“Let them eat cake”

Brian Leiter has a link to a riveting film clip of the attack on Camilla and Charles’ Rolls; someone is shouting “off with their heads.”  There’s a quite good discussion in the accompanying article about the price people in various countries are now paying for the comfort of the wealthy.  And comments about what is being conveyed by the sight of a royal couple in a Rolls Royce driving through a crowd of protestors.

Looking around at various clips, I found a BBC reimagining of the royal family.  It’s a stark reminder of some of the class/economic/cultural differences that used to exist in the UK, and perhaps still do.

  I certainly knew people who went from a background like the one portrayed – particularly well captured by the father –  to Oxford; in fact, I have sat in front of the telly in  rooms quite like that, though the mums weren’t wearing a crown.  You can imagine what they thought of someone bringing home an American working on philosophy in Oxford; the reactions were not favorable, but since I was convinced that everyone over 30 was out of their heads, it didn’t matter to me then. 

 At the same time, though I was caught in these very unfamiliar cultural clashes, I could hardly like the classist attitudes of the people whom I was more like.  Very difficult. 

These cultural/class/economic differences can constitute great divides, and while in the US the idea that higher education involves a debt is not a surprise, in a country where that isn’t a familiar idea, the coalition gov’t actions at least threaten the idea of providing equal opportunities to children of the less advantaged.  As so many are arguing.

15 thoughts on ““Let them eat cake”

  1. How strange! I don’t know you at all, but it’s hard for me to imagine you as someone who once thought that everyone over 30 is “out of his or her head”.

  2. Hi Amos, really! I acquired that opinion in Berkeley doing the anti-war years, but since I came from a US military family who were also very Roman Catholic, I was certainly primed to think that. And, honestly, I am still inclined to think that many of the opinions adults around me had called for a sort of radical explanation. Like, but that’s just crazy.

  3. Actually, the idea that the opinions of most adults around me are just crazy seems still to have a lot of explanatory power. Despite the fact that I’m far past 30.

    I do remember that the gentle, law-abiding English seemed horrified by the anarchistic Americans arriving in the 60’s. At the same time, many of my tutors were very iconoclastic, Anscome and Foot particularly. “Many philosophers think that p” for them was close to “It is a serious error to think that p”

  4. Sorry to post about something off-topic, but can you turn the snow off? I can’t read with that going across the screen, and have to click off the page as soon as possible. Even composing this is a challenge.

  5. to get my vote in: i’m okay with the snow being turned off for now, on the assumption that it will be back on for christmas eve and day.

    and on the topic of the post: jj, i think the divide is still very real. social mobility is a big problem here in a way it simply isn’t in america. but a point of clarification: students have had debt here since fees were introduced by the last government; the problem is that the coalition have just voted to *triple* the debt students will come away with. (think of changing the rules so that every student in america–at state schools, at community colleges, etc–must pay as if they were going to yale.)

  6. J.J.:

    For me, people who supported or were complicit with the “system”, no matter their age, were non-existent, brain-dead and non-virtuous
    (yes, there is a contradiction there), while those outside the system, third-world peoples, gays, and most women were (a priori) ontologically realer, wise, and virtuous. That mindset, with some variations, lasted from 1964 to around 1990.

    It’s a case of what we discussed a few days ago, filters against reality. In my case, the filters served as a defense mechanism, behind the walls of which I constructed a new identity, one at odds with the sense of self (and of relation to others) that I was raised with. The price that I paid for that space of “freedom” was a certain loss of reality. However, the sense of self that I was raised with was even more out of touch for reality.

    I too suffer from snow and blinking on this website.

  7. I was finding the snow irritating. So it’s gone for now.

    Amos, I meant to respond to your last comment on filters. I think it’s possible to see straight without being a depressive, surely. In a way, we may be talking about a version of whether the artistic have to be mentally ill.

    Buddhists try for dropping filters without being ill, I believe.

  8. The filters sometimes serve a psychic need, maybe to allow you to concentrate on a project. For example, I’m sure that you did not filter out Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot, although they were well over 30. Filtering out the Tory parents of your classmates as not mattering may have been necessary for you, because you did not at the time have the psychic fortitude to face them (or maybe to face your own parents, if some cheap psychoanalysis is allowed).

