Posts Tagged ‘Elite

16
Jan
11

Capitalism and Race

In an older post, I attempted to demonstrate how Capitalism spawns bigotry in terms of both class and race. For this post, I thought I might expound a bit on the latter issue.

 

First, a disclaimer. Capitalism is not inherently racist. It is exploitative, enslaving, and oppressive, but it is not inherently racist.

The key word here is inherently. While there’s nothing about in the tenets of Capitalism that embraces racism (just the opposite- Capitalism doesn’t care much who it exploits), the Capitalist system, once put into practice, adopts the bigotry of the Capitalists. Allow me to clarify.

 

Capitalism produces social classes, the rich, the middle class, and the poor and working class. The rich, often dubbed “the elite” or “the ruling class” by Communists, control society through politics, industry, disproportionate wealth and property, and so on. Now despite the growing multiculturalism we’re seeing across the globe, the ruling classes of various countries still tend be primarily from a single race or ethnicity. Look at America where, despite one of the highest levels of racial and cultural diversity, the upper and middle class remain almost entirely white and Protestant Christian. Now while there’s nothing racist about being white or Christian (though there’s been plenty of racism from whites and Christians), the problem is with human nature. We crave familiarity and are terrified of the strange or unknown. As a result the middle and upper-classes attempt, both consciously and unconsciously, to keep things the way they’ve always been, which often leads to cultural and racial tension.

 

For example, a couple years ago I was in a debate with a woman about the institution of English as the official language of the United States. She was decrying having to “press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish”, and the dire implications of having streets signs and forms written bilingually (though exactly what dire implications would arise she never did enumerate upon). Now as I talked with this woman, it became evident that she was not a racist. She did not believe that her ethnicity was in any way superior to anyone else’s. yet she passionately argued that immigrants must “learn English”. In short, she wasn’t afraid of racial mixing or other people groups, she was afraid of change and the unknown.

 

When you break it down into it’s most basic components, the race/class issue functions like this: the haves are race/ethnic group A, the have-nots are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, and so on. Those in power are race/ethnic group A, the powerless are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, etc. Again, the system is not inherently racist, however, the system almost always becomes racist. The ruling class becomes the ruling race- the lack of diversity spawns an atmosphere of xenophobia at best and blatant, unapologetic bigotry at worst. On the opposite end of the spectrum, resentment (understandably) foments. Again I have to state, even with a system that isn’t inherently racist and people who are, individually open-minded, any social structure that divides us up or separates us from each other will ultimately create racism.

23
Dec
10

A Few Thoughts On The Homeless

Despite being largely a mire of polemic and melodramatic prophecies about an impending Republican police state, the liberal, progressive site AlterNet does occasionally produce some good articles. I just recently found one about new legislation passed in San Fransisco targeting the homeless.

The article’s been linked here.

Now it reminded me of a lecture activist Shane Claiborne gave at my college- he discussed an occurrence in Philadelphia when a similar law was enacting, unfairly targeting the homeless. Indeed, we can probably all think of some time when we’ve heard about something like this.

Now of course such laws are never called “anti-homeless” or anything along those lines and more often than not are simply disguised as anti-loitering laws. The reality, unfortunately, is that law enforcement may be selective about who they fine for “loitering” or “obstructing” the sidewalks or “panhandling”. Is a man in a business suit, asking you for some spare change, just as likely as an unkempt man wearing four jackets? Is a woman in high-heels just as likely to be told to “move along” as a woman with plastic-bags taped to her feet? I think not. Nevertheless, legislation is constantly being introduced for the specific purpose of persecuting the homeless, ranging to anything from fines (exactly how fining the poorest of the poor is supposed to work I can’t say) to imprisonment (as if living in abject poverty wasn’t punish in and of itself).

 

Why? Why are we so bent on attacking the most broken members of society?

