October 21st, 2011


A primer on class warfare and all that -- part II

So, who are the Middle Class? How are they different from the Upper and Lower Classes? Is it just money? Actually, money is not the most important criterion for Middle Class status. It's actually more of a value thing. Middle Class values are different from Upper and Lower Class values, which are actually very much like each other. This has been noticed among sociologists for a long time. The Upper and Lower Classes have similar values, oriented toward each other in a symbiotic relationship. At bottom, the very rich and the very poor see life in much the same way. It's the Middle Class that's different. Let's take a few examples.

Take law and order. The Upper and Lower Classes both desire to avoid paying the consequences of breaking the law. The Uppers believe in "special rules for special people." The law exists to protect them from those who would prey upon them; it has no business questioning how they run their own lives. Meanwhile, the Lowers live in fear of the police and what those in authority will make of their doings. Even if not guilty of anything, the Lowers will tend to avoid dealing with the police, will be reluctant to snitch on others, and will tend to argue that they're not doing any real harm and so the police should have better things to do than to hassle them. The Middlers advanced the concept of the rule of law -- that we have a government of laws and not of men, that everyone is equal (and equally responsible) before the law -- and they are the ones who insist upon it, because the law was their great bulwark against the Uppers who would have lumped them in with the Lowers and run roughshod over them.

Or take sexual behavior and marriage customs. For the Uppers, marriage was always more about property and succession than about love. In England, the gentry talked openly of "the marriage market." This led to the practice of condoning all kinds of on-the-side relationships, so long as they didn't endanger the property or the succession. Meanwhile, among the Lowers, relationships tended to be bound only by the interest of the parties. Many Lower Class folk never got formally married, so it wasn't hard to break up a household and establish a new one. Even among those formally married, easy divorce was desirable, since the only thing holding the relationship together was the desire of both parties. The Middlers were different. They wanted both order and love; or, at least, they wanted respectability. How one ordered one's life reflected upon one's reliability and status in a society where those mattered most, so the Middle Class were all about the stability of marriage and the importance of family. Which is not to say that Middle Class folk are less likely to commit fornication or adultery; just that they are more likely to worry about what others will think of them.

Or take the regulation of business and fair trade practices. Poor folk expect to be cheated. Rich folk expect to do what they like and hire lawyers to keep them on the right side of the law. The rich also do not scruple to run others out of business, if they are in their way. It is the Middle Class who insisted on fair trade rules and equal access to the courts and reliable weights and measures and all the rest of it. The Middle Class run Small Business, which can only compete with Big Business if all dealings are open and fair. Small Business needs government to play fair, too. Neither the rich nor the poor expect or want the government to play fair. They're looking for some kind of loophole.

One could multiply examples. The intent of these is not to paint the Middle Class as more virtuous than the other classes, just to point out that they are very different in their values from the other classes. The other two classes see the Middle Class as hypocritical or self-righteous. This is a constant theme of "hip" comedians and liberal talk show hosts (e.g., Bill Maher, Whoopi Goldberg, inter alii). But at bottom, all three classes agree that the Middle Class is different. This also explains why rich politicians and fabulously wealthy celebrities can get away with acting as Tribunes of the poor by calling out those they see as the stuffy, oppressive, bigoted, plain white bread types that they think keep minorities, women, and the sexually adventurous in bondage. Both ends unite against the middle.

A primer on class warfare and all that -- part III

Class warfare rhetoric never really caught on in America, though there was a time when it looked like it might. In the 1930s, when the Great Depression had laid much of the country low, anything that promised a better future was given a hearing. Communism's appeal, however, was very limited. For one thing, many of those who were suffering continued to think of themselves as Middle Class. They weren't poor, they were just broke. The experience might have made them fearful or angry, but it didn't radicalize them. And the overwhelming character of America remained Middle Class.

Working Class identity was largely centered in urban areas, among industrial workers and slum dwellers. Unions were active here, and they, too, often employed class warfare rhetoric. But white union members often saw African-Americans as a threat to their jobs and rather than acting in solidarity with them, actively sought to exclude them from membership. Communist propaganda found a fertile field in Harlem, for instance, but not so much among white New Yorkers. Many white ethnic laborers were also Catholic, and the Catholic Church was opposed to Communism.

Real enthusiasm for Communism was found in some disaffected Middle Class people. Some, no doubt, were attracted to it out of conviction. For others, it was something that spoke to their own alienation. Years later, in the 1960s and 70s, affluent white young people often affected a working class identity in order to be more "authentic."

So the Communist Party never really caught on in America. Socialism of a limited sort was attractive to many, but class warfare rhetoric failed to hold people's attention. In an overwhelmingly Middle Class country, where "making it" meant assuming a Middle Class identity along with Middle Class income, there wasn't a lot of future for hard-core agitation.

Envy and Pity were often used in public debate, though. Pity is the more presentable emotion, and it has often been used to motivate the public to "help the poor." From Johnson's War on Poverty to the Urban Renewal movement to the debates over what to do about those without health insurance, politicians and social workers have kept the need of Lower Class America in the consciousness of the rest of the country. One could seriously debate the results of many of these programs, but the impulse to assist those in need is a good one. Meanwhile, pity moves legislation, but envy produces votes. Conflictual rhetoric tends to sharpen when politicians are speaking to the poor, rather than about them to somebody else.

The Democrats often employ class warfare rhetoric. This is partly a matter of conviction and partly a matter of convenience. Socialism and Progressivism are part of the party's tool kit; they're what they have to offer to fix America. They mean what they say on such matters sincerely. On the other hand, whipping up class anger is also a stock Democratic response to the fear of losing an election.

The Republicans remain staunchly Middle Class. Richard Nixon's "Checkers" speech, which he gave to salvage his place on the ticket with Eisenhower, was in response to charges that he had enriched himself in public service. His comment that his wife Pat didn't have a fur coat, but just an honest Republican cloth coat has been much derided. But in laying out his assets before the public, he was establishing his Middle Class bona fides, and it worked: the charges went away, and Ike kept him on the ticket.

Republicans have difficulty in talking about the poor, because all of their policy talk is aimed at the Middle Class. No doubt Republicans are sincere in their desire to assist the poor, but recommending tax credits for 401k plans to people who don't pay much taxes and don't have investments garners a lot of blank stares. Democrats are more comfortable with the rhetoric of division, even as they employ the rhetoric of unity. This comes straight out of Conflict Theory sociology.

Meanwhile, there are, of course, wealthy Republicans and wealthy Democrats, who act in ways typical of the wealthy. In public life, however, wealthy Republicans tend to present themselves as champions of the Middle Class, while wealthy Democrats present themselves as champions of the Lower Class. Upper Class behavior is fine, in other words, unless you want the support of other people, in which case acting entitled is a liability.

A primer on class warfare and all that -- part IV

Class warfare gets mixed in with a lot of other things these days. The default position of many (most?) academics these days is heavy influenced by Conflict Theory, which means that if you've attended college in the last thirty years, you've either had it spoon fed to you, had it as sauce over stuff the professor thought was original, or at least had the slogans repeated endlessly. So, what is it?

Sociology asks two primary questions. 1) Is the individual or the group the primary building block of society? 2) Are people basically consensual or conflictual (i.e., do they innately seek to get along or do they seek to get what they want in despite of others)? How you answer those two questions determines your basic outlook on society.

Conflict Theory assumes that your primary identity is that of your group, and that all groups are in perpetual conflict over the resources of society. "Resources" in this statement means not only money and power, but also the right to define words used in common. Furthermore, resources are finite; any gain for you is automatically a loss for me. So conflict is inevitable.

Conflict Theorists (sometimes called neo-Marxists) say that when you act against your group because you think it is "right," you are guilty of False Consciousness. "Right" means "whatever is good for my group." All covenants and relationships are merely tactical; no societal relationship is ever settled, it's only resting until I have the resources to finally win for my group. So, all men oppress all women. All whites oppress all blacks. A black woman must sometimes identify her interests with black males because she is oppressed by both male and female whites; on the other hand, she must sometimes identify her interests with white women because she is oppressed by both white and black men. But no relationship, whether in society at large or between any two "friends" is ever settled. My needs may call for me to repudiate what you thought was an on-going understanding at any time. And the conflict cannot ever be settled.

Any behavior I adopt that came from you means you gain in influence and I lose in influence, and both of us are being proxies for our groups. This is why African-American kids in school are sometimes criticized by their peers for studying hard and getting good grades. Their friends call it "acting white." It's another way of adopting False Consciousness, which is the ultimate no-no.

Here's the thing, though. If person in Group A (a "victim" group) behaves or believes in accordance with the values of Group B (an "oppressor" group), then that person is guilty of False Consciousness. BUT, if a person in Group A persuades a person in Group B to yield some societal advantage in order to make up for the disadvantaged position of people in Group A, what is that? Well, that, too, is False Consciousness. Which makes the appeal to higher values by the practitioners of identity politics a massive con job. If you buy into what they're selling, then you're a dupe. You're guilty of False Consciousness. And they'll take what you're giving up, Fool, but never believe that your changing your behavior means you're going to be really accepted. Whaddya think we are? Consensualists?

So, the use of moral suasion by those who don't really believe in Truth, except for "my/our Truth," is a crock. That doesn't prove other social theories right, but it does prove that Conflict Theory is a particularly nasty idea, particularly for high-achieving, Middle Class white males (everybody's favorite oppressors).

Actually, my case against Conflict Theory is not sociological (the questions, above, have no empirical answers, and therefore cannot be determined); rather, my case against Conflict Theory is religious. In the Apostles' Creed, it says,
I believe in the holy catholic Church . . .
One can argue (many do argue) that that phrase describes a particular organization. As a Methodist, I don't think it has to. But leave that for a moment. The whole idea of catholicity implies that the gospel is True, and can be truly expressed in the heart language of every people.

This is not admitted by all. We have "Christian" theologians who believe that Christianity is a very white, European kind of thing, and our dogma has to yield to different formulations of God in different cultures. But historic Christianity says that God is the Father of all mankind, and that Jesus is the Savior sent to everybody. So, the Apostles' Creed, while it is not exhaustively true (other statements about God can also be true), is absolutely true in everything it says, and this can be truly understood, one way or another, by every culture and tongue and people throughout all times and places.

Like [pick your sociological theory], the Creed cannot be proven empirically, either; I'll admit that. But that's where I start, and that means that neo-Marxist clergy who want to swap old Conflict Theory slogans and call them "Liberation Theology" or something are simply heretics. If you are a Christian, you are under no obligation to listen to anything else they say. Whatever moral arguments they make, their metaphysical compass is faulty, and even when they point in the right direction, it is only by chance.
cook with fire

Long day

Went shopping for four hours this morning. Cleaned four different stores out of leeks. Bean dinner and Blessing of the Hunt was a small affair, but much appreciated. Got the ribs for Sunday morning marinating. They are big, honkin', two-bone meatsicles. Yum. I am now officially pooped. And tomorrow is another day of cooking from basically 9 to 5. But that will finish all the prep and make Deanne's job that much easier on Sunday.

BTW, I'd like to say how much I enjoy the people I work with. My parishioners young and old, my friends and colleagues from other churches in the area, the Scouts of every sort and description. I am greatly blessed and greatly loved. I am glad I am where I am, doing what I'm doing. Now, if it just didn't hurt so much at the end of the day . . .