Staying Classy

Siderea writes an essay on class in America. You should read it. In case you don’t, here’s the summary:

1. People tend to confuse social class with economic class, eg how much money you make. But social class is a more complicated idea involving how respectable you seem, how educated you are, and what kind of family you come from. An assembly line supervisor might make the same amount of money as a schoolteacher, but the schoolteacher would probably seem more refined and be able to access better social circles.

2. Classes are cultures. People in a certain class have their own way of dressing, speaking, decorating, and behaving. They have distinctive ideas and values. This is why a lower-class person cannot simply claim to be upper-class and so gain all the benefits of upper-class-hood; it would be as hard as trying to pass for Japanese. Lower-class people can learn their way around upper-class culture, but it’s a difficult and lifelong project done most easily if you already have upper-class resources.

3. Talking about class is taboo because we like to believe we’re a classless society. We talk about income instead and pretend it’s class. Class breaks through in a couple of phrases like “rednecks” or “white trash” or “white collar” or “coastal elites”, but people use the phrases without usually having a broader idea that it’s class they’re talking about.

4. Class prejudice is complicated. It combines the practical superiority of being upper-class to being lower-class (because you have more money and opportunity) with the very dubious value judgment that upper-class culture is superior to lower-class culture, or that lower-class culture is just people trying to do upper-class culture but failing. But lower-class people like lower-class culture and generally do not want to adopt upper-class culture, except insofar as it’s necessary to advance. Analogies to race and assimilation are obvious.

5. People mostly understand their own class, and the class one step above or below them, but have only vague stereotypes of classes further than that. This limits social mobility; you can’t join what you can’t understand.

6. College is a finishing school for the upper classes. They send their children there to learn the proper upper class values and behaviors. Even if community college does a great job teaching whatever trades it teaches, it will not teach you how to be a part of the upper class, and this will seriously limit your opportunities.

7. Politically, the left pretends class doesn’t exist; the right talks about it, but only to yell at the underclass and say that their culture is wrong. Race is really complicated and will be left out of this analysis.

I notice Siderea is a psychotherapist, which doesn’t surprise me. We in mental health get a pretty good cross-sectional exposure of everybody and get to hear about their lives, and with enough data points the structure comes into sharper relief.

Just to give an example: suppose a lady comes in with really over-permed dyed curly hair wearing several rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Her name is Sherri and she calls you “darling”; she’s also carrying her lunch, which is KFC plus a Big Gulp. Without knowing anything else about her, you can peg her as working class. Maybe she won the lottery ten years ago and is now the richest person in your state. It doesn’t matter. She’s still working class.

Or suppose a thin 25-year-old man comes in wearing glasses, a small close-cropped beard, and a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. His name is Alex and he apologizes for being three minutes late. This guy is probably middle-to-upper-middle-class and college educated, maybe not a great college but still college-educated. And maybe he’s fallen on hard times and doesn’t have a dollar to his name. It still doesn’t matter. He’s still middle-to-upper-middle class.

And you start to learn you can predict things about these people, the concerns they’re going to have, the kind of things that happen to them. Who their friends are. How they relate to their friends: Sherri will expound upon the flaws of every single one of her ungrateful coworkers; Alex will reluctantly say he went through a tough breakup a year or two ago. What kind of drugs they abuse, if they abuse drugs (maybe Sherri has smoking and drinking problems; Alex has probably tried marijuana and LSD but is embarrassed to say so).

But this kind of innate stereotyping is different than a formal taxonomy. Siderea links to Michael Church’s attempt to explain what the classes actually are. This is another piece you should read, but again in case you don’t:

1. 10% of people are in an underclass consisting of “generationally poor” people who may never have held jobs and who come from similarly poor families.

2. 65% of people are in the labor class. They work jobs where labor is seen as a commodity, ie there’s not as much sense of career capital or reputation. They base virtue and success around Hard Work. Its lower levels are minimum wage McJobs, its middle levels are assembly line work, and its higher levels are things like pilots, plumbers, and small business owners. The stratospheric semi-divine level is “celebrities” like reality TV stars who become fabulously rich and famous while sticking to their labor class roots.

3. 23.5% of people are in the gentry class. They fetishize education and career capital. They engage in all sorts of signaling games around “fair trade” and “organic” and what museums they go to. At the lower level they’re schoolteachers and starving artists, at the mid level they’re “professions” like engineering and law, and at the highest level they’re professors and scientists and entrepreneurs. The stratospheric semi-divine level is “cultural influencers” like Jon Stewart or Steven Pinker who become famous and (maybe) rich while sticking to their gentry class roots.

4. 1.5% of people are in the elite class. Although you can be borderline-elite by getting a job in finance and making a few million, the real elite are born into money and don’t work unless they want to. Occasionally they’ll sit on a board or found a philanthropic association or something. They don’t believe in “professional achievement” because working is lower-class; they might compete in complicated status games around who throws the best parties or has the best horses or whatever.

5. The highest class (E1) are psychopaths who burn the global commons for shits and giggles. They tend to be drug lords, arms dealers, and morally insane billionaires. Most famous politicians and businesspeople are not in this class and most people in this class are not famous.

6. The three main classes (labor, gentry, and elite) are three different ‘infrastructures’. To be in labor you need skills, to be in gentry you need education, and to be in elite you need connections. There’s no strict hierarchy (eg not all gentry are above all labor), but you can picture them as offset ladders, with the lower gentry being at the same rung as the higher labor and so on.

7. The Elite control everything; the constant threat is that Gentry and Labor will unite against them, which might very well work. The Elite neutralize this threat by making Labor hate Gentry as “effeminate” or “pretentious”; they also convince Labor that the Gentry are probably secretly in cahoots with the underclass against Labor. Elites also convince Labor that Elites don’t exist and it’s Gentry all the way up, which means that “anti-1%” sentiment, which should properly get Labor and Gentry to cooperate against the Elites, instead makes Gentry hate the Elites but Labor hate Gentry. Politics boils down to Gentry being good people trying to improve things, and Elite conning Labor into hating Gentry to prevent things from being improved.

8. While all classes can have good and bad people (except E1, which is wholly bad), Elites have a generally negative influence on society, and Gentry are generally positive. After the World Wars, everybody got angry at the Elites for all the war and killing and stuff, which convinced them to lie low for a few decades and forced the Gentry to take over. This was why the country did so well during the 50s and 60s. Whether the country goes in a good or bad direction now depends on whether the Elites manage to take it back or not. One reason Silicon Valley works (used to work?) so unusually well was that it was mostly a native project of the Gentry that hadn’t yet been infiltrated by the Elites.

Reaction to Church on the subreddit was pretty negative, but I find it at least a good nucleus for further discussion. The Gentry/Labor distinction is glaringly obvious. The Labor/Underclass distinction also seems glaringly obvious to me, if only because Labor hates the underclass. The Gentry/Elite distinction doesn’t seem glaringly obvious to me, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t met enough elites. In particular, Church’s “E1” seems caricatured and out-of-place in his otherwise sober analysis. Then again, if those people existed I probably wouldn’t know anyway. Then again, the rest of Church’s blog suggests some paranoid tendencies, so maybe the E1 entry is just those coming out.

Siderea notes that Church’s analysis independently reached about the same conclusion as Paul Fussell’s famous guide. I’m not entirely sure how you’d judge this (everybody’s going to include lower, middle, and upper classes), but eyeballing Fussell it does look a lot like Church, so let’s grant this.

It also doesn’t sound too different from Marx. Elites sound like capitalists, Gentry like bourgeoisie, Labor like the proletariat, and the Underclass like the lumpenproletariat. Or maybe I’m making up patterns where they don’t exist; why should the class system of 21st century America be the same as that of 19th century industrial Europe?

There’s one more discussion of class I remember being influenced by, and that’s Unqualified Reservations’ Castes of the United States. Another one that you should read but that I’ll summarize in case you don’t:

1. Dalits are the underclass, made up of homeless people, chronically unemployed people, drug addicts, etc. They tend to have a lot of trouble with the law, go in and out of jail, never really hold down stable employment. Status is “street cred” that you get from being powerful, wealthy, and sexually successful, eg gang leaders.

2. Vaisyas are standard middle-class people who engage in productive employment. They tend to form nuclear families and try to go to church. Status is having a stable job, a stable family, and being well-liked in your church or social club.

3. Brahmins are very educated people who participate in the world of ideas. They range from doctors and lawyers to artists and professors. Access is conferred by top-tier university education. Status is from conspicuous engagement in progressive politics, eg being an activist, working for an NGO, “campaigning for justice”. They are “the ruling class”.

4. Optimates are very rich WASPs concerned with breeding and old money. Status comes from breeding and an antiquated idea of “nobility”. Optimates used to be “the ruling class”, but now they’re either extinct or endangered, having been pretty much absorbed into the Brahmins.

5. Mentioned elsewhere in the UR corpus: politics boils down to Vaisyas being basically decent people trying to lead normal productive lives, and Brahmins trying to create a vast tentacled monstrosity of useless bureaucrats and petty enforcers of ideological conformity to employ Brahmins in the “knowledge work” they feel entitled to and to protect their interests. Silicon Valley is (used to be?) unusually functional because it maintained some Vaisya values separate from the corrupting influence of the Brahmins.

Michael Church’s system (henceforth MC) and the Unqualified Reservation system (henceforth UR) are similar in some ways. MC’s Underclass matches Dalits, MC’s Labor matches Vaisyas, MC’s Gentry matches Brahmins, and MC’s Elite matches Optimates. This is a promising start. It’s a fourth independent pair of eyes that’s found the same thing as all the others. (commenters bring up Joel Kotkin and Archdruid Report as similar convergent perspectives).

But there are also some profound differences. UR says that the Elites are mostly gone, that everything’s ruled by the Gentry nowadays, and that the Gentry are allying with the criminal Underclass against Labor. MC mentions this same picture, but only as the false facade that the Elites are trying to get everyone else to believe in order to keep them divided.

You could reconcile some of the differences by supposing the two models have different cutoffs. Suppose we rank people from 0 (lowest underclass) to 100 (highest elite). Maybe MC draws the Labor/Gentry and Gentry/Elite borders at 40 and 70 respectively, and UR draws the Vaisya/Brahmin and Brahmin/Optimate borders at 60 and 90. If the world’s being run by 80s, MC could be right to say it’s run by Elites and not Gentry, and UR could be right in saying it’s run by Brahmins and not Optimates. If Silicon Valley is run by 55s but being ruined by 75s, MC could say it’s run by Gentry but ruined by elites, and UR could say it’s run by Vaisyas but ruined by Brahmins. But if there’s this much variability in class boundaries, what’s the point in even drawing them in the first place?

But I think the differences are real and political: MC comes from a liberal perspective, UR from a conservative one. MC wants to locate the source of the cancer in the (mostly plutocrat) Elites, cast the (mostly liberal) Gentry as wonderful people who can do no wrong, cast the (mostly conservative) Labor as deluded and paranoid, and cast the (liberal-aligned) Underclass in a sympathetic light. UR wants to locate the source of the cancer in the (mostly liberal) Brahmins, cast the (mostly conservative) Labor as decent salt-of-the-Earth types under threat from the elite, and cast the (liberal-aligned) Underclass in an unsympathetic light.

And the political angle evokes one more system worth adding here: my own discussion of the Blue Tribe vs. the Red Tribe in I Can Tolerate Anything But The Outgroup. I point out that the group sometimes referred to as “coastal liberals” or “SWPL” and so on are marked not only by Democratic Party beliefs, but by a host of cultural similarities including food, dress, music, hobbies, religion, values, art, etc. Likewise, the group sometimes referred to as “rednecks” or “fundies” and so on are marked not only by Republican Party beliefs, but by a similar set of cultural similarities. I call these the “Blue Tribe” and the “Red Tribe” as an attempt to distinguish them as cultures and not just as sets of political beliefs.

These tribes seem closely related to classes. “Blue Tribe” is similar to Gentry; “Red Tribe” is similar to Labor. I won’t say there’s a perfect 1:1 equivalence; for example, I know some union leaders who are very clearly in the Labor class but who wouldn’t be caught dead in the Red Tribe. But the resemblance is too close to miss.

Some final scattered thoughts:

1. All those studies that analyze whether some variable or other affects income? They’d all be much more interesting if they analyzed the effect on class instead. For example, there’s a surprisingly low correlation between your parents’ income and your own income, which sounds like it means there’s high social mobility. But I grew up in a Gentry class family; I became a doctor, my brother became a musician, and my cousin got a law degree but eventually decided to work very irregularly and mostly stay home raising her children. I make more money than my brother, and we both make more money than my cousin, but this is not a victory for social mobility and family non-determinism; it’s no coincidence none of us ended up as farmers or factory workers. We all ended up Gentry class, but I chose something closer to the maximize-income part of the Gentry class tradeoff space, my brother chose something closer to the maximize-creativity part, and my cousin chose to raise the next generation. Any studies that interpret our income difference as an outcome difference and tries to analyze what factors gave me a leg up over my relatives (better schools? more breastfeeding as a child?) are stupid and will come up with random noise. We all got approximately the same level of success/opportunity, and those things just happen to be very poorly measured by money. If we could somehow collapse the entirety of tradeoffspace into a single variable, I bet it would have a far greater parent-child correlation than income does. This is part of why I don’t follow the people who take the modest effect of IQ on income as a sign that IQ doesn’t change your opportunities much; maybe everyone in my family has similar IQs but wildly different income levels, and there’s your merely modest IQ/income relationship right there. I think some studies (especially in Britain) have tried analyzing class and gotten some gains over analyzing income, but I don’t know much about this.

2. I think Siderea is right that the Right thinks in social class terms more naturally than the Left. To oversimplify, both sides use class warfare, but the Left’s class warfare is economic (“the plutocrat billionaires are ruining everything!”) and the Right’s class warfare is social (“the media and academic elites are ruining everything!”).

3. Closely related: Donald Trump appeals to a lot of people because despite his immense wealth he practically glows with signs of being Labor class. This isn’t surprising; his grandfather was a barber and his father clawed his way up to the top by getting his hands dirty. He himself went to a medium-tier college and is probably closer in spirit to the small-business owners of the upper Labor class than to the Stanford MBA-holding executives of the Elite. Trump loves and participates in professional wrestling and reality television; those definitely aren’t Gentry or Elites pastimes! When liberals shake their heads wondering why Joe Sixpack feels like Trump is a kindred soul even though Trump’s been a billionaire his whole life, they’re falling into the liberal habit of sorting people by wealth instead of by class. To Joe Sixpack, Trump is “local boy made good”.

4. The thesis of “I Can Tolerate Anything But The Outgroup” simplifies to “It is a Gentry-class tradition to sweep aside all prejudices except class prejudice, which must be held with the intensity of all the old prejudices combined.”

5. But “I Can Tolerate Anything But The Outgroup”‘s Grey Tribe sits uneasy within this system. It doesn’t seem to be a class. But it also seems distinctly different from ordinary Gentry norms. And what about minorities? What about the differences between farmers vs. factory workers? If different classes are equivalent to different cultures, well, there are a lot of different cultures that don’t fit easily into the hierarchy. Maybe class is one factor among many that can create a different culture, but other factors can be stronger than class in some groups?

6. Siderea doesn’t want to get into how race interacts with class, and that seems wise. But a related digression: lots of people complain about social justice being classist, in that it’s hard for anybody who hasn’t either gone to college or at least spent a lot of time hanging around social justice people to keep track of which words, opinions, and causes are okay versus will render you radioactive. On the one hand, this is probably true. On the other, it’s probably true of everything, with social justice as an unexceptional example. Yes, the way you refer to trans people shows what class you’re from, but so does the way you order ice cream.

7. Siderea admits she is classist and not ashamed of this. I have a hard time understanding what she means, but I can try to explain my own classism: I think classes probably sort on important qualities and reinforce those qualities. For example, the Underclass and Labor class people I know are much more likely to have high-conflict styles of interaction: if they feel offended, they’ll yell at you and maybe even fight you. Gentry class people would be horrified at the thought; they might respond to the same offense by filing a complaint with Human Resources. I think there are two equally correct ways to interpret this. Number one, people with the maladaptive behavior of starting physical fights don’t make it very far in life and so end out in lower classes, and insofar as these behaviors are either genetic or learned within the family, their families stay in lower classes throughout the generations. Number two, the lower classes have a culture where you defend your honor by fighting people who offend you, and the upper classes have a culture where you defend your honor by submitting complaints, and although in a cosmic sense both of those styles are equally valid, and although indeed a thousand years ago the fighting might have been more adaptive, in today’s society the complaint-submitting is more adaptive and the lower classes are screwed unless they unlearn that behavior – which they probably won’t, because unlearning class is hard. But this means that classism is at least kind of justified – if you want to hire for example a schoolteacher, you might want to look for people who show all the signs of Gentry rather than Labor class to make sure they’re not going to get into physical fights in the classroom.

8. Cellular automaton theory of fashion likely relevant.

9. Siderea’s idea of college as finishing school for the upper classes is interesting, and her own experience is a window into something I never thought about before. But I’m not sure how typical she is; I think most colleges admit students who are already members of the classes their graduates end up in. I felt like I didn’t learn any class culture during my own college experience at all – which isn’t surprising since I was born the son of a doctor and ended up as a doctor myself. I think my story’s probably more typical than Siderea’s, though other people can prove me wrong if they’ve seen differently.

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981 Responses to Staying Classy

  1. Craig Falls says:

    I like this description of class. It’s a bit dated, but still more inciteful than the blogs linked above.

  2. Plunkett Fugazi says:

    My takeaway: Doctor, son of doctor, takes seriously some random theories that doctor class and middle class are awesome. In a revealing way prefers hierarchical “higher” “lower” ways of thinking about class. Sad.

  3. Derelict says:

    The Church article on classes seems to be out of commission. Just thought I’d let you know.

    (Seems like he removed them just today, actually.)

    • John Schilling says:

      Church’s entire blog was essentially wiped sometime on 3 Feb 2016, possibly because he got in a pissing match with an E1. My brief look into what happened here. And Church’s essay on class is still available on the Wayback Machine.

      • brad says:

        He put up a post that purports to explain why he took everything down:

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Huh. I never read his stuff, except for the essay on class Scott linked to, but this post sounds like a guy who’s pretty high on himself. Would I get a different impression if I went to the trouble of mining the wayback machine for the deleted posts?

          • meyerkev248 says:

            There was some very interesting stuff about Silicon Valley and just how screwed it is.

            Having literally done that, it’s screwed.

            /My personal favorite that wasn’t something we’ve all heard before was when he pointed out that you don’t want to be in the first wave of techies at a startup. Because they do nothing but hotfix after hotfix for years while the startup desperately pivots from customer to customer.

            And then the 2nd wave comes in and fixes their giant pile of garbage, and they get a rep for writing garbage.

            //Only ops person in my company. Only person who knew Ruby or Chef. Not old enough to drink. Yeah………….

  4. Craig Falls says:

    The Grey Tribe are the Elites, btw. If you’re not convinced, look at these correlations of IQ and political opinions.

  5. David Joslin says:

    Relevant forthcoming book: White Trash : The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg, 9780670785971

  6. Ialdabaoth says:

    From Church’s U/L/G/E systemization, an interesting narrative develops about the so-called “Student Loan Crisis”:

    The Elites have noticed that the Gentry use college as a finishing school for entry into their class, and have decided to capitalize on this. They’ve sold the idea to Labor that Labor is going to *go away*, that anyone who doesn’t jump ladders to the Gentry is *finished*, and that the only way to accomplish this is to go to college. Then they sell the idea to the Gentry that Labor *should* go away, and that anyone who has not gone to college should not be employed. Then, they ensure that they control both ends of the revenue stream for going to college, make a killing, and simultaneously corrupt Gentry’s primary gatekeeping system, thus saddling their ideological enemies with an Eternal September.

    I’m not claiming fact here; just an interesting narrative that can be told from the historical record and the classification structure provided.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      That’s… kind of brilliant.

    • I don’t think it’s the elites handing down orders to HR for entry-level knowledge positions, and I definitely don’t think they’re doing so in coordination.

      I think this is a pretty basic economics issue. Cheap government-secured loans are made available, more students apply, colleges raise rates based in increased demand, businesses tighten requirements for degrees (because degrees are easy to look for from HR, still contain some value, and anyone who’s someone is still playing the game).

      I don’t see a conspiracy, I see a bunch of individual actors all doing what makes sense for them in their position.

  7. zimriel says:

    A good book on the topic of American class – David Lebedoff, “The Uncivil War”.

  8. David says:

    Regarding point 5 of your conclusions, it seems to me that talking about “class culture” is like talking about “national culture”. If you break out the microscope (or just eyeball it in some cases), you can find differences within classes. However, these will be less different than the differences between classes. For example, the differences between farmers and factory workers might be significant but still smaller than the differences between farmers and professors in the same way that Bible Belt, USA culture is different from Bay Area culture but closer to Bay Area culture than either are to Kaohsiung, Taiwanese culture. Therefore, it is meaningful to talk about “Working-Class Culture” even if there are subcultures within the working class. That’s just my intuition, though.

  9. W.T. Dore says:

    Church’s 3 ladder theory explains Gilmore Girls.

  10. dndnrsn says:

    On the idea of college/university as a “finishing school” – one of my impressions of university was that it allowed people to act recklessly in an environment that is safer than the big scary world.

    It’s very rare for a university student to get in real trouble with the university, let alone with the police, for most varieties of drunken idiocy. University students are safer, statistically, than people of the same age not in university. There’s plenty of free condoms around. Etc.

    Someone 18-22 holding down a job, or unemployed, would probably come to grief were they to behave like a lot of people who do just fine in university.

    To what extent do universities allow those who can afford to go to university – generally, middle or upper class – the ability to make youthful mistakes in a forgiving environment?

    • Marc Whipple says:

      College as Rumspringa for the English? Interesting.

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      When I was in college (twice), I noticed the same thing. Honestly, I think it’s both. Here’s a thing I observed:

      Gentry-class children are allowed to goof off at college and still do reasonably well, while labor-class children pretty much have to bust their ass to graduate. This seemed to happen regardless of merit; it was almost as if there was an unspoken halo or in-group effect around the middle- to upper-middle class white-collar kids that caused the teachers to judge them less harshly. (Actually, thinking back, it was probably just that the middle-class kids knew how to navigate systems, while the labor-class kids had to actually survive on the so-called rules.) At one notch up, middle-class kids had to bust ass in order to improve their position, while elite kids could pretty much goof off and *still* wind up with impressive offers at graduation.

  11. DensityDuck says:

    UGH UGH UGH. I despise attempts to define class that boil down to “aesthetic preferences equals culture equals class”, mostly because they always end up with “and there’s a super-awesome class that’s better than all the rest, and hey guess what it’s the one I’m in”.

    I, as always, cite Burt Likko’s Three Classes, which does an excellent job of disassociating aesthetic preferences (NASCAR versus opera) from economic circumstances and attitudes.

    To summarize that post: He presents a definition of American class based around the attitude toward how wealth is obtained. Either as a government handout, as wages for effort, or by its own existence (that is, investment income from trust funds or existing wealth.)


    “Siderea admits she is classist and not ashamed of this. I have a hard time understanding what she means…”

    What she means is that she’s totally judging people like Sherri (from your post) and knows damn well that she’s doing it on morally-questionable aesthetic grounds, so she’s pretending that it’s actually a morally-acceptable class-based feeling that she doesn’t have to feel guilty about.

    • John Schilling says:

      Either as a government handout, as wages for effort, or by its own existence (that is, investment income from trust funds or existing wealth.)

      What about the deliberate, active creation of wealth? A craftsman, farmer, or small business owner receives no wages for effort; if his efforts aren’t productive he gets nothing, and if his talents allow him to produce without effort he still gets paid in full. But neither is this investment income in any usual sense, nor government handouts.

      There are many such people in the world. And no wealth is created anywhere without them central to the process, even if they employ labor at an hourly wage and receive capital from passive investors (or the government). So I’m skeptical of a class system that doesn’t include this class of people.

      • DensityDuck says:

        I think you’ve misread me. It’s a comma-delineated list with three items.

        “What about the deliberate, active creation of wealth?”

        An investment banker and a failing farmer, under Likko’s formulation, are part of the same class, in that they both believe that wealth is created by effort. As opposed to wealth being a finite resource that’s divided up and distributed by the government, or something that just exists and grows all on its own.

        The banker and the farmer might differ on what sort of effort creates the most wealth, or the degree to which that effort is solitary or collective, but at the end of the day they both have many more values in common than they do with a welfare recipient or someone who just Has Family Money and doesn’t need to work.

        • John Schilling says:

          The investment banker and the farmer (failing or otherwise) may believe that wealth is created by effort, but they do not receive wages for effort. It would be grossly misleading to suggest that they belong to a class defined as holding the attitude that wealth is obtained as wages for effort.

          Would Likko misleadingly put them in the class so defined? Would he put them in the “government handouts” or the “by its own existence” class? Or are they outside of the three-class system so defined?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            You seem to be caught on a bit of a pedantic point here.

            Wages for effort doesn’t literally mean you get the corporate equivalent of a gold star for participation. It’s a way of saying that you have to actually show up and put in your hours doing the work if you expect to get paid for it. Not reaping before you sow and so on.

          • John Schilling says:

            Using “hours” as the measurement of what is being put in, is as sure a sign as I could ask for that you do not understand the distinction I am trying to make. Or that you don’t care.

            The relevant question is whether this Burt Likko fellow understands and cares, but if he didn’t explain it to you that makes me less inclined to bother with him.

          • DensityDuck says:

            “Would Likko misleadingly put them in the class so defined?”

            …did you actually read the post I linked to?

    • Maware says:

      What is funny is that Fussell defines the highest classes as culturally bereft. That they dislike ideas, and usually just read magazines and mystery novels. He says that most people actually emulate the upper middle class, the class 3 rungs down, and view it as the height of elegance, etc. The upper class and out of sight classes actually wear shabby clothes (but expensive,) and like old things more than ideas or the life of the mind. The upper-mid loves ballet and intellectual pursuits, but the upper funds them and would probably be bored watching them.

  12. JohnMcG says:

    Perhaps “social justice” (and I scare quote it because I believe actual social justice is a laudable and worthwhile goal, but disagree with the goals and tactics of those who claim the name) is not an exceptional example, but I think it is an interesting and noteworthy ones.

    A fundamental stated goal of the “social justice” movement is equality. But in this instance, one of the highest profile parts of the movement serves to exacerbate inequality — it is used to separate those of higher social class from those of lower classes, and expose those of lower class to scorn.

  13. Eoin says:

    I can think of at least one E1, Scott:'Brien

  14. Sean says:

    The fight vs. file-an-HR-complaint approach doesn’t always divide neatly on class lines. In many parts of the Old South, for example, a member of the gentry or even the elite may fight you if you offend his honor, and to file a lawsuit as an alternative or in response to such a conflict is considered shameful. The South still hangs on to vestiges of honor culture.

  15. ComplexMeme says:

    I was recently reading an article about Whole Foods and gentrification that reminds me strongly of the themes in this post:

    Call it the “Whole Foods effect.” In 2013, developer Benjamin Miller wrote that when Whole Foods is considering new locations, they look for neighborhoods where real estate is still affordable but where they see a potential to rise in value. And unlike most retailers, Whole Foods doesn’t focus on area household income but on area education levels. “One of their brokers once told me, ‘Look, I don’t care what the incomes are; show me there are enough people there with degrees,’” Miller wrote. “If you work at a nonprofit, a yoga studio, or in government, but still shop at Whole Foods, then you know that the Whole Foods customer is not defined by his or her salary.”

    That is, Whole Foods is selecting locations not according to economic metrics, but by metrics that measure class more directly.

  16. B-san says:

    I’ve seen most of the classes for both Red Tribe and Blue Tribe members in Texas. I think that the groups mostly exist separately from one another and that the Red Tribe’s separate classes are there but aren’t as easily discernible by people who are in the Blue Tribe because Red Tribe Gentry and Elites are using signals and trappings that don’t easily match up to Blue Tribe Gentry and Elites.

    For instance: you don’t see them in it all the time but all three groups wear cowboy type clothes. Red Tribe Labor walk around in practical cowboy boots, jeans, wrangler shirts, and cowboy hats often because they’re trying to avoid getting bitten by rattlesnakes while working outside or to avoid getting sunburnt. Red Tribe Gentry wear the same types of clothing (though they’re wearing the slightly dressier versions or expensive practical versions) for social signalling of looking conservative/traditional and because it’s been sort of permanently in style for a very long time (also modern boots are apparently quite comfortable). Red Tribe Elites also occasionally wear the same clothing but they’re buying the designer versions with >$1500 boots and similarly priced other clothing. Many of the Red Tribe elites (George Bush Jr) still do own ranches and dress this way by choice outside of political campaigning.

    And then you of course still have people from each class who are attempting to present themselves as being in another class and display this accordingly. (Google: Mexican pointy boots)

    I think this can all easily translate to a Blue Tribe outsider as a lack of social distinction which would give the impression of Red Tribe Gentry and Elites not being clearly separated culturally from Labor. I think that they are but that their status signals just aren’t as clearly denoted to outsiders or are rejected by Blue Tribe Gentry and Elites as not being Gentry or Elite.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      That’s an excellent point about the expensive boots.

      I don’t know much about suits or shoes but I do know boots and how to estimate the amount and type of wear, and it hadn’t really occurred to me that other people weren’t looking at peoples shoes and trying to figure out the money and millage invested there in.

      • God Damn John Jay says:

        So, hypothetically, what would you surmise about a woman carrying an expensive bag and cheap shoes?

        • HlynkaCG says:

          First impulse? I’d assume that she was some sort of social climber, or otherwise trying to “blend in” with a higher class crowd. Though personally I would expect the shoes to get “uprated” before the bag, Good shoes being worth a great deal to someone who spends a lot of time on their feet. But then again the bag is probably more visible.

          • Tibor says:

            It is strange how important shoes are to people. I talked to my grandmother today and she commented on my shoes (I don’t look after them as much as I probably should) and my great grandfather who, despite having a village pub and a field and generally being a busy man, always found enough time to take out all the shoes in the household on a regular basis and clean and polish then until they shined. I read a similar story in one of Haruki Murakami’s books (an entirely different continent and culture).

            I wonder what it is that makes shoes so special.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            I have a few theories.

            First and foremost is the one I mentioned above. Having good shoes matters a lot if you spend a lot of time on your feet.

            Second is that shoes tend to be far more personal and replaced far less often. Loaning someone a scarf is a lot simpler than loaning them a pair shoes. The shoes also tend to represent be a much more significant investment for the reason detailed in my first theory.

            Finally, they often give practical information about the wearer. Does the wearer spend a lot of time out of doors? Do the favor flash over comfort? (ie if a woman wears Heels or Flats) and so on…

            By polishing his shoes and ironing his clothes (I assume) that your grandfather was making a point to signal conscientiousness.

          • FXKLM says:

            I don’t agree that the social importance of shoes is related to spending a lot of time on your feet. Shoes with higher social status are generally less comfortable than shoes with lower status.

          • hlynkacg says:

            On the contrary, being able to wear flashy impractical shoes because you don’t have to walk everywhere you go is an important social signal in itself.

          • Tibor says:


            I am pretty sure that this was what he was signaling, possibly consciously. My grandmother told me that her father (it was my great grandfather, not grandfather) would always respond to everything with “What would the people say about it?”. He had a restaurant/pub so he had to keep up an upstanding public image and grew up in a village in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, so that is another evidence for that.

            I guess that the state of shoes as a proxy of how tidy and by extension industrious or reliable a person is (and what his status is) was a good proxy in the past when people generally had the same pair of shoes (or maybe two pairs) throughout the adulthood, whereas it makes less sense today when you throw often away your shoes after a few years. Still, people still probably do pay attention to your shoes. My ex-girlfriend told me that the first thing a woman notices are the men’s shoes and when we went bowling with some colleagues the other day and then played a game “which shoes are whose” (you change your shoes for the bowling shoes they give you there), women were much better at guessing the owner 🙂

        • Maware says:

          She’s married to a prole who makes a lot of money. She needed a new bag, he bought a coach bag spending the comps he got while gambling at a casino.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      The Sandra Bullock movie “The Blind Side” offers a rare sympathetic portrait of the Red State wealthy.

  17. Mariani says:

    I’ve always theorized that the importance of a (non-technical) college degree to employers lays the fact that it signals characteristics about the degree bearer.

    Besides reading books you otherwise wouldn’t and maybe gaining some critical thinking abilities, acquiring such a degree probably doesn’t make someone a more productive worker. Degrees, however, select for certain types of people: impulse control, intelligence, and a middle class or higher pedigree. The first two things are useful for employment in general, and I theorize that middle class+ socialization is important for cohesion in teams of other middle class+ people and better equip them for office environments.

    We can probably save a lot of time and money by determining intelligence and impulse control with IQ tests and personality assessments. The class thing is harder, but figuring out if the type of person they are hiring is a good fit is already something that employers do.

  18. Irenist says:

    “Violet” tribe = gentry social conservatives.

  19. John Ohno says:

    Class makes sense as a term for these groups only insomuch as there’s a genuine hierarchy — and as you mentioned, it’s clear that in the classes mentioned there’s a clear association between median income for a class and its rank (which is to say, the hierarchy is real).

    However, the grey tribe seems not to fit into the *class* hierarchy. Specifically, it seems like, culturally, it’s a synthesis between the attributes of the economic high end of the red tribe and the middle of the blue tribe, particularly in terms of engineering-centrism and libertarianism (both of which are middle-grounds — engineering has all the mathematical rigor of a science along with all the hands-on hard-work ethic of being a technician, and libertarianism is an academic and philosophical historically-lefty take on the historically-right-wing capitalist enterprise that gained popularity in the united states during exactly the time period when left-wing and right-wing politics were switching places on the class hierarchy).

    In other words, we have both tribes and classes, and tribes are strongly associated with classes or their intersections. (We could probably position the grey tribe on the marxist axis as petit-bougeoisie: the intersection where the working class tries to assimilate bougeoisie values and the bougeois try to assimilate working-class values.) We can probably identify other tribes that exist along other class boundaries, and we could probably also identify smaller groups that don’t really fit because of smaller and more densely connected social graphs.

    • Adam Casey says:

      >Class makes sense as a term for these groups only insomuch as there’s a genuine hierarchy

      Is that obviously true? It seems clear to me that eg in revolutionary era america “middling merchants” and “well-to-do small freehold farmers” are both social classes. But it isn’t obvious how to put these in a strict hierarchy.

  20. Adam Casey says:

    A thing I’ve learnt from this discussion. Lots and lots of people really want to talk about economic class, and not at all about social class. Which is really strange to me.

    Social class to me seems *much* more interesting. Social class has way more historical depth, is much more fun to mock and subvert, and is much more rich and complex. Add to that it’s more day-to-day relevant, because it’s far more obvious in my interactions with people (I don’t see how much money people make often, I hear their accent constantly).

    I’m very confused about why people would *want* to reduce social class to economic class. Even if it were predictive (doesn’t seem to be) it’s just … much less fun that way. Like if you try to talk about different artistic styles in terms of tax-deductibility. Even if it were true, who the hell wants to talk about that?

    • keranih says:

      It is far easier to objectively and repeatably measure income and wealth than it is social class, as several people have touched on. A lot of people are uncomfortable with subjective and fuzzy classifications of other people. To some, the ease of subversion that you mention is a bug, not a feature.

      (It’s also one of the reasons, I think, why race gets wrenched into these sideways – it’s an overt marker, unlike accents, which are not apparent until the speaker opens their mouth.)

      • Adam Casey says:

        Oh sure if you’re trying to do rigorous sociology you’d look at income, social class is a nightmare for empirical work. But if you’re doing that then even “classes” is an unhelpful layer of abstraction that makes it harder to analyse data.

        I’d note that we’re not doing rigorous empirical work here. We’re discussing interesting things. I’m a mathematician so I’m as uncomfortable with fuzzy classification as anyone. But that doesn’t mean looking only at boring situations.

        That said, your comments do make things clearer. If I didn’t find class as fascinating and important as I do I’d try to ignore it for exactly the reasons you mention.

        (The american obsession with race is something I’m just going to discount as a weird form of country-specific tourettes).

        • keranih says:

          No, we’re not doing any empirical work. We’re learning about a subject where work – both empirical and not – is done by others, with (I think) the intent of being able to tell when the authors of a study are being rigorous or not.

          Yes, classes are abstract. They are made-up boxes, same-same as species, into which we put things that we think are like each other. And every six to ten years, the freaking taxonomists come along and rename all of the Staph a subspecies intellectual non-capitalists, just because they can.

          (The american obsession with race is something I’m just going to discount as a weird form of country-specific tourettes).

          hmmm. Please feel free to expand on this.

  21. Steve Sailer says:

    I’m interested in differences in how differences in physique play into class differences. For example, consider the two most famous English soccer stars of recent decades: Wayne Rooney and David Beckham. They are from fairly similar backgrounds, but Rooney’s broad face looks working class, while Beckham’s elegant narrow face looks posh. Beckham appears to have embraced the class destiny written into his face, marrying the poshest of the Spice Girls, and being the best dressed man at the most recent royal wedding. I presume he wants his four kids to enjoy to the full the advantages of being upper class in England.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Similarly, in women, leg length is seen as being related to class. That long-legged women are higher class is a common theme in mid-20th Century movies, whether dangerous femme fatales like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or willful society girls like Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. Short legged girls are cheerful and less daunting.

      In the 1955 movie “How to Marry a Millionaire” about three scheming models in Manhattan, long-legged Lauren Bacall is the classy dame who is their leader, while short-legged Betty Grable is the Jersey girl who is Bacall’s follower. Through various twists and turns, they each end up with a husband — Lauren’s rich, Betty’s poor — that they’ll be happy with. (The third model, Marilyn Monroe, is of course sui generis.)

    • Sastan says:

      Listen to the old Sir Mix-a-Lot b-side “Cake Boy” for the black/working/lower class take on this. The better known “Baby got Back” plays in as well.

      If nothing else, it’s hilarious and dated to the late ’80s. But there’s a serious sense of class conflict expressed even within the black community. He talks about “Staying black, while others went yellow”, and how “the bourgeois girls want straight-up cake boys”.

      Part of the song is a physical comparison:

      “that cake boy’ll pull up quick
      And say “Does your man have a body like this?”
      And you don’t, ’cause you drink much brew, hah
      Got a body like Buddah
      But your game is strong, and your background is raw
      Hit the cake boy dead in the jaw”

      It’s all there, the sexual marketplace, class, race, body type, aggression. That’s right, I’m connecting Scott Alexander to Steve Sailer to Sir Mix-a-Lot. I love the internet.

      Funny bit is, the point of the song is a sort of “stick to your class” advisory. He’s basically saying that proper working class girls want a “real” man, while the middle class ones want effeminate Prince types. So guys like him should stick to the girls that like their kind, and not chase out of their class. A fairly “conservative” take from popular culture.

      • Steve Sailer says:


        It might be interesting to study marriage across class lines using big tracking studies, like the still-ongoing 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth. They’re now tracking 5,000 children of the then-teenage girls in the 1979 sample, so it’s quite a trove of data.

  22. Steven says:

    The Marx-Church resemblance isn’t accidental or coincidental. Church is merely regurgitating standard Marxist classes (which have been in the background of all class discussion so long that you don’t need to have read Marx for it to be your default reference frame) with one minor, self-flattering difference. That difference being the claim that the petty bourgeois is good, rather than a self-interested class trying to deceive the working classes into supporting an effort by the petty bourgeois to replace and become the elites, to no net benefit for labor.

