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September 28, 2008

A Puzzler

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here's something that has long puzzled me.

Polite Society (ie., our elites) does something ambitious. Something like, say, opening immigration policies insanely 'way up. Society at large (ie., many of the rest of us) reacts to this development by protesting, perhaps even strongly. Polite Society then looks at how the rest of us are carrying on and ... blames the whole problem on us for failing to behave well. They cause the problem; we protest; and somehow the fault winds up lying with us for being uncouth.

Isn't this a little like stabbing someone, and then blaming the whole bloody mess on the shrieking of the victim?



UPDATE: A hard-hitting posting from Robert Wenzel includes these nice passages:

[The power elite] always take advantage of crisis to make a [power and money] grab ... Taking advantage of crisis and making things complex is how the elite play. The current crisis is the mortgage crisis ... We are in the midst of one of the greatest power and money grabs in the history of the world. I am stunned by the Russian style oligarch aggressiveness and boldness of the moves made this weekend, led by Paulson.

Pierre Lemieux has a laugh at the idea that the current financial crisis is proof that capitalism doesn't work:

The financial crisis opened last year with the meltdown of the American subprime mortgage market. At that time, half of the residential mortgages in the United States were already held or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two so-called "government sponsored enterprises" (GSE). Over the past year, the two GSEs have financed four out of five mortgages. Fannie Mae was created in the wake of the Great Depression by Franklin D. Roosevelt; Freddie Mac by Congress in 1970. Private investors happily bought securities issued by the two GSEs because they knew the federal government would never let these companies fail — which proved true last week when they were entirely taken over by Washington. Before the crisis started, the American mortgage market was a paragon of socialism, unparalleled in any other Western country ... The present financial turmoil is really a failure of global statism. Socialism has failed once again. Let's try capitalism.
posted by Michael at September 28, 2008


Sure. Because what the elites do is right. And anyone who resists is just being ignorant/ungrateful/racist/justplainstupid and in any event really is causing problems. What part of this don't you understand?

Seriously, it would be fun to look for other examples of this curious phenomenon.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on September 28, 2008 5:05 PM

Also puzzling how the "evil" (ignorant, bigoted) and "far right" label is attached both to people who 1) have no respect for differences in human political and social cultures, and believe that all people should be happy to have one designated superior "universal" culture shoved down their throats, and to people who 2) respect the differences in human political and social cultures and don't believe people should have alien, incompatible, and unwanted cultures shoved down their throats. I guess it all depends on who's the shover and who the shovee in any particular instance.

Posted by: Moira Breen on September 28, 2008 6:06 PM

While I agree with the general notion, may I reserve the right as a brown skinned person to be seriously squicked out by the Freedom Party and their platform? I mean if you're going to be about Austrian National Pride, wouldn't it make more sense to elevate the nationalism of Dolfuss instead of you know, his replacements?

Idiotic populism isn't a good replacement for idiotic elitism. All things considered, I like Hapsburg Austria the best anyways.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on September 28, 2008 7:00 PM

Have you ever thought about going to the roots of this problem and mention how Jewish lobbies were instrumental in opening the floodgates to massive immigration in 1965, as documented by Kevin MacDonald's work? His work on immigration is easily available online and it'd be interesting to see your take on his research.

Posted by: NJJR on September 28, 2008 7:18 PM

Dammit we should get some sort of political system where the elites are accountable to the rest of us!

Posted by: wingnit on September 28, 2008 7:57 PM

You could not have said it better. In fact, we're being stabbed (and bled) as I write vis a vis the D.C./Wall Street debacle.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on September 28, 2008 9:37 PM

It's as if they all have their heads up their asses and hear a big racket. Ostrich-like, they pull out and look. They yell "Noted." and return to their previous state of bliss.

Posted by: jc on September 29, 2008 12:53 AM

The funny thing is that everyone insists on believing the elites 'have their heads up their asses', or some similar idea that they don't see. Maybe they do see and they just want to line their pockets. I think there's a natural human resistance to admit that these people are sociopaths or at least have a very strong sense of in-group loyalty that doesn't include us.

