Class War on Metro North

This video has been all over New York-based internet sites in the past few days. But I don't think it has yet been on any of the Atlantic's sites, and it is worth another look for "the way we live now" purposes.

It shows a young woman passenger chewing out a train conductor who has asked her to stop talking so loudly on the phone and swearing. OK, I've sometimes gotten exasperated with officialdom, and I am glad that no one had a camera running when I did. But the approach the passenger takes is significant, and stunning.

You might think: it could have been worse, in that the passenger didn't "go racial." But the class-war insult approach she took is, to me, at least as bad, and she didn't hesitate the slightest bit before unleashing it. And while this may be one peeved woman on one bad day, when I saw it I naturally thought of a comparable recent clip from China. It was of a "princeling," the son of a political big shot, who after running over some mere citizens with his car was completely blase: "Sue me, if you dare, my dad is Li Gang." That struck a nerve in China and caused a huge uproar, because of the inequalities it crystallized. "Do you know what schools I've been to?" four seconds into this clip, has similar stinging power in modern America.

There's no graceful way to add the punchline: the angry young woman has of course been outed and identified. And her educational background is admirable but not what most people would consider super-fancy. (Undergrad and some graduate work, both at NYU.) The glory of American higher education is its extraordinary variety and openness. The nightmare of American higher education is its increasing role in reinforcing privilege rather than offsetting it. "Do you know what schools I've been to" reveals the mentality behind the bad side of the balance.