WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2022
What the freshman said: Long ago and far away, we saw something unfortunate happen.
We were a freshman at a famous upper-class college (Harvard). The incident involved some dumb behavior by a fellow freshman—someone we didn't know, not even by name.
In fairness, this kid was just a college freshman. He didn't seem to know that he was being obnoxious. But on his way into the freshman dining hall, he gave a dumbly bad time to the working-class Cambridge woman who was charged with checking us in for lunch.
His behavior went down like this:
At the time, we Cantabs were required to wear a jacket and tie to eat in the dining hall. This kid showed up one day, we think in the spring, wearing a ratty white t-shirt and a windbreaker, but also this:
He had tied a shoelace around his neck and was claiming that it was his "tie!"
Various rules of campus deportment were on the way out at that time. It was the spring of 1966—or it may have been the previous fall—right at the dawn of the street-fighting late 1960s.
Many rules were on the way out—but on that particular day, that dining hall dress code wasn't. The working-class lady who was checking us in kept telling him—correctly, of course—that he wasn't dressed in the manner which had been prescribed.
We recall the specific dumbness of what the kid kept saying:
"How do you know that this isn't a tie?" the snotty youngster said of the shoelace he had tied around his neck. (He may have derived his all-knowing skeptical tone from some beginner "philosophy" course.)
We recall thinking that someone really needed to stifle this horrible kid. We seem to think he was a private school kid, as was almost half the freshman class, but we can't say we're sure about that.
(In our experience, most of the private school kids in our class were completely decent people. For some reason, we still have the Joan Baez, Volume II album which belonged to Dean Witter III!)
At any rate, this kid's condescension-by-social-class seemed to be fairly obvious. He seemed to think he was smarter than this working-class woman, nor was this attitude hidden.
We aren't inclined to blame college freshmen for having imperfect judgment. Also, something else would turn out to be true as that street-fighting decade proceeded:
As disputes about Vietnam and drug use intensified, many members of the white working class began to engage in angry, unattractive public conduct. A lot of social dislocation followed—but we've never forgotten the college kid who dumbly gave a hard time to a polite. middle-aged woman who was politely, and correctly, telling him that he wasn't dressed according to code, that his shoelace wasn't a tie.
In fairness, he was just a college kid. That said, he was speaking the language of the arrogant upper-class pseudo-savant, and we feel completely sure that the check-in lady heard that.
Within the past year, we've wondered about the conversation which may have taken place that night in that woman's working-class Cambridge home.
Our highly self-impressed blue tribe has constantly signaled in such ways to the nation's "lesser breed." Today, many years later, Eric Levitz describes the ongoing political realignment which largely echoes what happened that day, with the Democratic Party gaining among college graduates but shedding working-class voters at a major rate.
In this passage, Levitz delivers a painful assessment:
LEVITZ (10/19/22): There are worse things for a political coalition to be than affluent or educated. Professionals vote and donate at higher rates than blue-collar workers. But college graduates also comprise a minority of the electorate—and an underrepresented minority at that. America’s electoral institutions all give disproportionate influence to parts of the country with low levels of educational attainment. And this is especially true of the Senate. Therefore, if the coalitional trends of the past half-century continue unabated—and Democrats keep gaining college-educated votes at the expense of working-class ones—the party will find itself locked out of federal power. Put differently, such a development would put an increasingly authoritarian GOP on the glide path to political dominance.
Increasingly, Levitz notes, the Democratic Party is becoming the province of the affluent and the "educated." (This is true of our blue tribe in general.)
But uh-oh! According to Levitz, if Democrats "keep gaining college-educated votes at the expense of working-class ones, the party will find itself locked out of federal power."
Way back when, a college freshman was mouthing off. He was dumbly asking a working-class woman how she could possibly know that his shoelace wasn't a tie.
He was displaying his ersatz erudition at the expense of someone who almost surely hadn't gone to college. Aside from the general dumbness involved in this sort of conduct, this is one of the major ways our highly self-impressed blue tribe can, and does, lose votes.
