In lieu of a real blog post, I’m going to define some terms I love to use.
Classes! Social classes! Yaaaaay.
Don’t expect too much insight here. Just doing some defining. Definitions are important if people are to understand each other.
I do this because most people like to bandy around labels like upper class or lower class based on statements from journalists reading Pew or other such stuff. These definitions are usually based on income thresholds where the top quintile or anyone who makes more than 75k or double the median is upper class. The problem is that a senior truck driver or cop can easily make more.
Any definition of upper class where a truck driver is upper class is stupid and for dumbs.
When people say they love science and experts, they usually mean they love the flimsy interpretations of the abstracts of papers written by journalists. Journalists are dumb. In this field, I am objectively more of an expert than a journalist because I got a useless degree in the subject in a fancy place for smart people.
So what’s better than income metrics? Income is part of the picture, but it’s not the whole picture. You’ve got to take habitus and cultural traditions into account.
Our class system is more or less derived from the social order that formed as the Medieval era came to a close and the Early Modern era began. If you’re not familiar with these terms, then… it’s about when the Renaissance occurred and when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. A long time ago, but not that long ago.
Upper Class (UC)
~.1% of the population
Why .1%? At the top .1% of wealth, you can comfortably sustain an UMC lifestyle on purely passive income.
As a class, they’re the heirs of the high aristocracy. If you’ve played games like CK2, these are the playable characters. Basically… they’re super powerful. And very rich. They set the societal narrative. They’re also pretty secretive.
I’m not gonna speculate on their personal habits or nature. To be quite frank, I’m not upper class, so I’d make a hash of it.
People love to talk about the schemes of the rich and powerful. Ehhhh… people ascribe too much agency to the powerful. There’s a popular setting for tabletop and video games called Warhammer 40k. In it, there’s a faction called the AdMech that oversees technology, and they’re a bunch of superstitious mystics who worship technology and maintain it through the practice of elaborate rites handed down for generations. Few, if any, understand the theories governing why their technology works. Most people think this is ridiculous, that the AdMech are stupid, and this is yet another case of retarded grimdark. Based on my personal experience and family lore, at least in the West and the Communist world, the AdMech gets it right. If anything, it’s a little generous.
People are stupid and incompetent. Nobody can actually do what they should be able to do. I can’t do a deep delve on the upper class, but I’ve seen enough to know they’re human, all too human. People like to mock the yokels in the past for believing in divine right and god-rulers. But, to be quite frank, most people still believe in a deified elite. An elite capable of setting right all that is wrong using the salvific force of government for the left, and an insidious, all-seeing cabal that plots for decades for the right. The idea that we are ruled by morons, always have been, and always will be is deeply terrifying. It almost makes you want to invent a god-computer to save you from the angst.
Upper Middle Class (UMC)
~5% of the population
These are the descendants of the low nobility – the assorted gentry, barons, and knights (as a rank, not profession) bumming around the regime. If the UC is the Senatorial class, the UMC is the Curiales and Equestrians.
Why 5%? These numbers are all just rough numbers. The number of rank and file nobles will vary by time and place. In pre-revolutionary France, they were over 1% of the population. In Japan, the samurai were about 5% of the population. In China, gentry men were just under 1% of the population, and with an average family size of 5, you get to just under 5% of the population. On much of the continent, the nobility numbered between 1 and 2% and was coupled with a bourgeois with which they could intermarry, smoke doobies, and play putt putt golf. In Poland, you had over 10%. That was bad. In the CURRENT YEAR, if you add up the professions and common elite jobbies (job+hobby, because these things aren’t really work even by the loose value transference definition), you end up somewhere around 4%. In Britain, the BBC defines the elite as the top 6%. I hate non-round numbers, so I think 5% is a good estimate. If you have too few, they get all stressed and anxious by all the work they have to do (they hate that), and if you have too many, elite overproduction creates conflict and social unrest because society can only absorb so many
The traditional aristocracy is the noblesse d’epee, the military aristocracy. But starting in the early modern, you see the emergency of an aristocracy that does jobs. These are the noblesse de robe. Unlike the old kind of nobles, who had gained their land by forcibly disemboweling anyone else who might want to own it, these folks went to university and got fancy pieces of paper so that they might sit in grim little
cubicles mansions and do work. And play putt putt golf. As time passes, you see more and more complex professions emerge. Finance becomes respectable-ish. Medicine advances from quackery to quackery with fine robes. People shut themselves in Ivory Towers to learn and shit. Science! It began. And finally, engineering arrived. These jobs we now know as the “professions”. Their practitioners? Professionals.
