How certain liberals permanently erase the working class


This tweet from Doctor Vox wonderfully underscores a point I’ve been making for years now: liberal discourse politics ensures a permanent erasure of the lower classes. This is so for two reasons:

  1. Lower class people, almost by definition, cannot engage in The Discourse. They do not have the education, credentials, or jobs necessary to do so.
  2. Upper class people (broadly construed) can engage in The Discourse, but if they do so as a partisan or advocate of the lower classes, they are dismissed because they are not themselves lower class. This move is the one Doctor Vox goes for in his tweet.

Together, (1) and (2) completely suffocate class-driven intrusions into The Discourse. The liberal identitarians apply their discourse politics so as to say only working class voices can speak on the working class, but it’s impossible for the working class to do so given the way media and academia work.

When I make this point, some take it to mean that we need to find ways to get more working class voices in media, i.e. find some way to break down point (1). If you could do that, it would be interesting and perhaps enlightening in some way. But there is a deeper problem that even that wouldn’t solve. The problem is that, no matter how you really do it, identity avatars that engage in The Discourse are necessarily very unlike the identities they are supposed to be representing.

A working class person that would spend their leisure time interjecting in The Discourse would be much different from your average working class person. This is vacuously true as the average working class person does not interject in The Discourse. But it is also non-vacuously true because the kind of working class person who decides to engage in the discourse also likely reads more news, is more interested in politics, and has more developed political thoughts than the average working class person.

Discourse participants are not selected by random drawings. Rather they self-select. And that self-selection destroys any chance that they could be representative.

This is true across the board. Your average woman political pundit is very unlike the average woman. She’s richer than your average woman; she’s much more educated than your average woman; she consumes very different culture and media than your average woman; and she has much more developed and committed political views than your average woman. The same is true of your average black pundit, your average gay pundit, your average Muslim pundit, and so on.

The gap between the average pundit and average person they are often said to represent is strained even further by the fact that publications often hire pundits on the basis of their politics, meaning that the only people who get through the hiring filter and into a pundit job are those who share whatever the editorial views of a publication happens to be.

Hyper-educated people claiming to be in touch with working class people is no more absurd than hyper-educated women pundits claiming to be in touch with American women at large, or hyper-educated black pundits claiming to be in touch with American blacks at large. But liberals indulge the latter fantasies and even get aggressively mad at those who don’t indulge them.

In reality, the way any pundit acquires a good insight into any particular group of people is through rigorous study and analysis of that group. Perhaps pundits could opine incisively about pundits themselves and their various internal cleavages without much study. But beyond that, they get insight into groups of people through the same methods that they would get insight into the working class, methods that Doctor Vox and many liberals seem to reject as silly when it’s convenient to do so.

  • I like “identity avatars”. I’ve been thinking about something related, the desire of identitarians to have people of their identity sitting in positions of power where they won’t actually change anything, but they’ll “represent”. When I ask what good this representation does, identitarians say it makes people of that identity feel better. They seem to think that’s all the answer that’s needed.

    You’ve maybe heard this old saying, which Google suggests is Turkish: ‘When the axe came into the Forest, the trees said “The handle is one of us”.’

  • There’s a related phenomenon to the one Dr. Vox mentions, the desire of black “hyper-educated” elitist academics to seem more in touch with the black working class. The gig has paid well since Booker T. Washington’s day, as Adolph Reed has noted.

  • MondiC

    I’m sorry I know you “leftists” fetishize the so-called white working class, but they are contemptible. Many of those people have more wealth than the average middle class black family, but what do they do with it? They suck up welfare, for which they have contempt because blacks use it, and do meth. You can’t make them care about themselves That you, as a presumably anti-racist leftist, would stick up for these people who can’t care for their lives is sickening.

  • Stephen

    They take no personal responsibility and care for their own lives. Sad!

    And they also have too many cars on their front lawns and live in trailers. Kind of like how Asian Americans are good at math and women are overly emotional and Jews know the art of the deal. Facts!

    Why won’t leftists admit this stuff?

  • johnshaplin

    Clearly then, there are no average women, blacks,working class, gays etc.except as abstracted entities formed into a stereo-types for the purpose of ‘discourse’, another abstracted and stereo-typed thing. Perhaps characterizing public debate as discourse is to give it far too much credit.. Maybe today ‘discourse’ resembles PR and advertising strategies more than anything, pronouncements aimed at passive receptors to effect consumption, not an dialectical engagement of minds in an evolving consensus, or synthesis of opposing views. Well,no, there must be a discourse of sorts, ideas are synthesized and consensus evolves, but only over greater spans of time and in a manner that cannot be anticipated in the interplay of stereo-types and faux discourses of contemporary punditry. So, you see, the woking class does not uniquely suffer exclusion.

  • Graham Clark

    I’m sorry I know you “leftists” fetishize the so-called white working class, but they are contemptible… They suck up welfare… and do meth. You can’t make them care about themselves…

    I guess this is the “anger” stage of admitting that you’re a Rockefeller Republican.

  • Pán Odvážny

    77 percent of all minimum wage (or below) workers today are white. Half are white women,

  • Small quibble: Rockefeller Republican were moderates. MondiC sounds more like a Reagan Republican. Hmm. And that may not be fair to Reagan Republicans, because I don’t remember them expressing their snobbery as bluntly as MondiC does.

