Charles Murray is back. The co-author of “The Bell Curve”—a book you’ve undoubtedly heard of and almost certainly never read—has just come out with his new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.”
Murray’s argument this time around is that the cognitive-cultural divide he first identified in The Bell Curve is rapidly growing wider.
“As the new upper class increasingly consists of people who were born into upper-middle-class families and have never lived outside the upper-middle-class bubble, the danger increases that the people who have so much in?uence on the course of the nation have little direct experience with the lives of ordinary Americans, and make their judgments about what’s good for other people based on their own highly atypical lives,” Murray writes in the book.
Murray argues that the balkanization of the new upper class has led not only the upper class being ignorant of other Americans. It has also led to a lack of awareness on the part of the new upper class of the depth and breadth of their ignorance.
“It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers,” Murray writes.
This is not necessarily a completely new problem. I saw it when I was briefly at Harvard in the mid-1990s. Very few of my classmates seemed to have any prolonged association with anyone of less than ordinary intelligence or social standing. Most of their friendships and family relationships were with people of above average intelligence, social status or wealth.
But Murray says it is getting worse.
Brian Williams of Rock Center recently interviewed Murray about his book. It’s good interview, in part because Williams seems genuinely interested in Murray’s thesis (rather than just, you know, pointing and screaming about racism).
(Full disclosure: Rock Center airs on NBC, which is part of NBC Universal, which owns CNBC. As far as I know, no one involved in Rock Center gives a damn what I think about the show, Brian Williams or Charles Murray.)
They touch on one of my favorite parts of “Coming Apart”—the Bubble Quiz. Murray suspects that almost all readers of his book will come from the isolated upper classes he is writing about. And he has created a quiz intended to measure just how out of touch with the rest of America his readers might be.
You cantake the entire quiz right here . It’s only 25 questions but the scoring is a bit complex. You’ll need a pen and paper to keep track of your answers. It will probably only take you about 5 or six minutes.
I scored a 26 out of a possible 100, which puts me between these two types:
A ?rst- generation upper-middle- class person with middle-class parents.
Range: 11–80. Typical: 33.
A second- generation (or more) upper-middle-class person who has made a point of getting out a lot.
Range: 0–43. Typical: 9.
The second category sounds closer to my personal background, I guess.
Alternatively, you can take this online version of the quiz , which has fewer and simpler questions but seems to get the spirit of Murray’s test about right.
My results: “On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 5 and 8. In other words, you can see through your bubble, but you need to get out more.”
Again, that seems pretty close to being correct.
Leave your score in comments.
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