Life inside the bubble

A new American book examining the IQ-based social statification happening in the US explains a lot about the Inner West and its residents.

American political scientist Charles Murray is most famous for his 1994 book The Bell Curve, which argued that IQ is destiny and that different races have difference average levels of intelligence. In that book he identified the emergence of ‘cognitive elite’, a new social strata made up of the highly intelligent, a group who were becoming increasingly separated occupationally, culturally, geographically and politically from the remaining 90-95 per cent of the population.

In his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010, Murray explores the deepening fissure that’s developed between the “over-educated snobs” and “Joe Sixpack” (latte-sipping, inner city elitists and VB-drinking, outer suburban bogans in the Australian vernacular).

Briefly, Murray argues that, with the expansion of higher education over the last four decades, smart kids from all social classes have been hoovered up into the ‘cognitive elite’. They go to uni together, work together, marry each other and congregate in what he calls “super zipcodes” (i.e. postcodes). They then produce offspring who have the genetic blessing of high IQ parents topped off with the advantage of accessing the best educational facilities (either expensive private schools or the pick of the crop of state schools). Once they come of age, those kids repeat the process and, voila, pretty soon you’ve got a hereditary Brahmin caste.

Inner Westies may find Murray’s description of life in a super zipcode eerily familiar. Apparently, the streets of these enclaves are full of gourmet coffeehouses, art house cinemas and high-priced retail shops. Almost everyone living there has a university degree, a more or less prestigious job and a (small l) liberal political outlook. The people of this strange land are a lot thinner and healthier than their non-super zipcode compatriots and watch a lot less television (and then mainly cult shows such as The West Wing that reflect back to them their upper middle class lifestyle). They also tend not to be involved in long-term de facto relationships or have children out of wedlock.

As Murray observes, life inside the super zipcode bubble is very civilised. The only problem is that life inside that bubble is becoming ever more disconnected from life outside it. If you’re a member of the cognitive elite who wants to know what kind of a malfunctioning society that kind of apartheid creates, you’d best read the book. If you really are a super zipcoder, you should live within easy walking distance of a good bookstore.