We engage in such conduct day after day. After that, we do it again.
The correct answer is this: During the Watergate hearings, Senator Ervin provided the correct answer to that college's kid's question.
For the full context, just click here. But here's the way the check-in lady could have answered the college kid's question:
COLLEGE KID: How do you know that it isn't a tie?
CHECK-IN LADY: Because I speak the English language. It's my mother tongue!
Once again, we're happy to agree with you on something, dear Bob: useless pencil-pushers (aka the "educated", aka your "liberal tribe") are brain-dead assholes. That's a given.
...nevertheless, the asshole kid from your youth was right; ever heard of "bolo tie"?
"We seem to think he was a private school kid, as was almost half the freshman class, but we can't say we're sure about that.ReplyDelete
(In our experience, most of the private school kids in our class were completely decent people. For some reason, we still have the Joan Baez, Volume II album which belonged to Dean Witter III!)"
This is what bias looks like. If there was no reason to assume this badly behaved kid was from a private school, why do so? This comes across as a "chip on the shoulder."
"We recall thinking that someone really needed to stifle this horrible kid."ReplyDelete
This is how I feel whenever Somerby tries to argue that anything is possible and nothing can be known for sure. Freshman philosophy strikes again!
"At any rate, this kid's condescension-by-social-class seemed to be fairly obvious. He seemed to think he was smarter than this working-class woman, nor was this attitude hidden."ReplyDelete
Mind-reading is apparently permitted when it accords with Somerby's preferred narrative, script, storyline. He seems to have gone off to Harvard with the preconceived idea that everyone else there would be an elitist snob. I wonder what he thought of Al Gore on first meeting him.
Bob is reflecting on the kid's behavior that he had witnessed first hand.Delete
How would he know what that kid felt and thought, without actually being him? When Somerby says the attitude was not hidden, he is just saying that he knew, not providing any actual evidence of what was in this kid's head. It may be that he just didn't want to walk back to his dorm room to find a jacket and tie, without any particular attitude toward the employee. Good restaurants keep extras around, but apparently not Harvard.Delete
There are spoiled children in every social class.
The kid was trying a middle-aged woman that a shoelace was a tie.Delete
"we Cantabs were required to wear a jacket"ReplyDelete
Today, "cantab" is a drug term. "Cantabs are cannabis and CBD infused tablets produced by Pure Tonic Concentrates."
There is some snobbery involved in expecting that everyone will know what a Cantab is without explanation.Delete
"many members of the white working class began to engage in angry, unattractive public conduct."ReplyDelete
"In fairness, he was just a college kid. That said, he was speaking the language of the arrogant upper-class pseudo-savant, and we feel completely sure that the check-in lady heard that. "ReplyDelete
This is Somerby's imagination. Having taught college freshmen, I know that there is a young person who tries that stunt every year. It is a function of youth, not social class.
There is an example of it in one of Heinlein's books for kids, Space Cadet, where Matt tries to use the letter of the law to escape a trivial social nicety and gets taught better. Nothing at all about social class in it.
There is an example of this behavior in every boot camp movie where some recruit tries to outsmart the sergeant by citing the letter of a rule to him. Certainly nothing about class there. A good example in An Officer and a Gentleman. There the social classes are reversed.
I think this anecdote illustrates Somerby's lingering attitudes toward social class and I find myself wondering how he could have reached age 75 while continuing to hold such views. Maybe living too long in one place and not traveling? Or maybe hanging around with others who hold similar views? He still seems to be that freshman, both the one with the shoestring around his neck, and the observer, who isn't much better in terms of social understanding.
Somerby is a moron, his anecdote does not provide a counterpoint to the obvious flaw in his screed on the use of the word "lie".Delete
In particular with Trump, the former and single-term president outright made it plain he was later lying, when, shortly after the election, Trump said he was upset that HE LOST to someone like Biden, that it was humiliating TO LOSE to Biden.
