When the quietly resentful finally gain the upper hand

Warning: Lots of uninformed armchair theorizing here.

1. In Georgian England, there must have been lots of people who were quietly resentful of the licentious sexual behavior that was so widely tolerated. But the cool people in society had the upper hand, and so they bit their tongues. It wasn’t until the Victorian era when the prudes gained the upper hand. Perhaps this reflected the rise of the middle class, with industrialization.

2. In 19th century America, there were lots of teetotalers who were quietly resentful of the widespread consumption of alcohol. They gained the upper hand during the progressive era of the early 1900s, and this led to Prohibition.

3. During 1980-2015, there must have been lots of Americans who were quietly resentful of the increasing visibility of immigrants in American society. But there was no viable political outlet for their resentment, until Trump. (Pat Buchanan was too early).

4. Comedy clubs are traditionally places where humor is outrageous, transgressive. There must be lots of humorless, literal-minded people who were always resentful of the teasing humor of edgy comedians. But they kept their mouths shut, as the cool people liked this sort of comedy.

Eventually, anti-racism/anti-sexism ideology gave them a lever to fight back against this sort of comedy. Here’s John Cleese:

“But that then becomes a sort of indulgence of the most over-sensitive people in your culture, the people who are most easily upset.

“I don’t think we should organise a society around the sensibilities of the most easily upset people because then you have a very neurotic society.” . . .

“That’s a great source of fun and enjoyment, a verbal dual – who can make the best rude remarks all in an atmosphere of affection. It’s a bonding mechanism. It’s positive.

“PC people simply don’t understand this business about context because they tend to be very literal-minded.

Society is full of many different types of people. Sometimes one group gains a dominant position, at other times a very different group is dominant.

Today, my tribe has lost power on both the left and the right. I’m in my years in the wilderness, which I expect will last for the rest of my life. These trends play out over very long periods of time.

Fortunately, I’m almost entirely unaffected by broader societal trends. I’m rich. I live in a bubble. I have my movie channels and my books. I can live in any decade I choose.

HT: Tyler Cowen



8 Responses to “When the quietly resentful finally gain the upper hand”

  1. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    6. September 2020 at 13:05

    Well, I’ve been quietly resentful of our low rates of skilled immigration, trade restrictions, NIMBY-ist restrictions on commercial and residential development in cities, full employment deficits, and ineffective policies to reduce CO2/methane emissions, slow rates of productivity improvement. When do WE gain the upper hand?

  2. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    6. September 2020 at 13:24

    I’m not sure about #1. For one thing, I think it’s more accurate to say ‘Regency England’ rather than Georgian, as it wasn’t until then that things got really licentious. But, also, the rise of Victorian sexual mores seems to have been strongly linked to growing fears about Malthus’ predictions, especially once Darwin’s ideas spread. There may not have been many people who disliked the licentiousness earlier.

    Regarding #2: Americans in the early 18th century drank absolutely insane amounts, something like 2 bottles of whisky/gin per person per week. It declined from 1830 until Prohibition as people realised 2 bottles was a bit much.

    I’ve recently enjoyed living in the 1900s, re-reading Count Miklós Bánffy’s ‘Transylvanian Trilogy.’ Highly recommend it if you haven’t enjoyed it. Literature is such an excellent thing.

  3. Gravatar of Kevin Erdmann Kevin Erdmann
    6. September 2020 at 14:56

    I think Cleese doesn’t quite catch what’s happening regarding context, in two ways. Both of them are related to the woke obsession with unequal status.

    First, context definitely still matters. An example I recently heard, which rang true to me was someone who said they had watched some 90s era comedy – like Andrew Dice Clay, etc. – and noticed that much of it would be considered misogynistic today. But, they also noticed that many old jokes about, say, “women” would still be acceptable today, as long as they were about “white women” or “hetero-women” or “cis-women”. The key is that the context has to be punching up. Punching down is the new heresy and punching up means all is forgiven.

    Second, where it appears that context isn’t appreciated, it isn’t that the woke don’t understand context. It’s that the punching up vs. down dichotomy means they have permission to betray context when it is in the service of countering social status inequities. I noticed this when I briefly followed a woke friend on Twitter, and it didn’t go well. One of the few rules I have, which make Twitter work is that someone has to be able to repeat or react to tweets in a generous way, in a way that the tweet author would be willing to voluntarily agree to your impression of what they had said. My friend just couldn’t do it. It was really frustrating. And, then, looking at all the tweets he made about everything, I realized that misrepresenting people was a moral imperative for him. It was his reason for being on Twitter, to raise up those who were low on his social status meter and to lower those who were high. Taking something out of context that a high status person said serves the moral purpose of creating status equality.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. September 2020 at 05:20

    Tacticus, Thanks, history is not my forte. I’m currently back in 1600, reading Don Quixote.

    Kevin, Interesting. But Cleese is a smart guy, and probably does understand the role of context, the punching up vs. down distinction. Much of Python humor was punching sideways.

  5. Gravatar of Hoosier Hoosier
    7. September 2020 at 09:15

    I’ve read this description of the Georgian period before but what do we have to go off of to demonstrate?

    Not claiming its incorrect but I find it hard to imagine a 1970s scene in early 19th century Britain. Was divorce more common? Pornography? Lower marriage rates?

    The behavior of the royal family not what interests me here. Or was it just a very elite phenomenon?

  6. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    7. September 2020 at 11:24

    Sumner makes two interesting contradictory points: (1) he’s tribal after all (“Today, my tribe has lost power on both the left and the right”), and, (2) he’s rich despite in an earlier post denying he was wealthy with a net worth between 1M – 3M (my estimate).

    As for the US “woke” meme, who cares? As long as this riff-raff doesn’t gain political power, it’s of no consequence to me. I live in three countries (USA, GR, PH)– and you see all kinds of people–PH has unrepentant Maoists called the NPA–and as long as they are kept at an arm’s length and/or don’t get into power, it’s of no matter. When and if they do, it’s time to rebalance your portfolio to another country. As the Woke people say, diversity is the key. But diversity of asset classes.

  7. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    7. September 2020 at 11:42

    The broad social trends that have made the US incapable of dealing rationally with the coronavirus are having a major affect on my life. Some things I can substitute, alas traveling to other countries is not among them.

  8. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    7. September 2020 at 12:43

    Doesn’t the increasing centralization of power in the executive branch of the US government, and also the increasing share of jobs (and higher paying jobs especially) at large companies make this moment in time a bit different? It seems way more possible today to blacklist individuals from professional employment and companies from government contracts than in times past. Isn’t China’s social credit system the wave of the future in terms of social control? How long will it be before partisans in the US are able to engineer their own kind of social credit score? I would be shocked if Amazon doesn’t already have a social credit score like system that it uses to screen out potential employees likely to be members of hate groups, extremist groups, and union sympathizers.

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