Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “Generally we were looked upon as being exceptional in some good ways, the energy and all that sort of thing, but we were also seen as excessively democratic. We didn’t have the manners of Europe. A lot of English also said we were too concerned with money. We were too concerned with our vocations and getting ahead. We refused to behave like gentlemen and, at the end of the day, quietly sit and sip our sherry and talk about cultivated things. Instead, we continued on into the night to try to make more money.” – Dr. Charles Murray, The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: First let’s go to our special guest on the Dude Maker Hotline and say hello to Dr. Charles Murray, whose latest book is, The Curmudgeon’s Guide To Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life. I’m just wondering, Dr. Murray, was there another sentence or two you wanted in the title and they ran out of room on the book?
Charles Murray: I had an even longer list initially. I threw in everything but the kitchen sink.
Mike: Do you have to be a curmudgeon to live this kind of life or can you just be a little dissatisfied?
Murray: The reason it’s called the curmudgeon’s guide is that it’s written for people just getting out of college. I’m trying to tell them: When you go into a workplace, you’ve got a lot of people like me. We may appear nice on the outside, we may smile and all that, but inside we are making all kinds of judgments about you that we won’t tell you about, but I’ll tell you about.
Just a quick, obvious example is, if you go into an office and the guy that’s interviewing is named Bill and you go up to him and say, “Hi, Bill,” he probably won’t say, “You may call me Mr. Smith, sir.” He won’t say that, but inside he may very well be saying to himself, “What is this 23-year-old kid doing calling me Bill the first time he sees me?” That’s an example of the kind of thing I let them in on.
Mike: That’s sagacious advice, I think. That’s probably something that would have gone without saying 50 years ago in the period that you wrote about in your previous work, which was Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. You kind of pointed that out. So you’re just following up now: I’ve established how messed up things are. Now, what are we going to do about them? Is that where we’re at here?
Murray: This actually was a fun little book that — it started because at where I work at the American Enterprise Institute, they were writing some tips for the new employees on English usage. I just said: Listen, I’ll just take this opportunity to vent about all the things that I’m irritated about. I started doing that. I say excise the word “like” from your spoken English. It’s impossible for me to stay in a conversation with somebody who says “like” four times in every sentence. Then I eventually got into some more serious topics about living the good life.
Mike: Some of these topics, if you can expand on them just a bit — by the bye, I counted one time recently a sentence, I think it was a sentence, that had 13 “likes” in it.
Murray: That has to be the all-time record. I’ll tell you, though, it’s one of those things that is so common. Almost anybody under the age of 30 seems to do it. They have no idea the extent to which a senior person will write you off if you do that kind of thing. Let’s also face it, for a certain generation of people, namely me and probably you, showing up with a visible tattoo in a serious workplace is probably not a good idea. I know it’s not fair. I know it’s a new art form. I know a huge percentage of under-30s have them. I’m telling you, if you’re going to a job interview and you’ve got visible tattoos, in an awful lot of places you’ve got a strike against you. That’s just reality.
Mike: I don’t know if you caught wind of this — I’m just going to kind of bounce around here while we have the honor and pleasure of your company. I don’t know if you got wind of this, but I discussed your little book American Exceptionalism. I just recently took a trip to the United Kingdom and on my way back it was in my bag. I had ordered some books from Amazon. When I was going through my stuff — you know when you’re traveling in Europe and abroad, you don’t want to be weighed down. I never got a chance to read it so I brought it with me. I can confirm to you that you can read the entire tract called American Exceptionalism from Glasgow to Philadelphia. It’s possible.
Murray: Even quicker. You probably took a little nap in between. It’s short enough you can do that. I have to say, I enjoy writing little books like that. Curmudgeon’s Guide you can read between Glasgow and Iceland. It’s nice and short. Some of my books, as you may know, are best used as doorstoppers. It’s a nice change of pace for me.
Mike: You led me on a couple of paths. One of them is this magnificent little book by a gentleman named Hamilton called Men and Manners. I downloaded that and I’ve got that on my iBook. I started reading that. As I’m reading that, and as I’m reading that particular gentleman’s take on the United States that he visited in the 1820s or 1830s, his take differs from that of de Tocqueville’s. As I’m reading this, I’m going: Okay, so even though de Tocqueville might have gone, “I’m not sure this whole thing is going to last,” the Men and Manners guy looked at it and said, “There’s some vulgarity beneath the surface here that is ultimately going to overtake these people.” Is that fair?
Murray: Absolutely, particularly among the English. They were appalled by our manners. They were appalled by our food, by the quality of the inns where they had to stay overnight. Generally we were looked upon as being exceptional in some good ways, the energy and all that sort of thing, but we were also seen as excessively democratic. We didn’t have the manners of Europe. A lot of English also said we were too concerned with money. We were too concerned with our vocations and getting ahead. We refused to behave like gentlemen and, at the end of the day, quietly sit and sip our sherry and talk about cultivated things. Instead, we continued on into the night to try to make more money. A lot of these statements, by the way, had a basis in fact. We were a rough, crude, tough, vibrant society at that time. We would not have passed muster on a whole lot of measures of politesse.
Mike: My final question to you, Dr. Murray, and feel free to take this wherever it leads you. One of the things that’s outside the realm of politics and of issues that I try to bring into this radio show as often as I possibly can and anything that I write is that our lives are not all about R’s and D’s, who gets voted in, what gets passed, in other words, leading the political life. [/private]
There’s so much more to our lives than that. If we just spent a little more time maybe focusing and concentrating on just being better citizens, more gentlemanly-like in our behavior to the people that we communicate with in whatever form it may be, more gentlemanly to our ladies and wives, and to set a better example for our children, we’d probably do a lot more towards making the United States a better place to live than going to a polling booth. You take that and run with it.
Murray: The short reaction is, first, I agree completely. That’s one of the reasons, by the way, in Coming Apart I have no policy recommendations for things we ought to get Congress to do. I don’t think that works. What we need is a cultural renewal, which is not what politics does. The good news is that once you get outside the beltway, and once you get away from people who spend all their time worrying about politics, I’m heartened by the degree to which an awful lot of Americans still look upon politics as a necessary evil and they don’t learn any more about it than they have to. I think they have a much healthier attitude toward how you live your life than the people inside the beltway for whom politics is the be all and end all of their existence. The future I would like to see is one in which Washington is looked upon as a necessary evil about which we will think as little as possible.
End Mike Church Show Transcript