  23. WildUtah says:

    “Number two, the lower classes have a culture where you defend your honor by fighting people who offend you, and the upper classes have a culture where you defend your honor by submitting complaints, and although in a cosmic sense both of those styles are equally valid, and although indeed a thousand years ago the fighting might have been more adaptive, in today’s society the complaint-submitting is more adaptive and the lower classes are screwed unless they unlearn that behavior – which they probably won’t, because unlearning class is hard.”

    This is a completely unsupported assertion that appears to precisely contradict the facts as most of us experience them.

    In the ancestral environment if Europeans (and Euro-Ams), the gentry classes reproduced themselves and the lower end of the gentry mixed with and very slowly replaced the lower classes that couldn’t compete for the resources to feed children.

    In the current environment, fighting for honor and working a job where you have to sweat and actually going to church and believing in God is extremely adaptive. The gentry that file complaints and SWPL themselves have fertility rates around 1.1, dropping almost in half in numbers every generation. The white working class has almost replacement fertility and some non-white working classes have well above replacement fertility in the West.

    So if you want a lusty, round-hipped working class girl that loves babies and will give you some, then you’ll find the complaint-filing behavior is extremely maladaptive and will result in the extinction of your generations from the Earth. Getting into a bar fight once in a while but not too often will win the affection of a girl that will give your line a future.

    But maybe a SJW harpy will marry you, have one lone offspring, and then divorce you and take your house and kid and everything you care about and teach your kid that you were a racist misogynist while continuing to take most of your income each month. If you’re lucky. After all, she might just not have any babies at all. That’s what you get for filing complaints.

    So the fighting is extremely adaptive and successful while the filing is a dark dead end.

    Of course, the underclass seems to be doing okay lately, but I think the absent multiple fathers there are hustling something up as lower working class, possibly in black markets. You can’t really play that game unless you’re the right underclass-welcome race, anyway, and that isn’t white or Asian.

  24. Anonymouse says:

    > Gentry being good people trying to improve things

    Gentry detected! Such a classic Gentry thing to say.

    There’s another class somewhere between Labor and Elite, somewhat parallel to Gentry, that is bored stupid of Gentry always assuming without question they are “good people trying to improve things” while Labor are just dumb uneducated people under the spell of the Elite. So much yawn.

  25. pf says:

    I have to wonder if these class taxonomies are overlooking self-sorting by personality type or trait. This might be a general issue, or just a special case for a specific cohort that’s become significant in recent years, i.e. the set of people who are largely blind to the features that distinguish classes, who tend to focus their attention on particular subject matter, who adapt to social and cultural norms primarily by acquiring a list of simple, deliberately applied heuristics, and who might be increasingly self-identifying with phases like “mild autism” or “Asperger’s”, although that could be an edge case.

    As a programmer, I became used to such people, who obviously gathered in that profession from all sorts of backgrounds precisely because they were interested in the subject matter and weren’t paying attention to social cues, hierarchies, in-group signalling, and so on.

    And if this happens with one group (and this particular cohort is likely to have been influential in the “success of Silicon Valley”), it might happen in others, where personality traits tend to sort someone into a subculture, class, etc., that’s most compatible with their characterstics. Such things would persist over generations, to the extent that these traits are inherited, but a social group would lose a given cohort when their standards changed and could no longer accept them.

    I have a sense that the group I described above is being shunted into Grey Tribe these days.

  26. PGD says:

    There’s not a low correlation between your family income and your income, as Scott says at one point. There’s a pretty high correlation, at least in the U.S. (childhood family income is quite strongly correlated with adult income, properly measured). This review paper gives an excellent discussion:

    See Table 1 on p 72 of the pdf, discussed at pages 14-16.

    The elasticity of about .5 in the U.S. implies that each 10% increase in your parent’s income is associated with a 5% increase in your adult income. That’s pretty high.

    Of course that is from all causes, from genetics to environment etc. Not including bequests though, that would be wealth, not income.

  27. Anonymous says:

    One thing I’m curious about is where owners of small or medium sized tech businesses fit – startup founders and the like. Their field is clearly G2 affiliated. Small business owners are supposedly L1, but I think the kind of connections and aspirations the sort of people I’m thinking of have make them at least a low-tier E. But low tier Es are apparently bootlickers, not people who have power but only over their tiny corner of the world.

    Any thoughts?

    • John Schilling says:

      L1 is for small business owners in the manufacturing and services sector, where the key labor force is also L-class. Restaurants, Construction contractors and the like. Which is the vast majority of small businesses in the world. A tech startup CEO would be G2 or G1, and if Church weren’t so big on “E means Evil”, they’d all be aspirational “change the world” E’s.

  28. “The Elite control everything; the constant threat is that Gentry and Labor will unite against them, which might very well work. The Elite neutralize this threat by making Labor hate Gentry as “effeminate” or “pretentious”; they also convince Labor that the Gentry are probably secretly in cahoots with the underclass against Labor.”

    This is where Church went off the rails. It’s all well and good to describe classes as clusters of norms and shared ideas; that’s what they are. But, out of the blue, these people connected only by cultural behaviours are suddenly able to team up against each other, or sew resentment between other groups, almost as if these shared cultural norms turned them into some kind of hive mind.

    If I were a member of the elite class, why would I waste my effort making half the population hate the other half? Why not just have fun breeding horses and sailing around on my yacht?

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      It’s remarkable how much of a hold the idea of “class interest” has on people who otherwise are inclined to see coordination problems everywhere.

  29. alexp says:

    I wanted to respond to the Ice Cream thing.

    I hang out with a lot of consultants and financiers. I’m pretty sure the most common response to “would you like some ice cream?” would be along the lines of “sure, thanks” or “I’m good, thanks.” It’s not the top of the totem pole, but it’s pretty high up there.

    I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t hear any of those long and elaborate responses. Maybe it’s just a symptom of (relative) youth rather than class.

  30. Brian says:

    Church does OK up through G2, but then mischaracterizes G1 and the elites. If the Gentry are defined by knowledge work and the elites by influence peddling, then G1 should be your law firm partners, consulting firm partners, mid-level CEOs, and similar people who are at the pinnacle of knowledge-based fields but have little influence. And law firm associates, I-bankers, and the like are G2, not E4. There may be a few law firm partners who are very politically connected who are better described as E3 or maybe E2, but most aren’t elite at all.

    In America, the Elites are those who work primarily for influence. They don’t make a living making or selling goods or services; they want to be paid for their influence. The best way to encapsulate the Gentry/Elite distinction is where and why you send your kids to particular schools. If you send your kids to a magnet school, top suburban public school (e.g., Glenbrook North), or strong private day school because you want them to learn more than their peers, you’re Gentry. If you send your kids to an elite private school, day or boarding (think Sidwell Friends, Choate, Dalton, or Andover) so that all their peers are elites, you’re an Elite.

    E4, then, are your media, entertainment, and politics strivers. Interns, staffers, junior agents, and the like. They probably live in DC, NYC, or LA. They may have family money to live on or not, but they seek jobs where they can make connections to higher elites, not to gentry.

    E3 are mid-level politicians, newspeople, opinion journalists, and minor celebrities. If people will pay you to give speeches or for favors, you’re probably at least E3. You have influence that has some value, but you can’t control terms. They may earn a small salary, but that’s not where their wealth comes from. An elite kid with sufficient parental connections can skip E4 and start as an E3 (example: Lena Dunham).

    E2 are high level politicians, old money, top newscasters, and major celebrities. They are established in their influence, either because of their money, their fame, or their connections. Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck are E2, so are Rubio and Cruz, and so are Emma Watson and Ted Nugent. They don’t work for other people, other people give them money to do things. But they still aren’t entirely in control, and do need other people’s money or help to do what they want.

    E1s are the ones actually in charge. Influential old money, national leaders, top donors. The ones E2s need to suck up to–Soros, Clinton, Obama, Bloomberg, Koch, Adelson, Gates (Gates is a G1 who became an E1 when he retired and switched to philanthropy). Money truly doesn’t matter to them.

    The Elites are in general defined by wanting to change the world; the levels within the Elite ladder are based on how much power they actually have to do that.

    • TheNybbler says:

      > Church does OK up through G2, but then mischaracterizes G1 and the elites.

      That’s because Church is a G3, though he claims to be a G2. Anything above G2 is fuzzy to him.

      Gates — that is, William Henry Gates III — was a E2 who acted like a G1 for a while; he now portrays himself as an E2 but he might indeed be an E1 depending on just how much influence he and his foundation actually wield.

      One quibble: the old money elites don’t necessarily want to _change_ the world; they may wish only to _preserve_ it (and hence their position in it).

    • hlynkacg says:

      That makes a lot of sense, you might be on to something there.

    • “The Elites are in general defined by wanting to change the world; the levels within the Elite ladder are based on how much power they actually have to do that.”

      I think your view of who changes the world how is too narrow.

      Adam Smith and Karl Marx classify as gentry in this scheme. But each of them did more to change the world than the sort of people you are putting in the Elite. So did the researcher who produced the birth control pill. You could argue that the project was sponsored by someone in the elite but not, I think, very far up in it.

      • Brian says:

        1. I’m talking about classes in present-day America; it necessarily doesn’t translate to 17th century England or 19th century Europe.

        2. Maybe the modifier “directly” is needed. Great thinkers may change the world, but they don’t do so directly, through exercising power.

        3. Or maybe “change the world” isn’t quite right. But focusing on gaining influence/fame/power more than knowledge/skills/money is the key distinction.

        • I could have offered 20th century examples. Keynes, for instance. Coase.

          Your point 3 seems more relevant to me. I think you can exercise a lot of power, as people commonly use the term, and change the world very little compared to the amount that it is changed by ideas or inventions.

          Consider the simple model of a two party system, due to Hotelling, in which each party runs a centrist candidate because otherwise they will lose. The winner seems to exercise a lot of power, but does mostly what the loser would have done.

          Smith, incidentally, was 18th century. The publication of _The Wealth of Nations_ was the important event of the year 1776.

  31. meh says:

    1.5% seems like a lot for the elite class. That’s like 5 million elites

  32. stubydoo says:

    The elites are those people who would always go on about how a $250K income equals barely middle class can only just make ends meet, every now and then when the topic of taxing incomes above that level a tad more would come up.

    A solidly gentry lifestyle does not require more than ~$80K, unless you’ve gone and reproduced much more rigorously than anyone in the gentry ever actually does. Maybe up to ~$120K in the most expensive urban areas.

    If you disagree with that, then well good – congratulations you are in the elite.

  33. ssica3003 says:

    A description of a life from a person actively traversing these boundaries in Britain, if interested:

    Maternal great grandparents were miners in extremely poverty-stricken town, placing them in labor class but teetering on underclass due to father’s alcoholism, only surviving due to children’s income.

    Maternal grandmother was the eldest, born into this very insecure labor class but World War 2 gave her much more stable Labor class, perhaps even access to Gentry class through marriage but her husband was a rubbish example of the class so failed to gain access and eventually he died. Her three children solidly Labor class: eldest: Labor class (owns own home, right-wing fundamentalist Christian), middle: Labor class (owns home but it took longer and needed marriage partner, shouts about Labor values, right wing), youngest – social housing, failed marriage (shouts about Labor values, right wing).

    My mother is this youngest child, the lowest in the Labor class, she aspired to possible Gentry class through marriage but her husband was also rubbish, failed Gentry class and she ended up low income in Labor class.

    Paternal great-grandparents: unknown
    Paternal grandparents: grandfather is gentry class, grandmother is labor class. Early divorce and staying with mother bumps them into labor class. Her three children split: eldest achieving gentry (owns own home in expensive area, can influence opinion through high level journalism), middle proudly labor class (has own home and shouts about labor) and youngest solidly labor class but always aspiring to gentry/upper labor class through business but always failing (has to marry to reduce debt, cannot keep hold of own home).

    My father is the youngest described above.

    So I am the eldest child of two youngest children, both the most rubbish in their class which is Labor. Their early divorce severs ties with my Gentry class relatives. I lived in social housing with a single working mother under the Thatcher government. My maternal grandmother also lived with us and did lots of caregiving.

    My features are: I am pretty intelligent, an eldest child and lucky.

    My mother verbally aspired to gentry class through education so like a good eldest child I strive to achieve in this area, also get through my rubbish childhood by reading books. I am extremely lucky and get into an intelligence-segregated, single-sex high school (called a “grammar” school – you have to take a series of tests in English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning at age 11 – the top 15% are admitted.)

    This was my first jump. Almost no-one from labor class gets in, since it takes gentry/Brahmin values (Ideas! Education!) and gentry money (purchase practise papers, time to make child take them, external tutors, time and money to take child to the tests, which were far away over two different weekends etc) just to have a chance to get in. My mother did some of this, and I got in.

    My labor class origins were obvious all through school by my lack of attending school holidays to Europe, lack of extra curricular activities, and my clearly low status religion (one of the fairly extreme fundamentalist Christian ones). I had very few friends but at least a couple who were gentry class but super weird in other ways, so I experienced their gentry class ways to an extent. For example: I learned to use chopsticks. Sounds weird, but I would never have learned it otherwise. Despite being low status at school, I got a gentry-class level of education (which is more thorough and more focussed on ‘professions’ than vocations and other weird things like Baroque music, modern art and actually had some computers). A point of luck: I am a girl and went to a single-sex school, so education outcomes were good. Another point of luck: my geographical area of England gave me a gentry-class accent.

    After school but before university I got a job in a library. It’s a similar smorgasbord of humanity as a hospital, is free to be in (so you see underclass a lot) and I was mandated to treat everyone fairly, so I got to see a great variety of people and situations. I learned how to talk to them to make them feel comfortable. Also: books. I continued having library jobs for 8 more years and some of those jobs in upper-class towns. I saw some elites, wandering around off their mind on legal meds and acting strangely, or talking down to me in the voice they use for ‘the staff’.

    A few years after school I went to university, made possible by the final year of a fairly generous scheme for the really poor kids. I remember that the range of eligibility for the grants was stated as £16,000 – £25,000pa total household income. My family’s total income was just £13,000pa. It seemed clear that the people writing the terms for the form couldn’t really conceive that anyone’s total household income could be lower than their stated range.

    During uni I was gentry, but I was also dating a guy who was firmly Labor, and had come from Roma/traveller roots, who no-one really mentions when they talk of underclass. He was shunned by the traveller part of his family for being born in a house. Classic Under-shunning-Labor class there. He eventually returned to his Labor roots, deliberately bringing back his mother’s accent, after getting gentry-educated like me (he went to the boy’s grammar one town over and was harassed for being the scrap yard kid). I went with him to gypsy weddings and funerals, so directly experienced the values of that culture.

    Post-university I spent a few years being gentry in my library job, but living with labor. Many of my housemates were on benefits or dealt substances to pay rent. After that I spent a year being deliberately homeless, deliberately interfacing with the underclass partly because my labor roots scared me into worrying about being demoted down, and scared of how I would survive. I also wanted to ‘exit’ capitalism somehow. so I checked out what it was really like down there. I was tolerated by the homeless and squatters but I was never really accepted by them because even though I claimed labor among the activists, I have too much gentry coming off me and everyone thought I was a cop.

    During that time I met people who are Rationalish, leading me to read HPMOR, LessWrong and this blog. Inspired, I deliberately moved to London for its high factor of social mobility and hacked myself into front end development. I went from homeless to £300/day in about two years.

    I also met a member of the elite, who wanted to break out and I have had long interactions learning about him. His break out is only partly successful IMO.

    I now consider myself having gentry/Brahmin desires – be a person in the world of ideas and I can walk and talk like one, mostly. I’m using front end development to save for Masters & PhDs.

    I think this class groupings are described very well and the numbers are pretty accurate. The behaviours are also described pretty well.

    My thoughts on finishing school:college/university all have their own institutions according to class. Community college for labor, normal college for gentry and elite college for elites. I think its mainly upper gentry at to these colleges, but elites go there if they want to. In the UK it’s Oxford and Cambridge for elites (Harvard in US?).

    I moved from Labor to Gentry, but when invited to ‘sit at high table’ at Cambridge, I had to refuse because I didn’t know enough about etiquette to mix with Elite class people. I couldn’t ask the person inviting me because he was American. I knew he would not know enough about what I should wear or how I should behave for me to ‘pass’ (he didn’t even think there was a dress code!). He would be excused for not acting correctly, because he’s American, but I knew I would not be excused because I was supposed to be an upper gentry English woman. Since I had no information, I feared I would be exposed as Labor in front of upper Gentry and Elites, so I didn’t go.

    Am tired now, but let me know if you want to hear any more stories.

    • Max says:

      Thank you, that was quite interesting.

      What do you think about labour values (hard work, family) now?
      What about elite ones (competition, achievement) ?

  34. Ildanach says:

    To be honest, the whole “grey tribe” thing has always seemed like blatant self-exceptionalism/wish-fullfillment to me. Yes, it does describe a culture, but i feel that culture is neither numerous nor distinct enough to be worthy of it’s own label distinct from the “blue” tribe. There is a very sizable group of people that are mainly blue, but are pro-life, highly religious protestants, do they get their own tribe too? It’s possible that Scott is letting the makeup of the circles he moves in affect his estimates of the prelavance of these grey traits, or that it’s a (conscious or not) attempt to signal distance from the “liberals” that so many internet users treat as anathema.

    My hypothesis is that the “grey” tribe is just a self-decieving subset of the blue tribe. Either way, it doesn’t sit rihht with me.

    • Tibor says:

      What are libertarians then? They really do not fit in either the blue or the red tribe, they seem to share some values with one group, some with another one and have some distinct ones as well. Also, Jonathan Haidt started his “righteous mind” with conservatives and social democrats (aka “liberals”) in mind but then had a follow-up analysis where he included libertarians and concluded that they differ from both groups significantly (I don’t agree with 100% of what he concludes about libertarians, but it is a good first approximation). I don’t know about “Silicon valley types” (some of which are libertarians anyway but some are probably closer to the “blue tribe”) but there are at least some people who really don’t fit well into either category. And libertarians themselves, albeit a small group are not entirely insignificant in their number.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        I feel like the number of true libertarians that I know can probably be counted on one or two hands. Most other self-described libertarians often seem closer to the red tribe but dislike GOP branding but they are basically white guys who care a lot about business regulation and taxes but don’t truly care about social liberty. Or are at best indifferent to more serious questions about social liberty and treat them as an afterthought. Conor F at the Atlantic likes to gush about how Mike Lee and Justin Amash represent a new libertarian future for the GOP but both seem rather comfortable in GOP social conservative orthodoxy for me.

        • Dan T. says:

          The grey tribe isn’t limited to doctrinaire libertarians; it covers all sorts of people of a generally individualistic bent even if they have no explicit ideology behind it. Most of the opposition to political correctness in geek circles comes from grey-tribers, since there isn’t much of a red-tribe presence there.

          • LeeEsq says:

            I really don’t buy this at all. The Bohemian artistic types, actors, painters, musicians etc.; are of a generalized individualistic bent because they can not and will not conform to what one would call a “normal” life pattern. They are firmly in what would be in the Blue Tribe. Meanwhile, you have many people who see themselves as Greys but are capable of living a “normal” life pattern.

    • blacktrance says:

      Some (maybe most) Grey Tribers are closer to Blue, but a few are closer to Red and some are equidistant. Individualism, libertarianism or utilitarian left-liberalism, firm atheism (sometimes to the level of anti-theism), cosmopolitanism, art and activism being low-status, an interest in and appreciation for tech, pro-GMO, etc. Some Blues have some of those traits, and some Greys don’t, but they indicate a different cluster.

      There is a very sizable group of people that are mainly blue, but are pro-life, highly religious protestants, do they get their own tribe too?

      Replace “Protestant” with “Catholic” and that’s what Violet Tribe is. (Though probably there are Protestant Violets as well.)

  35. Cichlimbar says:

    “You could reconcile some of the differences by supposing the two models have different cutoffs. Suppose we rank people from 0 (lowest underclass) to 100 (highest elite).”

    No. This is the same type of mistake as assuming that class is a function of wealth, because the “class lattice” need not be linear/ordered.

    • Pku says:

      Yeah. The cutoff theory makes sense, but only if you imagine different directions of the cutoff planes in class-space, rather than different cutoff points in the same projection to a line.

  36. tinduck says:

    Alright, the first thing I thought of when I saw this post was the Gilmore Girls.

    —- MC

    E1 – Mitchum Huntzberger
    E2 – Richard Gilmore, Emily Gilmore
    E3 – Christopher “Chris” Hayden, Logan Huntzberger
    E4 – Jason “Digger” Stiles

    G1 – Asher Flemming
    G2 – Rory Gilmore, Paris Geller
    G3 – Max Medina
    G4 – Doyle McCaster

    L1 – Luke Danes
    L2 – Lorelai Gilmore, after she opens the Inn she moves into L1
    L3 – Lane Kim, Caesar
    L4 – Dean Forester

    – Jess Mariano

    —– UR
    Dalits – Jess Mariano
    Vaisyas – Luke Danes
    Brahmins – Asher Flemming
    Optimates – Richard Gilmore

  37. Mike says:

    George Soros fits E1 nicely in my book.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      I feel the same way about Soros and the E1 class as Eliezer felt about Hermione and Ravenclaw: if Soros isn’t an E1, then there’s no reason for that class to exist.

    • null says:

      How is George Soros an E1?

      • John Schilling says:

        A man who is one of the ~60,000 most powerful people in the world (and possibly in the top 1% of that group), and wields that power with deliberate purpose. He is beholden to no one, recognizes no moral authority other than his own conscience or lack thereof, and governments can only inconvenience him. His tools are money and connections, not public office or fame or creative talent, and such public recognition as he does receive is largely incidental and uncourted. That is the essence of E1.

        And it is an exaggerated caricature of the real George Soros, who e.g. occasionally writes for the public as one of his levers of power. But E1 is inherently a caricature, and to the extent that there are real people who would make up such a class it is hard to find a better example than Soros.

  38. LeeEsq says:

    As to Donald Trump being a Labor class, my brother believes that one reason why Donald Trump is popular and resonates with many people because he behaves like many people believe very Wealthy people should behave because Trump flaunts his wealth. In contrast a lot of the wealthy tech people like Gates or Zuckerberg do not live ostentatiously. Bill Gates dressed like a male kindergarten teacher, had a calmish and soft spoken public demeanor, and married a woman with a similar social and educational background compared to Trump’s more flashy wives and paramours. Zuckerberg similarly does not have the I’m a flashy rich man persona that Trump has.

  39. LeeEsq says:

    The relationship between race/ethnicity in class is another interesting topic. To use my own group, Jews, the Elites in the Anglophone world traditionally viewed most or all Jews as uncouth laborers or badly aspirational Educated Gentry regardless of how wealthy a Jewish person was. On the European continent, the perception was receive. Jews were seen as Elites even if they did physical work for a living. Charles De Gaulle described Jews, with a mix of respect and hate, as an “aristocratic people, elite and domineering.”

  40. LeeEsq says:

    I just finished reading Dominic Sandbrook’s four volume history of the United Kingdom between Suez and Thatcher becoming PM. I’m also going through David Kynaston’s massive social history of the United Kingdom between 1945 and 1979 as he publishes it. One of the amusing and revealing things is that Michael Church’s description of the American class system and the changes in it after the Second World War seems to mirror the British class system and similar changes. For instance, Michael Church’s description of the post-War Golden Age as being a gentry-labour alliance seem similar to the old Labour Party being a combination of working class British citizens and progressive, idealistic educated middle class ones like Attlee. The re-allignment that led to working class whites supporting the Republicans is similar to how the more skilled and prosperous working class people in Britain became Conservative voters and Thatcher fans. This caused the educated gentry/middle class progressives to look for new allies in the United States and the United Kingdom.

    There are some differences between the countries though. There were gentry/elite alliances in mid-20th century Britain that didn’t exist in the United States in response to the social changes of the 1960s. The liberalization in the laws that existed in the United Kingdom, i.e. what was called the Permissive Society, like the legalization of abortion, the decriminalization of homosexuality, decreasing censorship, and the abolition of the death penalty was basically brought about by an alliance of Educated Gentry/Progressive Middle Class people in the Labour Party and Elites in the Conservative Party. Most ordinary British people opposed these reforms, especially the abolition of the death penalty, regardless of their class, political party, or age. If anything, the average Conservative voter seemed more at peace with them than the average Labour voter. In the United States, the Elites thought it made more political sense to universally oppose the social changes of the 1960s while the Educated Gentry kind of supported them.

    Like others I am skeptical about the existing of E1. It seems to movie villain like to really exist.

  41. cruise says:

    “There are two types of people in the world – those that divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t.”

    How about a case study: what class am I?

    My parents are/were a tramp and the child of dock-worker.
    I have a good degree from a traditional University, and work as a programmer/consultant for national banks and internet startups. I enjoy museums, opera and the theatre, though I’m not aware of starting any signalling games around that.
    The family I married into is one of the high-end gentry – scientists and authors who have had a large impact on modern culture, and include a knighthood and a nobel prize in living memory.

    In simplistic terms, I guess I’m just a local boy done good. Fortunate enough to live in an area and time where good education wasn’t dependent on money, and to meet people who valued education over your “class” as long as you did too.

    My in-laws are a fascinating study in how generations move within classes, however.

    Two generations back, marrying the daughter of a family who (effectively) owned a small town was considered terribly beneath his status as a nobel-prize-winning son of a knight. The grandchildren from that, while all still highly intelligent are working as middle-management, as-yet-unsuccessful-playwrights, decorators…and married to me.

    Still all within the gentry class (just, in some cases), but definitely not the movers-and-shakers they once were. To a degree, this largely from choice, but it is interesting for me as an external observer watching the changes.

  42. vV_Vv says:

    I don’t think the E1 class exists. A drug lord is the top of the underclass, but still underclass. People of other classes don’t award him any status. They may fear him if they happen to run into him, the same way they would fear a bear if they happened to run into it, but they won’t respect him.
    High functioning sociopaths may climb to the top of their class, but they rarely change class and most certainly they don’t form a class of their own. Bernie Madoff, Miguel Treviño Morales and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi won’t recognize each other as members of the same class.

    I think that the Grey Tribe can be considered a class roughly located between the Labor and the Gentry classes: Greys are typically college-educated like Gentry, but like Labor they tend to work in professions like engineering or finance where provable skills are more important than “prestige”, unlike more typical Gentry professions like medical doctor or lawyer. Greys have an internal status system based on a combination of meritocracy and showing off erudition in multiple topics often not formally taught in college majors (at least not with that breadth). Greys have varied political positions, generally different from both the mainstream progressive left and the mainstream conservative right. Grey Tribe heroes are people like Paul Graham and Elon Musk.
    Gentry consider Greys as lower status than themselves (“creepy nerds”, “basement dwellers”), irrespective on how much money they make or what educational achievement they obtained. Labor consider them as weird aliens, perhaps somewhat higher status than themselves but not really comparable.

    • LeeEsq says:

      You need a lot of provable skills to do well in law and medicine. I have seen the work of bad lawyers and had to spend a considerable amount of time reversing it to save a case on occasion. We also know that many doctors do bellow average work on occasion. Finance is a job where prestige can be very important. To get a high paying entry level job in many of the most important banks and investment firms, you need to go to the right university and create the proper resume that they are looking for. Likewise, going to MIT or CalTech carries more prestige and status than going to a public university for engineering degrees.

      • vV_Vv says:

        You need a lot of provable skills to do well in law and medicine. I have seen the work of bad lawyers and had to spend a considerable amount of time reversing it to save a case on occasion. We also know that many doctors do bellow average work on occasion.

        But these lawyers and doctors who do subpar work still remain profitable and may even thrive, don’t they?

        I mean, obviously there is some skill cutoff. A lawyer or a doctor who does a consistently awful job will not stay in business for long, and may even end up in a malpractice lawsuit. But it seems to me that above some minimal competence level, the professional success of a lawyer or a doctor depends more on how well they can present themselves, how good they are at status signaling, i.e. their “prestige”, rather than a proven track record of achievements.

        Prestige obviously also plays a role in engineering and finance, but I think not as much. By finance I mean jobs like quantitative analyst, not public-facing consultant/salesperson (who I think tend to be high-Gentry) or bank/fund director (who tend to be Elite).

        • Marc Whipple says:

          I think that outside of the top levels of legal work you’re bang on. If you want to really be a mover and a shaker, you have to have done something interesting, but otherwise, being a successful lawyer is about 50% marketing, 10% luck, and 40% hard work. If you are not competent, you might still have luck, but the other two components will reflect that, and eventually you will fail. It can take a depressingly long time, though.

  43. Yossarian says:

    The Church’s analysis of the classes sounds pretty sound, but I think he missed a couple of points:
    1) As was already mentioned here, his E1 class seems somewhat strange, a mishmash of evil powerful people from all classes. Let’s look at real-life examples he provides – Hitler? A person with some lower-tier Gentry roots (a painter, wanted to get into college, when couldn’t, blamed it all on Jews). Stalin seems like a person with Labor roots, who failed out of a religious school (not sure whether that could be counted as a failed attempt to get into the Gentry ladder), became an Underclass person and only then rose to power. Bin Laden – typical offshoot of the traditional Elite, coming from a rich family owning a lot of capital.
    2) Also, there is no ladder provided for the Underclass, which is strange – those people should have a ladder too. If we are looking at powerful crime lords, Mafia and rich drug dealers – the world of organized crime – you can’t classify those as Labor (they don’t really have any Labor values), Gentry (you don’t go to college to become a crime lord) or Elite either – those are the “wet-dream stratospheric tier” for the Underclass. Probably some of highest of those guys do contribute to what he calls E1, too. The ladder here is different from the others in that the while there are Underclass people with medium and high income, that income is mostly illegal and there is no clear way for a transition to the other ladders (not that those guys want to, anyways).

  44. Jair says:

    The example of the guy wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt is really, really strange to me. I would conclude almost nothing from this except that he likes to get the Led out. If anything, it’s a bit blue-collar.

    It’s also pretty strange and reductive to assume that the working class is more confrontational. Is there a way to study this? I’m not sure how you would if you’re not using income as a surrogate for class. But I have to wonder if you get pretty bad anecdotal data if your only sampling of the working class is via therapy. As someone who has to some degree straddled the line between classes, and known many people of both, I have not observed this. It’s certainly possible that a correlation exists, but I imagine it is fairly small.

  45. Saul Degraw says:

    I just made a read through of the Church essay. Maybe because I know the particulars of law but it seems like it falls apart at times.

    Where would you place a successful plaintiff’s lawyer or criminal defense lawyer on the elite scale? They can be very wealthy and some spend this wealth into other business and investment opportunities. But you can’t exactly call a successful plaintiff’s lawyer, an Elite Servant like Church puts law firm partners. They are not exactly serving the elite by suing them.

    • phisheep says:

      It depends what the alternatives to being sued are. If the alternative is being shot then it is most definitely a service.

      Less extremely, but probably more important, are the barriers to litigation – such as expensive elite lawyers for one.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        Plaintiff’s law works on a contingency fee, not an hourly fee. So if a firm wins a verdict or settlement for the client, they get a percentage of the legal victory. Usually between 30-40 percent depending on the state and type of case.
        If a plaintiff’s lawyer does not get a victory for their client, they get nothing and have to eat the costs of litigation (filing fees, service fees, deposition fees, expert witness fees, etc.) If it goes to jury verdjct, they might have to pay the defendant’s costs via a motion to pay costs.

    • TheNybbler says:

      Many plaintiff’s lawyers fit right in to “Elite Servant”. Yes, they’re suing elites. But their clients are elites too. So they are servants assisting in internecine elite struggles. Same goes for a drug cartel’s defense attorney.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        The clients I have worked for are far from elite. Right now, they are all people who were injured by asbestos-based products. This includes some college-educated people (engineers and estimators) but mainly it is people who worked in trades. Insulators, Pipefitters, Plumbers, Carpenters, HVAC workers.

        When I did other stuff, my clients were people injured by drugs and came from all over the economic and educational strata.

        • TheNybbler says:

          Which probably puts you in Church’s G2. No reason a profession has to fit entirely within one ladder.

  46. disappoint says:

    Politically, the left pretends class doesn’t exist;

    LOLWUT?! Isn’t classism one their favorite -isms? Isn’t the extreme left, as you already noted, obsessed with class warfare?
    Check your privilege, Jew boy!

    (Yes, I know, don’t shoot the messenger, but why do you consider such obvious falsehood worth spreading? If the original author is wrong about such simple items, why consider her credible/competent at all, heuristically speaking?)

    • Maware says:

      They actually do this, which leads to many humorous situations, in which an upper-middle class woman lectures a non-college male about his privilege, despite the woman actually possessing far more privilege due to class than he does due to gender. The average upper-middle class person in general tends to have huge class blindness. Not just leftists.

  47. Dan King says:

    I’m not entirely clear why you put so much emphasis on college. Outside of the elite schools, colleges these days are mostly female. At my state college the ratio is nearly 2:1 in favor of the fair sex. In the gen ed science class I teach I have 8 boys and 32 girls.


    1) Females are most responsible for transmitting culture. Hence gentry offspring will emerge from gentry mothers, and college is ultimately a finishing school for young ladies among the gentry. It doesn’t really matter if the fathers attended or not.
    2) College no longer plays the same role it used to play. More education is moving on-line and off campus. Companies like Google no longer really care about your college degree. Hence however good a class marker college was before, it’s fading today.
    3) Too many kids are going to college, and its ability to distinguish amongst classes is therefore diminished. A college degree means less than it used to.

    Obviously attendees at elite schools are an exception, but then they’re upper/gentry before they even get there, so college for them really means nothing at all.

    • Saul Degraw says:

      I think Google cares a lot about where people went to college. Maybe not during the early days of tech but now I think tech can be just as bad as any other industry when it comes it elitism. There might be a few people out there without college degrees who manage to get great careers in tech but I think they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Tech seems filled with people who went to at least good schools if not elite schools. Say NYU level on up.

      • Dan King says:

        So smart people go to good schools, and therefore there’s a correlation. But once you control for IQ what school you go to makes no difference. I think Google has figured that out. They’re looking for smart people, not pedigreed people.

        Though there may actually not be too much difference between the two.

        • Saul Degraw says:

          I dissent even smart people can fall into using easy metrics because they are lazy and want short-hand. If Google really didn’t care, they would spend money looking for all equal employees regardless of level of education.

    • Maware says:

      Ironically, this is why college is prole drifting.

      Hint: anything with a majority of women active in it is immediately lowered in class.

      Like you said, OUTSIDE OF ELITE COLLEGES, college is majority female. And generally, elite professions are majority male. Elite women generally support and maintain the elite male’s status, through creation and administration of foundations.

      • Nornagest says:

        Hint: anything with a majority of women active in it is immediately lowered in class.

        Ballet comes to mind as a counterexample.

        • Maware says:

          You’d need to compare it to the comparable male pursuit in the same class. Lacrosse and Crew are both relatively high status, but probably Crew would win out. Not sure what the male one would be…classical musician? composer?

          edit: also there’s the “category x” from fussell of the high class courtesan aka Geisha. Ballet dancers in the west have a decent amount of similiarities I think.

  48. Steve Sailer says:

    One interesting question is the class background of the people who buy expensive condos from Trump: my guess is that his properties appeal to professional athletes, entertainers, and foreign oligarchs. They probably don’t appeal to people with Old Money tastes. Here’s Wikipedia’s list for Trump Tower on Park Avenue:

    Present and past tenants:

    Donald Trump and family
    “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haitian dictator (apartment 54-K)[12]
    Gucci (flagship store), ground retail
    Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz Al Saud[13]
    Andrew Lloyd-Webber[13]
    The 17th floor is occupied by the offices of CONCACAF, the administrators of soccer in North and Central America.[14]
    The former President of CONCACAF, Chuck Blazer, lived in two apartments on the 49th floor. The second of the two apartments was occupied mainly by his cats.[14]
    Bruce Willis
    Cristiano Ronaldo
    José Maria Marin, former President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, currently under house arrest in his apartment.[15]

  49. Saul Degraw says:

    Also I am surprised no one brought up this book yet:

  50. Steve Sailer says:

    Economic historian Gregory Clark’s book “The Son Also Rises” analyzes surnames. It finds that there is a lot of class continuity over the centuries, more than economists expected looking at correlation of income between fathers and sons. It turns out there is higher correlation between grandfathers and grandsons than the father-son correlation would lead you to expect. As Scott’s example about his relatives explains, there is a lot of noise. It’s not uncommon for there to be a yo-yo pattern on income over the generations at the upper end of society — a tycoon’s son become an artist (because he can afford it), and the artist’s son becomes a tycoon.

    • Sastan says:

      What was it John Adams said (and I paraphrase heavily): “I must study war and politics so that my sons may study mathematics and philosophy, and their children may study poetry and painting”.

      Problem is, after a generation or two of poetry and painting, someone has to go back to studying war.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        No, or at least not nearly as many of them—if the prevalence of war and violence has significantly declined.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          The men who lived in the hundred years of peace between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the start of the First World War could have said the same thing.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            1821 Greece
            1826 Persia
            1848 Italy
            1848 Hungry
            1854 Crimea
            1870 France
            1877 Bulgaria

            Not exactly peace

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            The colonisation of Africa, the Boer wars, Schleswig-Holstein, the Russo-Japanese war, the various 20th century Balkan wars, colonial conflicts in Indonesia, Afghanistan..

            .. What a time to be alive!

      • keranih says:

        It was indeed John Adams

        I could fill Volumes with Descriptions of Temples and Palaces, Paintings, Sculptures, Tapestry, Porcelaine, &c. &c. &c. — if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty. The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Studies Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

        The part I hadn’t understood before was that he was actually in France, and deeply impressed with the art and culture there, and wishing that he had time to spend just enjoying it, discovering more and more about the creation of these fine things…but he had a fledgling nation to help stagger to its feet.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          See, this quote itself seems to me to demonstrate the exact opposite of the “be prepared for the zombie apocalypse” mentality.

          Adams sees war, politics, and violence as necessary evils. They ought to be pursued in his generation, yes, but they are comparatively low and degenerate. By pursuing them, he paves the way for future generations to engage in more refined pursuits: first the more practical sciences, but then later the arts and humanities.

          On the other hand, the war-worshipping mindset is just the reverse: war, politics, and violence represent the height of masculine virtue, but society gradually becomes soft, effeminate, and “pussified” because it pursues these other “useless” things. And eventually they get enslaved by other cultures who focused on war.

          The Adams view sees this a progressive change reflecting a society that becomes stronger over time, while the other view sees this as a degenerative change reflecting a society that weakens to the point of collapse.

          • keranih says:

            While I don’t disagree with you on the long view, I note that we still have people studying war.

            I think Adams was off by an order of magnitude on his generation count.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Adams didn’t expect the US to become world police or imperial power. His view meshes with the US between 1865-1898/1917.

          • Sastan says:

            @ Vox

            There is no worshipping of war here. Only a grim knowledge of what it is and entails.

            All we have and attain rests on a bed of violence. There is no knowledge, no art, no peace without the ever present threat of violence. What was said about the Romans? “They make the land a desert and call it peace”. Because that’s what peace is, the temporary period when everyone is too scared of the current big bad guy to dick up the international order. In that space is born all that is productive and good about humanity.

            In the long run, every nation falls. What we buy with our study of war, our limbs and our youth is a few more years of peace and plenty. Years we could have enjoyed, but would have come at a cost to others, later on.

            Everyone seems to think war can be eradicated. It hasn’t been so far, and better men than you or I have tried. The thing about necessary evils isn’t so much that they are evil, but that they are necessary.

          • hlynkacg says:


            And I suppose that you think your hands are clean?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Bit of a tangent here, but where on earth does all of this anti-military animus come from?

            Not saying it’s new to me, I’ve heard a lot of it, but I have a hard time placing the motivation. Is it the percieved smugness of veterans talking about how “you need [them] on that wall!” too often? Is it a general disgust with violence? Dislike of American foreign policy bleeding over onto the enlisted men?

            My area was a very deep Blue, but we had enough career Navy families around at least to put the lie to most of the usual stereotypes. Maybe it’s different with Army or Marines types, but nobody I knew wasted his life (most came out with valuable technical skills at least) and the US thalassocracy they helped support is an undeniable good for world trade.

          • hlynkacg says:

            There are a lot of children that grow up being told that nobody becomes a soldier if they have a better option so they naturally assume that soldiers are part of the underclass. Then when they enter the adulthood they seek to signal their status by being conspicuously hostile or dismissive towards those below them on the social ladder. Enlisted military are just conspicuous targets, who due to their own taboos, are less likely to retaliate.

            Most eventually grow out of it. But every now and then you get one who becomes addicted to the “holier than thou” attitude.

          • LeeEsq says:

            People who serve in navies always have the stereotype of being more cosmopolitan and liberal than members of other branches of the military regardless of the country. This stereotype exists even if they are rough and tumble sailors rather than polished officers. I suspect that this stereotype exists because, until recently, people serving in the navy were more likely to come across people from other countries and cultures on a regular basis in a context of not trying to kill them. This gave naval people a cosmopolitan gloss and made them more acceptable to those not prone to look kindly on the military.

          • Pku says:

            I think the anti-military emotion is probably a response to the “everything you value is solely because of our heroic sacrifice!” attitude of (former?) military people. Which if you believe the factual side of duncan’s statements (which seems broadly true, with some exceptions), is indeed incredibly annoying.

          • Sastan says:

            No heroism either, pku.

            Most of us are just people doing a job. Some of us are bad people who found a way to contribute despite ourselves.

            You can whine about attitude, but until you eliminate warfare, you still need us. Peace is not my job. It’s yours.

            I look forward to the elimination of my position, but am skeptical of the probability.

          • Anonymous says:

            Which if you believe the factual side of duncan’s statements (which seems broadly true, with some exceptions)

            If you were still keeping up with this comment section, I would ask you, would you have the goodness to indicate where exactly, Pku, are the factual statements in that brief diatribe of his?

            I confess it’s beyond my ability to detect any, despite being a pure civilian.

  51. Steve Sailer says:

    Charles Murray’s 2012 book “Coming Apart” has a quiz asking about class markers that struck me as pretty accurate: e.g., I scored as “a first generation upper-middle class child of middle class parents,” which is right on the money.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the 2012 version of the “bubble” quiz online. Murray put a preliminary version online earlier, but it was less deft.

  52. Saul Degraw says:

    Late to the game again but some questions:

    1. Donal Trump went to and graduate from the University of Pennsylvania? Since when is UPENN second tier? Unless you believe anything out of HYPS is second tier which is pretty snobby. You here is a general you.

    2. The basic analysis of the left using economics and the right using culture is fairly spot on.

    3. I think most Americans want to see themeselves as middle class. There is something distasteful in American culture overall about not needing to work and having all the money and time in the world. The American ideal seems to be ample amount of discretionary income but having to do so through some kind of work. I think this is why Lawyers and Doctors are pretty high status jobs in the U.S. (along with other professionals). People equate them with high incomes but also needing to work.

    4. I am not a fan of the idea of college being a finishing school for an upper class but it is obviously is to some extent. I say this as someone who is proud to be a graduate of an elite small, liberal arts college and someone who later went to law school. My economic and career path has not been as smooth as wanted but it is something that a lot of people would be very envious of.

    5. I am also unsure of the whole middle class and try to go to church thing because it seems exclusionary of large segments of the American population. Then again, I might have grown up in an uncommonly secular part of the United States. I went to services on the High Holidays but I can hardly say my upbringing was super-religious.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, HYP-S, keep telling yourself that.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        For the record, I did not go to any of those schools but was reflecting on a classic essay from a few years ago called “Cornell and Brown are Second Tier.” Allegedly in the world of brass ring jobs (the kind that pay 22 year olds six-figures), the Wall Street firms and Consulting firms barely look at people who went to schools like Cornell and Brown. Cornell and Brown are fine schools.

        Mainly I was a bit confused about how Scott thinks Trump went to a mediocre school when he went to PENN.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Trump’s undergrad career was similar to Obama’s: started at Fordham, finished at Penn, just as Obama started at Occidental and finished at Columbia.

          It’s not clear that Trump fully fit in socially at Penn’s Wharton School. He was busy buying and renovating properties in Philadelphia during his years there. You were supposed to be learning about business from textbooks, not engaging in it while an undergrad.

          In general, Trump appears to have been Trump his entire life.

    • Liskantope says:

      I’ve always understood “first-tier” to quite literally refer to Ivy League schools, while “second-tier” refers to the very good schools that are just below Ivy League. IME “second-tier” still has a very positive connotation.

      • suntzuanime says:

        A poorly chosen paraphrase I think – Scott’s actual words were “medium-tier” which is a lot less positive.

        But I agree with you. If the truth is snobby, I desire to be snobby…

      • I would have said that Stanford and Chicago are at the same level as Harvard and Yale, probably a bit above the less prestigious Ivies. But I’m an academic, so my criteria may not be the same ones you were thinking of.

  53. Steve Sailer says:

    “the very dubious value judgment that upper-class culture is superior to lower-class culture”

    It doesn’t seem that dubious to me.

    • suntzuanime says:

      AIUI that was Scott’s attempt at summarizing someone else’s claims, rather than a claim made by Scott.

    • Maware says:

      It wasn’t the working class that coined terms like ennui, fin de siecle, alienation, etc. If you read a decent amount of upper-class cultural artifacts, you find that despite their advantages, they are startlingly unhappy and adrift. The average literary novel is far more depressing than reading a western or watching a kung-fu movie.

  54. Guy says:

    “the upper classes have a culture where you defend your honor by submitting complaints”

    I would suggest rather that the upper classes have a culture where your honor must survive on its own; having to defend it at all is a sign that you are lower class, and even more so if you have to defend it publicly.

  55. Ghatanathoah says:

    In regards to the comment about the Gentry being better at conflict resolution than labor, this reminds me strongly of the history of conflict resolution and “honor cultures” vs. “dignity cultures.”

    The idea is that in the past people resolved conflicts by direct conflict, like getting into fights and taking revenge. This was pretty bad because everyone is biased in the favor of themselves, their friends, and their family, so if someone takes revenge against them they will in turn take revenge against that person, even if they were in the wrong in the first place. Some attempts were made to improve this system, like trying to limit the level of revenge with “eye for an eye” rules and establishing dueling codes and rules that reduced the amount of damage the fight would do and mandated cooling off periods before the fight.

    A better solution was found by establishing a system of laws and courts where third parties settled disputes instead of the disputants themselves. Forcing everyone to abide by the rules of an objective third party helped stop the endless cycle of revenge and violence, and led to more equitable resolutions. This isn’t a new observation, the “Oresteia” is basically a set of plays about how awesome ancient Athens is because it figured this out. Cultures that rely more on personal conflict resolution are called “honor cultures,” whereas ones that rely on third parties are called “dignity cultures.”

    The Labor class seems to skew more towards “honor” culture whereas the Gentry are more “dignity” focused. I think “dignity” culture is objectively better than “honor” culture, as long as the third parties are reasonably reliable.

    Social justice can be seen as an example of a group that has figured out how to “hack” a systemic flaw that modern third-party conflict resolvers have. They have realized that if you accuse your opponent of being an oppressor and claim that something they did that upsets you is part of a larger society-wide oppression; some third-parties are much more likely to rule in their favor, regardless of whether or not that’s fair. I can’t think of any historical examples of groups of people who successfully hacked a third party, but I’m sure some exist. (Maybe the sycophants of ancient Athens are an example?)

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      The problem with dignity culture, why I wouldn’t say that it’s objectively better despite the obvious advantages, is that you need the third party judges to actually be on your side. If not, then you’re up shit creek without a paddle because the “objective” ruling will come down against you 100% of the time. In honor culture even if you’re physically weaker you can ward people off by being crazier, but in dignity culture the weaker party is hosed period.

      I got a good view of this comparing my father’s and younger brother’s experiences growing up. My dad grew up dirt poor in the worst neighborhood in the city, where honor was the rule, and despite his autistic weirdness the gangs in his area left him alone because he would literally fight to the death if it came down to it. My little brother, on the other hand, was bullied over that kind of thing his entire life by the punks in our middle class neighborhood and the dignity culture authorities almost threw him out of school for it. I grew up under a dignity culture but it seems like an insanely unfair way to run a society. Even a small guy can sometimes win a fight, but the “little guy” will never get a fair shake from bureaucrats.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        I think that your dad’s experience might have partly resulted from living in an honor culture that was near a dignity culture, where authorities might ignore fighting and bullying, but wouldn’t ignore murder. In a purer honor culture the gangs might have just killed him one day.

        Still, your more general point stands. But I have to say that I think societies full of cycles of violence and revenge are generally much less pleasant to live in for the average person. There are exceptions, obviously, like your dad and brother. But I think dignity cultures are usually better, at least from a Rawlsian/utilitarian perspective.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          Maybe, though this was mostly in the “Escape from New York” period. I think the main reason they didn’t is that just like any other animal people will generally back down rather than take unnecessary risks, provided they have an out. If you’re willing to roll the dice on being a boar or a wolverine then more often than not you’ll get left alone even by the bigger predators… although those odds can definitely catch up with you long term.

          I think I prefer living in a dignity culture all told but it really is immensely chaffing. Not sure if that’s nurture or nature speaking.

        • “But I have to say that I think societies full of cycles of violence and revenge are generally much less pleasant to live in for the average person. ”

          I think the degree to which feud institutions lead to cycles of violence and revenge is greatly exaggerated, in part because it makes better stories than the cases where the feud terminates at the first or second round. Thus we have the popular version of the Hatfield and McCoys, with a long series of killings going back to the Civil War, in contrast to the real case, where three people beat up one person, when he died his relatives killed the three, then nothing happened for five years until the governor of Kentucky sent a posse into West Virginia to try to arrest the killers–without permission from that state’s authorities. That resulted in three more deaths (not counting one of the original killers who got arrested, dragged back to Kentucky, tried and hanged), and that was it.

          As I read the evidence on saga period Iceland, prior to the final period of violent breakdown that started about two hundred and fifty years after it was established, most feuds got settled–although the ones that didn’t made better stories.

          Sufficiently curious people may want to look at the draft of my current book project on legal systems very different from ours, several chapters of which touch on feud systems, ancient and modern.

          • ivvenalis says:

            In addition to being good entertainment, perhaps sagas about unresolved feuds served as a warning about letting things get too out of hand?

          • Emlin says:

            I’m enjoying reading your book – would you be interested in having copy-edit sort of notes (like typos) sent your way, or is it not in a state for that sort of thing yet?

      • suntzuanime says:

        Systems where you’re expected to defend yourself with violence are tough on those who are bad at violence; systems where you’re expected to defend yourself by calling on a third party are tough on those who are bad at manipulating the third party in question. As an example of the former, I’m a fan of civilization.

    • Sastan says:

      The only problem with a “dignity” culture is that it only takes one defector to ruin it.

      The “dignity” culture is a fiction that works as long as no one notices the violence it is based on. And the tacit agreement not to resort to violence by the participants. If this ever breaks, “dignity” adherents become nothing more than especially easy targets.

      I agree that as a system, it is superior. But it is also more delicate. What’s the old saying? “Those who beat their swords into plowshares will plow for those who didn’t”. If you like your dignity culture, make sure not to outlive it.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        I’m not sure what you mean. Dignity cultures have prisons full of defectors (and innocent people too, but that’s a whole other issue). When someone defects in a dignity culture you call 911 and a third party takes care of the defector for you.

        • Sastan says:

          Yes, and what happens when the third party decides they’re not going to be even-handed? You’d be better off with honor. What happens if the third party is incapable? Better off with honor. As I said, it’s a better system when it works, but that is rare in this world. Honor systems are the fallback position, and it is my opinion that everyone should know how to navigate one, because you might find yourself there one day.

          • hlynkacg says:


          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Honor systems are the fallback position, and it is my opinion that everyone should know how to navigate one, because you might find yourself there one day.

            That’s ridiculous.

            That’s like saying that everyone should know how to farm because just maybe society will collapse and those of us who are left will have to go back to being medieval peasants. Or, I don’t know, maybe the smarter ones ought to do a lot of medieval swordfighting practice so that they can be the knights and oppress everyone else.

          • Sastan says:

            @ Vox

            I happen to think the odds of someone from a dignity culture finding themselves in an honor culture is slightly higher than the complete collapse of all modern economic life.

            All it takes is a stint in jail. Or a breakdown in a rough part of town. Or a trip to a foreign country. All of these are not exactly once-a-millennium occurrences.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Sastan:

            I guess I misunderstood what you meant by “knowing how to navigate an honor culture”, then.

            Having a breakdown in a bad part of town doesn’t seem to me to require much of an ability to “navigate an honor culture”. The odds that you are going to get robbed in that short time are minuscule. And even if you did get robbed, it doesn’t take much “cultural knowledge” to know either to hand over the money or be prepared to fight. Knowing how to employ self-defense is not the same as “honor culture”.

            Moreover, I don’t think that it makes much sense for the average person to carry around a gun just in case his car breaks down in the wrong part of town and he gets robbed—the tiny probability of benefit is not worth the hassle. But if he’s interested in it as a hobby, fine.

            Nor does it really apply to visiting foreign countries, unless we’re talking about going to hang out in the Congo. I’ve spent significant time in Russia and China—which are not exactly uncivilized hellholes, but which are much less developed than the U.S.—but I stuck to very Westernized and safe areas. I never felt threatened—and even if I did, knowing how to deal with threats is not the same as knowing how to navigate an honor culture.

            As for prison, sure. But I don’t think people have a rational obligation to brush up on prison culture just in case they end up there one day. I think you’re better off placing your bets on “make sure I don’t end up in prison”. I’m not sure exactly what one would do to be better prepared for prison—maybe work out more?—but the benefit doesn’t seem to be worth the cost.

          • Psmith says:

            “That’s like saying that everyone should know how to farm because just maybe society will collapse and those of us who are left will have to go back to being medieval peasants.”

            That’s damn good advice, though!

            I dunno. If you think that learning how to feed yourself absent grocery stores, knowing a little first aid, having a few weeks’ worth of freeze-dried food in the basement, and so on is a good idea constitutes a reductio ad absurdum…well, yeah, I suppose you would disagree with Sastan there.

          • “That’s like saying that everyone should know how to farm because just maybe society will collapse and those of us who are left will have to go back to being medieval peasants.”

            I think you are missing the degree to which people in a modern society are in an honor culture as well as a dignity culture. A lot of the mechanism of norm enforcement involves a low level feud system—if you wrong me I hurt you.

            A better analogy than yours might be learning to cook. We live in a society where many meals are bought on the market but many are made at home.

            “Or, I don’t know, maybe the smarter ones ought to do a lot of medieval swordfighting practice so that they can be the knights and oppress everyone else.”

            Now that I can go for.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman

            A better analogy than yours might be learning to cook. We live in a society where many meals are bought on the market but many are made at home.

            The reason for this, surely, is that meals spoil very quickly and aren’t easy to preserve – meaning your choice is between mildly costly preserved food of middling quality, expensive tasty food prepared for you on the spot, or cheap tasty food that you prepare yourself. Is that wrong?

            I would expect that if some new technology allowed hot meals to be mass produced and preserved as easily as, say, clothes, the number of people who cook for themselves would drop to roughly equal the number of people who make their own clothes.

          • Cadie says:

            Anonymous: Only if this technology also allowed us to easily produce a generations’ worth of minimum food and somehow motivated us to do that, making the ability to cook almost worthless for the average person. This situation is very unlikely.

            Even in a major economic collapse, there exists enough clothing that nobody is going to have to go naked for decades. Clothes last a long time, especially when they’re kept despite stains and small tears and hardier clothes are preferred. Enough people would know how to sew as a hobby that they could teach others before it became necessary for people to do it frequently. And if it’s warm and you’re darker than fair-skinned, being naked wouldn’t be fatal or even hurt you much anyway.

            Food, on the other hand, is something everyone needs almost every day and preserved goods will run out quickly. The ability to cook gives you a much wider range of available food from hunting, gathering, and gardening, and reduces your chance of getting a foodborne illness from something of questionable freshness.

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            @David Friedman

            I think you are missing the degree to which people in a modern society are in an honor culture as well as a dignity culture. A lot of the mechanism of norm enforcement involves a low level feud system—if you wrong me I hurt you.

            Absolutely. There are no “pure” dignity and honor cultures. The dignity culture we have now suppresses violent conflicts, but honor culture certainly still exists for some nonviolent conflicts.

            Yes, and what happens when the third party decides they’re not going to be even-handed?

            We have these things called “appeals,” “checks and balances,” “protests,” and “democratic reform” that we use to deal with situations like that. It’s not perfect, I admit, but what system is?

        • Brian says:

          And that third party will be from a labor class/honor culture, and the gentry will go into hysterics of the third party uses noticeable violence beyond the approval level of the gentry.

      • anonymous says:

        The Zombies are coming! The Zombies are coming! Please God, let the Zombies come soon!

    • Max says:

      There is another problem with “dignity”. – competition with honor cultures
      Both Roman Empire and Byzantine Empires fell from their own excesses of fat “cultured” lifestyle. In 1453 Constantinopole with population of 200 000 people could only field 4000 army and 5000 mercenaries.

      Today people say things changed. – People no longer need to fight personally . We have drones etc. But I would argue it makes things worse if there is serious conflict and its escalates to the point where that 3d party is not there anymore to protect. It does not need to be a foreign invasion. Civil strife of sufficient intensity will do

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        Where exactly are you getting the 200,000 figure from? Between the fourth crusade, the black plague, and everyone from both Eastern Europe and Anatolia making war on the Romans, I doubt Constantinople will have had very many people in it at the time. I’m not even mentioning here that measuring by population is kind of a dumb metric; even if 200,000 isn’t off, people who spend enough of their time fighting to mount a good defence aren’t those who can also actually keep such a large city running.

  56. Eric Bahr says:

    It was my assumption that most of the content of this post was just common sense for people familiar with Marxism and modern history. Things like social, scientific, and philosophical progress go hand-in-hand with advances that the gentry makes. This is why we hold the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation so highly, because they represent progress that the gentry made against the Elites.

    • Max says:

      Magna Carta – elites limiting the king.) Bill of Rights – elites making their own country. Emancipation Proclamation – elites of north winning over elites of south? Where is gentry in this?

      Women suffrage is probably real product of gentry and so is civil rights movement. Because in first case it multiplied their political power (women are more like g and vote closer to g) and in second they hoped to co-opt and expand underclass power .

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        Magna Carta: The King was an elite, the gentry were, well, the gentry.

        Emancipation Proclamation: I’d actually say Labor and Gentry both contributed a lot to this. A large part of opposition to slavery came from laborers scared slaves would take their jobs. But there were also the gentry intellectuals who opposed it as well.

        I don’t think your analysis of the Civil Rights movement is quite right either. The biggest and most remembered parts of the Civil Rights movement occurred when the black gentry engaged in a program of “respectability politics” where they convinced the white gentry that they had a lot in common. “Black Power” and other movements that focused more on the black underclass were met with skepticism by the white gentry and were far less successful. It seems less like an attempt to coopt the underclass and more an attempt to unite the gentry.

        • Max says:

          Who forced King to sign Magna Carta? – Barons – large Feudals, elites of the time , not priests and cobblers (gentry of its time)

          The Slave emancipation is complex but I think the core driver was industrialization. The newly rising manufacturing elites wanted more control. They got it. And yeah gentry had on their banners “slavery is bad” for a while . But while gentry might espouse certain ideas they rarely (ever?) are the one actually doing anything about them. Such was the case with both revolutions (french and russian), Oliver Cromwell Civil War and pretty much every other significant historical event.

          Though religious reformations could probably be chalked up to cultural class- it was done by clergy on their own initiative and often in spite of powers. Ironically it quickly got out their hands and resulted in big mess(the Devastating Religious wars ). And I dont even go to the mess in 20th centurys – most of which was gentrys idea picked up by L/E

          • nimim. k.m. says:

            >Such was the case with both revolutions (french and russian),

            You realize both of them actually started out as very middle-class events?

            Especially the French one.It began with the parliament of Paris deposing the king — a very Gentry body. Even at the height of the revolution, a great portion of the so-called new citizens did not get the right to vote at all — they didn’t own property: the right to vote was granted only the middle class. (Don’t know the actual demographics, it might have been about the half or even the majority of (male) people in France.)

            The “workers rising against the king” is probably a later Marxist branding. (And by the word I mean the real Karl Marx and his contemporaries, not everything on the left.) Especially the Paris commune.

            Russian one was very different, mostly because the middle class was much smaller in the first place, and significant part of the revolution were the masses of conscripted soldiers being disloyal to czar. Still, there were both the government (Kerensky and the Duma, certainly a more middle class institution), and the actual soviets, where socialists (for a large part Bolsheviks) had momentum. The Bolsheviks only started to win only after a straightforward political coup in Petrograd, followed by then a civil war (which they won, sure. with the support from peasants and the workers).

  57. Vijay says:

    “Dalits are the underclass, made up of homeless people, chronically unemployed people, drug addicts, etc. They tend to have a lot of trouble with the law, go in and out of jail, never really hold down stable employment. Status is “street cred” ”

    None of this is actually true for real Dalits. They are overworked, underpaid, ten to have no trouble with law, rarely in jail. There s no such thing as street cred.

    I think using the words Dalit for underclass is insulting. Dalits are Dalits by reason for birth, and nothing else.

    • Morkys says:

      Yeah, not very nice. I think it may be a genuine example of cultural appropriation.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think the Indian analogy was supposed to be meaningful beyond “lowest caste”, “higher caste”, and so on.

      • Vijay says:

        Normally I will not be an ass about this, but Dalits are OUTSIDE the class system! the religion classified them sub-human.

        • JuanPeron says:

          I don’t think that slipped by Moldbug, honestly.

          His Vaisya are Church’s high-end labor, his Helots are Church’s low-end labor. His Dalits are criminals, freeloaders, and those who operate outside usual class distinctions (Scott’s reference to the lumpenproletariat is a similar idea). I think he’s consciously suggesting that class/caste is a ladder these people aren’t on and usually can’t reach. He observes pretty explicitly that this is a status people are born into.

          As for the moral implications of subhumanity, I’m not sure if they were intended but I can’t imagine Moldbug would actively oppose them. He’s pretty far into rightist “the freeloaders are worthless” and would probably buy a non-religious version of the Dalits’ original status.

  58. Anonymous says:

    I would guess that there is less class learning on display at more elite colleges since the funnel is already strong. I went to a crappy college and the spectrum was much more on display. Working class or first generation immigrant children going to mandatory classes on various social issues seemed like a fairly stark illustration.

  59. blacktrance says:

    These tribes seem closely related to classes. “Blue Tribe” is similar to Gentry; “Red Tribe” is similar to Labor. I won’t say there’s a perfect 1:1 equivalence; for example, I know some union leaders who are very clearly in the Labor class but who wouldn’t be caught dead in the Red Tribe. But the resemblance is too close to miss.

    The intersection between class and cultural tribe is interesting and complicated. There’s Red Labor, such as a typical car mechanic in the South, but there’s also non-Red (but still not Blue) Labor, such as heavily unionized workers (whose type may be the poor white voters supporting Sanders). There’s Red Gentry, who have four-year degrees and professional jobs but don’t have a self-image of being creative and certainly don’t care about fair-trade coffee or conflict diamonds. The small-town engineer who attends church twice a week and whose children go on religious missions is Red Gentry, and so is the construction company owner who lives in upper-middle class suburbs and likes complaining about the Democrats. But higher social classes are no longer Red Tribe territory, even though people in them may still support Republicans and attend church at least occasionally. And then there’s the factor of race, such as minority laborers who are similar to Red Labor along some axes (e.g. religiosity) but are on the opposite side politically and don’t see them as allies.

  60. Michael Vassar says:

    My parents were a doctor and a lawyer. I went to Penn State and learned enough Labor/high-prole culture to manage there, which was beneficial. I know labor/high prole people who learned E4/E3 at Harvard/Yale/Princeton, and Stanford has it’s own variant of E3.

  61. Maybe we should think of classes as two or even three-dimensional.

  62. ” People tend to confuse social class with economic class, eg how much money you make. But social class is a more complicated idea…”

    That’s the most obvious thing in the world to a Brit.

    Class 2-dimensionalism has been on my mind in relation to Michael Young’s Meritocracy. He of course disapproved of meritocracy, and did so on the grounds that the best and brightest should stay “in” their class. But the experience of years of social mobility is that people don’t entirely leave their former class and assimilate into their new one. Class-based politics requires them to, but it doens’t really work in practice.

    • honestlymellowstarlight says:

      Funny how immigration arguments pop up in the weirdest places.

      • xtmar says:

        Demographics is destiny.

        (Not really, but it does have a lot of influence, and people rightly fear adverse changes in demographics)

  63. Max says:

    It looks like there is very important dimension missing. It is mentioned, very briefly in MCs article, but not analyzed – masculinity

    Status is zero-sum game, you have to fight or lose. You have to be able to take a hit and dish pain out.
    This what distinguishes L/E from gentry . That is what unites them. And that is what missing from large part of modern gentry. Gentry live in make believe world (and so is prevalence of escapism in this segment) .They want violence be done by somebody else on their behalf.

    Elites know that power belongs to those who go for it hell or high water. They are high stakes players. Literal Wolfs of wall street and Gordon Gecko. Mark Cuban and Donald Trump

    Labour knows that govt doesn’t give a shit about them and on street – its you or them. Labour joins army, become police and firefighters .They love Football and UFC

    Gentry longs for o safety of academia, civil service sinecures and “safe” jobs . And escapes in anime, computer games, fantasy and comics. Leaders of gentry – they are not leaders. They are clowns (Woody Allen, John Stewart etc) . Their spiritual beliefs(if any) is the most escapist of them all – Buddhism

    p.s. Bill Gates is typical gentry but his company success is largely because of cut throat policies (probably in large part because of Steve Ballmer). And clowns are not always effeminate (George Carlin) which also reflect on his lack of popularity with gentry

    • null says:

      In what way do ‘Gentry live in make believe world’?

      • xtmar says:

        They live in the real world, but are sufficiently insulated from the shocks of the world that their connection to the meaner parts of it is very tenuous.

        For instance, government is ultimately a monopoly on force. It may do lots of nice things on the side, but at base it exists because of, and in order to enforce, a monopoly on force. The lowest classes see this because they’re at the whim of the government in various ways (welfare payments, police harassment, etc), while the elite see the ability of the government to stifle their competitors and so on, and thus play hard ball with it. However, the Gentry generally only deal with the bureaucratic and slow but nice enough face of the government, and don’t really connect that with the fact that trying to remove guns means stop and frisk, for instance.

        As in many things in politics, the ends are closer to each other than to the middle.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        That isn’t a make believe world. That is a lack of understanding for things they aren’t familiar with. They show plenty of comprehension for things they are familiar with that others don’t.

      • hlynkacg says:

        @ null

        There’s no blood, and no real stakes.

        Whether this is due to willful escapism or simply being sheltered is up for debate, and probably varies by individual.

    • TheNybbler says:

      Bill Gates is elite. Old money elite, no less, William Henry Gates III. This is a bit confused because he took some time out to make a lot more money and act like noveau-riche, but as the well-bred say, “breeding will out”, and since he started his foundation he’s acted pretty much like you’d expect from old money.

  64. Eli says:

    So how do any of the models being proposed here – most of which are (as usual on SSC) designed to rationalize the poster’s relatively conservative-to-moderate-liberal views – explain Bernie Sanders picking up the white working class?

    • nydwracu says:

      Sanders and Trump are the only candidates who don’t give off the impression that they’d like to grind us into a paste and eat it with caviar while underage illegals blow their Viagra-pulsing chodes for three cents and a McDouble.

      Notice which candidates the shitwriting class wants to portray as disgusting.

      • Eli says:

        But could you please actually explain this in detail? Because I’m simply not understanding the weird cluster-structures at work here.

        From my perspective (and I use a Marxist classification: relation to means of production), I’m in the salariat. My parents were in the salariat, except when recessions made them unemployed (which, at one point, would have meant we’d be on food stamps if my stepdad hadn’t come into the picture shortly before Mom got laid off). Our sense of political consciousness comes from being New York leftist Jews.

        So I think that despite being salaried and making $90k/year, I’m ultimately a worker. I sell my labor-power so I can get money to pay rent, buy food, pay health-insurance, and ultimately keep myself materially alive. I am not in the same class as someone who, for instance, comes from family money based on owning a chain of hotels (my boss, who I actually like a lot because he admits his privilege and can talk about cool stuff).

        Even within less Marxian, more typical class gradations, I think of myself as a merely very well-paid pleb. Weirdly, this holds however much money I contemplate making and however much actual privilege I have myself. I have to work to live: I do not make my living from rents, dividends, or capital gains. I went to a state university, even if it was a flagship one, which differentiates me from most of the other people I meet at work these days, who mostly went to Ivy League-grade universities (often MIT and Harvard themselves).

        (As a result of this self-perception, I probably take fewer career risks than are optimal and probably set my ambitions somewhat too low.)

        From my perspective, the decades of “values voters” and “Taxed Enough Already” were some kind of bizarre bad dream, in which millions of people in the high proletariat (wage-class) to low salariat (salary class) were somehow convinced that actively fucking over everyone who works for a living was a great idea, because they themselves were “obviously” (self-delusionally) not actually dirty proles. Please, read the link: it’s important. A good TL;DR is that a lot of the so-called “Culture Wars” consisted in a fight between upper-income whites who went to university (the Democratic “liberal elite”) and upper-income whites who didn’t (Republican “values voters”), the weird part being that they’re basically all upper-income whites and meanwhile, low-income whites and non-whites have basically always voted for their economic self-interest.

        From my perspective, Bernie Sanders winning votes among the white working class is a reversion to a rationally comprehensible political universe, in which people perceive and vote for their own material interests as labor-power-sellers, against the interests of money-time sellers (finance), land-time sellers (real-estate rentiers), and natural-resource sellers (commodities industries), instead of turning politics into some bizarre contest of fantasy-based resentments between narrow classes of assholes with money, each of which is convinced the other has had more sex than them.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I reject your analysis of the culture wars. And as a low (working his way towards mid) level wage earner, I find your tone/choice of framing to be incredibly patronizing and borderline insulting.

          For all their talk of “helping the working class” the american left seems to really hate work and the people who do it. IMO there was never anything wrong with Kansas, the working class just had a better sense of working class interests than their betters did. They also tend to be really skeptical of anything that resembles a tulip subsidy because they (rightly) expect to be the ones left holding the grenade when the music finally stops.

          That Sanders draws support from those who expect to benefit from his policies is unsurprising. That said, not everyone expects to benefit and they can get a bit uppity when bourgeoisie dandies such as yourself imply that they ought to standing in line for welfare rather than standing on an assembly line.

          • hlynkacg says:


            It’s too late to edit, my previous comment but I’d like to apologize for the “bourgeoisie dandy” bit.

            That said your comment struck a particularly raw nerve. To clarify and elaborate…

            My parents were an Electrical Engineer and a teacher, probably mid level labour or bottom tier gentry on MC’s scale. I graduated high school but had neither the grades nor the inclination to go to college so I worked various menial jobs until I enlisted after 9/11. I served 8 years and leveraged my experience doing SAR/MedEvac into a job with a local ambulance company, I did that for another 4 years while also serving as a reservist before “burning out” and deciding that I ought to finally go to school and get some proper credentials. Now I’m an entry level engineer earning an hourly wage, and wondering if my contract will be renewed.

            Most of my friends are cops, fire fighters, and auto-mechanics, solid L2/L3 types.

            Point being that I think my “working class” cred is pretty damn solid and by framing your comment the way you did you implied that you have a better grasp of my situation than I do.

            I don’t see Republican or Tea-Party proposals as specifically “fucking me over”, sure there are issues but most are manageable.

            What I do see however is a whole lot of empty rhetoric from certain circles about how they’re “helping the working class” when they aren’t helping at all and, more often then not, are making things worse.

            Things like open borders, raising the minimum wage, and mandatory benefits don’t help me. What they do is weaken my negotiating position with potential employers.

            Likewise when I see a politician on TV going on about wonderful it is that some factory or mine is shutting down because it was horrible, and dangerous place that was wrecking the environment. I suspect that the miners and factory-workers who are now looking through the want-ads might feel a bit differently, and would expect them to vote accordingly.

            Finally when we have an issue of genuine and immediate concern these supposed “champions of the working class” are MIA. The Democrats dropped the ball on the recent issues with the VA and IRS and a lot of people of are going to remember that next they come around begging for money and votes.

          • Eli says:

            @hlynkacg (how am I supposed to mentally pronounce that, anyway?):

            I wasn’t trying to be condescending or tell you your interests. I probably very much disagree with your assessment of your interests, but without the kind of knowledge about your life that I could only get from being, say, immediate family, I’m simply not able to know your interests.

            That said, you’re lucky your comment didn’t come across as actually calling me a bourgeois dandy, since I would have reached through the screen and punched you :-).

            Reason being, if you actually read my link about “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, you’ll see it was written by an academic sociologist who was telling Thomas Frank not to conflate lack of a college degree with low-incomes. High-income people voting Republican isn’t mysterious at all, even if they never went to college. It’s normal self-interest, and if the Democratic Party spent some of its propaganda on telling high-income people without college degrees that their lack of a degree makes them as icky as actual poor people, yeah, that’s gonna come across as condescending douchebaggery.

            What I do see however is a whole lot of empty rhetoric from certain circles about how they’re “helping the working class” when they aren’t helping at all and, more often then not, are making things worse.

            See, I’d really like to know which circles these actually are. Because, my own precise frustration with the Democratic Party as a leftist has been: almost nobody in the Democratic Party, until Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, has actually represented the wage-and-salary classes on bread-and-butter economic issues. I mean stuff like union rights, trade balance, the use of quasi-legal immigration to beat down wages (Mexican farm-workers and Indian H1-B programmers aren’t that different), bankruptcy and usury laws, retirement benefits, and medical care.

            Of those things I listed, I bet you’ve only ever heard Social Security and medical stuff actually talked about all that recently by anyone in the goddamn Democratic Party. From my perspective, this has always been because the Democratic Party isn’t a left-wing party — at all. If you wanted to describe it as the “San Francisco dandy” wing of a fundamentally right-wing capitalist party, I’d actually agree wholeheartedly, and then add in some nasty comments about white-collar professionals aspiring to be dandies, and some sympathetic comments about how secularism and workers’ movements are stuck with this shitty party.

            Like, I’m not opposed to gay marriage or transgender rights, but I always thought that an issue affecting 10% of the population at most should come after issues affecting 99% of the population (ie: everyone who works for a living). When Obama won, I was really fucking glad to be rid of Bush and safe from Palin, but I didn’t have any particularly high hopes for anything from Obama. He just didn’t seem like a very left-wing candidate.

            Unfortunately, what I’m getting from this page and these comment threads is that, by and large, until Bernie Sanders and his “democratic socialism” (actually social democracy), nobody has actually associated left-wing politics with bread-and-butter issues at all, not for decades on end. Instead, “leftist” has come to signal “dandy”, and we two angrily talk past each-other when we actually probably agree on many issues.

            Hell, we could probably even talk where we disagree, and reduce our disagreement to one over facts. For instance, I favor raising the minimum wage (and/or the institution of a basic income) because I believe it strengthens the worker’s negotiating position with their employer. If you showed me evidence that high minimum wages weaken the working class in its daily confrontation with capital, I would change my mind.

            Can we agree to treat “socialist” and “social-democrat” as meaning “the kind of ‘leftist’ focused on chiefly economic issues” and “liberal” as “the kind of ‘leftist’ focused chiefly on cultural issues”?

          • HlynkaCG says:

            No hard feelings. Like I said, I realize that it’s nothing personal, you just hit a raw nerve.

            As for my handle, it’s Ukrainian, pronounced “link-ahh” with a pharyngeal fricative (ħ) on the first consonant.

            With that out of the way…

            I agree with you that the driving force behind the Democratic party is primarily urban gentry, and that this is basically what “the Left” has come to symbolize in American politics.

            I also read your link, and agree with the essentials of your assesment. That said I think that there is a critical assumption that both yourself and the author have “glossed over” that in actuality is really important, specifically…

            the Democratic Party spent some of its propaganda on telling high-income people without college degrees that their lack of a degree makes them as icky as actual poor people, yeah, that’s gonna come across as condescending douchebaggery.

            They did, and it does. However, there are two separate insults here. The high-income people who’ve just been told that they are “as icky” as actual poor people, and the poor people who were just called “icky”.

            The obvious question from the POV of one of those “icky” poor people is; why should I align myself with urban gentry (the Democrats), when I can form a “coalition of the icky” with my rich neighbor?. The rich offer job security, cheap goods, and socially conservative policies (stuff that the icky poor want) in exchange for getting the vote out on tax cuts and deregulation (stuff the icky rich want). This “coalition of the icky” was the beating heart of Regan / Bush style big-tent conservatism, and forms the basis of what Scott calls the “Red Tribe”. The sort of people who watch NASCAR and the people who sponsor/own NASCAR teams united in shared “ickyness” 😉

            The Left’s continued insistence that the poor folk who enter into this coalition are idiots, dupes, and class traitors, only reinforces the sense on the other side that they have made the correct decision in allying with the Right. After all, why would you want to be allied with someone who holds you in such low regard?

            This leaves us to deal with the object level issues…

            The chief problem with having the left dominated by the urban gentry is that no matter how well meaning they might be, they tend to be insulated from the costs of their policies which makes them really bad at cost/benefit analysis. Take minimum wage and mandatory benefits as two of the most obvious examples…

            From my perspective, they give employers perverse incentives that labor then has to work around. If an employer is required to provide an expensive benefit to anyone who works more than X hours a month the obvious solution from the employer’s perspective is to minimize the number of employees that work more than X hours. This puts the laborer who actually wants those extra (x+) hours in a weaker bargaining position than they would have been otherwise.

            Likewise, a similar effect happens when you raise the minimum wage. The guys who are already earning MW+10 don’t get a raise, they just go to making MW+5. Meanwhile the guys who were making MW are now in the position of having to convince their employer to keep them onboard rather than replacing them with an automatic checkout kiosk that costs the same amount (or less) to install/run. Those who were making MW to start are now in a weaker position than they were, and those that were seeking MW jobs now face a higher barrier to entry.

            If you haven’t read it already I strongly recommend Scott’s post “Against Tulip Subsidies” that I linked above as it deftly illustrates just how damaging certain sorts of “help” can be.

          • Marc Whipple says:


            If an employer is required to provide an expensive benefit to anyone who works more than X hours a month the obvious solution from the employer’s perspective is to minimize the number of employees that work more than X hours.


            I still recall the screams of righteous outrage when businesses started scheduling people for 29.5 hours or whatever to get around those kind of provisions. (The guy who runs Papa John’s Pizza, who to be honest does seem kind of abrasive, was a favorite target.)

