What’s all this bollocks about class?

Kick The CatWith all the hype and comment about ‘class’ and ‘status’ in social media forums this week, I’m minded to go and kick the cat, metaphorically speaking of course…

Like one of the BBC articles about the subject (see below) I have to ask; why are we so obsessed with defining class? Indeed, do we ever actually fit the particular class descriptors ‘assigned’ to us? Or, as is so often the case these days, is that particular class designation more virtual and/or aspirational than it is factual and realistic?

But most importantly, does it really bloody matter any way?

Recently the BBC, along with sociologists from some leading universities, decided to analyse the modern British class system (see The Great British Class Survey). After their survey of some 160K+ people, they decided that the British population is now subdivided into seven distinct groups (see results).

Its often said that the British have a unique obsession with class. Popular culture is riddled with references to it. Foreign visitors struggle to comprehend the complexities of British hierarchy…(bbc.co.uk)

I agree with the above ‘obsession’ comment and, despite being part of our indigenous population, I too struggle to comprehend our British ‘hierarchy’ sometimes. Despite the issue going viral on social media this week, I find it all mostly humorous.

The comical aspect of the issue immediately reminds me of Kick The Cat; a political song about the British ‘Pecking Order’ written by Pat McIntyre. It was probably made most famous in the UK by the Liverpool folk group, The Spinners, in the late 1960s.

Our class system has always appeared both funny Ha-Ha and funny peculiar to foreigners. The Americans in particular  – “Ain’t it kinda quaint Mac” – generally have an observation to offer.

American historian Dr Tim Stanley summed up the difference between social status in the US and UK for the Telegraph: “To Americans, social status is all about money and power. To Brits it is all about birth and accent” – (bbc.co.uk)

Michael Goldfarb, an American freelance journalist and political commentator writing in the BBC, viewed much of this new survey in a similar vein to me. The result he received from it was also different to the one he expected. He summed up his piece with the following and very apt paragraph.

Maybe, given the uncertainty of the contemporary economy, we should keep everything fluid and paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity by saying when it comes to define middle class, working class, upper class or precariat class: “I know it when I see it.” (Michael Goldfarb)

The humorous aside, we now apparently have an extended class system. Instead of the previously well-known and generally understood designations of upper, middle and lower (working) class, we now have seven distinctly separate groups, just to confuse matters even further.

  1. The Elite
  2. Established Middle Class
  3. Technical Middle Class
  4. New Affluent Workers
  5. Traditional Working Class
  6. Emergent Service Workers
  7. Precariat

Always assuming you actually have an interest, where do you sit in our social pile? I wasn’t that interested but I felt I had to take part in the debate, if only to comment on the issue at hand, honest. Now I find I’m ‘Traditional Working Class’ apparently, although previously I would have assumed myself to be a ‘middle class‘ citizen.

Judging by some of the, mainly amusing comments on the survey, many others were also a little surprised and bemused by their results. But there is also a serious side to all this, as one BBC journalist asked; can I have no job and no money and still be middle-class?

Some of us have an inherent need to always label things, to find named and defined reasons for any given situation; especially where that labeling provides them with the opportunity to blame someone else for their current social predicament. But all this talk about social class is only of real importance to those interested in the furtherance of socio-economic politics, that and money-making perhaps.

Throughout history there have been numerous examples of the ‘elite’ who have fallen from grace but conversely, just as many who have climbed to the top of their chosen tree, irrespective of their lower class, and often without the assistance of others. But looking at the ‘new’ classes (if we must); the ‘class’ we should all be worrying about (but probably won’t), no matter where you sit in the dung heap of our current society, is the ‘precariat’ class.

Economic Crisis – Youthful members of the full-time precariat: The crisis has accelerated the emergence of a new social class in Europe. Dubbed “the precariat” by sociologists, it is made up of young people with no prospect of a decent job or a reasonable standard of living…(PressEurop)

I think most of us, irrespective of particular class and status, must be aware by now of the dire state of our country, both socially and economically. But we are not alone and it’s actually a problem that has been rumbling on for several years now.

Today the main goal of Europe’s aging political elites is to defend the interests of their own generation – a position that inevitably adds to the frustration experienced by the young unemployed…(Wawrzyniec Smoczyński)

In many ways our society, and in particular its leadership over recent decades, have created a generation who have little or nothing to look forward to in the future. They face limited prospects for any gainful employment, if they do find work they face the prospects of poor wages, almost non-existent job security and ever decreasing personal pensions in the future, be they state or private. Add to this the probability of reduced but more expensive health care and you should see – the situation is dire.

I have to admit, I don’t know what the ultimate answer is to many of today’s social and economic ills however; if you equate our society to the modern automobile, can we honestly expect to address them by using Henry Ford‘s famous Model ‘T’ mechanical skills?

The one thing I do know is this; our puerile and continuous fixation with ‘class’ is counterproductive. It only serves to create an even greater division in our society. It perpetuates the angst (or jealousy) between the top and bottom of social scale. Presently the ‘haves’ may be getting more and the ‘have nots’ are undoubtedly receiving less however; this (mostly) contrived class warfare simply widens the chasm between the extremities of our social divide, one that is already too great.

The bigger danger here is (unintentionally I hope) how; it’s also the first step to providing the kindling if not the actual fuel, used to stoke the pyres of extremist views and affiliations. Take all this social segregation too far and you start to provide a raison d’être for Jihadists, neo-nazi organisations and all manner of inhumane and disgusting far-left and far-right organisations. It’s also partly how organisations such as the EDL and BNP came into being, to name just two. Is that really what we want?

I’m not bothered where some social ‘expert’ says I fit in our society, just so long as I’m happy, healthy and don’t adversely impact upon anyone above or below me. I take each individual as I find them and judge each on the diversity of their merits. I know my place, do you?

Ok, so the sketch is an old satirical take on how our society used to be (supposedly) but I wonder; has much really changed for the better in today’s social pyramid? Some would argue not and, in some respects, I would tend to agree.

That said, as one well-known elder-statesman once put it… “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Author’s Note: If you simply can’t abide not knowing your ‘place’ in our society, have a go at finding out with The Great British Class Calculator.

About Dave Hasney

National Coordinator for UK SMART Recovery - Previously a Recovery Worker and prior to that a Management Consultant and H&S Practitioner - Kept sane by Angling, Good Food, Real Ale & Wine - Cynical thoughts sometimes developed from others.

Posted on 05-04-2013, in Police, Society Babble and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Social class, past and present is an indicator of the system we live in and its representative of the level of inequality we experience. In feudalism there were really just 2 classes, the land owners and the peasants, under capitalism 3 classes based on people’s relationship to the means of production. The aim for a fair and just society is not the creation of more classes but the abolition of all classes.

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