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I am starting today’s post in a spirit of cautious optimism.  A day and a half ago, this computer started doing the oddest things, including suddenly freezing solid for no reason any can tell.

Of course, computers do that, but this time it would do it over and over again and have to be rebooted to fix.  Then, when we rebooted it, it would sometimes simply not connect to the keyboard and the monitor.  The CPU would hum, and the screen would not light up, the little green lights on the keyboard would not light up.

At one point, I had to reboot eleven times in a row to get that to stop. 

My friends Carol and Richard came over yesterday and worked on the computer while I fed them, and things are a little better–though not entirely peachy keen–now.  Anyway, they’re better enough for me to attempt this post here and now instead of waiting to get into school.

And the post is not very well organized, so you’ll have to bear with me a little.  I’m still reading Whitaker Chambers’s Witness, and I’ve gotten to the point that could be called actual autobiography.  And it’s interesting on a purely human level, and well written, so I’d probably go on reading it even if there weren’t all these other issues involved.

What’s been brought home to me, though, in this description of his rather bizarre family life and early working career (so to speak–he hired himself out as a laborer just to get away from home) is this:  when Chambers uses the word “bourgeois,” he doesn’t use it in the way it’s most commonly used now, or in the way that it was commonly used in the Sixties.

These days, when people use the word “bourgeois,” they mean simply middle class–specifically middle middle or lower middle class–and with it values like working hard, doing mundane and not-sexy jobs, getting married and staying married, liking popular entertainment.

People often call behaving in this way “being conventional,” which I suppose it is.  But the use of “conventional” here is like the use of “bourgeois.”  It seems to be the same word as the one Chambers is using, but it isn’t.

When Chambers says “bourgeois,” the kind of people he’s actually talking about are the upper middle class that would now call somebody like Chambers bourgeois.


Am I making any sense at all?

What Chambers is upset about, what he seems to be about to join the Communist Party to fight, is…Alger Hiss.

I’m fairly sure he didn’t know this when he started out.  I think he believed that by doing what he was doing he would in fact be working to end the reign of the upper middle class Ivy League educated look down your nose at the yokels class his mother wanted so desperately to belong to.

When he says “bourgeois” and “conventional,” he means that hectoring Nurse Ratchett, I’m smarter than you so I know better than you approach to anybody with less money, and the drive to behave exactly the way one is expected to behave, to have no tastes that everybody around you doesn’t have, to have no opinions everybody around you doesn’t have.

Chambers didn’t like Ayn Rand, but on this level they are in perfect agreement.  There is something wrong with people who take their likes and dislikes from the people around them instead of from inside themselves, who take their ideas from the people around them rather than from somewhere inside themselves.

And, you know, I sympathize.  This actually is “inauthentic.”  And it occurs to me that the reason so many people in the present day upper middle class condemn so much of what they see as “inauthentic” may have less to do with what they see and more with the fact that they are, themselves, inauthentic.

The interesting thing is the way in which this has been turned around in the years since Chambers was a young man. 

The accusation of inauthenticity was real enough.  It would be real enough today applied to many of the same people.  It has certainly been true of a solid plurality of the people I’ve met in private schools and high-end colleges.   It’s what my sons rebelled against so strongly in almost all their schools.

But the epithet has been adopted by the very people it was meant to accuse, and its meaning has been slid slowly off into another realm, and it now seems to mean “anybody who likes stuff that’s popular” or “anybody who does shift work.”

Okay, I got that last euphemism from Kenny Chesney.

But you see what I mean.

And this means that there is now no reliable word to describe what is wrong with the Alger Hisses of the world–not what is wrong with them as spies, or anything else so dramatic.

There’s no word for what is wrong with that kind of “conventionality” the high end private schools (and their parent/teacher organizations) are full of.

So instead of using such a word and making that particular argument–which would be valid–we have people who simply attack any taste for classical music, any interest in books, as snobby by definition.

Which puts those people–the ones making the snobby distinction–at a disadvantage.  No movement gets far without people who read and write books, who understand abstractions, who can function in the world of ideas.

If you define the world of ideas as the thing you hate, you’ll simply lose, in the long run, no matter how right you are about what you want to save in the world.

What’s needed here is a new way to describe the inauthenticity itself, instead of using code words for it that are not, in fact, what you’re talking about.

Written by janeh

September 7th, 2010 at 5:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Bourgeois'

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  1. Go to:


    Download free version, update to current defiintions.



    Again, download free version, it will ask to update to latest definitions during install/startup, you do not have to accept when it asks to send status to its home page.

    Once both programs are installed and updated, run Superantispyware, do a “complete” scan, scan all hard drives on the computer.

    Reboot if prompted.

    After Superantispyware completes, run Malwarebytes.

    Reboot if prompted.

    Then repeat cycle until neither program finds any more malware.

    If the computer won’t let you install either program, and espcecially if you get a “warning” that either is malware or spyware you’ll have to take the computer to someone who can pull the hard drive and scan it from another computer.


