ALS Topic 47 - Social Class - What is it? Do you need it? Can you avoid it?

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 47
Saturday, November 9, 2019 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Please buy a drink or something))

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. How would you define social class? Justify that.

2. Australia is built from many sub-cultures, often overlapping. What are some so these sub-cultures? How does social class relate to membership in a sub-culture?

3. The life chances of children are heavily influenced, but not always determined, by their social class. How does this work in Australia?

4, What effect will this long term movement to private education have on social class and equality of opportunity in Australia? Conservative governments, especially, have greatly increased the funding and influence of private schools over several decades, at the expense of public education. (For electoral reasons, Labor governments have largely been afraid to reverse this). [see "Rich school, poor school: Australiaís great education divide" @ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-13/rich-school-poor-school-australias-great-education-divide/11383384 ]

5. How can the damaging effects of mass social inequality be reconciled with the personal drive for privilege? There is overwhelming evidence that social inequality makes countries unstable, and often violent. However personal ambition for most people is driven by a wish to be seen as "better" than other people. This wish to be superior is typically expressed by social class markers and a striving for exclusive privilege.

6. What have been the downsides and upsides of attempts to create more or less classless societies? Think, for example, of the ideological extreme of Mao Zedong's Communist China in the 1950s, or very differently, of the current social democracies of Scandinavia.

7. Will a hierarchy of technical ability change the broad social structure? Or will techies merely remain the slaves of the rich and famous, as motor mechanics did? The extreme speed of technical innovation over several decades has stratified the population into those with various levels of technical knowhow and ability. For example, across generations we talk about 'digital natives'. But even among digital natives, there are those who are mere consumers, and those who can actually manipulate the technology in new ways.

8. What is the best way to manage relations between a permanent underclass (such as the functionally illiterate) and the larger privileged social classes? In all countries, a very large part of each population is functionally illiterate and innumerate (by some estimates, 47% of Australians). This is true, even where individuals have 'finished schooling'. These people cannot ever use the full resources and opportunities of advanced economies. They will forever be an underclass. They form their own values and attitudes as an underclass, sometimes hostile or indifferent to 'the others'.

9. What does higher education have to do with social class in Australia? Working class people who aspire to higher education typically see it as a way to get a better job. Rich and otherwise privileged families typically see higher education as a way to develop social networks which will guarantee their continued participation in a (self-defined) upper class. International students, as financial clients in universities, now form a third group often seeking a residence visa. [Thor, from working class origins, was stupidly only interested in ideas, not class].

10. What are some circumstances, events and environments where social class doesn't matter a damn?

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Extra links and reading

Tegan Osborne and staff for Class Act 20 Apr 2018) "Your say on class in Australia". ABC @ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-20/your-say-on-social-class-in-australia/9663556

Jason Murphy (August 23, 2017) "Australiaís six social classes: which one are you? - Forget about middle, upper and working class, modern Australia is more complicated. Can you guess which class youíre in?" News Ltd. @ https://www.news.com.au/finance/money/wealth/australias-six-social-classes-which-one-are-you/news-story/1583e99bfd7389e65d1e9c39a1491b6c

Ben Smee (21 Oct 2019 ) "Leading Australian engineers turn their backs on new fossil fuel projects - The Engineers Declare movement pledges to put climate considerations first in evaluating plans." The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/21/leading-engineers-turn-their-backs-on-new-fossil-fuel-projects

[Thor, comment: an example of technical professionals refusing to be merely the tools of political manipulators. This is a kind of social class revolt if seen in traditional terms]

Richard Godwin (20 October 2019) "The new workwear: has the suit finally died? - Hardly anyone wears a suit to work now. How did we all get so scruffy? And what about all those lovely ties? Richard Godwin charts the demise of looking smart". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/oct/20/the-new-workwear-has-the-suit-finally-died

BBC News (21 October 2019) "Chile protests: Is inequality becoming worse?". BBC @ https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50123494

[Thor, comment: Inequality generates social unrest. Sociologists who study such phenomena are almost unanimous about that conclusion. Chile with the highest inequality in the OECD is a text book example. Hong Kong is another. However, the idea of 'inequality' is itself complex. It is not merely about income differences. Political access, personal opportunity, social mobility for the ambitious poor, and entrenched social attitudes all play a big part in whether 'inequality' is accepted passively or sparks revolt.]

