Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Great Transition

It's always risky to call a given span of years an “age” or “era” while it is still going on. Events that seem so salient at the time might turn out to be not all that historically significant, or trends that we thought were the start of something really big might fizzle. When's the last time, for example, that you heard anyone refer to “The Space Age”? It sounded good when we were ready to establish colonies on Mars, but now look – most of the NASA program is ending with a whimper rather than a bang, and it seems highly far-fetched at this point that we'll even get back to the Moon. Things that fail to live up to the hype tend to make for bad “ages” and “eras” -- and I guess one disadvantage in our time is that everything is so hyped that it's impossible for even successful enterprises to live up to expectations. Right now we're supposedly living in the Age of Automation, the Digital Age, the Post-Industrial Age, the post-Christian era, and so on, with other ages and eras hot on their heels. When the present gets redefined every few months, one suspects that it's based on a longing for historical significance – but unfortunately that cannot be forced. Only future generations can offer a final verdict on what is historical and what is ephemeral.

(If Mount Rushmore were carved today, would one of the four heads be Teddy Roosevelt? Seems kind of unlikely somehow. Of course, if it had been carved in the 1960s it would have included both FDR and JFK... so let's be thankful for small favors.)

(On the other hand, how many prognosticators and “futurists” have predicted a short life for something that turned out to actually define an age or an era? Rock 'n' roll comes to mind, as does the computer. I suppose the automobile qualifies as well... and the steam locomotive... and the airplane... and so on. ) (Funny how often it has to do with transportation. No one ever talks about the “Age of Penicillin”.)

(And does anyone else remember when computers were supposed to be the size of a football stadium by now? That was when they still ran on vacuum tubes. And the aesthetic movement called “steam punk” is, in a way, an exercise in nostalgia for an era that never existed because electricity took over from steam as the major power transmitter.)

With that note of caution, I will proceed, nonetheless, to hypothesize that the current era – socially, economically, culturally, politically – will be seen by future generations as... well... let's call it The Great Transition. And by that I mean the transition from a three-class society to a two-class society, a process that is well underway, so there is already ample justification for this idea.

I refer, of course, to the no-longer-gradual, no-longer-subliminal, reduction in the state of the middle class from prosperity to (relative) deprivation... from complacency to fear... and, perhaps most importantly of all, from the class that exerted cultural dominance to the one that is chronically under attack and feels like a persecuted minority. In the broadest sense, if the old three-class system consisted of the “doers-to”, i.e. the upper class, and the “done-to”, i.e. the lower class, and those suspended in between, i.e. the middle class, we are now seeing the middle class being moved into the “done-to” category at a rapid rate. A vast gulf is opening up between the ruling elite and everyone else -- and I'm only about the 1,000th commentator to point tht out. Or, to put it another way, we are seeing the middle class being forcibly shifted into the lower class – but without having been born in that environment, and without having lower-class expectations (characterized by low locus of control and metaphysical despair, as I've discussed before). If you show me, in two adjoining houses on the same street, a lower-class family that has never known anything else, and a middle-class family that has fallen on hard times and therefore now has the same household income as the lower-class family, I guarantee you that the middle-class family will be the one that is stressed out. It's all about expectations, in other words – and although this is a feature of human nature in general, we are seeing most of the symptoms these days among the “no longer, or at-risk, middles”, as represented by the Tea Party movement.

Now, this whole class thing, when it comes to history, economies, forms of government, and so on, is an extremely complex subject, and you could fill a large library with books on it. But my overall impression, at least when it comes to “modern”, by which I mean post-Industrial Revolution, history, is that a three-class system is highly correlated with democratic forms of government as well as with commerce, technology, and urbanization. After all, who were the original “bourgeoisie”? I would say mostly merchants and traders. And where did they live? By definition, in towns and cities, particularly in areas and countries that, for whatever reasons, had a thriving commercial and trading sector. And to their number were eventually added what are called “professional” people – doctors, lawyers, and the like – followed by other “white-collar” groups like teachers. And this arrangement held true, more or less, for centuries – right up to the mid-20th Century, in fact, since it's the way things were when I was growing up. Can we at least agree that this lasted long enough to define an “era” or even an “age”? At least in Western Europe and North America?

