Sunday, November 09, 2014

Liberal babies

Phoebe asks, what does the hare-brained woman in my previous post mean by "liberal parenting"? While we must admit that she seems a bit confused on all fronts, she does seem to mean something more than the culture wars or ideological liberalism (always opposed to conservatism) that Phoebe has in mind and something closer to, in fact, "17th Century pamphlets". Thus sayeth 21st Century Liberal Mother:
I want my two daughters, 6, to think critically, to fight for fairness and justice whenever they can. I want them to value equality above all else. But sometimes, I also need them to do what I say.
This is pretty fundamental liberalism, the sort opposed not by "conservatism," but by the 17th century alternatives - divine right or patriarchal absolutism. This liberalism follows from the premises of our regime: our government is legitimate because we, as naturally equal individuals, consented to it. Because of our natural equality, it would not be legitimate for us to be ruled by other people, "to do what they say," unless we agreed to this arrangement, and we would never reasonably agree to an arrangement where we'd be ruled by the arbitrary will of another person, but only by the impartial will of a law that treats us all as equals.

Enter children. They do not consent to be ruled by their parents, or anyone. What right have we to rule them then, and to rule them by our arbitrary (parental) wills at that? Well, we can say, with Locke, that children "are not born in this full state of equality, though they are born to it," and must be educated into their birthright. Very well. And how do we educate children to their birthright equality? Here is where roads diverge. 21st Century Liberal Mother has taken an intuitively simple road: if the point of childrearing is to bring children into a state of equality and to teach them to see other individuals as equals, then the best way to raise them is by having them practice equality. Parents will treat their children as equals in the household (and teachers will do the same in school), so that children can rehearse the experience of adult equality without adult repercussions for occasionally slipping up and, say, dominating the playground occasionally. Because what is the alternative? If we raise children hierarchically, by treating them as inferiors to us whose own desires (to eat cake all day) matter less than what we desire and impose on them, then how will they ever grow into adults who understand and respect the principles of equality and consent that undergird our regime? And here I will offer the tempting dissertation spoiler for which you were all waiting: turns out that the experience of living under a hierarchical authority to which we do not consent as children is necessary to understand equality as an adult. We are better off without congruence between the liberal family and the liberal state, even though congruence seems more logically intuitive, especially to people who are not viscerally familiar with the fractious and willful nature of children.

So this woman seems to mean by liberal parenting what I would call "congruence parenting": - modeling your family life on the political principles of your state. But the distinction Phoebe is interested in - helicopter vs. free-range parenting - is a different one that I don't really see among this particular person's problems. This latter distinction turns more on our estimation of the goodness of children's uninstructed natures, whether childrearing should aim at curbing and shaping children's uninstructed natures or at preventing them from being curbed and shaped by outside influences. Helicoptering begins from the assumption that children left to their own devices will not become literate, disciplined, oriented towards the right ends, etc. So they need their parents to basically build them up from scratch into adults. Free-ranging assumes the opposite - that the methods of educating by adding things to a child like a school curriculum and music lessons and sports and basket-weaving is all going to corrupt and distort the authentic individual in the child, and turn him into someone worse. This opposition also fits uncomfortably into contemporary categories of liberal vs. conservative, since it arises from the late 18th Century opposition between empiricism/rationalism vs. romanticism. But there are both romantic and rationalist strains in both contemporary ideologies, so there's no way of easily identifying either helicoptering or free-ranging with the right or left. A cursory look at the history of American homeschooling in the late 20th Century will make it immediately obvious how free-range parenting can be harmonized with everything from fundamentalist Christianity to hyper-leftist secularism.