How does yesterday become today?
With a bang, of course. France explodes. Then a funny Corsican man in a weird hat takes this explosion and smears the goo all over Europe. Everything changes, but nothing really changes. Even at the best of times, the baron was a pressed upon fellow. His rental income was hardly vast, and then he had to keep up appearances. He was pressed by that joyful beast, college tuition. When Louis XIV summoned the Arriere Ban, the barons arrived in a terribly shabby state. They simply didn’t have the income to manage. The Prussian Junker lives in a little box he fancies a grand castle, spends his days milking cows, and puffs up a little every time someone addresses him as Lord. Things got worse, as they often do. The nobility of the long nineteenth century was in between a rock and a harder rock. Their way of life was under threat from all sides. Rental incomes were insufficient for the age. The old order that gave them legitimacy was under threat. As the story goes, they were swept into the dustbin of history.
The story is wrong, of course. Life, like water damage, finds a way. What comes to mind immediately when thinking about the noble-bourgeois conflict? Obviously the Conflict of the Orders in Rome. The behatted patricians stood against the unhatted plebian elites, men just as powerful as they. But in the end, they came together as one elite. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The bourgeois-noble dialectic ended in sublation, and from its synthesis was born a new class, more than the sum of its parts. What would it do? Exactly what it did before. Where? If the land could no longer sustain it, it would take to the cities. And if courtly life was now obsolete, it would forge a new life script.
Exit Court, enter Corporate.
The last image of a dying age.
A father and his son. The father stands, a proud Lord, master of all he surveys, a man of taste and leisure. His Persian rugs are immaculate, his vases Ming, his furniture well-worn by age. His son is a man of business, a managing director and company man. The tie wraps his neck like shackles. Year by year, the father’s purse grows lighter. And one day, it is all gone. And in steps his son, cash in hand.
How can a man’s dignity be bought?
Anger. Fear. Then silence.
A man called Orwell pens a book describing his youth growing up in a curious group of people, a gentry without land.
He called them the upper-middle class.*
The rest, as we say, is history.
What does the upper middle class do today? Professions (and job-hobbies). Academia, Medicine, Law, Finance, Science, Engineering.
In order of prestige, I would say Academia > Law > Finance > Medicine = Science > Engineering.
Why? Value transference.
Engineering is the lowest status because it involves a lot of stuff which can only be described as work. And worse, it’s work that very tangibly provides value. Prior to our industrial age, one could at least present the image of being a mad crank tinkering with bizarre machines. But, alas, in an age of technology, engineering clearly adds value.
Medicine and Science come next. While both clearly add value and are worthwhile to society in obvious ways, they both have distancing factors. With medicine, a doctor is able to delegate the actual work to nurses, serving mostly to diagnose and analyze. And with science, it very closely resembles bookishness. And book learning is quite obviously high status, because learning is great.
Finance! You count money and move it around. People do this for fun. The value proposition is… the efficient allocation of capital? That doesn’t even sound convincing in the strong case, and most bankers underperform the market. It seems like an obviously useless ornament and thus is high status.
Law! You argue. For a living. Left to the own devices, the UMC will sit around and argue for fun, so this is not really work at all. Unfortunately, there are other things to do too, but at least you have paralegals.
The UMC spends its free time learning and arguing, and this is all academics do, so academics win. The only way to beat this is to have a job-hobby, like art. Those aren’t even real jobs.
Given it spends its time working jobs which are not really work, the UMC has plenty of free time. And it has money too! What’s one to do? Bullshit around with status, of course. The UMC can show status in several exciting ways!
Work: If you put in more hours at your job that doesn’t really do anything, you can brag about how diligent you are. People will admire your Calvinism!
