Charles Murray taught me libertarianism in a hurry

One of my favorite songs when I was young was Betty Hutton’s Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry.  Because of the way my mind plays with words, the song always pops into my head whenever I think of Charles Murray, the deservedly famous libertarian thinker and writer.  The rhyming names are, of course, a facile connection between the man and the song.  The deeper, more meaningful connection is that Murray’s 1994 book, Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, was one of the pivotal books that hastened my transition from knee-jerk liberal to thinking conservative.

Bell Curve was so relentlessly logical it dealt a death-blow to the cognitive dissonance that is a necessity for a moral, rational Jew who lives in the real world, but who continues to vote the Democrat ticket. I read the book in 1995 and became hungry for more and more books that inevitably destroyed my Jewish, San Francisco, UC Berkeley, PBS, New Yorker, New York Times world view. (Some of those books were Keith Richburg’s Out Of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa; Charles Sykes’ Profscam: Professors and the Demise of Higher Education; and, believe it or not, Arthur Schlesinger’s The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, in which an old Leftist mourned multiculturalism without realizing that he ushered it in America’s front door.)  It took until 9/11 before I was able to sever completely the cord between me and the Democrat party, but I never would have reached that state had it not been for The Bell Curve.

As always, there’s a point to one of my meandering introductions.  I was fortunate enough today attend a luncheon in San Francisco at which Mr. Murray spoke.  The theme of the speech was the same theme he sounded in his best-selling book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010:  namely, that 21st century America is experiencing a class divide the likes of which has never been seen before in this country.

We’ve all seen this divide in the responses to the previous and current occupants of the White House.  George W. Bush may have come from an old American family, and been educated at all the right (i.e., Ivy League schools), but he was considered a class traitor by the Leftist elite, who relentlessly mocked his speech (“new-cu-lar,” “misunderestimated,” etc.), and sought to portray him as an ill-educated yokel who squeaked into the Ivies because of family connections.  Meanwhile, Barack Obama, the stoner who drifted into the Ivies on a cloud of marijuana smoke and affirmative action, is held up to the world as the most intelligent president ever to occupy the White House (never mind his staggering ignorance about everything but Leftist cant), in large part because he plays the class game so adroitly.

I certainly saw the class divide in my own world when a liberal family member was horrified to learn that I admired Sarah Palin — a gal who didn’t go to the Ivies, who believes in God, and who shoots moose.  He didn’t even bother to challenge me on political substance.  He simply said, “She’s not one of us.”  We stared at each other over a giant chasm of value differences.  To me, she’s “one of us,” because she believes in American exceptionalism, distrusts big government, supports the Constitution, recognized the inevitable loss of freedom that comes with socialized medicine, supports Israel, supports the troops, etc.  While this relative disagrees with Palin on every one of those issues, her real crime was being a yokel.  If he was the bumper-sticker type, he’d have had one that said “We don’t vote for yokels.”

The point Murray made in his speech is that the Bush/Obama or Obama/Palin divides are more than just political.  He began with something simple:  marriage.  Upper middle class white people marry — 84% of them today, as opposed to 94% of them when I was born.  Lower class people have abandoned marriage — 84% of them were married when I was born; only 48% of them are married now.  The problem isn’t just an economic one, although the economic effects of single-motherhood are so catastrophic that even the New York Times has had to acknowledge it.  Two-parent families are the glue that holds a community together.

As Murray said, single dads don’t coach Little League and single moms don’t go to PTA meetings.  In Marin County, Tiburon and Ross moms bring their formidable energy and skills to scarily efficient and excessive PTAs and school plays, while in San Rafael and Marin City (Marin’s genuinely poor communities), those same Tiburon and Ross moms, as charity work, try to do the same in communities that have virtually no parental participation.

It’s not just that the rich are richer and the poor are poorer (although that too is a problem, because it means the middle is vanishing).  It’s that the rich and the poor live entirely separate lives.  Back in 1960, even in affluent neighborhoods, neighborhoods were more blended than they are today.  Incidentally, much as I hate to give any praise to my former law-prof and current-Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, she diagnosed this problem almost a decade ago.  In The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke, she pointed out that the upper middle class drive for public schools that offer the same quality as prep schools drove up housing prices in certain areas, making it impossible for middle and working class families even to remain within the school district’s boundaries.  While Warren had the smarts to divine the problem, she’s so ideologically blinkered that she thinks government control and intervention is the solution.

Murray describes a lost American world in which the upper classes and upper middle classes sought to blend in, not to stand out.  They bought Buicks, not Cadillacs, because it was déclassé to flaunt ones wealth.  Nowadays, with stratospheric incomes propelled by information technology, you’re failing the new upper class if you don’t have the $100,000 Tesla.

Our children grow up untouched, not just by poverty, but by a connection to the blue-collar working class.  Many of the children in Marin have never met a parent who makes his living using his body (unless he’s a chichi personal trainer) as opposed to his brain.  I certainly know that’s the case for my little community.  I like to describe my delightful neighborhood as one populated by old people with young children.  This used to be a nice suburban working class neighborhood, with stay-at-home moms and blue collar or low-level white collar (i.e., teachers and clerks) dads.  Now it’s an expensive, upper class neighborhood where every adult has at least one degree, where all the fathers are professionals, and where the mothers were professionals before their income level gave them the luxury of staying home to raise their children.  All of us worked like the dickens in our 20s and 30s so that we could afford these homes in this top-flight school district for our late-in-life kids.

Popular culture has also divided.  As  I like to tell my kids, back in the 1940s, everybody listened to Bing Crosby and Benny Goodman, and in the 1950s, everybody watched I Love Lucy.  Now, our popular culture is divided up by 500 cable channels, God-alone-knows-how-many pop music charts, and movies targeted to micro-stratum demographics.  Murray saw this as a class issue, and I agree.  He pointed out that the audience before him watches Mad MenDownton Abbey, and Breaking Bad, while that other class is watching shows we don’t even know exist.  (Although I do know about Duck Dynasty and one day, if I can drag myself to the TV, a box I usually avoid, I  might watch it.)

I’m very aware of the pop culture chasm, of course, because I have kids.  My blogging means that I know everything my kids know, which is very fortunate.  I’m usually a step ahead of them, and can deconstruct Miley Cyrus or “I kissed a girl and I like it.”  They wouldn’t listen to me if I just concluded that it’s “nasty” or “inappropriate.”  They do listen to me because I can describe the behavior in detail and, in the same detail, explain why it’s destructive.  Most parents, of course, don’t have the freedom to be as informed as I am, and the children pay the price.  They grow up in a pop culture world where it’s not just that “anything goes,” it’s that anything that is base, demeaning, and immoral is elevated and emulated.

I do believe, though, that children are beginning to see through the noise of a sleazy, degrading pop culture, and they’re recognizing that, no matter how much they’re forced to read a second-rate, civil-rights-era play such as Raisin in the Sun, that they’re being lied to.  Whatever pathologies may be plaguing today’s black community, they understand that systemic institutional racism is no longer an issue., especially when there’s a black man in the White House.

In other words, the fact that the Left controls the discourse in the media and the schools, so that children get a monolithic Leftist world view, also means that the cognitive dissonance grows and grows.  In this way, we’ve become like the Soviet Union, where people became cynical as they looked at housing shortages and hunger while the government trumpeted the stunning success of whatever iteration of Stalin’s Five Year Plan happened to be in vogue that year.  Our children too are struggling with cognitive dissonance.  It’s a slow process, as I know personally, but a real one.

All in all, it was a very good lunch.  The meal was delicious (perfectly prepared chicken, wild mushrooms, and fruit tart), and the intellectual food was just as good.  If you live in the Bay Area, I strongly suggest that you get on the Pacific Research Institute (“PRI”) mailing list.  The speakers that PRI brings to San Francisco are always worth hearing.

