Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Class and Class Mobility in America

This 1957 McGraw Hill educational film -- which was no doubt shown in high schools back in the day, but I don't remember seeing it while I was in school at any time -- is one of the kinds of things that served as propaganda on behalf of the status quo and the Ruling Class in the 1950's. It's a form of indoctrination which I believe grew out of the military practices during World War II, practices which themselves grew out of the Bernays-theories of marketing that got going during the 20's and 30's.

I suppose we can claim to be more sophisticated about these things nowadays, but the propaganda is relentless, and it helps to be aware how Americans have been propagandized and conditioned to believe all sorts of nonsense for a very long time.

It didn't start with the 1950's or World War II; it's been going on since forever.

What I find remarkable about the film posted above is the acknowledgement that you're born into a certain social and economic class and you'll probably stay there the rest of your life no matter what you do -- or don't do -- and that crossing class boundaries to date or to marry or even to socialize more than very casually and superficially is all but forbidden. These truths were self evident at the time, but they weren't publicized, and they absolutely weren't part of the myth of American social and economic mobility.

Since the 1950's, the American class structure has apparently fossilized into one of the most rigid on the face of the earth. The gap between the elites and everyone else has widened into such a gulf that it's essentially unbridgeable, despite the fact that individuals from among the Lower Orders are picked out from time to time and brought aboard the elite yacht -- whether to entertain Their Betters (it's primarily sports and entertainment figures, after all, who manage to reach the upper decks...) or simply as a means to leverage bloodlines -- so it's not true that there is no class mobility at all in America

In fact, there is a great deal of downward mobility that is never mentioned at all. This has been made startlingly evident with the decimation of the middle class during the present economic calamities and unpleasantness. Literally millions upon millions of Americans have been forced into poverty year by year since the collapse of the real estate bubble, and there is little or no hope that any of them will ever rise from their fate. Instead, they continue to be joined by others who have been forced more recently into poverty. This is the New American Class Mobility: down, not up.

The door has been shut, the ladder has been pulled up. And that as they say is that.

Although the film above is propaganda, it's the kind of propaganda that relies on truths (in this case, about the American class structure) to make its point (which is for you to be content with your lot because there is little or nothing you can do about it*). More fashionable propaganda today relies on lies, the bigger and bolder the better, to make its point, often to the point of sheer madness.

Our Betters show themselves more clearly than they realize in the fashionable propaganda of today. They show themselves to be not too bright on the one hand, homicidally cruel on the other. They have no apparent "redeeming qualities," qualities of responsibility -- primarily--  that provided the High and the Mighty of the 1950's some legitimacy, even if they were often off the mark or very deep in error. The whole Cold War fantasy, for example, was an elite invention which appeared to have originated as a fundamental misconception of the reality of the post-war world. The Soviet Union was not a threat. If they had realized that from the outset, there wouldn't have been a Cold War, and much of the insanity among Our Betters today might have been alleviated or avoided. But oh well, blood in the water and water under the bridge...

Downward class mobility is an unprecedented phenomenon for most Americans, and it isn't yet recognized as the only class mobility available to the masses these days. The situation during the Great Depression was similar in some ways, but it was countered by many efforts both high and low to reverse the downward trend.

Now there are essentially none. There is no government effort at all, for example, to reverse the trend of downward mobility. There are no jobs programs, few retraining programs, nothing beyond minimal -- and temporary -- support programs for the unemployed, there are constant -- and quite cruel -- reductions in programs for the destitute, and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are under continuing threat and assault. The critical absence throughout this Endless Recession (which is turning into The Permanent Recession) has been the absence of any sort of comprehensive employment or re-employment programs. They simply don't exist, and because they don't, unemployment has remained at cripplingly high levels for years and years -- forcing millions and millions of Americans into a poverty they will never get out of.

This is not simply a lost decade, it's turning into a lost generation. The consequences of the many policy decisions that have made this so are only dimly seen. We don't yet know just how bad it will be in the future. (The apocalyptic visions of climate catastrophe and whatnot are not to be taken lightly, but they largely leave out the human capacity for adaptation.)  For all the whining the elites do about "uncertainty," it is the common people who are facing an uncertain future, not those at the top, and nothing is being done to alleviate the uncertainty of the masses, nothing. In fact, policy decisions at the top have the effect of worsening the uncertainty below.

(* I remember a time when country music was full of outlaws and rebels. No more. Popular country music has long been all about how lucky and grateful one should be to have a beer now and then and to be working at a job at all, let alone be working long hours for a pittance. It's depressing.)

No comments:

Post a Comment