May 14, 2007

Race vs. Class, One More Time

Without trying to come up with a technical, bulletproof definition of "class," let me rephrase this vague but (I hope) helpful insight by saying that while "race" is about who your ancestors were, "class" is about who your descendents are likely to marry. Does that help?

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"class" is about what kind of people your descendents are likely to marry. Does that help?"

Sorry, it doesn´t. Reason being that the selective filters applied by those about to choose marriage partners change (at least over very long periods of time). I seem to remember (hopefully correctly) that Richard Sennett drew on extensive statistical data showing that high-status Victorian men married women with a lower social status almost by default. The same was true in continental Europe and the US. Today marriage is by default an intra-class phenomenon. Therefore class - defined as a distinction in terms of economic status - is a genuine category, not a derivative one.
What you could try to prove, though, is that there is kind of a space of available social distinctions structured along dimensions of class and ethnicity. Different historical epochs would then provide different data points inside this space. Thus one could presumably test the hypothesis that the social mobility inherent in the typical Victorian marriage correlated with significantly lower overall rates of interracial/interethnic marriages (as I would suppose it did).

Marxist monocausality can be easily refuted, but trying to substitute ethnocentrism instead isn´t really an advance at all. Remember the reader who recently referred you to Luhmann´s system theory. Its most basic statement is that societies are built on three layers of successively emerging distinctions: territorial segmentation (tribes), social stratification (feudalism, caste systems) and functional specialization (modern professionalism). Imagine these layers as forming a pyramid and you have a much larger chance of getting a fit between theory and data. Obviously, anytime the top of the pyramid goes missing after a period of social upheaval, distressed societies will resort to tapping older, more basic motivational resources, as evidenced by the Germans´ reaction to seeing their living standard cut in half after WWI (which they wrongly associated with the simultaneous introduction of republican democracy in Germany). Such a perspective easily explains the success of Putin´s conservatism, too.
In this model, Islamism would figure as the structurally most primitive system choice currently available anywhere in the world, whereas a good case could be presented that East Asian societies are actually in the process of becoming even more complex institutional organisms than Western societies are (although I wouldn´t want to get into that discussion in this context).

Anonymous said...

I think class is about who you accept as equals. Your in-laws are likely to be of the same class as you, because people don't like to marry down. But the same class also includes separate-but-equals. A Orthodox Jewish doctor and a WASP doctor are both upper-middle class, but if they become in-laws, somebody's sitting shiva.

So your potential in-laws are a subset of your social class. Maybe we need a new word for your concept - or we could mangle an old word, like caste.

PithLord said...

It strikes me that you are on to an importat concept in demographically-changing societies. (Among the Samaritans or Farsis, the people your descendents are likely to marry and the people with the same ancestors are the same.) You just need a different name from class.

tommy said...

I think what Steve might be getting at is that having some sort of term for (and maybe eventually being able to devise a metric around) that group of people whom your descendants are likely to marry might be useful. As has already been mentioned, economic class (both the one you are born into and the the one you might achieve later in life), race, religion, locality, and other factors will determine exactly what that pool will look like for any given person or group.

I think it might be a useful concept, though obviously it needs another name besides simply "class" if it isn't to be confused with the economic meaning of that term.

Anonymous said...

Class is your work buddies and potential work buddies. Non-Americans always tell me that us Yankees can't fathom class in the sense the English or Europeans have it. Americans have no real class (yes, take that both ways). It's all vulgar nouveau riche this side of the Atlantic.

Class in the US means a lawyer marries a doctor. Does either have any class? Real class involves training in things like social duty, etiquette, pedigree. But don't worry, the Euroz are catching up on the vulgarity barometer. It's all about the benjamins, baby. ...

Ron Guhname said...

Steve's definition works better in some societies and times than others. It seems to work best in a small, stratified society that is ethnically and religiously homogeneous.

