Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Culture Wars

David Brooks has an interesting op-ed about America's two aristocracies.
It's been said that every society has two aristocracies. The members of the aristocracy of mind produce ideas, and pass along knowledge. The members of the aristocracy of money produce products and manage organizations. In our society these two groups happen to be engaged in a bitter conflict about everything from S.U.V.'s to presidents. You can't understand the current bitter political polarization without appreciating how it is inflamed or even driven by the civil war within the educated class.

He says that the educated class is divided by their careers. There are the idea-oriented professionals, like teachers and journalists, and they vote Democratic. Their opponents are the business leaders, and they vote Republican.

Income does not explains the different party choices, according to Brooks. There are plenty of rich folks on the Upper Westside who would rather cut off their arm than vote Republican.

These aristocracies make their voting choices based on the style of the party.
Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates — from Clinton to Kerry — often run late.

Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.
The straight talking, golf playing, punctual stock broker will vote for the former frat boy. The book reading, opera loving, often tardy professor will vote for the classical guitar player.

This is too cynical for me. Brooks assumes that the actural political differences between the two parties makes no difference. The two aristocracies don't take into account the differing perspectives on the war or education or abortion or any real policy issues. For Brooks, people vote for the candidate that is most like them in their work ethic and taste in literature.

Life style choices or culture does explain some voting behavior. There probably is some correlation between your party choice and whether you buy your shirts from J.Crew or L.L. Bean. Brooks might have something about the culture wars. But policy choices are important, too. Within the idea circle and within the business circle, they do talk about issues like the war in Iraq. The trouble is that there is so little intersection between these two worlds. The idea people aren't hanging out at the golf club, and the money guys aren't chit-chatting at intermission time during Rigoletto.

I was just reading Cass Sunstein's theory that the internet world encourages like-minded people to insulate themselves in little cliques. He calls it cyberbalkanization. Some bloggers have rejected that notion. But I think that the outside world is balkanized already. Why should the internet be different?

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