Plumb Lines

March 25, 2009

Honor Culture and Mass Culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 10:45 am

This John McWhorter post on culture is very interesting, but what interests me most is his brief discussion of the “cool-pose” that young black men adopt towards service jobs like cashiering at McDonalds. From time to time, someone mentions this ‘pose’ as a problem to be overcome, if we want to integrate poor black communities in the United States into the mainstream economy. I wonder, though, if this pose isn’t the right reaction to such jobs, if this pose isn’t so much a social pathology as the expression of the properly human reaction to jobs where you’re required to gin up false enthusiasm. Service jobs don’t just instrumentalize the worker’s body, like factory jobs, but his whole person. As demeaning as all the options are, isn’t it less morally destructive, on the whole, just to take handouts where you can find them? Is the scariest feature of the honor culture in American ghettos that it’s a more fully human response to our culture and our economy than the mild-mannered breadwinning of the middle classes?

David Schaengold

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