Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How long do you study to become one of the cultural elite?

I took one class on assessment in my master's, and it gave me a whole new respect for teachers (or anyone who routinely prepares questionnaires for people).

Figuring out how to assess whatever topic you're assessing is really really hard.

That being said, I found this quiz particularly interesting.  It's called "Do You Live In a Bubble?", but it's target is particularly the "new upper class" and how much they do or do not understand about the lives of most Americans.

What he chose to assess is fairly interesting....people you know, where you've lived, smoking and drinking patterns, jobs you've had, knowledge of popular media, etc.  Lots of interesting issues to be taken with those categories, especially for those who clearly didn't get the score they were hoping for.  The comments are pretty amusing actually...I feel like one of the questions should have been "is it important to you that this quiz tell you that you are "of the people"?

The most interesting point here was actually the entire purpose of the quiz.  The author of the quiz answered a few follow up questions, but I thought this was the most telling one:

2. Do you feel that people scoring higher on the quiz are not culturally sequestered as well? 
Question from Reddit: HillbillyThinkTank[S]: "You're right that everyone lives in a bubble of some kind; the tendency to cluster with similarly situated people is not a behavior limited to the "elite." The way the quiz is structured, he is suggesting that a low-scoring person is culturally sequestered in a way that a high scoring person is not. I don't think I agree with that." 
Sure, they're sequestered. We all live in bubbles of one kind or another. The problem is an asymmetry. As I put it in the book, it isn't a problem if a truck driver doesn't understand the priorities of a Yale law professor, or news anchor, or cabinet secretary. It's a problem if the ignorance is the other way around, because the elites are busily affecting the lives of everyone else. When they haven't the slightest idea what the rhythms and feel of life are like in mainstream America, they tend to make mistakes.
I thought this was an interesting case of trying measure a very abstract concept through concrete questioning.  He includes an explanation of each question and why it was included.

Agree or not with his questions, it certainly succeeds at being provocative.

Also, in case you're curious, I scored a 56.


  1. There are older and newer, shorter and longer versions of Murray's quiz. I didn't follow-up and see which this one is.

    It is largely intuitive, yet plausible. There are experiences which are roughly common to many people in America. Any individual question one might just happen to be of the elite or of the common people just by chance, but taken as an aggregate, they do say something. I think the questions might be most useful for their educative or (ugh) consciousness-raising value. If ones has separated oneself from fellow citizens in many matters, why? Is there some unhealthy effort to be thought elite?

    1. I think I was mostly surprised at how angry some people got when they scored in the more "elite" categories. There was lots of "I'm not elite I just don't like to live in bad neighborhoods or do anything that's at all popular".

      If the "stuff white people like" website had gotten their hands on this, they could have gone for another year at least.

  2. I got a 47, must have been those 5 years I lived in Sandwich and identifying Jimmie Johnson as a Nascar driver. As for the reaction, it was on the PBS website for crying out loud! That should have an impact on the score just by itself!

  3. I got 30.

    The things against me:
    - Dad was an engineer
    - only lived in a small town to go to grad school
    - Don't watch much TV
    - Don't eat out often
    - Was introduced to alcohol by people who liked micro-breweries and home-brews.
    - Was homeschooled, never lettered nor knew below-average intelligences among schoolmates
    - Never rode Grayhound
    - Never bought Avon
    - Own a Jeep, not a pickup truck
    - Never been involved with Kiwanis/Rotary

    Among the points in favor:
    - Have walked on a factory floor
    (If you know what a Cadillac CTS is, I walked into the factory that produces those.)
    - Know many Evangelicals, self-identify as one
    - Have gone fishing
    - Have taken part in a parade

    My parents were middle-class. About half of their siblings were also middle-class, the rest were lower-class. That meant that about half of my uncles/cousins were also middle-class, and half were lower-class.

    But hearing the stories is different from experiencing them.

  4. 17. I'm an effete intellectual snob.

  5. I scored a 52. While my parents were professionals, we lived in a small town that was basically working class- NE redneck if you will. I believe 4 out of my 8th grade class of 27 graduated from college- which is probably fairly close to the national norm. The point being the place wasn't an upper middle class enclave.

    Relatives were professionals, entrepreneurs, and farmers. While my father was a professional, he was also a pretty good carpenter - as the cabinets he built will attest.

    Well before leaving home I had learned from neighbors and relatives that my particular background was just one of many possibilities.