Monday, October 10, 2011

Hoarding Social Capital

I wound up the last post thusly:

I speculate that the motivation behind a lot of the animosity that socially adept kinds of people show towards PCC is precisely that they lose a lot of their social status and power when the rules get written down for everybody to learn equally.

As I thought more about it, I was reminded of one of Steve’s posts:

I want to note a social trend, that's reflective of a general theme: that in contemporary society, a lot of the rules for successful living aren't spelled out for people the way they used to be. This means that people who are smarter and/or raised in better social settings and/or naturally inclined toward successful life choices will still pick up the messages, but lots of other people won't . . . .

[C]onsider single motherhood and the term "bastard." A century ago, single motherhood was deterred, among other ways, by heaping opprobrium on the children of single mothers. That was cruel, but also pretty effective. Today, the term "bastard" has lost almost all connection with its original meaning. Nice people today would be shocked by the notion that society should discriminate against a child just because his parents weren't married. That's hardly the child's fault, now is it?

In fact, society is now deeply uncomfortable with the notion that we should be impolite to single mothers themselves . . . .

Not surprisingly, this decline in "preemptive discrimination" to deter single motherhood means we now have far more bastards. On the other hand, we don't see many bastards in the upper reaches of society, outside of celebrity bohemian circles. In fact, upper middle class life is evolving in directions that quietly but effectively discriminate against not just bastards, but also against the children of divorce . . . .

I suspect that people of ornery and/or impulsive dispositions inherited from their screw-up parents are less likely to make it to the upper reaches of society than in the past. In older times, parents with screw-up inclinations were more likely to be deterred by explicit social pressures against bastardy and divorces.

The whole thing is worth the read.  But I want to open the subject of the ethic of “non-judgmentalism” by way of example.

The LCMS church we attend is, for the most part, solidly middle class.  We do have a couple of families that are well-to-do yet have a family history here that keeps them coming back, and we also have a couple of, judging by their appearance, a couple of poor families.

The teenaged (I assume) daughter of one of those latter families attends sporadically.  She’s never particular well-dressed – thus I discern her socio-economic status – but one Sunday about a year ago her attire was especially egregious.  She was wearing a pair of cut-offs cut off too high.  And by too high, I mean high enough that if my own daughter were to wear them at the beach, I would probably say something.  But this girl was wearing them to a worship service.

This display bothered me enough that I brought it up, first to my wife, and then a few weeks later in the context of our Sunday school class.  (The class is heavily participatory and the discussion ranges widely; you can take my word that it was in a relevant context.)  I was unwilling to embarrass the young lady by name, but it was recent enough that I believed anybody who had seen her should have been able to figure out to whom I was referring.

What bothered me was my inability to get buy-in that somebody – and here I mean specifically one of the women in the church, since I have a vague sense that it would be inappropriate for me – should speak to this young lady in private and explain to her the standards of dress for Sunday churchgoing.  What I instead got was – at least among those who bothered to respond – was a vague appeal to the importance of being welcoming to all comers.  This bothered me because I know the daughters of these families and I know that they know what respectful attire looks like because they make sure that their own daughters abide with those norms.

Yet confronted with the opportunity to share that cultural capital with someone who didn’t have it – I am reasonably sure that the girl dressed as she did from ignorance rather than malice – everybody took a dive, and dressed up their hoarding in the language of non-judgmentalism.


Anonymous said...

I am not even sure how "mean" or "judgmental" such a suggestion would be.

Such non-judgmental attitudes are in effect a judgment. They act as negations of prior judgments. Prior judgment expressed that certain styles of dress were not acceptable; the refusal to judge effectively changes that policy and makes them acceptable (why would you change style if you had not been told it was incorrect?).

Anonymous said...

I wrote a post a while back about how grateful I was when someone mentioned to my best friend that he needed to talk to me about my odor (this was back in high school).

The thing is, though, it usually doesn't work this way. Had it come from anyone but my best friend, I likely would have dismissed it. In fact, people had mentioned it and I had dismissed it. They're just being arses. They're joking. They're imagining things.

It brings out a defensiveness. It wasn't that I didn't care that my odor was off-putting. It wasn't exactly that I didn't know. It was a matter of recognizing "This is true. It matters to others. It should matter to you that it matters to others."

That's a hard thing to get through. Not the least of which is because it runs contrary to our cultural thinking in some regards.

Dr. Φ said...

DU: Yeah, every time we have this discussion, somebody brings up the story about how old Mrs. S, 50-odd years ago, scandalized the congregation by coming to worship bareheaded. And of course we don't want to be those people.

Trumwill: I totally get how this works. Worthwhile feedback gets lost amid the noise of random insults. How do you know whom to trust?

This is the one valid point I think our pastor made: that the feedback is best received in the context of a relationship.