Finally, sitcoms that illustrate these tensions. The obvious one Phoebe overlooks is Gilmore Girls: a very young mother who raises her daughter as an equal, the daughter is growing up much more responsible and mature than her mother. One reading of this might be that congruence parenting works just fine, but only by accident, since it inspires such revulsion in children towards their parents' failure to act responsibly that they decide to shoulder all the responsibility themselves. But even there, we should recall that the arch-adult grandparents are brought back into this family at the beginning of the show, and they come at precisely a moment when the liberal parent is shown to fall short. Lorelai wants to send Rory to private school, but can't afford it. Responsible, sober New England WASP grandparents swoop in, pay for school, and insert their authoritative presence into the plot, creating a foil (and compensation) for Lorelai's lack of authority over Rory. Even though I always found Lorelai such an insipid character that I could never get into the show, it's a pretty good encapsulation of the competition between congruence and authoritarian parenting.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

How my dissertation contributes to knowledge

Do not fear, people of America who entirely lack common sense, help is on the way, in the form of a several-hundred page account of familial authority in the political thought of the 17th century! Once you've finished it, you will understand your error completely. I'll bet you're on the edge of your seat in anticipation. And people scoff that academia isn't relevant to the real world.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Suggested causes for underemployed student activists

There was perhaps a time in the idyllic past when the primary similarity between undergraduates and graduate students was their mutual engagement in study, or the pursuit of knowledge, or some other lofty and discreditable end. But that time has come and gone, and new times call for new practices. One thing I've noticed about undergrads is that they now resemble grad students in a new and more important way. Like grad students, they face a world of diminishing possibilities for new, self-aggrandizing ventures but increasing expectation for them. For us, the problem is that we must produce original research, but everything has already been published. For them, it's that they must burnish their activist credentials, but everything has already been protested.

Just as this pressure leads desperate grad students to write on the most obscure and inane stuff they can think of (I cannot, alas, link my own work here for evidence), it forces beleaguered undergrads hungry for recognition to demand justice for wrongs that have never even happened. For example, last week, someone emailed a barely literate death threat containing a dose of anti-Asian racism to lots of Harvard undergrads. The threat was forwarded to the police and the FBI and the CIA and the White House, etc., investigated, quickly found to have come from some stupid kids in Europe playing a prank, nothing at all happened on campus, and most of us moved on with our lives. But for some students, such an opportunity to call attention to gross injustice could not be squandered. Had the university administration, in communicating with students about the grave danger and offense they faced from these emails, been sufficiently sensitive to student...sensitivities? Perhaps not. For why had only the university police sent us email updates, and not all the administrators, with information about the resources available to the traumatized victims of mean pranks?
Some students at the event said that those emails were insufficient, with many adding that they had expected an email directly from the dean of the College regarding the threat. “All I ask for is a College-wide email...saying there has been a great loss, there has been a great tragedy in our community and in our midst, these are the resources, we feel for you,” said Shengxi Li ’15, who had received the emailed threat.
A great loss and a great tragedy has occurred in our midst with the sending of a fake death threat, and no one even feels for the undergrads and how they might be coping with this veritable war crime. But no, the college dean totally feels for them, and admits it's all his fault that he didn't get in touch sooner, and left all the touching to the other 25 administrative offices that touched us with updates about our unfolding campus tragedy of prank email but whose touching lacked his human touch. In the future, he promises, he will report to his clientele promptly about every matter that comes up.

While students less tenacious for justice might have accepted this mea culpa, our students will not rest until every human rights violation contained in this non-event has been brought to light. For yet more injustice was perpetrated by the university in their atrocious handling of this matter than we knew, because TAs were not "sufficiently informed" about the death threat. This does not mean they were not informed, since in fact all graduate students were informed, repeatedly, but not sufficiently so. For, lacking this all-important additional email from the college dean to complement the emails received from the university police about how nothing was happening, how could we TAs possibly provide appropriate consolation to our charges during this dark time of totally non-credible threats:
Several student attendees said all professors and teaching fellows, not just students, should have been notified of the threats through an official email from administrators in response to the incident...Teachers could then have been a source of emotional support for undergraduates affected by the threat, the students at the discussion said.
The dean agreed on this point too, and promised to flood our inboxes with redundant information from multiple university offices next time that nothing happens. Perhaps justice has finally been achieved, and students can rest easy with a new line for their cover letters about the time when they saved Harvard from the scourge of malicious spam email by ensuring that there would be more email to address the original email. If it were not for their brave stand, we might only hear about nothing happening before and after it didn't happen and only from one source. But for our vigilant undergrads, no crisis is too nonexistent to let pass without full investigation of the possibilities for protest and administrative concession, so I have faith that these stalwart guardians of democracy will uncover even more foul injustice contained in this scandal in the coming weeks. (UPDATE: I was right, there is more.)

