Submit Article

pdf version print send to a friend add comment view comments

The Middle Class Considered

Oct 3, 2006
Michael Hogan

The job of observing, describing and defining the middle class takes time.  The first obstacles to overcome are the several descriptions and definitions of the middle class one reads about throughout American history.
Initially the middle class were merchants and small business owners.  Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was this type of successful small businessperson.  They were what sociologist David Reisman writing in “The Lonely Crowd” describes as Inner Directed people.  This age of successful small businesspersons lasted up until the age of Andrew Jackson, even up until the Civil War.
The Civil War greatly increased the rate of industrialization in America.  Huge monopolies and trusts run by Robber Barons competed with and destroyed small businesses.  Ida Tarbel described how the Rockefellers forced small operators out of business.  Soon the best and brightest were working as mid level managers in the emerging mega monopolies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The man who worked for the big corporations wore a grey flannel suit to conform.  David Reisman refers to the man in the grey flannel suit as Other Directed.
Mid level corporate managers became the new models of the middle class.  Corporate man replaced the small business person as representing the overwhelming majority of the middle class.
A third definition of the middle class made a brief appearance in college and university sociology classes of the 1950’s, 1960’s and beyond.  Such sociologists believed class was a function of education, rather than job status.  Both the education of the individual, as well as, the individuals parents were considered primary, with job status secondary.
The 21st Century has completely eliminated both education and job status as parameters of middle class life.  Today, the ascent of Other Directed man is complete.  In an alienated world only the power of status symbols remains.  Americans consume more conspicuously than any other people.  As a result, we do not save as our government borrows from Asian nations whose people save 30% of their income on average.
This part of the American character was described by the great American economist, Thorsten Veblen, writing in “A Theory of the Leisure Class” a century ago.  The phrase “conspicuous consumption” was first coined by Veblen.  It is the soul of the American character and has become the only ticket one needs to retain membership in the 21st Century middle class.
High consumption and concomitant debt induces a life of great stress and the alienation of man from his original self.  The great Enlightenment philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau believed man was the product of society’s institutions.  The institutions of Post Modern society are causing a psychosocial split in middle class man.  How does separation of man from himself begin?
Socialization is the term used to describe a system of prisons disguised as schools and run by bullies called teachers.  The teachers “pattern” the students.  That is, prison guards select students for different roles in society – at a very early age.  By the time children are 9 or 10 the prison guards know their intelligence (I/Q).  However, raw intelligence rarely determines the roles assigned to children in their pre-teens.  How do teachers assign roles to children?
There are two principal aspects to the patterning of children in public schools by teachers:
  1. Assigning high status to some children, while patterning others with negative status.  Why are some assigned leadership roles, while others are patterned to be followers?
  2. Assigning future professional prospects.  Why are some patterned for college, while others are assigned to be cooks?
The answer to these questions has to do with class.  While I have known teachers who came out of poverty (welfare) and the working class, the overwhelming majority of teachers are the products of middle class homes, customs, values and beliefs.
Hierarchy and status are cornerstones of the middle class value system.  When middle class teachers meet their students they assign high status to those children who are from middle class homes.  The middle class kids are patterned for leadership, and a university education leading to a profession.  If one is a black student in Ridgewood H.S., you may be patterned for cook school because skin color is the biggest determinant of class according to CUNY Social Psychology Professor Emeritus Kenneth Clark.  Therefore, it didn’t matter to Ridgewood H.S. teachers that the African American student’s parents were a teacher and a Fortune 500 executive.
American education prisons teach respect for hierarchy through teacher patterning and bullying.  Those kids who don’t accept their assigned role are coerced and degraded by the prison staff-teachers.  Those who don’t accept their assigned status and role in the hierarchy are bullied and denuded of all dignity.
How do teachers know the status of parents?  Children will be asked to explain to the class how their parents earn a living.  This appears to be a routine educational gambit or ploy.  Parent teacher interaction through the many parent teacher organizations sponsored by schools provides teachers with the information needed to peg and subsequently pattern the child.
