You Can’t Afford My Radical Life
November 21, 2019
Belatedly, and via pst314 in the comments, Rob Henderson on luxury beliefs and conspicuous convictions:
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 legalisation, 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 decriminalisation 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.
Needless to say, many of the issues raised by Mr Henderson have, over the years, been given a chewing here. From the unconvincing contrarian Laurie Penny and her suboptimal lifestyle advice, and the naked hypocrisies of Simon Schama and Clive Stafford Smith, to our mulling of the 1970s sitcom The Good Life, supposedly a moral lodestone for the modern anti-capitalist.