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Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class—A Status Update

I was bewildered when I encountered a new social class at Yale four years ago: the luxury belief class. My confusion wasn’t surprising given my unusual background. When I was two years old, my mother was addicted to drugs and my father abandoned us. I grew up in multiple foster homes, was then adopted into a series of broken homes, and then experienced a series of family tragedies. Later, after a few years in the military, I went to Yale on the GI Bill. On campus, I realized that luxury beliefs have become fashionable status symbols. Luxury beliefs are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.

In the past, people displayed their membership of the upper class with their material accoutrements. But today, luxury goods are more affordable than before. And people are less likely to receive validation for the material items they display. This is a problem for the affluent, who still want to broadcast their high social position. But they have come up with a clever solution. The affluent have decoupled social status from goods, and re-attached it to beliefs. 

Human beings become more preoccupied with social status once our physical needs are met. In fact, research reveals that sociometric status (respect and admiration from peers) is more important for well-being than socioeconomic status. Furthermore, studies have shown that negative social judgment is associated with a spike in cortisol (hormone linked to stress) that is three times higher than non-social stressful situations. We feel pressure to build and maintain social status, and fear losing it.

It seems reasonable to think that the downtrodden might be most interested in obtaining status and money. But this is not the case. Inhabitants of prestigious institutions are even more interested than others in prestige and wealth. For many of them, that drive is how they reached their lofty positions in the first place. Fueling this interest, they’re surrounded by people just like them—their peers and competitors are also intelligent status-seekers. They persistently look for new ways to move upward and avoid moving downward. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim understood this when he wrote, “The more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulate instead of filling needs.” And indeed, a recent piece of research supports this: it is the upper class who are the most preoccupied with gaining wealth and status. In their paper, the researchers conclude, “relative to lower-class individuals, upper-class individuals have a greater desire for wealth and status…it is those who have more to start with (i.e., upper-class individuals) who also strive to acquire more wealth and status.” Plainly, high-status people desire status more than anyone else.

Furthermore, other research has found that absolute income does not have much effect on general life satisfaction. An increase in relative income, on the other hand, has a positive effect. Put differently, making more money isn’t important. What’s important is making more than others. As the researchers put it:

Increasing an individual’s income will increase his or her utility only if ranked position also increases and will necessarily reduce the utility of others who will lose rank…[which] may explain why increasing the incomes of all may not raise the happiness of all, even though wealth and happiness are correlated within a society at a given point in time.

Baby Millionaires

You might think that, for example, rich kids at elite universities would be happy because their parents are in the top one per cent of income earners. And they will soon join their parents in this elite guild. But remember, they’re surrounded by other members of the one per cent. Their social circle, their Dunbar number, consists of 150 baby millionaires. Jordan Peterson has discussed this phenomenon. Citing figures from his experience teaching at Harvard in the 1990s, Peterson noted that a substantial proportion of Ivy League graduates go on to obtain a net worth of a million dollars or more by age 40. And yet, he observes, this isn’t enough for them. Not only do top university graduates want to be millionaires-in-the-making; they also want the image of moral righteousness. Peterson underlines that elite graduates desire high status not only financially, but morally as well. For these affluent social strivers, luxury beliefs offer them a new way to gain status.

Thorstein Veblen’s famous “leisure class” has evolved into the “luxury belief class.” Veblen, an economist and sociologist, made his observations about social class in the late nineteenth century. He compiled his observations in his classic work, The Theory of the Leisure Class. A key idea is that because we can’t be certain of the financial standing of other people, a good way to size up their means is to see whether they can afford to waste money on goods and leisure. This explains why status symbols are so often difficult to obtain and costly to purchase. These include goods such as delicate and restrictive clothing like tuxedos and evening gowns, or expensive and time-consuming hobbies like golf or beagling. Such goods and leisurely activities could only be purchased or performed by those who did not live the life of a manual laborer and could spend time learning something with no practical utility. Veblen even goes so far as to say, “The chief use of servants is the evidence they afford of the master’s ability to pay.” For Veblen, Butlers are status symbols, too.

