I’ve been thinking about the psychological roots of the anger between the two parties.
It’s not simply political, that’s clear. It’s ethnic, demographic, geographical and many other things that have been explored by a lot of people.
One element that hasn’t attracted that much attention though is one that’s always struck me quite strongly – the anger directed toward people with Ivy League or elite school educations by those who attended humbler schools. The “cows and the ivies” is where some of the class-warfare of today is played out.
We hear a lot about how the poor and middle-class envy the rich, but I’m not thoroughly convinced by the thesis. Most of the people I’ve talked to seem to admire the rich in the most uncritical sort of way. They ape their life styles as best they can. And they ascribe to rich people all sorts of virtues they think they lack themselves, when in point of fact, great wealth (I’m talking about tens of millions and more) is usually the result of many other things besides hard work and skill. It also takes luck, contacts, and some money to start with. It takes a certain kind of personality – a not very admirable one, often. Everyone knows Balzac’s line about there being no great fortune without a crime behind it..
The truth is money alone doesn’t confer enough status to provoke envy. Who envies a rich garbage man? No one.
And no one envies bankers these days, no matter that they keep making money. They’ve lost their status. It’s status that provokes envy.
And today, the most obvious and common insignia of status is graduating from an elite school. The left side of the political spectrum is associated, rightly or wrongly, with the high status universities – with Ivies like Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Wellesley – as well as with all the other universities, which, though not Ivy, are considered elite, such as, Brown, Columbia, Duke, Chicago, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, or Wellesley. Cornell.
On the elite list are also some public universities, like Berkeley, and a couple of more conservative schools, like Chicago and Dartmouth.
But, in general, the elite schools are associated with liberal-left politics and with internationalism. The cow-colleges (and we’re fond of cows ourselves) have become the terrain of a kind of chip-on-the-shoulder nationalism and conservatism (of course, I’m simplifying this terribly).
This leads to a lot of hilarious posturing by the cow crowd – about effete elites (read Boston Brahmins, Jews), decadence (not sure what that’s supposed to mean – perhaps feminists and homosexuals?), affirmative action (read, Hispanics and Blacks) etc. etc. – although by and large these schools are as – or more – likely to have middle-class students than the state universities. And though affirmative action – if one were to include women and legacy students – surely benefited whites far more than it ever did non-whites.
I recently came across an example of this envy in a bit of resume-massaging. Someone who studied at a locally respectable state university (Georgia State), was a very mediocre student (C’s and low B’s), and then paid for a year’s study at Oxford – or was it at Heidelberg? (something anyone with money can do), inverted the order of their studies on their resume thus:
“Studied politics at Oxford and at Georgia State…”
This mean little ruse gives the false impression that the student was admitted competitively to the rigorously selective undergraduate program at Oxford – an academic achievement of a much higher caliber than mere attendance.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the Georgia State student might not be smart or might not do very well in life. He might. But the deception betrays a certain envy – the same envy that, unfortunately, I detect in some of the populist hatred of liberal “elites.”
I say that objectively, since I’ve no great love for those elites myself. But I have even less love for the anti-intellectualism of some parts of the right. For its open contempt for scholarship, intellectual striving, cosmopolitan sympathies, and international standards – things that to me are the essence of decent liberalism.
That’s the kind of liberalism with which I have no quarrel, no matter if its politics differs from mine. No matter if it embraces the state more than I do. I am any day closer to that liberalism than to the yahoo know-nothing right.
And, as always, the ever insightful – if often spiteful – Anne Coulter manages to find an example of the envy I’m talking about not in a conservative, but in the kind of liberal I don’t like – Keith Olberman.
“Finally, you can stop pretending that you went to the hard-to-get-into Cornell.
Now you won’t have to quickly change the subject whenever people idly remark that they didn’t know it was possible to major in “communications” at an Ivy League school. No longer will you have to aggressively bring up Cornell when it has nothing to do with the conversation. Relax, Keith. Now you can let people like you for you.”
That’s on Olbermann’s constant derision of cow-college graduates and his name-dropping about the “Ivy” he went to, when he actually studied “communications” at the agricultural school affiliated to Cornell.
Update: Correction. Cornell contradicts Anne Coulter’s description of Olbermann’s alma mater.
Here is a latter written to someone who asked about the criticism:
Many people have contacted us about the false and negative statements about Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences being made by Ann Coulter in the media recently.
Cornell as a whole–and all of its colleges–are considered “Ivy League.” The term “Ivy League” was initially used by sportswriters, and became the official name in 1954 of the NCAA Division I athletic conference to which Cornell belongs. The “Ancient Eight” are Cornell, Princeton, Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, and Harvard. Additionally, CALS admits 1 out of every 5 applicants, as does the College of Arts & Sciences.
Please feel free to watch Mr. Olbermann’s response on his Countdown show at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/vp/29539156#29539156
Thank you for your concern about the College.
Web Communications Specialist
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Apologies. Ms. Coulter was apparently off-base on that. Hmm. Why am I not surprised? But her larger point stands, I believe.