    7 Sep 10 at 6:33 am

  2. There are so many ideas here that I’d like to try to untangle and I don’t have time to do them justice. First of all, I’d tend to use ‘bourgeois’ (which I can never spell first try) to mean the solidly employed and stable middle and lower middle-class types who aren’t particularly open to new or radical ideas.

    Secondly, I doubt all the new bourgeois types – the Nurse Ratchett types – ARE having their values defined by others. For every one who is aping the values of a group to which they aspire to belong to, there’s probably another one who’s never even questioned the values of said group and one or two more who have found that the values of the group – inculcated from birth or adopted later – ARE their own, or are more naturally a fit for their personality and interests than the ones they were raised with.

    As for the tendency of members of a group to tell everyone else that Their Way is Best – an issue that seems to be a real hot button one for you – that’s just something people do. Some people do; people with some kinds of personalities. Criminal gangs as well as high society have rules on behaviour and attitudes and tastes that they enforce any way they can.

    As for dealing with pressures to be ‘inauthentic’ – parents used to tell children ‘if your friend jumped off a cliff, would you do so too?’ It’s actually a bit of a balancing act to find a space between conforming enough to function as a member of society and being completely true to oneself, but it’s a balancing act that begins in pre-school, with some of the most important work happening in adolescence.

    I’ve always mildly disliked ‘inauthentic’ because I always seem to see it used by people about other people – so how can person A decide that person B’s musical tastes or political ideas are inauthentic? To do so presumes that there is only one authentic way to be part of whatever group B is part of, and B isn’t doing it – which is really none of A’s business, in most cases.

    I’m probably wandering back towards my old comments on how women can be seen to have ‘anti-woman’ ideas by people who think they’ve got a handle on what kinds of ideas women are supposed to hold and benefit from, but in fact I was talking about the university courses a friend’s daughter will be taking – one of them is about local culture, and I’m wondering, as a member of said culture, how it’s going to be defined and whether I would fit!


    7 Sep 10 at 6:56 am

  3. Maybe I’m just weird (OK, well, we can stipulate that I am), but aren’t authentic people the ones who *don’t* push their tastes etc. on others? Someone who actually likes something, whether it be sushi or NASCAR, might encourage you to try it. But someone who “likes” sushi or NASCAR because it’s a cultural marker are compelled to enforce it, because they are insecure about it.

    I think I’m supposed to be upper middle class now–associate professor, top quintile income–but there are a ton of ways in which I don’t fit in. People think I’m weird, but I’ve never been called inauthentic (or bourgeois, for that matter). Of course, one of the ways I don’t fit in is that I don’t try to force others to fit in….



    7 Sep 10 at 10:00 am

  4. But surely whether or not one is authentic has nothing to do with whether or not one pushes one views on someone else? That is, unless you are talking about an authentic politician or advertising executive – and I suppose even those might quibble about the ‘pushing’ part, claiming instead to offer options or work towards consensus or something.

    You could even have two equally authentic members of a particular group, one of whom is shy and never mentions the values (or tastes) they both hold and the other of which is so enthusiastic about said values (or tastes) that she can’t believe the rest of the world doesn’t want to hear about them, or won’t accept them, if only they are explained properly.


    7 Sep 10 at 10:34 am

  5. Michael has given you good advise about looking for spyware. You might also try some free online anti-virus scanners.

    http://www.bitdefender.com/scanner/online/free.html is one. Trend Micro is also good.

    Do people really use the word ‘bourgeois’ ? I’ve only encountered it in writing and it doesn’t seem to have much meaning.


    7 Sep 10 at 2:33 pm

  6. I think you’re lumping two things. We have a perfectly good term for the Nurse Ratcheds. These are the people so common in the “caring professions”–nurses, doctors, “counselors” teachers and ministers–generally with a third-rate education and always with an inflated sense of their own importance. They’re known as little tin gods. If you MUST have a latinate, go for “stannic microdeities.”

    As for “the upper middle class Ivy League educated look down your nose at the yokels class,” with “the drive to behave exactly the way one is expected to behave, to have no tastes that everybody around you doesn’t have, to have no opinions everybody around you doesn’t have” I’m told “preppie” is sometimes used with exactly that meaning, or “snob” though this has a wider meaning. Some of us use “Ivy League” with a suitable accompanying epithet, such as “idiot” or “lemming,” though I will concede this last wrongs the four-footed lemmings. Beyond that, I am open to suggestions.

    But note there are two errors lying in wait. It is an error to confuse particular tastes with membership in Category X. One may enjoy classical music, brie and even Cooper Minis without having sold one’s soul, though at some point suspicions are understandable. But it is also an error to believe that those of us heaving rhetorical brickbats at Category X have forsworn education. That is what Category X wants you to believe. Contrary to the air you breathed growing up, Hiss didn’t go to prison for having a law degree from a “good” school, nor even for being a liberal nitwit.

    Oh! And when some promiscuous drunken egotist of a starlet tells you that prople hate her because she’s beautiful and successful? That’s mostly not true either.


    7 Sep 10 at 4:55 pm

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