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  • Charles Martel

    An ultra-liberal friend of mine tried her hand teaching English at a middle school in San Rafael. The district is heavily Latino from an influx of illegal immigrants, and all of the things you mentioned as bedeviling the remnant working class in white Marin were doubled or tripled in their effects on her Hispanic students.
    In a class of 30, seventh graders (12 and 13 years old), there were perhaps two students that listened to her, completed homework assignments, and got passing grades. The other kids were indifferent to education, refusing to work or pay attention, and daring her to discipline them because they knew that she would be labeled a racist (she’s white) if she tried.
    I wasn’t surprised that she ran into this. While some of her students were single-parent kids, the majority belonged to parents who a.) kept as low a profile as they could while b.) working at labor-intensive, dead-end jobs. To them, school was a babysitting service provided by a clueless gringo government that, if it was happy to give, they were happy to take. The topper, of course, was they c.) they were from a culture that traditionally disdains education, seeing it as the province of dandies and caudillos.
    As I told my friend, “Nothing surprising here.” But I couldn’t get her to see the cognitive dissonance in getting angry at parents for not showing up at parent-teacher meetings and not disciplining their children when when it was the extremist open-border politics that she and people like her advocate that had set up to whole sorry situation.
    She lasted a year. Her latest thing is tutoring older teens whose parents dragged them here illegally when they were very young. Apparently a one-on-one thing with a kid who actually can be bothered to study satisfies the twin need to teach while rescuing a dark-skinned person.

  • ami

    I almost never comment, although I’m reading.

    Has someone hijacked your blog? The links you’re posting (well quite a few of them) are… bizarre.
    One day last week there was a post that was nothing but a ton of hyperlinks.

    Just wondering.

    • Bookworm

      Thanks for the heads-up, ami. My blog was hijacked twice last week in the same way. My wonderful webmaster thought he’d fixed it, but those spammers are relentless. I’ve forwarded your comment to him, so we’ll see if we can stop this pernicious behavior.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Book, in all the years that I have known you, each new disclosure of and insight into your shift from Left to Right is like mind candy. Keep it coming.
    Hammer, well the Liberals did revel in a multicultural folk-fest society, forgetting that the values responsible for holding all their national cultures down (anti-intellectualism, classism, racism, nepotism, socialism, corruption, thievery, violence, etc.) in their own countries would now be transplanted to the U.S. How on earth could they have expected a different outcome? But then, bwana Liberals read a book and take a vacation to some 3rd World safari resort and, of course, they have those countries and peoples all figured out.
    In my neighborhood, I live with many immigrants from India and Russia whom I know to be fabulously wealthy and that pay little or no taxes (you also recognize them they tend to whip out rolls of Benjamins when they pay for their shopping). How do I know that? Because their kids get government-subsidize meals at the local upper-middle class schools. And why should they pay taxes? They certainly didn’t do so in their home countries and our society convinces them that they are victimized when they come here.

  • Matt_SE

    My parents (good, squishy establishment Republicans both) refuse to see that these people belong to another culture. They don’t believe the same things we do, or in the same way. In the bad old days, that sort of thing was fairly beaten out of immigrants as they were forced to assimilate. Not any more.
    The parents are convinced that immigration reform must happen. They base this mostly on feely, moral arguments. They are impervious to statistics that show immigrant Hispanics consume government services at disproportional rates and are a natural constituency for the left.
    God save us from friends like this.

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  • Ymarsakar

    Ami, I believe you are referring to the blue links in the original post? If so, those are advertisement links, different from the html links which have a different color. The advertisements are made using meta data collected from various sources, automatically generated based upon keyword. Book enabled this option instead of pop up whatevers, sometime ago.