Building on these sociological observations, the biologist Amotz Zahavi proposed that animals evolve certain displays because they are so costly. The most famous example is the peacock’s tail. Only a healthy bird is capable of growing such plumage while managing to evade predators. This idea might extend to humans, too. More recently, the anthropologist and historian Jared Diamond has suggested that one reason humans engage in displays such as drinking, smoking, drug use, and other physically costly behaviors is because they serve as fitness indicators. The message is: “I’m so healthy that I can afford to poison my body and continue to function.” Get hammered while playing a round of golf with your butler, and you will be the highest status person around.

Conspicuous Convictions

Veblen proposed that the wealthy flaunt these symbols not because they are useful, but because they are so pricey or wasteful that only the wealthy can afford them, which is why they’re high-status indicators. And this still goes on. A couple of winters ago it was common to see students at Yale and Harvard wearing Canada Goose jackets. Is it necessary to spend $900 to stay warm in New England? No. But kids weren’t spending their parents’ money just for the warmth. They were spending the equivalent of the typical American’s weekly income ($865) for the logo. Likewise, are students spending $250,000 at prestigious universities for the education? Maybe. But they are also spending it for the logo.

This is not to say that elite colleges don’t educate their students, or that Canada Goose jackets don’t keep their wearers warm. But top universities are also crucial for induction into the luxury belief class. Take vocabulary. Your typical middle-class American could not tell you what “heteronormative” or “cisgender” means. But if you visit Harvard, you’ll find plenty of rich 19-year-olds who will eagerly explain them to you. When someone uses the phrase “cultural appropriation,” what they are really saying is “I was educated at a top college.” Consider the Veblen quote, “Refined tastes, manners, habits of life are a useful evidence of gentility, because good breeding requires time, application and expense, and can therefore not be compassed by those whose time and energy are taken up with work.” Only the affluent can afford to learn strange vocabulary because ordinary people have real problems to worry about.

The chief purpose of luxury beliefs is to indicate evidence of the believer’s social class and education. Only academics educated at elite institutions could have conjured up a coherent and reasonable-sounding argument for why parents should not be allowed to raise their kids, and should hold baby lotteries instead. When an affluent person advocates for drug legalization, or anti-vaccination policies, or open borders, or loose sexual norms, or uses the term “white privilege,” they are engaging in a status display. They are trying to tell you, “I am a member of the upper class.”

Affluent people promote open borders or the decriminalization of drugs because it advances their social standing, not least because they know that the adoption of those policies will cost them less than others. The logic is akin to conspicuous consumption—if you’re a student who has a large subsidy from your parents and I do not, you can afford to waste $900 and I can’t, so wearing a Canada Goose jacket is a good way of advertising your superior wealth and status. Proposing policies that will cost you as a member of the upper class less than they would cost me serve the same function. Advocating for open borders and drug experimentation are good ways of advertising your membership of the elite because, thanks to your wealth and social connections, they will cost you less than me.

Unfortunately, the luxury beliefs of the upper class often trickle down and are adopted by people lower down the food chain, which means many of these beliefs end up causing social harm. Take polyamory. I had a revealing conversation recently with a student at an elite university. He said that when he sets his Tinder radius to five miles, about half of the women, mostly other students, said they were “polyamorous” in their bios. Then, when he extended the radius to 15 miles to include the rest of the city and its outskirts, about half of the women were single mothers. The costs created by the luxury beliefs of the former are borne by the latter. Polyamory is the latest expression of sexual freedom championed by the affluent. They are in a better position to manage the complications of novel relationship arrangements. And if these relationships don’t work out, they can recover thanks to their financial capability and social capital. The less fortunate suffer by adopting the beliefs of the upper class.

This is well-illustrated by the finding that in 1960 the percentage of American children living with both biological parents was identical for affluent and working-class families—95 percent. By 2005, 85 percent of affluent families were still intact, but for working-class families the figure had plummeted to 30 percent.

The Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam at a Senate hearing said, “Rich kids and poor kids now grow up in separate Americas…Growing up with two parents is now unusual in the working class, while two-parent families are normal and becoming more common among the upper middle class.” Upper-class people, particularly in the 1960s, championed sexual freedom. Loose sexual norms spread throughout the rest of society. The upper class, though, still have intact families. They experiment in college and then settle down later. The families of the lower class fell apart. Today, the affluent are among the most likely to display the luxury belief that sexual freedom is great, though they are the most likely to get married and least likely to get divorced. 

The Rabble and the Rich

This aspect of luxury beliefs is worrisome. As I noted in my original luxury beliefs essay, material goods have become more affordable and, thus, less reliable indicators of social class. Status has shifted to the beliefs we express. And beliefs are less expensive than goods because anyone can adopt them. They are not financially costly. And according to Veblen, along with other social observers like Paul Fussell, ordinary people try to emulate the upper classes. The elite want to differentiate themselves from the rabble with their visible badges of luxury. But then then the class below tries to emulate the elite, and the stratum below that as well, until the style has trickled down to the rest of society. And because luxury beliefs don’t have any financial costs, the ‘fashion’ in beliefs trickles down more quickly.

Over time, luxury beliefs are embraced down the social ladder—at which point, the upper class abandons its old luxury beliefs and embraces new ones. Which explains why the beliefs of the upper class are constantly changing. It’s easy to see how this works if we look at actual fashion. The author Quentin Bell, in On Human Finery, wrote “Try to look like the people above you; if you’re at the top, try to look different from the people below you.” The elite’s conspicuous display of their luxury beliefs falls into this pattern. Their beliefs are emulated by others, sending them off in search of new beliefs to display. The affluent can’t risk looking like hoi polloi, after all.

Or consider art. The psychologist Steven Pinker in How the Mind Works writes, “In an age when any Joe can buy CDs, paintings, and novels, artists make their careers by finding ways to avoid the hackneyed, to challenge jaded tastes, to differentiate the cognoscenti from the dilettantes.” Artists want to differentiate themselves from what’s been done before and what others are currently doing. And so do the affluent. Moral fashions change over time for the same reason. Moral fashions can quickly spiral as more and more members of the chattering classes adopt a certain view. Once the view becomes passé, the upper class, aiming to separate themselves, then update their moral inventories. Veblen still reigns supreme, but in a different way.

As he puts it, “What is common is within the (pecuniary) reach of many people…Hence the consumption, or even the sight of such goods, is inseparable from an odious suggestion of the lower levels of human life.” The affluent do not want to be seen with “common” goods. They view them as distasteful. Today, it’s not just common goods they view as distasteful—it’s beliefs too. The affluent, dreading an “odious” designation, resist displaying commonplace beliefs. Those beliefs are for the little people. Instead, the upper class want to be seen displaying luxury beliefs.

Modern neuroscience did not exist in the nineteenth century. But Veblen might have been amused to learn that the same regions of the brain involved in rewards such as eating chocolate or winning money also activate when we receive compliments from strangers or learn that people we will never meet find us attractive. Veblen wrote, “Immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life.” In his day, the leisure class spent a lot of time accruing useless knowledge and partaking in activities that have the appearance of intellect and artistry, but had no functional utility. These activities didn’t help anyone, but they did make their enthusiasts look good. What might Veblen have made of Twitter, given these observations?

Status Spirals

The economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell once said that activism is “a way for useless people to feel important, even if the consequences of their activism are counterproductive for those they claim to be helping and damaging to the fabric of society as a whole.” The same could be said for luxury beliefs. They are similar to luxury goods, but present new problems. Attaching status to luxury goods or financial standing meant there were limits to how much harm the leisure class could do when it came to their conspicuous displays. For example, fashion is constrained by the speed with which people could adopt a new look. But with beliefs, this status cycle accelerates. A rich person flaunts her new belief. It then becomes fashionable among her peers, so she abandons it. Then a new stylish belief arises, while the old luxury belief trickles down the social hierarchy and wreaks havoc.

