Monday, June 16, 2008

The denial of class in the U.S. in the present day via Protestant Ethic

Class is rarely addressed in the U.S., and is even less addressed on a personal level in progressive movements or, in general, with people who are very liberal or somewhat radical. What you'll find instead is class denial, a denial by the people in question that they either come from or belong to the upper class. Their justification is usually that they have some sort of a part time or full time job that doesn't pay all the bills but is nonetheless work. Especially in college. Mommy and Daddy may be doctors or engineers or executives, they may own two cars, or an SUV, and live in a McMansion in a ritzy suburb, but you're not rich yourself because they force you to get a job in order to 'build character'. This is completely different of course from the rationale for work by people who actually have to work as young adults because they have no real resources to draw on.

Although I didn't start there, I ended my High School career in an elite school that was somewhat like New York City's "Stuyvesant HIgh School", and I saw this pattern all the time. There was one family where the father was a banker, lived in one of the richest suburbs of Detroit, and the family actually owned a house in the south of France, yet they forced their kids to either do volunteer work or to get jobs while in high school, so that they could have some sort of an honest living. The same thing applied to a family where the father was a documentary film maker whose work appeared on the Discovery channel. Their older kid had to get a job, and ended up getting it at a designer clothing store in downtown Birmingham, Michigan, the ritziest shopping district in the whole state. Because of this, he and his family, in their minds, weren't that rich, or at least weren't like "those other rich people", a group of folks often alluded to but rarely seen.

This is the Protestant work ethic manifesting itself as an impediment to realizing where you come from in terms of class and what exactly that means. These folk's families no doubt started out as middle class, somewhere back in the mists of time, and supposedly lifted themselves up by their bootstraps, so that the myth of righteous wealth, of entitlement to whatever wealth these people have through honest work was passed down to them. Even if it has no bearing whatsoever on current reality and is, in fact, comical to people outside that world who have actually seen and known, or have been, folks who have actually needed to work for a living----because whether or not their parents want to they can't support them because they don't have enough money. Working, having some sort of job, during early adulthood, college, high school, that you don't really need because your parents could set you up as a Shah living in excessive luxury isn't quite the same.

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