The New York Times’ David Brooks received a heap of scorn after he bolstered a column — about how the “college-educated class” is “ruining America” by making it hard for “the children of other classes … to join their ranks” — with an odd lunch anecdote. Brooks sheepishly recounted the time he “insensitively” brought a friend “with only a high school degree” to a fancy Italian sandwich shop, where the friend quickly became uncomfortable with the menu of unfamiliar cured meats.
But the debate over the social meaning of soppressata is a sideshow to the bigger question about whether trend-setting college grads are deliberately thwarting the advancement of the less educated. Brooks says, yes: “We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible.” He derides upscale “cultural codes” that make outsiders feel unwelcome and create disincentives for social mobility: “To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes…”
To make his case, Brooks leans on the new book by University of Southern California public policy professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, “The Sum of Small Things.” She argues that, unlike in the past century, “[m]obility into the top echelon of the new world order is reliant on acquisition of knowledge, not birthright, not property held for generations [or] loyalty to one’s work institution.” She calls this “new, dominant cultural elite” the “aspirational class,” a mostly college-educated but not necessarily wealthy cohort that “reveal[s] [its] class position through cultural signifiers” such as name-checking sophisticated publications and shopping at farmers markets.
And she concludes that the aspirational class’ obsessions with self-improvement, social awareness and perfect parenting is…