In the meantime, I would like to call the attention of would-be student activists who didn't manage to notice the gaping holes in the sensitivity of university email protocol in time and are now looking for other causes with which they might make their names to some of the more shocking and inhumane practices going on right underneath their noses. Did you know, for example, that the university library closes at 7 PM on Fridays, 8 PM on Sundays, and 5 PM on Saturdays? 5 PM! People, that is a great loss and a great tragedy in our community! The Ed School library is little better, being open only until 7 for most of the weekend, and the Law School library is too far away from my apartment (consider the safety threats of walking alone at night!). Now, you may counter that the college library is open quite late during the weekend, but is that not like being told that you may receive an email from HUPD about a campus crisis that's is about to not happen but not from the college dean? What is the purpose of having the other libraries if they are not open? Where is the equality? The democracy? The justice? Graduate students do not want to work in the smelly college library, where they run the risk of being seen, indistinguishable in dignity and desperation, by their own students. How, truly, can we be a great institution of higher learning if we do not prioritize our libraries, which are almost the most important things at a university, after the student protests?

Monday, September 29, 2014


Why does anyone bother starting a business in Cambridge? I've lived here on and off for the past six years, and walking down Mass Ave from Central to Porter Squares, I'd say that more than half the businesses that line it have changed during that time. The life cycle, especially in Harvard Square, is something like:
1. discover boring old thing is closing, lament, b/c small local business that tried so hard, like little engine that could (but couldn't)
2. hear that new thing is coming in its place! we don't have one of these particular things yet! cast aside lamentation, recall pleasures of novelty, rejoice!
3. new thing opens, so new! stand in line during opening week for it, rejoicing!
4. within first three months, new thing acquires 200 gushing Yelp reviews, six regular customers, 12 irregular customers, and 24 people who are perennially planning to check it out soon, thereby reaching equilibrium, while other new things open in the vicinity and novelty of this old-new thing begins to wear off
5. within six months, Yelp reviews begin to emphasize lack of "creativity" in food or merchandise, complain that place is "bland" and "tired," notice that it is "overpriced"
6. within two years, profits sink, overhead costs increase, place looks empty all the time and cuts its hours
7. evince concern, recall fond memories of the two times you ate/shopped there when it first opened, insist that old-new thing is "an institution" that can't possibly be permitted to close even though, yes, it's a bit dated and no, you personally haven't stepped inside in the last 12 months
8. old-new thing announces closure, lament, rend garments, decry corporate capitalism
9. new-new thing announces opening in old-new thing's place, promises novelty, inspires new bout of rejoicing
10. old thing is gutted, new thing opens, everyone rejoices and forgets what was even there before, but probably something old and lame?

There do seem to be some establishments that are neither churches nor hospitals yet remain insulated from the laws of novelty and boredom, like this wretched hole. But the survival of such places can probably be attributed to the indiscriminate appetite-increasing side effects of illicit substance use among the undergraduates under whose noses they are located.