  • Ymarsakar

    “He simply said, “She’s not one of us.””
    That guy, if I ever met him, might be surprised to realize I don’t consider him human. He’s not one of us. Humans have free will. Animals do as they are told, act on instinct, and Obey Authority. Tools kill whatever they are told to kill by the User. He’s not a user. He’s just a tool.
    How do you think he would react, Book?
    “Two-parent families are the glue that holds a community together.”
    Two parent families are only for aristocrats and slave owners. Do you think the slaves living on Democrat plantations in 1860 had two family households, Book? I recall that they were lucky enough not to be split apart completely and sold to different owners. Slaves, peasants… marriage? Ridiculous. The lower classes Need to Know Their Place.
    How do you think “he” would react to that, Book?
    “Now, our popular culture is divided up by 500 cable channels, God-alone-knows-how-many pop music charts, and movies targeted to micro-stratum demographics.”
    They don’t exist to me. It’s like I live in the wilderness, no electronic communication, meditating under the waterfall when I please. What’s the trick? Avoiding using the English language. Even on the internet, Leftist propaganda can’t touch you if they can’t speak or write the language. It also helps when they (artists) are human and not bots.
    “They grow up in a pop culture world where it’s not just that “anything goes,” it’s that anything that is base, demeaning, and immoral is elevated and emulated.”
    Parents that think this is all unintentional, a mistake, or if only people could see the harm they would change, will not be able to face the problem. Without seeing the problem and recognizing it for what it is, they have no chance of victory in battle. They will always be defeated. They think they’re fighting a war that they had already lost 500 years ago. They can’t see the battlefield in front of them or how it has changed. They can’t react to troop movements or enemy breakthroughs. They don’t see them. You can’t catch a ball someone threw at your face to hit you, if you CLOSE YOUR EYES. Right?
    Also parents that are stressed and untrained, will often default to authority and use of force (punishment). This merely creates another generation of slave cannonfodder and Obedient Stormtroopers ‘following orders’. They may grow up and come to hate following your orders, but they’ll still be following the Left’s orders.
    “they understand that systemic institutional racism is no longer an issue”
    The system is run by Democrats. It exists because it has existed since the old days. What they have wrong is merely who owned it.

