't make us 'working class.'

    I know that many people in the Tea Party ARE working class, but they do not dominate the Tea Party.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:11 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    There are a lot of people who live this way, with the pickup trucks and the evangelical Christianity and the NASCAR fetish

    There really aren't.

    To repeat what I said before, using actual data, only 2.7% of American adults are born-again protestants, who have less than a BA/BS, who make under $70K, who shop at Walmart sometimes, who own a pickup truck, and who work in any kind of for-profit business.

    Looking again at the survey, I could reduce that further by elimination those otherwise-ordinary Americans who never watch sports, and so must not watch NASCAR.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:13 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Upon further reflection, I guess Murray's entire approach here is bothering me because it reminds me of this quote on the benefits of American slavery:
    John Calhoun: With us the two great divisions of society are not rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.


    (via this Ta-Nehisi Coates post in a mind-blowing series of articles about Ron Paul)

    Okay, so to me John Calhoun was saying that slavery was good because no matter what else their differences, white people were all white and all in it together. Millions of "savage" people could be slaughtered, oppressed and enslaved because this greatly benefited all Americans, and by Americans of course that just means white people. Besides the economic benefits there were also the cultural benefits. Whites could believe they had a shared culture in their America, and no matter what class each could respect the others. This is a big reason the South started the Civil War and fought so hard to retain and expand slavery.

    So fast forward to nowadays, and Charles Murray is explicitly arguing that Whites no longer have a shared cultural "understanding" and sense of belonging...and this is a BAD thing. America itself is "coming apart". To black people and brown people this is saying "you were never part of our America and you should never be, what concerns us is none of your business and what concerns you is irrelevant". I'm not saying things are okay for those of us who aren't white. Society is falling apart at the seams for everybody.
    posted by Danila at 12:18 PM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    There really aren't.

    Really.

    Let me tell you where I live - the middle of Pennsylvania, "Pennsyltucky" for those who know what that means. My sister is a born-again Protestant; born again Protestant churches are far and away the largest congregations in this community. They are the megachurches, and dwarf in size your mainline denominational churches.

    You know, in Manhattan or downtown L.A. I probably wouldn't find anywhere near the number of born-agains. But in a community like this one, if they aren't the majority, they're damn close to it.

    That seems to be Murray's core point.
    posted by kgasmart at 12:20 PM on January 26, 2012


    This guy is on a personal quest to be the wrongest person on any subject, ever.
    posted by clvrmnky at 12:20 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    There really aren't.

    To repeat what I said before, using actual data, only 2.7% of American adults are born-again protestants, who have less than a BA/BS, who make under $70K, who shop at Walmart sometimes, who own a pickup truck, and who work in any kind of for-profit business.

    Looking again at the survey, I could reduce that further by elimination those otherwise-ordinary Americans who never watch sports, and so must not watch NASCAR.


    Well, let's leave to one side that "born again" and evangelical aren't the same thing, let's also leave aside that you've decided that you're going to insist on people meeting every one of a list of characteristics, when even Murray isn't doing. Does the number of people who meet a particular specific demographic profile have anything to do with whether we should respect them, which was kgasmart's point?
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:22 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    But in a community like this one, if they aren't the majority, they're damn close to it.

    And again, we're conflating cultural differences with class differences. Because ROU Xenophobe limited it to anyone making under $70k without a college education (as Murray implied with his quiz). But when we talk about this 'culture' we don't actually separate out the doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc. who are ALSO evangelical Christians, who ALSO watch NASCAR, and who have a hell of a lot more control over the day-to-day lives of the people in their community than John Smith, PhD who lives in NYC.

    whether we should respect them

    ...and I think many of us are pointing out that they've been disproportionately respected for a long time.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:25 PM on January 26, 2012


    et's also leave aside that you've decided that you're going to insist on people meeting every one of a list of characteristics, when even Murray isn't doing

    If he didn't intend to do that, he wouldn't have 'scored' his quiz such that a perfect score included all those characteristics. Again, I don't agree with Murray's conflation of class specifiers and cultural specifiers, but I think when we're discussing Murray's assertions we need to remember that he did make this conflation.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:26 PM on January 26, 2012


    ...and I think many of us are pointing out that they've been disproportionately respected for a long time.

    And so now they have to deal with less respect.

    That is what you're saying, right? Quit whining - that's what it boils down to, it seems.

    Do you not see how this plays directly into the narrative?
    posted by kgasmart at 12:28 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Danila: "Murray is saying, these people deserve to be respected.

    But why are they especially deserving of respect while a brown person with the same cultural markers is excluded?
    "

    Just to clarify, this is not the point of Murray's focus on "white america". Murray explicitly says in the linked lecture that he chose non-Latino whites as the focus because he wanted to give his readers "as few opportunities as possible to explain away these trends in their own minds" because of race.
    posted by ob1quixote at 12:28 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Also: I'll admit that I kinda see what he is saying. I don't make enough money to qualify as upper-middle-class (I think), but I encounter lots of upper-middle-class folks in my career and in the social circles I run in these days. I don't have any trouble fitting in with these people, and I don't think their 'bubble,' such as it is, is all that thick, but I do notice a small cultural difference when they discuss their childhoods and I discuss mine. I grew up in a blue-collar, middle-middle-class community, and I do sometimes sense that there were certain things we were not aware of or did not do that other people did.

    But as I had said in my previous comment, that blue-collar middle-middle-class community was also a suburb of New York City, so we didn't have very many evangelical Christians or NASCAR fans or Waffle Houses. And my mom, who never graduated from college, reads the New York Times. This is, ultimately, stereotyping masquerading as sociology. I have a fast-food eating, registered Republican, cop friend who listens to NPR and drives a Mini Cooper. I think he'd blow Charles Murray's mind.
    posted by breakin' the law at 12:30 PM on January 26, 2012


    If he didn't intend to do that, he wouldn't have 'scored' his quiz such that a perfect score included all those characteristics. Again, I don't agree with Murray's conflation of class specifiers and cultural specifiers, but I think when we're discussing Murray's assertions we need to remember that he did make this conflation.

    The point of the quiz was to see how many of a set of cultural characteristics you have, of course a perfect score will have all of the characteristics; it'd be hard and kind of stupid to design to quiz so that that wasn't the case. The question to ask, I think, is: If I went to Charles Murray and asked him what group am I in if I've got poster of Richard Petty on my wall, go to an evangelical church, but don't have a pickup truck. I don't think he's going to tell me I'm one of his "elites."
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:30 PM on January 26, 2012


    , in Manhattan or downtown L.A. I probably wouldn't find anywhere near the number of born-agains.

    Actually, you would, because these places are so huge that you'll find a number of evangelicals and born-agains. But they won't make up the majority and it won't be the dominant culture.