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels (1847) "Manifesto of the Communist Party". Marxists.org (MIA) @ https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm

Royce Kurmelovs (27 October 2019) "Jobactive workers speak out: 'How the hell did I end up doing this to these people?' - Three people who have worked in job centres tell about their experience dealing with vulnerable Australians on welfare." The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/oct/24/jobactive-workers-speak-out-how-the-hell-did-i-end-up-doing-this-to-these-people

[Thor, comment: So you have a job, you have an income, this stuff is not your problem is it? You are not part of a permanent underclass, forced to go through humiliating rituals of being forced to apply for pretend jobs that aren't there. Yes, it's not your problem. Today. There's every chance that it will be your problem, next year, in 5 year's time ... It's called automation. But you don't want to know about that either. Not yet. No government can solve the employment dilemma easily. That will take bold, long term planning and a different concept of economics. What a government can do very quickly is to solve the soul-destroying, anger-building, crime-incubating humiliation problem. The administration we have at the moment won't do that. Why? It's against their ideology. They savour class division. It feeds their illusion of being in a 'better class', superior, more worthy people. Well, that's the conclusion which Thor is driven to after watching them for decades. Maybe you disagree. But do read the direct, first person accounts linked to here from 3 people inside the system]

Benjamin Hardy (August 23, 2017) "How to Reverse Aging and Become Whoever You Want to Be - You may think your body ages at its own pace regardless of your state of mind, but research says otherwise". Inc. website @ https://getpocket.com/explore/item/how-to-reverse-aging-and-become-whoever-you-want-to-be

[Thor, comment : this article has a bit of the flavour of a self-help sales pitch. However the underlying message (with evidence) is right - and directly relates not only to age but to social class bracketing. If you accept being put in a box with a social class (or ageist) label on it, the chances are that you will begin to act and think according to the stereotype which comes with that label.]

Verna Yu (29 Oct 2019) "Hong Kong's reluctant police officer: 'Itís not for us to deliver punishment' - The battle with protesters is splitting the police force between those seeking power and others protecting freedoms". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/29/hong-kongs-reluctant-policeman-its-not-for-us-to-deliver-punishment

[Thor, comment: Anywhere in the world, where a clash between classes of people becomes physical, police become the interface. Nominally they are mediating with impartial law. In practice they have all the faults and virtues of other humans. So when the clash becomes extended, especially, they too will shift to one extreme against the other, which escalates the divisions. This tipping point to extremism and oppression happens in hundreds of places around the world on a daily basis. Your daily news media cycle touches only a fragment of it].

Ben Butler and Amy Remeikis (29 Oct 2019) "Company of Anthony Pratt, Australia's richest man, pays virtually no tax - Exclusive: despite reaping profits of more than $340m since 2013, a Pratt holding company has paid little tax". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/oct/29/company-of-anthony-pratt-australias-richest-man-pays-virtually-no-tax

[Thor, comment: The structure of Australian tax laws is a wilful conspiracy to impose class divisions on Australian society. The long term consequence of that will be dire, as it has been elsewhere. The proportion of corporate tax to total revenue paid has been decreasing drastically since the 1950s. For example, see - Gareth Hutchens (7 December 2017) "Australian tax office says 36% of big firms and multinationals paid no tax" The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/07/australian-tax-office-says-36-of-big-firms-and-multinationals-paid-no-tax  ]

Joe Nocera (October 29, 2019) "WeWork co-founder is the new 'most hated man in America'" Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/companies/wework-co-founder-is-the-new-most-hated-man-in-america-20191028-p534v8.html 

[Thor, comment: Meetup.com was betrayed by its founder and sold for a song to WeWork, or rather it is now owned by Masayoshi Son of Softbank, a venture capital company, after the collapse of the WeWork IPO. This has been buccaneering on a grand scale and Meetup.com is at clear risk. However, for the purposes of this ALS topic, the comments on this article home in on the tug-of-war between exploitation and failure from unfettered capitalism and death-by-regulation with unfettered socialism. Of course, long term those extremes also generate extremes of class division with all the consequences which follow from that.]

Matthew Martin, Nicolas Parasie and Dinesh Nair(October 30, 2019) "'Scary situation': Billionaires say a global economic downturn is inevitable". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/markets/scary-situation-billionaires-say-an-economic-downturn-is-inevitable-20191030-p535jr.html

[Thor, comment: In plain English, they want governments to spend massively on public projects to get the economic machine rolling again (as China did in the 2008 GFC). With negative interest rates the billionaires find it harder to make a dollar. Where will governments get the funds to spend up big? Well taxes is one source, but these guys hardly pay taxes - their money is stashed in offshore hideaways, actually creating the problem they are complaining about. Like the Americans in 2008, governments can just print money ("quantitative easing"), which ultimately decreases the value of money (inflation) and might force interest rates up. It's called capitalizing profits and socializing losses. Bingo, the great ponzi game can start again. If not, the lower classes might lose hope and there just might be riots in the streets (Chile, Hong Kong, Lebanon) and awkward populist revolts (Brexit, flyover America ..)]

Matthew Knott (October 30, 2019) "'Americans need to chill': Joe Hockey on what the US can learn from Australia" Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/north-america/americans-need-to-chill-joe-hockey-on-what-the-us-can-learn-from-australia-20191030-p535ry.html

[Quote: "Your infrastructure is terrible," Hockey told the Americans, "..."Your banking system is really hard work and I don't understand your healthcare system... Americans also have to learn to chill... And they should think a little bit more about bridging the divides between the haves and the have-nots in a society that is broad, diverse and inherently generous. This nation innovates better than any other country - not only in the world, but in history," he said while accepting an award for his work promoting the US-Australia alliance. "Failure happens here in the United States but it's not the end when you fail, it's just the end of the beginning. You can dust off and start again. "Americans give more substance to the term 'having a go' than anywhere else. From this we can learn." ... Hockey last week blasted the Trump administration's trade policies, saying in a speech that America's turn towards protectionism would damage its economy and risked provoking war with China."]

[Thor, comment: Joe Hockey is Australia's ambassador in the United States of America. He is about to retire. Hockey, (I think) is correct in his observations about America. The irony is that in his short career as a (Liberal Party) Australian Treasurer, he practised the opposite of what he preaches here. Hence the venom in many of the reader comments in the Brisbane Times. Hypocrisy, after all, is a common trait in politicians. But what about Australians themselves? Australians' self-image often boasts of being ready to 'have a go' (take risks, try hard) like Americans, but a practical reality is that many, many Australians are timid, complaining creatures. Similarly, we have a public self-image of being a classless society, but the practical reality is very different.]

Diana Divecha (October 29, 2019) "What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying in Schools? - A new study identifies the most effective approaches to bullying prevention". Greater Good magazine @ https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_are_the_best_ways
_to_prevent_bullying_in_schools

[ Thor, comment: This is about school bullying amongst children. However, it could be applied equally to adults. Bullying comes from the unequal exercise of perceived power. Social class differences are a major carrier of such power difference. The most interesting aspect of this article is that the comments overwhelmingly disagree with the author, a psychologist. The commenters almost universally argue for a violent response to bullies, and it is a reasonable guess that they extend that diagnosis to class warfare and conflict between countries. That certainty about the value of violence is not hopeful for the future of human relationships. Jesus Christ 2000 years ago argued for a rejection of violence in conflict resolution, yet like the American commenters in the article, many (most?) of his claimed followers since have byepassed that and opted for the Old Testament notion of a vengeful god. Back in the playground, yes, depending on the individuals, smashing a bully back in the face can sometimes be a very effective cure. However, the world is more complicated than that. Many bullied kids and adults don't have that capacity for a physical fight. At the other extreme, rich and powerful families sometimes bring up horrible children. We might wish that someone had smashed Trump in the face as a kid, He is a large man and a bully, and not obviously brave. However, Trump has clearly bought protection and privilege for his whole life. There are many like him, untouchable because of wealth and status. And when it comes to relations between social groups and countries, the solution of violence is a losing proposition. Diplomacy and the rule of law were invented precisely to deal with this kind of conflict. ]