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  • jj

    The popular culture comment is interesting, and it was interesting to be part of it while it happened.  The splintering of communications and the interference with and therefore (in some sense) ‘control’ of same by the government has a lot to do with it.  The weird and uniquely American part of it is that generally when governments interfere they do so in the interests of greater control and a more determined effort at fostering – or imposing – unity: here in America we go in for divisions and tearing down the unifying ‘base’ culture.  Strange.
    Television, initially a cultural unifier, was once – and not that long ago – pretty scarce.  Up until the advent of cable in the 1970s, the most saturated markets were places like New York (actually I think New York was the most saturated market), which had a whopping seven channels.  And that genuinely was whopping: a whole hell of a lot of the country had only one channel they could pick up clearly enough to actually watch and make sense of, and a whole lot more places had only two.  Being able to pick up all three networks was, outside of cities, pretty rare.  If you got all three, you were styling.  The New York area, with seven clearly watchable channels, well – that was crazy!  Seven channels?  Holy cow!
    This was, by the way, why network news at all three networks came to be interchangeable.  Providing news was the basis of your license to use the airwaves.  The FCC would wonder what the hell was going on if people who lived in locales where all they had was CBS got completely different information than those who lived somewhere where they got nothing but ABC.  This obviously led to a certain uniformity: you couldn’t get too far away from actual straight reportage or the phone might ring.  The red phone.  Uh-oh…
    Everybody (everybody who could: you had to be able to pick up that network’s signal, don’t forget) watched basically the same shows.  Everybody watched Ed Sullivan.  (In a nation of fewer than 200 million people, 50 million households – comprising God only knew how many of those individual people – watched him on an average Sunday.  That was probably everybody in the country who could readily get CBS.  (When the Beatles showed up, he got 79 million households.  Probably half – literally half – the country watched.)  All over the country, at 11:30 at night, 20 million people watched Johnny Carson’s monologue.  (You folks on the west coast were watching it from the day before, which most of you probably didn’t realize.  On Mondays you watched the show from the previous Friday.  It was taped, the tape was physically shipped west.  It wasn’t until 1967 that everybody in the country was watching the same show.)  This was an enormous unifying force in the country.  (Nowadays, let us remember, Leno dominates late night, with an audience of under four million.  Carson would have been pulled off the air with numbers like that.  The show would have been deemed a flop.)  Everybody who could (except me, I always thought she was stupid, not funny) watched Lucy, and everybody (again, except me, same reason) watched Milton Berle.  (I watched Bud and Lou.)
    And then, because of all those areas of spotty coverage, which included a lot of the west, and the entire mountain region of the east  (which runs from Georgia to the Canadian border, as many people seem not to know) along came a new delivery system: cable.  That’s all it was, a delivery system.  It was thought up purely as a means of getting the holes in the map – and there were a ton of them – a watchable signal.  (Half of Long Island, within a hundred miles of New York City, couldn’t pick up New York TV.)  There were a lot of holes.  Cable wasn’t going to add anything, it was just going to deliver the signals that existed.
    Ho, ho, ho.  They got a bunch of money and a bunch of exemptions from various and sundry rules in order to get them off the ground.  It’s expensive as hell, don’t’cha’know, to wire the whole country.  Come on – we need a little help!  Okay, have some stimulus grant money.  Gotta make it fair.  And to pay it off, along with charging for the service you can sell commercials.  ‘Wait a second,’ said the networks, ‘you’re giving them grants, you’re letting them charge for the service, and now you’re gonna let them sell commercials too?  That wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal!’  And it wasn’t.  Cable was never supposed to be able to sell commercial time, because selling commercials is the only revenue stream that exists for the over-the-air broadcasters.  It’s all they have.  Cable was never supposed to sell time – they didn’t have any time to sell: they were just a delivery system – and they were supposed to live on what they charged you every month for the hookup, and what they charged you for special events.  ‘Okay,’ said the government to the networks, ‘you’re right, and we’ll only let them sell air time for, say five years.  Because it’s expensive, wiring the whole country, and to be fair we have to give them a hand getting up.  A temporary measure.’  Well, let’s see…. the ‘temporary measure,’ like most government ‘temporary measures’ has been going on for how many decades now?  (Again, most people never knew that as originally mooted the movie channels were free.  Part of the deal, or as we’d say these days, part of basic.  You paid your monthly fee and got ’em all – there was no premium above and beyond the basic monthly charge.  Ho, ho, ho.
    And then, inevitably, because they were only able to bite just so far into the networks ad time, people began to appear to exploit all that unused capacity, and channels that were never on the air – whole networks unique to cable – began to appear.  Now, people didn’t want a lot of these channels, because watching Billy Bob and Mort go to church every night of the week, or demonstrate Withlacoochee River fly tying and fishing doesn’t have much appeal for most of the nation.  Certainly it’s not anything anybody would pay for – I’d say I’ve never once looked at two-thirds of what’s on my satellite system – so what do you do?  You bundle the goddam things, and make it so anybody that wants whatever major channels you threw into the bundle has to watch Billy and Mort – or at least have them available.  What does this do?  Ad revenue, is what it does.  The cable system can go to advertisers and tell them they added another ‘service’ (they’re ‘services,’ not ‘channels’), the Billy and Mort channel.  And the Billy and Mort channel is in 197 million households!
    And it is!  (This is worthy of a separate paragraph.)  See, along with the other breaks, the government allows cable to BS like you never would have thought of about their audience numbers.  Over-the-air has to count (or extrapolate from a sample to get to, using recognized statistical sampling methodology) the number of sets that are actually tuned to a channel.  Cable doesn’t!  All cable has to say is: ‘this signal gets into 92 cable systems, which translates to 185 million viewers!  Wow!’  Woe betide the advertiser who tries to point out that because the signal gets there doesn’t mean anybody’s watching.  That’s reality, but nobody cares, but this is government regulations: nobody cares about that!  The government allows them to count penetration as audience because, y’know, it’s really expensive to wire the whole country and then maintain all those miles of wire; gotta be fair!  (All those ‘temporary’ advantages that were due to expire decades ago just roll along…)
    So yeah, the audience is splintered beyond belief.  Any culturally unifying possibilities of television vanished with Bill Cosby, twenty years ago.  Now television pulls us apart.  It has been suggested – numerous times, hundreds of times, maybe thousands – that congress rise up off its ass and knock off the ‘bundling,’ just let people pay for the individual channels they actually want as a means of (a) finding out what they in fact do like; and (b) getting the crap nobody wants off the dial.  But it isn’t likely.  That’s all revenue, you see.  And there probably are some people for every idiot freak-show out there.  We didn’t used to care so much about them, but now that we’re all politically correct multi-culti automatons, it’s okay for cable providers to rob and lie to us.  What the hell, the government does.  And what was once the uniquely American culture dissolves a little further, every day.  A really big hit on the box nowadays gets what?  A little over ten percent of the population?  Not much unifying going on there.  Half my tuner’s in various foreign languages, not even English.  The radio and early TV used to teach immigrants English – no more.  And another little piece of cultural unity vanishes.

