Blogging is already kind of one big intellectual circle jerk that instead of happening around a circular seminar table a la Sarah Lawrence happens in plain view of an addicted public via the interwebs. I’m a mostly non-participatory observer but I initially wrote this post as a comment here in response to a almost, kind of fair critique of blogger Matthew Yglesias, whom I have lots of respect for. And this post from Dylan Matthews has had me thinking as well and worms its way in here although I think putting N+1 writer Mark Greif in the same intellectual ghetto (or penthouse?) as Fredric Jameson is a bit off ( To his credit Dylan at some point said this essay on full employment that appeared in that very same magazine is great, which it is.)

Anyway, I actually think this is a far better critique than the one posted later that Yglesias linked to, probably because he suspected that his readers would read that one and reflexively defend him. But whatever, that doesn’t matter very much in the end. It seems like it would be equally as useful to wonder aloud why so many readers find his brand of pseudo-academic/econ-lite commentary so compelling. His blogger buddy Dylan Matthews, who is a pretty sharp guy, likes to talk shit about academics (who are a truly worthy target) and says that bloggers offer more to the public debate by debating intelligently things that actually matter not, for instance, the nuances of post-1960s Marxian debates on subjectivity and the author function, which is a pretty irrefutable point. But, I think its also worth talking about the idea that Yglesias is a product of a pretty complacent America where the have-nots are so disempowered yet simultaneously well-fed that radical social change has become all but impossible. I have no idea what it would take to politically mobilize poor people but I can promise you that our country would be vastly different if anyone ever did (not like some Marxist utopia but different).

The problem is Yglesias likes ideas that are radical only within the context of a general non-critical acceptance that the free-market is the most effective way to organize an economy with occasional hardly intrusive government interventions when greed and avarice have really fucked shit up. This can be read as a tacit acceptance of the hierarchical organization of society implicit in any market-based economy. Yglesias is part of a cadre of liberal, well-to-do-gooders  who recognize that poverty and lots of people being poor is obviously a bad thing, still also believe pretty strongly in their own not so latent superiority which not only licenses their tendency to patronizingly tell people how to live their lives but also helps them believe pretty unswervingly in the power of credentialed expertise, i.e. degrees from Harvard, etc (full disclosure: I possess a ‘peer institution’).  Anyway, buying into the idea that at a fundamental if maybe unconscious level his BA from Harvard doesn’t make him better than you would be a pretty radical concept not just to him but to most in his cohort and one he and many other elites have been pretty strongly inoculated against from their early childhoods and I say this all being one of them. It seems your real issue is the underlying elitism that Yglesias seems to always be struggling with and a problem contemporary liberalism struggles with in general despite its fealty to policies that advance a progressive agenda.

I don’t really have an answer to the question but I still like Yglesias. He seems genuinely sympathetic to the cause of those less fortunate than him even if their concerns remain fairly remote to his sometimes anodyne and seemingly everyday assertions. I don’t think it makes him an authoritarian as Susan from Texas insists, it just makes him someone who grew up more appreciative and less suspicious of hierarchies of all kinds, whether intellectual, financial or otherwise. I think most of us are guilty of that and it took several humbling experiences for me to come to terms with it, if I truly have. Being better educated doesn’t make you better than people and doesn’t mean that you deserve your obscene wealth if you are fortunate to have it (I use obscene liberally here). That said, here are the guys at A Tiny Revolution:

The Rich: Should We Kill and Eat Them?

In the past, I have opposed killing and eating the rich. This is because on any kind of rational world scale, I am part of the rich.

More recently, however, I’ve been on the fence. People like Todd Henderson (Stutts ’93) and Ben Stein (Stutts ’66, Stutts Law ’70) make me wonder whether we need to do it, even if I myself end up consumed in the ensuing orgy of cannibalism.

In fact, just one thing keeps me from endorsing this wholeheartedly. And it certainly isn’t the character of our rich—the people who run the U.S., like Henderson and Stein, are mind-numbingly brutal, cruel and stupid, and will surely destroy us all unless they’re stopped.

The problem is that the people who run America, and every other country on earth, have almost always been mind-numbingly brutal, cruel and stupid. Even the ones who aren’t (in Sweden, maybe?) are no prize.

For instance, take a look at the below scene from the documentary Our Brand in Crisis. In it, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a rich white presidential candidate in Bolivia, talks with his rich white acquaintances at a campaign event in the garden of his home. Everything about it could have happened in any number of countries in history—because elites aren’t just always brutal, cruel and stupid, they’re brutal, cruel and stupid in exactly the same ways. A demagogue has somehow illegitimately gained support among the poor! The poor are massing at the gates and about to attack us!

This leads me to believe the problem isn’t one of bad individuals, but bad systems—and that these bad systems, since they’re almost universal in human history, grow out of some aspect of human nature. Hence, eating the people at the top won’t change much for very long. We’ll just have to eat a new crop a few years later.

So what we need to do is figure out a system that leans against negative human tendencies, and accentuates positive ones. Killing and eating the rich probably won’t get us anywhere. I just wish Todd Henderson and Ben Stein would stop making themselves look so very, very delicious.

This is probably uneven and has typos. My apologies.


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