UPDATE: A timely case-in-point. Ramen! We don't have one of those yet (except up in Porter Sq.)! So new! Rejoicing stage commences.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

John Updike, Olinger Stories

Remember when our recurring nemesis William Deresiewicz wrote this stunning review of a new Updike biography that was so lovely that it compelled us to go read Updike immediately although we never had the slightest interest in him before? Well, we did that, while still dangerously under the influence of our recent reading of Cheever, and found that Deresiewicz was right, the stories are wonderful. The bait in Deresiewicz's review was the promise that Updike would contribute to the vindication of my desire to find something valuable in nostalgia, which all right-thinking people treat as a low-minded self-delusion but which I can't figure out how to understand my life without:
Updike’s nostalgia is not for a specific historical moment; it is the ubiquitous modern ache for time past, and in particular, for youth. We applaud it when it comes to us in cultured Continental form (when the odor is of madeleines and tea), but less so, for some reason, here...Atheism, alienation, and angst; elitism and cosmopolitanism; aesthetic 
austerity and experimentalism; political and spiritual extremism: these were not for him. Updike’s life and work are testaments to the idea that mid-American values, beliefs, and sensibilities are adequate to address and interpret modern experience. 
This is pretty much the sum of the middle-brow conviction that I don't know how any amount of education, travel, reading, or haranguing from the sophisticated will flush out of me. But, admittedly, it's hard to reconcile this conviction with the small-scale misery of the homely but thwarted aspirations and the dread of death despite the smallness of life experienced by nearly everyone who actually lives this way. So you can either reject all that bourgeois nonsense in the blind hope that the unknown is better, or you can try to dignify these small sufferings, to make the mundane momentous by recording it. Updike is aggressively concerned with this kind of sanctification.

One of the stories, "The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother's Thimble, and Fanning Island," calls this approach to sanctification through precise description "the evocation of days." Deresiewicz points to "Pigeon Feathers" to show that Updike takes writing to be an imitation of God's creation (and destruction). There, the narrator is reassured of his immortality when he examines the bodies of the pigeons he has shot, concluding that "the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let 
David live forever." In "The Blessed Man of Boston," the narrator is even more explicit about what he's doing: "O Lord, bless these poor paragraphs, that would do in their vile ignorance Your work of resurrection."

There is a lot that is reminiscent of Cheever in the Olinger Stories, but the foundation of Updike's idea of fleeting middle-brow happiness seems to be Christian faith rather than, as for Cheever, marriage:
"We would-be novelists have a reach as shallow as our skins. We walk through volumes of the unexpressed and like snails leave behind a faint thread excreted out of ourselves. From the dew of the few flakes that melt on our faces we cannot reconstruct the snowstorm." 
What a thoroughgoing piece of Protestantism that is - pleading for grace through self-abnegation - but for the anachronistic invocation of the novelist, this would fit comfortably into the rhetoric of the sixteenth century. We are worthless nothings who make no more impression on the world than a trail of snail shit in the dirt, our lives are a storm which we lack even the capacity to fully understand. All we have is the paltry power to recount a "few flakes" of our experience. But for all that melodramatic cringing, Updike's faith is much like Cheever's marriage - a flexible thing, subject to frequent assault and deformation, just as long as, in the end, it's not surrendered. You can cheat on your wife in Cheever, or renounce Jesus in Updike, but if you divorce or deny the possibility of immortality, well then civilization is lost.

But Updike seems to write mainly for the sake of the "evocation of days," and rarely gets so shrill about things. His similes are inventive, often because they pick up such mundane domestic experiences that you'd never remember them but for these promptings, as when a character described trying to comfort himself lying in bed at night "with the caress of headlights as they evolved from bright slits on the wall into parabolically accelerating fans on the ceiling and then vanished." A minute observation of childhood fixations. Nostalgia as simply an account of time passing in small lives can be funny too. This is one character's first effort to kiss a girl: "It was as if I had been given a face to eat, and the presence of bone - skull under skin, teeth behind lips - impeded me."