In any case, very little education is taking place in the middle class dominated classroom.  The last two separate and different international surveys (tests) of students found American middle class students arriving dead last among advanced industrialized countries.  A recent survey found teachers are teaching according to their own prejudices and proclivities rather than any curriculum learned in a teaching school.   What can it mean?
It means education is not happening in American public schools.  What has replaced education?  Full time socialization, consisting of a sense of hierarchy, status and entitlement, is the object to f public education.  Roles and future prospects are patterned.  False expectations lead the young into a web of illusion, unable to extricate themselves.
What are some of these middle class illusions taught by teachers patterning America’s future?  Coaches are, without a doubt, the most popular and important teachers.  Just visit your high school’s parking lot when there is a wrestling match and you will understand what I mean.  What are coaches teaching?
Coaches teach play (wasting time) is a valuable way to spend time.  Therefore, coaches are teaching a conundrum.  This is not the only untenable puzzle taught by coaches and other teachers.
Coaches and all teachers promote fierce competition among children.  Testing is ongoing repetitive ranking and competition.  What has it got to do with education?  Again, rather than education, public schools are in the business of recreating and energizing the middle class as an ongoing process.  The acceptance of dog eat dog competitions is at the core of middle class life.  As a result, the middle class never know solidarity.
How does our society benefit form the mass production of alienated robots split form their original selves living the great majority of their waking time in virtual reality?  What is the effect of alienation on individuals in society?
Our society is a Spartan Military Industrial Complex consisting of production and consumption.  Efficient production requires schools to train children to internalize hierarchy and competition, as normal.  Schools teach centralized power with the poor, working class and middle class taught to genuflect to power while competing with each other to the benefit of the power elite.
To support centralized power, schools routinely operate a Hitler Youth program disguised as a sports program.  The so-called Jock Syndrome is emblematic of the jingoistic nationalism taught as history or social studies in Jr. and Sr. High Schools.  Most middle class suburban youth are taught to accept the authority (hierarchy) of the centralized state – regardless of the state’s program or its easily perceived consequences.  A society in support of a Military Industrial Complex produces two essential ingredients:  cannon fodder and obedient workers.  Jingoistic centralized public schools produce both.
All are trained to become cannon fodder or obedient workers alienated from themselves.  The idea of alienation has been considered by Existential philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre and psychiatrists like R.D. Laing.  Psychiatrists treat the most severe form of alienation – schizophrenia.  R.D. Laing may have written the only short understandable book on schizophrenia:  “The Divided Self”.
It may be said the stress of separating from ones original self in order to become  a middle class person, drives many to alienation and beyond.  Sixty years ago, psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich observed an America in the midst of a mass malaise.  It appears the rewards of becoming cannon fodder or an obedient worker may include joining a mass middle class malaise of alienation.
Teachers are the vortex of the mass malaise.  Public schools are the psychosocial and cultural transmission system of society.  Aside from the blind acceptance of authority and respect for cut throat competition, what other middle class customs, values and mores are transmitted by public schools.
Teachers transmit their own middle class prejudices and proclivities.  These are hard to discern.  However, there is one overriding subject being taught:  Correct Behavior.
Middle class teachers use psychological patterning to foster the middle class behavioral norms they consider superior.  The world’s finest writers have studied and dissected middle class life, from Honoré Balzac to Herman Hesse to Sinclair Lewis.  Each of these world class writers found inauthenticity to be the hallmark of the middle class.  It goes well beyond insincerity to mass mendacity.  The great humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow believed authenticity essential to self actualization.
This is what schools are teaching your children – how to be disingenuous.  The art of inauthenticity is the ticket needed to advance in American society.  How else will your children ever be trusted and accepted into the leadership class of our hierarchy unless they are separated form themselves by a curriculum of endless lies?
Those who fail to understand the value of inauthenticty will continue to face confrontational coercion (i.e. bullying) in every institution of our society:  family, school, military, corporate monopolies, religion, etc.  The alienation created by massive bullying in our society will produce some depression and violence.
Earlier I observed how alienation benefits a military in need of cannon fodder and the corporate monopolies need for obedient temporary workers.  While all workers are temporary, some are in denial about the fact.  This addresses the production side of the Military Industrial Complexes economic engine.