    But other than that, I think the commenters are right on that this quiz is an exercise in Murray cherry picking a few characteristics so that his favored class will score high on them and the disfavored one will score low.
    posted by deanc at 12:32 PM on January 26, 2012


    Just to clarify, this is not the point of Murray's focus on "white america". Murray explicitly says in the linked lecture that he chose non-Latino whites as the focus because he wanted to give his readers "as few opportunities as possible to explain away these trends in their own minds" because of race.

    But that doesn't really change anything. It's like "These Trends" don't matter when it comes to people of color. Their job statuses, their loss of respect, discord for their families, all don't matter to the experience of America "coming apart". I am not saying this is his point, I am saying that this is what he is doing: by excluding brown people who share these cultural markers, he continues the racist reading of the American experience.

    I mean, I am starting to get a little distressed. This is a huge problem to me.
    posted by Danila at 12:37 PM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


    And so now they have to deal with less respect.

    Is there a limited amount of respect to go around?

    That is what you're saying, right? Quit whining - that's what it boils down to, it seems.

    I would never classify anyone's problems as 'whining' - that's more a Republican narrative, no? But yes, if my professional colleages here in San Antonio, TX complain about liberal elites all lookin' down on them (which they really never, ever have), I would find that complain laughable.

    If I went to Charles Murray and asked him what group am I in if I've got poster of Richard Petty on my wall, go to an evangelical church, but don't have a pickup truck. I don't think he's going to tell me I'm one of his "elites."

    But you'd be 3 points closer to out-of-touch UMC.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2012


    >I agree with muddgirl way up the thread that this is a sad attempt at proving that class mobility is on the decline.

    I think this goes back to my point about how Murray shares a concern over inequality, not completely unlike a great many folks who hang out around here.

    The novelty here, as I see it, is that such inequality seems to rise to the level of pearl clutching on Murray's part when it looks like it hits white folks same as everyone else. At such point, the issue of inequality, something traditionally more a concern of those pointy headed elites and non-wasp have-nots, suddenly becomes a problem that dooms civilization.

    I guess nothing makes a white darling of the right talk soshulist like the prospect of having nothing left to hold over the duskier folks.
    posted by 2N2222 at 12:41 PM on January 26, 2012


    If I went to Charles Murray and asked him what group am I in if I've got poster of Richard Petty on my wall, go to an evangelical church, but don't have a pickup truck. I don't think he's going to tell me I'm one of his "elites."

    But you'd be 3 points closer to out-of-touch UMC.


    That's true, but I'm not sure why it matters to the point I was making; I was saying that by demanding that people meet every criteria, ROU_Xenophobe was underestimating the number of people that qualify for Charles Murray's vision of ordinary Americans; the number is still lower than Murray thinks it is, but it's not as low as ROU_Xenophobe said; that was my entire point.

    But that doesn't really change anything. It's like "These Trends" don't matter when it comes to people of color. Their job statuses, their loss of respect, discord for their families, all don't matter to the experience of America "coming apart". I am not saying this is his point, I am saying that this is what he is doing: by excluding brown people who share these cultural markers, he continues the racist reading of the American experience.

    I mean, I am starting to get a little distressed. This is a huge problem to me.


    Charles Murray is a racist, the fact that he's not talking about non-whites is a huge improvement for non-whites.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:42 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Okay, enough with all this thoughtful discussion. I'm here to address a crucial question which has been sadly neglected during this thread.

    can somebody tell me about Golden Corral?

    Oh, yes. Yes I can. Golden Corral is my 9-year-old's favorite restaurant, so I have put in much more time there than I would ordinarily care to. It is a place dedicated to mass gluttony - an all-you-can-eat cornucopia of crap - a place that makes me (size 16) feel skinny when I look at the people around me.

    That said, you can get a decent meal at a Golden Corral if you try.

    How To Get An Edible Meal at Golden Corral

    First: Not all Golden Corrals are created equal. In my town there is a Nice Golden Corral and a Nasty Golden Corral. The food is nominally the same, but the Nice Golden Corral is much better about keeping things sanitary, bussing the tables, and refilling drinks. If you walk in and things look dirty, or the buffet line is not well-maintained (lots of empty trays, spoons in the wrong dishes, etc.) just walk out. This is not your Golden Corral.

    Next: Having found yourself in a Nice Golden Corral, it is time to separate the edible food from the non-edible. For the hot food bar this is, first, a function of how well things hold on a steam table: Mashed potatoes = good; French fries = bad. Secondly, the edible food is food that lends itself to low-cost mass production: Pot roast = good; steak = bad; fish = Very Bad. Lastly, Golden Corral's strength is Southern-American food. Anything that is any other variety of "ethnic food" = bad.

    The salad, soup and potato bar, if well-maintained, is full of things that are mostly indestructible. Keep a sharp eye for wilted greens and avoid anything seafood-related. Prepared salads (potato salad, coleslaw, etc) are usually bland but harmless. Soups vary from "okay" (chicken noodle, chili) to "really not so good" (clam chowder.) A baked potato is a solid low-fat choice if you don't load it up with the "butter" or "cheese" they provide. Their salsa is surprisingly edible.

    Dessert: Less is more. All those lavishly frosted cakes and topped pies look as though they would be tasty, but in reality they taste like over-sweetened chemicals. Stick with un-frosted cookies and brownies and you'll be safe. Also, their cornbread is tasty and to my taste sweet enough to be dessert. The soft serve "ice cream" is not flavorful, but if you put enough toppings on it you won't notice.

    Last: Even though it's unlimited, you don't have to eat everything. Feel free to stop before you are full; your stomach will thank you later.
    posted by Daily Alice at 12:43 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    But that doesn't really change anything. It's like "These Trends" don't matter when it comes to people of color. Their job statuses, their loss of respect, discord for their families, all don't matter to the experience of America "coming apart". I am not saying this is his point, I am saying that this is what he is doing: by excluding brown people who share these cultural markers, he continues the racist reading of the American experience.

    I won't speak for Murray, but as someone who found the quiz and the underlying thesis of this book not nearly as bad as the Metafilter consensus, I have to question this. You're saying that merely writing about the cultural pathologies of "white" Americans - exclusing "brown" Americans by definition, even if they share the same cultural marketers - is a racist reading of experience?

    He's focusing specifically on white people. Now, maybe he did that because he's a racist, who knows. But there shouldn't be anything necessarily wrong with that.
    posted by downing street memo at 12:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Dude loses all credibility for not assigning extra credit points for wearing uniforms solely for sexy sex purposes.
    posted by elizardbits at 12:49 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    And so now they have to deal with less respect. That is what you're saying, right? Quit whining

    No, they aren't being disrespected—in any significant way—at all. They are no more or less the butt of jokes than is anyone in modern a multicultural society. What disrespect they believe that they encounter is mostly imaginary or a else lingering resentment at no longer being able to believe that they constituted the only culture. The whole thing's silly: life, liberty, and the right to drink Bud without lip? If they want to look for disrespect, they should look to the economic state of the country, but Murray's crowd would rather they argue about someone who might have made a joke about the kind of beer they like.
    posted by octobersurprise at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    ordinaryame
    rican


    I read that as "ordinary me; rican", as in boricua.
    posted by gimonca at 12:59 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    They are no more or less the butt of jokes than is anyone in modern a multicultural society. What disrespect they believe that they encounter is mostly imaginary or a else lingering resentment at no longer being able to believe that they constituted the only culture.

