(With thanks to my pal Babs)
When you look at a cake, you have frosting on top, but also little squiggles of chocolate and fruit and stuff. People always focus on the frosting, so much so that the top part is basically just called frosting, not “frosting and fruit and stuff”, but the other stuff has distinct properties as well, properties very different from frosting.
I don’t really like cake.
Anyways. Enough talking about dessert. Let’s have our main course.
As far as most of society is concerned, the UMC is the upper class. When people think of the upper class, they think of the 1%, and they create a sort of phantom chimera of UC and UMC traits mashed into one group. But the two are distinct in a number of ways.
To know why, we must consider the Slate Star Codex idea of classes as cells. I call this the Candy Cane Hypothesis. To wit, classes resemble each other when they are two cells apart. Because the UC has no fear of being confused with the MC, they are able to adopt behaviors which resemble MC behaviors without any possibility of confusion. Indeed, the UC is not even really aware of the MC’s existence. When prompted, their conception of MC careers is that they are the lumpen, the poor, out-of-sight underclass. Thus, we see a circling around.
Where I buy Costco shirts, they buy from Brooks Brothers. The idea is here is signaling quality, but the MC focus is on the signal, that they can buy such wonderful clothing (that they really can’t afford), while what the UC focuses on is the *quality*, because their goal is to minimize the hassle in their lives. My shirts may last me somewhat over a decade, but their goal is to have shirts as old as houses.
The MC has expert worship because they’re midwits. They are just smart enough to learn the answer by rote and repeat it. This becomes the sign of intelligence, the ability to repeat the “correct” answer. When they see someone with a “wrong” answer, they scoff, assuming it is a prole too stupid to know the right answer. The UC has expert worship because they know they are no longer the class of ideas and that their minds have atrophied with disuse. They are insecure regarding their intellectual superiority because they do not have to go through intellectual trials and the gauntlet is that is the academic-corporate-industrial complex. Instead they rely on their “idea guy” servitors, who pitch them at social clubs and venture capital events and golf greens.
The MC doesn’t know the value of a dollar because it is disconnected from the standard mechanisms of the means of production. The teacher and the bureaucrat are not paid by profit-making private entities, but by a gargantuan government bureaucracy. They do not eat what they kill. The UC is disconnected from the work chain and the value of a dollar in a similar way. All their kills are done by their men, and the money flows up to them like a bubbling spring. Accordingly, the MC and UC both do not support their kin in times of need, as they feel the need to teach the value of a dollar through actual jobs and work.
The MC focuses on culture and right ideas to signal its own intelligence and worthiness, and thus distinction from the tasteless proles. The UC focuses on culture and right ideas because in a world without work or struggle, that’s all that matters.
And most of all, both the MC and the UC stand atop their respective worlds. For the MC, American meritocracy means poor people can work hard, save money, and go to college just like them, receiving a “good job” that pays “good money” with stability. They do not perceive anything above them, and when they have to deal with the UMC, they scoff at them as boorish and beneath them. Much to my chagrin. And the UC stand atop their laboring servants, their whims law over the world, their every desire fulfilled. What they see as the story of American meritocracy is one of the Stuy people being able to, after decades of cube service, being able to golf with the beautiful people as a VP. For both classes, what this creates is a sense of narcissistic benevolence. For the MC, the emphasis is on the narcissism, the sense they are more deserving and more worthy of special treatment, the “Can I speak to the Manager????” mentality. For the UC, the emphasis is on the benevolence… because they actually get all the special treatment they want from their servants (but not wider society, even if your name is on the building. Being out of sight of the proles means nobody gets why you matter. A cruel irony.)
Both the proles and UMC gravitate to common sense ideas. The proles because they disdain the education that gives the MC the “right answers”, while the UMC is forced to continually confront what is taught with what works – their genteel survival is on the line. Pragmatism often ends up trumping what is fashionable, and so UMC society is defined by doublethink, where people praise diversity while living in gated communities, talk about intelligence being taught while searching out high IQ mates, etc etc.
Both the proles and the UMC are forced to be generous and supportive of their kin. For the proles, kin constitutes their primary support network, because they lack the capital and educational assets of the MC. For the UMC, the value of House and name, the game of Namm und Stamen, is often their last link to high society, and their position is so precarious that they take every competitive advantage they can get. That means paying their kids through college, buying or paying for a home in Manhattan, and funding their first deal. The big Christmas present of the proles doesn’t spoil because it is contrasted with rather meager living the rest of the time. And the pampering of the UMC doesn’t spoil because parent and child both know survival is at stake. To be returned to the peasant dust is a fate worse than death.
Both the proles and the UMC know intimately the value of a dollar and of work. The prole is the worker, the UMC owns the means of production. The UMC person has to take stock of their stocks, bond with their bonds, and do the business of running their businesses. A doctor is no doctor if he doesn’t understand his craft, regardless of how many honors he may have. One owns the means of production, the other is subjugated under them, but both know the score. And so there is a kind of respect between owner and worker that classic Marxists can’t really understand.
Despite actually having the guns and doing the labor, when it comes to class conflict between a working man and a government regulator or a meddlesome social worker, the latter always comes out on top. And despite holding the reins of corporate power, when the TOOS coming knocking at a corporate vice president’s door, it is clear who holds the whip hand.
Ultimately, despite making their worlds tick, both the proles and the UMC have a deep sense of being on the bottom. The proles recognize that they don’t have the means of production (it is very easy for union leaders to get them to read and understand Marx because it is so very real), while the UMC also lacks the means of production – the means of political production. As the class truly producing the ideas, they are resentful that their plans have to be mediated through the filter of people who play tennis and have good cocktail parties. When a man like Bill Gates or the Zuck or Vladimir Lenin rises from the UMC to the UC, they finally have the chance to make real their ideas. And when those ideas are of the ant farm variety, terror ensues.
The UC is like a chicken, and I am the Chinasaur. What is functional in me as striver-killer instincts becomes vestigial in the UC, as the selection pressures of constant competition are replaced with the selection pressures of being charming and fun at parties.
Two little worlds, both unaware of each other. Scholars of class almost always hail from the UMC because they’re the ones best positioned to see the whole spectrum.
I have an affinity for the proles. Does that mean the UC has an affinity for the MC?
No. Everybody hates the MC.
Resentful he can’t go to the Slavic titty bar,
Monsieur le Baron
P.S. To be continued in Sausage Links, or the Shared Values of Neighboring Classes