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The Myth of the Middle Class

The Myth of the Middle Class

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Published by rjcebik4146
While much is made of the term "middle class", the author maintains it is far smaller than imagined by the many who consider themselves as numbered in it. Rather, they are part of a quasi-educated peasantry reverting to subservient adulation of the very overlords (read corporations) who exploit them.
While much is made of the term "middle class", the author maintains it is far smaller than imagined by the many who consider themselves as numbered in it. Rather, they are part of a quasi-educated peasantry reverting to subservient adulation of the very overlords (read corporations) who exploit them.

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Published by: rjcebik4146 on Sep 17, 2009
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07/27/2010

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The Myth of the Middle Class
byRon Cebik 
An old Gallic friend inhabits my thoughts these days as I ponder the American political, economic, social, and religious scene. When barely an adult, he served in theVichy French Navy surviving the destruction of the their Mediterranean Fleet by theBritish, wandered the North African Desert for months and ended World War II fightingalongside the British. He taught me about the beauty of things shaped by the humanhand, the symmetry of landscaped hillsides, and the irony that is the shadow of human pretension. He once told me that that there are only two kinds of people in the world;whores and pimps. Only now, almost twenty years later, can I really understand what hemeant. The reason for my slow admittance of his meaning has been my reluctance toaccept that he was sharing an important insight into the human condition.Humanity, in this view, is divided into two classes of people. There are thosewhose lives are limited to making others rich through their labor, and those who providea living to those who make them rich. The few, who live their lives outside this bifurcation of humanity, do so in isolation, confined to monasteries, artist studios, or other venues of meager living. Admittedly, this comes awfully close to “forbidden”thinking as it describes the human condition in a manner that challenges the way our culture demands we think of it. To entertain such a view threatens our inflated view of ourselves and our need to ascribe nobility to our lives. We, therefore, live in denial,creating a worldview that leaves us feeling comfortable. The problem with this is that onedenial leads to another. We, thus, label realities with false identities. Such is the casewith term “middle class”.Most people in modern America think of themselves as middle class. Politiciansconstantly refer to the middle class as threatened or in need of tax relief. The middleclass is referred to as the bed-rock of American society, the repository of its values, andthe societal core that third world countries should seek to emulate. What, however, ismiddle about this class?We live in a society that takes pride in home ownership. In fact, this is one of thehallmarks of being middle class. Home ownership is one of those terms applied to a
 
condition that masks its true reality. Most of us do not own our own homes. They are,for all practical purposes, owned by lending institutions and entities with which we haveentered into an agreement by which we are allowed to live in a housing unit that has beendetermined to be within the limits of our income. We may exchange this unit when our needs or income change, but it is we who bear the costs of making this change. If there isany doubt as to the true owner of the property, renege on the contract and see whoremains in possession of the property. For this privilege of “home ownership”, we end up paying to the institution up to three times the original purchase price. The system forcesus into gambling that, in the end, we may have a roof over our heads when we are nolonger employed. However, the system has gambled nothing, as we have taken the risk and devoted a lifetime to making the lending institution’s stockholders richer. Perhaps itis worth it to be called homeowners rather than fief holders. The same applies to our automobiles. By the time we really own them, having paid off the loan to purchase them,they are next to worthless. This is only to illustrate how we use terms to describe areality in a palatable way, even if it distorts that reality.Of what is the middle class in the middle? Members of this class like to think they are here because they are neither rich nor poor, but somewhere in the middle of thewealth spectrum. There are those with more possessions, assets, cash, or luxuries. Then,there is that permanent underclass aspiring to attain the status of middle class. This,again, is another distortion of reality. Wealth is always relative in determining where oneis located in the social order. There are members of the underclass who may have morecash liquidity than most us can dream of (drug dealers and the occasional person whosquirrels away a fortune while living in seeming poverty). There are persons, living incheap rents, overburdened by debt, that are never considered a part of the underclass,such as graduate students, interns, teachers, social workers, and all sorts of religious professionals. The middle class, today, is in the middle of nothing. It is a term that refersto another reality to which will be alluded to later. There are only two classes, i.e. the onethat controls and the one controlled, another way of describing what my friend describedin more colorful terms. If the class that is controlled is what is referred to as the middleclass, the underclass is really part of it. Then the so-called middle (controlled) class hasmore in common with the underclass than with the upper (controlling) class.2
 
Unless, at this point, the reader thinks this is a Marxist argument, it is necessary to point out that this is not about “oppression of the masses” or a call to revolution. It issimply to state that this is a way of understanding the dynamics at work in Americansociety. The average person in this country is more comfortable, economically, than anyaverage person in any time or place. There is more freedom of movement, less drudgery,more work satisfaction, and more opportunity to advance in status in modern society.The same can be said about many other societies around the world.Class is not about relative affluence. People tend to think that having somedegree of comfort, the opportunity to consume products, and enjoy a modicum of leisuremakes them middle class. When viewed against the backdrop of poverty seen in the thirdworld and in urban and rural enclaves in this country, the relative wealth of mostAmericans seems to indicate a rise in status. If one were to measure wealth in terms of survivability, then the picture changes. Without an automobile, the opportunity to begainfully employed is minimal. Comfortable housing is dependent upon a steady incomelest one’s domicile be repossessed by the lending institution holding the mortgage.People are no longer equipped with the skills necessary to survive without great amountsof power derived from fossil fuels, innumerable electronic gadgets, and a complexsocietal infrastructure. Relative affluence is about technology, not class.Technology makes possible a life that is relatively comfortable, but not free of anxiety, the kind of anxiety that has always plagued those living on the edge. Whether itis a feudal lord threatening to drive serfs off his land, or the bank threatening foreclosureon a mortgage, the resulting anxiety is the same. It is the threat of depravation that drivesone to “please” the powers that have control over one’s life. In this sense, one making afive or six figure annual income is as vulnerable to the whims of the controlling class asany medieval serf or modern sweat shop laborer in Asia.Jacques Ellul, French sociologist and Protestant theologian, has given technologyan interesting theological twist
1
. In his rebuttal to Harvey Cox’s optimistic Christian baptism of American culture in the
Secular City
2
 , 
Ellul suggested that technology and theurban culture that it has spawned is basically dehumanizing and a trap into whichhumanity has fallen as a result of original sin. His starting point is the story of Cain and3

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