The Class Project 1: Defining Terms

So just what do I mean by “class”?

No, I don’t mean wealth, though there’s certainly a correlation between money and class. I don’t mean ancestry or connections, either, though that, too, often comes into it.

Mostly, I see class as a collection of attitudes, values, and beliefs that determine part of both one’s own behavior and people’s reactions to that behavior.

Most of this is stuff learned in childhood, but some people do adopt as adults the attitudes and behaviors of a class other than the one they were born into. Interestingly, the people who deliberately try to do so often fail, and become objects of scorn — the nouveau riche, the gauche arriviste, the poseur…

(Hmm. Why are all those terms French? A question I might want to pursue later.)

There are those who maintain that the United States is a classless society. Shyeah, right. They’ve obviously never owned rental property, or worked in a factory, or pursued any number of other activities where one’s nose is rubbed vigorously in the class distinctions built into our culture.

Marxists don’t strike me as being a whole lot more in touch with reality, with their simplistic division into workers, rulers, and bourgeoisie and the traits they assign to those groups.

Someone named Paul Fussell wrote a book entitled Class back in the ’80s that described a pretty straightforward scale, top to bottom, not unlike the Marxist model, but acknowledging that there are finer gradations than Marx included. Unfortunately, he kept tripping over exceptions, people who didn’t fit his standard scheme, and he lumped these into what he called the “X-class,” roughly equivalent to what Marxists called the intelligentsia. All in all, I think his scheme has some problems.

And there was a Robert Sheckley story written back in the ’50s (when Sheckley was really good) set in a satirical American future where everything was suburbanized, and everybody was middle class. Of course, some of them were upper middle class and some were middle middle class and some were lower middle class…

Anyway, I don’t have a nice clear description of neat categories that everyone fits in. The lines get very blurry, and there are exceptions everywhere — you can’t point to any occupation and say, “Everyone who does this job is working class,” or whatever. You can’t define a class in terms of money or background without stumbling over a zillion exceptions.

But there are traits I see as upper class, others I see as middle class or working class or lower class. I want to address some of those.

And I want to discuss my own background as my first example, so that’ll be in Part 2.

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