Concerning the death of the Dems, recall that Trump lost by the largest margin in history, nearly 8 million votes.
Concerning the anecdote, which turns out is no antidote, it does involve class. Assuming the story is true, our hero is not the lost soul observer, nor the cafeteria worker on a power trip, but obviously the kid that dared to fight against an oppressive dress code designed to keep The Other corralled and segregated away from the True and Deserving elites that populated Harvard - you know, the ones that grew up to become corrupt leaders in bullshit jobs and reliably always vote Republican, just to own The Other.
All schools had dress codes before the mid-60s. The worker was not on a power trip. It was her job to enforce that code, intended to teach middle class rules of polite society. It lingers in “no shirt, no shoes, no service” and expensive restaurants and no pantsuits allowed in court.Delete
The incorrect nonsense about all schools having a dress code of the kind "the kid" experienced aside, ie all joking aside, to the extent her job was enforcer, was to provide a safe space for white male fragility, her actual job was to facilitate the feeding of children, young adults.Delete
One of the many things lost on you is that there is a world of difference between "no shirt and shoes" and "no of-the-ruling-class suit"; there is nothing impolite about not wearing a suit and tie (it is actually pretty goofy attire).
The worker was on a power trip, just like a cop that pulls over certain people for minor infractions; almost nobody drives in full compliance of the law so the cops pick winners and losers - this is being slowly outlawed in cities like Philadelphia where a cop can longer pull someone over for expired plates.
It is those of "polite society" that continue to trap us in the neoliberal and right wing hell we are forced to live in.
I went to UCLA, a state university, and there were rules about what to wear in the dorm eating hall, also a curfew, in 1965.Delete
"Within the past year, we've wondered about the conversation which may have taken place that night in that woman's working-class Cambridge home.ReplyDelete
Our highly self-impressed blue tribe has constantly signaled in such ways to the nation's "lesser breed."
The woman may have laughed or she may have grumbled, but she didn't go on a rant about those snotty upper class kids, as Somerby seems to imagine.
And then Somerby generalizes his own hangups to the entire blue tribe! He imagines we all walk around thinking of others as lesser breeds (what an ugly term breed is). I don't know about the rest of the liberals, but I don't sit around my dinner table laughing at those unfortunates who I worked so hard to help in my career and volunteer activities, in my occasional activism and Democratic party voting. The idea that the snobs are on the left is peculiar given that the actual income elites and social 1% are on the right.
Arrogance is a property of youth, but it doesn't belong to liberals or conservatives. It belongs to those who are allowed to think they are better than others by virtue of some innate property. If they have worked to make themselves better, I don't find people considering themselves better as often.
Once again, I am very happy I do not live inside Somerby's head. Also happy he is not my neighbor. And very very grateful he was never in one of my public university freshman classes, although he could certainly have benefitted from learning more about what I taught my students. His world is nothing like the one I walked through in my equally long life. But if you carry such a filter with you in your head, you aren't going to get to know people the way they are.
I see that you are happy that you don't live in TDH's head. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't fit. You do seem constantly to get into his here, however.Delete
"COLLEGE KID: How do you know that it isn't a tie?ReplyDelete
CHECK-IN LADY: Because I speak the English language. It's my mother tongue!"
This isn't the snappy comeback Somerby thinks it is. These days, many cafeteria workers do not speak English as their mother tongue. They still deserve respect. In Somerby's world, apparently, they all speak English.
But it would have been fine if she had said, "Because I say so, and you don't get into this room without a real tie and jacket."
The mistake with highly verbal children is thinking you have to win a logical argument with them, when you are the parent and they are not. Those who play such games with actual authorities, such as the IRS, go to jail for their smart-ass efforts. College is meant to teach kids life-lessons, not just book learning.Delete
I'll bet Somerby got his gentleman's D in life learning too.