It's a mode of writing that's delightful while it lasts but can get tiresome pretty easily, when it becomes so much about making unexpected observations that plot is forgotten, or everything becomes indiscriminately significant in a desperate bid to record every last detail of living. Or maybe when Updike just gets too obsessed with adulterous sex to be any longer interesting, as even Deresiewicz's review, which emphasizes the early stories, suggests will happen. I suppose I'll find out about that in the next volume.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More Argentina

Public health campaign: get your blood pressure measured in the middle of the park

Chip flavors available in supermarkets of Buenos Aires: chorizo, asado, quesadilla, empanada, pollo con limon. Chip flavors not available in in supermarkets of Buenos Aires: any other flavors. These chicken chips tasted so much like an actual grilled chicken that my husband refused to eat them for fearing of spoiling real chicken for himself.

Porto Madera

Ambiguous midday meal consisting of parts of all other day's meals - breakfast, lunch, and tea.

A 200-year-old rubber tree that takes up approximately the space of a city block and is supported by special branch crutches.

The only copy of Locke I was able to find in the city. As against a million copies of Hobbes and the Heidegger/Benjamin/Foucault triple-package of bad ideas.


Empanadas stacked like potatoes, a sight that should be found in every supermarket.

Iguazu falls

Coati: basically a jungle raccoon. Cute but vicious.

The butterfly situation was out of control but the pretty ones refused to sit still for photos.

Full moon over the Iguazu River.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Outrageous indignities

When Fedex loses the box in which you shipped all your clothes from San Diego to Boston for the year, and you have to substitute several years' worth of careful curating and collection with the current clearance rack at Gap.

UPDATE: After talking on the phone with probably every employee of Fedex over a period of five days, the box has been located somewhere completely random and is being re-sent to me. This demonstrates the importance of having personal connections in the lost package world. Fortunately, I only purchased two duplicate items so far on final sale; the rest of my compensatory online shopping can go back whence it came. (But maybe I'll keep one skirt as, you know, a memento of this trial of patience, or a duly deserved reward for my suffering...)

Friday, September 05, 2014

Platforms of the future

I'm in Buenos Aires through next week, and it's pretty great here when you come with American dollars and discover that a three-course dinner with a bottle of wine at one of the nicest French restaurants in the city costs the equivalent of $40 per person. Also good is the omnipresence and frequently expected consumption of facturas con cafe, which similarly cost next to nothing, and are available from cafes that are open at all hours and offer free wifi. (Those who, like me, fervently believe that pastries are a breakfast food, take note: there appear to be about four or five daily meals here, and three of them consist of pastries.)

Which raises the question: in a society so totally conducive to the grad student lifestyle - everything is open late, fine dining and alcohol are cheap, and caffeinated workspace is everywhere - why isn't everyone a grad student? I posed this question to some of my husband's relatives, who were puzzled by it and replied that being a grad student is hard. Maybe, but it seems a lot less hard here! My husband suggests that people are generally about as inefficient as grad students, so it amounts to the same. (I don't know about labor efficiency, but the kids do seem to spend a lot more time in school each day than Americans, but we never hear about any impressive outcomes of the Argentine education system.)

Finally, there is the problem of the platform shoe. Every woman in Buenos Aires is wearing the chunky platform that very briefly reached maximum coolness in 1997. Since leather goods are also cheaper here than in the US, I was hoping to obtain a pair of ankle boots, but it seems that, given local trends, this aspiration can only result in the unfortunate acquisition of something like this:

The question is, would owning such shoes make me fashion I prescient, like an early adopter of a thing that is just about to become huge back home? Or will it make me a late-90s goth teen revivalist?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Contextual differences

