Notes on Class, Anxiety, and Class Anxiety

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack newsletter, Hinternet:

If my father occasionally enjoyed falsifying his ancestry for a bit of role-playing fun on the French Riviera (I don’t believe it ever went very far, though he may once have gained admission with this ruse to a party at the vacation home of Sally Jessy Raphael), I have tended to adopt the opposite evolutionary strategy as I move through rather different social circles than those I may once have been expected to end up in. When an animal is threatened, it can puff itself up to appear even more threatening than its adversary, as a cat does; or it can lie prostrate like an opossum, even generating from within its living body the stench of death itself. While I have never been so desperate as to slip into thanatosis, I have often gone out of my way to imply, in rarefied social settings, that my own origins “stink”, that I come from the pure stock of Dustbowl migrants, from a sort of topsy-turvy farce of aristocracy in which you convince others that you are somebody precisely by establishing that you are descended from absolutely nobody.

This is both a useful strategy for social advancement —“What a wonder”, you can easily get people to think, as they might when confronted by a talking dog (like the one G. W. Leibniz went to investigate in a German peasant village that could say thécafé, and chocolat, thus not only being gifted with human speech, but somehow turning out Francophone), when you have established that you are an American who speaks French without ever having gone to boarding school in Switzerland or otherwise been thrust into a privileged bicultural setting in early childhood—; and, as Seneca reminds us, coming from nowhere —nowhere but the gods— is also the only genealogy worthy of a philosopher.

More here.