Note: This is a political column in which I find a way to plug my own novel. You've been warned in advance that there will be shilling here!
Earlier today, I ran across a piece by The American Conservative's Rod Dreher, in which he talked about a recent column by The New York Times' David Brooks -- a column that got mocked on Twitter because Brooks wrote about informal social barriers between the upper-middle class (or college-educated class, if you prefer) and those above versus the rest of American society.
Brooks then related a story about a friend who had no high school degree who he took to a sandwich shop, in which his friend looked uncomfortable after reading the menu. He opted to take her elsewhere. Critics mocked him and ripped him apart for doing so.
As Dreher explains, people missed the larger point Brooks was making. For many people, being brought into a new environment can make them feel that they don't belong, given that they've never experienced this before. Dreher used a good analogy, talking about the area in which he grew up and the areas he later moved to. His father grew up in an area in which, if you put him in the middle of a swamp, he'd have no problem finding his way out, but if you put him in the middle of Paris, he would have freaked out because it's an unknown environment. Similarly, Dreher says he would have freaked out being dropped into a swamp but was comfortable exploring Paris on his own.
To be fair, the issue of feeling out of place in a new environment is not unique to the elite and well connected -- it's something that every human being deals with from time to time. We get used to the environments we live in and they make us feel comfortable. When we experience a new environment, we aren't sure what to make of it.
But at the same time, the elite and well connected are the ones that have chosen to cut themselves off from the rest of the population because it's the elite and well connected who make the rules or, at the very least, influence those who make them. And that's where the disconnect comes in, and that's the larger point of Brooks' column.
When I finally got the chance to read Brooks' column, I found the points he led off with pretty telling. He is right, for example, about the usage of zoning ordinances to ensure that the less well-to-do are kept separate from those who are better off. This is not a joke -- go look around your cities and towns to determine where the lower income people live and it's often squirreled away in remote places, far removed from everyone else. The message that gets sent: Those on the top don't want to hang around with the riff raff.
And now comes the part where I plug my book -- Brooks' points actually made me think about one of the themes that I covered in my debut novel, Six Pack: Emergence, that being society's structure. I'll get into a minor spoiler here: Students, after they become 18, are sorted out based on their test scores, with the top achievers joining society's elite and the rest getting sorted into other jobs while being put under the influence of a drink that keeps them from engaging in reason. The exception: The children of the elite.
Of course, in our society, we don't have the government putting people under the influence of a drink, but we do have a system that pretty much ensures that those who are at the higher end are going to get everything they desire while those on the lower end find it tougher to break the cycle unless they happen to be a top achiever who can get into those institutions for the higher end. Those on the lower end might see different means of channeling their frustration that they can't break the cycle, but the point is the system in place doesn't allow it to happen. The points raised in Brooks' article are only the start of the list.
Furthermore, the points raised in Dreher's piece say a lot about how our society is trending. And thanks to social media, it's become easier than ever for like-minded individuals to congregate across long distances, often seeking validation for their points of view, and then flocking to whatever member of the elite and well connected will tell them how right they are. In the end, only the elite benefit while the rest are still left behind.
If we're going to actually address the issues that impact those who aren't part of the elite, it's going to require the elite to stop acting they are more enlightened because they embrace diversity and start realizing that they won't be enlightened until they embrace the one thing they aren't including in their vision of diversity. That one thing can be described in two words: Economic class.
(Final note: It's also worth checking out this Twitter thread by Chris Arnade. He does a good job illustrating what the elite class doesn't understand.)