Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The muddled American social classes

Some use the violence-laced phrase of class warfare to divide and conquer constituencies. Others look to the old countries, like England, to model their American breeding and design decisions. Our American tax laws place citizens in brackets. We have this word in our English language, class, which has a wide variety of inferences. Class may be in the eyes of the beholder, something we know when we see it, but these days class as a concept is muddled simply because we are bewitched, bothered, and bewildered.

Does class matter to you? Are you self-conscious about the way you speak? How do you judge others? With what social checklist do you make your measurements?

President Obama’s speech yesterday in Osawatomie Kansas used the phrase “middle class” twenty-one times. He never defined and probably did not need to explain it because we have a good handle on what “middle class” means, right? I’m not so sure of the class yardstick anymore. In fact, I think we never had a yardstick. For me, the word prism comes to mind and over the years we’ve added facets.

If you’d like to take your self-professed upper class, or even upper-middle class self to England for instance, and see how you measure up, have at it. They are our class-masters and there you will receive a master class. You may be able to lease the posh London flat in the “proper” post (their zip) code and even afford to send your children to that prestigious public (our version of private) school, but as they say in the Ozarks “…that dog ain’t gonna hunt”.

In England one is judged based upon how one speaks. We have a few local broadcasters in Kansas City from England. Their accents raise their IQs, oh, 30 points or so, don’t you agree? To speak properly is to exude class. Or how one speaks contributes to one’s class standing. In addition to your required vast means, you will have some serious personal “re-invention” ahead of you, in London society. Best of luck, on that. You will be less disappointed modeling your life according to Martha Stewart designs and re-runs of Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.

Our American class system is muddled and regionally so. I think it’s a beautiful thing; this muddled somewhat united variety of States. While politicians measure your class based upon your checkbook balance, savings account, stock portfolio, you know that this country is the land of invention as well as re-invention. You can begin by changing your surname for example. Pick a “Tommy Two-Names” variety, for example to turn heads, like Prairie-Snodgrass, or Swope-Park. Re-invent. Americans may not be class masters but we are the masters of change, beginning with re-inventing the self.

And that’s exactly what makes this class division, this artificial class warfare, so absurd, really. In our hearts we know about personal re-invention that has nothing to do with economics. It, the “it” being personal change, begins with desire and dreaming. Turn off the television for a few moments and contemplate the media. The media teaches us about re-invention and that Martha Stewart you love changed her surname from Kostyra, after she departed Jersey City, New Jersey.

Re-invention comes with education, too. Education can last a life-time if you pursue it and remain a bit curious.

Use caution when people call you to the barricades or the ballot box with class-warfare rhetoric. Listen carefully to rhetoric, including mine. Think twice before putting that 99% bumpersticker on that automobile of yours. Think again before thinking too highly of yourself here in Middle America. Be careful judging someone’s intellect based upon their accent. But if you desire to change, do so; reinvent yourself with abandon. You live in a land of re-invention. Just ask Martha What's-Her-Name.

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