Lobby about bullshit: Just come up with some fake issue like “straws are evil”. It doesn’t have to be true or even remotely plausible. The joy is the same joy as nuking a city in SimCity or shaking an ant farm. Change for change’s sake is fun. Aristocrats are natural leftists. People will admire your
Frugality: Steal ketchup packets. Practice a trade or other work skill because you can. Make crappy furniture yourself. Buy your furniture at IKEA. ALL OF IT. Save 90% of your income. People will admire your
Learning: Everyone has the potential to be brilliant, but especially you! It’s just like being at Harvard again. Read a book from the New York Times list. Then discuss it. Nod seriously at serious issues. People will admire your
Épater le bourgeois: Those people are stuffy and lame. And plus? Totally stuck in the world. Say something silly like “marriage… is… bad!” and watch the gasps. Important: Do not actually practice what you preached. That would be sincere, which is middle-class, which is bad. And also, the idea is probably really stupid. And stupidity is the opposite of learning. People will admire your
Convert to Calvinism: I think this one should be obvious.
Some people say there are two castes: Kshatriya/Optimates and Brahmin. I really don’t think so. Optimate and Brahmin are more like attitudes within the elite. Optimates, as you reactionaries know, believe in good governance, tradition, uprightness, etc etc etc blahblahblah. Really, we can divide the UMC into two kinds of people: Brahmin and suckers. Looking back at family history, being an Optimate is a great way to find an early grave. Leftism is the language of power.
Brahminland, as said before, is the All-American Town populated by Ward Cleavers that vomit apple pie. It’s unironically ironically extremely wholesome.
Most people who claim to be upper middle class are actually middle class. It is a common phenomena for people to go to college or the Big City or college then the Big City and fancy themselves elite. Unfortunately, this is like building an airstrip and expecting cargo.
Middle Class (MC)
~45% of the population
When the new conflict of the orders was resolved, the bourgeois as they knew it was dissolved into the aristocracy, giving it a tangy capitalist flavor. But if there is a top and a bottom, there must always be a middle. The old bourgeois fucked off at the first opportunity, but the old petit bourgeois stepped right in to assume its mantle. If the UMC is the modern aristocracy, a charge they occasionally cop to, then the MC upholds the legacy of the ordinary townsman, skilled laborer and tradesman. Unlike the professional organizations of the UMC, they have unions. Unions are like guilds in that they regulate the practice of the trade and also lobby for higher wages and more shit. Like the guilds of old, they have some political clout, but not an excessive amount.
Here, we find lots of concerned mothers. Concerned momma bears rove in packs, looking for soccer balls and their natural prey, the cashier. When it discovers food, it will screech its war cry, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” followed by “Can I speak to your manager?” Naturally, nobody knows who the fuck they are. Augustus used to wander around town and watch people, because he’s an aristocrat and aristocrats are autistic weirdos, and nobody would recognize him.
You can probably tell I have a distaste for the MC. The thing is, my distaste comes from an irrational place. Fussell once said the MC represents everything bad about America. That’s not true. But it feels true. I do find the Redprole charming, with his unaffected country manner and hospitality. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the Blueprole. And for every one of me that likes Redproles, there is another (probably more than that) who despises the Redprole and likes the Blueprole. All in all, the MC is doomed to a beatdown. If the tradesmen and nobles were ever able to work together, they would have stopped the change of *their* day, the rise of absolutism. They weren’t. Obviously.
As I’ve said before, the MC are the true believers. If you have an ideology, they are the ones who uphold its doctrine. They trust in science and experts and studies. Unfortunately, a lot of studies found in the media (they’ll never read the actual study, not least of all because they lack the expensive access to professional libraries and thus must eat paywall) exist to further some ant-farm shaking bullshit agenda. Once enough foot soldiers are enlisted in some nonsense cause (MOMS DEMAND STRAW CONTROL NOW), the originator will gain social points and high-fives all around. Society will get a little worse. That’s theme 1. Morality! The MC is moral. You find the MC tuning into their favored media outlet, as they receive moral lectures and received wisdom from members of the UC and UMC who weren’t even good enough to do value transference brainwork.
The MC is conscientious. It finds pride in its work, which is tangible and meaningful. You find the MC teaching the youth, joyfully explicating every word of the textbook as it opens new vistas of learning to fresh minds. By the roads, you find them breaking stone and cracking open a cold one. In the hospitals, it is the tender touch of the nurse that restores the masses to good health. In the streets, it peddles the latest miracle cure or marvel of science from BigCorp. It is the silent watcher behind golden badges, enforcing the justice passed down from on high. And it is the legions abroad, fighting to protect freedom and the American way.
The middle class is the unappreciated hero of the American story, and if society does not collapse, it is only thanks to their tireless efforts.