Mike Secombe (2 November 2019) "The fatal cost of Australiaís rising inequality - Six years. That is now the average gap in life expectancy between the bottom 20 per cent of the population and the top 20 per cent, according to a new study of health inequality in Australia. For people in the lowest 10 per cent of the population, it is 10 years. Indeed, the gap seems to be widening across the board.." The Saturday Paper @ https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/economy/2019/11/02/the-fatal-cost-australias-rising-inequality/15726132009011

Peter Hartcher (5 November 2019) "Australia proved Mahathir Mohamad and the handwringers wrong". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/asia/australia-proved-mahathir-mohamad-and-the-handwringers-wrong-20191104-p5375k.html

[Quote: "First, Singapore's founder, the late Lee Kuan Yew, said in the 1980s that Australians were destined to become the "poor white trash" of Asia. Then Malaysia's long-time prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, permanently ruled Australia out of participation in Asia: "Actually they are Europeans, they cannot be Asians." .... The sad fact is that Mahathir cannot conceive of a non-discriminatory immigration policy like Australia's. Because Mahathir is a racist who can only see the world in racial terms... Of course, there is no such thing as "Asianness". The very word "Asia" was a European invention. It never occurred to the peoples living in it that they constituted a single entity... As for "Asian values", it was merely a cover story to excuse the authoritarian tendencies of Lee and Mahathir. The story fell apart as the number of successful Asian democracies grew to include South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia, as well as Japan. "In the 1990s Mahathir was trying to achieve a balance then against the overwhelming dominance of the US, and it was easier if you put all the Asians onto one side of it. But the balance of power has changed." Now countries are seeking to balance against the "overwhelmingly powerful force" that China has become, says Gyngell, and everyone is repositioning. ..]

[Comment, Thor : Why is this included in a topic on social class? Well, it is a sad fact that racism in all its forms is one of the most enduring foundations of social class. Indeed, vast numbers of (narrow minded) people on every continent find something as trivial as skin colour impossible to separated from cultural differences, and that becomes self-reinforcing]

Wikipedia (2019) "Social Class". @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_class

[Quote: "The precise measurements of what determines social class in society have varied over time. Karl Marx thought "class" was defined by one's relationship to the means of production (their relations of production). His simple understanding of classes in modern capitalist society is the proletariat, those who work but do not own the means of production; and the bourgeoisie, those who invest and live off the surplus generated by the proletariat's operation of the means of production. This contrasts with the view of the sociologist Max Weber, who argued "class" is determined by economic position, in contrast to "social status" or "Stand" which is determined by social prestige rather than simply just relations of production"]

[Thor, comment: seems to me that social class, and status for that matter, are categories very much in the eye of the beholder(s), and the behavious which come from that. We don't have to be bound by the ideas of either Karl Marx or Max Weber (Weber was a founding figure in sociology)]

Ifan Morgan => Ifan belonged to the ALS predecessor in Brisbane. Now he's not in Australia, but he has taken the trouble to answer every one of the focus questions on this group's Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/1678127882281980/ ), I thought it was worth re-posting his ideas here [hey, there's a lot!]

Ifan: "With apologies for brevity and glibness but I havenít got all day some of us have to bloody work....

Ifan: Q 1. How would you define social class? Justify that. A loose society of people who share economic interests and use a set of mannerisms, modes of speech, culinary, sports and cultural practices to differentiate and identify each other within a wider population. I am British so I know these things.

Ifan: Q 2. 2. Australia is built from many sub-cultures, often overlapping. What are some so these sub-cultures? How does social class relate to membership in a sub-culture? Thereís a tall, elegant, beautiful lady who walks around Roma in jeans, a blue check farmerís shirt and an Aussie cowboy hat (what do you guys call those btw ?). She also wears high heels and jewellery. The entire ensemble is stylish, not garish or overstated. She appears to be a wealthy farmer. Her shirt and jeans indicate a willingness to roll up her sleeves and get to work - a fixed prerequisite in Queensland farming society, but her heels and jewellery signal that she doesnít have to. So she manages to signal loyalty to a socioeconomic working class, while also advertising the fact that her economic interests are aligned with the owning class.

