When the Prissy Men get Hissy

“The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth.  Instead we got resentment, alienation, and endless political dysfunction.” 

David Brooks, “How the Bobos Broke America, The Atlantic (August 2, 2021)

“Where there is no creation, there is no mimesis.  The piper who has lost his cunning can no longer conjure the feet of the multitude into a dance; and if, in a rage and panic, he now attempts to convert himself into a drill-sergeant or a slave-driver, and to coerce by physical force a people that he can no longer lead by his old magnetic charm, then all the more surely and swiftly he defeats his own intention; for the followers who had merely flagged and fallen out of step as the heavenly music died away will be stung by a touch of the whip into active rebellion.” 

Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History: The Breakdown of Civilizations (1939)

Arnold Toynbee said that, when a civilization is young, its creative minority leads the masses by “charm.”  Toynbee’s “charm” is the same magnetic attraction that Max Weber called “charisma,” and so long as it lasts, charm overcomes the sullen intractability of the masses and makes them fall into step behind their ruling class.  Toynbee calls this falling in step mimesis.   But then, sooner or later, the charm wears off, the magic ends, and the masses revert to their natural state of sullen intractability.

And this is when the no-longer-creative minority reaches for the whip and attempts to lead by force.  And that is when the masses are stung to active rebellion.

David Brooks is a member of our increasingly charmless and uncreative elite, and his recent article in The Atlantic asks, with his usual quasi-academic earnestness, why so many Americans are nowadays disenchanted with our increasingly charmless and uncreative elite.  Brooks concludes that it is because the “creative class” that he long ago taught us to call bobos (bourgeois-bohemians) has been hogging the profits of the information economy they created, and that the national potlach of the Big Biden Spending Bill will therefore revive the old magic by alleviating inequality and resentment.

In other words, he proposes that the elite will hold onto power by bribing the plebians with baubles and beads.

Brooks does not understand that the unruly plebian masses do not envy his bobo lifestyle.  They are not yearning to mimic, even in a vulgar and provincial way, the manners of David Brooks and his friends.   He does not understand that the unruly plebian masses, whose allegiance the bobo elite has lost, are repelled by the bobos’ pencil-necked unmanliness, their officious scolding, their sexual weirdness, and their everlasting, apple-polishing striving to attract the teacher’s eye and move to the head of the class.  They are embarrassed by the bobos’ juvenile spirituality, revolted by their parvenu gourmandizing, and sick to death of their half-wit moral lectures and their infantile ideals.

That we are repelled is evident when we look at the bobo’s charmless stepbrother, which Brooks invites us to call a “boubour.”  The neologism means a boorish bourgeoise, should have been spelled boobour, and naturally finds its archetype in Donald J. Trump.  Brooks tells us that the mark of a boubour is that he goes out of his way to shock the bobos “with nativism, nationalism, and a willful lack of tact.”

I will agree that the MAGA aesthetic of the boubours is vulgar, provincial, and crude, but will also insist that this is mainly because it emerged in reaction to the SWPL aesthetic of the bobobs.  As everyone knows, that SWPL aesthetic is genteel, metropolitan, and prissy.

I use this word prissy advisedly, since I think it takes us very near to the charmless heart of the bobo elite.   The word is a coinage of the nineteenth century and is likely compounded of the word prim, which means excessively proper, and the word sissy, which means unmanly, limp-wristed, and soft.   These are qualities one might admire in a social secretary or maître d’, but they are not what Weber meant by charisma, or what Toynbee meant by charm.

No one every heard “heavenly music” in the voice of a prissy man.

The MAGA vulgarities of the boubours are just overcorrection in the other direction, and they would no doubt abate if our elite was more creative, more honorable, and less feminized.  But that will not happen, and the MAGA vulgarities of the boubours will not abate, until those prissy men throw a hissy fit, whereupon those boubours may be “stung by a touch of the whip into active rebellion.”*

*) The hissy fit of the prissy men has already begun, as has the boubours’ rebellion.

15 thoughts on “When the Prissy Men get Hissy

  1. The romans had trouble imitating germanic speech and so spoofed it by saying “bar bar bar”–much the same way we might say “blah blah blah”. This is where the term “barbarian” comes from. A barbarian is, in modern uses, an uncivilized vulgarian; in ancient usage meant simply a person who speaks a language different than our own. It’s not hard to see how the bobos and the bourbours can no longer communicate, and each views the other as barbarous. But because the bobos and bourbours are, to my mind, soft and impotent factions eager to be angry and uneager to “win” the culture war, they are distracted, distracting, and useless.

    The germanic tribe that sacked Rome was the “vandals” from which we get the modern term. Barbarian means (put simply) foreign, but Vandal means a destroyer of something beautiful. They are a species of barbarian but the more dangerous because they don’t care about the gates of Rome or the streets of Rome or the beauty of speech or elegance of ones flavor of bourgeoise barbarism. They are dangerous because they enter the gates essentially unopposed. It seems to me whoever is stung by a touch of the whip into active rebellion will transform from barbarian to Vandal. Abraham Lincoln said of the civil war that we would become “all one thing or all the other” and it seems that that’s what an active rebellion would do.

    NB: I don’t mean to suggest and do not believe a civil war or any kind of hot conflict is likely, just that a culture war is likely and it will (suddenly, peacefully, definitively) sweep out the old culture like so much dust.

    • I must confess that I am not attracted to the bourbor style; but I do think I understand where they are coming from. My own taste incline to SWPL, but I strongly dislike the smug and prissy elements. The old barbarians are relevant because they didn’t set out to destroy Rome until the “heavenly music” of Rome had died and Rome had ceased to “charm” them. The university where I work has half a dozen programs that claim to teach “leadership,” but our society produces only repulsive “leaders.” Consider the repulsive Andrew Cuomo. His father Mario was a very charismatic man. You could dislike his politics and still me mesmerized.

      • @JMSmith
        When have we last heard of deep Bass in the Western Churches outside of the organs?

        Basso Profondo seemed to be quite unique to the Eastern Orthodox.

      • The soloist sings a deacon’s part. A Russian deacon who is not a bass . . . well, maybe the Lutherans can use him.

        You should listen to the “Nunc dimittis” of Rachmaninov’s _Vespers_ and pay close attention to the end. The song is perhaps the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.

  2. Pingback: Mailbox: Control and Revulsion. – Dark Brightness

  3. I was going to write something about that article, but it’s better that you did it first, because my comments are better as, well, comments.

    I was amused by this anecdote.

    “In June of last year, a Trump regatta was held in Ferrysburg, Michigan…On a bridge overlooking the parade stood an anti-Trump protester, a young man in a black T-shirt carrying an abolish ice sign. “They use inductive reasoning rather than deduction,” he told the reporter, looking out at the pro-Trump boaters. “They only seek information that gives evidence to their presuppositions.” So who’s of a higher social class? The guy in the boat, or the kid with the fancy words?”

    Of course, what makes the anecdote perfect is that the smug kid uses the fancy words incorrectly. “Inductive reasoning” has different meanings in philosophy and in mathematics, but in neither case does it mean “confirmation bias”.

    I get a feeling that I read a different meaning into the following than what the author intended.

    “Yet wokeness is not just a social philosophy, but an elite status marker, a strategy for personal advancement. You have to possess copious amounts of cultural capital to feel comfortable using words like intersectionality, heteronormativity, cisgender, problematize, triggering, and Latinx. ”

    There is indeed a correlation between status and this gobbledygook, but which way does causation flow? Only the emperor can get away with strutting around naked and demanding everyone else admire his fabulous clothes, but such performances are not the source of his status.

    In both cases, the point is that I see no value at all in bobos’ intellectual discourse. Nineteenth-century liberals and twentieth-century Marxists were capable of making interesting points, but when a bobo talks about anything that touches the creed of his accursed class, it will be pure trash. Individual bobos may be nice or may be intelligent when speaking on other matters, but woke discourse has no value whatsoever. It’s the same thing, I imagine, that an open-minded bobo would say about conservatism, Christianity, or historical Europeans. (It would take a broad-mindedness exceptional for them to grant that the adherents of valueless systems may have redeeming personal qualities.)

    • The bobo worldview does have a sophomoric quality, doesn’t it. I suppose it is because their status is rooted in their university education, but, as you say, much of their intellectualism is superficial and incorrect. Much of my intellectualism is superficial and incorrect, but I am a product of the same times and institutions. Looking back, I see that a large part of what I learned in graduate school was how to be a poser, like that sophomoric knucklehead on the bridge.

      I’m sure you have noticed that “sources” are all the rage among the young and earnest nowadays. These “sources” do not include anything like the Bible or St. Augustine’s City of God, but are always some trashy recent social science. What the source hounds don’t realize is that source mongering is almost always confirmation bias, since trashy recent social science can be found to support just about any position.

      I think you are right that Leftist buzz words presume rather than confer status, although many acts that presume status will confer status over time. The question, of course, is status in whose eyes. I would never use a word like intersectionality unironically because I do not covet status in the eyes of people who use it unironically. Of course I might use it insincerely because the people who use it unironically have the power to hurt me.

  4. As Alan said in the last post, we judge a belief system by its fruits. It is most damning when we abhor its successes as well as its failures. Thus, I vaguely recall Alastaire MacIntyre writing once that European social democracy is a worse refutation of socialism than Russian communism, because the former is socialism delivering more-or-less as advertised. If you don’t like the actual socialist paradise, you’ve got a fundamental problem with socialism. There is no stronger refutation of the woke religion than a look at its saints. Those who best exemplify the bobo ideal are thoroughly contemptible people.

    • This has yielded the abundant schadenfreude of the #MeTo movement. They can’t help but to get tangled up in their weird combination of sexual libertinism and sexual puritanism. And the very name bobo tells us they will have to be wonders of hypocrisy when it comes to combining their real love with their theoretical contempt for consumerism. They scorn “McMansions,” and will give two hundred reasons while their oversized suburban domicile isn’t a “McMansion.” Reason number one is the Ibrihim Kendi book on the coffee table (spine un-cracked).


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