Via Isegoria comes How thick is your bubble? quiz from a new book by Charles Murray ( Coming Apart) where he is trying to persuade majority of its takers that they live in disconnect with their country. There is a big gap, states Murray, between average white middle class person and the rest of America – and he offers his 25 questions quiz.
5. Have you ever walked on a factory floor?
6. Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?
7. Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?
My score is 34, so per Murray I am a ﬁrst-generation upper-middle- class person with middle-class parents – which is, of course, very far from the truth – but one can say the results are skewed by the fact that I was not born nor graduated high school in US, and in the country I am from there was no middle or upper class – except nomenklatura – and we are not them.
However, I think the quiz itself is formulated with a curious bias. This lively-written and passionate chapter made me think of the old and false liberal European idea (starting with Voltaire’s Candide) of Noble Savage – only per Murray nobility lies with the poor and uneducated “blue-collar worker” – and his tone suggests some sort of negativity towards those who do not belong to that group. Perhaps he thinks that way because he himself had only been on a factory floor twice, as he confesses.
Most certainly, there are decent, deserving people among the poor – I would know, my family have been poor and so have I, periodically – and not only by American standards. But altogether, as a class and condition, poverty has nothing worthy of praise. It corrupts the spirit, it makes people miserable, petty, makes them concentrate on getting their daily bread by any means and not seeing wider picture. The notion of “honest/noble poverty” is a myth. A social/economic mobility is a good thing – isn’t that what made America great?
Murray says some of readers will feel the questions are not fair – but it’s not that: they are random and not to the point. They do not apply, so the conclusions he makes based on the answers are not relevant.
Let’s look at few questions; first: “Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your ﬁfty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees?” How can one honestly answer that? What resident of a city even distinctly recognize his 50 neighbors, let alone have any notion of their education? Besides, Murray implies that a person with college education will not work “blue-collar job” – which is patently not true, especially in this economy. And what about neighborhoods consisting of immigrants (a very American tradition, right?) – in many groups majority are highly educated people who on arrival do not work in their chosen profession or do not use their education. Murray notes:
“Zero points if you are thinking of a gentrifying neighborhood in which you were one of the gentriﬁers.” Why, exactly? The gentrifier provides an excellent service – he lifts the neighborhood to a better condition -and he might indeed live among 50 neighbors who are poor and uneducated, unlike other people with his income and profession who do not. But yet another thing that did not occur to Murray with his accusatory finger: what if the situation is reversed and a middle-class guy lives in a neighborhood that’s gone to seed, flooded with people of much lower income and educational level; what if there is in fact de-gentrification? Will then Murray award him with 5 points?
I don’t feel ashamed that I didn’t see even one of those stupid movies Murray lists; I have no interest in NASCAR’ winners (what’s more, I can’t drive). I feel no remorse for not having domestic beer in my fridge – I don’t like the taste of any beer, fancy of cheap. And yet, I did work in a factory (on a huge automobile-part hot press line, where half of the crew on my shift were missing one or two digits on their fingers – that did not made them more noble, however), and I did milk cows in a sovkhoz, and I did work on a combine in an October field, and I did – in NY – worked in several places where by the end of the day my body hurt – I worked like that for 3 years, and I was the breadwinner in my family – and why Murray does not count housekeeping and child-rearing as a bone-breaking job? I didn’t eat in any of the restaurant chains listed in question #16 – not because I am a snob but because I had no money for eating out, period. I won’t apologize for not having a childhood friend who was stupid (question#9) – why would I be friends with someone who I’d have no common interests with? I don’t feel sorry to not have an Evangelical Christian for another “close friend”(question #7) – just like my acquaintances who are E.C. will not apologize for not counting me, an atheist, their close friend. I also object to explanation @ question #8: it is much easier to have a political discussion with friends of the opposite political persuasion – and it hurts much more to have disagreement with political allies who are supposedly on your side.
I am sure I am not an exception. If I am in a bubble – then those on the opposite side are in a bubble, too: they don’t see me and those like me. And their bubble is not better than mine just because there is a whole swimming pool filled with their bubbles while we are contained in a tiny jar.