I would never have imagined, as a kid, that the social-cultural-economic arrangement I grew up with was, in fact, the last flowering of something that had been around for centuries... and that a revolution was at hand. Well, of course, as we all know, the bourgeoisie are always the last to know when it comes to revolution. There might have been early signs (the beatniks? Jazz? Rock 'n' roll? Sack dresses?) but no one was willing or able to see them as such. And I guess this is one of the defining things about the middle class – that it's in the perpetual position of being that frog in the pot on the stove. If only we were more sensitive to the signs of the times – as sensitive as the proletariat are, even! But then we wouldn't be middle-class any more, would we? At least not in the strict sense. We would then be revolutionaries who came out of the middle class, and who despise their heritage, as so many revolutionaries have down through the centuries.

Now, I'm trying to make as “value-free” a presentation here as possible, because I'm not one to carry a torch for the middle class. It has its “issues”, its serious flaws, its absurdities... and in some ways maybe it's due for a cleansing experience. But I do think that it is being assaulted in our time by people who are no better -- and usually worse -- and who have evil intent... so I don't think it's out of place to offer a bit of sympathy, even though it can be argued that most of the middle class's woes have been brought on, or at least aggravated, by its own actions (like always voting for the wrong candidate, for example – and not starting to protest things until it's too late).

And allow me also to dismiss, with a single wave of the hand, people who claim that “class analysis” is a thing of the past... or that it was never a good model anyway. Nonsense! You can debate all you want as to the fine points of class distinctions, and how many sub-classes there are, and how this correlates with other factors like race, ethnicity, religion, etc., but the phenomenon we call “class” has been with us always, and always will be – no matter how “democratic” or “egalitarian” we are, or fancy ourselves to be. And in fact, you'll notice that every time a government tries to eliminate social class, they only succeed in substituting a new kind of class structure that is typically more oppressive than the one it replaced. So social class really does seem to be, on some profound level, a universal aspect of human nature in groups – an inevitable thing that arises at all times and in all places, whether this is willed by people and whether or not it is conscious. It's as hard to eliminate as are differences in intelligence or athletic ability for individuals – i.e. impossible. And yet we have never seemed to learn to live with it – at least in this country -- which is an interesting thing since it's been taken for granted and not questioned in most societies down through history, and in the bulk of societies in our time, I would say. I guess if one were compiling a list of bad ideas – i.e. ones doomed to fail – eliminating all class distinctions would have to be at the top of the list. And yet this is what has motivated all revolutions in the modern era, and it's what motivated all communist and many socialist governments over the past century or so. And it's what continues to motivate and energize liberals/Democrats in the present day -- or so they claim.

But if we accept class analysis as a valid approach, we cannot thereby fall into simplistic assumptions. The most obvious and simplistic in our time is that it's just a matter of money, and nothing more. You can find a chart in most any issue of most any periodical in the land that shows you exactly what “class” you're in based on your household income – completely ignoring other factors like values, taste, life style, political attitudes, social customs, diet, dress... and so on. And much of this adds up – or did at one time -- to that mysterious thing that has become virtually extinct in our society (and in most others), namely breeding.

There, I said it! That most feared word, since it denotes, inescapably, a class distinction that cannot be erased by winning the lottery, or by government mandate. And yet its utility in our time can be questioned, since it's so rare that one seldom sees it even among the super-rich. When one does see it, it's most likely among European royalty or “old money”. And it is, of course, blatantly un-democratic; no one gets to vote on who is well-bred and who is not, and you can't buy it in a showroom or on eBay. It is something that few people have the time or money or motivation to cultivate any longer, and yet it is, I would say, the most reliable and traditional sign of true “class” that we have.

In trying to think of an example from post-war America, I come up with a mere handful, which probably means that I've spent way too little time (i.e. none) in the correct social circles. But who's going to argue when I say that the last well-bred resident of the White House was Jackie Kennedy? Her husband's family had more money, but she had the upbringing. She was a shiny, gleaming, finished product of all that the upper reaches of society have to offer – and it is offered in a straightforward, unabashed way. After all, who wouldn't want to be well-bred, if they had the choice? Other White House residents have been perfectly nice people – some of them at least – but I would be hard-pressed to call any of them, even the rich ones, well-bred. I'll spare you the most blatant examples; you can consider that homework.

