‘Luxury Beliefs’ That Only the Privileged Can Afford
My new WSJ essay, AEI event in D.C., book reviews
You can now read an excerpt from my book Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a portion:
In the same way that you don’t notice the specifics of your own culture until you travel elsewhere, you don’t really notice your social class until you enter another one. As an undergraduate at Yale, I came to see that my peers had experienced a totally different social reality than me. I had grown up poor, a biracial product of family dysfunction, foster care and military service. Suddenly ensconced in affluence at an elite university—more Yale students come from families in the top 1% of income than from the bottom 60%—I found myself thinking a lot about class divides and social hierarchies.
I’d thought that by entering a place like Yale, we were being given a privilege as well as a duty to improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. Instead, I often found among my fellow students what I call “luxury beliefs”—ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class but often inflict real costs on the lower classes.
I noticed that many Yale students selectively concealed their opinions or facts about their lives. More than one quietly confessed to me that they were pretending to be poorer than they really were, because they didn’t want the stigma of being thought rich. Why would this stigma exist at a rich university full of rich students? It’s a class thing. For the upper class, indicating your social position by speaking about money is vulgar. Sharing your educational credentials is a classier shorthand, but broadcasting your seemingly altruistic and socially conscientious luxury beliefs is the best of all.
It is harder for wealthy people to claim the mantle of victimhood, which, among the affluent, is often a key ingredient of righteousness. Researchers at Harvard Business School and Northwestern University recently found evidence of a “virtuous victim” effect, in which victims are seen as more moral than nonvictims who behave in exactly the same way: If people think you have suffered, they will be more likely to excuse your behavior. Perhaps this is why prestigious universities encourage students to nurture their grievances. The peculiar effect is that many of the most advantaged people are the most adept at conveying their disadvantages.
Washington, D.C. book event:
I’m doing a book event at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C. on February 27 at 11am.
I’ll be on stage with author and psychiatrist Dr. Sally Satel and journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley (you can read her recent review of my book in Commentary here).
I’d love to see as many readers there as possible.
Two new reviews of my book:
The Times: Troubled by Rob Henderson review — a foster kid takes on the 1 percent by Marianne Power (ungated here)
Excerpt: “Henderson is an extraordinary man, but this is not a heartwarming book. Instead, it is…a blistering analysis of poverty, social class and the importance of family.”
City Journal: An Orphan at Yale by Kay S. Hymowitz
Excerpt: “Luxury believers pay no price for ignoring the harms they endorse. In fact, it’s the opposite—they gain social currency at places like Yale. The poor reap what the luxury belief class sows.”
My book is officially out next week, on February 20. But as an author, pre-orders can make or break a book. Preorders are how the booksellers, reviewers, and publishers judge interest in a title.
So if you’re sure you want to get it, please don’t wait! Thank you.
Audible (I narrated the audiobook myself)
Reading list reminder:
I’ve spent several months compiling a list of the most interesting and impactful books I’ve ever read.
The list contains my mini-reviews summarizing each book and explaining its importance.
If you are interested in getting my reading list, just follow these two steps:
1. Pre-order a copy of Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class in whatever format you want (print, ebook, or audiobook)
2. Forward your receipt or proof of purchase to the email address email@example.com
Already purchased a copy? Just send your receipt or proof of purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get the secret reading list right away