Posted by: SFG on September 29, 2008 8:04 AM

Excellent quote from the Rationally Speaking blog:

"imagine how foolishly you would feel if a thousand car mechanics tell you that you need to change the carburetor in your car and you keep insisting that they don’t know what they are talking about, elitist auto-experts that they are, because carburetors obviously don’t exist!"

Enough with the "elitism". It IS possible that there are people out there who do know more than the ignorant, nose-picking, mouth-breathing putzes that make up this country. Do I care what the ignorant, white trash, unemployed mother of five has to say on immigration when drafting a policy? Not in the least. This isn't a democracy, you get your say when you vote and that's it. The rest of the time, STFU and let the people in charge do their jobs.

It's because of this "do what we say, we're The People" attitude that's gotten us into these messes. Think of it this way: if the general populace were smart enough to have a valid opinion on these topics, would they vote in the people they do?

Definition of elite as I read it on this blog: "people are smarter and better educated than I, and I don't like it!"

Posted by: Elitist on September 29, 2008 9:28 AM

SFG: "...sociopaths..."


Elitist: "Enough with the 'elitism'."

I agree. All societies will throw up members superior in talent, intelligence, competence, foresight, etc. who are better suited to governing than those less favored by nature and training, and these rightly and necessarily form an elite. The claim to elite rank is, however, a continual test; their worthiness subject to the pitiless judgment of history. It is in the nature of things that all elite classes are not merely self-interested (as we all are), but often eventually become heedlessly self-interested, turning the mechanisms of politics soley to their own self-interest in defiance of all prudence, until they destroy the stability and social rules on which their power and claim to high status rest. Since the current claimants to this rank are so demonstrably lacking in competence, wisdom, and concern for, or capacity to recognize, the long-term welfare of the polity, we should stop referring to them as "elites", a noble title which should be reserved for those who have proved their claim to the rank. "The degenerate assholes now in charge who are the last dregs of the natural process of power becoming entrenched, corrupted, blinkered, and unaccountable" is a bit wordy, though. Anybody got something pithier?

Posted by: Moira Breen on September 29, 2008 11:29 AM

Well, Elitist, you're certainly honest and up-front about your contempt for those you consider your lessers. Tell me, though; in a liberal democratic society, why should your opinion carry more weight than theirs? And if there are more of the "masses" than there are of you and your ilk, doesn't that make the country more theirs than yours, so that, at the very least, they ought to have a say in what sort of society you'd construct for them (and you) to live in? Beyond merely picking a name on a ballot?

In my experience, people don't generally resent others greatly for being smarter and better educated, in and of itself; they do, however, greatly resent such people feeling entitled to tell them how to live their lives. Imagine that...

Posted by: Will S. on September 29, 2008 11:52 AM

Moira's "degenerate assholes" works for me!

FWIW, I'm not sure anyone around here has ever claimed that people come in a variety of forms (including dumb-as-a-post as well as exceedingly-gifted). In case I haven't been clear about this: There will always be hierarchies, and elites will always emerge.

Something that's distinctive about the Present Moment, though, is how *exceedingly* self-interested our elites have become. I think most people are worldly enough to agree that we can tolerate some corruption and some self-interest from our rulers. But if they should ever cease entirely to look after the general welfare of the society they're meant to be leading, then we've come to a special moment. We've come to a moment when it's perfectly appropriate to abuse them, remind them who their position in society depends on, etc ...

It's an off-with-their-heads moment, in other words.

I suppose it's debatable whether or not we've reached such a moment. I think we have, and I'll cite the Iraq war, immigration policy, and the current finance-industry bailout as evidence of how far our elites have strayed from any notion of serving the society on which their fortunate positions depend. But I don't mind disagreement on this.

Although ... Can anyone volunteer much evidence that our elites *do* have our interests even slightly in mind? Or that they're in any way responsive to our preferences, or respectful of our well-being?