            “How DARE they game the rules that we made? They are greedy, grasping, greasy gobs of gopher guts!”

            No, dips**t, they are businesspeople who have a responsibility to the shareholders, and who very rightfully wish not only to minimize expenses but to minimize regulatory impact. And I have never, ever heard anything that leads me to believe the average Obamacare supporter gives a snowball in Hell for regulatory impact, even the ones who even know what that is.

            Every employee that slips into a newly-created higher-benefit bracket is not only going to cost more in compensation, but require elaborate and expensive benefit management systems. If I, as a corporate counsel, am asked, “Should we try to schedule workers to minimize the amount of regulatory impact and expense this new benefit system will impose,” my answer is going to be, “I’m not sure the shareholders would win a lawsuit, but they’d have every right to be upset if you didn’t do it assuming there are no corresponding negative effects on the business.” There’s probably a business judgement defense in there, especially for workers with significant experience or skill, but for replaceable cogs in a loose labor market? It’s weak tea, very weak tea.

            I understand that sounds cold. And I understand that those replaceable cogs are real human beings with real lives who also suffer significant impact from this kind of thing. (At the moment, I am essentially a fairly sophisticated replaceable cog myself.) But these are for-profit businesses, not collectives, communes, or kibbutzim. The people who own them can fire or even sue the people who run them if they don’t make sound business judgments. You can’t expect them to fall into line with your hopey dreamy intent just because you meant well.

            Anyway, if what they really MEANT was “Businesses have to give their employees benefits,” they should have written the stupid law that way. They didn’t. And a good thing too, because it would have been far, far worse.

      • Ahilan Nagendram says:

        Depends on who “us” is, what’s the point you had in mind?

    • honestlymellowstarlight says:

      Sure they are. By the construction of your (probable poltiical cheerleading) comment, you are a leftist, so you should be aware of the BernieBro phenomenon: the coordinated media campaign to brand all Bernie supporters sexist and racist “bros”. The class implications here should be very obvious.

    • Liskantope says:

      There seems to be a subset of the American working class which has always been very focused on protecting the rights of working people from the big companies they work for (unionists and such), and it’s not hard to see why Sanders would appeal to such people. I imagine this was a much larger proportion of the working class back in the earlier 1900’s, when worker’s unions were very popular. However, nowadays that type of idealism has perhaps been absorbed somewhat into the gentry class, despite it being less directly relevant to their lives, while a minority of the working class still stands by it. Your link doesn’t work, but I would guess that the claim is about which Democratic candidate is supported by registered Democrats in the working class, which does not refute the notion of conservatism still being dominant within the working class.

      • Eli says:

        Fixed link. And how would we actually know that conservativism is dominant among the working class? Last I’ve read serious studies, apoliticism (“None of these fuckwads will help me at fucking all”) is the most popular ideology among the lower working class.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Your article only says he’s doing better than Hillary among that demographic, and why shouldn’t he? He doesn’t seem any more Gentry than she is, and Blue/Red considerations don’t come into play when they’re both Democrats.

      I’d say the obvious explanation – he’s concerned about economic justice, they’re concerned about economic justice – is probably the right one.

      • Eli says:

        I’d say the obvious explanation – he’s concerned about economic justice, they’re concerned about economic justice – is probably the right one.

        But it’s not the normal one! The conventional narrative has been, for decades, that the working class (what you’re calling the Labor Class) votes for the Right on cultural grounds like “values” and religion and such, or to punish a “liberal elite” of “Gentry” who live in coastal cities!

        And now, all of a sudden, they’re showing a trend of voting on straightforward economics. This is surprising! Where’s an actual explanation?

        • blacktrance says:

          That’s the narrative when it’s Democrat vs Republican, and isn’t necessarily applicable to internal Democratic politics. Maybe the dynamic within the Democratic Labor Class is different from the dynamic of the Labor Class as a whole.

        • Liskantope says:

          Because now, all of a sudden, we have a Democratic candidate whose platform mostly revolves around old-school straightforward economic leftism.

          (And again, “they” in your last paragraph should refer to working-class Democrats. Admittedly, I don’t have data on how much of the working-class leans right, left, or politically apathetic, but your article doesn’t seems to be addressing that anyway.)

          • Eli says:

            (And again, “they” in your last paragraph should refer to working-class Democrats. Admittedly, I don’t have data on how much of the working-class leans right, left, or politically apathetic, but your article doesn’t seems to be addressing that anyway.)

            Fair enough, but it was explicitly noted that Barack Obama, for instance, got his votes disproportionately from upper-income liberals. The same was predicted about Sanders, until he started winning working-class Democrats over to social-democracy.

      • TheNybbler says:

        Hillary reads pure Elite, not Gentry.

        • Liskantope says:

          Hmm, she has a typical gentry background, though, and Bill Clinton’s background was somewhat humbler.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Bill is a much better actor, publically, than his wife. The ability to act well correlates with at least a surface level understand of the class, and engenders sympathy even when known to be false (see also Teddy Roosevelt). Hillary fails this test, but then public perception of her was probably a counterweight to Bill’s signalling that has come back to bite her.

    • Sastan says:

      Easy once you understand tribalism and coalition politics.

      The Democratic Party is a coalition, just like the Republicans. It includes (but is not limited to):

      Minorities, college kids, single women, the creative class, the leftover rump of blue collar unionism.

      It is these last two groups that Sanders does so well among, and for almost opposite reasons. To the kids and creative types, they actually believe all that pie-in-the-sky socialism stuff. For the crusty old union sorts, they’d rather eat shit than vote Republican, but they are pretty deep red tribe for the most part. They are economic liberals rather than social liberals, and while Sanders is pretty socially liberal, he doesn’t focus on it. He’s a marxist, not a SJW. And you saw that when BLM started storming his speeches. Sanders speaks well to the desires and fears of blue-collar whites. And (though he doesn’t talk about it much) he’s the second most anti-immigration candidate on either side.

  65. Troy Rex says:

    This is a great rollup of some very good class essays. I’ve ranged fairly widely across the classes, and it fits my observations. A few comments:

    Say you’re a mid-level Gentry: you’re smart, you have good or fairly good credentials, you know a fair bit about the way the world works. Maybe you’re a lawyer, a doctor, an economist. It’s fascinating that you can be talking to a mid-level Elite, someone pulling a million or something on Wall Street, or someone from old money with connections on several boards (boards you’ve never thought about, but might vaguely have known existed somewhere), and this person is just in another world – they have different concerns and priorities, different unspoken assumptions about important social behavior, different about the importance of certain sorts of smarts (as in, not as important).

    Personally, I’ve known a lot of elite-level gentry, a lot of middle class, a lot of labor class. I’ve had to fight hard against the mid-level expectation that you’d get a “normal job”, instead opting to start a business in a bid to move up a little. But that puts me in my place, says Church: “G2’s wouldn’t be caught dead in jobs that seem perfectly fine to G3’s, which they view (often rightly) to be dead ends.” Damn.

    Part way down in this interview, Michael Lewis mentions meeting kids (apparently) from lower-elite families: “When I first got to Princeton, I was struck by how there were a lot of people from very conventionally successful east coast families, boarding school kids, and many of them seemed very unhappy. They already had ambitions even then to ‘do something on Wall Street’. I wondered why you would do that with your life.”

    Boarding school kids.

    Also, it is badass that Conor Friedersdorf is hanging around these parts.

  66. stubydoo says:

    The fact that Trump ended up shocking everyone by tapping into such a massive vein of “labor” class support by running the type of campaign that he has, would have to count as pretty damn convincing evidence that the “gentry” class really are the good guys who absolutely should be in charge of everything.

    • Eli says:

      What then, of Bernie Sanders, and his labor-class support?

      • stubydoo says:

        Sanders has run a much more conventional campaign, based on a stratum of ideas much more… umm, ah, respectable?? . They happen to be ideas that I don’t agree with. But I still feel it indicates less of an alarming message about those types of people.

        How’s this for an analysis: Trump is the candidate for labor people who just plain hate the gentry. Sanders is for labor people who hate the elites and are just a little misinformed in failing to understand that policies they think are harmful to the elite are actually much more harmful to the gentry (and to the extent that the gentry are the “good guys” making beneficial contributions, they can also end up harmful to labor in the end as well). But being misinformed at such a level in one way or another is basically universal (see the works of Bryan Caplan).

        As a gentry type myself, I worry more about the people directing hatred at me than the people who would accidentally harm me but won’t anyway because they’re not going to win.

        Additionally, as a believer that much of the good that happens in the world comes from the gentry, I…um, same as above.

    • JDG1980 says:

      The problem with this argument is that Labor frustration, not just in this moment but going back at least to the 1970s, is a result in large part of Gentry failure. The 1970s were a disaster from which the left wing has yet to fully recover. In truth, many Gentry still haven’t learnt its lessons.

    • nydwracu says:

      “Shanley 2020! Shanley 2020!”

  67. Paul B says:

    The idea that “the left pretends class doesn’t exist” seems obviously wrong. I grew up in and have spent most of my life living in lefty contexts and can’t even imagine a reality in which they would admit, let alone “pretend”, that class “doesn’t exist”.

    Rather what the left tells itself over and over is that class is simply economics, as referenced by your #2 concluding thought. That approach, which I guess is more or less Marxist in origin, leads to analytical errors like the “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” argument and many other examples. NPR, the NYT op-ed section, et al reflect this baseline assumption consistently.

    And it has long struck me that this false assumption, to which American liberals cling regardless of all evidence to the contrary, leads to tactical errors which help the left punch below its natural weight in American electoral politics. (Or put the other way, which help the right win more elections than it should given its natural constituency.) Many times I’ve wondered whether the priests of class injustice worshipped by my family, friends and colleagues (Michael Moore, Krugman, Olbermann, Piketty, etc) might not be on right-wing payrolls. I’m pretty sure they actually aren’t, objectively it’s a silly idea. But if they didn’t exist it would be in the right’s interest to invent them.

    • caryatis says:

      Whenever I talk about class around liberals, the response I get is “you must be pretending race doesn’t matter.”

      • nydwracu says:

        Malia Obama is more oppressed than the son of a coal miner, because, you see, the coal miner’s son deserves it.

      • honestlymellowstarlight says:

        Around leftists too, just look at Multiheaded in the comments here.

        • multiheaded says:

          That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that people who talk about class in this way but hedge desperately against parallels with talking about race… well, I think they know that the parallels are quite legitimate and that their views would be seen as laughably morally bankrupt, not brave and edgy, in a racial/national/etc context.

          • honestlymellowstarlight says:

            Obviously, for example “toxic masculinity is a functionally equivalent discourse to toxic blackness” implies carcerial feminism. You’re still playing a social game to expose people as percieved hypocrites instead of critically engaging them.

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        Well, there you get to the fact that leftists and liberals are different groups, then.

    • Eli says:

      Hold on a moment. What’s the Matter with Kansas was popular, but largely wrong: the poor never stopped voting for labor interests, the Democrats stopped representing labor interests.

  68. Tibor says:

    I confess to not having read any of the articles.I trust Scott to do an honest and pretty accurate summary (read: “I needed a good excuse for being lazy” 🙂 )

    I am not sure which class I would put myself into. Obviously not the elite, obviously not the underclass, obviously (I would not tell you anyway) the E1, but gentry vs. labour? I feel like I both despise and like both to an equal measure. I cannot stand people who are smug about their intellectualism, who keep talking all-so-educated (I can’t stand the received pronunciation, at least when done by people other than the Queen of England and generally British nobility), I don’t like most philosophy students 🙂 I try to speak with the words from my local dialect (it is not a very heavy dialect and save for a few particular words, most people can still understand anyway) in Czech and I even like to use a few dialect words in German that I like instead of speaking in the uptight Hochsprache all the time (this may have more to to with the fact that I don’t like the idea of a standardized language…but at least with my own dialect, I also like the idea of showing where you come from by the way you talk). Then again, I do not have much in common with labour class people in terms of interests and so not much to talk about. At the same time, the opinions of a stereotypical labour class person are about as annoying to me as those of the stereotypical philosophy student and both are equally opinionated and closed-minded. I like people who are not like that and they don’t even have to be the sharpest tool in the shed, actually open-minded (as in won’t shun you for having different opinions than them and will actually listen to what you have to say) people are rare in both groups anyway. It feels like I am gentry class who does not like to pass as a gentry class and admires an idealized version of labour class, exactly the salt-of-the-earth honest-to-god (I am an atheist by the way…although that is kind of the default where I am from, not many class distinctions there) people whose word one can trust and actually do a goddamn job which is useful for somebody instead of being a university parasite (did I mention I am a PhD student?) talking all-so-wise while actually saying rubbish when you listen more carefully 🙂 There are some people who really are like this, but mostly when I actually get to talk to labour-class people, especially really working-class manual labour people, I often sober up from this idealization.

    All in all, I think the red+blue+grey tribe disctinction works a lot better than the class distinctions as described by either of the mentioned authors, or maybe you should only consider classes within the tribes and not as a separate object. I think that at least with the grey tribe you might run into problems. You basically have a group of largely college educated people who fully understand the intricacies of being “gentry-like” but who often look down on a lot of other college educated people and who are not exactly just savvy labour people either.

    • Someone from the other side says:

      I think there might the nerd dimension to it. Personally, most non-nerds are somewhere between very annoying and just barely bearable.

      Or maybe the nerds would make a fourth ladder (I am not too convinced you can cleanly map most nerds onto Gentry, really).

      • Tibor says:

        Nerds seem to hugely overlap with the “grey tribe”.

        • Someone from the other side says:

          True but as a fellow European I seriously question if we have something akin to the greys.

          If we do, I certainly have not yet met them. In fairness I am more familiar with German speaking Europe than Czech politics but still

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            Most of Europe (fortunately) lacks two-party systems. I’d wager that society not being split in half so harshly and a stronger sense in national unity helps in avoiding the creation of Grey tribe cynics.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think grey tribe is born of pure cynicism–most of Europe also doesn’t have anything like Silicon Valley. What if the grey tribe is born of free thinking and most European countries are too much of an ideological monoculture to allow that to flourish?

            Also, I always feel it unfair when we compare say, Sweden, to the US. We should compare Sweden to say, Minnesota+Wisconsin, as that is the relevant comparison in terms of population, geographic area, racial diversity, etc.

            To say, “look how well the government of Sweden runs–not like the stupid US” seems to me a very unfair comparison: say “look how much better Sweden runs than Massachusetts,” or “look how much more cultural and ideological consensus we can find in Norway than in Wisconsin!”

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            A lot of that comment sounds like American exceptionalism to me – we’re very special, everyone else is homogenous and samey. What even makes you think the Grey Tribe is big on the free thinking thing? It has more than a few angry atheist/libertarian/MRA types getting angry at everything not in line with their world view. I could well argue the Red Tribe is a bastion of free thinking for allowing in both catholics and evangelical types, or that the Blue Tribe is the most free of all for allowing all sorts of minorities amongst its ranks.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “What even makes you think the Grey Tribe is big on the free thinking thing? ”

            How else are we going to get massive rambling manifestos? Grey tribe needs free thinking because if everyone thinks the same there can’t be any arguments and if there aren’t any arguments you can’t show how intelligent you are but since everyone knows that the other tribes are ‘insert dismissive term here’ the only person worth arguing with is another grey.

          • Tibor says:

            I think that at least some FDP supporters (and maybe while Bernd Lucke was still the head of the party also some AfD supporters, even though they would still probably lean towards the red tribe, although with Frauke Petry leading the party I doubt any of those still support the AfD) would fit that category. In Czech politics it would be some supporters of the Free citizens party (which is a mix of conservatives and libertarians). All of those people would be grey tribe because being libertarian-leaning above all else.

            Also, it is not exclusively about political parties, or rather those are probably not even the most important thing. They seem to map relatively well onto the tribes in the US because of their two-party system. In Europe they don’t.

  69. caryatis says:

    Don’t see the point of inventing the term “economic class” when we already have “income” and “wealth.” That just makes talking about class more confusing.

  70. SSC commentor says:

    Would Soros be elite or E1?

    • John Schilling says:

      Soros is explicitly, per Church, E3 – because Soros isn’t capital-E Evil per Church and E1 is definitively Evil.

      The Koch brothers are explicitly E1 because Church believes they are Evil. If there is any difference between the two except for Church’s approval/disapproval of the causes to which they donate their money, I can’t see it.

      There is no E1 except to satisfy Church’s insistence that the true rulers of the world are 100% Pure Evil. Soros and the Koch brothers are a good fit for E2.

      • brad says:

        I agree that MC’s E1 is screwy and should be disregarded, but I don’t think you can just put everyone that doesn’t fit into E3 into E2. Old money that likes to work in non-profits and attend museum fund raising galas, while otherwise staying out of the papers is no better for the top of the elite ladder than gouache, amoral, billionaire playboys going around raping their way across the globe.

        There needs to be a category for the involved in the world ultra-rich — whether that involvement is in the business they own (Elon Musk, Phil Knight), politics (Bloomberg), high impact / profile philanthropy (Bill Gates). I don’t buy that any of these guys are “elite servants” or that Larry Page is primarily a “cultural influencer”.

        How exactly the near idle old money and workaholic ultra-rich see and relate to each other, I wouldn’t pretend to know. But I don’t think they are the same class.

        • Troy Rex says:

          I agree, these ultra-rich types seem different. Although we are trying to talk about culture as well as economics here, I still have to glance over at the source of their wealth. The tech rich – Musk, Gates, Jobs, Andreessen-Horowitz, YC – have a new engine of economic wealth. But, as Piketty underscores, the return to capital alone is very good. So, my kneejerk reaction is to say the idle rich are vestiges of an older industrial world and may die off, but that is probably not true.

      • soru says:

        Soros and Koch aren’t E1; they have never had anyone killed. Or if they did, they kept it quiet, which is effectively the same thing; by E1 logic there is no point in killing without it being public knowledge.

        Core E1 is Putin, Assad, Saudi princes, 70% of African presidents. Marginal members are Murdoch, Abramovich, Kissinger, Berlusconi.

        The defining feature of core E1’s is they have enough money that they basically never need to interact with a non-employee, even for security services. (Marginal E1s might have a private jet, but would still call the police if they wanted someone arrested). In either case, socially, they don’t need any validation from national public opinion. The whole point of social class is that you only care, at an emotional level, about the opinion of people in your class. For anyone else, you are at best only making the rational trade-off calculations a sociopath would. Which is why elites are sometimes unfairly accused of sociopathy, when in fact their behavior is perfectly psychologically normal, given their circumstances.

        For example, a lot of people mistakenly thought Assad would stand down and live quietly as a mere billionaire to save his country a brutal civil war. Had he been an E2, he would have, and most Syrian historians would have had some good to say about him. But he was in fact an E1, so the upside was irrelevant, and going into exile would unbearable humiliation in front of his peers.

        Thing is, E1s are not _that_ influential in domestic US matters, because the FBI has a larger budget than any current billionaire can spend on a security team, and because the US is sufficiently rich that purely E2 national elites like Gates, Buffet, Koch etc. have just as much money.

        Of course, internationally, the historical use of the US military to personally enrich individual US elites is well documented; some say it stopped in the 70s, or perhaps more recently. Others say it is the _only_ force driving US international actions, which seems likely to be an exaggeration, or just projection.

        The interesting thing about Trump is that he has the morals and socialization of an E1; he ‘jokes’ about having people killed, and genuinely doesn’t care what any american thinks of his hair, wives, or politics.

        If he is actually elected, circumstances may cast a bit more light on some of the underlying dynamics involved.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “For example, a lot of people mistakenly thought Assad would stand down and live quietly as a mere billionaire to save his country a brutal civil war. Had he been an E2, he would have, and most Syrian historians would have had some good to say about him. ”

          Or he believed without him the country would fall into chaos. Or he believed that if he no longer held power, he would eventually be tracked down and dragged before the world court/punished/executed/murdered for the crimes of his regime prior to the civil war. Or he believed that his friends/family/relatives would suffer such a fate. Or he believed that the Alawites would be screwed over in any possible outcome if he was forced out. Or… people are great at self justification.

          “The interesting thing about Trump is that he has the morals and socialization of an E1; he ‘jokes’ about having people killed, and genuinely doesn’t care what any american thinks of his hair, wives, or politics. ”

          Trump cares a lot. He doesn’t publically show it, but the fact he is running for president means he has to care in order to get elected. Unless you think his policy positions are magically what would attract people, he did in fact look at what people wanted and built off that.

          • soru says:

            > the fact he is running for president means he has to care in order to get elected

            Not at an emotional level, _at most_ at a rational level like a network executive adjusting the tone of a sitcom in response to ratings. Which uses an entirely different part of the brain than the part that decides ‘I must get high ratings in order to be seen as a success by my peers’.

            And arguably not even that, as if the response to Trump was rationally predictable it would have already happened.

            It seems far more likely those are his real views, corresponding to what he is: paid-up member of the global elite. So when he expresses contempt for the national elite, the educated class, underclass and workers, then to his supporters, whichever class they come from, that seems like three reasons to support him with only one downside.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Not at an emotional level, _at most_ at a rational level like a network executive adjusting the tone of a sitcom in response to ratings. Which uses an entirely different part of the brain than the part that decides ‘I must get high ratings in order to be seen as a success by my peers’.”

            You sure? Because ‘I want to appeal to the voters because I like it when True Americans approve of me’ perfectly explains Trump.

            “And arguably not even that, as if the response to Trump was rationally predictable it would have already happened. ”

            I’m not parsing what this means.

            “It seems far more likely those are his real views, corresponding to what he is: paid-up member of the global elite. ”

            The global elite hates free trade, illegal immigration, muslims and high taxes? Are the European and American branches not communicating again?

  71. James Hedman says:

    The E1 classification also smacks of conspiracy theory to me. I suppose that the great conquerers and warlords like Alexander, Mao, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Julius Caesar etc. would qualify but I wouldn’t put the leaders of parliamentary democracies there nor would I include some mysterious class of Moriarty like criminals or even Deep State bureaucrats like Allen Dulles.

  72. Sastan says:

    One big problem I have with Church’s “E1”

    A group defined by its negative effects and which the lack of evidence for is taken as proof of existence is a pretty big warning sign of a conspiracy theory.

    As to all the rest, I think a four-class system works well, three if you bifurcate the top class a bit. Of course, there are a lot of minor subclasses to these, racial aspects and all that, but broadly, I agree with Scott and the authors of these various taxonomies.

    Whatever you want to call them, there is definitely a lower, middle and upper class. And the upper class definitely seems to have two aspects, one of very successful businesspeople/politicians/some celebrities and one of the “idle rich” whose status games have gone beyond mere wealth/eyeballs/votes.

  73. ad says:

    the Underclass and Labor class people I know are much more likely to have high-conflict styles of interaction: if they feel offended, they’ll yell at you and maybe even fight you. Gentry class people would be horrified at the thought; they might respond to the same offense by filing a complaint with Human Resources. I think there are two equally correct ways to interpret this.

    I have a third option: filing a complaint with Human Resources works a lot better when you are in the same class as the people who run Human Resources. Human Resources is just another weapon of the Gentry Class. It is not there for the benefit of squalid little Labour Class people. Especially not if they like Donald Trump.

    • hlynkacg says:

      This ties into something that was mentioned up stream.

      Direct conflict is a superior strategy if you aren’t expecting “the authorities” will protect you. After all, its better to be feared than admired.

      • Sastan says:

        Exactly. In the lower and some of labor classes, being known as someone who “handles their business” is an extremely useful trait. You get a lot more deference from your peers.

        • hlynkacg says:

          One of my favorite bits of watching ideology and reality collide was explaining to young medical students from a largely liberal background why we had so many athletes and former military working in the ER.

          I’d look the poor student, who probably weighed 60 kg soaking wet and had never been in a fight in their life and ask; “are you going to tackle that crazy tweaker before he hurts himself or shall I?” 😉

  74. Joyously says:

    So this is my third long comment in a row. But this topic seems to have really set my mind fire.

    One thing that has always bothered me about feminist sexual harassment discussion is that it ignores class. In fact, to me at least it seems weirdly, blatantly *determined* to ignore class. I have never been catcalled by someone who looks like they work in an office. I’ve never been told to smile by a stranger, but the guy at a gas station who told me “I love how you’re smiling. You have a beautiful smile” was almost certainly of a lower class than me.

    And (I’m hesitant to phrase it like this, but yay for anonymity) I’ve never been groped by a white guy. The pretty-much-all-Underclass black boys I grew up with seemed to see groping as just how you flirted. I found it very unpleasant at the time, but looking back I don’t really resent them for it. The eight year old boy who stuck his hand into my eight year old overalls and said, “Gimme some of that white sugar” probably had the same cute-little-kid-feelings as the white boy who gave me a 25-cent ring from one of those bubble machines. They were both just watching how the older boys from their subculture behaved and watching the movies their subculture preferred. If we’re going to say that one of those approaches is worse and rape-culture-ier than the other, then we need to acknowledge how subculture/class comes into it or we’re just being dishonest.

    (The times I’ve been groped by Middle Eastern guys seem much less innocent to me, since there’s a strong element of White Girls are Slutty in that. But I digress.)

    Perhaps the points made above how about how Blue Tribe/Gentry are more resistant to acknowledging class explains why exhortations against catcalling seem always to be directed towards readers of Slate and the Atlantic.

    • Sastan says:

      Blue tribe’s outgroup is red tribe, and more specifically, the avatar stereotype of white male oppressors.

      One can see this very clearly in the rape hoaxes that the blue tribe fall for. Duke and UV were huge, because they were examples of rich, white, privileged males taking advantage of women. The fact that neither actually happened wasn’t even considered. It was too perfect to check. Contrast to the reaction to Cologne, which was rather different. That situation fitted the red tribe’s narrative much better, and the blue tribe gentry tried like hell to bury it. When they couldn’t, they then tried to blame it on……… guessed it, white males.

      As to your point, I think it is correct, and one which I have been saying for years. The “street harassment” video that made the rounds a while back showed this quite well. Almost all the harassers were minority males, and the producers of the video even said they trolled around white workmen to try to get more catcalls, but there just weren’t any more than a couple. The norms for courting behavior can vary drastically. When someone not part of that milieu is on the receiving end, it is quite unpleasant.

    • Dahlen says:

      Yes, this is a strong area of cognitive dissonance for the left. Feminists try really hard and jump through all sorts of mental hoops to square that with commitment to the anti-racist or socialist (pro-prole) cause. But it’s a very tenuous alliance; for better or for worse, the fact is that the white middle class fares better on the topic of women’s rights. The recent events at Cologne should have forced people to acknowledge the elephant in the room. At some point, if there is progress to be made on this cause, people must choose one commitment or the other. Of course, this becomes exponentially easy once it strikes you how totally arbitrary the clusters of left vs. right are, I mean seriously, their names are random directions in space, that should clue people in… Once you stop trying to score leftist points, it’s easier to optimize for a narrow, concrete goal such as curbing sexual harassment.

      For that matter, I found it strange how the right went all gung-ho about the evils of street harassment once the brown people got in the news for doing it, from where weeks before they would have listed it as a prime example of overblown feminist panic. Forgive me if I don’t quite believe the attitude change from “learn how to take a fucking compliment, goshdarn feminists these days villainizing male sexuality” to “it is scandalous to see this savagery happen on the very streets of old and noble Evropa!”. I’m willing to grant that the rightists saying the former are not the same people as the rightists saying the latter. But only in like 30% of cases. The cognitive dissonance works both ways, and many commenters have proven remarkably successful at decrying both Muslim immigration and all of feminism in the same breath. I’d really like to believe that this change in discourse is about ideals being championed rather than the baser motive of sexual competition against a foreign population for “our women”.

      People. You don’t have to shoot yourselves in the foot like that all the time. It’s okay to splinter.

      • FXKLM says:

        There is a huge difference between making rude comments to strange women and physically groping them. Complaints about the former are often overblown (it’s bad behavior but perfectly legal and a far cry from assault). The latter is unambiguously criminal. I don’t see any cognitive dissonance in treating them differently.

        There is a pretty consistent pattern where the left advocates a broader definition of rape and sexual assault while the right advocates harsher penalties for rape and sexual assault. The left (including feminists) were pretty solidly united in the view that the death penalty for rape violated the Eighth Amendment.

        • Dahlen says:

          No common ground here. Neither for the supposed huge difference (which really doesn’t look so huge when you approach the matter from a virtue-ethical standpoint), nor for perspectives on political clustering, as it is vs. as it should be. I don’t think I have anything to say to you which would be a good use of my time or yours.

          • Loquat says:

            You really don’t see any substantial moral difference between:

            (a) Man saying “Smile, beautiful” to strange woman, and taking no further action towards her if she fails to express interest, and

            (b) Man seizing strange woman, ripping off her clothes, and forcibly groping her despite her resistance?


          • Sastan says:

            No, Loquat, I don’t think leftists do. It’s pretty funny to watch actually. It’d be like being unable to distinguish pointing your finger and saying “bang” and actual murder. Oh wait, they can’t do that either if you follow public education.

          • Joyously says:

            Yeeeeeeeeeeah. To me the moral difference between touching someone without permission and saying something to someone without permission is so obvious I can’t really comprehend someone feeling different.

            I also see a clear distinction between “Hey, beautiful” (which does, indeed make me feel good) and crude or sexual catcalling.

          • Pku says:

            While I certainly believe there’s a difference there, I think the original point was that, say, “guy randomly smacking your ass” clusters with a rather than b in some classes.

          • Loquat says:

            Indeed it can! But I was responding more to Dahlen’s claim that it’s gross hypocrisy for conservatives who defend nonviolent catcalling to get all outraged over the recent German gang assaults.

          • Deiseach says:

            Loquat, I agree that there is very much a difference of degree. But why the exhortation to “Smile, beautiful” is offensive is because (a) the natural expression you have on your face while walking down a public street should not be any concern to strangers – it is none of their business (b) being told to smile means those strangers think they have a right to critique your appearance (c) you are being instructed to appear happy and pleasant and attractive for their sake, not your own (d) you are supposed to be delighted some random jerk decided you pass his personal ‘would grope’ test and deigns to inform you of same (e) anyone who works in customer service or dealing with the public knows the necessity of putting on the work persona of “constantly smiling, upbeat vocal intonation, cheerful, helpful, unfussed” and how tiring and draining this constant acting is which brings me back to (f) I feel no necessity to put on a public performance of fake pleasantness that brings me no benefit but does bring me criticism if I don’t perform femininity to an arbitrary standard and (g) it’s not a compliment. Often it does involve more than “man does nothing else if she fails to express interest”, it will get you yelled after about being a stuck-up bitch and what’s wrong with you and do you think you’re too good for him and more verbal insults.

            I don’t know the male experience here or what I could compare it to. I don’t know if men get comments by perfect strangers advising them how to look and behave. Can the male commenters on here tell me of public encounters where they have to act in a certain manner as encouraged to do so by strangers (outside of work; we all know that you have to behave in a certain manner when told to do so by a superior).

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’m not sure how representative my own experience is but I get the impression that males get a lot less “latitude” females do. I definitely feel some pressure to be “the stoic” as visible displays of emotion draw attention and tend to be invitations to conflict. I’ve also watched women get away with behavior that would have gotten me beaten, shot, or arrested. If a drunk guy gropes a woman that’s rape culture, if a drunk woman gropes a guy that’s a lucky guy.

          • Sastan says:

            @ Deiseach

            I don’t often get comments on the street, but occasionally. I’ve always taken them the way they were (I presume) intended, as compliments. In certain circumstances (parties and bars mostly) I have been groped or had my ass grabbed by girls quite a lot. Maybe alcohol, maybe anonymizing crowds. Maybe I just have a fantastic ass.

            I’m not in favor of people acting like this, where I come from this is a HUGE taboo. I still to this day have a hard time initiating physical contact, even when I’ve been chatting with someone and they are signalling they are fine with it. For years, I always waited for females to break the barrier first. It probably hurt me a bit with the opposite sex. Politeness can be taken as sexual disinterest (looping around, that may be a class thing).

            The vagaries of class and the sexual marketplace should probably wait for another thread, but there is a lot to be plumbed there, provided people can leave their rape-hammers at home.

          • Joyously says:

            Deisach, do you think that that is how a man telling a woman to smile would describe his intentions? If so, doesn’t ascribing these awful intentions to him beg the question? “Smile, beautiful” is terrible because it implies These Awful Things. Well, what if it doesn’t?

            As I said, I’ve never been told to smile by a stranger before. I don’t think I would feel any of those things about it. I think I would take it as flirtatious and be mildly pleased. Doesn’t the existence of women who feel differently than you do about this interaction indicate that these men might not have nefarious purposes?

            And while a person shouldn’t be rude to a person who rejects their attempts at flirtation (again, not something that’s happened to me, so I can’t speak to the details of how this goes down) I honestly *do* think that “graciously accepting a compliment” is part of normal politeness. You clearly disagree in this context, which is fine, but to me that’s a disagreement about the rules of what is and is not polite, which should be an abstract, culture-wide argument.

            Which brings me back to my original point about how there’s a lot of class and culture norms that keep getting dropped out of the discussion. Loquat might not see “Smile, beautiful” as a huge deal, but given the only class marker I have for him (he’s commenting on this blog) I doubt he’s ever said it to anyone. So arguing about it here is not going to actually change any norms.

          • szopeno says:

            Strange. It’s obvious that anyone has right to criticise other’s appearances. They cannot dictate the appearance, but having right to say “you look like shit” is pretty much a god-given right of every man and women on this planet.

        • John Schilling says:

          There is a huge difference between making rude comments to strange women and physically groping them […] The latter is unambiguously criminal

          I am fairly certain that a large segment of the American class/cultural landscape sees groping as “unambiguously criminal” in the same way that e.g. speeding is “unambiguously criminal”. Or maybe drunk driving thirty years ago. There are unambiguously some words written on paper in a law book that says not to do that. “Everybody knows” that they really only mean to not do too much of it, and sees it as a violation of the social contract if the police actually throw someone in jail just because they copped a feel (or drove 75 in a 65 zone, or with a BAC of 0.11).

          As with drunk driving, it’s possible that a generation of dedicated social engineering could change this, but in the groping case it might be trickier to do it without crossing into class-warfare territory.

          • Viliam says:

            Middle class has a taboo against physical contact in a way that lower class doesn’t.

            Both would agree that groping someone is more serious than talking to someone, but for the middle class there is the additional aspect of breaking the taboo that makes it infinitely worse.

      • Tibor says:

        I doubt that if someone is against muslim immigration, that “taking our women” is an important issue, as long as it is not hard-coded. I very much doubt a typical German woman would be interested in a typical asylum seeker from Syria, let alone Africa. Not really for racists reasons, but above all because a quarter of them are illiterate and even those who can read rarely speak any foreign languages or have any formal education. Plus they actually are muslim and taking their religion seriously, which alone is pretty off-putting for most European women who are used to being emancipated. And since these things can be easily seen, I doubt anyone is actually consciously worried about “their” women being suddenly attracted to the newcomers (also not all of them are males, even though roughly two thirds are).

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          In this case, the taking is rather more literal. As in “raptio.”

          • Chrysophylax says:

            I think that’s stuprum, actually. Raptio is specifically the *large-scale abduction* of women; raptus was bride-kidnapping, possibly for elopement; and stuprum was the general term for sexual misconduct, including incest, adultery and sexual assault.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Well we’ve had our share of that as well, so not sure what to say. Our cup runneth over with rape.

            I appreciate the vocabulary by the way. I’ve never had any formal Latin, only what I could pick up from reading and scientific nomenclature.

        • Morkys says:

          Islam has never had a problem getting Western women to convert, it’s actually men who don’t like it and convert from Islam to Christianity.

          • Tibor says:

            Got a source on that? Yes, conditioned on marrying a muslim, western women do convert to islam pretty reliably. I think they could not really marry otherwise, so there is no surprise there. But I think that the event we are conditioning on here is prety low-probability.

          • Morkys says:

            All intercultural marriage is sort of “low probability” for obvious reasons, but as far as I know western women don’t hate islam or muslims worse than anyone else. If all the refuges are allowed to stay in Germany but not bring their wives (doubtful) then the gender ratio among young people will be weird, so either way sex lives are going to get awkward.

          • Tibor says:

            @Morkys: It depends. Even Germany has started tightening the asylum rules. The Magreb countries have been officially recognized as safe countries of origin which means that asylum seekers from there now have a zero chance to get the asylum. But if you came from Morocco and already was granted asylum but your wife stayed at home (a common pattern with the current asylum seekers in Europe) and you expected to bring her later, you might be out of luck. The result might be either you giving up on her or coming back, the latter seems more likely, especially if the prospects of finding a new wife are pretty bleak. More importantly though, a lot of these young men who come do not yet have a wife. They have nothing to come back to but they will have it really hard to find a partner. I believe this is also one of the reasons why Canada now only gives asylum to women and children. In fact, while I am not afraid of the “Islamisation of the west” and such things, I do believe that having a relatively big underclass of young frustrated men from a very different culture who cannot get a decent job and cannot find a partner does sound like trouble. And meanwhile we now have people throwing live grenades at the asylum houses in Germany which will not make things easier either. Well, it happened once (on Friday this week) and the grenade did not explode, but it did have explosives in it (when I heard about it, it was yet not clear whether the grenade failed to explode or whether the ignition was removed on purpose). I also wonder where the attacker even obtained a live grenade in Germany of all places. These kinds of weapons are illegal for civilians in all EU countries.

      • Sastan says:

        There is an aspect to which right-wing people are more receptive to arguments made in which their outgroup gets slammed. Exactly like left wingers do. And everyone else too. We are all quick to notice the mote in our neighbors eye.

        That said, if you don’t understand a moral taxonomy which distinguishes violent, public gang rape from catcalls, kindly do some reading before casting stones at it. One of these is rude. The other is the worst crime you can survive. It doesn’t seem difficult to me, but maybe I’m not smart enough to conflate those two.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Nitpick- I believe the worst crime you can survive is torture since it tends to aim at ‘worse thing you can suffer and survive’.

          • Sastan says:

            Nit of a nit!

            Is that an actual crime? I’ve never seen anyone charged with torture.

          • Pku says:

            It’s a subset of “Physical assault”.

          • FXKLM says:

            It’s at least assault, but there are plenty of other charges that could be added. If the torture includes dismemberment, it would be mayhem (my personal favorite archaic criminal charge).

          • BBA says:

            18 USC 2340A establishes a crime of torture, although oddly a person can only be charged under that section if the alleged torture took place outside the United States. There has been one prosecution under that section: the American-born son of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor.

            Domestically, as others have noted, it would be categorized as assault.

      • Dahlen says:

        Of course this happened.

        You see, this is why I don’t get into such arguments anymore; it’s so few degrees of separation away from terminal values and tribalism that there’s no hope for anything good to follow. There’s a whole cohort here just waiting to be given the right clue to go “leftists this”, “leftists that”; you don’t fucking know what I am, I myself don’t know and would like to find out; the excessive breadth of the labels “leftist” and “rightist” was like half the point of my post.

        • Loquat says:

          Of course it happened, because you conflated catcalling with violent gang assault and then claimed that that people who excused the former but got outraged about the latter were being morally inconsistent.

          If you don’t understand why that might set people off, I don’t know what to tell you.

          • Dahlen says:

            So I’m the bad guy in this situation, then, and I got what was coming to me. My mistake for posting a bog-standard feminist opinion on SSC of all places, where the above is about the level of charity I should expect my position to be shown. Where placing two offenses on the same spectrum translates to dishonestly conflating the two for malicious rhetorical purposes, where I’m assumed not to understand a bunch of things and in particular the moral profile of the other side, and where it’s obvious that opposition (particularly legal opposition) to catcalling is unjustified.