Here Bob gives Bill Maher a run for the money in the anecdote of dubious relevance department. I wonder if thatReplyDelete
working class lady could have imagined She was suffering
disrespect in the passionate service of our first
billionaire President, a loutish thief with the ethics
of a cheap hood Bob would go to the mat defending.
I think it is highly likely that the working class lady in this story felt like she was one-up on the other working class ladies in her neighborhood because she was working at Harvard instead of Target.Delete
Would have been Woolworth’s in those days😊Delete
Democrats about to get they ass whupped.ReplyDelete
And Bob will once again be proven 100% wrong. Republican voters can't get enough of being condescended to.ReplyDelete
As of 2022, 48% of Democrats over age 24 have a degree from a four-year college or university. That means 52% do not. And yet, the Democratic Party supposedly acts like that jerk in Somerby’s anecdote and scorns the non-college educated working class? OK…ReplyDelete
Also, if you look at a solid red state, say, North Dakota, you find that the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) is 31.7%. In solidly blue California, it’s 36.2%. Higher, but not vastly.
I know it’s conventional “wisdom” these days that college education makes the difference in the elections. But these numbers just don’t thoroughly bear that out.
Yes. Beyond that, decrying the left for elitism and snobbery is something less than a fresh revelation, but I guess our Harvard Grad has to go with what he's got.Delete
Liberals are the "educated" pencil-pushers, dear mh.
...as for Democrats, a sizable portion of them is the underclass.
The numbers make the difference for female voters, where the college educated vote Democratic whereas the non-college ones votes for Trump. It doesn't seem to make a difference for male voters because they see his bullying as strength and envy his ability to do and say whatever he wants. The gender gap has tended to do Trump in. similarly with Trump-endorsed candidates.Delete
I expect that Roe V Wade is going to bring those newly registered female voters to the polls and make a difference that may not be clear from the polls, especially when they tend to survey "likely voters" which is defined as people who have voted before.
I don't think women are snobbish in the same way as men. I also think Somerby may have been the freshman in his story. Why else would he remember the dialog so clearly? And that would also relieve him of the accusation that he was mind-reading, if it were his own mind doing the arrogant dismissive thinking Somerby describes.
Imagine still associating attending college with being educated.Delete
If you didn't learn anything there, that doesn't mean others learned nothing.Delete
Hispanics are leaving the party.Delete
Liberals are going to need to be much more condescending to Republican voters, if they want win them over.ReplyDelete
Perhaps, convincing them Quantum Physics is being taught to Kindergartners will due the trick.
Ye/ Favre 2024ReplyDelete
Well, even though trying to convince the Saudis to postpone by one month the oil production cut failed (was that impeachable, by the way?), draining the strategic oil reserve might still help somewhat (is that impeachable?)...
It's surprising how ignorant the comments are here.ReplyDelete
Compared to where?Delete
4:38 is referring to himself.Delete
When I was at Harvard in the 90s, students were demonstrating to gain higher wages and benefits for the employees who worked there. They were still elites then. What happened? Maybe Somerby encountered a jerky kid and wants to generalize his behavior to all Harvard students. That is kind of typical of how he thinks these days.ReplyDelete
But, but,… it was great for the US oil and gas industry (exclamation point) when Trump demanded that the Saudis cut production back in April 2020! So, Republicans should rejoice with this latest cut. Right? Riiiight.ReplyDelete
If you don't like a Right-wingers deep-seated belief, just wait a minute, it'll change.*ReplyDelete
*Does not apply to bigotry and white supremacy.
I'll wager that freshman hadn't seen the string ties and bolo ties worn in the Western states, fully acceptable even at semi-formal gatherings. If he had, he might have made a different kind of argument, or included a bottle cap to hold the strings together. Adults can generally tell when kids are being assholes.ReplyDelete
No such thing as free will, kid being an asshole merely means they were raised that way.Delete
Just like wealth, trauma-causing abuse is also generational.
Somerby offers himself up daily as a specimen of one suffering from generational abuse/trauma, a case study for psychologists, sociologists, and even anthropologists.