So if breeding is “out” as a practical criterion, because it's basically extinct, then what do we have to take its place? Money, and nothing more? That might work in places like Texas, but most people suspect there is a bit more to it – even though the expression “nouveau riche” has fallen on hard times. And when it comes to rich people who happen to have good taste, which came first, the money or the good taste (a possible sign of breeding)? I can point to guys who give millions a year to the symphony but whose taste in food is limited to steak and lobster, and who insist on driving abominably-designed big-ass American luxury cars. And who live in the mansions that the “McMansions” are designed to emulate. Maybe we should be satisfied with partial solutions when it comes to such things as taste; after all, this is still America, a rough-and-tumble frontier wilderness territory, where a man has to be hard, steely-eyed, and rock-jawed to stay alive. All of that decadent, sissified European stuff can come later. (Well, isn't this the attitude?)

The subject of taste is incredibly complex – more so than the subject of class, even – so I'm not about to get bogged down in it at this point. Suffice it to say that it is a factor, and nothing distinguishes the three classes in America more than the composite of clothing, grooming, houses, cars, food, and drink. You tell me where a person stands in these areas and I will ring up a class designation for that person, guaranteed accurate or your money back.

OK then, how about education? Yes, that counts, as long as we recognize that a “college education” is no longer a guarantee even of literacy, to say nothing of becoming an “educated person”. No, it takes much more – way more – than what is offered in the typical college or university at the undergraduate level. There are exceptions, of course – redoubts of the “liberal arts” in the true sense – but they don't contribute to social class precisely because they are so rare. Our society doesn't know what to do with scholars – assuming it ever did. But there was a time when “a classical education” meant something. I guess that was at the same time that not everyone who was not brain-dead (not to mention some who were) went to college. It was also a time when there were other paths to success, and being self-supporting in a respectable occupation, than having to get the college ticket punched. But the advocates and propagandists of “higher education” have had their way, and now anyone who didn't attend a “four-year school” is considered somewhat of a second-class citizen. Needless to say, if everyone goes to college, it's as if no one went to college, and we have to start all over again.

Now, when I dismiss “higher education” as a reliable criterion, I don't want to, by doing so, dismiss the symbolic and literal value of attending the “right” school. There are, clearly, schools that the “good” families send their offspring to, and it has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with appearances, contacts, and “networking”. There are schools – preparatory and collegiate – that are simply the property of the ruling class, and the riff-raff are simply not welcome (even assuming they could afford it). So while “education” per se is of little consequence, having the right colored school tie most definitely is.

To get back to money for a moment – do you need money to be considered upper class? I refer you to the film “Gray Gardens”; it might stimulate your thinking on the subject. The short answer is – yes, and a lot of it, except for a very few freakish exceptions. OK then, do you need money to be considered middle class? Yes, if it's only about money – but I hope I've at least suggested that it's also about taste and education (genuine or symbolic), and I will extend these to a concept of “life style”. There is, like it or not, a middle-class life style, and a lower-class life-style... more than one of each, I suppose, but there is no mistaking them, and no possibility of confusing the two. And yet even though it's about money, and taste, and education, it's also about attitudes and values... about the entire approach to life... about one's premises when it comes to dealing with the world, and the way in which one deals with it. And this, I suspect, is actually the most profound difference, and why we find, especially in this country as in all “new” societies, people who seem upper-class in every way except... they just aren't. And people who are middle-class in most respects except you can tell they're well-bred. And middle-class people who obviously just last week clawled their way up out of the lower-class muck. This is something people can tell about each other; call it unfair, call it “undemocratic”, whatever – it's undeniable, and it would be folly to try and eliminate it from our psyche. (Might as well try to elminate cliques from middle schools, or gangs from the inner cities.)

So really, it's these intangibles – these undefinables – that are the surest sign, and yet they are in some ways the most subtle, and are certainly the most difficult to change. At what point in our upbringing did we acquire our world view? I can't remember ever having been without it, although I suspect it has evolved quite a bit over time. I have often commented on the fatalism that characterizes the lower class – that and the self-destructiveness, and there's no doubt they go together. But at what age does this attitude enter the thinking and feeling of the person? At what age does the child of wealth realize that he is rich, special, exceptional, privileged, superior -- and eminently deserving of all of it? At what age does the middle-class person define his place in the firmament – above the unwashed but below the privileged... a state much more precarious and challenging than it appears, and one that requires an exceptional effort to follow the rules, conform, and exercise self-control?

