Democratizing Snobbery

Matt Yglesias and Megan McArdle, who both earned their coastal elite cred the old-fashioned way, by growing up in New York City, have both taken positions against newly urbanized snobs who grew up in Podunk USA. Megan says that “if there’s anything sadder than people who act like having grown up in New York makes them the apex of the social universe, it’s people who act like this when they grew up in Shaker Heights.”

And here’s Yglesias:

Most of New York City’s elitists grew up in very conventional middle class suburbs and then moved to the city sometime after college. They may look like — indeed, be — Greenpoint hipsters now, but they come from the same places as all the other college educated white people in this country.

This is most certainly true, but I’m not sure why it invalidates their snobbery. Why should New York-based urban elitism be so exclusionary?

Now, I’m by no means a city-snob, but I do generally prefer urban living, and I grew up in a small town on the Florida panhandle, so let me say a few words in defense of those who, like me, are newly urbanized and enjoy it. I think both Matt and Megan are missing something crucial, which is that quite a few of the people who end up living in big cities and reacting with disdain to the trappings of suburbia and small-town life did so before they moved to the city. It’s not that they were all affable Midwesterners who adopted a pose upon moving to Brooklyn. Growing up in flyover country, whether it’s a generic, green-grass exurb or a genuine small town, you meet a lot of people, many of whom have relatively little experience with what Matt and Megan would understand urban life, who genuinely don’t like their surroundings. Not surprisingly, many of them end up heading off to big cities after college. This doesn’t make these people any less insufferable, at their worst, but it at the very least means that their sentiments are authentic, and I don’t see why they ought to be excluded from participating in the ritual sneering of urban snobbery. Just because they ate at Outback and Chilli’s for twenty years doesn’t mean they wanted to—just that they had no other choice.