Ifan: Q3. The life chances of children are heavily influenced, but not always determined, by their social class. How does this work in Australia? Through rampant nepotism, cronyism and corruption at all levels of the Aussie economy, as far as I can tell. The absence of the principle of fair play in jobs - ie you advertise a job then impartially award it to the best applicant - down there was a shock to me when I lived there, having expected a kind of fairer, more laid back, sunnier Britain. Other places have corruption of course, but only in Australia have I seen it treated casually as an accepted fact of life. So itís great of youíre a tradie from the right family, or a council worker with the right friends/gender/sexuality. Itís hardly surprising that immigrants form communities based around ethnic characteristics rather than spread out and become Australian. Corruption has a tendency to segregate subsets of a population, the classic soldier/merchant/priest/farmer divisions. So kids get steered into whatever socioeconomic class their parents can get them into.

fan: Q 4. [Effect of private education] The purpose of private education is to segregate the children of those who can afford it from the children of those who cannot, thereby ensuring that all social connections made by those children will be with other children whose parents have at least enough wealth to send their children to private school. The effect of private education on Australian society will be to further polarise the socioeconomic classes and help bring about the entrenched class system that capital owners seek.

Ifan Q 5. [How can the damaging effects of mass social inequality be reconciled with the personal drive for privilege?] Through a value system which lionises accomplishment in human endeavour, places high esteem on effort and work, fair play and impartiality, but at the same time frowns on unearned wealth and regards ostentatious displays of wealth as foolish. Such a culture tends to steer its ambitious people into actual innovation and achievement rather than wealth gathering for its own sake, while preserving access to social esteem for everyone - all you have to do is an honest dayís work. In other words, be more Welsh, and less English (with apologies to English Northerners) ?

Ifan Q 6. [What have been the downsides and upsides of attempts to create more or less classless societies? Think, for example, of the ideological extreme of Mao Zedong's Communist China in the 1950s, or very differently, of the current social democracies of Scandinavia.] The upside is a cohesive society devoid of lower class resentment & anger and upper class fear and disgust. Also high trust and security levels, leading to happier people. The potential downsides are conformism morphing into intolerance and xenophobia on the one hand or a drift into toxic altruism (thinking of Sweden here) on the other.

Ifan Q 7. [ Will a hierarchy of technical ability change the broad social structure? Or will techies merely remain the slaves of the rich and famous, as motor mechanics did? ] No. The social structure remains based on capital accumulation. Tech expertise is merely a new way of getting there.

Ifan Q 8. [What is the best way to manage relations between a permanent underclass (such as the functionally illiterate) and the larger privileged social classes? In all countries, a very large part of each population is functionally illiterate and innumerate (by some estimates, 47% of Australians). ] By making sure they always have access to social esteem and economic security while minimising the grounds for resentment and anger.

Ifan Q 9. [What does higher education have to do with social class in Australia?] HE is very valuable in that it forces social connections across class and ethnic lines, and imposes a common standard of esteem by subjecting all students to the same assessment standards (in the west, at least...). It is a direct refutation of wealth-based class, seeking instead to impose the kind of value system I mentioned earlier, where everyone competes fairly, if they work.

Ifan Q 10. [ What are some circumstances, events and environments where social class doesn't matter a damn?] When youíre swimming across a river in northern Queensland. Unless flesh fed on gratin dauphinois smells different to that fed on potato bake ?

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Peter Whiteford (1995) "Does Australia have a ghetto underclass?" 262 pages. Social Security Journal, June 1995 @ https://www.academia.edu/1330424/Does_Australia_have_a_ghetto_underclass?email_work_card=view-paper

[Thor, comment: I've included this to show that the sort of discussion we are likely to have has been going on for a long time. The political actors take fixed positions, and see-saw policy with electoral changes, rarely evolving their own views regardles of facts on the ground. Usually that's ditto for the general population too. It takes generational change to have a chance of altering the balance. Peter Whiteford is faculty at the Australian National University in Canberra].

Groucho Marx (1940s) ... on resigning from an elite Hollywood club:

Dear Board, I donít want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. Sincerely yours, Groucho Marx.

[Thor's version: I refuse to marry any woman who would have me as a husband.

So ... what's your version ... ?]


Thor's own websites:

1. articles at http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay ;

2. legacy site: http://thormay.net .

 


Social Class - What is it? Do you need it? Can you avoid it? (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion