Bryan Caplan  

"Inessential Weirdness": Nothing Is More Essential

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Democrats who study public opinion usually conclude that if their party wants to win elections, it should focus on populist economic policies, and ditch the culture wars. Over at Class Matters, an activist independently reaches the same conclusion: Left-wing activists should downplay their "inessential weirdness."

[A] radical working-class friend who tried to join a corporate globalization group... told me of snide comments about his fast food; elaborate group process that took hours and hours; insistence that everyone "perform" by answering a certain question at the beginning of the meeting; uniformly scruffy clothes that made his pressed shirts stand out; potlucks that were all tofu and whole grains; long ideological debates over side issues; and an impenetrable fog of acronyms and jargon. He soon quit in disgust...

For professional-middle-class progressives activists like myself, it's easy to understand why working-class people would be alienated by the mainstream culture of well-off people. After all, we tend to be alienated by it ourselves, because it represents values we've rejected, like greed and materialism. But the idea that working-class people would have any negative reactions to our own subculture, in particular our values-based "alternative" norms, tends not to occur to us.

Case study: The author ran a workshop where she asked participants to think about bridging cultural conflicts.
I asked them, "But let's say that some working-class people did nevertheless manage to get into this organization. What would we do to make sure they felt uncomfortable and to stop them from taking leadership?" The group launched in with gusto: "A dress code — nothing but tuxedos and evening gowns!" "Fancy food — caviar and champagne!" "The real business takes place at the golf course at the country club!"

No-one said anything like "tofu."

I predict that this plea will fall on deaf ears. In politics, people would rather lose than compromise their supposedly "inessential" weirdness. Expressing one's identity is primary; winning is secondary.

An amusing implication is that people who do seek political victory should encourage the off-putting weirdness of the other side. Hysterical feminists are good for Republicans, and anti-abortion fanatics are good for Democrats. These fringe movements aren't going to succeed, but they may be able to make their allies fail.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (3 to date)
Ben Kalafut writes:

It would seem, then, as though Hans Hermann Hoppe and Ron Paul are good for anyone who isn't a libertarian!

8 writes:

This is why I and many other Libertarians are actively working inside the Republican party. Low kook factor. You're wrong about the anti-abortion people though, they're normal too. Yes, if you talk to them about abortion you may be put off, but that's one topic. The hysterical (redundant?) feminist will put you off talking about any number of subjects.

Robin Hanson writes:

It would be great for each group to read an honest description of how other people react when visiting them. But how does one obtain such honest descriptions?

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