 

Rob Henderson is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. He obtained a BS in Psychology from Yale University and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. You can follow him on Twitter @robkhenderson

Feature photo: District Of Columbia, United States. 01st Aug, 2018. Activists from across the county converged in Washington DC for an action dubbed “Say No to Kavanaugh.” Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/Alamy Live News.

Comments

  1. Veblen has exposed an intensely dark side of homo economicus, unlike Adam Smith, Ricardo and most economists after reasoned. Men don’t go for rational improvement of their lot, their well being, and society as a whole, but for conspicuous idle show-off. This is OK if only a few follow this road, but imagine, with incrreasing GDP’s allover the globe, and an ever larger percentage of the world population taking this direction. Is there an alternative for the final apocalypse? I fear not. Thank you Thorstein, for explaining, and making this clear.

  2. I was a working class guy in Cambridge Mass for a number of years back in the 80’ and 90’s and I frequently worked for the type of people the author describes. I had a small construction company with a partner, self described “white trash” from Kentucky. My partner was completely unintimidated by the speech etiquette of the day. What the author refers to as “luxury beliefs” he called “happy talk” or even more provocatively, “mating calls”.

  3. This article is a bit of a different take on the “rich white liberal” phenomenon dominating the American Democratic Party. White Democrats are today significantly wealthier on average than white Republicans, and are virtually the entire source of the far-left push within the party. Black Americans, by contrast, are far more moderate, and so increasing levels of “intersectionality” drivel are being required to duct-tape the party together.

    Not too long ago, I was in Boulder, CO. Frequently described in the region as “The People’s Republic of Boulder”, this community is home to a lot of old money. It is extremely aggressive about restricting growth, and thus extremely crowded, vastly more expensive than surrounding cities, and…

    … much whiter than surrounding cities. Like Portland (the whitest major city in America), Boulder’s far-left bona fides stem from its lily-white wealth.

    While in Boulder, I saw one of those “All People Are Welcome Here” signs out front of a house. The signs are written in English, Spanish, and Arabic, and thus serve as pointed criticisms of US Republicans, who are stereotyped as not wanting Spanish-speakers (illegal immigrants) or Muslims to migrate to America. I was walking down this street because I had parked quite a distance from my destination, due to the fact that I couldn’t park on this street without paying the $2.50/hour parking fee that this residential area had recently established. Pulling out my Zillow app, I noted that the house with the sign was worth $1.6M, despite being older and modestly-sized. No house nearby was worth under $1.4M, and many broke $2M.

    There have been reports of people putting these same three-language signs out front of their houses inside gated communities. This community wasn’t gated, but might as well have been. With such a cost of housing, and even parking, no migrant who could read that sign’s non-English text was actually “welcome here”. They’d never get within 20 miles of “here”.

    The people who gleefully invite third-world problems into their countries aren’t actually inviting them to live in their areas. They want them safely at arms-length, preferably living among members of that other party that they hate so much. Then when they cause trouble, it’s a double-win: their political rivals suffer AND they get to call them racist for talking about it.

    They are the rich white liberals; the luxury belief class. They don’t suffer any negative consequences for their beliefs; only the lower classes do.

  4. This has been around for sometime. Tom Wolfe wrote about this in a 1970 article “Radical Chic” and again more recently following 9/11. Following 9/11 he wore a US flag lapel pin and his elitist peers reacted by backing away as if he were holding up a cross to a vampire. Both pieces are good extension to this article.

    It appears the politics of many people is driven not by principle but by what is determined fashionable by their elite. The more fashionable the group, the more fashionable and exhibitionist are their members. It helps understand why so many Hollywood types of unremarkable intellect are so vocal and so uniform in their politics.

  5. The economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell once said that activism is “a way for useless people to feel important, even if the consequences of their activism are counterproductive for those they claim to be helping and damaging to the fabric of society as a whole.”

    In the vernacular - “first world problems”.