            A better look into what is actually in my mind regarding these issues, so that I don’t get to be defined by those who dislike my position (I hate playing into the attack-defense dynamic that was laid out here, but I can’t always get away with not doing it):

            Groping and verbal sexual harassment are the greater and respectively lesser offences on the exact same spectrum and the latter should warrant a percentage of whatever legal punishment the former gets. You can’t argue me out of this, it’s a matter of terminal values and you’d have to rewire my brain to get me to feel about the matter differently. This is non-negotiable. Nobody paid attention when I hinted at looking at the matter from a virtue-ethical perspective, so here’s that in a more explicit form: it takes roughly the same sort of person, with the same sort of views (namely, the idea that women on the street can be treated like wares at the market), that commits both, and this hypothetical individual decides which type of offense to commit based on personal, social and legal attitudes towards the violation of personal space. Both acts differ from rape in that they tend to not cross the physical pain threshold. (Which is why here’s a special “fuck you” to Sastan for the bang-bang/murder analogy: the moral range discussed here is far, far narrower than the maximally broad analogy you made. It’s almost as if I’m not, after all, a caricature!) It’s difficult to classify these offenses as strictly violent or non-violent; the victim’s usual response of fearful de-escalation in response to threat is what often prevents the acting upon what would have otherwise been very clear violent intent.

            Secondly, I’m very much capable of understanding why a right-winger would take offense at the second paragraph of my first comment, thank you for your assumptions. It feels like asking them “why aren’t you total monsters, come on, make things easy for me and be obviously evil”, which of course would deeply offend any normal person who condemns violence, abhors rape, and usually has decent moral standards. Which I’m sure the overwhelming majority of conservatives are. Nobody likes to see people expecting the worst of them and denying their common decency. Also, it’s natural that people would be suspicious at a perceived attempt to do away with the distinction between verbal and physical attacks, and they would wonder how long till we go full Orwellian and start policing benign thoughts and intentions and politely expressed desires. So far, so good? Ideological Turing Test passed? Only thing is, I stand by what I said, that the far right’s newfound preoccupation for women’s safety from street harassment is predominantly motivated by political opportunism and not by actual concern for the protection of women from the sexual entitlement of strangers. In other words, if I were participating in a “stop groping” protest alongside members of r/european, and in the meantime all Middle Eastern immigrants got deported (but the groping didn’t stop completely, it just lost some perpetrators, and lost the branding as an anti-immigrant cause), I’ll then expect that not only r/european would stop showing up at the next “stop groping” protests post-deportation, but that they’ll go back to denouncing these protests as feminist nonsense. In yet other words, they’re not allies. Failure to understand (well okay, not failure to understand, more like a fundamental moral chasm) why hands-off, white-on-white street harassment is also some flavour of bad is a clue as to why I don’t trust them as allies. For the root cause is the same. People are fallible enough that their attitudes on sexual abuse can conceivably wax and wane depending on how instrumentally useful they are at furthering a second, different political goal of theirs; this is within the limits of what can be called the moral average and, if you can’t picture yourself falling victim to it, you need to work harder at internalizing the full implications of human moral imperfection, instead of shooting the messenger.

            Fucking effortposts. I precommit to not dedicating more than 400 more words to replies on this debate. Sorry, but it’ll save me some distress.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            >Groping and verbal sexual harassment are the greater and respectively lesser offences on the exact same spectrum and the latter should warrant a percentage of whatever legal punishment the former gets. You can’t argue me out of this, it’s a matter of terminal values and you’d have to rewire my brain to get me to feel about the matter differently. This is non-negotiable. Nobody paid attention when I hinted at looking at the matter from a virtue-ethical perspective

            Since you made it clear that you a consequentialist approach won’t move you from this position… where does freedom of speech rank within your moral framework? I ask because punishing catcalling would be, essentially, punishing and restricting speech.

            > I stand by what I said, that the far right’s newfound preoccupation for women’s safety from street harassment is predominantly motivated by political opportunism and not by actual concern for the protection of women from the sexual entitlement of strangers.

            Well, yes, obviously. In the sense that it’s a bad thing that’s a consequence of what they perceive to be a problem. Like, when some mass shooting happens and everyone wants to have a “serious discussion” about guns and stuff.

            Want to get rid of muslims –> use available evidence that muslims are bad.

            Want to get rid of guns –> use available evidence that guns are bad.

            It’s what people do, one might not like it, but I don’t think it’s something particular to any group.

          • ” Groping and verbal sexual harassment are the greater and respectively lesser offences on the exact same spectrum and the latter should warrant a percentage of whatever legal punishment the former gets.”

            By calling it verbal sexual harassment and referring to “which type of offense to commit” you are assuming away one of the relevant questions–assuming that the person cat calling knows what he is doing is unwelcome because it seems unwelcome to you. Another poster commented that some of the lower class women she knew would “flirt back.”

            Consider whatever you regard as a proper first step towards a potential romantic relationship. Now imagine that there might be some women who regarded that, whatever it is, the way you assume women regard cat calls. Would you deserve to be punished for it?

          • FXKLM says:


            Your original post didn’t simply say that you believed that groping and verbal sexual harassment were similar ethical violations. Most people would have disagreed with that view, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a comment or two supporting you.

            The real objection to your post was that you suggested that it was so obvious that the two were ethically similar that anyone arguing otherwise was disingenuous and could only be motivated by anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant bias. That’s indefensible. Also, I think jumping straight into “I don’t think I have anything to say to you” came across as excessively hostile.

            Lastly, I don’t think it’s fair to object to the “level of charity” given to your position when your position was that everyone drawing a categorical distinction between catcalling and groping was a hypocrite and strongly implying that they are racists. That is exceptionally uncharitable.

          • Dahlen says:

            @Whatever Happened to Anonymous

            Since you made it clear that you a consequentialist approach won’t move you from this position… where does freedom of speech rank within your moral framework? I ask because punishing catcalling would be, essentially, punishing and restricting speech.

            My moral framework is value-pluralist virtue ethics, and I’m a bit gobsmacked by rights-based ethical frameworks. I’m not an American raised on freeze peach, au contraire; my country is about as negative on self-expression as they go. I think freedom of speech is about the lamest defence ever, like you check for whether something is an act of speech to decide whether you want more of it, rather than checking for whether it’s, y’know, good.

            However, I’m rather big on 2nd amendment, self-defence, neighborhood watch, taking justice into your own hands, all that. Government power isn’t always around at the same time slimeballs reveal themselves as such. If it’s better for opposition to someone’s free speech to be, er, social rather than legal, then there’s that.

            @David Friedman

            Consider whatever you regard as a proper first step towards a potential romantic relationship. Now imagine that there might be some women who regarded that, whatever it is, the way you assume women regard cat calls. Would you deserve to be punished for it?

            I can’t, I’m sorry. Exercise of imagination failed. Some things just aren’t the same.

            Also, it would be worth noting here that I’ve never had a properly romantic relationship with, like, feelings. At best, casual sex with the same person for months, which, trust me, is way easier. Whenever there were feelings, there was no kissing and no holding hands, just a huge dramafest that hurt everyone and put me out of school and onto SSRIs. I’m not the best person to ask about this. I know something’s wrong with what I’m doing, but I expect it to be related to my being attracted to a narrow pool of partners + non-conformity to gender roles, rather than any spillover from my attitudes on harassment.


            Also, I think jumping straight into “I don’t think I have anything to say to you” came across as excessively hostile.

            Sorry if that was the case, it’s just that discussing gender stuff online in communities with an anti-feminist bent is anxiety-provoking enough to me that I have quit at least 2 websites for this reason. I try to cut discussions off before they get too unpleasant for me to return. “[A] comment or two supporting [me]” is about or less than the level of agreement I expect to find, and that’s why I got my guard up.

            I don’t believe in races to the bottom, and I’ll still be bothered by lack of charity even when I can notice that the perception of me is symmetrical. Better hypocrisy than races to the bottom.

            Aaaaand 407 words of non-meta actual reply. Cya, I’m out!

          • ” Exercise of imagination failed.”

            I think that was my point.

            We’ve been told, by one person here, of people who regard catcalling as a normal part of flirtation, either ignore it if not interested or respond positively. That isn’t your culture or mine—but the world contains quite a wide variety of people. Being unable to imagine people too unlike oneself leads to mistaken, and possibly unjust, conclusions.

          • anonymous says:

            Doesn’t that go both ways? We have a fair amount of “look you dumb gentry, why don’t you realize labor has different customs.” But by the same token shouldn’t the catcallers recognize that the women they are catcalling might be a different class and not appreciate their attention?

          • @Anonymous:

            I agree that the people cat calling ought to realize that there are some women who will not see it as harmless flirtation. But their failure to do so isn’t deliberate aggression, just as Dahlen’s failure in the other direction isn’t a deliberate attempt to suppress flirtation styles of a foreign culture.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I decry feminism because it meekly submits itself to things like promoting Islam in order to fit into the leftist coalition.

        Well, that and abortion.

    • Tibor says:

      Maybe women see it differently and it gets tiresome after a while if you hear it all the time, but if a random woman at a gas station told me I had a beautiful smile it would feel actually quite nice. Something like that happened to me maybe once or twice from some random girls of my age (it does not feel the same from a woman 30 years older than you) and it was definitely very pleasant. The main reason I would not say something like that to a random woman whose smile I found beautiful is that I would be too shy and imagine that she might take offense.

      • Deiseach says:

        I have been told that I have a beautiful smile and this was from a random woman (back when I was working on the till in a small supermarket).

        My (extremely limited) experience of catcalling is different. The guys who yell or whistle after you don’t say “What a lovely smile”, Tibor 🙂

        • Tibor says:

          Well, I used to think that guys who whistle or yell at passing women only existed in films nowadays 🙂 But I have never even seen a woman being catcalled like that in real life. On the other hand, a colleague of mine complained that men in Holland (where she spend some time) won’t even stop to ask her whether she needs help with a heavy suitcase on the stairs to a subway station or something like that and that it is much better in Germany in this respect. She also said that it is probably because a lot of Dutch women would yell at the men for doing so, because they are capable of doing it without men’s help (and fail to get that if someone asks you if you need help it does not necessarily mean that he thinks you could not take care of yourself). I’ve never been to Netherlands myself so I don’t know how accurate it is.

          The only thing close to catcalling (not that much, really) was when a female acquaintance told me about what happened to her one time somewhere on the street. There was this guy who kept staring at her and then she got annoyed, turned towards him and asked him “what are you looking at?”. He replied “A beautiful girl.” That actually calmed her down and she took it as a compliment 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Tibor, your acquaintances have obviously encountered a classier type of street caller than I have 🙂

      • Anon says:

        I am a woman, and I don’t really mind men giving me compliments in public on the street*, so long as they are respectful about it. “You have a beautiful smile” is nice to hear, while “Hey, nice ass” isn’t. But I do think women in general see this differently from how men see it because of the vastly differing frequency that we experience it at. As you mentioned, you’ve had girls compliment you randomly about once or twice, so it’s not frequent enough to become annoying. Most (but not all) women have had this happen hundreds of times over their lifetime; I imagine the most beautiful girls probably have it happen about every other time they leave the house (in the social community I am familiar with anyway, which is lower-class; I am sure middle-class men do this less often).

        This seems like a pretty intractable problem to me. In my experience, the “respectful compliments” tend to be about 60% of the comments women receive on the street, while the other 40% are the vulgar, “nice ass”-type comments. And the men who make the vulgar comments are not the kind of men who are very worried about being appropriate or who care much whether such comments make women uncomfortable, so short of making it illegal to say things like that (which I would oppose), this is probably going to continue happening for the foreseeable future. The only solutions that I can see for women who really hate this behavior are to move to a neighborhood where men who catcall can’t afford to live, or to do their best to ignore it (my solution).

        *Okay actually that’s slightly inaccurate, even the nice comments make me uncomfortable, but that’s because I am a very atypical woman who is extremely shy and socially awkward and I don’t like to be spoken to out on the street by anyone for any reason. But I acknowledge that these comments are totally fine in a more objective sense and I think most women would be fine with them, because most women are not nearly as socially weird as I am.

        [One other related comment I wanted to make on this topic as a person who is very familiar with dysfunctional lower-class culture but only tangentially familiar with middle-class, “normal” culture, is that women from lower-class cultures tend to be wayyyyyy more okay with men catcalling them than women from middle-class cultures. The girls I grew up with became women who either casually flirt back with the men or who brush it off without a second thought, while my newer middle-class female friends just seem to…not be able to do that. I would guess this is due to differing levels of familiarity with catcalling-culture. I’m not saying this is good or bad or anything, I just wanted to point it out, for people who grew up middle or upper class and thus are not familiar with lower-class culture.]

        • For what it’s worth, my wife (sixty) and daughter (twenty-five) report never having been cat-called. As I mentioned in another post, my son’s fiancee, about the age of my daughter, reports it as having often happened to her–and she doesn’t like it.

          The most obvious explanation is that the fiancee is more obviously attractive than the other two, but I think there is more than that going on. Wife and daughter are both relatively shy. It’s possible that the fiancee has the sort of self-confident personal style which, in someone from a different subculture (Anon’s comment about women from lower class culture) would react positively, “flirt back,” and the men are reacting to that.

          • dust bunny says:

            In my experience, it’s the shy ones who get catcalled more. Vulnerable targets are singled out for predatory behaviors. I stopped getting harassed in public spaces after learning assertiveness and starting medication for anxiety, despite at the same time shifting from a clothing style that was optimized for invisibility to something more normal for young female-presenting people.

            Possible confounders: getting glasses, aging out of my most harassable years. These don’t exactly coincide with the perceived change, first happened before, latter later. But I wouldn’t rule them out.

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny: I don’t see into the heads of men who catcall women on the street, but I find your descriptions like “Vulnerable targets are singled out for predatory behaviors” to be completely incompatible with my model for what most men “want from women”. The way you say it, it feels like they feel a pleasure in hurting them. I think that what is really going on is that the kind of men who would catcall a woman either do it to compliment her (even though they do it in a very lame and stupid way) or as “look at me! I want your attention because I find you really attractive and this is the best I can come up with”. Not sure what to make of your experience but if I judge by what kind of women I notice on the street (not catcall them but maybe look at them a bit longer than I would at an average person I see on the street), I don’t notice the kind of shy looking girls in drab clothing you describe more than I notice men. I find (dioptric) glasses very unattractive but I know guys who actually like them.

            One explanation for your experience might be that the guys are actually too afraid to talk to a woman that they perceive as “too attractive” in the sense “she would never notice me anyway and I will just make myself look like an ass in front of her”. I don’t know if the catcallers think like that though.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Tibor
            I notice that you appear to be identifying with the harassers. You speak in their defense and place your own ogling on the same continuum with their behavior (it is not, unless you stare threateningly and/or slimily and want the women to notice). I obviously can’t tell you which side to take, but if you feel some sort of collective guilt, or that I’m making accusations against all men who have accidentally desired women who didn’t desire them back, please don’t. That is unnecessary.

            You say you don’t notice women who try to be invisible by their clothing and body language. That is because you’re not looking for someone to victimize.

            Street harassment is a way to assert dominance. That is compatible with my model of what many men want from women (and specifically the kind of men who are more likely to street harass). I agree that the purpose is not to hurt.

            The kind of guys who street harass are low status, as has already been mentioned elsewhere in this thread. Such people can only assert dominance over a limited subset of women. The vulnerable.

            Giving a compliment can be a way to assert dominance. You evaluate them; inherently an act of authority. If you succeed in validating them, they will instinctively want to please you more so you validate them more. This is what paternalistic benevolent sexist men are usually doing when complimenting women. It’s not a nasty enough thing in itself to justify the label “harassment”, but if it happens on the streets, as part of a pattern, then it should be addressed in the same context.

            The too-hot-to-harass hypothesis can be dismissed out of hand: I’m not particularly attractive, and I do wear the glasses purposefully so that I read more intellectual and less sexual.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dust bunny

            If you succeed in validating them, they will instinctively want to please you more so you validate them more.

            Why not the other way round: “if she decides to reward him with a flirty smile, he will instinctively want to please her more so she gives him more”?

            It isn’t obvious to me why I should consider the man to be the one with the power here. One person having something another wants, and that other trying to win the favor of the first in order to get it, seems to match more closely to the first having power than the second.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Anonymous
            I included the example because I thought it may be necessary to illustrate why compliments aren’t always innocent niceties to be taken at face value. It was not to say this is a thing that systematically disadvantages women and privileges men, in fact the maneuver generalizes to gender-swapped and same-gender interactions. You’re right that there is nothing that should inevitably lead to the move being successful. Sometimes it is not.

          • Jason K. says:

            @dust bunny

            “@ Tibor
            I notice that you appear to be identifying with the harassers.”

            This seems to be treading dangerously close to an ad hominem.

            Shy people probably notice it more, but getting catcalled more doesn’t fit with what I’ve observed. You can’t tell someone is shy or not when walking down the street. You might be able to tell if they are meek or not. Even then, I doubt that the vast majority of people that engage in such behavior choose who they try to interact with based on their meekness. They are trying to get a response. Shying away just says ‘try harder’, which is how an extrovert almost invariably responds to an introvert. The other piece to this is that there are invariably assholes about. Assholes are more likely to target someone based on the perception of meekness, because their interest is in your discomfort. The key thing to understand about that though is that an asshole cares not for the method, just the effect.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dust bunny

            Okay then.

            Regarding the power issue… I think the determining factor is whether the men making the advances really do find her attractive or are just doing it to get a rise out of her. If it’s the former, I don’t see how it makes sense to claim that they’re the ones in power and she’s the powerless one, rather than the other way round. I can certainly see that getting lots of unwanted attention could be annoying and distressing. But if it’s genuine desire, then the implication is that she has something that everyone else considers valuable.

            Compare with an employer who gets sent hundreds of applications a day. Or, to turn it round, a worker who gets headhunted constantly, getting a different phone call each day offering them this job or that. It would be fair to say that in each of those cases it would be annoying and tiresome to be on the receiving end of so much unwanted attention, but I don’t think that translates into being the weak, powerless party in the situation – quite the opposite.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Jason K
            It wasn’t an ad hominem. I brought that up specifically to emphasize how much I’m NOT attacking him personally.

            @ Anonymous
            On the streets, she is the relatively powerless party, because she has to use the streets and cannot opt out of the constant ambient hostility. Men have the power to choose whether to engage or not, but she can’t choose to be left alone. They demand her attention and waste her time with pointless challenges that are stressful and have no possible desirable outcome for her. Whether the man got what he wanted out of the interaction or not makes no difference.

            It’s like a game, where one player, let’s call him A, can win 1000 points, a very low probability event (the woman actually sleeps with the harasser) or lose 0 points (nothing happens). The other player, B, can lose 1 point (annoyance), or lose 10 000 points, again with very low probability (harasser proves to be violent). The game is played when A wants to play, for as many rounds as A wants to play.

            More widely, being pushed into a certain role harms you if you were planning on accomplishing anything else at all apart from fulfilling that specific role. Women cannot opt out of that either.

            Perhaps, on balance, being very attractive is still a benefit. I don’t know. My prettiest friends have had the shittiest self images. I can’t quite convince myself that the grapes aren’t really sour.

          • Anonymous says:

            @dust bunny

            With your points analogy, consider how many points each player starts with. I would argue that the 1000 point prize for the man is only available because the woman has that many points to give – and has a very low probability of happening precisely because he doesn’t have something of comparable point value to offer her in return.

            I understand your point about being pushed into a role. On the other hand, to the extent that having minority preferences in one area is independent of having them in another area, you would expect almost everyone to be usual in most ways and unusual in a few ways. In which case, the removal of norms would constitute making almost everyone’s life easier in a few ways and harder in a lot of ways.

            This has been an interesting discussion – thank you.

          • “Such people can only assert dominance over a limited subset of women. The vulnerable.”

            You may be accurately describing the behavior of some men in some times and places. But your description is directly contrary to the data I have. My future daughter in law is tall, good looking, obviously self-confident with high social skills–about as unvulnerable looking as women get, short of carrying a gun. My wife and daughter are short, not especially good looking, and shy.

            The former reports frequent cat calling, the latter zero.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Anonymous
            You can give the woman a starting score of 1000 or 10000 or 1000000, that doesn’t make a difference to the dynamic of the game. Her only winning move is not to play, but it’s not up to her. She’s going to play if some guy somewhere decides so, every day.

            If you were talking about men approaching women more generally, we’d have more common ground. When the context provides some measure of social vetting, the man is more invested in the outcome of the approach. He isn’t just doing it because he’s bored. His interest isn’t solely due to her appearance. He risks humiliation in front of his peers and the sting of rejection. Not only are these approaches more costly to men, but they are advantageous for women. There’s a chance she may want to get to know him, and if not, it may increase her status. That’s a clear power imbalance in favor of the woman. (Or in favor of the person being approached, who can sometimes be the man.) None of this describes harassment in public spaces.

            It was also a friendly and polite conversation. Given the topic and our disagreement, I think it’s a minor accomplishment. Cheers.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ David Friedman
            I wasn’t arguing against your explanation, and definitely not your observations. You may well be right. I just found it strange and so at odds with all of my personal experience, that I felt it necessary to add my own data point lest someone get an incomplete view of street harassment from reading this comment section.

            And I wanted to verify that there is indeed more than just attractiveness involved.

          • @Dust Bunny:

            The inconsistency between your data and mine makes me wonder if they are based on different populations.

            My FDiL’s experience, at least in recent years, would be in the Bay Area. My daughter’s in the Bay Area, Oberlin and Chicago, where she went to school. My wife’s in the Cleveland suburbs, where she grew up, Oberlin, where she went to school, Blacksburg VA (graduate school at VPI), New Orleans, Chicago, Bay Area—although by the time we moved to San Jose she was close to forty, so possibly above the age at which cat calling is likely.

            Where and when are your observations from?

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny:

            First, please cut the stuff about collective guilt (and psychological evaluations in general).

            Second, I really don’t see why my model must be wrong and yours correct. Do you see into the heads of those men? I don’t. I can try to approximate with my own brain, what I know from other men and allow for some differences in social class etc. Are those men outright aggressive in any way? Or do they just have idiotic remarks which they might think are witty and funny and perhaps even complimenting? Maybe they say those to “put the woman to her place” or whatever but how would you know? Also, this kind of intricacy is not likely to be a part of the repertoire of low-class and low-intelligence men. If they want to show dominance they use a threat of violence (or actual violence when that fails, although most probably would still hesitate to it against women). Making sneering remarks with double meanings is not their mode of operation.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Tibor
            It wasn’t a psychological evaluation. It was a request not to get mind killed on me. You displayed some early warning signs.

            Yes, they are outright aggressive in many ways. Sometimes but not always, and some of them but not all, used to follow me around, not back off when I told them to, touch me without permission, and gang up on me (as in, gather into groups and follow me into places where there weren’t many others, and look at me meaningfully, speak apparently about me in their language and laugh loudly, attempt to surround me from all sides). Years later I learned that someone matching the description of one of my regular harassers raped a friend of mine on a street a couple of blocks away from where I would usually see him.

            Instinctive dominance-seeking behaviors can often be quite subtle and well adapted in very stupid and unrefined people. It doesn’t require an explicit understanding of what you’re doing to test and provoke others. In fact, it appears to help if you don’t try to approach it too intellectually. Have you ever tried embarrassing a bully by pointing out how dumb the things they say are?

            This is the limit of how much I feel like justifying to you why my subtextual reading of situations in which I was a party but you were not a witness to should be taken seriously. If you’re inclined to consider me unreliable, there’s nothing I can do about that. You’re going to believe what you’re going to believe. My model definitely fits the observations better, but if you question the validity of my observations, that’s the end of that line of argument.

            @ David Friedman
            Different populations definitely. I’m European, and have not had this problem for over 5 years. The harassers I’ve encountered have been strictly underclass: the sexual harassers FOB immigrants from Maghreb and Middle East or from my own ethnicity, and very occasionally Sub-Saharan Africa. Otherwise gendered harassers old people from a working class culture that hasn’t really existed for as long as I’ve been alive.

            I think we probably largely lack the class of women who would respond positively to street harassment, for cultural reasons. So perhaps these men would have preferred apparently receptive targets to me, but didn’t have that option.

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny: What you describe goes way beyond what I picture as catcalling and it really seems quite aggressive. I think there was a misunderstanding between us in what you experienced and what I pictured you did. I thought you would hear some sleazy and supposedly witty remarks from idiots from time to time not that anyone would follow you around, (try to) touch you or gang up on you. This fits the kind of incidents in Cologne last month and it is quite telling that most of the offenders are from a Magreb or Middle Eastern background. However, I would be surprised if this kind of behaviour were common among even stupid native Europeans or Americans.

          • Anon says:

            Okay, I’ve read the conversation that branched off from David’s response here, and I just figured I’d put in my two cents on it, since my comment was the parent to his.

            In my experience, he’s right about the “self-confident personal style” that lower-class/underclass men respond to. If two equally attractive women walk past such a man and one of them seems more confident and self-assured, he will probably catcall that woman specifically (or both of them with one comment). I’m pretty sure they do this because they’ve noticed that they have better luck convincing the more confident women to give them their phone numbers (which I’m sure they view as the second step in obtaining consensual sex from these women).

            As for the vulnerability conversation, I think some men do respond to that and will specifically pick out those women to harass because they are specifically doing it with the intention of causing emotional distress rather than with the intention of trying to get consensual sex, but these men are a small subset of the male catcalling population. Probably less than 10% if I had to hazard a guess. Most catcalling men (in my experience) seem to genuinely believe that women appreciate their comments and seem to additionally believe that catcalling is a somewhat-successful method for gaining consensual sexual access to women (though I think they strongly overestimate the success-rate). They’re doing it because they want sex, not to cause pain for the woman, though they also don’t seem to mind all that much that some women really hate being catcalled. I’m pretty sure they’re just playing the numbers game in their heads: “If I catcall every hot woman I see, eventually one of them will agree to have sex with me, even if it takes 100 tries, or 1000 tries”.

            And again IME, men definitely target more attractive women and they do so because those women are attractive. A hot woman of childbearing age will get catcalled probably three or four times as often as an unattractive one, and women of non-childbearing age virtually never get catcalled. The men seem to choose women who correspond best to what feminists usually term “conventional attractiveness,” meaning youth, perceived fertility, thinness, symmetrical facial features, etc.

            I’ve never seen an obese woman or an old woman get catcalled (or a female child, for that matter), though women who are only a little bit fat do get catcalled (likely resulting from the men’s realization that few women in dysfunctional urban areas like the one I’m from are actually slim, including me). The youngest women I’ve seen get catcalled still looked like they were capable of becoming pregnant, so “females of childbearing age” seems to be the most appropriate descriptor for preferences of these men.

            From my firsthand experience, I experienced peak catcalling when I was 16-17, which corresponds pretty well to my generalizations above. I was thinner then than I am now and I was physically mature (I looked about 19-20 at the time and had obviously finished puberty), so I was young enough to be attractive but not so young looking that men would worry that having sex with me could lead to prison time. I never saw any of my female relatives who are past childbearing age get catcalled, so age seems to be a strong factor in determining who bears the brunt of catcallers’ attentions. I blame this on men’s biological instinct to try to reproduce, but I’m sure other people have other explanations.

            Like dust-bunny, I also don’t think “too hot to harass” exists. The hottest women I knew when I was a teenager reliably got harassed the most, even the ones who were drop-dead gorgeous. They got more attention than anyone else. But there don’t seem to be many of these in the lower class, likely because such women tend to marry out of the lower class at their first opportunity and thus don’t stick around to pass on their attractive genes to a new generation of lower-class women (meaning these women’s daughters are born middle-class). I think most of the absolutely stunning women who get harassed are middle class women who wandered into a lower-class neighborhood by accident or had to move there due to a job loss or divorce.

            As for the racial dimension, I too noticed a disparity when I was growing up; the men doing the catcalling were disproportionately non-white and were usually black. I was never catcalled by a white man, but I do know white men who would do it in certain circumstances and if they saw a woman they felt it might work on. My father is this kind of man.

            Easily 80% of catcallers I saw were American blacks, by which I mean blacks who are citizens and whose families have been citizens dating back to when freed black slaves first received citizenship. Another 5% were more recent African immigrants or refugees, and a further 5% were vaguely Middle Eastern-looking. The last 10% were white, of the “white trash” subtype; though none of them ever catcalled me I did see hotter women get catcalled by them. They seem to be more discerning than other races and are less likely to call out to a conventionally unattractive woman; this is probably why they did not catcall me while black men sometimes did.

            There were not a ton of Hispanics where I lived, but notably the only instance of workplace sexual harassment I ever experienced came from a Hispanic man, so I’m not inclined to believe they catcall as infrequently as white men. I have no experience with Asians so I don’t know what to think about them. I would guess they don’t catcall much seeing as how society seems to treat them as “basically white, but nerdier”, but I could easily be wrong about that.

            The weirdest experience I ever had with a man on the street was when a black man in his 60s or 70s who I’m pretty sure was a recent immigrant or refugee based on his accent came up to me and immediately, with no introduction or preamble, asked me to come back to his apartment with him. I think he was Muslim based on his clothing and the likelihood that he was Somali, so he may have been misled by other men in his community as to how “slutty” white American women are, but regardless he seemed to think this was a reasonable way to try to pick me up. Needless to say, I did not go back to his apartment with him.

          • Tibor says:

            There is a notable Vietnamese minority where I am from (Czech republic) and if I can generalize from Czech Vietnamese to Asians in general then I think that your impression is valid. They tend to be way more polite, formal and reserved than Europeans. They tend to come out as quite shy (both women and men). I once had an interesting conversation with a Vietnamese girl (who actually was from Vietnam and only came to the country for some time) on a train and she said she was shocked to see that kids of her age (she was something like 17) already had relationships and that they would hold hands and kiss openly during the breaks at the school. To her this was something uncomfortable (I have to say that I feel like “get a room you two” when I am on a bus or a tram and two teenagers half a meter from me are french kissing but then again when the moment is right I don’t pay much consideration to fellow passengers either) and she mentioned that her parents worried about the bad Czech influence on her when she told them about this 🙂 Of course, Asians already born in Europe or America will probably be closer to the local culture (I feel like the Vietnamese who were already born in the country are already more Czech than Vietnamese) but there still probably is some cultural influence which makes them a bit more reserved.

          • Patri Friedman says:

            Note that it happens much more often when she is alone than when accompanied. This suggests to me that some kind of perceived vulnerability, of a type consistent with also being self-confident, is a factor.

          • Alternatively, there is the idea that you don’t make a pass at another man’s woman. Or that a woman who is accompanied is more respectable than one who isn’t.

            A very long time ago I was traveling in Italy with two American girls I had met a day or two before. We were in an Italian train full of Italian soldiers. I spoke some Italian, the girls didn’t.

            The soldiers were obviously interested in the girls. One of them asked me if I was responsible for them (I don’t remember the Italian word). I said something to the effect that they were friends but I was not a brother or boyfriend. One of the soldiers then wanted me to translate “I am in love with you” or something similar. The interaction wasn’t threatening–no suggestion of physical aggression. But pretty clearly, what the girls’ status was with regard to me was a relevant question before trying to flirt with them.

          • Tibor says:

            This seems quite obvious to me. Would you make advances at a woman when her boyfriend/husband (or someone who might be one as far as you know) is around? I think this might have less to do with her vulnerability than with him possibly being angry with you. And especially if you are from such a catcalling culture you’d probably expect the reaction to be quite aggressive. I guess that in some cultures you want to avoid that even if the woman is accompanied by her brother. I don’t have any siblings so I don’t know for sure how I would feel if I were out with my sister and someone made advances to her but I think I would be ok as long as they guy were polite.

            However, it would be a good evidence for “perceived vulnerability” if the catcalling also happens less often when she is accompanied by a female friend. Or for shyness. I am usually more hesitant to talk to someone I don’t know if he is with other people (whom I also don’t know) especially if that someone is a woman I might fancy. But I guess that the catcallers are probably not very shy people.

        • dust bunny says:

          I don’t think you’re atypical in that you are uncomfortable with even relatively polite comments in public spaces. Many (just about all women I know well enough to know their opinion on this) dislike being complimented on their looks by everyone except for friends, partners and attractive strangers they’ve already established rapport with. (Even with friends it can be tricky, for instance, if a friend of mine lost weight I would not refer to it unless they started the conversation.) It’s an unpleasant reminder that you are, as a woman, being constantly evaluated based on your appearance and that it determines your life in a way that it shouldn’t. Puts you in your place, so to speak. In some contexts it’s also a sinister reminder of the looming prospect of less polite and respectful commenters’ attention being directed to you.

          This is too much feminism to be a mainstream view, so in that sense atypical yes, but we’re not a vanishingly tiny minority.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s an unpleasant reminder that you are, as a woman, being constantly evaluated based on your appearance and that it determines your life in a way that it shouldn’t.

            What’s your justification for saying that appearances shouldn’t determine someone’s life? I can understand the socialist’s preferred system – “give what you can, take what you need” – in which what you have to offer doesn’t decide what you can get. But I don’t really see a good argument that appearance, specifically, shouldn’t determine a person’s life, beyond any other characteristic that other people value and will give you things in exchange for sharing with them – intelligence, for example.

            Is it the difference between things that you’re born with versus things that come from your own effort? But intelligence and looks are both partly genetic – and you can work to improve your appearance just like you can work to make yourself smarter, maybe moreso.

          • Tibor says:

            I think that you are judged based on your appearance regardless of your sex. There may be different (not lower or higher just different) criteria for men and women for what passes as good or bad but this is not something exclusive to women. Of course, as far as romantic and sexual interactions go, men generally care more about physical looks and women about status (of their counterparts) so women get complimented about their looks more often by men and maybe men more about status-like stuff (like “oh, you’re so smart!”).

          • Anonymous says:


            Tying into the topic of the containing SSC post, it occured to me a moment ago that this seems to be an almost purely Gentry phenomenon. I can’t imagine many Labor class women being offended rather than flattered at the thought that they’re highly valued for their appearance.

            Actually, I think in general Laborers are more comfortable with the idea of the exchange of goods and services than Gentries are. To a Gentry, work must be personally fulfilling and relationships must be built on mutual interests and values. To a Laborer, work is a somewhat dull task you do in order to get money to buy things you want, and relationships are an exchange of services in which the man provides money and attention and the woman provides sex and backrubs.

            If this assessment is roughly correct then it makes sense that a Labor woman would be okay with people evaluating her sexual worth while a Gentry woman would find it abhorrent.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Anonymous
            Personal value judgment, sense of fairness. You may be assuming I hold a stronger position that I actually do. I find discrimination based on appearance, and halo effect and all that not ideal and kind of sad for those it disadvantages significantly and unfairly. But I don’t think this is something that needs to be solved.

            @ TIbor
            Yes, attractiveness is one of the major factors that determine men’s lives as well, I’m aware of this. I would gratefully settle for women only being defined by their appearance to the extent than men are. I’ll even make an exception for mate selection (although I don’t believe it’s actually true that women care meaningfully less about looks than men).

          • Anonymous says:

            @dust bunny

            But do you think it’s any less fair than people being advantaged or disadvantaged based on their intelligence?

            I think there is a tendency to want to respond to this with, “yes, because intelligence is actually useful in a job, it goes toward being better at producing real stuff that people want”. But I don’t think that stuff is any more inherently valuable than the benefits people get from interacting with attractive people. I’ve thought about this before and can’t find any real meaningful difference between benefitting from IQ and benefitting from attractiveness, nor between benefitting from an employee via them producing more money for you versus benefitting from an employee via them being pretty and thereby making you happy by being around you.

            Nor, as I have said elsewhere in the thread, am I hugely convinced by the claims that everyone finding you really attractive means you’re in a position of weakness rather than power.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Anonymous
            I had not considered this explicitly before, so I can’t say now what my answer would have been had I not read your comment. My first impulse is to agree with you. This seems analogous to social skills and connections, and I exist in an intersection between suits and engineers where that horse has been beaten to death repeatedly.

            Of course, the lack of transparency in unconscious discrimination is an ethical issue. People are lying about what they look for, lying isn’t nice. But there are certain lies that are really codewords. Maybe this is one of those.

            I agree that being attractive does give you options. Women are, however, not harassed because they are attractive. Unattractive women are frequently harassed too, as I can attest from personal experience. Having the choice of what you will primarily be evaluated on made for you does disempower you, doubly so if it does not end up being one of your strengths.

          • @Anonymous:

            Apropos of your point on different advantages. I made a similar point in my price theory text in the contest of a folk song (Fair Ellender and the Brown Girl, Child #73).

            A young man must choose between two women, one beautiful and one rich. Almost invariably he chooses the rich one. The result is tragedy; at least two and often all three of the parties end up dead. The lesson is clear: Marry the beautiful woman.

            It is clear in such songs that marrying a woman for her money is bad, but marrying her for her beauty is fine. It is less clear why. True, the Brown Girl (dark complexioned, hence less attractive than “Fair” Ellender) has done nothing to deserve her wealth; one could argue that she therefore does not deserve to get Lord Thomas. But no more does Fair Ellender deserve her beauty. All either of them has done is to pick the right parents, the one for wealth and the other for looks. Why then is it good and noble for Lord Thomas to reject wealth for beauty and base and wicked for him to reject beauty for wealth?

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny: Can you tell for sure that you are not attractive? Maybe those men feel otherwise. You don’t have to look like Kate Winslet for men to find you physically attractive.

          • dust bunny says:

            Yes I can tell. I am much more attractive now, and it’s a completely different experience.

            I’m not saying they harassed me out of pure hatred or disgust for my ugliness or anything like that. I’m sure that I was targeted more because of my vulnerability, ie. perceived attainability, rather than I was because I was the most desirable target in their environment. But we agree that they did really want me for something. I would definitely have elevated their status, economically and otherwise, and I’m sure they were, for the most part, doomed to perpetual celibacy. I may even have been at the more desirable end of the range of viable for victims, for being very pale and very blonde.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            [I] can’t find any real meaningful difference between benefitting from IQ and benefitting from attractiveness

            Benefitting from IQ requires much more work than benefitting from attractiveness. (Although to maximize your attractiveness can require significant work, I hasten to add.)

            An ignorant genius is not much more useful than an ignorant idiot. A beauty who doesn’t know how to apply eye makeup to task and spec (so long as they know this and don’t actively make themselves look worse by trying and failing) or who could stand to lose a few pounds to reach optimum hip/waist ratio is still beautiful.

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny: See my reply in the other thread, I imagined something far more innocent by the catcalling than what you described. The fact that these men almost exclusively come from a frustrated underclass and a culture with very different attitude to women explains a lot and makes your interpretation more plausible to me. I think that the frustration and really bad outlooks in life are more important than the different culture, although that sure does not ameliorate the problem either. What I find worrisome today is that we are importing an underclass of young frustrated men to Europe, who, like you mention yourself, have very bad outlooks to stop being the underclass and who hence have almost zero chances with European women and who outnumber the women from their own group by 2 to 1. This would be a problem even if they came from the same culture group as the countries they are immigrating to.

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Tibor

            It was catcalling or on typical days, and escalated from there on the worse days, although fortunately not often. All part of the same pattern of behavior by the same set of people. I realize now that it might have been useful to be more explicit about the more extreme harassment earlier on, but since from my perspective and from the perspective of those I usually discuss this with the distinction is not the most meaningful, it didn’t occur to me to do so. When you live with this shit, it’s a given that the risk of worse is ever-present, and it’s all warning signs. Some are just more urgent than others.