  • robert allen

    Wow, as a former meth user I am offended here, I could never get on welfare but must say crack is preferable

  • Baldie McEagle

    Wealthy white working class people are all on welfare and meth. You heard it here first!

  • Baldie McEagle

    Leftists take themselves too seriously! They should lighten up and engage in a little stereotyping once in a while!

    (Actually there are already too many complacent liberals who sneer at the supposedly racist, stupid, ignorant white working class.)

  • Baldie McEagle

    Surely another solution is to enable access to higher education for working class people. The problem won’t go away completely, but having more professors etc. who remember the experience of growing up semi-poor could not be a bad thing. Even if 50% fall into neoliberalism and snobbery, you’d still have the other 50% which has been expanded.

    (Free college!)

  • :Good pundit:.

    Hm. If this is sarcastic, then I don’t disagree. If it’s meant to seriously support the idea that an outsider, by dint of “education”, is able to objectively analyze a community that s/he isn’t part of: NO.

    Academics and experts are merely smilier weapons in the arsenal of the white supremacist and the oligarch. Shun them; seek no help from that quarter.

  • Baldie McEagle

    I agree—I don’t see education of the non-poor about the poor as being much of a solution. Plenty of good research is being done, but identification with a group is required for an academic to really push for them. This is because education imparts ideology. If the ideology is complacent and paternalistic, there will be no good effect.

    We have enough technocrats—we need POLITICS.

  • You really think it is impossible to objectively consider the needs of a community you’re not a part of? Why? I make no claims to be an unknowable being – why should I consider others to be so? And do you consider yourself unknowable?

  • working class … you give them all the privilege in the world


  • erniebornheimer

    “Discourse participants are not selected by random drawings. Rather they self-select. And that self-selection destroys any chance that they could be representative.”

    I’m not so sure about that, Matt. Counter-examples might include myself, Chomsky, Michael Moore, and (I think) you. At least some of us who come from working-class backgrounds take part in substantive (and perhaps useful) political conversations, and simultaneously are still connected with (and identify at least somewhat with) working-class people.

    Maybe we’re conflating different meanings of “represent.” It might mean “exemplify” or “advocate for,” and those two meanings may not be aligned perfectly in every case, buy can still be close enough to be useful.

  • For any example of the vacuousness of this “representational” politics, consider the #FEDSoWhite Twitter campaign.

  • Perhaps part of the problem is the stagnation of social mobility.

    If upward mobility were more common, then there would be more educated voices in the media who have origins in the working class. Such people could speak of working class issues without having to guess or make assumptions about how that class lives and what they think.

  • Frank Bolton

    On the one hand, I’m openly contemptuous of self-efficacy. It has a negative correlation with competence. So the claim that informed discourse of demographic issues can only be done by having representatives from that demographic participate is extremely suspect.

    On the other hand, I’m even more contemptuous of sufferers of Upton Sinclair’s Law than those of Dunning-Kruger. Which describes identitarian and especially class discourse in modern media. People self-reporting on their demographic are inherently biased, but the censorship is much less intense.

    It might be best to have a set of foreign academics talk about and research the experiences of other demographics that don’t culturally intersect with them (which might be difficult to do with Americans, but it’s the best we can do). For example, I think that, say, non-immigrant Brazilian sociologists would do a better job discussing the lives and issues of the black working class better than the BWC itself. Not to erase the voice of the BWC (or WWC, or female WC, or whatever), but they shouldn’t be the primary or even majority voices. And either group could do a better job than that of the elite white liberals for example.

  • not at all – this isn’t a neutral situation, though.

    Your claims are irrelevant. You know that.

  • Amusingly, the same people complaining #FEDSoWhite will also admit that having Obama as Prez ain’t done a thing for the working class of any hue.

  • I don’t know that. I’m in earnest. I take your point about historically bad advice. But in the end, the only way I can know my “own people” is by study, let alone “other people”.

    I think we oversell the importance of identity over study. Being a white male, I can think of many white males who have dumb ideas about what our “identity” needs.

  • KiteFlyer89

    The black pundit who wrote about how little the white working class matters now (his take boiled down to “go read a pamphlet”), who had previously wrote about how $250k isn’t rich and to back off, and whose articel about the WWC was retweeted by Clay Shirky in a show of Clinton-style allyship, is a pretty useful example of what this article talks about.

  • White supremacy isn’t about identity politics – it’s kids getting shot, mothers of toddlers with no criminal history dying in jail overnight, and hundreds of years of denial, abuse, and oppression.

    Above, Baldie notes that “education imparts ideology” – the fact of today is that the education received by academics trains them to dismiss and patronize ordinary people because they have the markers “black” and “poor”. This would be bad enough – but the police? the courts? the TV? All happy to receive additional reports from the “pundits” about what poor people need.

    Promise ya, it’s a combination of “stop shooting ffs” and money. No punditry required.

  • You’re a relief, FB; thanks

  • Matt Belcher

    The unspoken exception being Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier

  • JudenChino

    I think that’s why they’re so angry! They are privileged but it sure as fuck doesn’t feel that way to them.

  • masaccio68

    I don’t disagree, but if someone other than a banker is appointed, that’s one less crook on the board.

  • Not necessarily. What if bankers find a person of color without scruple, pay them to follow their lead, and get them put on the board. Now we can no longer say “Fed So White”, but the bankers still own it.