 

Perhaps the reason we so despise the homeless is because we’re afraid of them and what they represent. They’re the products of our manipulative and exploitative social system, and a grim reminder that any of us could have the same fate. The homeless don’t respect the illusions of total prosperity we insulate ourselves with. When we categorize our worlds into neat areas and neighborhood based on class, the rich and middle class can live warm, fuzzy lives of blissful ignorance until some unruly schizophrenic shuffles down the sidewalk clutching a battered backpack and muttering something about George Lucas stealing his thoughts. Then the homeless person turns into a stark, in-your-face reminder of poverty, disease, and pain. I’d go even so far as to say that the homeless are dark reflections of our own lives- that we’re not all that different from the homeless. A friend once sent me a comedy routine in which the speaker says “We’re not supposed to give money to the homeless because they’re just gonna spend it on drugs and alcohol. But wait- that’s what I’m gonna spend it on…”. What’s the real difference between a homeless person living in a cardboard box downing cheap booze and a billionaire living in a mansion drowning his sorrows in rare wine?

 

So what’s the solution?

 

Going back to the comedian I referenced just a minute ago, his routine went on to recount “He [the guy a homeless person had asked for money from] said ‘Why don’t you get a job, you bum?’ People always say that to homeless guys- ‘Get a job!’ like it’s always that easy. This homeless guy was wearing his underwear outside his pants. I’m guessing his resume aint all up-to-date. I’m predicting some problems during the interview process…”. Clearly the problem isn’t going to be solved by simply telling the homeless to get jobs and houses and integrate into society. Besides, more often than not it’s society that’s responsible for the creation of the homeless in the first place- these people don’t simply materialize. You take a person, throw him into a Capitalist world where he has to face-off against his peers for jobs and opportunities, there’s a chance he might not make it. Is there really any point in taking the homeless and forcing them back into a world that will either chew them up and spit them back out or cause them to displace others? It’s our way of living as a whole- competition instead of cooperation.

 

And in the meanwhile, how should we treat the homeless? They aren’t where they are because of laziness or choice, and they aren’t animals without need for human compassion and help. We need to resist the temptation to separate ourselves from them or bring in laws to harass the homeless into inconveniencing someone else’s city. Who knows if luck will turn and you or I will end up in the same position as them?

01
Dec
09

The Myth

Perhaps the greatest lie originating (and arguably, perpetuated by) Capitalism is the idea that the wealthy are wealthy because they are intelligent, disciplined, and hardworking and the poor are poor because they are ignorant and lazy. As a result, if a man in a business suit and flawless grammar knocks on your door and asks if he can use your bathroom, chances are you’ll let him. You probably wouldn’t do the same for a man in a ragged bathrobe whose grasp of the English language was sub-average. Indeed, the quality of treatment you offer people is usually determined by what social class they hail from. We make assumptions about people based on whether or not they seem to be poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

Quite simply, we’re bigots.

And not without reason either. If a person is less willing to let a homeless man into his house than a man who is (or at least, seems to be) doing quite well for himself, then the person’s fear is not completely unfounded. A wealthy man has less reason to rob you than a poor man. Crime rates, alcoholism, and drug abuse are highest among the lower classes. Likewise the poorer classes tend to have the lowest levels of education. Statistically speaking, yes, you are more likely to be mugged by a poor person than a rich one, but so what? Bigotry is never tolerable, no matter what. So what if you’re more likely to be mugged if you get a poor guy into your house instead of a rich one? You don’t know either man. Maybe the man in the bathrobe is an honest, honorable person who’s had a run of bad luck. Maybe the man in the suit is a sociopathic murderer or a con artist. Judging people according to how wealthy they are is, no matter how you look at it, wrong!

So why is it that we’re prejudiced to trust the middle-class and wealthy rather than the poor? Is it because the poor are ignorant and criminal while the wealthy are intelligent and decent? Of course not! The poor aren’t poor because they’re criminals; the poor have high crime levels because they are poor. Sure the poor man is more likely to mug you, but is that because of him or the fact that he’s cold and hungry? Obviously there are those who are poor because of their own issues- all humans have a propensity towards greed and indolence. At the same time, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy. It’s the poorest of the poor who have the heaviest workload. Across Africa, Asia, Latin America and yes, even Europe, Australia, and North America there are millions of those who for ten hours a day for wages of less than a dollar a day! There’s a reason we call them the Proletariat– the working class! It’s because they’re the ones doing all the actual work. They do the farming, the mining, the sweeping, the building, the cleaning, the producing and manufacturing! Why on earth would we even dare to consider these people to be lazy?