    Filters, however, become mental habits and although they once allowed one “to grow”, later keep one from growing.

    What are even more negative are filters that come from one’s up-bringing or social class or gender role, that is, filters that one learns as a child and haunt one one’s entire life, not allowing one
    to examine his or her life.

    It’s not clear whether depressed people have fewer filters because they are depressed or are depressed because they have fewer filters.

    I agree with you that people can open their eyes or wake up with fewer filters joyfully, that there is no necessary connection between waking up without filters and depression.

  9. Amos, just one point: I think there’s a different between filtering and judging people out of their heads. In fact, if you think people with power around you are crazy, the last thing you could do was to filter out what they were doing. That could even be dangerous.

    Elisabeth and Philippa did have a lot of opinions which I thought of as either very alien or pretty odd. It seemed to me when I met her that Philippa was much more immersed in the British class system than she was inclined to see herself – of course, such a judgment was what one would expect an American to make. And Elisabeth was extremely odd. My first tutorial ended with her searching through the jumble in dresser drawers to find a dress to wear to a high table guest night. At that point, of course, she was smoking cigars.

  10. I love the snow!

    And social mobility is still a big problem in the US. It may show itself in different ways from the UK, and perhaps is less of a problem, but it is definitely still a problem.

  11. Thank you, jl, for pointing out that social mobility in the US is a big problem! It’s one of the myths that you can advance from washing dishes to the CEO of the hotel chain – a myth very much part of the system justification that keeps things as they are.

  12. I think the snow problem depends on which browser one is using. I have the maddening flickering with Firefox but not with IE. I appreciate your having turned it off since I really prefer the former. I can handle it for Christmas Eve – or really, better, for the equinox.

  13. I think a class system can – and in the UK of my early academic days did – operate in different and more powerful ways. When the class system is really doing its work, most motivation for moving upwards can be repressed or killed off. E.g., my partner’s parents thought his going to Oxford was a bad idea and getting a DPhil was a huge waste of time. This was not cynical, in the way the US underclasses can be. Rather, it was like the father in the clip: smoked trout and palova is NOT proper food. That’s not how we do it. In this way, it is more like racism or sexism. It can get internalized into a fairly radical closing of alternatives.

    Which is not to say that that always happened in the UK, or never happened in the US, but the very fact that the myths of white American saw each boy (?) as capable of becoming president speaks of a huge difference.

  14. I completely agree with you that the class system works the way you describe. It just seems to me that it works this way in the US to a far greater degree then is generally recognized (not that you or anyone here fails to recognize it, but a number of people I’ve come in contact with). Many parents would not be particularly proud of their Ivy League child but instead would exclude them, regarding them as an outsider.
    Of course, my perspective on this derives from my own experience as a working class non-American, non-UK citizen, who lives in the US and has English parents, so my biases may be flowing in too many directions!

  15. J.J:

    Let’s see if we’re using “filter” in the same way.

    You say that you learned to consider people over 30 as out of their heads in your anti-war days in Berkeley.

    I spent a bit of time in Berkeley in the early 70’s (not as a student), so I have some experience of the climate on the left in Berkeley during the War in Viet Nam.

    If by “filtering” we mean “distorting reality” or “not seeing aspects of reality” or “refusing to face aspects of reality”, then the left in Berkeley
    filtered. For example, Nixon was often seen as completely unimaginative, ignorant, not especially bright, and at the same time, utterly Machiavellian and calculating. In reality, Nixon was Machiavellian and calculating, but in addition, quite intelligent and perceptive.

    Maybe in way Nixon was “out of his head” or crazy, but unless one analyzes his actions as those of a rational agent, one is not going to understand why he was so successful and why the forces which he represented continue to win elections and to dominate the mindset of so many people today.

    Maybe filtering is often a kind of mental sloath, which instead of doing the hard work of facing reality, prefers to believe what is easiest to believe, to believe what suits one’s sense of identity.

    It was easier for the Berkeley left (and for the left in general) to laugh at and to mock Nixon than to understand him and that led us (for I include myself) to filter reality when we considered him.

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