I have railed more than once that people in general follow social rather than intellectual cues for their political and cultural beliefs, and that liberals are particularly suspect in this regard. I will allow that it may just be more noticeable because their claim is to be the more intellectual, so the irony causes this to stand out. Or it may simply irritate me more because they are the group that was my cultural home, though I have left.
I have treated this socially-cued politics as generally reprehensible, substandard, childish, whatever. It is easy to caricature as the Views of the Cool Kids and find examples (sudden changes, such as gay marriage), modes of transmission (overvaluing current events and entertainment), and exemplars (Maureen Dowd, Jon Stewart)*. Our recent conversations here have included some worry about how powerful the Spirit of the Age is, and how fickle.
Well, if it’s that bad, how has it lasted for so long? There must be some advantage conferred by having this quality. Once we look at it that way, we can see that those who pick up on social cues are going to have an evolutionary advantage. They won’t get killed as often. They’ll figure out how the food is distributed. They’ll find mates more readily. People will take them in hard times more readily. Demonstrating that one understands the social rules is protective. It isn’t the only survival skill, but it’s legit.
It has been a humor staple for years. In this country, the focus was on immigrants who were made fun of because they didn’t get American ways. This went to logical extension with the Coneheads on SNL, giving out fried eggs and six-packs to children on Hallowe’en. But all the country cousin/city cousin stories throughout the world build on the same theme. The rubes and hayseeds are figures of mockery. It is a more important value to the young because it is part of their development. They will have to make their way in the world with their age cohort as much as with their family, and need to stake out a place.
A lot of people make a living by reading or anticipating such trends, divining where the culture is going.
*Rush Limbaugh launched something similar from the right when he burst upon the scene in the 1990’s, taking the view that his group was larger and more forward-thinking, while the left included many fringe characters stuck in the past. Limbaugh fans could thus consider themselves cooler in the larger scheme of things. He often referred to himself as “on the cutting edge of societal evolution.” Same principle, inverted.