    I mean, I agree with this. What this boils down to is preeminence. White culture no longer is accepted as the preeminent culture - or rather, people at large don't think it should be or must be the preeminent culture any longer, and those within the culture therefore see their status eroding.
    posted by kgasmart at 1:02 PM on January 26, 2012


    Does it count if I learned the military insignia from M*A*S*H?
    posted by sgrass at 1:09 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    A friend and I were brainstorming alternative titles for this book:

    I know one: Yes, I'm still a racist douche but let me patronise the working classes too because it never gets old to see an upper class twit hides behind them to give his bigotry a sheen of authenticity.

    Too long?
    posted by MartinWisse at 1:17 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    White culture no longer is accepted as the preeminent culture - or rather, people at large don't think it should be or must be the preeminent culture any longer, and those within the culture therefore see their status eroding.

    Ok, but what are we supposed to do with this? It's hard not to see it as a good thing this this subculture, which is really held by a minority of Americans, doesn't get accepted as just normal American culture anymore. I can understand why people who belong to that group are upset about it, but I'm not going to work to restore their culture to its position of fake dominance just to stop them from being upset, and I'm not really interested in pretending that I'm upset about it. Murray, by contrast, seems to be lamenting this shift, or at least pandering to people who do (although most of this lamentation is by implication).
    posted by Ragged Richard at 1:17 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    It's no surprise of course that a shitty racial huckster like Murray could get a book published lauding the white working classes [1] right now, just as many Americans finally start to realise that hey, the working classes [2] have much more in common with each no matter their race, creed, gender, sexuality or even politics than they have with the people who've been keeping them down. A courtier like Murray instinctively feels that what's needed now is another variation on the old "it's the lefties who are the real elitists giving away your birthright to filthy $insert_hated_minority_here" trick. Hence the moronic identity issues, where it's more important that you eat the correct chain restaurant than actually be able to earn a decent wage that might enable you to eat in one of those fancy schmancy libral restaurants.

    It's an old, tired trick, but it worked very well in the past decades, still works well on some segments of the population, but I don't think it will be as successful as The Bell Curve was.

    [1] the BBC's epiteth of choice whenever they realise not everybody in the UK is a nice middleclass eccentric looking for a third home in the country on a tight budget of just under half a million pounds and that they should pay some attention to the same working class stiffs they've spent the rest of the time calling chavs and having feature in scared straight weight loss programmes
    [2] And let's not forget, if you depend on a monthly salary and are screwed if it stops, you are part of the working classes no matter how much your cultural identity might be middleclass.
    posted by MartinWisse at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    [Animal, from the Muppets, running after some people in a Golden Corral. Instead of shouting "Wo-man! Wo-man!" he is shouting "Class War! Class War!"]
    posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2012


    Ok, but what are we supposed to do with this?

    That's the $64,000 question, isn't it.

    I think all of this would be far less a concern if the diversification of American culture, if we can call it that, wasn't intersecting with other trends - like globalization. Frankly, I think if there were still plenty of good-paying industrial jobs for underclass, under-educated whites OR PEOPLE OF ANY RACE, then this wouldn't be so explosive an issue.

    But at a time when the white underclass, irrationally or not, feels it's being culturally disenfranchised, it's also been economically disenfranchised, along with so many others.

    That feeling of cultural disenfranchisement, I don't know that you can address it. We can't and aren't going back to the future; this is a multi-cultural society now, that's not an aspiration, it's a fact. So the only way to tone down this sentiment may be address the economic side of the equation. And we try to do that, by urging more education upon the working classes (fine but how are they going to pay for it, what of those without the intellectual aptitude for it, etc.). Really, read Adam Davidson's piece in this month's Atlantic Monthly on the challenges inherent in providing legitimate working-class economic opportunity. It's going to take a long time, if we ever even get there.
    posted by kgasmart at 1:33 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    as someone who found the quiz and the underlying thesis of this book not nearly as bad as the Metafilter consensus

    Well just pulled this part out because I took the quiz, but for some reason it wasn't supposed to be for people like me even though there is nothing inherent in the questions that makes that necessary. The title of this post is "How thick is your bubble?" and I'm left wondering, am I in the bubble he's talking about since I'm not white or am I not in the bubble since I share a lot of the cultural markers with the people he is concerned about.

    Is this a whites only quiz, a whites only book, a whites only discussion?

    You're saying that merely writing about the cultural pathologies of "white" Americans - exclusing "brown" Americans by definition, even if they share the same cultural marketers - is a racist reading of experience?

    No, I don't have a problem with racialized discussions at all. I wish there were more writing and focus on whiteness and what that means and how being white affects white people. My problem is that this particular author seems to be holding up whiteness as a good thing that is losing some of its luster and that's a bad thing. He is painting America, its principles and its glory days as white.

    He is excluding brown people because including them would mess up his handwringing over the plight of white Americans. There is no exploration of what going back to the way things were would mean for the many millions of Americans who are not white, even though they were definitely affected by it.

    He is imploring divided white people to be divided no more and not to look down on each other due to these cultural differences, but what is this wonderful thing that unites them that they don't share with all the other so-called Americans? As far as I can see it's just being white.
    posted by Danila at 1:48 PM on January 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


    This is really about the Earthtone Coalition vs. the Forces of Brightness, right?
    posted by straight at 1:49 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I was saying that by demanding that people meet every criteria, ROU_Xenophobe was underestimating the number of people that qualify for Charles Murray's vision of ordinary Americans; the number is still lower than Murray thinks it is, but it's not as low as ROU_Xenophobe said; that was my entire point.

    Murray says that a typical regular American will score 77 out of 100. Playing with the CCES data, this gets you up to about 20% of adults.

    Murray's discussion of ordinary Americans is, unsurprisingly, stupid because the overwhelming majority of Americans are not very ordinary. Oops.

    let's leave to one side that "born again" and evangelical aren't the same thing

    I can only work with the questions I've got. In anything, it overstates the number of ordinary Americans, since the number of evangelical protestants who are not born again will be very small, but there's likely a nontrivial number of born-again protestants who don't think of themselves as evangelicals.

    f I went to Charles Murray and asked him what group am I in if I've got poster of Richard Petty on my wall, go to an evangelical church, but don't have a pickup truck. I don't think he's going to tell me I'm one of his "elites."

    I guaran-goddam-tee you that if you told him you'd voted for Obama, you'd be an elite somehow.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:50 PM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    [A certain specific] White culture no longer is accepted as the preeminent culture

    FTFY. But even then, Murray's argument is just an artifact of the 1945-1970 mass media.