  • Gringo

    One day last week there was a post that was nothing but a ton of hyperlinks.
    Ami, I believe you are referring to the blue links in the original post? If so, those are advertisement links, different from the html links which have a different color. The advertisements are made using meta data collected from various sources, automatically generated based upon keyword. Book enabled this option instead of pop up whatevers, sometime ago.
    Several times in the last 6 months I have seen my web viewing invaded by those infamous blue links, which as Ymarsakar points out, are generated by keyword. They did not appear on only one website, but on a number of them- though probably not on every website I visited. The solution I found was to uninstall Firefox, and reinstall it without keeping any of the old settings. Which means I needed to keep bookmarks on a separate doc, and remember what I wanted to keep from the old setup. Yes, I had Firefox set to block ads and popups. But that didn’t forever stop the infamous blue links. Only uninstalling and reinstalling worked.
    It takes 5-10 minutes, but is worth the loss of aggravation.

  • Ymarsakar

    “The solution I found was to uninstall Firefox, and reinstall it without keeping any of the old settings.”
    Ah yes. Sometimes malware or “internet toolbars” automatically install with this in mind, to collect metadata or free advertisement propagation. Of course, I don’t like installing mal/spy ware or use third party tools that have dubious functionality. One reason I don’t talk to Democrats if I can help it.

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  • bizcor

    JJ #16  you are spot on with your comment. I lived on mountian Iin Maine. In the summer we lived on one side and got channel 8. In winter we lived on the other side and got channel 5. 8 was ABC only. 5 some how was able to air shows from both CBS and ABC. then one day cable came to town and we could get all three network Wow. I didn’t Love Lucy either but was one of 73 million watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Walter Cronkite told me the news of the day. Donna Reed vacuumed in dress and Ronald Reagan hosted Death Valley Days. Anyway I can attest to what you posted. I grew up pre cable and worked in broadcast radio as cable grew from a delivery system into the behemoth it is today. Years ago I heard there would be 800 plus channels.  No way I said. Way!

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  • Jose

    First let me say I always find your comments and insight into media interesting.
    And I also remember when cable was touted as being commercial free.  I get still get irritated over all the advertising I am paying to watch on satellite.
    20 years ago my wife worked for the cable company in a midwest town of approx 20,000.  The cable company was universally despised, and the city threatened to cancel it’s contract.  But at the company Christmas party management gleefully announced that the contract had reluctantly been renewed.  No one else was interested in rewiring the whole town.
    As to the original theme of Bookworms post, the fragmenting of our society is returning us to a tribal environment.  If allowed to go far enough, we will have as much infighting as Iraq, unless we end up with strong central government, like Russia.

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