            ETA: I notice that my previous post was misleading. I spoke as if all of my harassers were foreign men who actually wanted me. That’s not the case. Those harassers who probably actually wanted me were the foreign men.

            When I have been harassed by men of my own ethnicity, it has not been systematic or as threatening as it was in the case of the FOBs. Again they were strictly underclass, and occasionally tried to touch me. But their mode of operation was generally more hit-and-run: make a crude sexual remark or gesture that is clearly intended to humiliate me and make me feel uncomfortable, and keep walking. I don’t know if such behavior indicates desire or not, but I’m sure I was not targeted for being attractive.

            My friends have endured worse harassment from natives. They’ve had their pictures taken without permission in public in a manner that could be characterised as aggressive. Some have been targeted by exhibitionists, and one was made to touch her harasser’s (or in this case more correctly assailant’s) exposed penis. Some of these were probably not underclass, I witnessed the picture taking incident, and although it’s hard to say from memory, I’d peg those guys as working class.

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny:

            Please don’t take this as me doubting your story but it feels like you live in a very different world than I do 🙂 I am curious – which country do you live in (as long as it you want to state that at a public forum, fine if not)? Based on Magreb foreigners and the fact that you mentioned that you are blonde which is relatively rare where you live (which rules out Scandinavia) I would guess France or Belgium.

            I think that while the muslim underclass will be even worse (because of their culture in which women are openly treated as something below men), generally I can imagine that frustrated underclass young men do that, even Europeans. A combination of low intelligence, bad outlooks in life and sexual frustration can probably manifest themselves in really ugly ways.

            What I find annoying (and I am by no means accusing you of doing so) are people who try to downplay that this is largely a cultural and class problem and try to pretend that this is something men do in general.

          • Anon says:

            @dust bunny

            I do dislike being complimented on my looks, but you’re underestimating my general social awkwardness. I don’t only dislike appearance-related comments, I also don’t want to be talked to at all, about anything, by random people on the street. I just really hate social interaction and I want people to leave me alone as much as possible. I don’t even leave the house except for work, school (uni), and to go to the store, and if I won the lottery and thus no longer had to do any of those things, I probably would never leave the house.

            I definitely feel like my appearance determines my life, and it’s not a nice reminder given that I’m fat and not hot, but I don’t generally interpret this emotion in the feminist manner, because I am for the most part an evolutionist. I think society treats women this way as a rational response to the reality that our main value is in our unique capacity to give birth to new human beings and that women who are more attractive tend to have better genes with which to create those new humans. So I interpret this emotion as my brain’s evolved response to the realization that I don’t have high genetic quality. Brains don’t like to confront that fact, so it of course feels bad, but I don’t think it necessarily means we should or even can organize society to not value appearance above everything else for women.

            Massive aside comment on evolution below, feel free to ignore if you don’t like the evolutionary theory of human behavior:

            The attractiveness=good genes thing applies to men too of course, but men have other methods as well for signalling that they have good genes, such as by acquiring lots of resources or by being physically strong (which many women seem to also find inherently attractive, though I do not, but which does not have a 1:1 correlation with overall physical-attractiveness-as-signal-of-gene-quality). Because there are other methods of signalling gene quality for men, their appearance isn’t the be-all and end-all of their overall attractiveness as a mating partner, whereas for women it essentially is.

            Which kind of makes me wonder: why don’t women have other signals with which to display their gene quality? Is it because attractiveness is simply the best method and is thus the easiest for evolution to create (the fact that facial symmetry is so highly correlated with attractiveness seems to support this theory) and that it’s not worth it for evolution to experiment with methods other than the tried-and-true method in the sex it doesn’t like to mess around much with (recall greater male variability)?

            Does it have something to do with females (among humans) being the high-investment parenting sex, such that there’s no point in evolving signals other than beauty for them, but men as the low investment sex must evolve more signals than simple attractiveness, if only to stay ahead of the competition? I guess this theory would boil down to “intra-male competition for women is much stronger than intra-female competition for men”, which seems to be true, but I’m still not sure if it’s the actual reason women have no other signals of genetic quality other than physical beauty.

            Or hell, maybe I’m just wrong and we do have other signals for it that I’m unaware of. Behavior might be one; men do seem to prefer certain types of behavior from us, though I think they’d pick a hot women who acts weirdly over an ugly one who acts ideally. Parenting quality* seems like it should be one as it obviously matters evolutionarily, but few men seem to care about it in practice, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Note that I’m not saying most men would be okay with it if their child’s mother allowed the child to starve, merely that they don’t seem to actively search out excellent mothers for partners, perhaps because almost all of the genuinely horrible mothers got selected out of the gene pool long ago.

            *I mean it in the “keeping your offspring alive” sense, not the “getting your children into elite colleges” sense or the “using the proper modern parenting technique” sense.

          • Anon says:

            Also @everyone in this subthread, in regards to the comments on immigrants, they do seem to be way worse about catcalling and being genuinely harrassing towards women on the street than American men (I am from the U.S. so I don’t know if it’s true everywhere, but it is here). To an extent this even transcends race: black immigrants are worse about it than black Americans, and the one time I experienced workplace sexual harassment, it was at the hands of an immigrant (Hispanic). Notably, he could not speak English and did not even understand simple comments from me in English, so he can’t have been here long. Middle Eastern men in general are pretty bad about it, but they’re virtually all immigrants in areas I’ve lived, so I have no “Middle Eastern American” population to compare them to.

            And middle-class men seem to pretty much not do it at all, though I have not admittedly lived around them for as long as lower-class men. I’ve never met any upper-class men so I have no idea if they do it; I’m guessing not, but it’s just a guess.

            So yes, as Tibor mentioned, the cultural component of this is huge and it is not all men. One reason many women will simply blame men in general for catcalling and harassment is that pointing out which men are doing it can get you labeled an evil racist bigot oppressor who was asking for it because of her white privilege, so we usually refrain from getting too specific. I certainly wouldn’t write this under my real name, for instance.

            If a woman wants to complain publicly about this under her real name, she has to be…careful. It’s not only the racial angle, it’s also the immigrant angle and (in Europe, or so I’ve heard) the Muslim angle. No one wants to get called racist, xenophobic, or Islamophobic; receiving such accusations can be career-destroying and can bring death threats down upon you. And you can easily avoid it by simply saying generic “men” were catcalling or harassing you, so women tend to do that a lot.

            One further thing, like dust bunny, I am white and blonde, and I grew up in an area where that is, while not rare, not exactly super common either. And those traits are definitely perceived as being especially desirable by non-white catcalling men IME. They will catcall attractive non-white women too, but white (especially white and blonde) women seem to make them…more eager to do it, I guess? This applies even to the black American population, though it is more true of the immigrant population. There’s something about whiteness and blondeness that makes men behave more egregiously than they usually do. They’re also willing to catcall a relatively unattractive women if she has those traits, while they might ignore a similarly-attractive black woman, so it seems like having white skin and blonde hair can “make up” for ugly traits, like being fat or having a somewhat unsymmetrical face. (And as weird as it seems, black women who dye their hair blonde really do get more attention from men on the street than black women with their normal black hair color; the “blonde” advantage doesn’t only apply to white women, though virtually no non-whites can take advantage of it without hair dye).

            Also, white catcallers virtually exclusively catcall white women. I’ve never seen one catcall a non-white woman. I don’t know why, as some non-white girls I grew up with became very attractive adult women. But white men just don’t seem interested.

          • Two points with regard to Muslim immigrants, pointing in opposite directions.

            1. Muslim religious law is considerably more restrictive with regard to how men can behave towards women other than their wives than western custom.

            2. People from a sexually conservative culture are likely to correctly believe that women from a sexually permissive culture are more likely to go to bed with them than women from their own culture, but to greatly exaggerate the difference. My impression is that that pattern existed for Italian men interacting with American women when I traveled in Italy forty-some years ago.

          • Tibor says:

            @Anon: I think that men generally find women who are exotic from their perspective (like a blonde to a black guy) attractive. Some time back I visited Portugal and I felt like almost every girl there was very attractive, South American women give me the same impression. I think it is more than just personal tastes and that it is quite likely that Spanish or Italian men are attracted to blonde women more, because there are few of them in Southern Europe. The reason you did not see Hispanic or Black women being catcalled might be either that they understand the culture of the catcalling men better and don’t do something they might interpret as an invitation.

            @David: And Americans in Britain. Unfortunately, I forgot where I read about it, but different courting customs apparently lead to misunderstandings between US soldiers stationed in England during the WW2 and local women. For the Americans, a kiss was something hard to get but when a girl let them kiss her, she would let them go much further without much hesitation. For the English women, a kiss was something much less important and kissing a man did not necessarily mean that she wanted to sleep with him. So the account of the US soldiers was that English women were really “easy” whereas the women thought that the Americans were too impatient and sleazy.

            Possibly there might a similar misconception about Latin American women among Europeans or North Americans. Many Latin American dances are very, let’s say sensual, there are some figures in salsa for example (one called Yoghurt) which almost make me blush and judging from the reactions of other people at the salsa course when this was first shown to us, this would be true of many or even most Europeans. For the Latin Americans it is apparently not a big deal. But from that one could mistakenly assume that Latin American women are “easy”. I think that the opposite might be true, after all, those are majority catholic populations and the catholicism does have an influence (higher than it does in Austria for example).

            So, yeah, I guess that the men from muslim populations, especially those less familiar with the non-muslim world (probably most of the current asylum seekers in Europe for example) might and probably do think that European women are incredibly “easy” and maybe interpret disinterest as “trying to play hard” or something. Then again, I’ve read accounts (in the newspapers and so it is not the strongest evidence) of unaccompanied women among asylum seekers in Germany being treated quite badly by the men. It is true that not all those women are muslim, so that might explain it. Also the strict restrictions in muslim countries may mean that when the men come to a socially freer society they feel like “everything is allowed” there. This assumes that the reason they don’t behave like this at home is that they fear punishment and not because that they themselves find it wrong (or at least not wrong enough to overcome the desire).

          • dust bunny says:

            @ TIbor
            I am from Norden, just in the palest and blondest 10 or so percent. That’s enough to stand out a bit, when I’m not standing next to a white wall <:

            Different worlds exist in parallel and never meet, I don't think you could visit my world even if you came to visit my house. I live in a comfortable G bubble now (that leaks slightly into E3-4 and L2), and if I'd been here always I would probably find my experiences alien as well. I quite like my country and don't consider it some dangerous and regressive dystopia. From everything I hear it's worse elsewhere.

          • Tibor says:

            @dust bunny: By Norden you mean Scandinavia?

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Tibor
            By Norden I mean the thing people usually mean when they say Scandinavia, yes.

          • Tibor says:

            @ dust bunny: You don’t say Scandinavia in Scandinavia? 🙂

          • dust bunny says:

            @ Tibor
            Some non-pedantic individuals do. They’ve usually learned the term from English speakers. I don’t like it because of the ambiguity. You can never tell whether it’s being used to refer to the countries on the peninsula (correct use), the countries on the peninsula plus Denmark (also correct use, although annoying), some other subset of Norden (incorrect, unless you’re being ultra pedantic about the tiny part of Finland that’s part of the Scandes in which case I know better than to argue with you about anything), or Norden (incorrect). I’m sure I’ve heard all possible permutations at least once.

          • Tibor says:

            So Norden = Scandinavia + Denmark or maybe also + Iceland and Faroe Islands? Also, to me it is natural that Scandinavia does not include Denmark, Scandinavia is that peninsula in Europe which looks like a giant dog (South of Norway is the dog’s head and south of Finland are the dog’s back legs, the tail of the dog is in Russia, although I think the tail is no longer considered a part of Scandinavia) 🙂 It is strange that nobody else seems to notice this (no pictures on the Internet linking Scandinavia to a dog), so maybe that’s just me.

            The northernmost place I’ve ever been to is probably Hannover, so I’ve never visited any Nordic countries and never heard the term Norden used like this (I only know it as word in Germany which simply means North, but not specifically Northern Europe) which is why I’m asking.

          • dust bunny says:

            Norden is the same as the Nordic countries. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and the autonomous areas. I shouldn’t have used that word, I know it’s not informative for most people, but I get peevish when I hear Scandinavia being used. Sorry.

            It’s probably just you, it definitely doesn’t look like a dog to me. I don’t really see anything there, and if I saw that shape in a cloud or somewhere I’d probably think it looks like Scandinavia. That is, unless you leave out Norway like in the old Euro coins. Then it turns into a recognizable shape.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          The reaction to overly aggressive complimenting, to put it politely, in some quarters seems to have been to embark on a somewhat aggressive campaign to discourage all casual complimenting. It is viewed as no longer appropriate, by people of this school of thought, to give compliments regarding their attractiveness to people you don’t know as it treats them as decorative objects.

          They do have a point, but a) I think this is overreacting and b) as usual it will only deter people who weren’t part of the real problem anyway.

    • Anonymous says:


      This may explain something I’ve wondered about, which is why some women report ubiquitous street harassment and some have never experienced it. Maybe it’s the same separation that we saw in tribal filter bubbles.

      • Emily H. says:

        Anecdotally, street harassment seems to depend largely on

        (a) how much time you spend as a pedestrian in pedestrian neighborhoods
        (b) whether you read as an acceptable target — being merely a below-average-in-attractiveness woman isn’t enough to be an unacceptable target, but if you’re over 45-ish, or physically disabled, you start to read as invisible.

        If you live in the suburbs and drive a car, you’re much less likely to experience street harassment; people walking make better targets than people in cars.

        • For an example that struck me …

          My elder son’s fiancee has been repeatedly bothered by catcalling. My wife has never experienced it. I suspect it has something to do with different appearance–the fiancee is much more striking, dresses to look good–but also with dimensions of how people move and act that I find it hard to state precisely. One way of putting it is that my wife, in social contexts with strangers, would like to be invisible, my future daughter in law not at all.

        • Nero tol Scaeva says:

          As a guy who grew up sort of on the border of the Underclass/Labor divide (and is now solidly Gentry due to working in tech/part time MS in compsci) street harassment seems to be almost never about the woman in question; it functioned more like a bonding moment between men.

          The (Gentry?) Elite analogy would be if two people were in the Guggenheim and they were commenting on the quality and artistry of some painting. Their agreement on what they find good about the painting is a sort of shared moment. The painting itself is irrelevant. It may be nice to have the painting, but sharing the appreciation in the moment is what matters.

          If this “bonding” behavior at the Guggenheim happens often enough, they will start doing it by themselves even if no one else is around to share or agree with their appreciation. That’s just what you do.

          As much as street harassment happens, what happens a lot more is that two (or more) guys — randoms who don’t know each other — will both see a good looking woman walk by, and nod in silent agreement about how hot she is. This happened *a lot* when I was growing up, even with my male family members. Doesn’t happen these days since I’m in a completely different class and live in the suburbs.

          • Tibor says:

            I don’t know, the kind of behaviour you describe in the last paragraph seems to apply to men more generally I think. The subtlety of the execution will vary though, so you go from “dude, check out that hot chick’s ass!” to a more or less witty remark depending on the context based on which everyone around understands what you are hinting at.

            I am currently doing my PhD in maths (in Germany) and the people around me definitely are no underclass, I don’t know their exact backgrounds but I doubt most of them come form working-class families. And yet when we go out for a beer in the spring or summer (when there are suddenly so many beautiful women around after the winter full of heavy jackets and coats 🙂 ), we still make such jokes and remarks between ourselves, at least when no female colleagues join us 🙂 The “dude, check that ass” guy would probably not fit well, but at the end of the day the content is the same.

            The gentry you seem to have in mind look pretty Victorian and uptight to me 🙂

      • Sastan says:

        I have a feeling (based on nothing more than women I have met) that at least some of the diatribes written against street harassment are aspirational.

        And I did read one in particular from an aging feminist who, after years of bemoaning catcalls, found herself disappointed when it stopped.

        • Jason K. says:

          I think it was Valenti that wrote the article you are referring to.

          It certainly is possible that if one is a recipient of a behavior often enough, that one’s subjective opinion on that behavior will change from positive to negative. However, I suspect that a lot of complaints about sexual behavior are really signalling. That it is really a way for the complainant to covertly influence how desirable you think the complainant is, thus increasing the complainant’s perceived status.

          It is unlikely that someone saying ‘Gosh, it is horrible having so much money’ or ‘My house is just too big’ would be seen as doing anything less than bragging. We don’t do it in this case because both women and (most) men have a vested interest in women being generally uninterested in sex. We swallow it up when it comes to complaints around sexual behavior because we want to believe the complainant is being genuine.

  75. Virbie says:

    > The stratospheric semi-divine level is “celebrities” like Kim Kardashian who become fabulously rich and famous while sticking to their labor class roots.

    What are you referring to here? I readily admit I know as little as I could manage about the Kardashians (every fact I know comes from headlines I’ve seen on Web pages), but I thought they’re whole shtick was being unabashedly, excessively upper class?

    • Anon. says:

      They’re rich trash, that’s what makes them so entertaining.

    • Deiseach says:

      Isn’t their father a lawyer, which makes him Gentry class by the scale above which amuses me slightly, since by older class distinctions on this side of the water, doctors and lawyers were ‘in the professions’ which did not make them gentry; they served the gentry. ‘Gentry’ had a particular delimitation, but of course Time Marches On and boundaries get blurred.

      • BBA says:

        As I understand it, barristers were considered gentry and entitled to the use of “esquire” after their names, while solicitors were not.

        The traditional class system has broken down to the extent that in Britain everyone may use “esquire”, while in America (which never had an official gentry or a distinction between barristers and solicitors) only lawyers do.

  76. onyomi says:

    Just happened to see this article which, along with Scott’s point that Trump, despite being a billionaire, nevertheless “feels” like intuitively like a member of the labor class, better explains the Trump phenomenon to my mind than anything I’ve seen thus far.

    Favorite quote:

    for this constituency (my emphasis) and at this moment just demonstrating that he gets his way, always, is all that really matters. Policy details, protecting the candidate through careful press releases and structured media opportunities … none of that matters. Trump doesn’t kiss babies. Babies kiss him. He doesn’t have a billionaire backer; he is a billionaire. Trump doesn’t ask for support. He just tells you that you need to stop being a loser and get on board.”

    In other words, as Scott states, being confrontational and argumentative as opposed to filing a complaint with HR is a labor class trait. Along with his accent, hair, spray tan, and gaudy mansions, Trump’s dominance signalling, which feels like brain-dead bluster to the gentry, is perceived as real power to get things done in the political realm (which labor probably doesn’t understand runs more on a gentry/elite logic (or does it?)) to the labor classes. Moreover, he doesn’t need to be beholden to an elite backer because he has elite money.

    His strong stance against illegal immigration and squabbles with the “mainstream media” signal to the labor class that Trump is with them in opposing their enemies on both sides: foreign immigrants who compete for low-skill jobs (seems they need to fit somewhere between the welfare class and the labor class, though in terms of culture and lifestyle they really belong with the bottom of the labor class, though they seem to vote with the welfare class). And bullying the media, of course, signals that Trump will represent the labor class in its ongoing struggle with the gentry.

  77. Miranda says:

    I’m noticing again that I’m not sure what class nurses fall into. I mean, it’s pretty clear that *I’m* in the Gentry class, given other factors – education of parents, class of most of my friends, what I do in my free time, etc. But…

    -Many nurses I’ve met are more like Sherri than like Alex, although not always. I’m a pretty weird nurse, and it’s an unusual, though not unheard-of, career choice for someone of my background.
    -Nursing could be described as a ‘profession’, like being a schoolteacher, but nurses also seem to have a lot in common with pilots and plumbers.
    -Nursing school was until very recently taught at community college, and still has a ‘community college’ feel, at least in Canada – I don’t know what it’s like in the US. I *definitely* feel like I experienced a process of acculturation there.
    -Several well-educated people I’ve met in the US have been adamant that nursing is ‘blue collar’, to the point of being shocked that I chose to study it.
    -I think this may be something that has been changing over time – nursing becoming less blue-collar, based more around education and less around values of Hard Work. I don’t know.

    • onyomi says:

      I feel like part of the point is that, like income, occupation is correlated with, but separable from occupation. In particular, in this tough labor market, I think a lot of people with gentry backgrounds have been forced to (or in some cases, simply preferred to) work jobs associated with labor. Yet you can still tell the gentry cashier apart from the labor cashier at Wal Mart.

    • Joyously says:

      Nurses are gray area. There’s a girl I know from church who feels bad because she sees the other young people in the congregation as being “doctors and lawyers and engineers” (I would also add teachers, nurses, and social workers) and she doesn’t feel she fits in. Her goal is to work at a nursing home, which is actually pretty brilliant of her, because it’s something you can do easily with a community college degree that still feels as if it fits in the same upper-c Class as the others. I doubt it’ll will ultimately work to make her “fit in”, though, because of all the other factors at play, and that makes me feel really sad about how the world works.

    • Sastan says:

      I think nursing, like many professions, can be either. I know a lot of blue collar nurses, the sort of hard-bitten battle-axes that form the backbone of so many hospitals. Then there are a group of attractive but not particularly ambitious nurses for whom it is a nice, caring, womanly career to dip their toe into before they marry a medical professional (who happen to all be in the same building!). The second group can be either working class strivers (who figure their looks are the best way to climb) or lazier middle class girls for whom it’s a respectable way of landing a husband.

      One of my best friends got snagged by one of the latter. He’s a working class kid who did well in school and became a pharmacist. Married a brain dead and very vain nurse from a rich family who was on her third engagement to a doctor when they met.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      See Douglas Knight above. Professions can contain a mix of different classes. That having been said, almost all the nurses I know are Labor. A few doctors I know read as Labor too, but much less than the nurses.

  78. Earthly Knight says:

    Interesting classifications! No basis in reality, though. Sex, race, sect, geographical region, and age are all much more strongly associated with political alignment than education or employment status are, and political views move monotonically right as income increases. Here are some recent Pew data:

    (Lean) Democrat/(Lean) Republican
    Overall: 48%/39%

    High School: 47%/37%
    Some College: 47%/42%
    College Graduate: 49%/42%
    Post-Grad: 57%/35%

    This last data point seems telling, right? Except:

    Post-Grad Male: 50%/42%
    Post-Grad Female: 64%/29%

    Family Income
    $30,000 or less: 54%/31%
    $30,000-$40,000: 51%/37%
    $40,000-$50,000: 50%/40%
    $50,000-$75,000: 45%/45%
    $75,000-$100,000: 44%/48%
    $100,000-$150,000: 45%/48%
    $150,000 or more: 45%/47%

    • Sastan says:

      Your comment w/r to income and political views does not seem to be correct. Party affiliation is slightly more Republican above $500k, but conservatism drops. Take as an example the (in)famous Koch brothers, who are so conservative they spent $125 million supporting the gay marriage campaign in New York. Do they lean right? Sort of, they’re grey tribe though, not red. Higher incomes are correlated with higher education as well, which is correlated with socially liberal views. Unless you have a good picture of the policies advocated, it’s hard to call it a monotonous progression.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        The Koch brothers are libertarians who bankroll republican candidates and all of the major conservative think-tanks. I have no idea what color their tribe is.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Grey tribe? I think they’d get along fine with David Friedman or the other libertarian grey tribers here.

          • brad says:

            If the Kochs are gray tribe than the term has no meaning beyond libertarian. At that point you might as well just say libertarian.

            Trying to collapse everything in political affiliation makes no more sense than trying to collapse everything into income bracket.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            They are libertarians who run a company according to libertarian principles. It is the second part that definitively makes them grey tribe; libertarianism isn’t just a tribal marker for them.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t see what that adds. David ran for President as a Libertarian, whatever libertarian points there are to be gotten he got from that. But are either of them into computers? Do they like scifi? Call football sportsball? Are they Dawkins style atheists? Do they drink soylent? Do they like to throw around the word othoganal in ordinary conversation?

            As I said, if you mean libertarian, say libertarian (ditto for democrats and republicans). This reductivness misses the entire point, not only of the original outgroup post but this one as well.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “I don’t see what that adds. ”

            Making beliefs pay rent? Not liking politics so starting your own ideology in order to fix the entire system? Consistently applying that to everything you do? If that (combined with a tone deafness to social and political currents) isn’t grey tribe, than grey tribe is just ‘likes computers’.

            “But are either of them into computers? Do they like scifi? Call football sportsball? Are they Dawkins style atheists? Do they drink soylent? Do they like to throw around the word othoganal in ordinary conversation?”

            There are no old grey tribers?

            “As I said, if you mean libertarian, say libertarian ”

            EK asked for what color their tribe was.

          • brad says:

            David Koch lives in the UES of Manhattan, donates a ton of money to the opera, to the ballet, to the Met, to the American Museum of Natural History, and to PBS. He reportedly attends their galas dressed to the nines. He was a varsity basketball player in college and set records (albeit at MIT). He was also in a frat while he was there. The officiant at his marriage was a quite liberal Episcopalian minister, the head of a major NYC church.

            It’s not a perfect fit, but Blue looks like it is a better fit than Gray to me. At least is we take them to be more than just euphemisms for political affiliations.

            There aren’t too many old gray tribe people because it’s relatively new –Inasmuch at it exists as a full blown, independent tribe in the relevant sense at all. In any event, if you want an old Gray Tribe guy take a look at Richard Stallman or Ken Thompson. Then take another look at David or Charles Koch. You should notice a difference right away.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      If we’re interested in a principled way of carving up the country’s political alignments, throw out all the nonsense about gentry and labor and brahmins and such, and start with this:

      Bluest demographics:
      –Blacks (80% democrat/lean democrat)
      –Atheists (72%)
      –Agnostics (69%)
      –Asians (65%)
      –Post-graduate women (64%)
      –Jews (61%)

      Reddest demographics:
      –Mormons (70% republican/lean republican)
      –White evangelical protestants (68%)
      –White silent generation men (60%)
      –Married men (51%)
      –White catholics (50%)

      Roughly, the democratic party is a coalition of educated women, urbanites, the poor, and racial and religious minorities, while the republican party is driven by white men, the older, more rural, wealthier, and more religious the better.

      • brad says:

        There’s more to life than who you vote for.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Sure. But the class distinctions drawn in the original and linked posts could not have any connection to political activity. Perhaps I was not clear enough about this earlier. For instance:

          –The original post claims that the underclass lean left. This is false. 49% of the unemployed, 47% of Americans with high school degrees or less, and 54% of Americans with family incomes under $30,000 favor the democratic party, compared with 48% of the general population.

          –Similarly, the original post claims that the gentry leans left. This is also false. 49% of college graduates without postgraduate degrees favor the democratic party, again almost exactly the same as the general population. Only in women with postgraduate credentials does any clear trend towards liberalism emerge.

          –Third, the original post suggests that labor leans right. This, too, is false. 47% of Americans with full-time jobs favor the democratic party, and only families with incomes >$75,000 prefer the GOP to the democrats.

          As you can see, if we carve up social classes this way it completely severs their connection to political behavior– the underclass, labor, and gentry all have pretty much identical voting patterns. Really these classifications are exercises in (almost always self-serving) mythmaking, rather than attempts to accurately describe reality. I have tried to eyeball a factor analysis out of Pew’s data set along with some additional sources, below, which describes clusters of demographic traits that actually predict political affiliation. If you want to know where the real socio-political cleavages lie, that’s your best bet.

      • Anon. says:

        Blue doesn’t mean Democrat. Blacks are the least Blue demographic of all.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Scott’s classification is bananas, in part because it fails to be mutually exhaustive in a way which completely excludes leftist racial minorities. Judging by the data, there are really three prominent centers of political and cultural gravity:

          The “red tribe”, characterized by traditionalism and support for rightist economic policies:
          1. White
          2. Rural
          3. Male
          4. Old
          5. Rich
          6. Christian

          The “blue tribe”, characterized by progressivism and support for leftist economic policies:
          1. Educated and female
          2. Jewish or Asian
          3. Young
          4. Urban
          5. Secular

          The “non-white tribe”, characterized by traditionalism and support for leftist economic policies:
          1. Black or hispanic
          2. Christian
          3. Urban
          4. Poor

          The red tribe is the nucleus of the republican party, while the blue and non-white tribes jointly form the democratic base. The characteristics listed should be strongly predictive of ideology and voting patterns.

          The “grey tribe”, so far as I can tell, is composed of principally young and male libertarians who in times past would have been reliable republican voters but who grew up during the Bush administration and were so appalled by its failures that they disavowed their political allegiance and began groping about for alternatives. The sect is too minor to show up in the statistics, at any rate.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The Demographics of registered Republicans and Democrats seems imply that age is a non-factor, your also ignoring the fact that one of the largest (if not the largest) “target groups” within the GOP is married women. In fact the divide between DNC and GOP is less about age and gender than it is “married with kids” vs not.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            1. Marriage only makes a difference among whites.

            2. Married women are evenly split between the parties at 44%. In other words, marriage only manages to cancel out the advantage the democratic party enjoys among women.

            3. Age matters– millennials favor the democrats by 16 points, while the silent generation favors the republicans by 4 points.

          • Nonnamous says:

            What is the percentage split between the three groups? I always imagined that the politics is something like,

            3% rich people who vote republican because they want low taxes
            47% poor people who vote republican because they love Jesus
            3% rich people who vote democrat because they hate Jesus
            47% poor people who like Jesus but like their welfare check more

            However, I formed that image with little consultation with reality, so I’m guessing this is way off?

          • Earthly Knight says:

            Answers to your questions can be found in the fifth table here and the sixth table here.

            The distribution you suggest is exaggerated, of course, but it does look like a) jews, hindus, atheists, and agnostics are disproportionately wealthy and b) unhappiness with tax burden rises with family income.

    • Max says:

      This % votes is false classification because to get “group” it has to be 95% of group do this. The blacks are only segment close to being % vote = real group. Since they vote 90%+ democratic. Groups are cohesive because they do things predictably as one. Yankees fan not gonna go root for Red Sox. That is with 95%+ confidence, otherwise it would not be “yankees fans” .
      You can’t say educated females are blue tribe, because 35% of them do not behave like “blue” according to vote %

      • Earthly Knight says:

        It’s large (married 34% D; unmarried 46% D), but sex (male 36%; female 44%), education (at least college graduate 47%; all others 37%), region (northeast 46%; south 34%), community type (48% urban; 35% rural), and most of all, religion (34% christian; 59% unaffiliated) are comparable.

  79. Joyously says:

    Maybe I’m over pattern-matching, but this might also shed some light on the “Trump-has-short-fingers meme.”

    A bunch of conservative/Libertarian writer types (Gentry) read about how Trump got super angry and defensive when a magazine insulted his short fingers. The Gentries think this is stupid and ridiculous and immediately start making *a lot* of jokes about his finger length.

    So maybe the proper Labor response to a silly insult is to challenge and defeat the insulter? Whereas the proper Gentry response is to either make a self-deprecating joke or possibly ironically embrace it (“My fingers are compact and efficient!” or something). This shows that you’re cool and chill and not mad, bro.

  80. Joyously says:

    The underclass-thru-gentry categories seem largely correct to me.

    I suppose this helps explain the right-wing civil war that’s going on now. The conservative Gentry (which includes me) *hate* Trump. They hate his vulgarity, his tacky taste in home decor, his speaking style, his tendency to get into stupidly personal crude fights, his bragging about womanizing, his lack of any libertarian streak whatsoever, his failure to even pretend he has a consistent or intellectual political philosophy. A lot of that list is *only* class markers. And frankly, Gentry conservatives care about immigration but not *that* much.

    Members of conservative Labor see this as yet another example of the Gentry being in cahoots with the Elites and too tolerant of the Underclass (immigrants) who are going to steal Labor jobs and ruin them and what not.

    To which the Gentry shout back “What does that even mean? It’s not like opinion writers make a lot of money. Yes I live in New York what does that have to do with anything? Statistically immigrants don’t cost native jobs. Trump has given actual bribes to politicians, doesn’t that make him the worst kind of Elite? *I’m* the intellectually consistent one here!”

    This doesn’t help.

    • Max says:

      A lot of that list is *only* class markers.

      And then you see why people think gentry are delusional know-it-alls who think they are smarter than everyone else, while in fact they dumb as bricks at least in part where social dynamics is involved

      You judge Trump intelligence based on class markers and his public speeches! Without taking into account that he speaks to population at large not a small elitist academia segment. Any good public speaker know you have to speak language of your audience and get to their heart before getting to their minds.
      Trump does not need to display status markers. He plays the biggest public show there is – election of US president. And he does it like a master player, instead of giving him credit for skill, gentry derides him. Exposing themselves as hypocrite buffoons in the process

    • While immigration can be a jobs issue for the Labor class, it can be a physical safety / crime / property value issue for middle and upper classes. You see, the Gentry, Elites etc. are EXTREMELY unaccustomed to violence. They don’t even brawl in bars or something. Even a bit of rowdiness can put the fear of god in them and generally speaking once one has children, the expected status loss of being perceived as a a ray-cis may be outweighted by fearing for their kids.

      So visualize this setup. You have one group of people extremely unaccostumed to violence. You have another group of people who grew up in a country where the drug mafia kills anyone they feel like killing and this obviously raises the threshold of what is considered violence, so they may see a bit of brawling as merely fun. And you mix them. What happens? My prediction is the first group starts screaming for a strong-arm leader who protects them, right?

  81. Douglas Knight says:

    Moldbug and Church say a lot of similar thing about L/G=V/B, but Church and you confuse it by mentioning specific professions. Whereas Moldbug says (in the comments) that doctors are split between V and B. The Vaisyas aren’t out of place, unable to function in a Brahmin profession. The Brahmins don’t grant them social status, but neither do they stand in the way of their goal of lucrative specialties. Which pretty much matches Church’s words.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Good point, and helps explain some things about medicine.

    • Deiseach says:

      The ordinary slogging if much-beloved GP being a Vaisya, the plate in Harley Street specialist who might have a chance at a knighthood in the Honours List for services to medicine later in his career being a Brahmin? That makes sense to me 🙂

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Church and Moldbug say very different things about elites like investment bankers, but they don’t contradict each other. They just care about different topics. Church cares about inputs and Moldbug about outputs. Moldbug says that IB is a mixture of Brahmin and Vaisyas, indicating that his Vaisyas lumps together Church’s Labor and Elite. Maybe that’s because Moldbug is a Brahmin and can’t tell the difference. Or maybe it’s because Church is talking about the difference between labor and connections, while Moldbug is just interested in what drives social status, which is basically money for both Labor and Elite.

      Church and Moldbug agree that Gentry/Brahmins care about cultural influence. Church says that the Elites start wars in the Middle East, but Moldbug just doesn’t care because he thinks that the cultural influence of the Brahmins will be more important in the long run. Also, the government is run by Brahmin bureaucrats who can mess up Elite plans, even if the Elites can buy off the politicians and the political appointees at the top of the bureaucracies.

  82. Sounds fairly sensible to me – these are all different models, temporarily useful to make sense of an extremely complex set of interactions.

    Only thing that worried me was the thing about possible adaptivity of violent problem solving. You could just as easily have a gentry/upper-middle class culture of bankers and doctors who solve their problems with violence. In fact, not so long ago, you did. They were called the ‘burschenschaft’ ( and Sort of like today’s fraternities (which by the way also use orchestrated violence). It’s just how the violence is conceptualized what matters.

    The other concept, I’d throw in here is ‘liminal spaces’ where things make different sense – those could help you understand the transitions between classes.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      In general, European aristocrats were more violent than European bourgeoisie. In one of Gregory Clark’s or Peter Turchin’s books, the author notes that in one period in English history (perhaps during the War of the Roses?), 26% of aristocrats died violently. In English history, at least, non-peer landowners could largely contrive to die in bed.

      This helps explain why Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr fought a duel: they both felt it crucial to their potential for military leadership as neo-aristocrats. In contrast, it’s hard to imagine Ben Franklin fighting a duel.

      Whether elite Americans are expected to fight seems to go through long cycles. Consider the six guys named Theodore Roosevelt, who are about as hereditary elite as you can be in America:

      Theodore Roosevelt (father of the President): Paid somebody to be drafted into the Civil War in his place

      Theodore Roosevelt (President): ashamed of his father; led the charge up San Juan Hill in Spanish American war.

      Theodore Roosevelt Jr.: fought in both World Wars, landed on Utah Beach on D-Day at age 57, won Medal of Honor

      Theodore Roosevelt III: naval aviator in WWII

      Theodore Roosevelt IV: Navy SEAL in Vietnam

      Theodore Roosevelt V: No military service that I can find record of

      • Sastan says:

        I think it’s probably a good thing to involve the elite directly in the sausage they’re probably going to wind up making anyhow.

        And if nothing else, it ensures turnover.

  83. Alrenous says:

    Scott, your model contains conflations. Reality is strictly more complicated.

  84. keranih says:

    Who goes Nazi might make for another interesting data point in how people look at social groups.

  85. John Schilling says:

    If we insist in trying to map tribes onto classes, I see Blue Tribe as constituting most of Church’s Gentry plus the Elite who don’t believe in class (or pretend not to), and Red Tribe as mostly Labor plus the class-conscious Elites. Blue tribe thinks that Labor should align with it politically on account of Blue’s progressive politics are meant to help the underprivileged, but Blue’s class-blindness has them treating Labor as failed aspirational Gentry – the attitude is insulting and the policies unhelpful to people who are trying to advance up the Labor ladder. Red Tribe’s politics and attitudes work best for people who want to stay in their present class, but most Gentry aren’t class-conscious, resent any hint of a Gentry/Elite divide, and think Gentry/Labor is an unfair barrier against Labor.

    Grey tribe is almost pure Gentry, originally Gentry with reddish-leaning politics and affiliations (e.g. first-generation Libertarians, early hacker culture’s roots in the military-industrial complex) that didn’t otherwise fit well with Red Tribe, now also including a lot of Blue Tribe that isn’t willing to follow progressive politics off the deep end. It’s nice that there’s a place where Blue and Red can get along together so well that they don’t even have to be Blue or Red any more, but it’s not big enough to matter (yet?). And it’s probably never going to encompass Labor.

    Green Tribe, to the extent that it is distinct from Blue, is also almost pure Gentry and defined by adopting Gaian environmentalism as a religion-substitute.

    And at this point, you pretty much have to hold your nose and start talking race again.

    Black Tribe is a mix of Underclass and Labor that still remembers the time when they were all definitively Underclass and so is going to stick with an “us against the world” tribalism. They will never align politically with Red Tribe because they are afraid that Red Tribe’s classism will force them all back into the Underclass. Not all African-Americans are Black Tribe.

    Brown Tribe is pretty much all Labor, and they’d mostly like to join Red Tribe with the rest of Labor if it weren’t for all the anti-immigrant sentiment. After 2-3 generations they start passing for white and joining Red (if they haven’t moved up to Gentry).

  86. SUT says:

    Anyone see last week’s 60 minutes that featured profiles on both:
    – Uninsured patients in Appalachia
    – Billionaire Philanthropists

    Most surprising to me was how much better the poor, lower-class people came across through the camera. I don’t think there was a deliberate editing attempt either like the Daily Show might do. It just turns out most billionaires even though they’re “high class” have all the charisma of Hillary, and are still grating even when literally discussing giving away billions of dollars to worthy causes. They come across shallow, over eager, and attention seeking, like some high school science fair winner.

    Meanwhile the applachia woman who smoke herself into lung cancer and ends up “sucking money out of the system”[just to contrast to philanthropy] comes across as wise and reflective.

