In the New York Times today, Harvard professor Michael Sandel hits on one of my hobby horses: the widespread contempt of the educated for the less-educated.
Building a politics around the idea that a college degree is a precondition for dignified work and social esteem has a corrosive effect on democratic life. It devalues the contributions of those without a diploma, fuels prejudice against less-educated members of society, effectively excludes most working people from elective government and provokes political backlash.
…It is important to remember that most Americans—nearly two-thirds—do not have a four-year college degree….In the United States and Europe, disdain for the less educated is more pronounced, or at least more readily acknowledged, than prejudice against other disfavored groups. In a series of surveys conducted in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, a team of social psychologists led by Toon Kuppens found that college-educated respondents had more bias against less-educated people than they did against other disfavored groups. The researchers surveyed attitudes toward a range of people who are typically victims of discrimination. In Europe, this list included Muslims and people who are poor, obese, blind and less educated; in the United States, the list also included African-Americans and the working class. Of all these groups, the poorly educated were disliked most of all.
Beyond revealing the disparaging views that college-educated elites have of less-educated people, the study also found that elites are unembarrassed by this prejudice. They may denounce racism and sexism, but they are unapologetic about their negative attitudes toward the less educated.
Both liberals and conservatives share this prejudice, but there’s a difference. Conservatives can be publicly deferential toward the less-educated (“I love the poorly educated,” Donald Trump said after winning their votes in the 2016 primaries) but behind the scenes they treat them as marks in a long con. Liberals, by contrast, all too often write them off. When they do, their attitude seems to be that if people are stupid enough to vote for Trump, then screw them.
I know from experience that liberals will deny this. I also know that even as they deny it, my comment section will immediately fill up with disdainful comments about the less-educated. This is, obviously, self defeating at a political level, but more than that it’s antithetical to the entire liberal project. We’re supposed to be the ones who look out for the less fortunate, and the less educated certainly fill that bill, more so today than ever.
I wince every time I see this on Twitter or Facebook or in more personal forums. Sometimes it’s explicit, other times it takes subtler forms. Either way, it should stop. It demeans us all.