It's not difficult to think of exceptions and qualifications, but it seems to me that any new concept has to be judged by its usefulness. Universal application is probably too much to ask.

fwood1 said...

Perhaps it would be easier to say that class is the intersection between the group you wish to associate with and the group that is willing to associate with you.

Bob said...

How do people define who are their equals (or peers)?

Consider four criteria: race, status, closeness, use.

The first - race - often is seen as a bedrock. Despite "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," first most check to see what color/race the potential in-laws are. Same principle largely applies with varying degrees of strength in other social relations. (Remember, the question isn't: who has rights? The question is: who's in our class, i.e., who is our true peer?)

Second comes status. A white doctor from Boston usually doesn't hang with white truck drivers from Arkansas. This is the traditionally understanding of "class," a narrow criterion too subject to Marxist and other forms of reductionist theory. Also, as a stand-alone, a bit too subjective and fickle.

Third, social closeness. This is such things as who you went to high school with, who you went to Harvard with, whose family has been long-term friends with yours. A sort of micro-tribalism commonly seen at the workplace, particularly among younger people.

Lastly, use. This is simply the question: what selfish purpose of mine could this person fulfill? The more complex the purpose, the more "equal" or peer-like the person. I have no use for technical writers on the other side of the country; I would consider them a presumptive outgroup. However, were I to meet any and they met the other criteria of peer-definition, I'd regard them as class brothers, or "equals."

Perhaps a common thread is the question: Whom do you trust? Obviously, a person of different race, different status, no common background or interests, and no use for you is someone you would not be likely to trust. Since society is about joint action, perhaps the trust issue is defining.

The Josh-Man said...

What if a Chinese doctor should seek to marry a Chinese girl who had been adopted by Jews? "Why cant you stick to your own?...I mean,our own...or somebody's own..."

Anonymous said...

Language is imperfect. Your suggestion makes sense to me.

James B. Shearer said...

This assumes there is some fundamental difference between your ancestors and your descendents which I tend to doubt. Are the people with which you share a common ancestor 10 generations back that much different on average from the people with which you will share a common descendent 10 generations forward?

Anonymous said...

ynI find it difficult to accept a definition of class anchored to parenthood. When thinking in terms of ancestors and descendents, heritage and legacy seem more appropriate.

Your definition of class leaves it in constant flux, something that can be changed after one's death.

Class is an individual characteristic that isn't necessarily transferred to one's offspring and isn't influenced that much by choice of mate. It's a combination of experiences & expectations.

You have gone from a definition of class that was too broad to one that is too narrow. People belong to a class whether they have children or not & whether their children reach adulthood or not.

Steve Sailer said...

An evolutionary anthropologists writes: "How about some version of "people in the same class are both willing to enter into reciprocal altruism arrangements with each other"?"

SFG said...

That doesn't work. A banker who becomes close buddies with the janitor in his building could qualify.

Really, what's wrong with including status and access to resources in 'class'? The Marxists liked talking about class, so it doesn't exist? That's like saying the Nazis liked talking about race, so it doesn't exist. It's exactly the same silly argument the PC police uses to silence discussion of race.

Plenty of traditionalist conservatives accept the existence of class and see it as part of a healthy society. There is no reason for you not to do the same.

The WASP doctor and the Jewish doctor are actually fairly likely to marry; the families might be upset, but that won't stop Josh and Rachel Cohen-Saltonstall from being born. Race becomes more salient at lower levels. A black construction worker and a white bus driver are unlikely to be picking from the same pool of women. But these two men share countless similarities in their relationship to society as a whole.

Class is real.

James B. Shearer said...

How about the kind of people you might have as neighbors or coworkers, or whose children might go to the same schools as yours, or who you might meet on vacation etc?

Anonymous said...

I think what Steve might be getting at is that having some sort of term for (and maybe eventually being able to devise a metric around) that group of people whom your descendants are likely to marry might be useful

Well, "station" is a good word. It is not necessarily about money or blood, but simply a place or level. And it's a good term because there is a fluidity surrounding it. One may fall or rise.

