Of everything I’ve done, written, or said, this will likely be the one to make me unelectable as U.S. President. Past mischief I’ve gotten into can be dismissed as youthful recklessness, and indiscretions with women are only harmful depending on your political party (e.g. Bill Clinton vs. Herman Cain). Thankfully, none of mine ever involved marital infidelity. But what makes this capable of sinking my 2016 Presidential election campaign is that I’m about to expound upon my thoughts of class, both social and economic. These are ideas I have and things I believe; and independent thought is dangerous, even in a “free” country.
Discussing class issues is perhaps even more dangerous than speaking out about race and racism. For one, I’m part of a younger generation that missed the strife of the Civil Rights era, and frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it. I believe the majority of racism today is propagated by the very people who claim to combat it; they keep it alive because if it truly dies then they’ll have no access to the public spotlight. We all bleed red, and discussions of race and racism have been beaten so thoroughly that it’s an easily dismissed dead horse. Beside, one’s skin color is beyond their control and a remarkably stupid way to assign value to their person. But class? This is much scarier than race, because not only can we assay a person’s worth based on class (and we do), but it is something in our direct control. If we’re found lacking in terms of class, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. And self-accountability is a scary thing.
Now, “class” can have varying definitions so I turned to Webster’s for help.
class – noun
2 a: a group sharing the same economic or social status
b: social rank; especially: high social rank
c: high quality : elegance
This really doesn’t help me very much, because we can see that social rank is lumped in with or equivocated to economic status and I don’t believe they’re necessarily the same. This goes back to correlation vs. causation, but one’s earning power or tax bracket doesn’t define one’s caste or mastery of social graces. Here in the good ol’ U. S. of A., one can observe quite disparate examples of class both residing in the same person.
Trailer trash. Snob. Dirtbag. Preppy. Slob. Anal-retentive. Lazy. Workaholic. 99 percent vs. 1 percenter. Hippie. Yuppie.
I’m pretty sure we’re all familiar with these denigrating terms, and nine times out of ten they’re used by somebody to describe someone outside of their own perceived economic class. An interesting thing to note is that while politicians may engage in class warfare in order to secure themselves more votes, they almost always do it obliquely and never directly confront the issue. Dan Carlin noted in episode 218 of his excellent Common Sense podcast that some will even deny a class system exists. That said, let’s address…
The Tax Bracket. This one’s easy, because most people are familiar with it. We know there are different economic classes, how they work, where we fall, etc. And most people would like to increase their standing here. I’ve long felt that there are two universal truths for mankind: we all want to be loved, and we’d all like to make more money.
If we read anything on the issue of class, this is usually what’s being discussed. We hear discussions of concern about “the disappearing middle class” (a fairly modern invention, by the way) and socio-economic class and earning power ad infinitum ad nauseam. And there’s certainly merit to the discussion, because of the strong correlation between economic power and education. Note I said correlation. I’m not getting into causation on this issue because education later translates back into earning power and it becomes a “chicken or the egg?” argument. Frankly, you can tell the Wikipedia page on the topic was written with left-leanings in mind, because consequences of nutrition boil down to education as well and it can be successfully argued that those “with low socio-economic status” being imprisoned more often is a red herring because they simply commit more crime.
This is where I feel using one generic term like “class” makes the conversation less clear. It’s a limitation of our language similar to saying “I love pizza” and “I love my spouse”. (Because if food and your spouse elicit a similar emotional response, we have more to discuss than the nuances of the English language.) Even those commenting on the issue will refer to “socio-economic class” when the bleed over is obvious and they refuse to confront the problem of
Culture. I used the term caste earlier, but now I’m fairly certain I was incorrect in doing so. Because while a caste system is applied for social stratification (and does factor in earning power), it is also something that is imposed on the individual and they can knowingly want to improve their standing even if it’s not possible. The problem with culture on the other hand, is that it is something that is embraced by the individual and they take ownership of. And this is where I’m going to run the risk of really offending people, but like I’ve stated before, this is my blog and I can say what I want here. I do this for my pleasure, not yours.
Remember back in 2006 when Britney Spears was photographed by paparazzi “flashing” with no panties on as she got out of a car? It wasn’t too uncommon to hear “You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the girl.” The mentality behind this quip is the far more interesting, meaningful, and dangerous side of the discussion that gets glossed over whenever “class” is debated. Much like the allegory of the monkey, banana and water spray experiment, the culture we decide we are a part of and the class we limit ourselves to become a self-inflicted prison.
I swear, I’m trying very hard not to be judgmental or condescending here but some of these observations are quite simply going to make some people mad. Most likely, they’re going to offend those who are guilty of limiting their social standing through their own choices. Because unlike the caste system we were taught about in school, there is nothing limiting what you can achieve in America except you. This is why we love movies like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, and The Pursuit of Happyness. They’re stories of somebody breaking out of the caste they were born into, and they can be reality if we work hard at them. The ugly side of the monkey experiment allegory (and somebody’s going to claim this is racist now, just you watch) is Herman Cain’s treatment when he tried to run for president and people said he “wasn’t black enough” or was an “Uncle Tom”. The truth is Mr. Cain came from humble beginnings, but chose to work his butt off and achieve more. He is the very model of an American success story.
The low-class individual that gets tattoos all over their face and/or neck, or pierces their face into a grotesque circus show can claim they’re being discriminated against when they don’t get a high paying white collar job, but the fact is they chose to permanently set their social class all on their own. The economic class then became a consequence. I’ve known two phlebotomists and they were wonderful people, but the fact is they chose to limit what they could achieve by taking the easy way out with a 12-week class rather than study nursing like they claimed was their goal. And I’ve seen more than one nice car (high end Audis or BMWs) that have been ruined by grossly oversized chrome wheels and low profile tires that have destroyed good handling the car is coveted for in the first place; because money can’t buy good taste, wisdom, or class.
So where does class come from, or more pointedly, how do we become classy individuals? Because being classy is never a bad thing. As much as I hate to simply link to another site or page for the answers to my question (because stuff like Yahoo Answers is completely worthless with eHow not much better), this article at wikiHow really does hit the nail on the head. Please, please head over there and read all the sub-points because they really do outline an excellent way to live our lives no matter our gender, political orientation, or earning power. It’s a self-improvement guide to be a person that everyone (even you) will like and respect summed up in six basic tenets.
- Be real.
- Respect others.
- Don’t be mean.
- Look your best.
- Seek wisdom.
- Be responsible & considerate.
Each of these is capable of much more expansion and thought, but I’ve said enough for now. I’ll close with my favorite suggestion on the list and the summary, which is to be real. Nothing says you have to be somebody else in order to be classy. Rather, it’s a call to excellence of character for whoever you are. These principles can be applied to your life whether you’re a tattooed rockabilly aficionado, an uptight Wall Street type or somewhere in-between. Manners, integrity, and always trying to be one’s best will lead to people saying “That’s a classy individual.” And that, in turn, will lead to success. We’re not trapped by the circumstances we’re born into, only by the limits we impose on ourselves.
Stay classy, people.