I like to think that our comptetitive world doesn’t have to be this way.
And, yes, anyone who does not have access to means of economic or social production is that means, of course, that of all the peopel who have to work, which is not everyone, they have little or no means, either by education, social class, upbringing, physical and mental limitation to advance out of the relatively powerless positions. Sure, they have the power to buy televisions. But they have little or no control over their labor–regardless of where they work. In other words, they have to find a job they can tolerate rather than a fulfilling job that allows them the satisfactions of its production.
I would, however, limit my definition one step further by saying the working class are people who produce the material wealth of our society but have no power over decisions made about their work. The corporate manager, CEO, business owner can change jobs or businesses. Their advantages are mindset, physical skill, education, innate ambition, etc. We don’t take into consideration these advantages when we say that everything for everyone is possible. Sure, it’s possible. It is, however, very unlikely. The reason there is a Bill Gates is because there aren’t a million Bill Gateses. And even Bill Gates (and Warren Buffet, George Soros, Isaki Tamaguchi, and other famous industrialists and money-makers) will say that his wealth comes almost completely from the luck of having an idea at the right time and place. Fifteen minutes earlier or later and we’d live in a different world.
The skilled laborer, like me (ironworker, teacher, writer), has a limited number of options–though the we we do is extremely important. It’s not that I can’t have some control, change jobs, etc. My entire life has been anti-career. But even as a self-employed laborer and now as a skilled ironworker, I went where the work is. My ability to make my own way is limited just because my access to capital is limited–either by birth, situation, age, education (a lot), innate ambition, etc.
The unskilled laborer has even fewer choices, relegated as they are to unskilled positions without access to the means of social, cultural, or economic production.
The reason we are all set on fancy-pants consumer products is part status, part economics, and all mythos. Like you said, television rarely depicts life as it is. Rather it is life as we want. When lower-middle and working class people–of whom over 70 percent of us are–are portrayed on televison, in movies, on radio, etc., it is in the form of parody, patronization, or derision. Cops, Rosanne, King of Queens, etc. The list is endless. Some of these try to convey an honor in honest labor, but, in the end, it comes off as just pitiful. Meanwhile, we aspire to Sex in the City lifestyles that have little or no place in reality, and certainly not for 90 percent of all of us.
We must be careful, however, in telling people and ourselves to be happy with what we have. The only people who say money isn’t everything are people with money. We must be cautious not to allow the rhetoric of consumption, because that is what it is, to dominate our thinking to the point where those who would pour their production into us as ciphers get manipulated.
Certainly, I’m a person who believes that I have to pay attention to what I have rather than what I want. At the same time, I think, I can fight the injustice that comes out of everyone keeping their place like good little doggies.
In my life, I try to make and keep community, participate in the lives of others, give where I can, and take as little as possible. I’m not always good at it. I am aware and must remain aware of the ways that marketing, capital production, and social status try to manipulate people. The end, of course, is further accumulation of wealth and power in centers of wealth and power. If I know this, then I perceive my world and act in it in an independent ways. Of course, I need people. I need society. I need contact with people, even as I am comfortable with long, long periods of no social contact (on remote rivers or isolated forest and desert, for instance). But this does not mean that I need to participate in systems that dominate and oppress others.
Thanks for making me think, Andy. I would like to continue on, but I’ve dominated the conversation for too long, and I have I get to my next teaching assignment, anyway. I will post this comment as a blog entry. I’m interested to see your response.
I would argue that everyone who does not have the means and ability to produce his own food for the year along with a comfortable buffer against a bad crop the following year is essentially stuck in their positions, roles, and in their locations.
Lawyers are licensed by the state they practice in, as are doctors – both of whom are at the top of the income scale as far as people who are actually "productive" go. (It would be trivial to argue against lawyers, and perhaps assign to them a negative net productivity, but for sake of argument, let's say that the work they do helping to define society is a net positive.)
The other people at the top, money-wise, are the C-level executives, who have their own little game going called "board member", whereby you get paid an obscene salary to show up to a catered meeting a handful of times a year because you're known to the group. You occasionally selecting someone else in your social class to lead the company you're supposedly responsible for. As a group, they have the greatest mobility, until they reach the point where they're left holding the bag when the bad quarterly numbers roll in, then their heads roll as easily as a librarian's during a budget crisis.
Many are subject to age discrimination – the obvious example being actresses, used up and spit out as soon as they're no longer the flavor of the week or when someone else is willing to advance to the next level of "daring". However, they're not the only ones – even the engineer, a group whom one would consider to be very mobile and well-compensated, is subject to this, whether by the fashion of whatever's taught in college that half-decade becoming the must-have in the following half, or because they don't fit in with an ever-youthful crowd. Half of engineering graduates have left the field by the time they've reached age fifty. Engineers in Silicon Valley are considered to be of another era by the time they've reached age thirty-five and are as popular and as likely to be hired a mere decade later as a sixty year old woman in a singles bar is to get a date.
With the exception of running off to California or NYC (the one destination exception being Florida for Canadians and Easterners tired of the cold), everyone is expected to stay put where they're planted, perhaps moving over a border or to the local large city for work. Aside from a youthful Rumspringa of gentrifying an inner-city neighborhood, everyone is expected to move to the suburbs, get married, and raise a family. To not do so results in people framing your choices as "selfish".
Constant comparison against your social circle, whether your co-workers, neighbors, or your "friends" on the idiot box combined with the culture of consumption that we live in puts everyone on the merry-go-round of acquisition, disillusionment, and desperation. To question is to stand out and we all know what happens to the proud nail.