Anyway, I think current events have people very worried about all these race/class/tribe issues. Larry Auster has a quote from Thomas Sowell on his front page today about the notion of a military coup in the USA. Vdare features the story of an early Colonial race war. Barone says Demography is Destiny.

And this is happening in a reasonably strong economy. Sowell is pondering the void like it's 1860.

"When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup." — Thomas Sowell, “Random Thoughts,” May 1, 2007

I read Buffett's letter to his investors every year and keep looking for hints that he's worried about meltdown. But he's saying this economy is durable and shouldn't be underestimated.

I think Buffett is correct. And I also think that race/class issues are so powerful that it doesn't take an economic depression to trigger widespread Yugoslavia style violence. It's only relative wealth that matters. If certain groups start to leave other groups behind (fairly or not) it doesn't matter how well the bottom is doing. Envy is one of the deadly sins, after all.

It seems more than ever that race is everything, not class. The latin TV star who just got canned immediately blames whitey. That goes out over the wires to who knows how many angry Mexicans who are all nodding their heads. How much cash has this guy banked? He is in the upper .001 percent of wealthy in the world and is also racially VERY ANGRY.

Anonymous said...

"high-status Victorian men married women with a lower social status almost by default."

Wouldnt that leave a rather noticible lady surplus?

Anonymous said...

Class is what we aspire to.

We have all heard the story about the trailer trash who wins $ 100 million. He is still lower class.

On the other hand someone who is in college and as poor as a church mouse but comes from well educated upper middle class background is just that.

Money can buy "artifacts of wealth" such as cars, houses, liesure, etc. which many people confuse with class. Many people have cars and houses that are very nice but they are in debt up to their necks and are one payment away from bankruptcy.

Anonymous said...

Whom do you trust? Maybe this *is* the core concern than gives rise to the whole notion of "class."

You obviously don't want to associate with those people. You want to associate with these people. Those people are no good, or less good. These people are the right sort.

The right sort - for what? Joint action. (Breeding is an example of significant joint action, but only an example. It is necessary but not sufficient to cover joint action.)

No one is an island; everyone is a bit of a package deal. And group judgments are efficient. So, one judges the trustworthiness of people based on the status of the group they're identified with. Is class "status judgment within a race"? Hard for me to feel class is relevant when dealing with races different from my own.

The shifting nature of what people find trustworthy determines their definitions of "in-class" and "out-class," which show (varying degrees of) fluidity.

tommy said...

An evolutionary anthropologists writes: "How about some version of "people in the same class are both willing to enter into reciprocal altruism arrangements with each other"?"

There are people in my same economic position and lifestyle (student) whom I would not be willing to enter into any sort of "reciprocal altruism arrangement" with! Are we really so certain that any "reciprocal altruism arrangement" could not be made between very disparate economic classes? "Reciprocal altruism arrangement" sounds like a potentially dubious rubric. Perhaps defining what that phrase means in more concrete terms might lead to a better definition of class. Maybe a probabilistic definition on grounds of "arrangements" like this might make more sense than an absolute definition.

Anonymous said...

Could you measure difference in social class as the amount of extra friction that comes up in interactions, due to different assumptions/culture/whatever? For example, an Anglo and a Latino mean something very different by "the party starts at six PM." Either meaning works, but there's an extra bit of thinking necessary for one of them. There are a *lot* of examples along these lines.

A marriage or close friendship can span a lot of these differences, because you're willing to work to maintain it, learn the other person's assumptions, etc. But for casual acquaintances, it's a lot of extra work to remember a different set of constraints for each person. ("No, can't invite Alpa to the BBQ, she doesn't eat meat. And Isaac won't want to go unless it's kosher. Abe won't care either way, but his wife will. Oh, and it's on a friday during lent, so Mary and John won't want meat.")