An alienated depressed consumer is the best kind of consumer.  The alienated depressed consumer is buying an identity lost to alienation.  The alienated depressed consumer simply cannot stop consuming in search of identity.  The advertising “profession” is largely made up of those who have studied psychology.  Ad men pander to the insecurity of alienated depressed members of the mass malaise.
The American middle class is living on borrowed money and borrowed time.  However, both time and money are coming to an end.  There won’t be any more borrowing on the increasing equity in homes when falling home prices are shrinking home equity.  We are now in the age of the 3.5 job family.  The wife works one job, while the husband works two jobs and a grandparent contributes to household income from a part time job.
How did this happen in middle class Mudville?  The real income (after inflation) of all workers has decreased for the last 30 years; as has the portion of national income received by workers.   These are abstract hard to understand concepts.  Let’s get real.  Let’s consider the major costs facing your average middle class family:
  1. Health Care
  2. Education
  3. Retirement Pensions
Thirty to forty years ago all were free.  Thirty years ago a job at any medium or large corporation included full health care coverage.  Thirty to forty years ago state universities were virtually free.  An education at any of the half dozen campuses of the University of California cost $138 per year in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  That same education may cost as much as $100,000 today.  Where medium to large corporations once funded and paid pensions to workers, pensions are DIY (Do It Yourself) today.
How did the middle class thinker and voter allow free Health Care, Education and Pensions to disappear?  Rather than a cadre or cohort of middle class thinkers, public schools produce unquestioning obedience to authority.  While in prison for 12 years this is how children are taught to behave:  Stay in Line, By Order of the Management.
Much like 19th Century factory workers at the dawn of industrialization, working twelve hour days, 21st Century workers are stretched to the limit without time to think about lost income and benefits.  While 19th Century workers had the Penny Press to counterbalance the great publishing monopolies, Post Modern man is without a diversity of ideas and concomitant perspective.
In the end, middle class man is left alienated, alone and without solidarity of any kind.  Post modern, other directed, alienated man lives in a bleak virtual reality of video games, television, Ipods, the Internet and the biggest money maker of all – pornography.  The military and crime violence seen in video games is an extreme form of alienation that prepares future cannon fodder for the roles.  Pornography was intentionally shown to aircraft carrier pilots about to go on missions to mass murder withdrawing and surrendering Iraqi troops during the 1991 Iraq war.  Apparently, pornography is on a par with amphetamines routinely given to fighter and combat pilots for over 60 years.
Allow me to leave you with the thought of two of the finest minds America has known.  Both taught at Columbia University a half century ago.  Sociology Professor C. Wright Mills looked at middle class man and found a “cheerful robot”.  That was in the 1950’s when one job supported a family.  Perhaps Americans are less cheerful today, as they are fed a false diet of fear.  Middle class thinkers such as Sigmund Freud taught there is scarcity.  It is unfortunate Freud wasn’t an economist or historian.  Rather, we live in a world of abundance where false scarcity has been arranged by monopolists for thousands of years.  As a psychiatrist, Freud was interested in what people believe.  Certainly, people believe there is scarcity in a dog-eat-dog competitive world.  Middle class teachers teach this false sense of scarcity and concomitant competition for scarce jobs and resources.
What else do Mill’s “cheerful robots” believe?  Some answers lie with a 1950’s Columbia University History Professor named Richard Hofstadter.  Among his many works, two stand out as measuring two great American character traits:
  • Anti Intellectualism in American Life
  • Social Darwinism in American Life
Anti Intellectualism is useful in that it obviates the need for education, thus enabling youngsters to proceed directly to the main needs of the Military Industrial Complex:  cannon fodder and obedient workers.  Intellectual pursuits were unneeded and unwelcome in the old Sparta, as well as the new Sparta.
Social Darwinism continues to justify America as a meutocracy.  Children are taught this illusion in the public prisons in the face of rapidly rising cost of an educational system available to the very rich and those willing to become slaves indentured to debt.
Close the public school systems across America.  End this corrupt cultural transmission system.  The current system is producing generations of eager mass murderers willing to go to war at the drop of a hat.  We must begin again with free education based on vouchers though university.  Those who wish to create schools must not be required to hire union teachers.
add comment view comments
Copyright 2005