Because we’re lazy.

As I’ve said, humans are lazy. More often than not we don’t take the time and effort to investigate something for ourselves; we simply make assumptions or believe whatever our leaders and the media feed us. Since the poor are poor and unable to afford decent (if any) healthcare, we immediately assume that the poor are simply dirty. Since the poor can’t afford decent (if any) educations, we immediately assume that the poor are ignorant and stupid. Since the poor are poor and can’t always afford food/medicine/etc., many are forced into lives of crime- we immediately assume that the poor are naturally criminal. But laziness isn’t the only reason we don’t ask why the poor live in poverty.

Humans are also naturally arrogant. The idea- no, the myth– that the poor are poor because they are lazy makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re where we are because of our efforts! We’re wealthy because of our intelligence, our skill! We’re where we are because of our work-ethic, our self-discipline, and our decency!

Egotistical lies.

We’re where we are because of our own efforts and the efforts of our parents and their parents before them and because of the state of the world we live in and the class we were born into. Personal effort makes up about ten percent of it- the rest is accident of birth and dumb luck. A person pulling himself to the top from nothing is such a rare event that we make a major Hollywood film out of it. If you’re born poor, chances are you’ll stay poor no matter how hard you work unless you get not one but a whole chain of lucky breaks. If you’re born into a middle-class family, you’re probably going to stay middle-class unless you get a bunch of lucky breaks (though less than if you were poor). If you’re born into wealth and privilege than you haven’t done anything to deserve your life and don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Like I said, it really comes down to accident of birth. If you’re lucky, you’re wealthy, if you’re not, you’re poor and probably will be poor for the rest of your life. The Caste System isn’t exclusive to Hinduism.

So in short, don’t believe in the fairy-tale that the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst, or that the poor are poor only because of their own efforts. We are, for the most part, fixed in our place by statistical chance- individual effort has very little effect on us.

It isn’t fair, is it? Only a sadist or an idiot could honestly state that this is an ethical system. Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say that “life isn’t fair” or “that’s just the way things are…”. I say that when someone’s been murdered, we can’t stick our hands in our pockets and say “life isn’t fair”. I say that when any injustice has been committed, no matter on what scale, the only ethical course of action is to establish justice. Yes, life isn’t fair- but maybe that’s because no one’s doing anything about it!

06
Aug
09

Working Class Hero

The term “working class” is thrown around a lot these days. It’s applied to everything from Congolese coltan miners to New York City construction workers to cab drivers to anyone employed by a corporation. It’s not easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” is anymore, definitions and conditions have changed since the time of Marx. Do we apply the term to anyone who works for a company? A marketing executive is hardly “working class”. Do we call anyone who works with his hands a member of the working class? Technically a doctor works with his hands. What about mechanics and engineers? Some are down in the pits tinkering with the greasy hearts of machines and some sit behind desks jotting down plans of how to get lever-1 to connect to piston-2. What about the third world? Is a street sweeper in Chiang Mai less or more Proletariat than a janitor in San Diego? Where does the working class end and the middle class begin?

All in all, it isn’t easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” means anymore. For the sake of the arguments used in this post, we will define “proletariat/working class” as follows: The members of society who are employed in such fields that require little or no education and involve physical/manual labor.

So what’s so special about the working class that made Marx hail them as the future of humanity? Well even though we’ve found a definition, let us look at what it is exactly that the Proletariat do.