So what I'm coming around to is that class is not simply a matter of any one thing in particular, but is a complex matter. And yet, there are predictable correlates – at least there used to be, and this is part of what I'm working up to. There was a time when rich people, with breeding, acted like rich people with breeding across the board, with few exceptions. They had a self-contained, highly-reinforcing (or highly regulated, depending on one's point of view) culture that offered all who stayed within its bounds great rewards. There was really no reason to leave, or to stray – and very few did. The middle class as well, although there was room for ambition and advancement, had well-defined social, economic, and cultural boundaries within which there was very little “wiggle room” (with small allowances made for ethnic and religious heritage – but not too much!). In terms of political attitudes, the vast bulk of both groups was “conservative” in that they wanted to maintain the life style to which they were accustomed – or better yet, acquire more of the same. The middle class might have envied the upper class, but the most they would ever do about it was to study books on etiquette, and try to act rich on those few occasions when they could afford it and were not in danger of too many derisive comments from the neighbors.

Then we had the vast lower class – the “working class”, “labor”, “blue collar”, the proletariat... the “people”... and they came in many shades and varieties, but their social stratum was what it was, and no one would mistake it for anything else. And it was, of course, the primary source of raw energy in favor of “change” if not for outright revolution – a force for populism, equal rights, “fairness”, economic liberalism... and the elimination, as much as possible, of class distinctions. And this is not to say that the bulk of lower-class people thought about these issues all the time, or even some of the time, or at all – but they wound up being represented by institutions, like labor unions, the NGOs of their day, and political parties, that did. In fact, that's about all they thought about, 24-7. So we have the basis for class conflict, class warfare, whatever you want to call it, which brings us right up to the present day. Every other word out of any politician's mouth, regardless of party, has something to do with class and class conflict. It might be euphemistic... it might be “coded”... but it's there. In fact, one could say (and I do) that politics is the natural outgrowth of social class, which, as I said, will always be with us... and so will politics, I fear. Another way of looking at it is that politics is about economics, nearly all the time... and economics is about money, and so is social class. So you're going to eliminate politics from the human experience about as soon as you eliminate money, or social class – namely never.

An elegant, elderly Southern lady I knew had a succinct piece of advice for her granddaughter: “Don't act like trash.” She didn't say “be rich”, or “have good taste”, or “get a good education” -- even though those would all be considered fine things. The main point was not to act like “trash” -- i.e. not to betray your upbringing, and your social class -- not to mention your family -- by “acting” (vs. actually being, which was impossible) like people on the low end of the scale (said scale being composed of all the complex factors discussed above, and many more besides). And of course there are always temptations for people to wander far from their roots, and to rebel against their upbringing (especially its associated signs and symbols) – and sometimes a permanent shift is made... and sometimes it even seems to succeed. But I suspect that few people stray very far, firstly because it's a lot of work, secondly because it takes the kind of imagination most people simply don't have, and thirdly because things are found, in the long run, to be safer, more secure, and more familiar back on one's home turf (socially speaking). This has, of course, been the topic of any number of books, plays, movies, etc. -- and it always comes back to the question of what, precisely, is social class, and can it/should it be changed, altered, defied, done away with, embraced, made fun of... the full range of possible responses is put on the table on a daily basis, and yet the problem persists. And, as I've discussed before, this country is an “ideational” culture, and among its ideas are those of endless progress and advancement, unto a secular utopia (which seems strangely elusive considering how long we've been working toward it). This idea is, of course, focused on the society in general, but it readily trickles down to the individual level, so that everybody feels that if their standard of living is not “better than their parents'”, they've failed, somehow. (And I don't know how many obituaries I've read in the local paper in which the subject was described as being “the first in his family to go to college”. I can hardly wait to read one where he was the last... ) What this means is that, in the long run, the goal is to make everyone at least middle class (not unlike Lake Wobegon where “all the children are above average”); this is certainly the picture that politicians paint for people, especially at election time. It's not quite the “Every Man a King” of Huey Long, but it's every bit as demagogic and delusional. I would much rather live in a society where people at all levels had self-respect rather than all of the gadgets and fripperies that, they believe, make them middle class (or better). I met people in Mexico who lived in houses with dirt floors, and yet they had a dignity that I have found in very few people (of any class) up here. There is clearly something seriously wrong with our concepts of self-worth, and I think it has a lot to do with endless striving after unattainable ideals -- not just "stuff" but notions and fancies. Even within the middle class, the notion of being satisfied with things just as they are seems suspect; one ought to want more... to have “ambition”... “get up and go”... and all the rest of that Horatio Alger stuff. What is this country, and this society, if not one of doers rather than thinkers... people of action rather than contemplation... supreme self-confidence based on the quixotic pursuit of ideas? No wonder people elsewhere think we're kind of nuts.

