Tuesday, October 14, 2008

anxious and snarky


Agreed, let the snarkfest begin! I was trying to keep things light and huggy to add lightness to your life. Like egg whites. But dulce et decorum est boring. You seem to be doing fabulously, and anyway, what is more loving than coming together in judgment against others?

TD thinks that I am judgmental, but admits that he is too--just in different ways. He tends to judge stupid, unthinking people--who appear at all levels of education, class, etc., and in both political parties. I recoil from judging others, particularly people I know, for pecadilloes or natural slipups or things attributable to class differentials (not that TD does any of that), but I agree with TD that the last shall be first, the first shall be last, and the stupid people should be shot. I have little patience for willfully ignorant, small-minded, xenophobic, parochial types. Characteristics that could apply to insular elites, by the way, whom I also tend to judge. But how to define stupidity? How to otherize the other? Where do we draw the lines of judgment? At the risk of invoking French theory (usually a bad idea), what Bourdieu-esque distinctions do we draw?

I am admittedly an over-educated, high-falutin liberal coastal elite. But I come from an extremely poor working class background, ate prosciutto for the first time last year (mmm), and am generally terrified of being called gauche. But hey! I know what gauche means, and also that it derives from the French word for "left"! You've known that I've struggled with the twin pulls of elitism and populism for most of my life--on the one hand, my elite education (and the many years of it) along with my concerted efforts to acquire above-conversational levels of cultural capital distance me ever farther from my family and origins (even back in high school, I was called "white washed" by my peers), and on the other, that same education has been concentrated in principles of anti-discrimination and egalitarianism. I'm the product of a public school education, but a pretty elite one by most standards--so as much as I can talk about John Dewey and Clark Kerr and education as the great equalizer, I can't claim to be down with the gente. But at least I know more about them than as a distanced anthropologist, because I'm only a few years away from being a beneficiary of the social welfare state.

That's why it is always confusing to me to be accused of classicism in that direction. I don't think I've ever judged working class Americans, and nor do I indulge in the soft bigotry of low expectations where I don't expect better from them. That'd be like giving up on my nephew. That's why the Palin pick is so bewildering; I don't think most average working class (and she is so not working class) Americans are dumb, so why is she giving them such a bad name? Willful ignorance I do judge, as I do hatefully reflexive xenophobia: I have no time for haters, and it's not my fault they tend to be well represented in conservative, evangelist demographics. But I don't judge them so much as give up on them. Judgment is reserved for people who are not like you, but could be like you, which is why drawing that distinction is so much harder, sociologically, and also more visceral. It's like drawing lines in very fine sand, but each one is a cut against someone who is almost like you.

So, I tend to judge the elites for their idiosyncratic forms of line-drawing--you do/don't like that band/movie; you didn't grow up knowing that highly cultured thing, you didn't read that incredibly insufferable post modernist book, etc. And then they get all judgmental when you express more basic, pettier judgments, that do not celebrate the diversity of all things steampunk or hipster. I get more "you are so conventional" judgment for saying that I do not personally find mutton chops or handlebar mustaches attractive than I get "you are so elitist" judgment for saying "people are stupid for not liking William Gaddis." Of course, I would never say the latter comment, while I will shout from the rooftops that mutton chops are fugly. Since when did celebrating diversity mean championing, against all reason, idiosyncrasy? Since when did being contrarian equal being accepting? I will insist that I am entirely within my right to personal preferences that comport with general conventions of beauty and conduct, so call me judgmental, but back hair is so unattractive, and apologies to all man-kind for demanding some universal body image. I don't demand, I prefer. While I never think that there's a rational basis for misogyny, racism, or homophobia, I surely think that there's a reason for certain conventions of demeanor or conduct.

Not that I would call people out for them. Not if I personally knew them, and certainly not in public (at least by name), which I find highly embarrassing, unnecessary, and extremely annoying. I have lots of memories like this from law school, when I was acculturating myself to the bourgie lifestyle. I may have been gauche for picking up my fork before everyone had been served (to move it! not to eat!), and may have been ignorant for not emptying my wine glass before another type was poured (oh noes! I'm blending! quelle horror!), but it was even more gauche and socially insensitive for Prissy Princess to call me out for it in public, before all of our friends. Years later, I still twinge a bit about this.

I bring this all up, because on Friday, TD took me to the nicest dinner I've ever had. I mean, I grew up thinking that brand-name Doritos were a luxury and had to split mangoes with my siblings (damn them for giving me the seed, and telling me that it had the most). It was super fancy. Didn't we talk once about those who use words like "fancy," "classy," or worst, "ritzy" probably had no place being there, e.g. us? Well, it was fancy, and very nice. I was slightly anxious the entire time. Which fork to use! Thank goodness I've read etiquette manuals (those who didn't internalize by practice, learn actively). Everyone was really nice though, and dinner was fabulous. And then the other day, that nice assistant principal woman I met on the sail told me how people judge her for working in public education, and how she also grew up poor, and felt trepidation about dating TD's friend (who owned the boat we were sailing), because of class issues. I tried to assure her that he was salt of the earth (he is), and would never make her feel bad about that. She knows that he wouldn't (he's like TD, who also decidedly did not grow up like me), but she still felt anxious. I couldn't persuade her that her advanced education, mastery of languages and culture, and general delightfulness would be more than enough to compensate for her class anxiety. But she was still anxious. I wanted to punch anyone who would dare judge her for anything. She reminds me a lot of you and me, with our high levels of Goffmanian anxiety.

Vanderwheel called you a parody of Goffmanian anxiety. Whev. Someone else said that I was the one he should have been talking about. Double whev. Our lives are full of constraints, and we are moving in professional and social circles we had to work hard to join and do not yet feel fully comfortable navigating. So I give us a little freedom in managing our frontstage and a great deal of indulgence for our psychotic backstage. And we're doing pretty well, I think. We may be full of snark and judgment, but we try not to be unkind, nor judge others for things they can't control or can't change.

Snarky enough with tons of buried, passive aggressive mutual anecdotes for you?
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