The confidence of the rich

There’s a strange and morbid confidence that comes from going to private school. I taught another one of Those students today, and I found the way she talked to me so interesting. She was unfailingly confident in what she wanted, what she thought she could do, and in indulging me with many lurid details of school life unprompted. She derided the borders and the school in general, while also proudly speaking of things such as “The Crypt”, the underground common room of the school, which she described as “dark but cozy”. This is the kind of opinionated, anthropologistic self-entitlement that you simply don’t find among most teenagers.

The most striking feature of private school kids is that they know they are going to do well in life, and at the same time have very little motivation to make use of this privilege. It’s not surprising, but it is amusing, when it’s not sad. I’ve taught a considerable number of students who continue to drop out of university, retake subjects, switch degrees, and generally doss about just so that they can avoid working in their father’s company (a guaranteed, well paid, stable job!) as long as possible.

I imagine this is what people are thinking of when they say, ‘Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man’. Except this confidence is much more pernicious, as it doesn’t matter how many times in life these people mess up, they’ll still somehow land back on their feet, even if they end up as a family outcast.

I’m trying to be more empathetic. On a certain level I can feel sorry for them. It wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s their fault that they have no motivation, as it stems from the unnatural accumulation of wealth which is enabled by capitalism and centuries of family history. At the same time, though, everyone has the potential to be radicalised, whether for good or bad.

We don’t consider it radicalisation when posh people espouse violent beliefs, even though they functionally have much more power than your average communist or anarchist. Isn’t that interesting? No need to reign in your views when you’ve been spouting them since prep school with nothing but pats on the head for your efforts.

I’m not claiming to be the first to make these observations, by the way. And I want to make it clear: I’m not trying to distance myself from my own middle-class status by writing about toffs a few rungs above me. I’m trying to be an informant, as self-satisfied as that might sound, because I believe that to beat the enemy you have to know them. Not in the sycophantic, mass-media-having-a-tea-party-with-n*zis kind of way, but in the observant, strategising way.

This confidence may be desirable to some, but it is not achievable to most. You cannot possess a rich man’s confidence while in dire straits, as you will earn nothing but contempt and mockery. Sure, there are a few breakouts like C*sey N*istat, but they’re exceptions. And we shouldn’t want this kind of confidence, anyway. It can only function in a system with lower strata of society to rest your gumbooted feet on.

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