Some time ago, I wrote some thoughts on the Occupy movement within another blog post. My opinion is probably an unpopular one, especially given the fact that I agree with Occupy - and simultaneously don't.
I've been thinking about Occupy and wealth inequality again recently, for various reasons. One of them is because I reread an excerpt of The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels for one of my classes (poor Engels; everyone forgets about him and just focus on Marx). And then I came across this video via the interwebs:
And suddenly the Occupy movement starts to make a lot more sense. Given that this video gives sources at the end and sounds fairly reasonable, I'm more apt to believe this than some of the other videos made to explain the issue of the 99%. It's true that there are ridiculously wealthy people out there and that they likely aren't who we think they are. And the people who are wealthy are so ridiculously wealthy that we can't even really fathom it. For this reason, as a newscaster on one of the local channels in Minneapolis expressed this morning, one million dollars isn't as much money as it used to be.
Perhaps I like this video because of how different its rhetoric is. It isn't discussing a hate for the bourgeois or how rich people are to blame or how having money is a terrible evil. It's essentially just showing the disparity (though there is a rebuttal video called "What Wasn't Said in 'Wealth Inequality in America.'" You can watch it on your own but I won't discuss it here because I think it's a pretty weak counterargument. It suggests that this video doesn't discuss income/social mobility and that this data needs to be included. While I agree that this might be useful, I think this rebuttal misses the fact that income mobility will not solve anything here (ie: the middle class doesn't even exist anymore in the chart shown because the wealthiest members of society are so unbelievably wealthy) and also the data isn't suggested by this rebuttal. Yes, they provide a critique but they don't really tell us what this additional data might show or even what the data could be. Kind of a weak response, if you ask me).
Income inequality isn't new. It's been around since... well, probably since money became a way of buying stuff and in return paying people for their labor. While these ideas aren't new, I think recognizing that they exist in the United States is a growing phenomenon. Obviously social classes exist in the States. We've just been very good, in my experiences, at pretending that they don't. The US is supposed to be a land of equality, a place where anyone can make it, the American Dream is real, and it's possible to pull yourself up "by your own bootstraps." To see data that suggests that this may not be possible or doesn't mean what it used to deeply questions these notions and perhaps even poses the idea of what's even the point of trying if it isn't possible or doesn't mean anything.
That's at least the crux we seem to currently be in here in the US. To other countries, I imagine this seems a bit weird. Especially somewhere like the UK where class issues has been part of society for quite a while. I remember fondly the first time I read a novel set in Victorian England, where the upper class individuals looked with disdain down upon Americans who didn't seem to care about class and how marrying an American was a step down in the world. While this made me realize that class does exist in the States, albeit in different ways, it also made me realize how much I don't understand the class structure of the UK. With set positions such as lords and dukes and other remnants of monarchical structure, I honestly have a hard time wrapping my head around this. I feel as if it's ingrained in the American psyche to have a complete and utter disregard for the power complex associated with the hierarchies associated to monarchies. At the same time, "living like a king" is still aspired to and being the "king of your own domain" is idea tied to home ownership and design. Maybe this has a lot to do with current confusion about economic standing; it's never been clearly outlined in the US so trying to discuss and fix it is unclear. Though really it might help if we did think of these premises - we a former colony of Britain, after all, and I think despite my confusion and not knowing the nuances of British society, that perhaps the US and the UK has more in common than we might initially think.
I'd like to use the idea of class issue in the UK as a jumping off point to express some of the confusion I've been experiencing on my Tumblr dashboard, where one moment I can see a video like the one posted above and the next see people's dreams for lives of glamor and wealth. That's a bit jarring but more so is seeing a series of photos of your favorite celebrities and then seeing a text post like this:
It gets more awkward. Mostly because I really like this song by a punk group called the Jam:
I heard this song on the Current (a Minneapolis radio station) and they gave some interesting background on it. It's a protest song about class issues in the 1970s in England, discussing the "Eton Rifles" (not a real group, according to Wikipedia), a sort of military group at Eton school fighting with working class boys. From what I understand, it's about a privileged class picking on the lower classes and, more generally, hypocrisy. However, I have mixed feelings about Eton. It's always been represented as a positive, respected school so seeing a counterpoint to this is interesting. But I also feel like Eton gets a bad rap these days. Partly because it's no longer the 1970s and I'd really like to think things have changed since then (though it doesn't help when David Cameron misses the point of this song - Wiki this if you want more details), partly because I think universities have equalized somewhat (I'm pretty sure I can get just as good of an education at my university as I could at Harvard, thank you very much), and a couple of my favorite actors went to Eton (*cough* Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston *cough*) and because they appear to be level-headed, down-to-earth individuals, the whole idea of Etonians being absolute asshats sounds like crap to me. Just like the idea that everyone who went to Harvard is either a) elitist, b) a super genius, or c) a lawyer is also wrong. Or that everyone who went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a frat boy or that everyone who went to University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is pre-med. Schools tend to garner certain perceptions and labels and the general public likes to use them as a certain heuristic or stereotype. Which is kind of a problem. Because guess who doesn't like labels as absolutes? This girl.
On that note, every once in a while, the internet throws something my way exactly when I need it and that's precisely what I found today. This article came my way - it's from the Daily Mail (*cringes*) but it looks as if it's a better written article for once. It's an interview with Tom Hiddleston and, lo and behold, he discusses the concept of labels:
‘But I’m wary of labels,’ he says. ‘As an actor, the labels that are so easily attachable to me – like Old Etonian or Cambridge graduate or Rada alumnus – are, in a way, the least interesting things about me. I’ve had to do a lot of work taking off those jackets. The last thing I ever want is to be pigeon-holed.'
What then do we do about income inequality? Great question, so glad you asked - I have no idea. The only thing I can suggest, not being an economist, sociologist, or anything of that nature, is to keep talking and keeping an open ear and mind. Maybe then we'll come up with a solution.
This post was initially supposed to incorporate a segue into discussing role models and celebrity endorsement for charity, but clearly that didn't happen. So, that'll be Saturday's post. Until then, adieu dear readers and thank you for putting up with my ambiguous political ramblings.