This is a post about the middle class – my class.
Our role in capitalist society is to make it run well. To administer it. To justify it, to legitimise it. To contain and comfort its victims. To punish them.
To divide them. To manage its workers. To heal them. To teach and train them and their children. To contrive better means for making profit. To consume and be happy so that we don’t notice what we’re doing.
To fulfil our roles effectively we have to know a lot. But since we are at base good people, if we knew too much about what we are actually doing we couldn’t play our roles effectively. We can’t afford to notice that our interests really lie with those of the wider working class, of which we are a deluded, bought off section. How can we be kept knowing yet ignorant? Part of our role is to fool ourselves.
Abstraction is one answer. Since I went to Paris for COP21 I have been talking on Skype to a young activist in the Gambia. In place of a partly abstract idea of injustice and inequality, I now have a relationship with a poor person whose family’s living has been devastated by climate change, whose country was ruled by Britain to their great disadvantage. The massive inequality has become personal. It’s in my face.
To avoid personal relationships like that, we have to be kept separate from the unprivileged.
Within countries, we tend to live in different neighbourhoods. We have access to different resources and different experiences, so we’ve developed different cultures. We can’t be completely separate, because we work with poor and working-class people, and meet them every day. As long as we aren’t too personally involved, we still feel separate. Even middle-class people who’ve come from working-class families (as my parents did) can feel different from their families of origin, and carry a bunch of complicated feelings of superiority and fraud and treachery and yearning.
And we middle class are scared. A woman stopped me yesterday to say dogs with no right to be there were poo-ing in our communal gardens. ‘We need gates!’ Pub goers piss under the archway next to my house. You can see the tracks of their enormous streams of urine in the mornings. You just can’t get away from these disturbing elements.
Gated communities, that’s the middle-class answer. The Citadel of the EU. And if we BREXIT, we’ll have to find another citadel to escape the people who want the safety and prosperity we have. I reckon we’ll be sucked into the citadel of the US… even into NAFTA?
As for me, I’ve known inequality was wrong ever since I was a child. I remember asking my father, who was in the Fabian wing of the Labour Party, ‘Dad, if you’re a socialist, how come we’ve got a house and a car?’ (It was 1949. Most people in Britain didn’t have either of those things. We lived in a mixed middle-class/working-class street, and my best friend was working-class, so I noticed).
Dad replied: ‘When socialism comes, I’ll be happy to give them up…’ Hmm. There was something about that answer that struck me as suspect.
Now I’m off to a middle-class conference (co-counselling) in Toronto. There will be about forty people there who have been leading other middle-class people, with the aim of exposing, subverting and rejecting our conventional role of keeping capitalism going. We will discuss strategy and tactics in using what we have learnt in the social movements we belong to. Most obviously, green movements.
Because there’s nothing wrong with being middle-class. But if you don’t know you are, and don’t understand the effect it has on you, that’s dangerous.