I hate pretentious people. A lot. I think I sometimes come across as aloof, but I’d much rather be reserved than like this woman. I really think that, in order to be allowed to patronize service businesses, customers should be required to work in them – nothing extreme, just a couple of months every few years. Just to remind us what it’s like to be on the ass-end of society.
I sometimes have a hard time reconciling American culture today with how it once was – or at least, with what Tocqueville suggests it was. We’ve made tremendous strides toward genuine egalitarianism (welcome to the club, women and non-whites) while… largely throwing away our egalitarianism. We went from “village lawyers, men in trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society” populating the House of Representatives to a bunch of people whose mean wealth is something like $4 million. Our idols (but I guess not Idols) are elites; we envy their houses and yachts; and we think it’s cool when they’re honored by some crusty old monarch from a nation we once fought because of its monarchy. Of course we all still pay lipservice to the honor of work – never more evident than during a presidential campaign – but when a Senator, former First Lady, and once-plausible presidential candidate can get away with accusing economists of being elites… well, this is part of the reason why I’m wary of attitudes research.
Two of my favorite things to teach in Intro are relative deprivation and reference groups – they’re easy concepts for Americans to grasp, because we live in a tremendously stratified world. I think that has a lot to do with the loss of egalitarianism in the US. In agrarian post-colonial America, a white male didn’t have to look too far up to see presidents or too far down to see beggars. In 21st century post-industrial America, even elites like economists (and other assorted social scientists…) can strain their necks looking at the top. It’s much easier to think of those at the top as something completely unlike ourselves. Something of higher caliber. Something… noble.
But I have hope. Because there is an amendment in the works – the Titles of Nobility Amendment – that will automatically revoke the citizenship of any American who accepts a title of nobility from a foreign nation. Yes, it’s largely symbolic, but the fact that twelve state legislatures have ratified the TONA makes me feel a little better about Americans’ attitudes toward the elite. God willing, the Countess will suddenly find herself without a country and caught in some awful Tom Hanks movie, spending the rest of her life in an airport being treated like a non-entity by everyone she meets.
C’mon, TONA! Only 26 states left to go! You’ve lost a little momentum since that last ratification in 1814, but you can do it!