Now, the only reason I've indulged in this brief (ahem) introduction to the concept of social class is to provide background for the main point of this post, which is that we're in the middle of a revolution when it comes to many of these factors. Not only have many of the traditional lines of class started to fray and break down (not always for the worse, I hasten to add), but, paradoxically, “class consciousness” has reached a new high – higher, even, in some ways, than during the populist era or the New Deal. And a big part of this is that the middle class has, at long last, acquired class consciousness – which they did not have, at least in the political sense, before. What class consciousness means politically is simply that you come to want something for your social class, and therefore for yourself, that you didn't have before... or you want to regain something you've lost, or keep from losing that which is at risk. In other words, it's, psychologically, a non-”conservative” mind set – and imagine the trauma for the typical “bourgeois” person when he or she is forced, at long last, to not only acknowledge that things are not as they ought to be, but to actually go out into the streets and say so. This is what has happened with the Tea Party movement, and it's hard to overstate what a shocking change that represents when it comes to the basic premises, and world view, of the middle class, which is rightly considered fat, happy, and complacent. To actually take to the streets! Like union organizers, civil rights demonstrators... or plain rabble! It's unheard of! And this is one of the many reasons why the media can't cope with the phenomenon. They don't understand it because they don't realize how big it is – how “radical”. They just think it's the usual grumbling and griping on the part of the “uptight squares” -- but it's not. And because they don't realize that, they also don't realize what it took to get those people out into the streets. It wasn't just the usual government harassment of the middle class by taxation and social/cultural attacks; that's been going on for generations. It has now occurred to the middle class – the way it occurs to horses and cows in a Gary Larson cartoon – that their number might really be up... that they might be on the way to the slaughterhouse. This is, if you will, the “great awakening” of the middle class – and might serve to at least partially define the present era.

Now... I've said that this process has been going on for a while. Certainly the maintenance of the middle class as milch cows, to be tapped periodically by those in charge in order to bribe the proletariat and stave off revolution, has been going on since the New Deal. But a system like this, even if it involves exploitation of the middle class, cannot require its elimination; that should be obvious. If you have a dairy farm, you have to keep the cows happy, sheltered, and fed – and also fenced in. This has been the strategy up until now. I always say there are two major types of propaganda -- the pro-change, or rabble-rousing, kind and the “don't worry, everything's under control” kind. The former has been the steady diet of the lower class throughout the modern era, and the latter the steady diet of the middle class. But now it appears that the “reassurance” diet has turned to ashes in the mouths of the middle class, and they have adopted their own version of the pro-change diet -- another phenomenon that has the mainstream media totally baffled, upset, and hostile. And, by the way, it has not escaped the attention of the more traditional rabble-rousers that they now have competition for room on street corners, and they kind of resent the fact. “Who do these boozh-wah people think they are, anyway?”

