December 16, 2008

A Two-Plank Defense

Will Wilkinson proclaims himself charmed by my tongue-in-cheek rant against snowboarders, and responds with an equally tongue-in-check call for careful ethnographic study of endangered WASP folkways, such as those that can still be found on skiers-only mountains.

Dropping the irony for just a moment, I would like to clarify a few points.

First, Wilkinson characterizes the antagonism between skiers and snowboarders as a class conflict. In his view, an ancient aristocracy (skiers) is trying to defend itself against uppity parvenus (snowboarders). He is perfectly entitled to look at it this way, but it should be acknowledged that that is not at all the way I described it. As I noted in my rant, snowboarders are just as economically and sociologically privileged as skiers. Snowboarding ideology?wherein snowboarders are depicted as an historically persecuted minority whose grievances should be rectified?is transparently a rationalization for advancing the interests of elite snowboarders (i.e., the kind of snowboarders that demanded access to the expert terrain at Taos). It is about as perfect an example of what Pareto called a ?derivation? as can be found. Alas, despite my attempt to unmask snowboarding ideology for what it is, Wilkinson still manages to fall for it.

Second, as much fun as it is to describe skier-snowboard conflict in sociological terms, I consciously avoided doing so myself. Some readers even e-mailed me to complain that I neglected to mention snowboarders bad manners on the slopes. (Wilkinson, on the other hand, imagines that snowboarders? vulgarity was the very focus of my rant.) I chose not do so, for the reason that skier-snowboarder conflict is fundamentally economic: that is, it is a matter of control over scarce resources. Snowboarders hog the good snow, the trail space, even the peaceful mountain air. There is really no need to explain the antagonism as a matter of class or ethnic conflict when simple economic models will do.

Finally, I can?t see how ?the quaint essence of elite American conservatism? is ?a sense of grievance at the loss of exclusive WASP folkways.?  The American conservative movement was largely founded by and continues to be dominated by ethnic whites (Frank Meyer, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Brent Bozell, &c). Sociologically speaking, American conservatism was born out of hostility to the liberal WASP establishment. (See my 2001 my retrospective on God and Man at Yale.)  Indeed, one could say that the conservative movement struck the first blow against the WASP establishment. The 1960s New Left struck the second, but by then the damage had been done. I don?t know anyone from a patrician WASP family who has particularly reactionary politics. They instead devote their political energies to protecting abortion rights and conserving the environment. Probably a greater percentage of Protestant Establishment types now register Democrat than ever before.

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