Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Brief (Marxist) Piece About Class Differences

I was recently talking with a young man who grew up in the upper-middle class. He was relating to me a conversation he had recently with a woman who grew up in the upper class. He was amazed by this woman’s ways of thinking, her attitudes of thought. She didn’t understand the reality of many things that had been and still were part of his life: saving up money for a car, not always having money to buy things, not getting everything you wanted for Christmas, picking a restaurant partially based on its price range, etc. Likewise, she lived in a world of other realities, where different things were normal: owning 2-3 homes, randomly or impulsively buying a $3 million yacht, BMWs as presents, etc. The young man from the upper-middle class was baffled, since this woman seriously “didn’t understand what real life was like. I mean, it’s not as if she’s snotty; she’s just so out of touch with reality.”

At that moment, it suddenly hit me: If there seemed an almost insurmountable reality difference between upper-middle class and upper class, then what about between upper-middle class and middle class? Or lower-middle class? Or lower class? As someone who grew up in (I think) middle or upper-middle class, how much is there about the life and reality of the lower class that I don’t understand? Now, I “think” I can understand it, like I can understand not always having the surety of enough money for dinner. But do I really understand it?

Just as the young woman above could logically grasp the idea of saving up money to buy a car, her discussion of the matter revealed her inability to grasp the reality of it. And even if she could glimpse a semi-true understanding of it, she continued to live her life in her little “bubble.” This new, brief knowledge didn’t change the way she viewed economics, politics, etc. Her personal views of so many things --- almost all things (yes, I’m close to sounding Marxist here) --- are shaped by her material and economic setting.

I think this is true for all of us. I’m no Marxist, but I strongly hold that there are deep truths (truths with a small “t”) in certain aspects of its foundational philosophy. So much of the way we think and act, so much of our strongly held beliefs and values, are bound up in our material setting: and a major part of this setting is our class and economic standing.

I challenge myself to “walk in others’ shoes,” and not simply as a trite mind experience, but in a deep and powerful attempt to grasp the reality that is their own. Like we’ve said a lot, it’s not as if we can find an objective, outside perspective --- at least not anywhere besides the truth preached by Mother Church. But despite the shortcomings of our attempts, we can all look toward the common good as a way to break out of our subjective, material, cultural situations --- the common good as it applies to our family, friends, country, and world.

P.S. When it comes to our basic inability to see fully grasp each others’ realities, it is most often the poor that come out the worst, for the rich have the most economic, political, medical, martial, and legislative power. I think this is why good Marxist criticism often has a ring of social justice to it.


  1. I have not read this post yet. I am commenting about the signal words at the top of the Corner, which mention "Dialogue". Dialogue is a beautiful thing; true dialogue is love, is communion [in the beginning...the Logos was in communication with God...]. Dia-logos: two Words. My thoughts started when I saw "dialogue with oneself". I don't think that can happen, because dialogue is different from conversation. It properly translates as "conversation between two people" because Word/Logos is not just any word, but is more like the voicing of the person, the issuing forth of a mind. That's at least how the early guys talked about the Logos of God, issued forth into Man's experience (that's why logic, not just loquacious, comes from logos). Aaaanyways, I thought I'd post that suggestion/correction for fun, when I realized I can't post! Only Jonas and Skrignov can. What kind of dialogue is that, huh? I can only reply, never initiate! And even as I ramble, that's an interesting image of God and Man perhaps...
    alright i'm done rambling... maybe I'll go and actually read the post now ha

  2. good post. Interested by the "out of touch with reality" part. What is "real life"? the hardest life possible? we do not really understand the lives above us either. everyone has different crosses. I've been thinking about this on a different spectrum lately, that of age. Adults think we've reached "real life" and rarely think seriously about adolescent or childhood concerns. helping at camp put things in a new perspective for me. In God's mind prob very little of the material universe is like "important", dramatic. But He cares because we care. He wants us to trust to have faith in the midst of a storm, but He still hears our cries and calms the wind and the sea. wow i digressed. (by the way, speaking of roots, digress, progress, egress, regress, and congress all have the same root: something like "to step")

  3. Good point about dialogue. I kind of want to say that we have differing parts within each of us: differing ideas, personalities, psychological elements, etc. But of course this stops at the idea of “person:” I am always one PERSON, despite my contradictory urges to be interior, introspective, and alone versus interpersonal, outgoing, and involved in group discussion. Either way, I think you are correct.

    And your point about “real life” is also good, although I was saying the same thing; perhaps I didn’t make that clear. The young man’s comment about the young woman not “understanding real life” was intended to ultimately deconstruct any objective conception we had of “real life” --- at least “real life” in the sense of money, how much we need to work to buy things, how hungry we are, how easy it is to buy a yacht, etc.

    Despite this, though, it is more important for the rich man to understand the poor man’s plight, since the rich man is ultimately part of the group of people within society that has the monetary, martial, economic, and political power (although there should be an attempt at mutual understanding on both sides). The rich man has a duty to the poor man. I think this is where the Church’s “preferential treatment/consideration for the poor” is rooted. (I may not have correctly stated the previous saying.)

    [It just hit me that we have often been “deconstructing” concepts through our blogs and philosophy groups. When we agree that Descartes’ perspective-less objectivity is not possible, we are deconstructing reason and certain epistemological principles; when we understand that it isn’t the music itself but our subjective relation to it that is the real issue, we are deconstructing the objectivity of music’s goodness/badness; and when we understand that we can’t really understand “real life” (for why is poor life more real than rich life,) we are deconstructing “real life,” since we are recognizing it as an empty term. In fact, that’s what destruction is: recognizing that terms or ideas that are normally considered objective are often empty or subjective.]