    This took hold in the 70’s with the Animal Rights movement. Organizations like PETA and HSUS made bank promoting animal rights (and still do) yet until the late 90’s never operated a single shelter or actually “helped” a single animal. And their targeting of things like the seal hunt had real world consequences for those communities.

    Vegetarianism is also a luxury that, until recently, was only practiced by the most religiously devout, who lived it. In most of the third-world, people occupy themselves with WHEN their next meal will be, not WHAT it will be.

  6. The Occupy Wall Street Movement typified useless preening activism. Elites rail against the wage gap and then champion unfettered immigration. The fixes of the Left continually require more fixes. Open borders depresses wages so raise the minimum wage. Increasing the minimum wage raises unemployment so create a universal basic income. Places like San Francisco have become hell holes infested with human feces ruled by the homeless, drug addicts, mentally ill and gangs of illegals just so elites can bask in the glow of their compassion, while remaining insulated from the problems they create. There is a term for this oblivious behavior, it is called “out of touch”.

  7. Left-wing economic policies are attempts to solve the problems caused by left-wing economic policies.

  8. Extremely interesting article. Well reasoned and supported. Lots of food for thought.

    My adult children went to elite institutions on scholarship and experienced exactly the same thing as the author, down to the ludicrous casual wearing of $1000 canadian Goose jackets.

    There’s only a little bit I’d add–First, it’s even more finely layered than the author thinks. It’s the upper middle classes that wear the canadian Goose–the really rich don’t bother with labels. They wear unlabeled extremely expensive items. It’s a code. The very rich know that only the other very rich can tell the cost and status of the clothes or accessories they wear. The “bourgeousie” are the ones who are insecure enough to wear the status markers. In this way they too are ‘victim’ to the very rich, aping their behavior as well–so each class apes the behavior of the next one up and adjacent. Meanwhile the adjacent scorns at their imitation.

    I too have seen this whole thing - social justice and the language they use - as really a vicious class warfare of the rich against the lower orders. They say it outright, only couch it in terms of race to protect themselves. The extreme hate and contempt they show against ‘white people’–they don’t mean themselves, of course. They fully intend to keep their positions of power. What they mean is the lower order whites. As for the blacks and ‘browns’ - they are good as long as they can be used as status symbols for the wealthy. But the second a nonwhite person strays from the upper class Woke Dogma, they are viciously attacked in the most racist ways, as ‘porch monkeys’ “Uncle Tom’s” and so on. They need to stay in their places.

    I think the article is very cogent to expose this in terms of pure status/class markers. It’s an interesting and useful frame. I think what makes it even more poisonous is that the upper classes are taking on two old mantles at once - the priestly caste and the aristocratic caste. Only they lack grace and redemption and mercy as priests; and they lack noblesse oblige and a sense of their own privileged positions as aristocrats.

    The masses’ task is to listen, obey, and do what their betters command–or face excommunication, shame, suffering, and worse. As pseudo aristocrats, they are the natural superiors to the lower orders—just as in days of old, only they lack the self awareness and responsibility. Instead, they simply loathe the lower orders and increasingly embrace a totalitarianism in which they force the lower orders to shut up or be fired or worse, and openly advocate tryannical coups and unelected leadership. This is why they embrace illegal immigration–not only does it not affect them personally and indeed benefits them in cheap disposable labor and a stick-it to the lower order working class, but it also fees into their aristocratic idea of the world, in which borders are not meaningful . They view the globe as their amusement park, gallivanting from quaint country to another, secure they can always move wherever they want. There is a whole upper class social order that does this, that the other classes know nothing about. Indeed, I’ve lately seen open condemnation of vacations that are encroaching on what used to be a pure status marker—too many lower orders are enjoying what used to be the sole purview of the upper orders. For instance, to use a minor example, the NYT had an article advocating removing the Mona Lisa because too many lower orders saw it and it was too crowded now. It was understood that the upper class had already been there and seen it. Ditto for how they now talk about cruises, which used to be for the upper classes. They are enraged that these status markers are now being appropriated by the middle and even working classes.

