One of the primary tests of the mood of a society at any given time is whether its comfortable people tend to identify, psychologically, with the power and achievements of the very successful or with the needs and sufferings of the underprivileged. In a large and striking measure the Progressive agitations turned the human sympathies of the people downward rather than upward in the social scale. The Progressives, by creating a climate of opinion in which, over the long run, the comfortable public was disposed to be humane, did in the end succeed in fending off that battle of social extremes of which they were so afraid. (pages 241-242)Something feels different today. Although there is a feeling of precariousness among some in the upper-middle class, in the academic world where I have my best chance to feel the pulse it seems that the mood is more of downward benevolence rather than solidarity. Now, solidarity can manifest in some pretty patronizing ways, but there's less a feeling of shared precariousness than a feeling that We can save Them. Credentialing is the solution. Maybe that's a fearful response to precariousness, a belief that we have to make ourselves relevant and can best do that by offering ourselves as the solution to social ills. I think that's part of it. But there's something else along with it. The interest in quick fixes, practices that academics would quietly shun for the sorts of schools that they'd want to send their own kids to, tells me that we don't really identify downward. Not yet, anyway.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Age of Reform, Chapters 5 and 6
I am part-way through chapter 6 and I don't have a lot to say. These are chapters on how the mood of the elites turned against an even bigger elite. While there are some meaningful parallels to be drawn between the Progressive Era and today, particularly regarding inequality, the mood also feels different in certain ways. This key quote sticks out for me: