Friday, September 21, 2012

(updated 9/22)

We're All Capitalists Now

I was telling a guy I know that there's a misperception of the upper class. Contrary to how they are generally portrayed by the media, and in an endless number of Hollywood movies, they are some mean, nasty people, and their society is mean and nasty, too. In social settings they are competitive with each other, undercut each other, embarrass each other. When they get together it's not a warm, fuzzy setting. They have class loyalty, of course. An Us versus Them mentality. They well know how important it is to keep we the writhing masses down. But these are not nice people, and they are most strikingly characterized, I have observed, by having a complete lack of a moral compass.

Reuters photo
The exception to this portrayal that comes to mind is the film Dangerous Liasons in which Glenn Close played a nasty ruling class woman who is eventually ostracized by society, not for being nasty but for being indiscreet about it, for threatening to blow the general public's image of the upper class, and more importantly, to negatively affect the image it has of itself.

This guy I was telling this to was having none of it. It was entirely outside his conception of the upper class. I didn't have time to go into how my particular viewpoint of the upper class had not come through casual observation from the outside, even if that provides enough evidence for many people to conclude that the upper class is at least no better than anyone else. I didn't say I'd been a newspaper reporter and that that gives you access to people and places most people don't have, and that I know a lot about how the upper class makes their millions that the average person doesn't know, and I didn't say that one of the great loves of my life was from an old upper class family, and that through knowing her intimately, and knowing her family and her circle, I got a lot of good insight into how they see themselves and the rest of us, and how they define themselves in opposition to us. He just thought I was talking nonsense.

His reaction is understandable. He has internalized the feeling that the members of the upper class are better than he is, as have many of us, because for his entire life he's seen the the upper class portrayed as having virtue and ability and intelligence at levels commensurate with their material wealth, none of which is anywhere near true.

In this election season some people are becoming aware through the words and deeds of Mitt and Ann Romney, the Republican presidential nominee and his wife, who were born into wealth and have known nothing but wealth, that the Romney's, at least, are nasty people,

Mitt just put another big hole in his sinking campaign ship with his surreptitiously recorded remarks showing his disdain for people who think they are entitled to do things like eat, and Ann has been caught on several occasions lecturing the American people as if they are ungrateful help wanting an advance on their salary.

The Romney's aren't well liked, as polls indicate, but the realization the Romney's aren't very nice people so far hasn't generalized into the notion that the upper class as a whole has its nasty side. 

A Product Of His Environment

One of the things the US Civil Rights movement accomplished was to make us aware of how racism affects one's self image, how we internalize feelings of racial inferiority and superiority. It pointed it out and showed us how to overcome it. Remember James Brown singing I'm Black and I'm Proud?

As I say, it's not surprising that my acquaintance thinks as he does about the upper class, and it shouldn't be surprising why he does, since the media and the film industry are owned and controlled by the upper class. Chicago teachers have just shown the world how much control the wealthy have over the education of the country's youth, and demonstrated that unless working people unite as an entire community and go to extreme measures to fight back, our youth are provided with their knowledge and values by billionaires like Penny Pritzker and the owners of Wal Mart.

Now that the Romneys are publicly demonstrating how they have internalized the feeling that they are superior to the rest of us, it might be a good moment to think about how we come to have our values, our beliefs, how we come to have what knowledge we have. To think about why we have the social relations we have, between classes and within classes.

The conceptions we have, of ourselves and others, the ways in which we relate to each other, individually and collectively, i.e, how we regulate society by a given form of government, are all dictated by one thing, our economic system, Capitalism. It regulates everything else. It defines the way we make our living and what we think about that. It defines how we realize the ideals that are put into our heads and it defines the ideals.

You can't blame the Romneys for the perception they have of themselves, any more than you can blame my working class acquaintance. Capitalism formed Mitt and Ann Romney, and it defines them. It defines me and you, and how and why we formed our beliefs and ideals. In that sense we're all Capitalists, working everyday to create, and recreate, over and over again, the form that formed us.


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