Hey, has anyone else noticed that McCain and Obama are both in favor of the war, they're both in favor of near-amnesty for illegals, and they're both in favor of the bailout? Gotta love a political establishment that not only faces hard facts but offers meaningful choices.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2008 12:17 PM

I am not so sure a reading of history would not reveal that in most societies the elites were indifferent at best to their lesser citizens, if not in fact disdainful or even openly antagonistic. What is unusual in our country is the degree to which our elites seem willing to go in the large scale importation of foreigners possessing even less human capital than their fellow citizens whom they view with such obvious contempt.

Posted by: c.o. jones on September 29, 2008 1:16 PM

When you talk about the elites, you need to understand their mentality. The poster (boy) "Elitist" does a poor job of it above.

See, these folks are mentally ill. They're just like fat people who can't stop themselves from eating--they must always have more money and power, more and more. Their minds are on a single track of obsessive gathering unto themselves. They rich elites are fat, fat, fat, and they eat, eat, eat, and they can't stop themselves. Its never enough because its the eating that drives them. They love to eat, and damn the consequences. They're simply sickos.

We live in a world that is run by the mentally ill, a band of sociopaths, and we can't get out of their grip because we can't get along by ourselves. We set up a government to resolve our disputes, and then the elites use the government to rob us blind and oppress us and others. Its government that is the problem. That's the big refrigerator for these sickos.

"It IS possible that there are people out there who do know more than the ignorant, nose-picking, mouth-breathing putzes that make up this" aristocracy.

We pay a heavy price for not following the moral law as individuals, don't we?

Posted by: BIOH on September 29, 2008 3:13 PM

BIOH, you're absolutely right. It's all about morality, ultimately.

I agree with Moira Breen that elites will arise naturally, and broadly with Moira and Michael and c.o. that we are witnessing something unprecedented, in terms of how in how much utter contempt they hold their fellow citizens, who happen to not be among the elite.

Now, "the rich are different" is a very old observation, and their propensity towards great decadence is nothing new; however, in times past, it was at least tempered by the social need to at least outwardly conform to the social norms of the greater society, which was by and large Christian. (I'm only discussing the West here.) Lip service had to at least be paid, the pretense maintained, that they, too, held to some belief in morality, based upon transcendent, revealed truths. Thus, they felt compelled to give public support to the faith and resultant worldview, that they ostensibly held in common with their fellow man. "Hypocrisy is the tribute vice renders to virtue", as La Rochefoucauld said; and charity and altruism are Christian values which the elites felt compelled to observe.

Now, however, we live in a post-Christian era, characterized by an unprecedented degree of hyper-individualism, and the elites are now completely unconstrained; they not only do not have to pay lip service to any great extent (certainly not as much as they used to), and they are free to give free rein to their basest impulses, including a complete lack of Christian charity, and any altruism. It's Nietzschean and Ayn-Randian ethics, holding sway, today. Hence 'Elitist's contempt for those he /she views as lesser beings.

Posted by: Will S. on September 29, 2008 5:53 PM

It's like we have a crisis in our managerial class, so to speak. To be blunt: they aren't too good at their job. I see this in the medical culture all the time - nurses, docs, etc are asked to work harder to bail out poor administrative decisions, often by a manager type who doesn't bother to come down out of the office tower to speak to the people actually doing the work and billing, and so forth. Tired of subsidizing the overhead, actually.....

Posted by: MD on September 29, 2008 7:22 PM

In response to the post, I think you've simply got to say "eff the elites." And vote that way. It's not like America doesn't offer enough choices.

My only complaint with Elitist is the STFU bit. My response is "Screw you, bud -- I'm an American and I get to bitch every time I want to." Granted, it's just jaw-flapping, but that's been known to change things.

Posted by: Scott on September 29, 2008 9:54 PM

It's an interesting problem.

All men are not created equal. Some people are really smarter than others. Some people would do better at governing than others. Also, ordinary people are too busy making a living to spend their whole days poring over documents and figuring out what sort of a trade policy to adopt toward Burkina Faso.

