Monday, February 08, 2016

science tells us clinton was influenced by her wall street money. Class consciousness denies it.

There is really no mystery about influence and money. It has been studied. Here’s a report from the frontlines of study:
“A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
This being so, I’ve been puzzled that Sanders health care proposals have been exhaustively explained by the explainers – such as the neo-liberals at Vox – while, so far, I’ve seen no policy wonk jump up and say, that it is as likely that Clinton is influenced by the money she has made on Wall Street as it is that humans influence Climate change.
I’m not surprised. Not because the explainers are in Clinton’s camp. Rather, this is an issue of class. Many studies have shown that people in the upper and upper middle class view friendship and gifts differently.
But how do these class norms work? A small part of the answer was provided by Charlotte Linde, who did ethnographic work to find out how identification with a group worked. Interestingly, she found out that it works both in the present and on the way people interpret their past. I’ve written about this before, so I am going to largely quote from my blog.
“Charlotte Linde is a rather brilliant ethnographer broadly within the symbolic interaction school – although not participating in that schools downhill slide into the irrelevance of infinitely coding conversations to make the smallest of small bore points. Rather, she has taken Labov’s idea that a story is a distinguishable discursive unit and researched Life Stories – she wrote the standard book on the subject.
In 2000, she wrote an article about her study of the synbolic dynamics at an insurance firm with the truly great title, “The acquisition of a speaker by a story: how history becomes memory and identity.” Identity, with its columnally Latinate Id seemingly standing for noun in general, has during the course of my lifetime been dipped in the acid of the verbal form, and now little leagurers talk of identifying with their team – their grandparents would, of course, used identify to talk not of a subjective process of belonging, but an objective process of witnessing, as in, can you identify the man who you saw shoot mr x in this courtroom? Conservative hearts break as the columnar Id falls to the ground, but that’s life, kiddo.
Linde’s article introduces a marvelous phrase: narrative induction. “I define narrative induction as the process by which people come to take on an existing set of stories as their own story…” (2000:608)My editor’s eye was pleased and did a little dance all over my face to see that this was the second sentence in the article – getting people to forthrightly state their topic is, surprisingly, one of the hardest things about editing academic papers. Most graduate students have concluded, from experience, that the best way to make a point is to hide it somewhere, perhaps on page 5, and hope that their advisor doesn’t see it for fear of being attacked. The rough and tumble of intellectual debate is the Ur-traumatic experience of the classroom – funny that this hasn’t been investigated, rather than mindlessly celebrated. But alors, avancez, boys and girls!
Narrative induction properly locates story as part of a process of initiation (which, being a “native” thing, or occult, failed to qualify for the verbal place held by identify with). Linde, in this paper, is obviously moving from her concern with stories people tell about themselves – the point of which is to say something significant about the self, and not the world – to stories people tell about the world. Those stories often are about experiences not one’s own. They are non-participant narratives.
Linde divides the NPN process– as she calls it – into three bits: how a person comes to take on someone else’s story; how a person comes to tell their own story in a way shaped by the stories of others; and how that story is heard by others as an instance of a normative pattern.
There is an area, as Linde points out, where work on this has been done: in religious studies. Specifically, the study of metanoia, conversion stories. But there’s metanoia and then there’s metanoia. There’s St. Paul on the way to Damascas, and there’s Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, on the way to the relative wealth of a Toyota Car Dealership, owned by his father-in-law. Linde, not having access to St. Paul, opted to study Midwestern insurance sales people. Like Labov, Linde is interested in class issues. In particular, stories of occupational choice. In her Life Stories book, she presented some evidence that professionals present their occupational choice stories in terms of some vocation or calling, while working class speakers present it, more often, in terms of accident or need for money. Philosophy professors rarely will say, for instance, well, I needed a steady paycheck, looked at the job security of tenure, loved the idea of travel and vacation time, so I went into philosophy. They will give a story rooted in their view of themselves as emotional/cognitive critters. Labov’s work was done in the seventies, and my guess is that there has been some shift. The notion that it is all chance for the blue collar worker, all vocation for the white collar, actually tallies well with the political economists notion that abstract labor is a thing like clay, to mold as you want to: we will train workers over here in the steel producing sector, and take off some here who are growing tomatoes. They won't mind - human products are infinitely re-trainable, and have no feelings about what they do.
But that feeling for abstract labor changes as one goes up the class scale. And it is here that I think we can locate the incredulity and surprise and the suspicion of innuendo when Sanders says that Clinton took a shitload of money from Wall Street and is likely to be influenced in her views as president by that closeness to Wall Street. For to the upper class ear, this sounds like saying Clinton did something low and blue collar like accept money for her views, instead of high and upper class like making the kind of money she deserved (as past secretaries of state and senators, going all the way back to … the eighties have done) as her due.
The knot of money received and the story that one’s life is actually determined by one’s feelings and beliefs and higher vocation – it comes out here.
I would bet that if you took a survey of the highly visible journalists, those who work for the NYT and WAPO and the networks, and you ask them what drove their vocational choice, we would hear all about ideals, and nothing about high salaries. Because high salaries, or large amounts of cultural capital, go with forgetting money, in a sense. It becomes a sort of imaginary friend.
This, of course, has been the premise for many a comedy about some richly salaried person coming abruptly down the ladder in life, where money becomes the overt motive for what you do.

While it would be acceptable - that is, it would conform to our class perceptions - for a truck driver to tell us that he or she was motivated by the excellent pay, a presidential candidate who said the same thing would cause a scandal. We expect instead a different ethos in the best and brightest. Which is why one feels a semiotic jar between Hillary Clinton expressing a certain humility about serving in public office and the same person saying that she made 675,000 dollars for three speeches because "that is what they offered".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roger! It may not surprise you to learn that Vermin Direct, LLC, is handling the Clinton brand management campaign. We're in it for the money, as befits our class.