On the cultural front it's a different matter. In that area, the middle class, and its tastes and values... its life style... have been under continuous assault since... oh, I would say in a serious way since the cultural revolution of the 1960s. And it's not as if the hippies took over – although they did in some respects. It's that the media, that already had left-wing, populist, collectivist leanings dating back to the 1930s, and were initially skeptical about all the cultural upheavals of the 1960s, eventually decided that this was just the thing to start seriously attacking the middle class “where they live” -- in terms of values, habits, life style, and, yes, taste. The beatniks had failed as shock troops of cultural change because they were too intellectual and there were too few of them. Rock 'n' roll softened up the battlefield, but it was largely non-conceptual. But the hippie movement and all of its cultural accompaniments – ah yes, there was the ticket! So the revolution that may have begun in hippie enclaves was embraced, and spread, by the media, which had been looking, lo those many years, for something with which to deal a stunning blow to the middle class... to, basically, neutralize it or co-opt it politically, and put it on the defensive culturally, so that it would no longer constitute a serious hindrance to the achievement of the long-wished-for socialist Utopian society. If the middle class had stood in the way of the complete triumph of New Deal liberalism thirty years earlier because it was the culturally dominant class of its time, it would no longer be able to do so once hobbled by the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

But that's not all. At about the same time, one of the most formidable upholders of tradition, and traditional values, in this country was also under assault, both from the larger culture and from what has been dubbed “the spirit of Vatican II”. Yes, the Catholic Church in America was undergoing its own “cultural revolution”, which served many purposes. One was to neutralize it politically, and this in conjunction with the elimination, by the government, of the old-time urban white ethnic enclaves by means of “urban renewal” and its mutant offspring like “blockbusting” and forced busing. The Church, partially through its own folly and partially as the result of political and social attacks, ceased to be a source of moral authority in this country – and I'm not even talking about the much later “pedophile priest” scandals, which did little more than put frosting on the cake. This was an attack on the Church by attacking its people – just as the communists in Eastern Europe had done, but in a less blatant and obvious way.

So, to the extent that “middle class” and “Catholic” overlap (yeah, I know, we're not talking about Episcopalians here... ) the woes of the Church and of Catholics were, and are, a subset of the larger class war. Even working-class Catholics were impacted in such a way as to arrive, once they had climbed the socio-economic ladder, deracinated – and therefore politically neutered -- in the middle class. Plus, in the case of Catholics, who have generally been much less class-conscious than other groups, it's not about income or social standing as much as about values. Do I have to mention that any present-day politician who brings up Natural Law is going to be laughed off the stage? I don't think this would have happened in the 1950s (not once he explained what Natural Law is, I mean).

So to review, briefly, the assault on the middle class on many fronts: Politically beginning in the New Deal... socially and culturally beginning in the 1960s... so what was left? Economics, by which I don't mean the slow bleeding that also began in the New Deal, but the greatly-intensified assault which is under way in our time, and which, by necessity, has to be accompanied by endless streams of political rhetoric and propaganda. The most blatant of these, paradoxically, is the endless prating by our politicians about the middle class having to be “protected”. Well... the minute a politician starts talking about “protecting” something, you can be sure that whatever it is is on death row – this is just the way the political discussion works in this country. Once something is no longer a threat, it's OK to talk about preserving it (as a museum piece, I suppose). I mean, think about it... has any politician, in our lifetimes, up until the last couple of years, ever used the term “middle class” in public? Not that I'm aware. This is huge. What it means is not only that the middle class is in danger, but that many members of the middle class know it, and many of our politicians know they know it. So it has become a “talking point”, whereas up until recently it was a term that was simply never heard in the public forum.

But right away we can see a danger, which I'm sure the politicians sense with their ever-keen political insect feelers. You can only talk about the middle class when you're talking to middle-class people. Try it with a lower-class crowd and all you'll get is boos and guffaws -- “Hey, they're finally starting to hurt just like us. Cry me a river!” The lowers have never had any use for the middles, and I'm sure they laugh and punch each other every time they see a Tea Party rally – the way the black slaves in “Roots” shook their heads when they heard about the revolution, and the whites' war for “freedom”. You can, on the other hand, talk about the sufferings of the lower class to a middle-class audience, assuming they're of a mind to offer sympathy and “contribute” more in the way of confiscatory taxation.

The problem with those fine distinctions is that, in our hyper-media age, the word tends to leak out. When Obama talks to a lower-class audience about giving them a fair share of “the pie”, middle-class people who read about it know full well whose “pie” he's talking about. When Obama criticizes bankers and Wall Street to a middle-class audience, he can be sure that the bankers and Wall Street are listening, and ready to yank on his chain if he starts sounding too militant. And so on. It's getting much harder for politicians to promise different things to different groups and get away with it – and for that, at least, we can be thankful.