In Capitalism, society is organized like pillar- or better yet- a pyramid. The base of the pyramid constitutes the largest class, the proletariat or “working class”. The working class supports the entire pyramid, producing the food, mining the hills, hacking down the trees, and generally manufacturing and producing everything consumed by society. Resting on top of the proletariat is a smaller class known as the Bourgeoisie or “middle class”. What separates the Bourgeoisie from the Proletariat is that (1) the middle class is dramatically more wealthy than the working class, (2) smaller, (3) consumes more, and (4) does very little production outside of various “middle-man” jobs. In short, while the Proletariat consist largely of the farmers, the fishers, the miners, the janitors, the construction workers, etc. the Bourgeoisie consists of such people as lawyers, doctors, small business owners, secretaries, non-manual-labor business employees, etc. The Bourgeoisie, however, are in turn forced to support the very top of the pyramid, the Elite or “upper-class”. Just as the Bourgeoisie are considerably more wealthy, smaller (in numbers), and less productive than the Proletariat are, the Elite are vastly more wealthy, smaller in number, and less productive than the Bourgeoisie. The Elite consists primarily of tycoons, multinational corporation owners, bankers, oil barons, actors, etc. For some odd reason this class, which produces and contributes the least, is given the most wealthy and power.

Now in a Capitalist society (which at this point in time is almost every society on the planet), it is impossible to deviate from this social-class pyramid. The size might vary, as well as the slope, but the pyramid is always there. Of course, there have been those who have attempted to deny this. A famous, anonymous anti-Communist quote states that “The communist [sic], seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘No man should have so much.’ The capitalist, seeing the same thing, says: ‘All men should have as much'”. Even a child can see the problem with this logic. If this statement were to be applied, then the lower classes- the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat- would be all crammed into the pinnacle of the pyramid which- having now no lower supports- would come crashing to the ground. The statement should actually read “The Communist, seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘Not all men can have so much!'”. Quite simply, the wealthy can only be wealthy because they are supported by a large middle class and the middle class can only be the middle class because they are supported by the massive working class. As I said- it’s a pyramid. The top can only exist because of the middle, the middle can only exist because of the bottom and the bottom… well, they really don’t need the two layers on top, now do they?

Naturally, some would contest this. Author Ayn Rand, in her famous/notorious novel Atlas Shrugged attempts to convince the reader that it is not the Proletariat but the Elite who support and fuel society. In her book, the mysterious character John Galt essentially leads the wealthy tycoons on a strike, forcing the world to come to a shuddering halt. Of course, the idea that the absence of the least productive members of society would stop the world from turning is laughable. The equivalent would be to claim that losing the decorative fuzzy-dice from a car would keep the car from running. If anything, with the removed weight of the Elite, society would probably run more smoothly. The Elite needs the Proletariat, the Proletariat do not need the Elite.

So what’s the solution to this glorified pyramid scheme we call “society”? Well as we’ve covered before, it’s only a matter of time before the Proletariat are starved, beaten, and oppressed beyond the limits of their endurance and the upper-class’s ability to contain. Revolution, Comrades. The day when the exploiters and enslavers look out of their alabaster windows to see all the Moseses, Toussaint L’ouvertures, Nat Turners, John Browns, Che Geuvaras, and George Habashes of the world bearing down their gilded palaces, howling for justice. By the time the dust settles, there is no more Elite, no more Bourgeoisie- even the old, exploited, “drugged-with-religion-and-sex-and-tv” (as Lennon once said) working class is gone. What exists instead? The new Proletariat.

In Communism, there is but a single class (though Marxism sometimes refer to this as being “classless“). Rather than being the down-trodden support for the Bourgeoisie and the Elite, the new Proletariat combines the best of all classes and purges what was negative. This new working class still is the working class, however, it exists as an individual and independent entity. The wealth that was once funneled to the rich is now equally shared, giving the public a higher standard of living. Everyone has the opportunity to be whatever they are skilled at doing- an opportunity once only attainable by the wealthy. Society is healthier and stronger, since in addition to doing whatever they are talented at doing, the manual labor is shared equally by the public, rather than being forced onto the backs of a single group. With an equal starting point, everyone is able to advance solely by their own merit, rather than by accident of birth and dumb luck.

In the old days, our heroes were god-kings and dragon-slaying aristocrats, today we look up to the Average Joe and the Homer Simpsons, but the future of the world belongs not to nobles and white-collar employees but to those who truly merit praise. Long live the working class hero.