The Myth of the Middle Class–Surreal Semiotics and Poetry

I once considered myself if not a proud, at least a comfortable member of the Boojwahzee. The values and conventions of the Middle Class were acceptable to me. I thought education was a good thing and that it was honorable to profit from your talent and industry and that charity was to be admired. Deferred gratification was OK with me because nothing much in my life was all that gratifying anyway.

That was all before I became a revolutionary. The only class struggle I had ever witnessed was strictly inra-mural. I was right in the middle of the middle class; if I looked to my left or to my right I saw another boojwah honky with boojwah values and boojwah expectations and boojwah possibilities. A solid boojie’s idea of class struggle is who has the most possessions or status and in which country club you cavort.

There is an institutionalized blindness to class in the American culture. After all, one of the reasons our ancestors immigrated here in the first place was to escape the class systems in their native lands. We fancy ourselves as a classless society, but it is only fancy and while we devote considerable cultural effort to maintaining the myth, it is very much a myth. We don’t have and have never had a classless society in America or anywhere else.

Class depends on several things among which are property, values and power. Throughout human history class has broken down into these categories. The property owning class or aristocracy, the clergy and the military traditionally vie for dominance and control and everybody else is in the working class, the peasants, plebes and proletarians who variously benefit from or are exploited by whatever social system happens to be in place. It is a two-class system. You are either in the ruling class or you are ruled. As Marx deftly pointed out, those who controlled the means of production ruled. The materialistic view is that economics alone determines society.

What we call the Middle Class is an aberration that began in the late Middle Ages when urbanization began and burghers and tradesmen and merchants and bankers became an economic force. Eventually this segment prospered and values were developed and established, it became identified as a class. Today we imagine that America is one big happy Middle Class. It’s as big a fantasy as it’s always been.

Of course Materialism has no provision for intangible things like the human spirit and art. This is what eventually caused my disenchantment with Marxism even though it is useful in understanding the nature of The Class Struggle. There is much more to the Class Struggle than economics. Values are even more important as indicators of class. A society is represented by its culture more than by its wealth and the relative distribution thereof. These things influence each other to be sure, but in general ideas are more powerful and enduring than props.

But back to my career as a revolutionary. If, as I assert, values are the most important determinant of class, what are the values that define the Middle Class? The values of social and religious equality and democracy are included. Honesty, hard work and thrift are valued. We like the ideas of Higher Education and keeping your lawn mowed. It’s mostly pretty straight Ten Commandments sort of stuff. Certainly these values change color and texture and emphasis with time and fashion, but in general they amount to the same simple rules of social expediency.

The only problem with these values is that they have little to do with the everyday operations of our contemporary world and the Middle Class is itself a myth. There are still only two classes, the ruling class and the ruled. What we call the Middle Class is really only Working Class with a snooty, self-important attitude. Boojies are just stuck-up slaves, house negroes. What we call Middle Class values are simply crowd-control mantras and are for the same purpose the rules of polite society have always existed, so that taxes can be collected in an orderly and sustainable fashion. Middle Class values are no more than the doctrines used by the owners to control the slaves.

So, if most of us are the ruled, who are the rulers? They are the same people that Marx identified: the owners of the means of production. These were once landowners and family dynasties and later nations and governments but in today’s world they tend to call themselves corporations. The definition of ‘means of production’ has also expanded in ways Marx never imagined. Capital is much more than land and minerals and factories. Who can say exactly what Google’s product is or who owns the natural resources necessary to make it? When you own complex financial derivative instruments, exactly what do you own other than paper? Is information itself a natural resource?

Lightning Rod, weren’t you talking about why you are a revolutionary? Yes, yes, now I remember. The reason that I am a revolutionary is because being a revolutionary is a necessary part of being an artist. Who is obliged to challenge the conventions of society if not the artist? I am also a revolutionary because I reject the values of any class. It is my duty as a poet to remove myself from membership in any club, religion, party or class or race. I must be an outsider in order to more completely and impartially observe the workings of our social mechanism. In short, it’s my job to be a revolutionary. No money changer’s table is safe around me.

There are also two classes of outsiders. There are criminals and there are artists. Both reject or ignore the rules and conventions of society. Both can be very inventive because of this liberation. The difference again comes to values and to the motives behind whatever behaviors of crime or creation we examine. The criminal’s motive is entirely selfish while the artist’s are presumably creative and altruistic. Neither of them follow the rules but one tends to destroy and the other to create. One takes and one gives.

Regardless of my vain musings as an artist, the Class Struggle will continue between the same two adversary classes who have been locked in combat since Cain capped Able. The powerful and the weak; the haves and the have-nots; the masters and the slaves; the owners and the owned. There are many chess pieces on the board but they are all of two colors. There are no gray, Middle Class pieces. You are either the exploiter or the exploited, the victor or the vanquished, the eater or the et.

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free,
But you’re still fucking peasents as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
–Lennon

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One Response to The Myth of the Middle Class–Surreal Semiotics and Poetry

  1. mtmynd says:

    I was reminded of this Dylan song after reading this… even the exploiter …

    “Gotta Serve Somebody”

    You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Might be a rock’n’ roll adict prancing on the stage
    Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
    You may be a business man or some high degree thief
    They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Good piece, eLRod.

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