    Pre-WWII, we weren't even all drinking Budweiser, since there were a multitude of local lagers and pilseners depending on where you lived. And the only reason that college-educated professionals and blue collar workers were living side-by-side was because a much of working class and rural people suddenly got the opportunity to attend college when they didn't have that opportunity before. Pre-1979, we didn't even have access to good quality beer because it was illegal to have microbreweries.

    As best as I can tell, Murray's thesis is that if you give people more choices, some people will choose one thing, and some people will choose something else. And that white people, even though they're all white, will choose different things, sometimes! But other times, which Murray doesn't consider important, white people will choose the same thing (like Starbucks and Chipotle, which don't count).
    posted by deanc at 1:57 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Let me tell you where I live - the middle of Pennsylvania, "Pennsyltucky" for those who know what that means. My sister is a born-again Protestant; born again Protestant churches are far and away the largest congregations in this community. They are the megachurches, and dwarf in size your mainline denominational churches.

    Sure. But "the largest churches" doesn't mean that they're a majority, even a bare majority, even in Pennsyltucky.

    In the CCES, I can throw away all PA respondents who live in the Philly or Pittsburgh (or NYC) media markets, getting us pretty close to Pennsyltucky. Using that definition, protestants are 42% of the population, so even by that measure most Pennsyltuckians are not protestants (note: the CCES includes a "no religion" option). Since most protestants aren't born-agains, born-again protestants are only 27% of adult Pennsyltuckians.

    Whether this jibes with your personal experience doesn't really matter. The CCES is freely available and you can examine it (or a variety of other surveys of actual people) yourself.

    So only 27% of Pennsyltuckians have even one element of being ordinary Americans. Some of those born-again protestants are too educated to be ordinary Americans (about 15% of the born-agains). Others make too much money to be ordinary (about 40% of born-agains). And so on.

    Pull the data and look for yourself. You won't need anything that costs money. The things that Murray describes as being ordinary actually describe someone who is far from an ordinary American.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:05 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Ok, but what are we supposed to do with this?

    Well, I'm betting that this fall a lot of Republican candidates will be giving speeches outside of Applebees or Waffle Houses, while drinking Bud Lights.
    posted by happyroach at 2:08 PM on January 26, 2012


    If folks didn't read the excerpt and just took the quiz, paragraphs four and five in the excerpt explicitly cover the "there is no ordinary American" ground.
    So while there is no such thing as an ordinary American, it is not the case that most Americans are balkanized into enclaves where they know little of what life is like for most other Americans. “The American mainstream” may be hard to specify in detail, but it exists.
    He doesn't seem to be saying that every "real American" is the same (i.e. no, there aren't a lot of people who are white pickup truck drivers who make less than $70k and shop at Wal-Mart, and he isn't suggesting that), he seems to be saying that "real America" is made up of a lot of people who share common experiences (the folks who make sub-$70k and shop at Wal-Mart share a significant overlap in experience with the $80k engineer who drives a pickup and goes on a fishing trip every year, etc.).

    I'd guess that while the sheer number of working- or middle-class folks who live in a major metropolitan area may be larger than those who don't, their experiences are likely to be more diverse. Choose two random middle- or working- class families from New York and choose two from rural/smalltown Illinois or Indiana or Ohio and I have a hunch that the midwesterners would be more likely to have more in common than the New Yorkers. I think that's what he's trying to say. But then that's the bubble I grew up in, so maybe I'm wrong.

    (I'm also not convinced that having diverse experiences or a less common Common Culture is necessarily a bad thing, but if we can't even agree on what he's arguing, it's pretty hard to discuss whether he's right or wrong about it)
    posted by brentajones at 2:25 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    He doesn't seem to be saying that every "real American" is the same ..., he seems to be saying that "real America" is made up of a lot of people who share common experiences.

    The problem is that he worked in the wrong direction. He cherry picked his set of common experiences so that it turns out that "real Americans" are white conservatives, which is exactly the group he's trying to pander to.

    If you work in the correct direction and simply pick what is common among all Americans, you get a very different picture of "mainstream" than Murray did.
    posted by jedicus at 2:36 PM on January 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Choose two random middle- or working- class families from New York and choose two from rural/smalltown Illinois or Indiana or Ohio and I have a hunch that the midwesterners would be more likely to have more in common than the New Yorkers.
    If that's what he's trying to say, then I think he needs to make some sort of argument about why it's significant.

    It's pretty clear to me that what he's trying to say is that elite Americans, who are his perceived audience, are out of touch with "normal Americans". He's trying to rub the reader's face in that so the reader feels bad about being out of touch. There are a lot of problems with this argument, starting with the fact that he takes for granted, rather than defines, what makes a normal American. He's totally confused about what, if any, role race plays in his argument. And he seems to think that the geographic/ cultural/ political/ religious division between the rural heartland and urban/ cosmopolitan America is somehow new, when in fact it's probably less relevent today than it was a hundred years ago. Basically, the reason we're having trouble making sense of his argument is because it's a complete muddle. It relies more on weird assumptions and dog whistles than on logic or cogent observations.

    And I mean, yes, he's absolutely right that many of the people who run America have elite backgrounds and not a lot of connection to non-elite experiences. But what that has to do with the "white working class" (as opposed to any other working class) and whether one drives a pick-up truck, likes NASCAR, goes to Branson, and eats at Applebees rather than Olive Garden is a bit of a mystery to me.

    He's basically a Caitlin Flanagan/ David Brooks style concern troll, and it gets old. He's not interested in working class people, anymore than Brooks or Flanagan are. He's interested in beating up on elite liberals. And it's fine to beat up on elite liberals, but it's kind of obnoxious to feign concern for working-class people as a tool to do so.
    posted by craichead at 2:42 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Soooo... a typical American is White, blue collar, at the poverty line, evangelical, NASCAR following, intimate with the military, no college education, lives in a small town/city, who's body hurts at the end of the day, who friend are pretty, er, unintellectual, smokes cigarettes, have own a pickup truck, fishes, eats at mid-level mediocre restaurants, Kiwanis member, played sports in school, decorates floats (but not for teh gays or wold peace or anything weak wristed like that), wears a uniform, rides the bus, likes movies and television programs, and loves kitschy "family orientated" places like Branson... oh and you gotta drink a bunch of mass produced domestic piss water.


    We are suppose to embrace that? I rather think that is what most people work to get away from. I wouldn't say anything there is "shameful" (except perhaps the beer part), but there is, honestly a lot there people work hard in order for their kids NOT to experience it.
    posted by edgeways at 2:43 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Pre-1979, we didn't even have access to good quality beer because it was illegal to have microbreweries.

    you know that mass produced beer was a lot better back then - ok, it wasn't as good as the microbrewed stuff is now, but it sure wasn't as bad as the mass produced stuff is now

    stroh's was pretty damned good - and schiltz is currently selling their 60's gusto formula - and that is fine stuff
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:45 PM on January 26, 2012


    Any time I hear the words "real [nationality]," I reach for my anti-nausea medication.
    posted by The Card Cheat at 2:46 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The problem with Branson isn't that it's kitschy, it's that it expanded so fast that the main thoroughfare is a parking lot all day (I got 4 points for that!)
    posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:46 PM on January 26, 2012


    In the acknowledgments, Murray profusely thanks former Drug Czar Bill Bennett:

    Bill Bennett deserves a special acknowledgment. We had originally decided to write a book together and prepared a proposal on the same broad topic as Coming Apart. At the last minute - and I do mean the last minute - I realized that the book I wanted to write would be such a personal statement that I couldn't collaborate with anyone, not even someone as simpatico as Bill.