The problem is that any governing clique regardless of their initial ability or ethics (and you need both to do a good job in the larger sense) tends to face temptations that corrupt fairly rapidly. Shit, even when I was secretary of a minor service club in college we probably ordered a little too much pizza for ourselves. The use of representative democracy is that it allows the populace to throw the bums out when they get too crooked. But of course with only two sets of bums they start to cut deals with each other, and spend enough time within the corridors of power that they still develop interests at variance with the general public.

I guess calling 'em sociopaths kind of misses the point, actually. It's not so much that our elites are more evil than other human beings. I think this sort of thing is human nature and we have to develop systems that limit the ability of the elites to enrich themselves further. The question isn't, 'why do our elites enrich themselves at our expense?'. The question is, 'why do we let them get away with it?'

The one thing I'm not sure about is how much the Democrat and Republican elites actually collude on things like immigration and trade and how much they're just driven by sets of backers with interests that happen to coincide in certain places (the Democrats are pro-immigration because of urban minorities and NY/DC/Boston businessmen, the Republicans because of Southern/Midwestern businessmen, and I don't think those dudes have much in common).

In short, the populace is stupid, and the elite is corrupt. I don't know any way around it. Part of the reason I've never been a fan of these ultra-conservative solutions like monarchy is because there are even fewer checks on the power of a king, whereas the House of Representatives is prone to occasional spasms of public interest when an election is coming. As Gabor Steingart said, Bush only lasted 8 years, but Putin keeps going and going. (Of course, Putin's been great for Russia and shitty for US, so it's not a fair comparison.)

Posted by: SFG on September 30, 2008 10:23 AM

"In short, the populace is stupid, and the elite is corrupt. I don't know any way around it. Part of the reason I've never been a fan of these ultra-conservative solutions like monarchy is because there are even fewer checks on the power of a king, whereas the House of Representatives is prone to occasional spasms of public interest when an election is coming. As Gabor Steingart said, Bush only lasted 8 years, but Putin keeps going and going. (Of course, Putin's been great for Russia and shitty for US, so it's not a fair comparison.)"

You accidentally hit on the answer. Putin, since he isn't going away after a short rule, is actually better for Russia's long term interests (to the extent that they are aligned with his personal interests) than Bush is for the US. That's exactly why monarchy is a superior form of government. Alignment of interests is about all that helps in getting an elite to act in the best interests of the ruled.

Posted by: Steve Johnson on October 1, 2008 8:04 AM

A liberal, democratic, constitutional monarchy, such as that of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc., neatly solves the problem of too much power being concentrated in the hands of a monarch, by removing virtually all power from the monarch, except ceremonially, in essence, and transferring it to Parliament. This allows government to be representative, at the same time providing a head of State who is above the partisan fray, and can be looked upon equally favourably (in theory, at least), by all his / her subjects.

Contrast this with the American presidential system, where partisans of the party opposite that of the president, either question the loyalty of said president and members of his party, or themselves act disloyal: e.g. Rush Limbaugh's daily-repeated "America Held Hostage" refrain during Clinton's reign; Liebermann and Gore being introduced at Democrat rallies after Bush became President as "our real Vice-President" and "our real President" (questioning the Florida election outcome in 2000); and jokes about wanting to move to Canada upon Bush's re-election, or spliting the country into "Jesusland" and "The United States of Canada".

By contrast, there is less of a tendency to accuse one's political opponents of disloyalty, or feel disloyalty oneself to an administration one opposes; the opposition in Canada is known as "Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition" for a reason, because their loyalty to the Crown, and to Canada, isn't in question (well, except when they're avowed Quebec separatists lying through their teeth when they swear loyalty on taking their seats in Parliament, but they fool no-one; besides, their influence is waning greatly, these days). Not that there isn't partisan mud-slinging, and some accusations of disloyalty and betrayal of national values, etc., but it's nowhere near as intense as it is in modern American politics. The side opposite one's own, in modern American politics, is seen as the Anti-Christ, incarnate, as Andy Nowicki argues convincingly here:

Posted by: Will S. on October 2, 2008 12:44 AM

Speaking of Putin and monarchy, here's an interesting development in Russia:

Posted by: Will S. on October 2, 2008 4:07 AM

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