Possessions. Property. Things.
This is actually the subject that first led me to believe that my attitudes are not middle class, but upper class.
It’s also a category where upper-class attitudes that have functioned well for centuries sometimes run into problems nowadays.
I believe that one’s class — mental class, not current economic situation — strongly affects what you buy, what you keep, how you treat it. This is hardly news. What I find interesting, though, is just how perverse some of the attitudes are.
Specifically, the lower class tends to buy what they want, rather than what they need, and to do so on availability, rather than quality or price. Nutritionists and social workers often bemoan this, and attribute it to ignorance.
I’m not sure it is ignorance; I’m not sure just what’s going on, but it seems as if it’s not a lack of knowledge so much as a lack of belief. If you want a Big Mac now, maybe you know that it’d be healthier and cheaper in the long run to buy some groceries and make something at home, but damn, you’ve got five bucks in your pocket and here’s Mickey D’s and it’s not like saving a buck is ever going to matter, or like being healthy is important, because you know that you’ll never save enough to matter, it’ll all get ripped off somehow, and your health isn’t important because you can’t afford a doctor and someday you’re going to catch a stray bullet or some stupid virus or some toxic chemical from the scrapheap you live in anyway, and it won’t matter if you’ve taken care of your heart or your colon. So you buy the Big Mac and live for the present.
If you ever have money, you want to show it off, so you buy something trendy and expensive. You buy what you want while you can.
The working class, on the other hand, understands savings, and will buy cheap. Clipping coupons and hitting the weekly sales at K-Mart, stocking up on bargains, etc. You buy when the price is right.
The middle class buys what it can afford. “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Possessions confer status. A car is a statement of who you are, your personal style and your current level of wealth. You replace things when better ones become available — new-model cars, software upgrades, etc.
The upper class buys quality, and keeps it. Price is irrelevant.
This was the point I tripped over sometimes as a kid. Friends would notice something odd about our household and comment on it — for example, that we ate all our meals with antique sterling silver flatware. We would shrug; it’s what we’d always done.
“But this stuff is worth money! You could sell it to an antique dealer for hundreds of dollars!”
Yeah, but then we’d have to buy new flatware; what’s the point? We don’t need the money right now, and we do need forks.
(Later, when I went to college, and eventually bought my own stainless steel flatware, I finally discovered the point — I like the taste of steel better than the taste of silver. But that’s just me.)
In fact, here’s a clear-cut example of class attitudes. Let us suppose you discover that the fancy china Grandma gave you is rare, collectible, and valuable. What do you do with it?
If you’re lower class, you sell it. If you’re bright, to a respectable antique dealer, after dickering; if you’re stupid, you pawn it.
If you’re working class, you get it appraised, then pack it up very carefully and set it aside somewhere, figuring it’ll appreciate and you can sell it for even more someday when you need the money.
If you’re middle class, you put it on display somewhere in your home, probably safely behind glass, and point it out to visitors.
If you’re upper class, you shrug, say, “That’s nice,” and use it to eat your meals, same as before.
This is where the distinction between nouveau riche and upper class becomes obvious; the nouveau riche think that money is for showing off, for establishing status, and will therefore buy the most expensive goods and display them prominently, while the upper class think that you buy things to use, and will therefore buy the best stuff, regardless of price, and use it. Nouveau riche buy Rolexes; upper class buy whatever watch looks good and keeps good time. Which might be a Rolex — or a Timex.
The nouveau riche build huge ostentatious mansions. The upper class live in whatever’s comfortable for them.