Teaching is not an engineering problem. It isn’t a question of transferring a certain quantity of information from one brain to another. “Educate” means “lead forth.” A teacher’s job is to lead forth the powers that lie asleep within her students.
Thus sayeth William Deresiewicz, would-be speaker of useful truths who is too passionately enamored of the monumental urgency of his cause to bother to speak carefully. But where have we heard these particular tropes about education before? Oh yes, here:
I have no doubt Miss Mackay wishes to question my methods of instruction. It has happened before. It will happen again. Meanwhile, I follow my principles of education and give of my best in my prime. The word education comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is leading out of what is already in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and term trudo, I thrust. Miss Mackay’s method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil’s head; mine is a leading out of knowledge, and that is true education as is proved by the root meaning. Now Miss Mackay has accused me of putting ideas into my girls' heads, but in fact that is her practice and mine is quite the opposite. Never let it be said that I put ideas into your heads.
Is Deresiewicz being ironic then? I doubt it (though if he were, my estimation of him would undoubtedly skyrocket). But Spark certainly is. So beware.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What people are thinking when they speak to perennially outraged internet writers

There is a genre of internet ranting, common to Twitter and "women's blogs," wherein a writer describes a social encounter she has recently had with a stranger or a vague acquaintance, to whom she has recounted some aspect of her personal life and who responded with some well-intentioned comment or advice that proved unhelpful, or even absurd, to the writer. This hapless interlocutor's advice is then reproduced for the gratification of the writer's audience as evidence of the shocking insensitivity of people out there (as against all the right-thinking people in here) who will just walk up and say anything to you these days, you know, and without even knowing you. The reader of this Tweet or post is then invited to exasperate himself in solidarity with the writer in the comments section. Can you even believe this person said that? What were they thinking? How dare they speak? 

Here is one such rant, posted  on Facebook by my friend, featuring various questions and suggestions regarding the writer's long-distance academic marriage. The post itself is moderately funny, despite the strong undercurrent of bitterness, aimed I thought only partly at the people supposedly asking her these questions, and in part at the unpleasantness of her circumstances. But, judging by the comments, no, it's all, Can you even believe this person said that? What were they thinking? How dare they speak? 

For example, this comment:
"I would like, just once, to have an encounter with someone who says all manner of horrible, invasive jokes and comments you've heard 10,000 times before, and to ask them honestly why they say things like that. Do you really think that you, a stranger or brief acquaintance, are more familiar with this person's circumstances than they are? Do you really think you've offered them a solution to their problem they haven't already considered? Do you REALLY think that asking them personal questions ("But the sex is great then, right, because you only see each other so often?") will benefit you in some way??? "
Good news, outraged commenter peep: Miss Self-Important is here to tell you exactly why people "say things like that." No, it's not because they think they're more familiar with your complex and trying circumstances than you are, or they would probably not bother to ask you questions about them in the first place. It's not because they desire to floor you with the originality of their response, but fail to inquire whether their quip has not been offered to you on 10,000 prior instances. It's not because they doubt your superior competence in solving your own problems, which you have as yet failed to solve or else you wouldn't be complaining about them. No, short-fused commenter peep, it's because they're trying to be friendly and nice.

I know, I know, friendly good intentions are the absolute worst. We should probably just decapitate the people who dare to speak to you and demonstrate interest in you without knowing you from birth while we have them in sight, because such individuals are likely to be serial offenders, and if you don't stop them now, they'll only go on to victimize others. I mean, can't they see that you're a committed hermit, that you've taken vows of silence and are forbidden from all communication with the people by whom you're regularly surrounded? Isn't that obvious from the way you're standing around awkwardly at this party with a drink in your hand, or sitting on the train staring into space? Why do they insist on harassing you with their conversation when they haven't even been briefed about your life history yet? It's like they think talking is pleasant, or making friends is worthwhile, or some reactionary nonsense like that. I mean, really. There oughtta be a law.

