Smug Index

Boston prides itself on being a haven of high-minded thinking—something that’s also made us insufferable.

By Paul Kix | Boston Magazine |

Okay, let me be fair. We have excellent reasons to feel good about ourselves. Abolitionism, gay rights, universal healthcare: In each case, Boston has led the charge. We live in a city that in many respects is years ahead of the rest of the nation. May it ever be so.

But—and you know what I’m talking about—righteous progressivism can quickly devolve into almost militant piousness. It isn’t just that so many people around here take the moral high road when it comes to their special causes and allegiances. It’s that so many of them want you to know that they’re taking it. Must every menu list the source of its farm-raised beef—and then tout it to customers? Must I always be accosted on Mass. Ave. by earnest, pamphlet-packing young people eager to save trees/Cambodian seals/everything else? Do bikers always need to remind me that their way of getting to work is the healthiest option available? Being around so many well-intentioned people can be suffocating. As Robert Allison, the author of A Short History of Boston, puts it, “There’s a strain of sanctimony running through the city.”

Nowhere has that strain run stronger than among the Brahmins, who reached their patronizing worst with the Watch and Ward Society. From its founding, in 1878, until the 1960s, the society attempted to protect Bostonians from offensive or immoral art by forbidding its dissemination in the city. The Boston Public Library locked up objectionable books, Boston theaters put on plays in specially sanitized “Boston Versions,” and the phrase “Banned in Boston” became the topic of much national amusement. In 1926 the society even banned an issue of the American Mercury, the magazine edited by the ornery H. L. Mencken, who proceeded to sue the group—and win. The Brahmins, he famously and memorably fulminated, were like the Puritans, motivated by “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

  • CraigInDaVille

    Is there irony in the fact that the writer seems to think that the smugness quotient in Boston is higher than elsewhere and thus worthy of comment? Try living in a place like Santa Cruz, CA, for a few years, then move to Boston and tell me whether the anecdotal evidence is as strong as you think.

    • Jonathan

      Exactly. Boston barely registers on the smug scale of liberal cities – in fact, it could still use more progressive thought.

  • http://www.lifealive.com Heidi

    Smug? Look in the mirror. Your whole topic is smug and self righteous. You have pretended to be a journalist to insult people based on a single study? People who choose to buy organics perhaps struggle to do so because environmental and food safety is important to them. They are actually caring for self and others by spending more. Who is to say giving change to the homeless is more generous? Altruism comes in varied forms. You sit in judgement without thinking deeply. Life Alive’s community is not dogmatic, nor preachy (like yourself) we just work to promote holistic sustainability and share the knowledge. Our choices to give our energy and excess to this cause in addition to or instead of others is just a fact of life for most of us. We are appreciative of the opportunity to learn, give and feel our power to make a difference at Life Alive. Noticing how you feel after eating organic therapeutic food and paying more for it to support fair wages and sustainable agriculture is not smugness, it’s just feeling good inside…and that’s a blessing in todays world when there is so much suffering and stress around us.

    • DevilPatrick

      U so crazy

      • DevilPatrick

        So you take your parents money, spend it on overpriced grass and that makes you altruistic?? Whoooooo whatever gets u thru the night

        • Anonymous

          And how do you know that she’s spending her parents’ money? Not everyone here is a college kid living on their parents’ dime.

          • DevilPatrick

            Well maybe she dropped out who cares? I’m sure she still pays for her PBR with plastic at the bar. She post months ago she prob summering in the hamptons rite now. She makes a good argument about the self-righteousness of the author in the first sentence of her manifesto. Then proceeds to (unironically i might add) spew the most self-righteous penis-shrinking hairy bullshit that has been witnessed outside of an Emperor Obama teleprompter. Eat what u wanna eat babe no one cares. I know girls like this and they’re all chubby cuz they’re hitting the life alive/whole foods scene, then goin home drinkin a box of wine and inhaling a pound of cheese lets be real.

  • Anonymous

    So, you’re arguing that people who work for non-profits do less to help others on a regular basis? And the foundation of your argument is that after work, they don’t volunteer or donate money to charity. So, the 40+ hours a week spent actually doing the service work doesn’t count, huh?

    I’m one of those smug Bostonians you’re talking about here. I ride my bike to work at a non-profit and I eat at Life Alive occasionally. Contrary to your article, I bike because I can’t afford a car and the MBTA ride takes twice as long (plus it still costs money). I volunteer at least 2 hours a week outside of work, and I don’t believe that Life Alive’s food will cure me of anything — I just think it tastes good (mmmm, ginger!). Additionally, if you actually understood how giving works in America, you’d know that the majority of charity dollars go to religious institutions (mostly people donating to their own houses of worship). If you account for religious giving, the Northeast is actually ahead of the rest of the nation in terms of personal giving as a percentage of income.

    I wasn’t born here, and I did have some trouble adjusting at first. We can come off as smug, but that’s just on the surface. Not everyone is a fixie-riding, skinny jeans-wearing, PBR-drinking, eco-fanatic hipster. Yes, some are, and some even own businesses. I don’t magically become a hipster just by buying their products. Like everyone else, I’m an actual human being with diverse interests that don’t fit into any one stereotype. So next time you see my walking into Life Alive, maybe you could dial back on your own smug judgement.