Thinking Citizen Blog — “Luxury Beliefs Only the Privileged Can Afford” (Rob Henderson)

John Muresianu
7 min readFeb 17, 2024

Thinking Citizen Blog — Saturday is Justice, Freedom, Law, and Values Day

Today’s Topic: “Luxury Beliefs Only the Privileged Can Afford” (Rob Henderson)

“The richest Americans show the strongest support for defunding the police, while the poorest Americans are the most likely to be victims of violent crime.” True or false?

“At Yale, I saw that extreme views on drugs, marriage and crime served as status symbols.” Does this describe Harvard as well?

Today, a few more excerpts from an article in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Henderson, author of “Troubled — A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and social class.”

Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE BIRACIAL AUTHOR GREW UP POOR, LIVED IN FOSTER CARE, SERVED IN THE MILITARY

1. “In the same way that you don’t notice the specifics of your own culture until you travel elsewhere, you don’t really notice your social class untiil you enter another one. As an undergraduate at Yale a decade ago, I came to see that my peers haed experienced a totally different social reality than me.”

2. “I had grown up poor, a biracial product of family dysfunction, foster care, and military service. Suddenly ensconced in affluence at an elite university — more Yale students come from families in the top 1% of income than from the bottom 60% — I found myself thinking a lot about class divides and social hierarchies.”

3. “I’d thought that by entering a place like Yale, we were being given a privilege as well as a duty to improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. Instead, I often found among my fellow students what I call “luxury beliefs” — ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class but often inflict real costs on the lower classes.”

NB: “For example, a classmate told me “monogamy is kind of outdated” and not good for society. I asker her what her background was and if she planned to marry. She said she came from an affluent, stable, two-parent home — just like most of her classmates. She added that, yes, she personally planned to have a monogamous marriage, but quickly insisted that traditional families are old fashioned and that society should “evolve” beyond them.”

THE HYPOCRISY OF IT AND THE LINK TO VEBLEN’S IDEA OF CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION

1. “My classmate’s promotion of one ideal (“monogamy is outdated”) while living another (“I plan to get married”) was echoed by other students in different ways.”

2. “Some would, for instance, tell me about the admiration they had for the military, or how trade schools were just as respectable as college, or how college was not necessary to be successful. But when I asked them if they would encourage their own children to enlist or become a plumber or electrician rather than apply to college, they would demur or change the subject.”

3. “In the past, people displayed their membership in the upper class with their material accoutrements. As an economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen famously observed in his 1899 book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” status symbols must be difficult to obtain and costly to purchase. In Veblen’s day, people exhibited their status with delicate and restrictive clothing such as top hats and evening gowns, or partaking in time-consuming activities, such as golf or beagling. The value of these goods and activities, argued Veblen, was in the very fact that they were so pricey and wasteful that only the wealthy could afford them.”

NB: “Today, when luxury goods are more accessible to ordinary people than ever before, the elite need other ways to broadcast their social position. This helps explain why so many people are now decoupling class from material goods and attaching it to beliefs.”

IMMUNE FROM THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR OWN ELITE BELIEFS

1. “Take vocabulary. Your typical working-class American would not tell you what “heteronormative” or “cisgender” means. When someone uses the phrase “cultural appropriation,” what they are really saying is, “I was educated at a top college.” Only the affluent can afford to learn strange vocabulary. Ordinary people have real problems to worry about.”

2. “Where my classmates at Yale talked about abolishing the police or decriminalizing drugs, they seemed unaware of the attending costs because they were largely insulated from them. Reflecting on my own experiences with alcohol, if drugs had been legal and easily accessible when I was 15, you wouldn’t be reading this.

My birth mother succumbed to drug addiction soon after I was born. I haven’t seen her since I was a child. All my foster siblings’ parents were addicts or had a mental health condition, often triggered by drug use. A well-heeled student at an elite university can experiment with cocaine and will probably be just find. A kid from a dysfunctional home with absentee parents is more likely to ride that first hit of meth to self-destruction.”

3. “This may explaine why a 2019 survey conducted by the Cato Institute found that 60% of Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree were in favor of legalizing drugs, while less than half without a college degree thought it was a good idea.”

NB: “Drugs may be a recreational pastime for the rich, but for the poor they are often a gateway to further pain.”

DIFFERENCES IN EXPERIENCE OF CRIME AND FAMILY STRUCTURE (below chart of percentage of married men age 30–50 by level of education, 1960–2020)

1. “Similarly, a 2020 Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that the richest Americans showed the strongest support for defunding the police, while the poorest Americans reported the lowest support. Condier that compared with Americans who earn more than $50,000 a year, the poorest Americans are three times more likely to be the victims of robbery, aggravated assault, and sexual assault…Yet i’s affluent people who are calling to abollish law enforcment. Perhaps the luxury belief class is simply ignorant of the realities of crime.”

2. “Most personal to me is the luxury belief that family is unimportant or that children are equally likely to thrive in all family struftures. In 1960, the percentage of American children living with both biological parents was identical for affluent and working-class families — 95%. By 2005, 85% of affluent families are still intact, but for working-class families the figure has plummeted to 30%. As the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam stated in a 2017 Senate hearing: ‘Rich kids and poor kids grow up in separate Americas.”

3. “In 2006, more than half of American adults without a college degree beleived it was “very important” that couples with children should be married, according to Gallup. Fast-forward to 2020, and this number had plummeted to 31%. Among college graduates polled gby Gallup, only 25% thought couples should vbe married before having kids. Their actions though, contradict their luxury beliefs. Most American college graduates who have children are married. Despite their behavior, affluent people are the most likely to say marriage is unimportant. Their message has spread.”

https://www.wsj.com/us-news/education/luxury-beliefs-that-only-the-privileged-can-afford-7f6b8a16

The Theory of the Leisure Class — Wikipedia

Melissa Kearney — Wikipedia

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My spin — then periodically review, re-rank, and exchange your list with those you love. I call this the “Orion Exchange” because seven is about as many as any human can digest at a time. Game?

For the last four years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

Four special attachments below:

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, (11/17/20)

#3 Israel-Palestine Handout

#4 Palestine Orion (Decision) — let’s exchange Orions, let’s find Rumi’s field

(“Beyond all ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. Meet me there” Rumi, 13 century Persian Sufi mystic)

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to justice, freedom, the law or basic values.

Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to justice, freedom, the law, or basic values.

Or just some random justice-related fact that blew you away.

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.