What is Class?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

[Picture of Low Caste women]CLASS is an emotive word, it is in common usage — yet it is often hard to pin down; everyone seems to have a different opinion on the meaning of class, and — perhaps more importantly, on the effects and implications of a class system.

There are different types of class system, for example, there is a religious class system in countries such as India — the “caste” system.

[Picture of upper class school uniform - Eton]In Great Britain and other countries, there is a social class system that is hereditary, with Lords and Ladies and landed gentry that depend on middle and lower social classes.  In other countries, such as the USA, which does not have a monarchy, and which does not have an historical ruling elite, class is defined by other yardsticks, usually money — especially “old” money — but also fame, influence, and education.

It is ostensibly complex — particularly when Marxism and other political doctrines are introduced.

All of these are distractions that cloud what class is and what it means.

[Picture of filing system - classification, grouping, sorting]At it’s simplest, “class” is a collection of things or people that share a common attribute.

It quickly follows that class can be inclusive or exclusive — yet most people would probably think of class as being about excluding people, or of creating a ruling class or élite.

This is most likely because some people use the word in a flatteringly descriptive way — such as: “she has a lot of class”, and “that is class, pure class”.

[Picture of quality engineering high tolerance watch workings]In this way, class is something to aspire to, it is ” a good thing”, and the word is used to describe the best quality — for example: “high class”.

This may seem at odds with political ideology, where upper class is “a bad thing”, but that need not really be so — because it is entirely possible to understand someone as being of the upper classes — refined and of good quality (something to aspire to), and yet at the same time despising the class system that would disallow low classes to attain that quality level.

[Picture of Marxists]I guess one could argue that Marxism,  Socialism and Communism could still admire class as having the best qualities, best manners, best lifestyle, and best education — but that the means to achieve would be available to all. Just look at Russian underground train stations and the Ballet for the masses.

That is because these ideologies thought the class system was about exclusivity.  That was the big mistake. It is obvious to us now, as we look back, that removing the class system would not make everyone improve!

In fact, people group themselves into a class in a natural and organic way.  It is pure and simple sociology at the end of the day.

[Picture of a dunce hat]The large unwashed masses, the “many”, as a matter of fact cannot attain high class; it is a statistical impossibility.  The fact is that not everyone can become rich, not everyone can be very clever, not everyone can be good-looking.

The sad thing is therefore that, as we move away from one class system, we move into a new and different class system. The present is a good example, it is unfashionable to be posh, and it is very good to be “down-to-earth” (common as muck).

We have a dumbing down effect.  No-one wants to appear clever, no-one wants to appear posh, polished, refined or bettered/ improved. There is a strong sense just now of being obliged to connect/ relate to the masses: the lowest common denominator.  We want our cake and eat it!

[Picture of low class rave music event]People do not see the point of advancing themselves in terms of manners or other behaviours; they want to be famous or rich instantly — possibly via reality TV or by having a relationship with someone who is famous.

This is the only acceptable way when you think about it: you can remain “one of us”, you still “keep your feet on the ground”, be “the salt of the earth”, and “remember where you came from” by not getting “airs and graces” — yet you are, at the same time, in the elite!

Yet, while trying to appear part of the poor class, that is really just another form of exclusion, a grouping that makes a “them and us” situation — those on the list and those not on the list, those allowed in to the trendy nightclub, and those excluded.

[Picture of British Lion of Empire]There is a sense of loss of national identity with many Brits, and this might be why so many Brits abroad behave so badly — they no longer have a role model to aspire to.

It is a topsy turvy world just now; the landed gentry of many generations past are poor and tragic creatures, the most famous people now have no discernible talent, no qualities to aspire to — no class.

But even that is okay; they are grouped together into a class, and that is what class means, nothing more.

  • Awareness of class is of vital importance.  What I mean is that you should be aware of what you are including, excluding and what you are aspiring to.

As I stated in my earlier posting entitled How To Manage Racism, Sectarianism and Sexism of Monday, 19 February 2007, school desegregation increases racism.  Forcing people to merge together doesn’t work, getting rid of a class divide is not the answer.

In an even earlier article posted here, called Why You MUST go to the Pub, June 27th, 2003, I showed that the person with the most power and influence is the person with the weakest links to the particular group or class.

It follows that change will have to come in the manner of specific individuals working between influential groups of people — that is the engine for change.

It is strange to realise that the most important people are the ones who are least racist, least constrained by religion or politics, least bigoted, least nationalistic, and least entrenched in the things that make a class or group exclusive.

The people who move between types, classes and groups are the ones who shape our future.  These people are free radicals, floating voters, independents and inclusivists.

Sure, class can be just a group with something in common, but it can still be something “better”.  If people collect together as a chess club, they want to be better at playing chess don’t they?  If people form a  pop band, they want to be good.  It is even possible to be a chess-playing member of a pop band.

I think that class is impossible to avoid, and so we have to accept it.  It is managed by external influence and therefore subject to trends and fashion. The only real thing in our control is therefore the aspiration to be in a group or class, to be better and to be encouraging and accepting of others. It is also worthwhile noting that you can be in more than one group at a time, so you can only really be true to yourself as it is impossible to be everything to everyone.


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