There's little that annoys me less than being chatted with by strangers, or vague acquaintances. I hardly ever start up conversations with such people, but I love it when they start them with me. Maybe it's because I rarely talk to people I don't know that I'm glad they talk to me - how would I ever talk to anyone otherwise, or have any friends? I even love being asked for directions on the street, and I used to be sad when I didn't know the place being sought, but now I have a phone that solves all navigational quandaries. I also don't mind when men (or, as is often the case in San Diego, bums) on the street compliment my appearance on I suppose the off-chance that this will pique my interest in them or for no reason at all, although I guess that's something we're supposed to be against these days. I love all forms of non-threatening stranger interaction because I'm pretty certain that without it - that is, if everyone were as cold and stand-offish as I am - there would not be any civilization at all. And we should be willing to make small sacrifices for civilization, like the sacrifice of our right to flip out when people we've just met don't know everything about us and say useless or redundant things in absence of this knowledge. So when such people ask me what I do for a living and don't immediately understand how I can be a grad student at a school 2,000 miles from the city I live in, or that a political science PhD is not a path to a job in politics, it doesn't annoy me, though these confusions are common and recurring. Why should anyone not in your line or work be expected to know its ins and outs? How is it reasonable to expect, or demand, that people read up on the intricacies of the academic job market before talking to me, or only presume to talk to me if they already know all about it? Why ought their simply naive but not ill-spirited suggestions or questions be offensive?

In "Puritans and Prigs," one of her best essays in defense of Calvinism, Marilynne Robinson points out that by ascribing all priggishness to the long-extinct Puritans, we think ourselves cured of all their failings by the passage of time and hardly notice how much this move rests on willful self-delusion or our own even more ominous forms of priggishness. One modern form that priggishness takes is precisely such uncharitable persnickitiness about the speech of strangers:
A great many of us, in the face of recent experience, have arrived with a jolt at the archaic-sounding conclusion that morality was the glue holding society together, just when we were in the middle of proving that it was a repressive system to be blamed for all our ills. It is not easy at this point for us to decide just what morality is or how to apply it to our circumstances. But we have priggishness at hand, up to date and eager to go to work, and it does a fine imitation of morality, self-persuaded as a method actor. It looks like it and it feels like it, both to those who wield it and to those who taste its lash... 
Priggishness is useful in the absence of true morality, which requires years of development, perhaps thousands of years, and cannot simply be summoned as needed. Its inwardness and quietism make its presence difficult to sense, let alone quantify, and they make its expression often idiosyncratic and hard to control. But priggishness makes its presence felt. And it is highly predictable because it is nothing else than a consuming loyalty to ideals and beliefs which are in general so widely shared that the spectacle of zealous adherence to them is reassuring. The prig's formidable leverage comes from the fact that his or her ideas, notions or habits are always fine variations on the commonplace. A prig with original ideas is a contradic- tion in terms, because he or she is a creature of consensus who can usually appeal to one's better nature, if only in order to embarrass dissent. A prig in good form can make one ashamed to hold a conviction so lightly, and, at the same time, ashamed to hold it at all... 
Recently I saw a woman correct a man in public - an older man whom she did not know well - for a remark of his she chose to interpret as ethnocentric. What he said could easily have been defended, but he accepted the rebuke and was saddened and embarrassed. This was not a scene from some guerrilla war against unenlightened thinking. The woman had simply made a demonstration of the fact that her education was more recent, more fashionable and more extensive than his, with the implication, which he seemed to accept, that right thinking was a property or attainment of hers in a way it never could be of his. To be able to defend magnanimity while asserting class advantage! And with an audience already entirely persuaded of the evils of ethnocentricity, therefore more than ready to admire! This is why the true prig so often hás a spring in his step. Morality could never offer such heady satisfactions.  
The woman's objection was a quibble, of course. In six months the language she provided in place of his will no doubt be objectionable - no doubt in certain quarters it is already. And that is the genius of it. In six months she will know the new language, while he is still reminding himself to use the words she told him he must prefer. To insist that thinking worthy of respect can be transmitted in a special verbal code only is to claim it for the class that can concern itself with inventing and acquiring these codes and is so situated in life as to be able, or compelled, to learn them. The more tortuous our locutions the more blood in our streets. I do not think these phenomena are unrelated, or that they are related in the sense that the thought-reforms we attempt are not extensive enough or have not taken hold. I think they are related as two manifestations of one phenomenon of social polarization.