But if we go beyond the political rhetoric – which has, I would say, much less truth value than the average Chinese fortune cookie... if we go to what is actually happening... the vast economic, or tectonic (or teconomic?) shifts... we see that the time is at hand for the middle class to be offered up in sacrifice. But what has changed? The lower class, as I said, has never had any use for the middles, and will be glad to see them go... so we have to look to the upper, or ruling, class for an explanation, and apparently they've decided they simply don't “need” the middle class any longer – that when the cow runs dry and the sheep is sheared naked, they can be sent off to the dog food factory.

But if, as I said, there is a high, if not perfect, correlation between the existence of a middle class and the prosperity of a society, as shown by modern history... then won't the overall prosperity of the country suffer if the middle class disappears? And won't that, in turn, impact the fortunes of the ruling elite? Plus, who wants to be in charge of a nation of serfs? Isn't there something more “enlightened” about a three-class society than about one on more of a Medieval or Third-World model?

Frankly, I wish I knew. I wish I knew what makes the “masters of space and time” tick. It really seems like they'd rather rule over a desolate wasteland (economically at least) than be part of a more prosperous, democratic, three-class system. Look what's happening in Europe, for instance – and it is a cautionary tale for us, you may be sure. The less-rational, less-responsible countries (or governments, if you want to claim there's a difference) were offered the most addictive drug there is, for people in positions of power – namely loans with which the politicians could, basically, buy votes. I mean, that may not have been what happened literally, but that's what it amounted to in the long run. Well, this went on for decades, and everyone got thoroughly hooked... to the point where there is little or no living memory, in those countries, of living under any system other than borrow-and-spend socialism, where virtually everyone was able to live above their rightful means. (See why we should be paying attention to this?) And then came the day of reckoning – the loans were called in, and no more were offered... and people woke up one morning to find that, not only were they poor, but they had been poor all along – only fooled into thinking they were rich, or at least prosperous. And they reacted the way people usually do when they feel they've been conned – with protests, rioting, strikes, and so on. And it would be easy enough to say, well, you have no one to blame but yourselves... or your rulers, and therefore yourselves for voting them into office, or allowing them to remain in office. And this would be true, but it's about as effective as lecturing a junkie. If he were amenable to that kind of reasoning he wouldn't have gotten addicted in the first place, would he?

So... what happens is that the junkies fall into the hands of the pushers (Germany et al.) and are in the process of becoming officially enslaved to them. So much for the grand design of the E.U. -- it was never anything more than a plot to put Germany back on top. (Well... I'm not really sure about that, but it is something to ponder.) The point is that whoever winds up running the show is going to be, basically, a slave owner. Europe will be divided between slaves and slave owners, basically – and I have no doubt that it could have been otherwise, but the people in charge prefer it this way for whatever reasons. Likewise, our own ruling class (not unrelated to that in Europe, I hasten to say) apparently prefers to be slave owners rather than mere “participants in democracy”. I won't delve into their possible motives or ways of thinking here; I just want to point out what seems to me an obvious fact. The ruling class is perfectly content overseeing a class of slaves... they just don't want the middle class getting in the way and marring the purity of the landscape. And in this, they bear a striking (and non-accidental) resemblance to the ruling classes of communist countries over the years. To reign in Hell rather than serve in Heaven – that is every collectivist/totalitarian's fondest wish... and, truth be told, the wish of many of our present-day liberals. Of course, a society of that sort will, in one sense, be free of politics. If politics is about money, and “the 1%” has all the money, then politics will wither away the way the state was supposed to under Marxism. A three-class structure is a fertile basis for political life as well as economic life; a two-class structure with nothing but the rulers and the ruled is a recipe for eventual death and decay... and yet, again for reasons of their own, that seems to be what the international masters of finance want. Call it short-sighted... inhumane... reactionary... whatever. It could be that, as some have theorized, the age of democracy is coming to an end because the whole democratic idea was limited, in its viability, to certain times and places, and certain cultures, but not others. This remains to be seen. Perhaps we will have an era of warlords, like in medieval Japan – except with banks, investment houses, and corporations making war on one another rather than states, provinces, and tribes. That, at least, could make for some interesting viewing.

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