I've been doing this for 5 years or so now, and I still have a limited capacity to predict what things I write will be considered offensive or "out of line" by the jet set. For example: I am still surprised that people get worked up when I point out that the socioeconomic conditions of a writer and his or her upbringing deeply influence their analysis. My example is usually education. When you read the professional opinion writers, you're constantly encountering discussions of education that seem not to realize that failure is a likely outcome in education. They seem not to understand, at all, that willpower alone means essentially nothing for solving our ed problems. Why? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that so many of the people in our media grew up upper middle class or upper class. They've shuffled from preschool for gifted kids to expensive Montessori private elementary schools to elite private academies to Ivy League colleges. They don't know that educators and education can fail because they've never been exposed to anything but educational success.
That seems pretty elementary and entirely anodyne. But when I've said it in the past, the reaction has been as if I kicked somebody's dog. I broke some sort of code in bringing up the upbringing of people in professional media.
So take this response by Matt Yglesias to Nate Thayer. You might say to yourself, why, this person is remarkably callous about the ability of a broad swath of people to earn enough money to live. Why is he being so glib about other people's professional lives, which is to say, their ability to secure material security for themselves and their families? Well, it's much easier to understand when you realize that Yglesias's father is a millionaire and that he grew up in great material comfort. He's never had to choose between putting gas in the car or going to the doctor. He's never been desperately afraid about paying the rent. He just doesn't know. And it colors a lot of his writing.
Now, perhaps the problem is that people read some sort of furious critique into this. It happens that I think Yglesias should think things through a little more deeply, for reasons both of human compassion and to improve his analysis. (He might, for example, ponder the fact that Tyler Cowen has a regular salaried job, making his situation wholly irrelevant to the concerns of a freelancer like Thayer.) What I am not doing, however, is saying that Yglesias is history's greatest monster, or that he shouldn't be read, or that I'd like to punch him in the groin. I don't begrudge Yglesias his secure upbringing; indeed, that's what we're working for, for more people to get access to that kind of security. I'm saying that he's being his usual short-sighted self, and that you should read his work with interest but also with an appropriate skepticism. I am also saying that perhaps he should endeavor to think a little more outside of his own particular class consciousness. You should also read me with an appropriate skepticism about my own biases.
However, if this post attracts attention, it is guaranteed to engender a response that acts as if what I said is as bad as saying that Yglesias fucks children. Just speaking from experience here.