    I also think they are enraged that the lower orders didn’t do what Marx said they would. Just as Black people become “Porch Monkeys” or “coons” when they don’t do as their masters dictate, so the working class become racist and disposable for not rising up and risking their jobs like the upper classes ordered. And like God in Genesis, they are also terrified that the lower orders may become like them. They need to be cast out.

    So in multiple ways, on multiple levels, they are viciously attacking the lower classes. Thanks for the article. Very interesting.

  9. I remember back in the 70’s people showing off and discussing their fashionable attire while standing in the lift lines to downhill ski. Gag. I took up cross country and noticed that it contained regular people who dressed functionally. I don’t know what is going on these days in the lift lines but the fashionable set also invaded cross country many years ago. At least in the back country you don’t encounter them, they stick to the groomed trails where they can be seen.

  10. The OWS movement began as the total opposite of what the author described. It was a mass protest with a very specific, legitimate grievance: giant banks were having their losses socialized while their gains remained privatized. It was then co-opted by the identitarian left, to the great benefit of the banks.

  11. This is an interesting explanation of classism and it’s stratification and markers.

    Here in Portland Oregon many of the poor people also mimic their betters and signal with newspeak, but clumsily and without firm grasp of the overarching concepts.

    A couple thoughts to add.

    1. This trickle down concept of status signaling gets ugly at the bottom. And not just on the left with Antifa basically discarding any pretense of parroting ideas and channeling the Id of these ideologies into slogans to chant and violence to perpetrate. Also the underbelly and bottom tier of the right can hide genuine racism and xenophobia behind western civilization superiority and resistance to immigration. (Before I get roasted alive for an immigration friendly comment, I will clarify that I am pro legal immigration and have hired amnesty seekers as employees, but am fiercely anti illegal immigration as it affects my small business more than most others.) The point being that at the bottom of both sides there is an ugly and violent “interpretation” of what perches above.

    At this level of strata it’s interesting to see that although the ideology is little understood, it’s still essential for choosing which side one lies on and who the enemy is.

    1. This signaling is what I like to call “Rich white people nonsense”. And just like the markers from the leisure class of old, the language has no actual utility. It’s only purpose in use is to confuse and ridicule those below.

    Once you understand what the overlying ideology is though, the language starts to make more and more sense as a formulaic application of that ideology. It’s unoriginal, predictable, and engaging is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. The moment you parce out what is being preached at you and begin to use logic to take the sermon to its rational conclusions of segregation, resentment , and authoritarian control, it shifts to another topic and begins anew.

    My response these days to avoid this waste of time…”Shut up with all that rich white folk nonsense.”.

    Repeat as needed.

  12. You’re missing a level here: It’s expensive stuff for the nouveau riche and crappy clothes for old money.

    Old money doesn’t have to care, and shows it by not caring. Back when I was at Groton, ratty clothing was a good indicator of serious multigenerational wealth.

  13. Both sides have similar potential for stupidity but because people are often blind to their own hypocrisies the leftist media and academy is much less likely to challenge the left’s hypocrisies and much more inclined to expose and challenge those on the right. This echo chamber results in a loss of discipline for the left that is to their own detriment. It reminds me of reading about the self satisfied conservatives in Britain of a hundred years ago.

  14. I’m kind of mixed on this article.

    A while ago Andy Ngo posted a collage of Antifa mugshots.


    Quick, find the Rockefeller.

    Your typical middle-class American could not tell you what “heteronormative” or “cisgender” means. But if you visit Harvard, you’ll find plenty of rich 19-year-olds who will eagerly explain them to you. When someone uses the phrase “cultural appropriation,” what they are really saying is “I was educated at a top college.”

    I read this assertion quite often. Firstly, I haven’t seen this supported by actual data. Through my experience (yes, anecdotal) I’ve found these used by people who were not educated at elite schools to include blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Further, the same nonsense was uttered at Evergreen State, which is hardly an elite school. This suggests to me it’s more widely disseminated than we give credit. It may be not the majority, but it’s not an isolated small minority either.

