On the April 23 edition of the 'Waking Up With Sam Harris' podcast, controversial author Charles Murray discussed his speech this month at Middlebury College where protests turned violent, and the emergence of an 'upper class' in the U.S. for the first time over the last 50 years. He also talks about how President Trump is a backlash against the new upper class.
CHARLES MURRAY: We are doing enormous harm to young people by making it more difficult to treat them as individuals.
SAM HARRIS: I think your goal, which is a goal that I share, is to find some way for us to get to a truly color-blind society... I am very convinced at this point that identity politics, and maintaining this fascination with racial difference, or any sub-group difference, is a dead end morally for us.
MURRAY: Look at our campuses now, and I think it is just incontestable that identity politics have been disastrous on a whole variety of fronts.
I would say identity politics are a direct, straight-line outcome of insisting by law that we treat people as groups.
HARRIS: The real issue here is much deeper than any racial difference we were talking about. This connects your two books -- 'The Bell Curve' and your more recent book, 'Coming Apart,' which you published in 2012. As you said at the beginning, there is an underlying fact about our society that we have created a social order which is more and more giving primacy to cognitive abilities. IQ is relevant, and it is increasingly relevant, and it is stratifying our society in ways that most of us are not appreciating.
We're going to get into what you mean by the phrase 'The Narrow Elite' and 'The Broad Elite' and 'The New Underclass.' Just to set you up to describe your thesis here. Your book 'Coming Apart' starts by describing America as it was just before the assassination of JFK. And you paint a picutre of a remarkably homogeneous society -- at least for White America. There is religious and moral and aesthetic convergence.
While there was some level of wealth inequality, largely it was a classless society. There was a pretense of classlessness. You had wealthy people insist they are just like every American. And it was a primary value to insist that you were just like every other American, even if your wealth was isolating.
You trace through the next 50 years where America get fragmented into two classes, who are not only different in terms of wealth, they are different in terms of their values, and even their epistemology.
You have people with disproportionate influence on our society... influential journalists, lawyers, executives, and creative people, who have become incredibly isolated as their information diets separate them from the rest of society.
What is interesting is, you wrote this book in 2012, and you seem to describe, without knowing it, a Trump-shaped hole in our culture, just waiting to be filled. it really reads like a very prophetic book... Explain your thesis and talk about the current stratification in our society.
MURRAY: This was not because of people behaving badly. This process that led us to where we are was people behaving normally in the face of a couple of different large social forces.
And the social forces were ones I think we mentioned way ealier in the conversation.
One was from the middle of the century on, the acedemic establishment sucked all the intellectual talent out of the hinterlands, shipped it off to elite colleges, and during the same period of time, brains were getting much more valuable in the maretplace... If you're the CEO of a corpoartion whose revenue is $40 billion per year, and you are good at your job, you are more valuable than if you were at $4 billion per year...
Things like these complicated multi-national deals, that were pretty much unheard of in the middle of the century, those are really complicated, and the lawyers who put those together have to be really, really smart, and they are worth commissions of millions of dollars...
You like to hang out with people who get your jokes. You like to hang out with people who get your jokes. You naturally want to gravitiate, if you have the option, to people who share your tastes and preferences.
Earlier in our nation's history, the opportunities for doing that were fairly limited. So you found the people in your local city that you got along with, but you couldn't create a world from scratch. And in the last 50 years, we have.
So you've got Silicon Valley and San Francisco, which is just jam-packed with members of this new culture I am talking about. There is the greater Los Angeles area, the greater Washington D.C. area, and the New York City area.
You take those, and you now have enclaves of extremely highly educated and affluent zip codes that are contiguous, and the life inside those zip codes is different on all sorts of bases than it is outside.
None of this is intrinsicly bad, and the culture of the new upper class is in many ways an admirable one. It is one that I particpate in. It is not that mainstream culture is somehow more virtuous, but this kind of separation of the classes is intrinsically worrisome, in a country that has taken the ideal of equality of human worth so seriously...
But beyond being worrisome, and this is the thing that I was noticing at the time I wrote 'Coming Apart' that became more apaprent in the recent years, is that the New Upper Class hold ordinary Americans in contempt, disdain. They're not even hiding it anymore.
I think Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist who started the academy was right. He was right. he had an interview a few weeks ago where he said the 'Deplorables' comment by Hillary Clinton changed the history of the world, and he may very well be right. That one comment by itself may have swung enough votes, it certainly was emblematic of the disdain with which the New Upper Class looks at mainstream Americans.
And mainstream America notices this... People will say: 'You don't understand. We don't particularly like Donald Trump, we won't defend his character. He is our murder weapon.'
I think that is a pretty short, accurate way of showing what function Trump served...
Murray on 'The Hollow Eilte':
MURRAY: There is tension here, because on the one hand, the members of the New Upper Class as I have called them, behave very well... They get married in very high proportions. They almost always get married before they have children... it is kind of like the 1950s. They stay married more often than they used to... They are often involved in civic organizations.
But I do use the phrase 'Hollow' because they are behaving pretty well, but there is no code of values that they feel they are living up to, and that they think are important. The phrase I use in the book is: They don't preach what they practice.
Watch the full conversation, via Sam Harris:
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Charles Murray about the controversy over his book The Bell Curve, the validity and significance of IQ as a measure of intelligence, the problem of social stratification, the rise of Trump, universal basic income, and other topics.
Charles Murray is a political scientist and author. His 1994 New York Times bestseller, The Bell Curve (coauthored with the late Richard J. Herrnstein), sparked heated controversy for its analysis of the role of IQ in shaping America’s class structure. Murray’s other books include What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, and In Our Hands. His 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 describes an unprecedented divergence in American classes over the last half century.