Environmentalism and the Yachting Class

Protecting birds, fishes, and above all, social privilege

In Jack Coleman's  Wind farmer's almanac today, he makes a strong link between the leisure class and anti-environmental efforts.

Veblen saw through this crowd - then and now

Excerpts from economist Thorstein Veblen's incisive analysis, "The Theory of the Leisure Class," as relevant today as when the book was published in 1899.

A tip of the hat to author William Tucker, who wrote an essay for Harper's magazine in December 1977 titled, "Environmentalism and the Leisure Class: Protecting birds, fishes, and above all, social privilege."

The essay describes efforts to thwart the proposed Storm King energy project on the Hudson River, an eerie precursor to similar efforts decades later against Cape Wind.

Tucker punctuated his essay with excerpts from "The Theory of the Leisure Class," several of which are also cited here.

Chapter 8, "Industrial Exemption and Conservatism" -

"... If any portion or class of society is sheltered from the action of the environment in any essential respect, that portion of the community, or that class, will adapt its views and its scheme of life more tardily to the altered general situation; it will in so far tend to retard the process of social transformation ..."

" ... In the redistribution of the conditions of life that comes of the altered method of dealing with the environment, the outcome is not an equitable change in the facility of life throughout the group. The altered conditions may increase the facility of life for the group as a whole, but the redistribution will usually result in a decrease of facility or fullness of life for some members of the group ..."

" ... An advance in technical methods, in population, or in industrial organization will require at least some of the members of the community to change their habits of life, if they are to enter with facility and effect into the altered industrial methods; and in so doing they will be unable to live up to received notions as to what are the right and beautiful habits of life ..."

" ... Any change in men's views as to what is good and right in human life make its way but tardily at best. Especially is this true of any change in the direction of what is called progress; that is to say, in the direction of divergence from the archaic position ..."

" ... The leisure class is in great measure sheltered from the stress of those economic exigencies which prevail in any modern, highly organized industrial community. The exigencies of the struggle for the means of life are less exacting for this class than any other; and as a consequence of this privileged position we should expect to find it one of the least responsive of the classes of society to the demands which the situation makes for a further growth of institutions and a readjustment to an altered industrial situation ..."

" ... The leisure class is the conservative class. The exigencies of the general economic situation do not freely or directly impinge upon the members of this class. They are not required under penalty of forfeiture to change their habits of life and theoretical views of the external world to suit the demands of an altered industrial technique, since they are not in the full sense an organic part of the industrial community ..."

"... Therefore these exigencies do not readily produce, in the members of this class, that degree of uneasiness with the existing order which alone can lead any body of men to give up views and methods of life that have become habitual to them. The office of the leisure class in social evolution is to retard the movement and to conserve what is obsolescent ..."

megayacht300jpg" ... Since conservatism is characteristic of the wealthier and therefore more reputable portion of the community, it has acquired a certain honorific or decorative value. It has become prescriptive to such an extent that an adherence to conservative views is comprised as a matter of course in our notions of respectability; and it is imperatively incumbent on all who would lead a blameless life of social repute ..."

" ... Conservatism, being an upper class characteristic, is decorous; and conversely, innovation, being a lower-class phenomenon, is vulgar ..."

" ... The first and most unreflected element in that instinctive revulsion and reprobation with which we turn from all social innovators is this sense of the essential vulgarity of the thing. So that even in cases where one recognizes the substantial merits of the case for which the innovator is spokesman -- as may easily happen if the evils which he seeks to remedy are sufficiently remote in point of time or space or personal contact -- one still cannot but be sensible of the fact that the innovator is a person with whom it is at least distasteful to be associated, and from whose social contact one must shrink. Innovation is bad form ..."

As if to echo Veblen and Coleman's observations, this story in the Palm Beach Evening News shows us how the leisure class is faring today.


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