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Thursday, September 05, 2002

Oxford Update

The charming and witty and fortunately-named N. Solent has a word or two on my post on getting in to Oxford here. However, Blogger has chosen to taunt her today, and is not letting her post. So she says I may post her remarks, although this is the little like the New York Times having trouble with its presses and allowing the newspaper to be printed on the bottoms of shoe inserts (inasmuch as my readership is in the high 2's or low 3's). Anyway, Natalie says (in email):

I am gradually trying to build up a mental model about how and whether a free society can evolve out of things like racial segregation, or class prejudice. Charles Murray and Thomas Sowell have argued that the major victories of the Civil Rights era were won by moral suasion before the big laws came in.

Perhaps they're right, if by "major victories" they mean the separate water fountains and backs of busses and possibly-more-appalling things I never learned about. But the more subtle types of discrimination may have lingered a long, long time if the government had not stepped in to spur things along.

British class prejudice is trivial now compared to the near-apartheid that reigned a few generations ago - yet there are no laws forbidding class prejudice. (I realise that your boyfriend may bridle here, but I think he will concede the enormous change that has taken place. Even as late as the 1950s clothing was a clear indicator of class.)

Hmmm...perhaps I am mistaken, but I should think that class was a much tougher thing to pin down than race, and so anti-class-discrimination laws may have seemed unenforceable.

It's very interesting to come upon an incidence of class prejudice in older English novels. It's suddenly as if everyone is speaking a different language. What do you mean: I couldn't possibly know Mrs. Robert Martin.?? (From Emma).

One day I'll post at length on a very interesting book I have, Aristocracy in England by Adam Badeau, an American diplomat, published in 1886. While gently mocking British class prejudices he reveals his own racial prejudices that are equally shocking today.

As for Niles--he's not exactly been nursing the injury in his bosom all these years; I've seen him more bitter over poor computer documentation than over this. By my own scruffy standards he's a very high-toned feller. A genuine lower class lout (like me) may well figure that he had so much stacked against him that he'd never get into Oxbridge, but it must come hard to a more middle-class lad to be denied a place because his parents taught him that a certain amount of humility was the mark of a gentleman.

The more I think of it, the interview that led me to fail to get into Harvard was a lot like this. One of the lesser-known pleasures of having a blog is to exact sweet, retroactive revenge on the (by-now) nameless tormentors of our tender years. So one day I'll probably post about the snooty guy and his white carpet and glass shelves and his 90-lb wife and her 100 lbs of make-up and my dad's Navy peacoat...