    ---sent from my Bubble
    posted by Obscure Reference at 2:49 PM on January 26, 2012


    It's pretty clear to me that what he's trying to say is that elite Americans, who are his perceived audience, are out of touch with "normal Americans".

    the problem being is that these people are "normal" only because they believe they are and don't live in diverse enough environments to shake them from that belief

    thus the people who watched obama get elected who cry that "i want MY country back"

    a small town can be one hell of a bubble to live in
    posted by pyramid termite at 2:53 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    the problem being is that these people are "normal" only because they believe they are and don't live in diverse enough environments to shake them from that belief
    Ok, but I think that Murray is like Brooks, in that he's not writing for those people. He's writing for elite people, and he's playing into their stereotypes and exploiting their anxieties about being out of touch with "real" Americans.
    posted by craichead at 2:56 PM on January 26, 2012


    This guy can give you the real scoop about "real" Americans and American culture.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:04 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    no, there aren't a lot of people who are white pickup truck drivers who make less than $70k and shop at Wal-Mart, and he isn't suggesting that

    Because it's him, I suspect he actually *is* suggesting that, and then because he knows that it's completely and utterly indefensible he's backing away from it for a moment, and then he's going on to suggest it approximately 9,000 more times in the rest of the book.

    Similar to how I expect that somewhere towards the beginning of his Black People Sure Are Stupid, AMIRITE? there's a bit where he says "Now, I don't mean to say that black people are stupid or anything like that. Black folks deserve the same dignity as anyone else," and then follows that with a whole book arguing (badly) that black people are stupid.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:10 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Because it's him, I suspect he actually *is* suggesting that, and then because he knows that it's completely and utterly indefensible he's backing away from it for a moment, and then he's going on to suggest it approximately 9,000 more times in the rest of the book.

    Yeah, that's the difficult thing about this discussion. Murray has a long history of offering arguments that are disingenuous and offensive. There's an interesting conversation to be had about cultural pluralism in America, but using Murray as the starting point sort of poisons the well*, because there's no reason to treat his argument as though it's being offered in good faith. I say this as someone who has suffered through some of the deep cuts of the Murray catalog, including Losing Ground, in which he argues that welfare discourages marriage using a model that assumes as a premise that most welfare recipients are committing fraud.

    *I'm not blaming valkyryn, who has been lucky enough to escape extensive exposure to CM.
    posted by Ragged Richard at 3:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


    It would have been a hell of a lot more interesting if Murray had tackled the issue of integration in America: how people of different cultural and economic groups are segregated from one another, and how that affects our country's ability to function as a unified whole. I do think it's important for people to consider how much of a bubble they're in with respect to outside communities, and how that informs their opinions about public policy.

    I think it was mentioned farther up, but if you're genuinely interested in those issues, I highly recommend The Big Sort. Lots of data, very thoughtful.
    posted by epersonae at 3:34 PM on January 26, 2012


    I didn't realize when I took the quiz that it only applied to white people, and that "ordinary America" is code for "Republican America." So I kept thinking how aptly many of the questions applied to the citizens of my (large, non-Midwestern) hometown, with whom so many of the privileged (usually libertarian) upper-class kids I met in college are completely out of touch. But I guess that because most citizens of my hometown are Mexican democrats, they don’t count as ordinary Americans for the author’s purposes. Now I’m just confused. Although the parts about Jimmie Johnson and Branson, along with the weirdly particular questions about evangelicals, hunting, and “factory work,” suddenly seem a lot less random.
    posted by granted at 3:36 PM on January 26, 2012


    Also, anyone who says that carpal-tunnel pain* doesn't count as pain can bite me. Or take my wrist, please. (Also, seems like a huge exclusion of "pink-collar" types. The woman I knew who actually had surgery for carpal-tunnel was smack-dab in the middle of his "real Americans"; that's who I learned about Branson, MO from.)

    * I assume he means computer-related repetitive stress injury, which isn't just carpal-tunnel, and carpal-tunnel isn't just from computers.
    posted by epersonae at 3:44 PM on January 26, 2012


    I got 70 points, but I think that's partly age. I did a lot of this stuff years ago when it didn't make that much difference what you did, and what you did this year had less bearing what you might do next year. So even with my high score, I am out of touch, because I touched nearly all of these things years ago, and happily don't any more.

    He seems at least as concerned with what people buy and where as with their cultural decisions.

    I don't disdain smokers, pickup truck owners, and people who buy bad beer and eat bad food at chain restaurants because I think they're bad people or somehow beneath me. I feel sorry for them because I think they're chumps being taken advantage of by the purveyors of this crap and their shills.
    But it remains true that people who have a need for the things that a pickup truck can do are usually engaged in activities that people in the new upper class often don’t do at all. . .
    Most pickup trucks purchased by working class / middle class people are never used to do the things a pickup truck can do. They are used as passenger vehicles, transporting people, one at a time, to their non-pick-up truck using jobs. Anyone whose job involves'what a pickup truck can do will likely be driving one of the fleet owned by the boss.

    Such folks buy pickup trucks for their own use for the same reason UMC and elites do: because Madison Avenue and Detroit told them that driving a truck is cool and macho.
    Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?. . . Carpal tunnel syndrome [doesn't count].
    Anecdatum: My brother works at a foundry. He started out working with materials, but a few years back transitioned to pattern handling. Now he spends half his time moving patterns around with a hi/lo and the other half tracking them in Microsoft Excel. Did he stop being working class? Half-classed?
    Have you ever walked on a factory floor. . . had a job that entailed routine visits to factory floors . . . worked on a factory floor? I was prompted to use this question because of a personal experience. . . a quarter of a century ago. . .
    Bdudbe? Many working class people will have to answer 'no' to all three variations of this question. The disappearance of jobs that take place on factory floors is a major source of the real problems of working class people. In fact:




    If you really want to do a soc. study of groups that are "coming apart", you might want to turn your attention to how and why between the 1930s and 1980s, working class (a specific socio-economic class) and middle class (an arbitrarily defined income class) increasingly overlapped, while since then, the opposite has been true.





    just a thought.
    posted by Herodios at 4:00 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I've been following this thread throughout the day but haven't been able to comment again till now.

