Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Class and the absence thereof

In a certain African country, class distinctions are vividly portrayed.  Although tribal ties seem essential, the primary element for distinguishing between classes is wealth (possessions, land, productivity, liquidity) and influence. 

  • In the upper reaches, it may be family wealth, leveraged wealth, and corporate ownership that determine ones placement.

  • In the middle realms, regular labor and income are the wealth elements.

  • At the lowest, individuals have neither possessions nor significant income nor even perhaps fair labor opportunity.

Class perspective includes a sense of superiority looking from upper to lower as though there was greater human and social worth associated with the upper positions.  Individuals relegated to the lower echelons are presumed to be of lesser value, lesser intellect, lesser ability and significance.   Lower class members are artificially and deliberately constrained from moving upward.  

Oh wait, that's the United States. And the rest of the wealthy world. My mistake.

Interestingly the wealthier people become, the less relevant they tend to be as members of a community.  

Generally, the wealthier a family is, the fewer truly meaningful connections they have to others.  They have no need of connection and are aware of the risks associated with being too available; it might make demands.  The children of the wealthy are often narrowly constrained to their 'social class' and its associated thinking.  Great attention is given to educational development, but perhaps little if any attention is given to character development.  The fundamental elements of humanity may be completely neglected, even unknown for generations within a wealthy family lineage.

Among the wealthy, careers tend to focus on position, prestige, power and profitability.  Upward mobility, bigger/ better/ more  house/ car/ clothes/ gadgets/ vacations.  Humanity is slowly squeegeed out of the mix.  

Decisions become of greater significance but are made with progressively less awareness of the risks and impact on individuals.  Ford's Pinto and its tendency to explode are an illuminating example from decades back.  The high probability of killing someone in an inferno and the human need to preclude it happening, those issues never made it into the boardroom decision making process.  GM's deadly ignition switch followed a similar conscienceless path this year.

The world has turned upside down.  Everything you thought ... may not be.
If a wealthy fellow had to survive apart from the shelter of his wealth, he'd die within days, and his family would die with him.
If a poor fellow had to survive apart from wealth ...  what's new?  He's been doing it for years, and taking care of his wife and kids too.  He's the more extraordinarily capable of the two.
On the other side of that equation ... 
If you're looking for good-hearted openness, got to the poor.  
If you need a place to be accepted, to be received, to be loved, go to the poor.  
If you want to see whole-hearted sacrifice or courageous nobility, go to the poor.  
The wealthy, as a rule, are unable to do such things.  They fear you are after their wealth.  Sick, broken creatures, they're poisoned by their luxury.  They have difficulty even making an overture of genuine friendship.  They worry about what it might cost them.

Upper class
Middle class
Lower class

There's no such thing as a lower, middle, or upper-class of course.  There is a middle income group, however, that continues under duress these days.  The gap between rich and poor is widening at an accelerating pace, and the middle income group is disappearing, merging into the 'working class'.  That's the salaried folks and the hourly folks that provide the wherewithal for rich folks to get richer.
So where is the nobility in such an arrangement?  Where might one find a hero worthy of admiration?  Should we look among the ... ?