Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Love thy neighbor

There are two classes within society: a ruling class and a working class.

Whether it is in the workplace, the financial exchanges, Congress or the executive, we know the ruling class by the fact that it rules. It makes the central decisions which affect society.

We can identify the working class -- those who do the necessary work of society -- as everyone else. Strictly speaking, this class does not "rule"; it works. And the work it does comes in the form of assignments from a boss of one variety or another.

In order to perpetuate the inequity between ruler and ruled, the ruling class must solicit support from the working class. Part of the way the ruling class does this is to legitimate its own position vis-a-vis what is deemed undesirable about the working class. Racism, for example, aims to make people of color an "undesirable" component of the working class, which is then bemoaned by the rest of society: the basic division within society is obscured by one manufactured by its rulers.

One way or another, the ruling class exploits a prejudice against the working class, thus drawing key parts of the working class to its side. If you watch the local news, or read your daily paper, you will be well informed on what is wrong with working class people like you. However, what you will soon learn are the many ways in which you might free yourself of people like yourself, by choosing to identify with people who are unlike yourself! This is accomplished by taking part in "national politics" -- by aligning yourself with one part of the ruling class versus another. Now you don't have to be like you; you can be like them!

"Left" and "right" are parliamentary positions; they are horizontal locations on a vertical axis. At the upper pole of this axis we find the ruling class; at the lower, the working class. Both poles occupy terrain encompassing "left" and "right," whether ruling or working class.

What happens at the upper pole between "left" and "right" is significant because it happens internal to the class which rules -- and this affects everybody. What happens at the lower pole between "left" and "right" is immaterial because it happens internal to the class which works: working class people may bicker with one another, but continue working (or not working) as assigned. A faction of the working class becomes material only in concert with a faction of the ruling class; otherwise it is has as much force as an opinion.

Struggle always occurs between classes, thanks to the fact that one rules while the other is ruled. But the shape that class struggle takes depends on the relative cohesion of the working class. A working class that is fragmented into alliances with the ruling class will pursue class conflict down a dead-end street: it is the ruling class, at the end of the day, which rules. It doesn't matter who is elected to office when it comes to class problems.

We can observe class struggle anywhere we like, whether it assumes a shape from the "left" or from the "right." But as long as division prevails at the lower pole of social power, the ruling class will continue to rule.

How the ruling class behaves can be influenced by cohesion within the working class, i.e. when it disobeys the rules. An identification with power can be replaced with an identification with oneself and with people like oneself, even in the face of immaterial differences, as when your neighbor believes in Martians while you don't. Ruling class-sponsored paranoia that the Martianists will win elections and impose their Martian ways can be allayed by observing the material conflict between a ruling class and a working class in which Martians, one way or the other, really have no purchase. You don't have to freak out about it.

The surest way to disobey every rule, and the ruling class which creates them, is to love our neighbors as ourselves, without regard for very much else. People who can sympathize with one another on the basis that they are ruled, rather than condemn each other for their mistakes or differences, are the people best suited to challenge those rules not of their own making.


Justin said...

I know you only briefly touched upon it, but an interesting angle on this is the story about how the ruling class are falling into decadence and failing to uphold their end of the bargain with the working class, so to speak.

Without making any moral judgments on the set-up, the role of the owning class is to provide the working class with some list of goods in exchange for not getting mobbed. The dynamics of the exchange may still be fundamentally exploitive, flawed, or whatever, but they need to be there to hold.

When the ruling class becomes decadent enough, when they become mostly parasitic - and I am thinking of how tertiary economic activities in the FIRE sector have simultaneously grown and detached themselves from real economic activity and become casino games - that is when the working class becomes restless and angry.

Right now, the ruling class is getting away with turning this restless anger among the working classes in on itself, but I wonder if that is a viable, long-term strategy, or if the 'plan' is to buy some time to get as much out of the system as possible before it goes belly-up.

Ben There said...

Just flat out awesome. I love the phrase "ruling class sponsored paranoia". Glenn Beck anyone?

Anonymous said...

The consistent clarity of your thought shows profound understanding. And I don't say that to all the girls. The description of the narrow axis which contains our political spectrum is breathtaking in its simplicity and accuracy. I will use it.

As for the admonition to love your neighbor, I had a stock answer to the WWJD stickers and bracelets seen everywhere a few years ago. The man who could walk on water would be in the AIDS clinics and the jails, in homeless shelters and strip clubs, the schools and churches of the immigrants and the dispossessed, loving the residents and the workers who tended to them. Organizing the people at the bottom of that axis is a good way to start a revolution.


JRB said...


Well, I think the ruling class wants to change the terms of the "bargain."

What I get from Marx is that the owning class, acting as the agent of capital, is required to compensate the working class at a value equivalent to their cost of subsistence. This makes them keenly interested in either having the working class live at a minimum subsistence; or reducing the cost of the items of subsistence -- for example via processed food and imported commodities (people are poor but can buy lots of stuff).

There are also circumstances where capitalism benefits by paying the working class above their subsistence, as when commodities for whatever reason can't find a market, or desire new ones.

Presently, the US stands as an example of the former scenario, and China the latter.

I think the financialization aspect of all this is explained very well by David Harvey here, in what he calls a "capital surplus disposal problem" (about halfway through). This can create a kind of decadence, but I think the problem of surplus disposal is at the root of it all, not some newfound immorality amongst the ownership class.

It's their system and if it falls to pieces I don't see how they stand to gain: I don't think they're in a position to "get away" with much if society collapses. I think we see a lot of effort to reconstitute everything on a "sounder" basis as a result.


Beck and co. are aligned with a relatively small faction of the ruling class: two billionaire brothers and Rupert Murdoch, to be exact. The mainstream of the ruling class -- what lobbyist Rich Gold calls the "business community writ large" -- have produced their own paranoia in response.


Now that's a fine way to handle Christians!

Anonymous said...