The middle class is sincere. And therefore, the middle class is doomed. The UMC doesn’t actually like the MC. At all. The MC wants to keep up with the Joneses. Most of all, it wants to reach status perfection, the way of life Fussell said every American envies – the UMC way of life. Unfortunately, status is relative and the UMC really, really, really doesn’t like to be threatened by upstarts. The UMC sets the agenda for the workers. It’s “the boss class”.
You can see where this is going.
Teachers are given books written to shock the bourgeois while simultaneously padding resumes. Construction work is bogged down by endless contradictory regulations. The inventions don’t do anything and are planned to obsolete themselves regardless, so the MC is trapped in an endless cycle of buying status signals that don’t actually signal status to important people. The police are simultaneously told to beat minorities and the poor to keep them out of nice communities while also lambasted for doing the same, while the criminal scum they just put away is released so that they can hound middle class communities. And finally, their children are made into blood sacrifices to project Cathedral power across the world.
Sincerity is naive. The true believer has put his faith in one that will tell him the sacred rite is to draw an eight, then two equals signs, and then finally a capital D on his forehead. And when he finally realizes the trick, he makes what he formerly saw as a god into a demon. Here lies the origins of conspiracy theories. The true believer inverts his former beliefs and comes to see all evil in what was formerly all good. Grand proclamations about the wickedness of the capitalists or the Jews or the capitalist Jews retain the character of an all-powerful elite (the proles do not see the UC).
The most hated man in feudalism was not the king, but the local baron.
If the MC person constantly pursues status, it is because they dream. Status anxiety is the fear of losing something precious.
Where lies hope? In a dedication not to the values of a false UMC idol, but in dedication to the work for its own sake.
Lower Middle Class (LMC)
~40% of the population
Here we find the platonic proletariat. Here is the unskilled worker, fodder for machines, a walking sacrifice to Moloch. The Heart Machine must be placated. Unlike the MC, these people do not have skills. This is the half of society that works for near minimum wage, or even minimum wage. Their flesh is meat for the Heart Machine. Every hour, the Metropolis demands more power.
There is little joy in this labor. It is undignified and mechanical, a glassy-eyed slog.
The core value is survival. It’s not literal survival, because America is so wealthy that even the poor are fat and have cable. Rather, it is the protection and the development of the ego in a world that does not feed it.
The middle class dreams of finally catching up with the Jones. The LMC just wants to escape its plight. Some of them do so sensibly, by planning to acquire skills and so increase the value of their labor. But much dreaming here is wild fantasy. Lotto wins, pro sports, inheritance from unknown relatives.
In a world where everything is valued, to be LMC is to be someone placed in the clearance bin. At Kmart.
Soccer moms yell at you. People use you as a warning for their kids. Who can really appreciate anything about who are you? Being LMC is going to the big city with a college degree and a pile of debt only to become a barista, then raging against the machine, then dreaming of Revolution, and finally abandoning even that, left only with the cold revelation that the future your MC worked so hard to give you was hollow and that you have nothing left. Being LMC is being born in the ghetto but not in the talented tenth. It’s not having a way out no matter how hard you try. It’s bashing your head against the wall over and over again until you finally realize you were given a bum hand. And that’s just the luck of the draw. It’s looking for a good man but never finding one because there are no good men where you are. It’s chasing high after high, material, chemical, emotional, just to free yourself from the ennui of life. One day after another.
It’s a terrible thing to be below average.
Walking, talking, genetic load.
In this class, it really is better to be a simpleton. At least then, you can throw yourself into house and block parties with wild abandon. Simple work and idle pleasures, that’s the name of the game. If one can avoid despair, then one can realize that even in low status, as painful as it is for human brains to stomach, there is a lot to be enjoyed in modern America. The streets are paved with gold. Metaphorically.
~10% of the population
Uhhhh… assholes. If the UC is the top-out-of-sight, the underclass (also inconveniently UC) is the bottom-out-of-sight.
Bam. Class or something.
Too lazy for a signoff,
Monsieur le Baron
*I have found earlier mentions, but they don’t really bother describing the meaning of the term. I suppose this is natural – most of our terminology today goes completely unexplained and will probably baffle future readers. Given the term “upper middle class” in those texts is used to describe a family of minor French nobility and Italian patricians respectively, I think we can surmise they used in a way similar to Orwell.