    Secondly, I think blind acceptance of the claim that it comes from the (white) elites puts us playing the identitarian game as well. Whether whites are guilty of all the crimes against humanity forever or a subset of wealthy whites who have crafted the narrative to position themselves “as the good bad white people”, we’re still making sweeping generalisations about groups and not identifying the individual perpetrators. It may simply be a small group of people privileged with over amplified voices by another group privileged with platform ownership or administration and a larger group cowed into silence. Either way, it still comes down to whites are bad, whether it’s all of them or the “elite” of them. I think we need to take care to differentiate that all elites are not maliciously superior and the underclass is not entirely virtuous.

    Lastly, thinking the problems come from the top creates a big blind spot. The racism = privilege + power construct came from curriculum designed by two employed by the Detroit public schools in the early '70s. Had attentive people at the school board level recognised its deceit, it might have been headed off. The toppling activists are everywhere, so diligence is required everywhere.

    Undoubtedly, educated people hold greater influence in many institutions because these hire only those with prerequisite credentials. However, many of them have come from the lower- and middle-class. I think we need to take some care not to toss the baby out with the bathwater. Rather, we ought to review what merits are rewarded by our meritocratic institutions.

    Veblen proposed that the wealthy flaunt these symbols not because they are useful, but because they are so pricey or wasteful that only the wealthy can afford them, which is why they’re high-status indicators.

    Assuming these particular elites have been softened up, it’s not the first time. About a year ago I posted this:

    Read about Willi Munzenberg. He created numerous front organizations he termed “Innocents’ Clubs” that enticed intellectuals, writers, celebrities, and other useful idiots to defend the Bolshevik revolution and later Stalinism. He saw communists as a hidden vanguard operating at the helm of a coalition of liberals, social democrats, and intellectuals who were slowly being softened up. Otto Katz, one of Munzenberg’s henchmen, was sent to America where he with writer/screenwriter Dorothy Parker established front organisations in Hollywood.

    These people were to be the humanising face of communism and adjacent ideas such as pacifism (of the West). It wasn’t even important that they join the Party; in fact, the agents instilled a belief by the duped that they were independent. Munzenberg’s efforts hinged on a single premise — that ideology functioned best when hidden. He told a Comintern congress, “We must avoid being a purely communist organization. Now, especially, we must bring in other names, other groups, to make persecution more difficult.” They were needed to make its causes respectable whilst undermining those causes opposed to the big lie. Actors are especially treasured because not only could they stick to a script, they are skilled at emoting to establish emotional connections with the audience and manipulate these to a leftward orientation. They and writers were to launch fashionable opinions that would develop and grow amongst the ranks of the bien pensants and continue their path lower. This ripple effect was called “rabbit breeding”.

    You ever wonder why champagne socialists with their seaside mansions, private jets, and luxurious hobnobbing events exist? It flies in the face of the ideology, doesn’t it? Certainly some of these people are smart enough to understand the optics appear hypocritical. It was Munzenberg. To change hearts and minds, a soft touch was needed. People will always prefer entertainment to dogmatism, so he did the natural thing and folded communist ideas into mainstream publications, product packaging, plays, and films. The glamorous stars with their lavish lives were to portray a role that successful people embrace leftist ideas. Leftism would be aspirational.

    Munzenberg biographer Stephen Koch writes: He [Munzenberg] wanted to instill the feeling, like a truth of nature, that seriously to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and marked by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

    This was the '20s and '30s. In the '60s and '70s it was some cosmopolitan NYC elites hobnobbing with Black Panthers and celebrities of the world of music, film, art, and literature, many of whom came from down-market backgrounds. This luxury belief class is nothing new, but it may be more widespread and potent than before.

  15. Brilliant. An absolutely striking piece of reasoning, prefect in it’s symmetry of corruption. Simultaneously evokes images of heartless landed nobles and vindictive inquisitors.

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