    Any analysis that thinks high-class is a strictly dominant strategy to low-class is off in the sociological perfect-spherical-cow-world.

    • honestlymellowstarlight says:

      Your analysis may be correct, but who cares? Does that analysis change the system in any way? Does it cause anything real to happen, that is, anything outside of introspection? Forgive me for quoting The Last Psychatrist, but “if you’re watching it, it’s for you”.

    • Loquat says:

      Scott put up a post one time that I can’t remember the name of, starting with a hypothetical bar fight between Donald Trump and Rebecca Black. The reason I bring it up is the line about how there are multiple types of winning – there’s the type where everyone on social media likes you for 5 minutes, and then there’s the type where you’re still a billionaire regardless.

      The appalachian woman may come across well on TV, but is that going to have any actual ramifications for the rest of her life?

  87. Dr Dealgood says:

    The big thing all of these analyses are missing is the ethno-religious aspect.

    The Duck Dynasty could shave their beards, put on three-piece Armani suits and drink gourmet coffees with unpronouncable names but it would if anything just make them look more ridiculous. They’re not bred to be that kind of people and we all know it.

    Any system that says Cohens Romneys and Kennedys all have a common culture and common interests is fatally flawed. People look after their own whether that means coastal WASPs, Jews, Mormons or whichever group you’re talking about. Shoving them all in the same box just confuses the issue.

    • Sastan says:

      Read up on the DD people! They did wear preppie clothes, attend all the good schools, play golf and drive Porsches. They grew the beards for the show. It’s a show about rich people (rich provincials, but nonetheless) pretending to be their poorer neighbors.

      Uncle Si is the only real blue-collar dude in the family, due to a full career as enlisted in the military.

  88. Emily H. says:

    I’d speculate that, just as there are cultural differences that aren’t necessarily class differences between northern Gentry and southern Gentry, or between Labor in different countries, there are cultural differences that aren’t necessarily class differences between Gray Tribe and Blue Tribe; overgeneralizing, I’d say that Gray Tribe largely comes from the STEM wing of Gentry, and Blue from the liberal arts/journalism/policy wing — which is why it seems as if “Brahmin” ought to map to “Gentry,” but only gets there by leaving out engineers and software developers.

  89. Vaniver says:

    These tribes seem closely related to classes. “Blue Tribe” is similar to Gentry; “Red Tribe” is similar to Labor. I won’t say there’s a perfect 1:1 equivalence; for example, I know some union leaders who are very clearly in the Labor class but who wouldn’t be caught dead in the Red Tribe. But the resemblance is too close to miss.

    I think this is that the tribes have different value judgments on the various classes. There are red gentry–but the red gentry sing the praises of Elites and Labor. There are blue elites–but they defer to the Gentry. (Lafayette, two rungs below the King of France, joining a Gentry rebellion out of ideals seems like a good example here.)

  90. Dr M says:

    I remember reading a study of social classes years ago. It matched this description but it broke each of the three classes into three more classes each. Thus each class would have a lower, middle and upper tier and the people in each tier would have a different culture than the overall class.

    However, that system also included a “bohemian” class. I think this is a useful concept. The bohemian class drew members from all of the classes and was characterized by people who mostly didn’t fit into any classification. They were often mobile between classes and were often innovators in their fields of interest. They were the outsiders but also some of the most creative people in the system.

    • Dahlen says:

      Sounds like either Fussell or Alain de Botton in Status Anxiety. Most likely the former; de Botton had a chapter dedicated to bohemianism, but the rest of the book didn’t make any attempt at a classification, IIRC.

    • Maware says:

      This is Fussell’s “Category X.” I think it isn’t really well defined, though.

  91. Alex says:

    I think much of what’s wrong in higher ed these days could be summed up as “Gentry telling themselves that all the world’s problems can be solved if we just give Gentry credentials to everyone born Labor.”

    • Sastan says:

      True, but not just education. Much of the housing bubble was built on “middle class people have houses, so if we force banks to give home loans to lower class people, they’ll be middle class too!”.

      The trappings of class are mistaken for the causes of it.

      • Wrong Species says:

        To add on to this, many cities seem to prefer homelessness to “substandard housing”.

      • Pku says:

        I think there’s an important difference between these. Home ownership isn’t just a middle class trapping, it also meaningfully affects people’s lives in a non-signalling related way. There’s a difference between giving someone with torn clothes expensive designer torn clothes (I assume that’s a thing), and giving them expensive high-quality tear-resistant clothes.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        Except that that’s the exact opposite of what happened.

        80% of the country never had a housing bubble.
        Most of the new homeownership came from the 3rd and 4th quintiles.
        And pretty much the entire crash occurred in cities that wouldn’t or couldn’t build.

  92. Devin Helton says:

    But “I Can Tolerate Anything But The Outgroup”‘s Grey Tribe sits uneasy within this system. It doesn’t seem to be a class. But it also seems distinctly different from ordinary Gentry norms.

    I think Moldbug’s system could be improved by dividing the Brahmin’s into three subgroups: Brahmin Priests (those pushing Brahmin ideology, your professors, journalists, and activists); Brahmin Laity (those who listen to NPR and believe most things their college professor taught them); and Brahmin Veneer. Brahmin Veneer hang out with Brahmins, speak Brahmin, but don’t actually believe all of it. They believe some of it, but they think for themselves, and they are cynical about some of the activist behavior. When they visit family in the middle-american suburbs who are High Vaisya, they enjoy socializing with them, and enjoy being able to drop the Brahmin politics. The “grey” tribe are Brahmin Veneer. Many financial and business elites are Brahmin Veneer (though some are true believers).

    This was described well in the comment’s to Moldbug’s original post:


    I’m less well acquainted with neoliberal circles but I know enough fellows (and have been to enough parties) to know it works something like this:
    – Capitalists and Amnesty Int’l types plan a party together.
    – Capitalists pay lip service to the Amnesty Int’l types, lauding them for all the good they do.
    – Amnesty Int’l types know and love the fact they are considered morally and socially superior to the capitalists.
    – The capitalists sneer at the stupid idealists once they’re drunk and the idealists are out of earshot.


    The capitalist is Brahmin Veneer, the Amnesty Int’l types are Brahmin Priests.

    • dndnrsn says:

      You’re saying three different groups are “Brahmin Veneer”, though, and there is not necessarily much overlap:

      Your first example is a “red state” or whatever kid going to university and pretending to be university lefty types because it’s socially easier to go along while in university. Your second example, the “grey tribe”, is a way that some people use to describe a certain chunk of internet culture, more or less. Some people criticize it as not being much of a definition. Your third example is capitalist elite types aping, as with the first example, those same polite left-wing values – but presumably for good.

      Those don’t seem like they belong in the same category.

  93. Matt M says:

    Didn’t Trump go to Wharton? That’s hardly medium-tier…

  94. Wrong Species says:

    I honestly don’t see the point in all this discussion. One person says that this is how the class system works, someone else disagrees and we all argue the point without resolution because no one is being proven right or wrong. What insight are we trying to achieve here?

    • honestlymellowstarlight says:

      It might help to stop thinking in terms of The One True Insight That Describes Society and think of this as a discussion of how different ideologies are grasping at something that has a clear but broadly sketched existence. Which is useful, when you want to speak to ideological foreigners. Proofs are for math, language is for the real world.

      • Wrong Species says:

        But in what specific ways is this useful? Because it all seems like “angels on pinheads” type speculation to me.

        • keranih says:

          It’s useful because if we have a better grasp of how different groups are different *now*, we can apply treatments and look for changes and understand the changes better, so that we can thumbs up/down on the treatments as we go forward.

          Whether we’re talking about treatments like “smile at the bartender so they pour more whiskey in your glass” or “give more money to buy malaria nets” it’s all the same thing.

  95. Quite Likely says:

    When you’re getting into these sort of class discussions it becomes important to separate out ‘left’ and ‘liberal’. The core difference between a liberal and a legit leftist is in their thoughts on class. Liberals do not want to think about class. Their worldview is that we are all in this together and the solution to our problems is even-handed technocratic government by people of good will. “True leftists'” point of view on the other hand is very class based, it’s that the elite class is really screwing the other classes, and that the solution to our problems is to unite the other classes to defeat the elite.

  96. Dan T. says:

    The most active culture wars these days seem to be “gray” (or is it “grey”?) tribe vs. the other colo[u]rs. Within leftish coastal-elites, campuses, and the whole cluster of geek/tech/gaming/fandom/skeptic/atheist/humanist/etc groups, the big fights are PC/SJW blue-tribe collectivist identity-politics vs. libertarianish individualist gray. Over in middle-America Republicanish circles, the fight is religious-right fundamentalist solid-red-tribe vs. libertarian conservatives, a slightly different shade of grey from the geek-libertarians, but similar enough in outlook that people are capable of migrating from one to the other.

    (But both the red and the blue tribespeople would prefer to cast their battles in the mold of red vs. blue, so when religious-right red-tribers oppose the libertarian right they make them out to be too libertine-left culturally, while the blue-left-PC crowd tries to lump geek-libertarians with the right-wingers.)

    • Sui Juris says:

      This is very insightful. The best comment in a very interesting thread, IMO.

    • Jiro says:

      If gray tribe is characterized by using facts and evidence to form one’s opinions rather than getting it from the tribe, one would expect that both reds and blues would be shedding grays.

      • dust bunny says:

        Everyone uses facts and evidence to form their opinions. Creatively. Most of the people who are ruthlessly killing their darling beliefs are not gray, and from what I’ve seen, most grays are not much better than their blue host population at the whole evidence thing.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          That depends entirely on how you define grey, doesn’t it? Adding in the HBDs and others make Grey’s the cutting edge of nonsense/genius, more likely to pick up new incorrect and new correct ideas and being wrong in new and more interesting ways (as well as some old and common ones and some ‘so old no one talks about’).

  97. Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

    I think it is worth pointing it that 1.5% is a radical overestimate of the size of the elite, were it to actually be a thing.

    The obvious practical complaint is that 98.5th percentile in wealth is way too low to actually live a life of leisure, much less fuel an intergenerational one. Especially if you are busy engaging in expensive signaling the whole time.

    Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests they are scarce even amongst the wealthy. Wealth managers and financial planners do not make their money working for the elite. They overwhelmingly work for working professionals that have saved a few million for retirement, with a few successful entrepreneurs thrown in for flavor.

    You have to dig pretty deep into the decimal of the 99th to start mining the vein where these elites could be. And I am always struck that the type of people that write this sort of thing never seen to have a good grasp of the value of wealth.

    • Linch says:

      I had the same reaction from the summary but then I read MC’s article and his conception of the elite is somewhat more nuanced. Basically E4 and E3 are aspirational elites and bootscrapers, only E2 (which he thinks are maybe .2% of the population, which IMO is still too high) are what we usually think of as the leisure class.

    • alexp says:

      I agree, and was about to post something on the same subject.

      In addition to the mathematical reasons why it sounds wrong, empirically, I’ve rub shoulders with a lot of very wealthy people due to my educational background, and almost all of them have parents who work and who pressure them to work, even if it’s just for show.

      I had a friend who’s father had founded a Fortune 500 company who was a bit of a fuck up so his father was forcing him to join the Army after he finished college. Since his father’s company was kinda sorta in the field I was looking to get into, I once drunkenly asked him, “you think your dad can give a job?” and his response was, “nah bro, he won’t even give me a job.”

  98. nil says:

    I think mapping the tribes onto class is a mistake, although a very classic one that, ironically, is born out of an inter-tribal bias that would otherwise fit very comfortably into this post. The reality is that each tribe has it’s own discrete class structure.

    This is the mistake that leads Blue Tribers like you and me (because seriously, can we dispense with the idea that there’s such a thing as a Grey Tribe? Being a weebo doesn’t mean you’re not an American) to not understand Tea Partiers and the like. A Tea Partier isn’t some hayseed welfare recipient, they’re a member of the Red Tribe/rural petit (or non-petit) bourgeoisie. They drive a forty-thousand dollar pickup truck, own a small business, and probably have a good chunk of hunting land… and although the welfare recipients down the road also hunt and drive a pickup truck, the very real economic class distinction makes the former happy to shit on the latter.

    Also, if there’s three tribes in America, the third one isn’t grey, it’s black, and if you fail to understand the significance of the class structure within that particular nation you’re missing out on a lot of critical subtext in racial relations.

    source: blue triber raised in very rural area who then went to an almost exclusively urban-blue college and found a lot of people who knew absolutely nothing about the types of places I was from

  99. Anonymous says:

    Closely related: Donald Trump appeals to a lot of people because despite his immense wealth he practically glows with signs of being Labor class…

    Even though MC identifies Jon Stewart as G1, I think that was an incredibly recent development and that this same phenomenon might be at play. While he has been able to adopt the culture of G1, I imagine people still see him as chain-smoking outside a club where he just worked a set to get a free plate of spaghetti.

    The more I think about it, the more I find his discussion of G1 to be really confusing. Jon Stewart is an example, but they’re not “celebrities”. They’re “widely recognized” and the very category is named “Cultural Influencers”, but they’re not “famous”. I’d really like if someone could give me another example of an individual who fits this category.

    I have an advanced degree from a flagship campus and I work on academic topics, so I’m pretty solidly Gentry (probably low G2 at this point in my career), and the only people that I can think of that would fit G1 are influencers of very local culture. “Dr. White Beard practically invented this field; I’m so excited to hear his plenary talk!” Is it just that? It seems as though if you broaden your scope (say, become more like NdGT), you begin entering the more nebulous “famous” or “celebrity” category. This transition is really fuzzy. Am I just totally wrong about ‘true’ G1s being local?

    • Linch says:

      Academic rockstars (Terry Tao comes to mind, Esther Duflo is a weaker example). Professors with really popular newspaper columns (Like Paul Krugman, though maybe he’s too hated?). Peter Singer. People who give popular TED talks in general. Obviously John Oliver. Popular bloggers like our host — if not now, then five years from now.

      • meyerkev248 says:

        I’d argue that being absolutely hated is in many ways very influential.

        If nothing else, it makes all the other influential people do your exact opposite. Which, while maybe not what you were trying to do, is very influential.

    • Jesse M. says:

      “I imagine people still see him as chain-smoking outside a club where he just worked a set to get a free plate of spaghetti.”

      Well, one of the points of the analysis is that “social class” in this sense is at least partly independent of economic class, and a lot of “starving artist” bohemian types are still members of the Gentry class. Stewart’s parents were a teacher and a physics professor, which already tells you a lot about his likely social class background, assuming you buy into the broad outlines of this kind of analysis.

  100. Alex Z says:

    I’m not sure it makes sense to treat those analysis as independently finding the same thing. As you yourself noted, they are all close to Marxist analysis of class and it’s a safe bet that all of the people cited above have either read Marx or spent much of their lives in an environment where his ideas are mentioned often.

    • multiheaded says:

      NO THEY ARE NOT EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE. they are literally nothing like Marx.

      • Anonymous says:

        When our host posited the similarity he at least laid out the correspondences; it would behoove your case against at least to lay out the primary differences. As it stands, your all-caps content-free comment is garbage, and undeserving of this forum.

  101. As an European, the observation that class is correlated with, but separate from, income only triggers the comment “well, duh”.

    I have since realized though that many Americans have no concept of class, they think it’s a fancy word for income bracket. Normally, I’ll ask “does the expression ‘upper class, but poor’ trigger confusion or a bemused recognition of a certain kind of person?”

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      One confounding factor here is that security of living standard has at least as much to do with network wealth as one’s own income. An upper class poor person need never worry about hunger or homelessness, because they know plenty of people who will take them in. Nor do their children need to worry about affording college. See Gilmore Girls. See also, on the other hand, the American racial wealth gap and neighborhood segregation.

      • Yrro says:

        Not to mention that being part of the socio-economic underclass tends to break down your support network.

        Most of my family is solidly labor class, but the family is *huge* and well-connected. If I needed to I could get a recommendation or a job as an assistant or apprentice to a skilled labor position in an instant. Even that level of support network is night and day from most people who are fully underclass.

  102. zozohth says:

    Im unfamiliar with siderea beyond the contents of this essay, but it’s obvious that she is at heart a lower-middle-class prole striving to perform as a higher class. The overwrought writing style, replete with ‘cerebral’ affectations, is a big tell.

    • multiheaded says:

      This invites the bigger question… aren’t many American geeks outside of the very proeminent Bay Area bubble something like that?

      Looking from the outside in, I feel like there’s a culture!class gap in addition to an economic!class one between “geek who does shoestring LARP” and “geek who goes to Burning Man”. And ofc I feel there might be a connection.

      • zozohth says:

        I think you’re probably right about this. My guess is that part of it also comes from smart or nerdy people in blue-collar areas trying to define their personal style and identify purely in opposition to the mouth-breathers around them, without ever really being exposed to ‘high’ culture.

        • LeeEsq says:

          I think this is one of the big differences between the American gentry and their British/European counterparts. From reading about mid-20th century society in the United Kingdom in the works of British historians like Dominic Sandbrook or David Kynaston, I get the impression that the educated classes of middle class progressives in the United Kingdom rejected a lot of popular culture. They did not like television, especially ITV, and their kids were supposed to like jazz rather than rock. The American gentry were much more populous in their cultural tastes. The idea of not watching television and trying to be as a high-brow as possible would make no sense to them outside a few very Bohemian circles in a rather restricted geography, read NYC and San Francisco. Access to high culture is rarer in the United States than Great Britain because of geography more or less so you get a more populist gentry.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      She confirms that in the essay itself; I’ll have to watch for this pattern. Very interesting if true.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      She got me at people having to do “emotional labor.”

    • zozohth, I’m not sure what the details of your writing indicate about you, but I offer a few as a basis for speculation.

      “Im unfamiliar with siderea beyond the contents of this essay, but it’s obvious that she is at heart a lower-middle-class prole striving to perform as a higher class. The overwrought writing style, replete with ‘cerebral’ affectations, is a big tell.”

      Typo: Im.

      Word misuse: “replete”– this is a subtle error which took me a while to figure out, but “replete” means completely full. There isn’t a limit for how excessive writing can be, so writing can’t be replete. I think “overloaded” would be a better term.

      Why the quotes on cerebral?

      • zozohth says:

        I’m sorry to hear about your fruitless attempt at deduction. Here’s a freebie to help you learn the art: caring about minor typos and patting yourself on the back for identifying a ‘subtle error’ based upon the third or fourth most common definition of a word are both indicators of an insecure intellect that leans on pedantry to compensate for wit.

        As for the quotes, consider them an exercise left to the reader. I’ve included another set in this post to help you puzzle out their significance.

  103. Matthew Carlin says:

    This is a beautiful summary of the best class essays. I loved all of it. Of course, since comments are (statistically) the place for disagreement, I have one issue:

    “”Donald Trump appeals to a lot of people because despite his immense wealth he practically glows with signs of being Labor class. This isn’t surprising; his grandfather was a barber and his father clawed his way up to the top by getting his hands dirty. He himself went to a medium-tier college and is probably closer in spirit to the small-business owners of the upper Labor class than to the Stanford MBA-holding executives of the Elite.””

    Trump went to both a medium-tier college and a first-tier MBA program. I think it’s a mistake to say he’s entirely in the Labor class. To me, the dire and scary thing about him is that he’s flexibly both Labor and E1. That makes him the Mahdi, here to bring fascism or populism or the Gracchi brothers to fruition, because what are those historically if not the cases where E1 convinces Labor into a rowdy or even violent overthrow of the Gentry?

  104. Alsadius says:

    I think the Grey Tribe is out of this system because it’s a Grey Tribe value to consciously opt out of this system. Greys are marked, in very large part, by valuing reality over status, which means they tend not to play status games very much and instead go into engineering.

    Also, outside of the Valley and similar tech hubs, there’s not many Grey concentrations around in meatspace. The stereotypical Grey is a gentry-class person with a touch of autism, so they’ll usually be found with other gentry in Blue-land, whom their habits superficially resemble. Their real home in this era is more likely to be a computer than a city, but if you’re not looking too closely, they’ll blend in very well with the Blues. You even mentioned this in your post – “for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time”.

    FWIW, I’m a Grey from a Red background – my dad’s an electrician, my mom worked construction until she quit to raise kids and got very involved in her local school board. I eat Cheez Whiz on Wonder Bread, spent most of my summer jobs in one factory or another, think craft beer is disgusting, and own Nickelback albums. That said, almost all of my Grey friends think I’m totally insane for this, and it acts as a fairly serious barrier sometimes – we may agree on a lot, but we’re not coming from the same places, and it does lead to some distance. Greys are really strongly from Blue/gentry backgrounds, and no more than *maybe* 10% are from Red/labour backgrounds.

    • anon says:

      I think its just a case of grays being overstated in analyses done by grays. Red culture isn’t a big amorphous blob, it has subcultures that in some dimensions go against each other or the broader red culture, but only a more in-depth analysis would go to the trouble to enumerate them. Gray isn’t in the system because it isn’t at the system’s level of granularity.

    • keranih says:

      Greys are marked, in very large part, by valuing reality over status, which means they tend not to play status games very much and instead go into engineering.

      Or…they value (the results of) Hard Work over Ideas. They are biologically inclined (nature) towards Labor culture, while coming from (nurture) a Gentry culture. In the old days, there weren’t enough to be a group, and individuals would be craftsmen or mad tinkers/sky watchers/land owners who got REALLY involved in running their farms, pretty much each in isolation.

      Now we have more Labor children getting a Gentry education, and Gentry is larger than it used to be, so these ‘sports’ are large enough in numbers to make a separate social group.

      I think its quite likely that there are different genetic predispositions towards behaviors that thrive in Labor vs Gentry vs Elite niches, and that some bio selection has been going on, along with much larger social pressures and cultural conditioning. Now, esp in the USA, the social barriers are lower, and people who are in one group but better fitted for others are reshuffling. (Which because of the tenuous and relative nature of the predispositions is never going to be a done deal.)

      I reject multiheaded’s Hunger Games analogy and suggest that the Factions as depicted in the first Deviant movie are closer to what may be going on.

      • multiheaded says:

        it’s called Divergent. and did it even have a lumpenproletariat??

      • Jesse M. says:

        “Or…they value (the results of) Hard Work over Ideas.”

        As a fairly lazy nerd (poor executive control is often associated with the whole autism spectrum thing, y’know) I don’t think I can get on board with this. To make my own stab at what the “defining feature” of the Grey tribe might be (though realistically it’s probably more like a cluster of related features and this is just a prominent one), I’d say the Grey tribe is marked by an orientation towards modes of thought based on “systematizing” over judgments based more on social allegiances and considerations such as being liked or respected by others (perhaps this is related to the empathizing-systematizing distinction proposed by some psychologists). And connected to this in my mind would be the tendency to think about beliefs in more “greyscale” terms, not deciding in advance that we are “for” one set of ideas and “against” another (an attitude usually tied to seeing one’s social identity as bound up with certain beliefs), but still trying to assign varying degrees of credibility to ideas and not being a total relativist who is “so open-minded your brain falls out” (usually tied to the social need to be seen as tolerant and accepting of all perspectives)…I think this is part of why Greys often find Bayesian reasoning intuitively appealing, as discussed for example in this video.

        • Jesse M. says:

          Actually, I may be a bit unclear on what “grey tribe” refers to. I sort of took it as referring to secular nerds who extend their nerdiness into politics and try to avoid red/blue tribalism…but is the “libertarian” element of Scott’s description an essential one? Most secular tribalism-rejecting nerds are probably fairly libertarian in the social sphere, but many will not be when it comes to economics, based perhaps on some sort of utilitarian judgment that an unrestrained free market can be sub-optimal in achieving certain desirable outcomes compared to a mix of markets and government intervention. And I know from Scott’s “Meditations on Moloch” that he’s not really a libertarian and probably better fits the category I mentioned above, and I figured there was likely some degree of self-identification in discussing the Grey tribe so that it’s an umbrella term that could include this type of social-but-not-economic-libertarian, but maybe I made a wrong inference there.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Grey tribe” is explicitly not supposed to be a synonym for Libertarian, any more than “Blue tribe” means Democrat or “Red Tribe” means Republican. But there is, in all three cases, a strong overlap between the tribal and political affiliations; most Greys are at least libertarian-ish and most Libertarians are at least grey-ish.

          • suntzuanime says:

            I feel like there is a sizable group of libertarians, perhaps even a majority, who are Red Tribe through and through. I think there are a lot of Grey Tribe members who are Democrat-by-default too, although maybe you could argue that if you could just Coherently Extrapolate their Volition they’d be Libertarians (certainly I’ve heard Libertarians make this sort of argument).

          • John Schilling says:

            There are certainly people who hold libertarian or nearly-libertarian views (e.g. “the government should do X but I don’t trust it to so, ugh, the market it is”) on most relevant political issues, are not anarcho-capitalists and will correctly explain why they are not anarcho-capitalists, and so define themselves as Not Libertarian.

            Anarcho-capitalists, are, I think, almost exclusively a subset of both libertarians and of Grey tribe.

          • Anonymous says:


            I have argued before here that I suspect part of what makes libertarians distinct is the fact that they don’t categorize their nation as “my tribe”. To some perhaps fairly large subset of libertarians, nation is meaningless and irrelevant. The people they consider kin are family and friends; everyone else is a stranger. This is as opposed to many or most non-libertarians who feel to some extent that their nation is their tribe, their extended family.

            If I’m right about this then I imagine it would affect how people feel about the government on a gut level. If you think the nation is your tribe, then the government is the tribe leaders making collective decisions for everybody in the tribe. If you don’t think your nation is your tribe, then the government is a group of people ordering everyone else around at gunpoint. This also determines whether you view interactions between people within the nation as inter-tribal or intra-tribal.

            I’m not sure how this relates to the colored tribes as Scott describes them.

          • anonymous says:

            “Actually, I may be a bit unclear on what “grey tribe” refers to.”

            The “grey tribe” is a medium to large subculture that gets the spot of third tribe in discussions around these parts because its the home team for a lot of posters.

            Some (many?) grey tribe types wildly exaggerate the numbers or cultural importance of their subculture. The impulse is a natural one, if a bit unfortunate in self described rationalists.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Yeah, there are definitely both Red and Grey libertarians. They’re pretty distinct from one another. (If you’re a Blue libertarian you’re probably already pretty close to Grey; remember that Grey is basically a subset of Blue.)

    • Tibor says:

      Even though I share the sentiment with you, it just seems awfully self-congratulatory the same way the gentry are the “good guys” according tho Church. If you drop the laudatory “value reality over status” then I largely agree.

      • Alsadius says:

        Fair point, that does come off as congratulatory. The funny thing is, not valuing status is actually a very good way to fail in reality, and it’s a failure mode that lots of Greys are totally blind to. Why do you think so many more of us are single?

        • Tibor says:

          I dunno. I’ve been single for 3 year now and I’ve recently thought about what I was doing wrong. I spend the first year and a half hoping to get back to my ex-girlfriend (or at least “only having eyes for her” while more or less ignoring other possibilities) and then long stretches of time (months) with girls with whom it looked kind of hopeful at start but ultimately it was not. And since I am usually shy with girls, I had to force myself to go out to meet new people which is something I do not enjoy terribly (it is a bit stressful to me, especially with women) so as a result I often stayed at home instead. I figured out that learning to dance and going dancing is a nice way to overcome the “how the hell do I approach that girl” and that I should stop fixing on a single girl (who might not be all that interested in me) all the time while ignoring all others. I think that this might not be entirely unique within “grey tribe” men. My standard approach to things is to get obsessed about them until I figure them out and to contemplate on everything too much. This is not quite the best approach to dating. I think these might be more important than “not acknowledging status”.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Learning how to dance has helped me a lot in my relationships with women or even people in general. Its through dance that I’ve learned to get along with people not inclined towards abstract thought* and have fun with them. It still hasn’t gotten me into a romantic relationship. Definitely helped with my social graces though.

            *I generally like to distinguish between intellectualism and intelligence. Intellectualism is the delight in abstract thought. Intelligence describes what we would call smartness. All intellectuals are intelligent but you can be very intelligent and not an intellectual at all because abstract thought bores you to tears.

          • After the end of my first marriage, the wife of a colleague suggested that I should attend folk dancing because there were a lot of nice girls there. I did, despite not being a dancer.

            In the conversation afterwards, one of the women was explaining some point of calculus to one of the other participants. I fell in love on the spot. We’ve been married for almost thirty-three years.

            And one of the ways in which my second wife is better suited to me than my first is that she rapidly figured out that I can’t dance, and so doesn’t expect me to.

    • xtmar says:

      . Greys are marked, in very large part, by valuing reality over status, which means they tend not to play status games very much and instead go into engineering.

      They’ve decided that the only winning move is not to play, but the system compels them to play, so they adopt whatever markers are closest to their current income, job, and geographic status. So, a programmer in New York will adopt one set of class markers, and an engineer in Texas another, and a commercial banker in Salt Lake yet a third.

  105. Brad says:

    Even if MC’s E1s exist, I don’t see why they are a the top of the ladder. First because being a sociopathic playboy that flays poor people for fun isn’t terribly impactful and second because it isn’t like all the E3s and E2s aspire to be sociopathic playboys or defer to them. I think this has to do with his own obsessions about the software industry. To most other people there’s a big distinction between a Bloomberg, Gates, or Koch on one hand and a Saudi prince playboy on the other.

    In terms of college, rather than finishing school for the gentry, I think it makes more sense to think about it as the last best chance to change ladders.

  106. Liskantope says:

    But this means that classism is at least kind of justified – if you want to hire for example a schoolteacher, you might want to look for people who show all the signs of Gentry rather than Labor class to make sure they’re not going to get into physical fights in the classroom.

    That seems to be going rather far. How often do we hear of schoolteachers from any social subculture actually getting into physical fights in the classroom? A more effective way to defend this type of classist prejudice may be something like, “…if you want to hire for example a schoolteacher, you might want to look for people who show all the signs of Gentry rather than Labor class to make sure they’re more likely to deal with problems using diplomacy or referrals rather than aggressive confrontation, and less likely to tolerate physical fights between students.”

    I also wonder whether, in the working environments which most commonly contain members of the working class — fast food, for instance — the referral system is effective enough that complaining to HR is worthwhile, as it is at least purported to be in more gentry-heavy places like universities.

  107. keranih says:

    (Well. *blinks* Now I’m really annoyed that I can’t find that ref.)

    This has encouraged me to think more about what I mean when I say red/blue tribe.

    The inclusion of caste and David Friedman’s comment about subcultures has put me down the road of thinking that classes are that – subcultures with a larger group, who control different territories and different resources, interconnected in competition and trading. They don’t “act as one” but being brought up in one particular sub culture means that one has resources – social ties, tool knowledge and familiarity with that niche – which are more like others of that SC than people from other subcultures, so a person with SC A’s resources will react differently in a given set of circumstances than a person from SC B.

    And all of this would be impacted by the region/language/larger culture – the bakers of Normandy villages are not the same subculture as the bakers of Paris until there is a broader French culture to unite them, and they are not European bakers until there is a European culture in contrast to the Russian one and the American one.

    Given how much race is woven into American culture and hence our class expressions, I’m a bit put out by people refusing to tackle that…BUT. It appears that we don’t well understand American class structure (again, the uncertainty of the military, and for me, the lack of inclusion of the rural sectors) so taking on the problem by starting with the subset that is “white America” seems a good idea. (Hopefully this – along with the various American nations classifications that are floating about – will also help people understand that there is not a single “white” culture in the USA, even though that is less false now than in the past.)

    (There is also the issue of religion, and at some point we’re probably going to have to break down and come up with a name for the secular pattern of blue tribe behavior that is called religion in other cultures.)

    I will say that I’m (probably irrationally) disappointed in Sidera’s blue tribe favoritism and with the classification of “racism” as “anti-black” – even as I applaud the self awareness that says “yes, I see how my culture’s supremacy hurts you and yours, but I prefer my culture/class’s way and don’t intend to change.”

    (Church was doing *just fine* until he got to the evil people. Jeez.)

    Again, I really applaud the introduction of the term caste into the discussion, as well as the “fancy” names – the result for me has been a way to see my nation as a whole group of different “us-es” each making connections with various “them-es” by geography, common lifestyles, and common tool niches. To me, this makes more sense than the single track ladder which I had used (whenever I thought about it) to think of different levels of society.

    Tenth and finally – the western rancher who sends his daughter to a finishing school back east, and the projects scholarship student to Harvard who is flailing and miserable – my god, I understand this now.

    You know, if we talk about this, about the different expectations and social roles of each subclass/subcaste/subculture, we could help people transition better from one to another, and even decide if they *want* (or want their kids) to transition.

    (Aaaannnndddd tomorrow I’ll wake up and there will be some other new tool or different mind pattern to Save The World. Because there always is.)

    • xtmar says:

      (There is also the issue of religion, and at some point we’re probably going to have to break down and come up with a name for the secular pattern of blue tribe behavior that is called religion in other cultures.)

      Religions are usually named after their prophet, so I suggest that the popularity of “science” would give it the name Tysonism, after their explainer of all things, N dG Tyson? Or perhaps Stewartism?

      • smocc says:

        If we’re going to name it after a prophet Tyson is a pretty good choice. It seems a lot of his shtick is copying Sagan, but Sagan is probably a little too old and a little too mystical.

        But I don’t think we need to name it after a prophet. This secular pattern of behavior that is called religion in other cultures probably maps more closely to religions like Hinduism, Shinto*, or the ancient polytheistic religions that
        1) have no central authority or orthodoxy
        2) are inextricably linked with culture and geography
        3) care much more about ritual practice and maintaining tradition than individual belief or virtue
        4) actually consist of myriad local cults that are similar enough that they get along and
        5) nevertheless have a collection of myths, and unquestionable moral principles that “everyone knows”

        The moniker “Hinduism” in the end just comes from the Persian word for the people over by the Indus river. Hinduism is nothing but whatever religion Indians collectively practice. In this vein we could try “Americanism” (maybe too inclusive?) or “SanFranciscanism” (ugh) or something similar. If we want to include a red/blue split we could try “Theravada Americanism” (The School of the Elders) and “Mahayana Americanism” (The Great Vehicle)

        “Shinto” I think just means “way of the gods.” Since I think the belief system we are talking about doesn’t care much about gods (it doesn’t mind what you believe about gods as long as you stick to the rituals and avoid the taboos) we can’t use “American Shinto.” Maybe instead “Right Thinking”

        No! I have it: Good Personism. As in, “Being a good person does not depend on your religion, status, race, color, political views or culture. It depends on how you treat others.”

        * I know next to nothing about Shinto. It is my vague impression that it fits in this class.

        • Anonymous says:

          How can you mention Sagan and not immediately come to the conclusion that the best name for this pseudo-religion is clearly Saganism?

          • smocc says:

            Wow, I didn’t say it out loud so I missed that connection. That’s really good.

            On the other hand, I still think we are talking about a very amorphous religion and pinning it on one person won’t give the best picture.

            I’m definitely going to use Saganism when I’m being more sarcastic though.

            And that makes Tysonism neo-Saganism!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          ‘The moniker “Hinduism” in the end just comes from the Persian word for the people over by the Indus river. Hinduism is nothing but whatever religion Indians collectively practice. In this vein we could try “Americanism” (maybe too inclusive?) or “SanFranciscanism” (ugh) or something similar. If we want to include a red/blue split we could try “Theravada Americanism” (The School of the Elders) and “Mahayana Americanism” (The Great Vehicle)’

          This paragraph was brilliant.

    • On the question of class vs subculture, a possible answer:

      A subculture is a group of people who have a considerable correlation among apparently separate characteristics–what characteristics depending on the particular subculture. Examples might be accent, clothing style, world view, social behavior. If you observe one of those for an individual in the subculture it gives you substantial, although imperfect, information about the others. The correlation might be the result of members of the subculture being a group of immigrants from the same culture who have not yet fully assimilated (Lew Rosten’s Ashkenazi). But it might come from people with similarities coalescing (1960’s hippy subculture). It could, as in Marxian classes, come from how people get their income, but doesn’t have to. The subculture Rosten described would have included wage workers, salary workers, a few dividend clippers, some government employees, a few professors, … .

      Classes are a subset of subcultures. What makes them classes is that they are perceived, by those inside and outside, as having a reasonably unambiguous ranking–hence lower class, lower middle class, upper class, … . What the ranking is based on isn’t clear to me—I find “power” too vague a metaphor. “Status” probably comes closer, but it has the problem that the same person will have different levels of status as perceived by different people. Subcultures in general need not have a ranking, beyond some tendency for the members of each to think well of themselves.

      Whether the U.S. has something usefully described as a class system I’m not at all sure. I think the U.K. pretty clearly did, perhaps still does.

      There’s a Kipling story, “A Habitation Enforced,” which is in part about the interaction between a wealthy landowner and the peasantry in late 19th century England, somewhat complicated by the fact that the landowner is a wealthy American who has bought an estate that (I think) it turns out used to belong to his wife’s ancestors (details possibly muddled–I’m going by memory).

      What is interesting is that, on the one hand, it is clear to everyone who is the nominal superior, but on the other hand there is a division of function in which the lower class group gets de facto control over some decisions. The incident I’m remembering is one where the owner wants a bridge replaced, tells the workmen to do it in an inexpensive way (softwood rather than hardwood?). A couple of days later, work has not started. He complains. The relevant workmen tells him that if he does it that way, by the time his infant son grows up the work will all have to be done over. The owner gives in, does it the way the workmen think it should be.

      For a verse version of the same point, see “The Land.”

      So it’s the combination there of a subculture, a division of labor, and a recognized status hierarchy. Pretty clearly, while class correlated with income, it was far from perfect correlation–there were impoverished members of the upper class and well off members of the lower.

      Reading Orwell’s letters and essays, I was struck by what I saw as his unreasonable emphasis on the importance of class. Observing more of England, I concluded that perhaps I was responding to a difference between the world he lived in and the world I lived in.

      • Loquat says:

        Having read that story not too long ago myself, I think a substantial part of that is that the American buyers accept the idea that the workmen, and other locals, are going to tell them what to do, and this was part of the reason the locals wanted them to settle there in the first place. Another foreign landlord, a Brazilian, is mentioned occasionally, and he apparently does not put up with local workmen contradicting him, and while they disapprove of his choices behind his back he does seem to actually get his way.

        • I’ve been rereading and enjoying the story, much of which I had forgotten, thanks to your comment. The Brazilian has turned his estate into a park with herd of deer, so presumably doesn’t have tenants to tell him how he ought to be doing things. A shocking dereliction of duty from the standpoint of the local norms.

          The American couple are modeling their behavior on the neighboring gentry couple, who clearly do buy into the whole division of labor and actual authority system. And it’s clear that they, as well as the commoners, look down on the Brazilian. He isn’t playing his role in that class society, the American couple are playing theirs.

          The ending:

          “All I say is that you can put up larch and make a temp’ry job of it; and by the time the young master’s married it’ll have to be done again. Now, I’ve brought down a couple of as sweet six-by-eight oak timbers as we’ve ever drawed. You put ’em in an’ it’s off your mind or good an’ all. T’other way–I don’t say it ain’t right, I’m only just sayin’ what I think–but t’other way, he’ll no sooner be married than we’ll lave it all to do again. You’ve no call to regard my words, but you can’t get out of that.”

          “No,” said George after a pause; “I’ve been realising that for some time. Make it oak then; we can’t get out of it.”

          The “young master” has just been born.

  108. Josiah says:

    Kim Kardashian is seen as sticking to her labor class roots? You know who her dad is, right?

  109. multiheaded says:

    The more I read Siderea’s blog in light of this essay, the more I am convinced that the Hunger Games franchise is accidentally brilliant in its depiction of the American Liberal Elite.

    • Alsadius says:

      Care to explain for someone who’s vaguely familiar with Hunger Games? (I’ve seen the first movie)

      • multiheaded says:

        basically, the Liberal Elite in HG is one that entirely reverses the old formal lip-service commitment to egalitarianism and democratic Civic Leadership and checking one’s privilege, blah blah – and all that remains to fuel their glamour and arrogance is… mostly just subculture stuff, fashion, wealth/location/connections, tacky entertainment like the titular bloodsport, etc – not the ethical superiority/vanguardism that their real American counterparts still claim to uphold.

        and the scary/fascinating/impressive thing about this portrayal is how on the surface level NOTHING CHANGES. they still reign in their smug hip way, they are recognizably the Liberal Elite and not a hoary landowner aristocracy or whatever. they probably (visibly in the movies, iirc) have Diversity of every kind except the dangerous one, etc, etc.

        ps. sorry, am drnk

        • multiheaded says:

          Hey people, if you’re using google translate for that, it defaults to male verb endings unless the sentence specifies otherwise. So yeah, don’t. It kinda came across as unintentionally very offensive.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I was quoting my Grandad and TBH not really thinking about it.

          • multiheaded says:

            Yeah, sayings and proverbs defaulting to male is, like, just a fact of where the language is at. I was talking more to anon.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Fair enough, I just hope that I remembered it correctly as my Russian has gotten rather spotty since he passed.

          • Anonymous says:

            I meant no offense with the choice of gender, but I am Slavic and understood what I was saying. I can’t in good conscience refer to you as female, and neither do I wish to impute that you’re a neuter.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Where does this idea come from that it’s a sin against one’s conscience to humor someone to their face?

          • hlynkacg says:


            If I had to guess? Values dissonance.

            On one hand an obligation “to give true account”, on the other the desire to “humor someone”. sometimes those values conflict, and you either have to decide which will win, or just keep your shut.

          • Anonymous says:


            Not 100% sure, but it’s probably a venial sin against the 8th commandment. Per Aquinas, lying is “deliberately speaking against one’s own mind.” If one does not believe something, one should not say it in a manner suggesting that they do believe it.

          • multiheaded says:


            I cannot in good conscience not tell you to go fuck yourself with a brick. Offense fully intended, you piece of shit.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          Other stuff aside, I do think that your analysis is on the money.

  110. multiheaded says:

    I wonder if the author would dare take on the intersection of class and neurodivergence/mental illness, especially seeing as how the latter is her day job. My uncharitable guess is, no fucking way, and she’s almost certainly not going to do a piece on race vs class as well. Not given her views and the likely reception thereof wrt race.

    • honestlymellowstarlight says:

      Lack of desire to discuss certain topics is not necessarily cowardice, but you are uncharitable, therefore very publically weak.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’d like to see you expand upon this more.

      My own thoughts are pretty sparse and don’t see a big interaction beyond the obvious. Mentally ill people of a given class are less financially successful, but still usually easy to recognize what class they’re from. There’s a risk of working-class schizophrenics falling into the underclass, but I don’t see it as much as I’d expect – even schizophrenics are usually pretty able to maintain class appearances. Even the old adage that rich people are eccentric and poor people are crazy doesn’t seem that true to me – nowadays they both get the same SSRI.

      Maybe I am very biased because as a psychiatrist I only see the mentally ill people (of any class) who are with-it enough to get professional help, which itself is highly associated with class.

      Race seems more complicated to me. Black people can make fewer mistakes before they get identified as underclass. I don’t know anything about the elite, but I get the feeling not many black people are allowed into it (obvious exceptions like Obama are obvious). UR gives Hispanics their own category, “Helots”, which reflects that they’re given a pass from the usual underclass stereotypes and viewed as hard-working and productive, but the trade-off is that they’re stereotyped as random menial laborers who don’t have much of a part to play besides being the gardener – I think that description rings true. Asians, including Persians and Indians, seem usually part of the Gentry only less annoying about it than usual; Jews seem usually part of the Gentry but much more annoying about it than usual. I don’t know if any of this is on the mark.

      • honestlymellowstarlight says:

        It’s very much “not all Hispanics”, the history of how business-gets-done in Latin America by the US and affiliates especially during the Cold War show that there is a strong Hispanic elite base: the usual pattern of interaction was these insider elite connections were tapped to pull something, a classic “elite” move. Rubio is an example among the Florida Cubans, and of course there’s Jeb Bush.

      • TheNybbler says:

        In my family, my paternal grandparents generation was most definitely “Labor ladder” immigrants (having come from the equivalent in The Old Country). My father’s generation, however, all went to college and fit into the Gentry… except the one who was schizophrenic, who remained working class until he was no longer able to function independently.

        As for race, there’s a lot of Hispanics who are doing menial labor, but as I noticed in a different context, Hispanics are over-represented in 2-year certificate programs. And under-represented at degree-granting institutions. This says to me that they’re largely moving up the labor ladder rather than moving to the gentry. What makes it hard to analyze is unlike most other groups, there’s still a lot of poor Hispanics immigrating to the US, and that skews things.

      • multiheaded says:

        I don’t know anything about the elite, but I get the feeling not many black people are allowed into it (obvious exceptions like Obama are obvious).

        There seems to be a distinctive AA class elite in the US, but it’s not that well known to non-blacks.

      • multiheaded says:

        Even the old adage that rich people are eccentric and poor people are crazy doesn’t seem that true to me – nowadays they both get the same SSRI.

        Maybe I am very biased because as a psychiatrist I only see the mentally ill people (of any class) who are with-it enough to get professional help, which itself is highly associated with class.


        tbqh my assumption is that yes, you are likely to be biased in general. absolutely nothing personal.

        what about, say, lower-class people’s anger issues or addictions being treated, even implicitly, with much more moralization and pattern-matching that with the higher class?

        and on the other hand, do the most stigmatized conditions go underdiagnozed among higher-class patients?

  111. Yrro says:

    Class is the integral of wealth. You have whatever class you grew up in, which is a combination of your parents’ class and your parents’ wealth.

    Because people only really understand the class one step above or below them (and I would break things into high/low labor and high/low gentry for this) social mobility should be understood as working one rung of the ladder per generation. A lower laborer can go to welding school and become upper labor. His kids will grow up with a bunch of knowledge of the industry, and maybe start a new business or grow their father’s. They’ll buy a nice house in the burgs, and send their kids to good schools — where they can successfully enter the gentry. They will have a much harder time if they try to send them to Harvard. And that is nothing compared to the difficulty the original unskilled laborer would have had trying to enter the Elite directly himself, no matter how genius or motivated he is. You can count the number of people who make that jump every generation on both hands.

    • “social mobility should be understood as working one rung of the ladder per generation.”

      How do you fit immigrants into this?

      My grandparents, on both sides, were immigrants from eastern Europe. My paternal grandfather never learned English. Various members of that generation worked in sweatshops or ran small businesses (a candy store in the one case I know of). Two members of the next generation were prominent University of Chicago professors, one of them having come to the U.S. at twelve and ended up attending Yale.

      • Yrro says:

        Hmm, you’re maybe right. I may be overstating the rarity. I still think it fits the natural/majority rule.


        My first question is: what was their background in the old country? We have a lot of immigrants who could have been gentry class in their own country who end up working manual labor.

        The second confounder I think would be that immigrants can be… wildcards?… in terms of culture and genetic ability. Native families have to some degree already settled into an equilibrium in terms of culture/intelligence/class fit.

        That said, education *does* offer an opportunity for “jumping” classes, *especially* for those of exceptional ability/intelligence, as I imagine an immigrant headed to Yale is… I’m not sure that class applies entirely the same way to anyone who is two sigma over average on IQ tests. You won’t really *belong* to a class… but you can kind of sneak into the same places. Still, going to an ivy is a signal of a class jump, but not the actual class itself — just like you can rich and buy a yacht.

        The big reason I think this argument is important — unless your inner city youth/hick prodigy is *actually* that much of an outlier, it’s a better bulk strategy to try to move them into appropriate education for the next tier up than to worrying about whether they can find a way into the Ivy League.

        • “My first question is: what was their background in the old country?”

          From my parents’ autobiography:

          “My aunt had a bar where the Russians congregated after the markets closed. My father worked in his father’s mill, to which Russians brought wheat and other grains to be ground”

          “My brother Aaron was the only one in our family who went to school. He attended classes with a few other youngsters in the home of the local learned man. I believe my parents paid the teacher in kind for the classes. All that the boys studied was the Talmud and commentaries on it.”

          (My mother’s account. Aaron arrived in the U.S. at twelve, entered Yale at 20.)

          I’m not sure how you fit that into the class account. From the American viewpoint they were dirt poor, as were most others in the Russian village where they lived—no running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, … . From the local standpoint, I suppose small business people but of a minority generally looked down on.

          “very shortly after my mother’s arrival, she started earning her own living by working as a seamstress in a ‘sweatshop.'”

          (from my father’s account)

          Not educated and very little money, but not the attitudes and background that we associate with poor people in America at present. And I suspect the same would be true of many of the other immigrant groups. Sowell comments, in _Ethnic America_, that West Indian immigrants make it to the median U.S. income in one generation.

          In economic terms they were very poor, in social terms not. Which raises interesting questions about what the barriers are that exist for the domestic poor but not for the immigrant poor.

      • Viliam says:

        The immigrants who don’t know the language may be put out of the class game for one generation, but if they pass their values on their children (who will now also know the language), the children may continue the game where their parents have stopped.

        Two members of the next generation were prominent University of Chicago professors, one of them having come to the U.S. at twelve and ended up attending Yale.

        What did their parents do before they immigrated? I’d guess something similar to non-immigrant parents of other professors.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        The four generations of Zuckerbergs in the United States are a pretty classic case of steady class growth:

        Immigrant Gen — peddler
        2nd Gen — Post Office worker
        3rd Gen — Dentist
        4th Gen — Tech tycoon

        However, that might have been slower than it had to be. Mark Zuckerberg’s father is a very successful dentist. He figures if his parents hadn’t been overly cautious and insisted he go to dental school, he probably could have been a successful tech entrepreneur himself.

  112. Conor Friedersdorf says:

    It always seems to me that the class hierarchy in different U.S. regions are very different from one another. Example: I grew up in Orange County, California. My wife grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley. We come from the same class. Yet whenever we spend time in New York City, or a couple years back when we drove to Maine, I always ask questions like, “Wait, can you explain Old Money again?” And I’m mostly serious. “Okay. I get why the Sopranos aren’t. But the Kennedy family isn’t?” In some circles, but only in the east, the question, “Where did you go to school?” will cause someone to tell me what high school they attended, AND they’ll expect me to have heard of it. It always makes me feel like pre-move Joan Didion in Goodbye to All That.

    • Yrro says:

      After reading Class, I was trying very hard to decide whether his definitions of upper class just had a strong northeast coastal bias, or if there just *aren’t* any true upper class people in Ohio. Or if I was just too prole to have encountered their lifestyle.

      • Frog Do says:

        There used to be, but then there are reasons why some people call the American Civil War “the War of Northern Agression”.

      • John Schilling says:

        True upper-class/elite people cluster in the most cosmopolitan cities. There are no such cities in Ohio or Maine, and thus few such people – and the ones you might find there will probably find their own culture in New York or Chicago or Boston, not Cincinnati or Portland.

        • Yrro says:

          There are some super-rich movers in the Columbus area (see Les Wexner), but not the full culture of their peers, I think.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      The book to read on this is Cheerful Money by Tad Friend. I am one half from the class he describes, and he nails it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I also grew up in Orange County! No wonder you ended up so politically-all-over-the-place too!

      (I’m from Irvine, what about you?)

    • Loquat says:

      It’s funny, I’ve spent basically no time in the company of rich people, but I know exactly what Old Money is and why the Kennedy family doesn’t count. I have spent much of my life in the Northeast, though, so maybe I’ve picked it up by osmosis.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      One test: do they use “summer” as a verb?

  113. Daniel says:

    Gregory Clark found a great way to test class’ effect on income mobility: he studied _surnames_, that is, all the people with the same last name. IIRC, he found the income advantage of an elite surname dissipated at only about 20% per generation. So it takes almost a hundred years to halve the class-derived income advantage of a given set of families.

    Google “surname income mobility” to bring up some of his papers; I recommend them.

  114. Emile says:

    Siderea’s idea of college as finishing school for the upper classes is interesting, and her own experience is a window into something I never thought about before. But I’m not sure how typical she is; I think most colleges admit students who are already members of the classes their graduates end up in. I felt like I didn’t learn any class culture during my own college experience at all – which isn’t surprising since I was born the son of a doctor and ended up as a doctor myself. I think my story’s probably more typical than Siderea’s, though other people can prove me wrong if they’ve seen differently.

    Seems to me the fact that your story is more typical than Siderea’s is necessary for the system to work – the point is that people from any background get an opportunity to be in an environment where most people are like you – from “gentry/educated/middle-class” backgrounds and so become acculturated into that class (the peers play a much bigger role than any education provided by the school). So I don’t think you’re disagreeing with her, you’ve just been playing different parts in the same play.

    My experience in a somewhat elite college is consistent with her description.

    Edit: by the way this is where I don’t think your summary of Siderea’s article does her justice:

    College is a finishing school for the upper classes. They send their children there to learn the proper upper class values and behaviors. Even if community college does a great job teaching whatever trades it teaches, it will not teach you how to be a part of the upper class, and this will seriously limit your opportunities.

    I don’t think the “teaching” at the college is supposed to play a big part, as opposed to the peers.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If this is true, it suggests at least that finishing school can’t be a big part of the point of college, since most of the people who go there are already finished.

      I might have been wrong, but I thought she was implying finishing school as a theory of college to compete with the teaching-useful-stuff theory and the credentialism theory.

      • onyomi says:

        It could be the place where you send largely “finished” new members of the gentry to network with other young members of the gentry and thereby make personal and professional connections which will assure their and their children’s continued place in the gentry.

        And, of course, the gentry is the most credentialist class, so you need the credential for your gentry job, as having jobs which require credentials is part of what separates the gentry from labor.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          But part of the difference between G and E is that it’s Elites who are obsessed with networking and need to be “in” with people.

          I don’t think I’m still in touch with any of my college friends beyond the Facebook level, and that doesn’t seem too uncommon for me.

          • onyomi says:

            This seems to be a good way to understand a bifurcation I’ve noticed at many colleges and universities:

            I was a grad student and a postdoc at two Ivy League universities. I noticed what you might call a class difference between us and many of the undergrads. We were high-level gentry, but definitely still gentry. Same went for most of the professors–professors at Ivy League–almost as high up in the gentry as you can get–but still gentry.

            The students, however, were divided among high-gentry-in-training and world leaders-in training, i. e. elites-in-training. The former, perhaps unsurprisingly, were actually the better students, but the latter would no doubt go on to make much more money on average, and also came from more money, on average (remember George W Bush’s “C” average at Yale?).

            In both cases, most students came with a gentry or elite culture already largely ingrained, so “training” may not be quite the right word. The smallish number of students who came from poor and labor backgrounds found an easier home among the gentry students than the elite students, by far (though the schools managed to avoid actually admitting many such students by filling their diversity quotas with, for example, the children of the super-elites of Africa in lieu of actual African Americans).

            And of course the socialization/networking aspect of the experience seemed much more important for the elite students than the gentry students–secret societies and all that stuff. These people do not fail to keep in touch with their undergrad buddies and are, in fact, back all the time for the crazy reunions. You and I are gentry and so our college friends are not as important as friends made later in our careers and/or professional training. I’m not very close with most of my undergrad friends anymore, for example, but I am still close with a number of friends from grad school (may also be a function of whatever your last major educational experience was?).

            I am now a professor at a not-as-elite but still pretty posh and highly ranked private university. The same bifurcation exists, maybe even more starkly. There are the students who are, for lack of a better word, there to learn, and there are, to my dismay, students who seem to be there primarily to socialize, and for whom the classes are almost an annoyance. And yet in many cases, again, this latter group (though some of them are kind of just slackers) comes from, and will go on to make more money than the former group. They also dress much nicer and more professionally in many cases when coming to class despite actually being less prepared for the class. They look like well-groomed elites killing time and making connections before they take over Dad’s business. And again, for these people, the socialization aspect is very important.

            If it seems like everything I’m saying is just common sense, I guess, in a way it is, but the reasons for some very obvious differences among students at many schools seem a little clearer to me in this light.

            Also, the appeal of Obama makes a little more sense in the light of “Trump as liberal savior.” Obama, most clearly, was the “gentry savior.” Having been in grad school when Obama got elected, let me tell you nearly all the top gentry were totally swooning over this guy in a way they never did about anyone else I’ve seen. Not just the usual “we are academics and therefore liberal and therefore support the Democratic nominee” kind of thing, but way beyond. I thought it was a combination of him being black and charismatic and a professor, but I think this last part may have weirdly been the most important point, at least for the gentry: whether or not he was really elite, he oozed “gentry” at every opportunity and in every way. I guess now that we’ve had our savior we may have to put up with “labor’s savior,” Donald Trump (though that makes it sound like organized labor will like him, which they won’t, though they might like him a lot more than say, Cruz, especially for the anti-illegal thing).

          • Emile says:

            My experience mostly matches Onyomi’s. Though I went to a school that’s more focused on the “elite” aspect than the “gentry” aspect (and things work a bit differently in France).

          • JuanPeron says:

            Having gone to a G and E college as Gentry, I think that’s your class speaking. College is very different things to different groups.

            I got to know some Elite folks and see how they approach college (and got a bit of ‘finishing’ myself – anecdotal, but I can now pass as Elite better than before I attended). Intramural sports, spring breaks, and trips to one another’s summer homes feature prominently. You make some lasting bonds, and some weaker associations that will pay dividends even if you don’t see those people again until you meet up at Davos. If you need/want a job, someone you meet here will hand it to you when you graduate. Part of high-end elitism is knowing everyone, even if you aren’t actually friends.

            Colleges-as-finishing-schools also fill some of the role of boarding schools or apprenticeships of old. You join a frat, get drunk and do immature things, and get some of that youthfulness out of your system. Ideally, you come out with some strong bonds to your ‘brothers’, well-prepared to take on a more adult persona.

            I actually think that the expansion of college to lots of Gentry is part of Moldbug’s erosion of the Elites. The E1/E2 types are still doing their thing at Harvard no matter who else goes there, but lots of G2 and E3 types are rubbing shoulders, sharing views, and eroding their distinctions a bit. Now that college is less selective, the Elites are sending their kids to room with and learn from Gentry and it’s blurring the lines between the two.

          • JuanPeron says:

            Onyomi, your experience exactly matches mine at a similar college.

            I went in as gentry, made some friends, got an education and some ideological pressure, and left (keeping in touch with few friends). I also learned to act a bit more Elite on demand – in keeping with the idea that you have to witness classes to imitate them.

            The elites, on the other hand, went full-bore into the non-academic, non-ideological parts of college. Intramural sports (professional sports are labor-level), frats, “consulting clubs” and similar. I attended the consulting club once, and discovered I couldn’t afford to meet its dress code. These people network heavily and don’t abandon those connections. They use connectivity in place of credentialism to get jobs (I watched a guy decide he needed a job, and promptly get a cushy management post with a single phonecall).

            Overall, there seem to be two different groups achieving totally different goals, along with a token Labor group who mostly become engineers or similar (it’s a Labor-style job with Gentry signifiers and guaranteed employment, so it’s an appealing jump). If the low-level elites are diminishing, I suspect it’s partly due to overexposure to Gentry in college, since Gentry make up virtually all professors and the majority of students. As for the highest-level elites, most of them didn’t seem to go to enough classes to risk contamination.

        • DonBoy says:

          Delurking to throw this into the mix: there’s an aphorism that point of the Ivies is for the young rich people to meet the young smart people.

      • Chrysophylax says:

        Scott, I think you’re missing something. Suppose that there are a hundred things that comprise “proper upper class values and behaviours”, and a hundred people who are stuck together to socialise for a few years. Failure to behave according to the group norms is socially punished, so people try to adopt the beliefs and behaviours of their peers. If every person knows one gentry thing when starting out, you’ll get noise or coordination on some other set of values and behaviours (e.g. sneering at people who do their laundry more than once a month). If everyone knows 80 gentry things, though, you can be pretty sure that everyone will know at least 90 gentry things by the time they graduate, because a majority of the students will hold the gentry position on any given topic.

        We could complicate our model a bit by saying that some things are harder to learn than other things (e.g. all students can use cutlery, but few can quote poetry or make references to Tolstoy), and that gentry-in-training can recognise very-high-gentry-status behaviour even if they can’t replicate it, so that people who can do fancy things have higher status. This doesn’t significantly change the dynamics.

        We now have a model of a university acting as a finishing school, but we still need to explain why students are willing to pay so much to attend. We could say that teenagers refuse to learn a certain percentage of what their parents try to teach them, but will accept social pressure from their peers, but this seems like a weak argument – students seem very keen to maximise their employability.

        We could also argue that parents’ knowledge gets stale and students need to learn some proportion of their gentry things from other gentry-in-training (perhaps they are forming shibboleths of that generation), but again, this seems like a weak argument – the things that are important generational shibboleths seem to be formed on the Internet.

        Also, note that what people are taught in class does affect their beliefs and mannerisms – this seems to fit well with the model where some gentryhood signals are widely recognisable but hard to learn.

        I don’t think the model convincingly explains why people pay so much. It might be true, but the bulk of the explanation should probably be credentialism and education. Note that ability to talk convincingly about your subject of study and university life is a very important signal of gentryhood: I think a degree signals not only that you are relatively high-ability, but also that you come from a family that values education and can afford to invest resources in your schooling and university study. It’s a sort of social credentialism.

  115. Anon. says:

    >The Elite neutralize this threat by…

    This is where you lost me. Talking about classes as if they are united and have singular goals that they successfully coordinate to achieve is silly. Find a mechanism by which their diffuse interests and uncoordinated actions become something like a singular class intentionality.

    By the way, the average net worth of the top 1% is 8.6 million. Assuming it’s all productively invested, at a safe withdrawal rate of 3% that’s $250k without working. You’re not competing on who’s the best socialite with that sort of money.

    These clusterings are arbitrary and fairly useless imo. People are seeing the same thing not because it’s there but because that’s what their culture taught them to see. Here is an alternative hypothesis: the reality is not clearly distinct clusters, but a combination of multiple smooth gradients.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Elites also convince Labor that Elites don’t exist and it’s Gentry all the way up…..”

      “Talking about classes as if they are united and have singular goals that they successfully coordinate to achieve is silly….By the way, the average net worth of the top 1%…. $250k without working…..You’re not competing on who’s the best socialite with that sort of money.”

    • anon says:

      Talking about classes as if they are united and coordinate to achieve goals is silly, but more plausible with elites than any other class. First, they are defined as much smaller than the other classes – although I think 1% is still too big both as a real definition of the elite and as a bound within which coordination is possible. Second, they are defined as much more connected than the other classes.

      If there are people who know almost everyone in the class either directly or within 2-3 levels of indirection, coordination sounds plausible. Not on the “hey lets get in a conference room and openly discuss our plans for world domination” level, but “if I do something that hurts a lot of the members of my class everyone will learn about it and scorn me so I’m strongly discouraged from doing things like pushing for changes to X mechanism everyone in our class knows about and exploits”.

      Of course such an interconnected group would still have to be pretty small even when their only job is coordinating aka politics, small enough that we’re calling it “class” not because of size but because of influence, and definitely smaller than “the top 1%” – even if your day job is to coordinate aka politics you still can’t know a significant part of 1% of the USA within 2-3 levels of indirection. If we define elite class to be 1% then they definitely can’t coordinate, but I don’t think that’s the same group as the one people talk about when they say “I don’t know anything about elite culture because I haven’t met many elites”. 1% is rare but not that rare.

      • Saul Degraw says:

        But talking about the elites is silly or an exercise of futility because who is the elite depends on who you ask.

        According to the right-wing in the United States, I am a member of the elite because of my recreational habits. I don’t watch TV. I don’t like hunting or sports very much. I do like theatre, the New York Review of Books Classics Collection, what is often called literary fiction, The New Yorker, Farm to Table Restaurants, Jazz, Indie Rock, Craft Beer, art, etc. Plus I live on the coasts and am secular-Jewish.

        It doesn’t matter to them that my salary is decent but not amazing (though I do have upward prospects).

        In my view someone like the Koch Brothers are elite because of their money and ability to be grand players in the world economy. I am a no one in the world economic stage.

        • suntzuanime says:

          I think if they were being careful and coherent and extrapolated, what the right-wing would say was that you were aligned with the elite, that you were elitist, that you were an expendable footsoldier in the elite’s war on real American values, that you were a pawn of the same color as the elite kings and queens.

          • Saul Degraw says:

            Why should I believe that the right-wing has a monopoly on what counts as real American values?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Is there anyone in this damn comments section who can tell the difference between a claim and its quotation?

          • FXKLM says:

            No, I think the right-wing would say that being elite isn’t a function of having power. It’s a function of believing yourself superior to and having contempt for middle-class Americans.

          • TheNybbler says:

            In this context, “real American values” is just a dog-whistle. Conservatives consider that their values are “real American values”, liberals find the idea of “real American values” somewhat distasteful, so it works as one. Neither side is going to claim that “real American values” include support for gay marriage, legalized marijuana, high and progressive income taxes, and affirmative action, not even those who believe that, so it works.

          • Saul Degraw says:


            Contempt is a strawman concept and filled with butt hurt. I don’t care about how any one spends their free time. There are plenty of liberals who tell me about must see TV from Broad City to Amy Schumer to Girls to Game of Thrones, Mad Men, etc. and I have no desire to watch those shows either. I have limited free time because work and commuting takes up about 80 hours of my week. So I think I have a right to spend that as I please without being accused of contempt.

          • Chrysophylax says:

            @suntzuanime: I think the conventional thing to say here is “I feel your pain”.

            @Saul Degraw: Flip the usage around. Do you think that “contempt” isn’t a good word for conventional attitudes towards effeminate men? Or for a more neutral example, do you think that people don’t feel contempt for, say, Peter Pettigrew?

            Contempt is an emotion that clearly exists. It’s linked to failure to support ingroups (cowardice, snitching) and to behaving in ways characteristic of an outgroup / poor-quality signalling of ingroup membership (wrong accent, wrong slang, wrong manners, wrong clothes, wrong hair, wrong music, wrong hobbies, et cetera).

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ Chrysophylax:

            Contempt obviously exists but I don’t think it’s an accurate description in most cases. To me it implies a level of emotional investment that doesn’t exist. Kind of like conflating “indifference” or “dislike” and “hatred”.

  116. Kalciphoz says:

    I think you are getting this wrong, particularly when you compare MC and UR. The reason they differ, I propose, is not that classes are best described as a continuum, but because they are from different geographical locations. Another thing to note, is that there are more classes, that can be viewed as a sort of subclass.

    Here in Denmark, the class division seems to me to go something like this:

    1. Poorest class
    The class of people who might not have a stable residence and are on edges with the law. Subclasses include the homeless bums and the street criminals.

    2. Middle class
    This class consists of people who generally are not too bad off financially – they vary from those renting an apartment to those owning a house.
    Their first subclass consists of jobless people on welfare.
    Their second subclass is the labour class, associated typically with jobs like carpenter, cashier, manufacturer, etc.
    Their third subclass I call the welfare class, because it is what you typically think of when you think of a welfare society. They are often employed in the public sector, but the particularly successful ones might get jobs like veterinarian, stand-up comedian, fashion model or pop-singer

    3. Upper class
    This sort of roughly corresponds with the gentry class as I can gather, valuing education and articulated speech, typically economists, diplomats, surgeons, doctors, professors, and other high status occupations.

    4. Elite
    I do not know much about the elite.

    To participate in the criminal streetlife part of the Poorest class, you need street-smarts and knowing your way around. Mostly, you need connections and friends.

    To participate in the Middle Class, what you need is to be well adjusted, that is, you cannot be violent, you probably should not wear rags that have not been washed for a month, depending on the circle, language that is considered too vulgar might come in the way, et cetera.

    To participate in the Upper Class, the main requirement is education. There are a lot of norms for articulation and civility you must live up to. You need knowledge of upperclass culture and idols, and you need to know your way in political debates. In Danish, we have a term called “dannelse” which I was not able to find a good translation for, but for any Danes who might be reading it, this is what I am referring to.

    To participate in the Elite, like with the poorest class, you need connections. Closer friendships can be helpful as well. I do not know much about the elite, but I find it noteworthy and interesting that the requirements are similar to that of the poorest class.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This sounds exactly the same as the system mentioned above; indeed, like a better summary of it than I could come up with.

      Also, is it true that veterinarians are lower-class than doctors in Denmark? Here it’s harder to become a vet, and I think they get paid more. My family was doctors, but we had veterinarian friends with zero class gulf between us.

      • chaosbunt says:

        data point germany, which i think generally fits the above model:

        it is just as hard to become a vet as it is to become a doctor. Veterinarians end up with less status than doctors and absurdly less income, can be close to minimum wage.

      • keranih says:

        Also, is it true that veterinarians are lower-class than doctors in Denmark? Here it’s harder to become a vet, and I think they get paid more. My family was doctors, but we had veterinarian friends with zero class gulf between us.

        Assuming ‘here’ is the USA – your data is way off, Scott. (At least in part.)

        There is a marginal difference between the GPA/SAT required to get into veterinary school than in med schools – most of the difference is in “add on” animal experience. The primary reason for this is the limited number of veterinary student slots, which are highly restricted in the USA. (More info here: here.

        As for pay – this is absolutely not true. Veterinary pay is not at all in the same class as human medicine, and this is driving the inter-profession pressure to keep class sizes low. (See BLS data here.

        There are a number of different confounders in the vet vs ‘real’ doctor divide (pro tip: don’t use ‘real’ doctor to describe human medical professionals to a veterinarian), to include the farm/food animal portion of the profession, which makes up a smaller and smaller portion of the profession every year. There’s also strong differences in male/female and race averages. Most significantly, I think, is that vets have had to be businessmen competing for discretionary income from consumers for decades, and don’t have the same “benevolent provider who doesn’t care about money” shtick. (Because they do have to care.)

        There’s a TED type talk about vet med vs human med and the incredible difference in cost someplace, but I’m not finding it. A brief piece is here.

      • Tibor says:

        another datapoint (a Czechpoint) – I would also immediately recognize a veterinarian as a (slightly) lower status than a people doctor. I have no idea how long it takes to study to become a vet in the country, if it is less or the same. Normal doctors study 6 years and dentists 5 years. Still, I would still probably consider a dentists to be higher status than a veterinarian.

      • Virbie says:

        > Also, is it true that veterinarians are lower-class than doctors in Denmark? Here it’s harder to become a vet, and I think they get paid more. My family was doctors, but we had veterinarian friends with zero class gulf between us.

        Is this true? I’m born and raised in the US: My girlfriend is finishing vet school this year and my sister+her husband just graduated from med school. The impression I’ve gotten from what both of them know is that doctors get paid substantially more than veterinarians. My gf was saying that she’s expecting to clear a little under 100k when starting out, which is far below what my sister and her husband are expecting.

        I would imagine that doctors’ social class is higher as well, among those who are old-fashioned enough to elevate it (along with law) to the pinnacle of career achievement (which includes a lot of my family). Then again my example is sort of weird: my mom comes from a very oldschool old country aristocratic family, but I was born and raised in California, which is less culturally interested in class than a lot of the rest of the country (let alone the old country). I’ve experienced a lot of mildly amusing mismatch of cultural expectations.

      • Kalciphoz says:

        The main difference is that I think the geographical component explains the differing models, rather than a continuum like you speculated when comparing MC and UR. I realize that this continuum of classiness was not a central part of your post, but I feel like the geographical component is important enough to warrant a mention.

        As for veterinarians vs doctors, well, I made that judgement based on career aspirations – a lot of people in the upper middle class aspire to become veterinarians, although most do not follow through with it in the end.

        There might well be some upper class people who become veterinarians as well, of course, but the title of Doctor seems to be more awe-inducing than the title of veterinarian to the general public.

        EDIT: The reason I commented was mostly because of my speculations that classes are really a form of tribes, but on a different plane. Having come from the gentry class myself, I find it difficult to fit into the social settings of the middle class, and since the middle class does not always want to be a part of the gentry class, I do not like the idea of looking at classiness as a ladder.

        I mean, there is obviously a financial ladder (and economy is important), but there is more to it than just that, among which are some dimensions I think worth mentioning, like geography, politics (which you briefly mentioned) and social circles.

      • Maware says:

        Scott, vets are still lower class. Remember, you said it’s not pay nor difficulty. There’s very little status in being a vet.

      • I associate vets with driving to peasant farms behind the ass end of nothing at 2AM, getting dung on their rubber boots, and going armpit deep into cattle vagina to help them give birth.

    • Viliam says:

      I find it noteworthy and interesting that the requirements [for the elite] are similar to that of the poorest class.

      The middle class is the youngest one from an “evolutionary” perspective.

      Apes already have alpha males and oppressed nobodies, roughly corresponding to the elite and the underclass. With humans, at some moment (not sure when exactly), you get the working class: people who work when the boss tells them to. But to have a large group of people who specialize at knowledge, that requires an advanced civilization.

      This is why the other classes are closer to the primitive behavior, while the middle class lives “in the Matrix”. (Don’t get it wrong, I love this “Matrix”. It’s just important to rememeber that the outside world still exists.)

      • Kalciphoz says:

        > Apes already have alpha males and oppressed nobodies, roughly corresponding to the elite and the underclass.

        Apes do not have separate classes. All the apes are equivalent to the underclass, which, in humans as well contains a pack leader. The alpha males of the apes are equivalent to the pack leader of a small gang.

        In Denmark, class history is a big thing. In the agricultural revolution, humans originally started to settle down over a longer period. People created various forms of residences, and were the functional equivalent of the middle class. As civilization progressed, it became common for a specific person to own a building, allowing others to rent or stay in it. Interestingly, people who did not own a house were barred from voting when democracy was introduced.

        Anyway, the renting of a place to stay is what marks the lower middle class, and the people who owned the houses were at the time equivalent to the upper class, with their opponents, those of noble birth being the elite. At this time, with the lower growth and lack of globalization, there was less of a gap between the elite and the lower middle class.

        With the introduction of socialism came the birth of unions, pressing up the wages and allowing the lower middle class independence. In Denmark, many people regard this as the birth of the middle class, but I personally regard it as the working class getting richer.

        I don’t really know why I wrote this, but I find it a somewhat interesting topic.

      • Ugh, no. An alpha chimp cannot oppress a whole group into nobody status, they would team up on him. They have detailed hierarchies, not just two levels. The same way there was such a thing a small, medium etc. nobility in the middle ages. Knowledge workers are just special kind of nobility, about 500 years old: nobility of the robe.

  117. rsaarelm says:

    Does someone have an idea why Church gives Henry Kissinger as an example of E1? All I know about Kissinger is that he was a Nixon era US minister and that he had some sort of public defamation fight with Christopher Hitchens, which doesn’t seem to quite warrant a seat between Stalin and Osama bin Laden. I guess there’s some US liberal grudge here I’m not familiar with?

    • multiheaded says:

      Bombed SE Asia, supported people like Sukharto and Pinochet and even – tactically – the Khmer Rouge…

      • ad says:

        So they attacked him for bombing the Khmer Rouge and for supporting them?

        Sometimes you just can’t win.

        • bbartlog says:

          Sometimes the reason you can’t win is because you’re an immoral asshole. Spend an hour on the historical record and you will see that both charges are supportable.

        • Jiro says:

          It’s the same idea as complaining that someone supported the Nazis when they were allied with the Soviets, and stopped supporting them when they weren’t. Chomsky didn’t stop supporting the Khmer Rouge because the same evidence that didn’t convince him they were bad guys before suddenly got better; he stopped supporting them because they became enemies of Vietnam, who was allied with the Soviets and supported by the left.

          • Jiro says:

            Sorry, misread. People usually make this complaint about Chomsky, so I assumed that’s what it was about. I don’t know if Kissinger did the same thing or not.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Sadly, that is close to Kissinger’s motivation. When North Vietnam was moving troops through Cambodia, he bombed Cambodia and the Khmer Rogue who were allies of North Vietnam. When Khmer Rogue went full crazy and went to war with Vietnam, they brought in superpower allies (USSR for Vietnam, China for Cambodia) and so he backed the Chinese one to get China on our side.

    • Anon says:

      Well there’s the hitchin’s book criticising him:

      Not an unbiased account of events, obviously, but it should give you an idea of the kinds of things liberals attribute to him.

    • Frog Do says:

      A “evil Jewish mastermind” type boogeyman of the Left, relatively current, maintained as a convenient enemy by neoconservativism and neoliberalism alike because of his supposed embrace of “realpolitik”.

    • Felix Mercator says:

      Harvard issued an anathema against him.

      In the case of Harvard, it was the war in Vietnam. On May 8, 1970, shortly after U.S. forces invaded neighboring Cambodia, a deputation of Kissinger’s former colleagues—among them the economist Thomas Schelling—visited Kissinger in Washington.

      Kissinger welcomed his “good friends from Harvard University.” “No,” retorted Schelling, “we’re a group of people who have completely lost confidence in the ability of the White House to conduct our foreign policy, and we have come to tell you so.” It was the beginning of a schism that would endure for 42 years.

    • FXKLM says:

      Disliking Kissinger makes sense, but squeezing that dislike into a model of social class does not. If anything, his widespread unpopularity puts him in a lower class than other people who have served in the same roles.

      The whole E1 class in nonsense. The defining characteristics of the class have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the classification structure. Even if you believe that those E1 people exist, there is still no reason to put them in a separate class and even less reason to put that class at the top of the E hierarchy.

      • multiheaded says:

        Yep. I mean, they do exist.. but who the fuck *looks up to* a Saudi prince? If anything, the philantrobillionaires are the E1.

        • FXKLM says:

          They exist in the sense that some billionaires are unpleasant people, just as some individuals in every social and economic class are unpleasant people. I don’t believe the distinctive shadowy class that Church describes exists.

          In my line of work, I have some interaction with individuals Church would classify as E1 (private equity and hedge fund billionaires). I can say with certainty that Church knows nothing about those people.

        • Michael Vassar says:

          Having tried to sell products to people who look up to Saudi princes, I can tell you that yes, there are many such people and they match the E3 description fairly well.

        • Deiseach says:

          who the fuck *looks up to* a Saudi prince?

          I’m tempted to say “The U.S. government” when making alliances, but then again so do the Brits when they’re trying to flog armaments to them.

          If you can afford to and will buy a ton of our fighter planes, we’ll kiss your arse and look cheerful about it.

      • Lambert says:

        >squeezing that dislike into a model of social class does not

        Since when has making sense ever come before basic human impulses?

        • FXKLM says:

          If he wants to use his post on class structure to take a totally unrelated swipe at people he doesn’t like, he may as well have created a super-evil class consisting of his noisy neighbor, his ex-girlfriend and the kid who picked on him in middle school. It would have been no less silly than E1.

      • JDG1980 says:

        I agree, the biggest issue is that most of the classes are actual social classes, while E1 basically seems to be more of what would in D&D be called an “alignment”. Kissinger was pretty clearly an Elite Servant (E3) by Church’s reckoning. But he got elevated to E1 because he happened to be extraordinarily evil.

    • stubydoo says:

      Kissinger did indeed go on to do a bunch of “E1” type things during h