    Regardless of one's view of Murray or the Tea Party, I think it's apparent that Murray is trying to zero in on the cultural type of which the Tea Party is supposed to be the political manifestation. The basic subtext to Murray's framing and argument is pretty clearly that "Tea Party types are predominately working-class whites, therefore elites of both the establishment-Republican and liberal types need to pay attention to their feelings of exclusion and disempowerment."

    Leaving aside the statistics discussed upthread about the generally comfortable-to-affluent middle-class status of Tea Partiers, this framing is wrong unless it is supposed to be a textbook example of begging the question.

    The question should not be "What percentage of Tea Partiers are working-class? (with the corresponding imperative that if it is most or all of them, elites should make sure their voice is heard)", but "What is the voice of the working-class, and is it being heard?" And at that point the answer that Murray refuses to find is clear:

    --The working class is racially diverse, much more so than the elite and upper-middle classes: more-or-less equally white, black and Hispanic.

    --The working class has stagnated for thirty years.

    --The working class has massive housing debt, student debt and credit card debt.

    --The working class is fighting over a decreasing number of decent jobs. The working class is losing the hard-fought right to organized labor.

    --Part of the white working class has been and continues to be manipulated and turned against their fellow workers by the landowners, the industrialists and the capitalists. The rest of the white working class, along with the overwhelming majority of the non-white working class, are staunch economic liberals.

    I'm not a Marxist. Honestly, I'm not. I think property rights are generally a good thing. I think Capitalism is a powerful and important tool for building wealth. I don't think that culture and religion are just opiates and/or divisive tools of the Man.

    But the problem that Murray pretends to address is not rooted in secularization or in changes in family structure or in the fact that we have more than three television channels. This problem is fundamentally economic, and its solutions is fundamentally structural (which is to say, political).
    posted by tivalasvegas at 4:25 PM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Well, he does say that some answers are correct...
    Sigh. He simply (and rather obviously if you ask me, although I concede I do frequently find things obvious that seem somehow to elude others) means within the context of how the test is scored for it's purpose of roughly measuring how in touch you are with the the vast underbelly of america.

    It doesn't purport to measure intelligence.

    It doesn't purport to indicate any sort of any kind of measure relating to intelligence.

    Low scores are not implied in any way to impugn the intelligence of the low scorer.

    High scores are not implied to indicate any sort of superiority in any measure of any trait other than how likely one is to understand the daily lives of the American lower & lower-middle class.

    All clear now?
    posted by lastobelus at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2012


    Crap like this reinforces the false divide between working- & middle-class people, and ... who, exactly? This is why Joe the Plumber votes against his own best interest - he believes this crap.
    posted by theora55 at 5:58 PM on January 26, 2012


    Is Murray sponsored by Walmart and Cracker Barrel?

    That's what it reads like, marketers' definitions of values, attitudes, and lifestyles for marketing purposes.
    posted by bad grammar at 6:16 PM on January 26, 2012


    although I concede I do frequently find things obvious that seem somehow to elude others

    Word to the wise: when you think something is obvious, and other people don't, the other people are usually right.
    posted by escabeche at 6:17 PM on January 26, 2012


    All clear now?
    Not really, because of this:
    9. Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard?

    Score 4 points for “yes.” I use this question as a way of getting at the question I would like to ask, “Have you ever had a close friend who would have scored below the national average on an IQ test?” I can’t ask that question, because readers who grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood or went to school with the children of the upper middle class have no way of knowing what average means. The empirical case for that statement is given in detail elsewhere, but it may be summarized quickly. The typical mean IQ for students in schools that the children of the upper-middle class attend isaround 115, compared to the national mean of 100. In such a school, almost all of the below-average students, the ones you thought of as the school’s dummies, actually were above the national average. Even if the students were arranged in a normal distribution around a mean of 115, only 11 percent of the students could be expected to have IQs under 100. But they probably weren’t normally distributed, especially at a private school that uses a floor of academic ability in its admission decisions. So if you went to upper-middle-class schools and think you had a good friend who was below the national IQ mean, and are right, it had to have been one of the students who was at the absolute bottom of academic ability.
    So I think you're just wrong, and he does think that stupidness, or at least being friends with stupid people, is a hallmark of working-class culture. This is kind of unsurprising, coming from the guy who wrote a whole book about how black people were genetically and environmentally predisposed to be stupid.

    (What I think is funny is that he thinks the reason a person can't answer this would be that they had never been exposed to the stupid, rather than that they have no fucking idea how well various friends and loved ones would score on IQ tests.)
    posted by craichead at 6:17 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


    IF he thinks the quiz measures stupidness, than a HIGH score would indicate stupidness, exactly the opposite of what the dude I was responding to was fussing on about.

    Look: I don't think much of Murray. I'm pretty meh about the quiz (although I quite agree with what seems to be the general premise of the book. I'm pretty puzzled that people are leaping in to reject the idea that the American upper class are becoming increasingly out of touch with the American lower class just because it happens to be Charles fucking Murray who said it out loud)

    I just hate people who jump on a criticism bandwagon (even if it's one I'm partial towards) and make something up that has no relevance to add to the heap of criticism.
    posted by lastobelus at 6:26 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


    @escabeche:

    Word to the wise: nice neat pat switcheroo-based aphorisms make you feel really good when you say them, but generally have little real relevance to the messiness of reality.
    posted by lastobelus at 6:30 PM on January 26, 2012


    the problem being is that these people are "normal" only because they believe they are and don't live in diverse enough environments to shake them from that belief

    thus the people who watched obama get elected who cry that "i want MY country back"

    a small town can be one hell of a bubble to live in


    Let's be clear: Murray is a crypto-racist. We all know what his agenda is regardless of his transparent attempts to create a thin veneer of academic legitimacy.

    But this dismissal of small-town "I want my country back" concerns is problematic. Because, see, it might actually be the case that in the last thirty years Americans have been effectively deterritorialized. Deleuze emphasizes that the true goal of any colonial enterprise isn't so much to merely exploit the natives as exploitation alone, more often than not, can strengthen the culture of the natives. Parasitic processes that don't ultimately kill the host can make it stronger. Thus colonialism, to be successful and avoid the trap of unsustainable exploitation, cannot simply take, it must give, it must introduce "new necessities." And this is not so much a matter of "tricking" the natives into giving up their original culture because even if the natives resist the "white man's ways" the damage is done the moment new possibilities are introduced. The simple act of introducing competition and choice into what had previously been a realm without choice creates a revolutionary moment that thoroughly destabilizes the old understanding. Colonialism is thus a revolutionary exercise.

    Crap like this reinforces the false divide between working- & middle-class people, and ... who, exactly? This is why Joe the Plumber votes against his own best interest - he believes this crap.

    The colonial enterprise that is America of the last thirty years should not be understood as not simply a story where an static capitalist class has managed to extract more and more wealth from a static, native working class or middle class. The entire project works only because the middle class and the working class are eager (if not downright desperate) to shed all traces of their class origins and embrace all the possibilities and potential of the "new necessities" introduced by the colonizers. It was this desire to choose and thus escape static class boundaries that made the American population ripe for such deterritorialization and to repeatedly vote against "their own best interest."

    And this is why attempts like the Tea Party to return to the original paradigm before the colonizers arrived will fail or, worse, they succeed by violently depriving people of many freedoms, old and new. The damage is done and you can't go back. Still, the many people who are starting to realize that their children will enjoy a thoroughly changed (and not for the better) world may have legitimate cause for crying that they want their country back. But such pleas are useless because their country isn't coming back. So Murray and his ilk may sell a few books by appealing to "real Americans" but he's not helping anybody.

    The Occupy movement that may prove successful where the Tea Party has failed. Because revolution must be met revolution. Attempts to resist change always fail. It is not a restoration that America needs but the introduction of new necessities, new demands, alternatives, and ultimately a clear rejection of the colonial enterprise that has concentrated so much of the country's wealth in the hands of a small elite.
    posted by nixerman at 6:32 PM on January 26, 2012


    (although I quite agree with what seems to be the general premise of the book. I'm pretty puzzled that people are leaping in to reject the idea that the American upper class are becoming increasingly out of touch with the American lower class just because it happens to be Charles fucking Murray who said it out loud)
    Nobody is rejecting the idea that the American upper class is out of touch, although I'd really query the "increasingly," and I'm not sure what he's talking about is really the "lower class." We're doubting the good faith of this particular author, who is demonstrably evil and whose contempt for working-class Americans is pretty evident if you're capable of reading even a little bit between the lines. And I'm not sure why you're allowed to be partial towards a point of view, but everyone else who subscribes to it is jumping on a bandwagon.
    posted by craichead at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


    "I'm not sure why you're allowed to be partial towards a point of view, but everyone else who subscribes to it is jumping on a bandwagon."

    I'm simply that I'm not immune to bandwagon responses, and that I'm (at least sometimes) capable of recognizing when one of my own responses is bandwagonesque. I wasn't impugning the good faith, intelligence, or other positive qualities of the other people on the bandwagon :P

    What I most definitely was impugning was the intelligence and/or good faith of the person who made something that up that is not there and is a completely illegitimate criticism in order to ride on the wagon.
    posted by lastobelus at 6:48 PM on January 26, 2012


    "I'm simply saying..."
    posted by lastobelus at 6:50 PM on January 26, 2012


    Word to the wise: nice neat pat switcheroo-based aphorisms make you feel really good when you say them, but generally have little real relevance to the messiness of reality.

    Sorry; let me be less aphoristic about it. You said it's obvious that the purpose of the test is to measure how in touch you are with the main body of the US population. But I'm pretty sure you're wrong about what the purpose of the test is. And that might be why you and the thread are talking past each other.
    posted by escabeche at 6:59 PM on January 26, 2012


    @craichead:

    I think the nearest thing to an actual measure of the upper class being out of touch with the lower would be intergenerational social/financial mobility.

    My understanding was that there was data to support the idea that social mobility had decreased in the US in recent decades. I can't find any cites for that though and may be misremembering.

    It's well known however that the US lags the developed world in recent measures of intergenerational social mobility. Since one of the primary justifications of the American Way is that it supposedly maximizes individual opportunity, I guess I just assumed it was not always so that the US lagged the rest of the developed world, and thus that (at least relative to its peers, if not in absolute terms) social mobility in the US is on a recent downward trend. This assumption could be entirely wrong.
    posted by lastobelus at 7:06 PM on January 26, 2012


    I think the nearest thing to an actual measure of the upper class being out of touch with the lower would be intergenerational social/financial mobility.
    Then why not base his findings on that, rather than a questionnaire about people's hobbies and eating habits? Why design those questions to be so heavily weighted towards figuring out whether someone is white and not from a major metropolitan area? Is your social mobility negated if you continue to eat at Applebees? Is the social mobility or lack thereof of a person less significant if they live in a big city or listen to hip-hop rather than country?
    posted by craichead at 7:14 PM on January 26, 2012


    I'm not immune to bandwagon responses, and that I'm (at least sometimes) capable of recognizing when one of my own responses is bandwagonesque.

    Deduct 500 points from your score if you are familiar with the work of Teenage Fanclub.
    posted by joe lisboa at 9:28 PM on January 26, 2012


    measuring how in touch you are with the the vast underbelly of america

    A certain portion of WHITE America. I really want to go through this entire thread and point out all the times "America", "Americans" and "working-class" have been assumed to be white. I don't want to be a broken record on this so I've tried to finish my point in this message. Just because Murray thinks the only significant part of "working-class America" is white doesn't mean anyone else has to.

    Specifically, all passages like this are problematic:
    Murray: Well, America has never been about maximizing wealth or international power. America has engaged in what I call and others have called the American project. It consists of the continuing effort begun with the founding, to demonstrate that human beings can be left free as individuals and families to live their lives as they see fit.

    Now to be fair to Charles Murray and to the people in this thread who see his point and want to debate it, I can see the value in examining class division from a "non-latino white" perspective. As I said before, I think racialized discussions are a good thing and it's high time whites and their issues were examined in detail. I think Murray makes a good point when he says that sociological trends concerning issues like poverty are always comparing "non-latino whites" and every other group, but overlooking the divisions amongst whites themselves.

    If it was just an examination of the problems and trends concerning non-latino whites WITHOUT all of the nonsense about America itself coming apart. But in the lecture, the article, and probably the book as well, Murray consistently conflates "America" with "white people". And here in this thread some people are just taking that framing and trying to work with it but you can't do that, I'm sorry, it has to stop.

    Not only that, but I want to address one of his arguments head-on, which is that if you removed all racism it wouldn't resolve these issues among whites. In the lecture he says this is why he's focusing on "non-latino whites", because they have problems and divisions that are not tied to race at all. But as far as I can see he never tries to prove this assertion. I'm not saying that all of our problems come back to racism, a concept which is relatively new in human history, but America invented its own brand of racism and it can't be ignored. That's why I referenced the Calhoun quote, because I see a direct link between that supposed halcyon era when all whites could be free (supported on the backs of everyone else) and the sad decline in relations among whites that Murray is observing.

    The supposed bond that people had in the good old days was founded on air, it wasn't real, it was just race. It was never real and there was never really a time when all white people respected each other regardless of class. It has always been a convenient fiction and has frequently frayed, in no small part because lower-class and working-class whites have always had more in common with minorities than with whites of other classes.
    posted by Danila at 1:16 AM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


    In the lecture he says this is why he's focusing on "non-latino whites", because they have problems and divisions that are not tied to race at all.

    Yeah, just like how things white people like are normal and things POC like are "ethnic".
    posted by Pope Guilty at 3:14 AM on January 27, 2012


    just because it happens to be Charles fucking Murray who said it out loud

    In a just, decent world the authors of blatantly racist, pseudo-scientific works like the The Bell Curve would be banished from public discourse, never to be listened to again. Relieved of any potential audience for their racist garbage they could instead go find a well-paying job on a factory floor, a job which might actually exist in a just, decent world where their own corporate sponsors hadn't done their best to systematically dismantle the existing framework of labor rights, government regulation, and social services.

    Bitter snark aside, Ragged Richard is absolutely right that allowing a racist like Murray to frame the conversation thoroughly poisons the well.
    posted by col_pogo at 3:21 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Oh no, please don't bring in Deleuze. One pseudo-deep thinker on the right (Murray) matched by an equally pseudo-deep thinker from the left (Deleuze) creates a nasty chemical reaction.
    posted by spitbull at 3:38 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


    How much you wanna bet Charles Murray does not eat at Applebees?
    posted by spitbull at 3:44 AM on January 27, 2012


    How many points do I get for buying and wearing an American flag sweatshirt I bought at Cracker Barrel?
    posted by desjardins at 6:04 AM on January 27, 2012


    Now to be fair to Charles Murray

    There's really no need for that. He's both wrong and dishonest. First he says, "Oh, I'm trying to get at class by comparing urban elite whites with non-urban, non-elite whites," but then he writes as if these non-urban, non-elite whites, a small subset of 62% of Americans (whites), constitute "mainstream America." So he's wrong because this group is a minority of Americans and dishonest in the way he tries to hide that.

    And as other people have pointed out, he's completely wrong about his criteria. Instead of using polls and research to get a description of what things the majority of Americans actually have in common, he's just cherry-picked a bunch of things that describe this particular minority that he wants to hold up as representing the real "mainstream America" because -- well, to be charitable you could assume these are the people he himself likes and identifies with, or if you're uncharitable you could assume these are the people most likely to vote for the political candidates he likes. Of course neither is a good reason to frame a book about "mainstream America" this way.
    posted by straight at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


    How many points do I get for buying and wearing an American flag sweatshirt I bought at Cracker Barrel?

    Depends on the level of irony.
    posted by teekat at 8:41 AM on January 27, 2012


    Between the awfulness of The Bell Curve and now. biggest difference? There is the internet so at least people can respond directly to the inanity. I think a section of the population is also more... well... perhaps 'sophisticated' is a better word than 'smarter', and thus it is easier to pull apart and mock this sort of bullshit. Watson finally couldn't hide behind his affability schtick anymore and Murray is at least having a more rocky road to travel then last time he opened his pie hole.
    posted by edgeways at 9:52 AM on January 27, 2012


    Depends on the level of irony.

    None at the time! Actually, I'm wearing it right at this moment, but mostly because I haven't done laundry in awhile.
    posted by desjardins at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2012


    Depends on the level of irony.

    None at the time! Actually, I'm wearing it right at this moment, but mostly because I haven't done laundry in awhile.


    My wife and I once purchased a book at a Cracker Barrel where each page had a patriotic quotation accompanied by Thomas Kincaide painting. It was hands down the most ironic thing I've ever done.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:49 AM on January 27, 2012


    Tea Party leader wants teachers to talk about slavery without reference to race, 'White people were whipped too,' man says.
    posted by octobersurprise at 12:52 PM on January 27, 2012


    It was hands down the most ironic thing I've ever done.

    I've never understood how one could 'do' something ironically.
    posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:24 PM on January 27, 2012


    LO-fucking-L. David Brooks -- whom I called the genteel version of Charles Murray, a nice smooth civilized racist prick -- just called Murray's racist crap book the most important book of the year. (NYT link)

    Brooks has jumped the damn shark. He and Murray should go on a nice date to Applebees, have some salad, and then head off to the cross-burning for the evening.

    David Brooks, I know you search the internet looking for people talking about you. Read this: you are a racist intellectual charlatan.
    posted by spitbull at 4:38 AM on January 31, 2012


    Ok, well at least that David Books review cleared up what Murray's argument is. And here it is, in all its glory:

    It used to be that all white people, who are the people who matter, were pretty similar. There weren't big extremes of wealth and poverty, and everyone was virtuous. Everyone worked hard. Everyone got and stayed married. All white kids were attractive and well-behaved. The best, which is to say the richest, people gently instructed their social inferiors on how to live virtuously, and the peasants gratefully smiled up at their betters and dutifully took their instruction.

    Then, in the '60s, the people at the top started falling down on the job. They did this in two ways. First of all, they separated themselves from their inferiors by developing a separate culture. And second, they stopped instructing the peasants about virtue. The separate, upper-class culture continued to be virtuous. Upper-class people continue to be chaste, hard-working, church-going Puritans. But they affect a pose of being free-spirited and hedonistic and tell poor people they should behave likewise. The peasants, meanwhile, don't know any rich people to know that the rich actually never have sex out of wedlock and spend every Sunday in church. Poor white people listen to the false messages that their betters preach about following your bliss and whatnot, and they drop out of school, don't work, and spend all day drinking Bud Light, listening to country music, smoking, and planning their next trip to Applebees.

    The result is the economic divide. The rich, stealthily practicing virtue while pretending to reject it, get richer and richer. And the stupid poor, lacking proper instruction by example and preaching and being too dumb to figure out for themselves how to be virtuous, stop working or taking care of their kids and just become lazy trash. The reason that there's a gap between rich and poor is that the rich have become liberal elites and stopped telling poor people how to behave, and the poor are just as dumb as they always were but now lack proper instruction.

    So basically, he blames the rich, has immense contempt for the "underclass," and thinks that structural economic forces are irrelevant and everything is about virtue.
    posted by craichead at 5:30 AM on January 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


    ...and you thought the Puritans were dead.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 7:56 AM on January 31, 2012


    Someday we will learn about David Brooks' secret vices, and they will be grandiose.
    posted by spitbull at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2012


    Someday we will learn about David Brooks' secret vices, and they will be grandiose.

    What, the liquid shit he dips his pen in before touching to paper isn't enough?
    posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2012


    The Egregious Frum reviews Coming Apart in five parts. Frum manages to both clarify Murray's reason for focusing on "the white working class" and tear apart his central argument by recognising the real causes of Murray's perceived decline among them, viz. their decreasing chances of finding of meaningful work and the indifference of "the elite" to their plight. There are too many delicious quotes to chose from, so I encourage anyone interested in a thorough evisceration of Murray's new work to read this.
    posted by ob1quixote at 9:49 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


    See Also: Answering a Murray Defender and Postscript to the Murray Review.
    posted by ob1quixote at 8:19 PM on February 9, 2012


    More:

    Murray interviewed by Charlie Rose. [20:46]

    Poor, White, and Republican by George Packer, The New Yorker.

    Finally, an exegesis of Murray's influence on American policy and politics over the last three decades, What to Do About ‘Coming Apart’ by Thomas Edsall in The New York Times.
    posted by ob1quixote at 11:44 AM on February 16, 2012


    Tea Party leader wants teachers to talk about slavery without reference to race, 'White people were whipped too,' man says.

    They may have been whipped, but they weren't owned.
    posted by scalefree at 12:02 PM on February 16, 2012


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