Should the one percent be exclusively blamed for creating our stratified society?
Occupy Wall Street came, and to some degree, has gone. Like many professional middle class progressive movements, its main focus has been on inequality between the owning class and everyone else. However, is the 1 percent owning class completely guilty for the stratification of our society and is the upper middle class below them completely innocent?
For reasons described below, I have never been a strong supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely enraged at the increasing economic inequality between the wealthy and the 99% that has gripped our country. I have blogged extensively on this site about the ways in which the Ivy League Caste System has created a country in which one’s career paths are often limited by the college acceptance at age 17. However, it would be naïve to present the gulf between the 1 percent and the 99 percent as the only problem in regards to creating inequality or act as if the professional middle class or even settled working class are simply helpless victims.
In her excellent book, “Fear of Falling” (now out of print), Barbara Ehrenreich describes the historical path the professional middle class took. According to Ehrenreich,the professional middle class created a system of barriers not only to protect itself from ruthless capitalism from above, but also the from poorer people who lack specific credentials. In this book, she also explores the ways in which the professional middle class projected evils of society such as the Vietnam War onto the working class.
The Republican professional middle class often associates government dependence with low income minorities despite the fact that their gated communities receive tax credits for construction. The Democratic professional middle class associates racism with “Those darn Rednecks.” Yet, how many real black friends does the average Democratic professional middle class white person actually have?
OWS, which was composed of mostly professional middle class people associated inequality and America’s system of class stratification with the one percent who are very rich. Yes, members of the 99 percent have a right to be angry at the class privledges that the one percent receive and we should and will continue to speak out against such injustice. HOWEVER……..
Although, much oppression occurs in a top down manner, many upper middle class, middle class, and settled working Class people do engage in oppression of those under them INDEPENDENTLY of an owning class presence. For example:
1. Some power displays, hierarchism, and social injustice sometimes occurs in nonprofits or schools run by authoritarian PMC people, even if there is no owning class person on site. Yes, middle class academics have a right to be upset at the tremendous funding cuts of academia and the corporate take-over of our schools. But where was Occupy Wall Street when those who were lucky enough to be full professors experienced tremendous privilege at the expense of sub-minimum wage adjuncts? Where was Occupy Wall Street when some Middle class educational profesionals based on their mediocre mindset, need for power, and innate sense of superiority made cold hearted decisions such as placing students on restrictive special education tracks and forced parents to medicate children who were different just to keep them quiet. Some of these children experienced nightmares, irreversible brain damage, and stunted growth.
Professional Middle Class members of the health care profession have a right to decry the ways in which health care has been taken over by profit chasing HMO’s and pharmaceutical companies. Yet where were these liberal physicians when female nurses and minority assistants shouldered such a huge burden of the actual work? Many mental health professionals speak out againist the lack of funding for mental health treatment, yet where were they when people who violated middle class conventions were locked away for their own good?
2. While in the business world, some oppression is definitely owning class based (for example, Mitt Romney’s laying off people from jobs), other business oppression such as workplace bullying or a manager squashing ideas based on insecurity can be behavior that exists directly from free will of a middle class manager. Yes, it was horrible when Mitt Romney or Carl Icahn arrived on the scene and layed off tons of workers and middle managers. However, some of these managers were privileged parasites in their own way, having “do nothing” cushy positions for which they received very comfortable salaries at the expense of workers.
No matter how socially conscious or ruthless a wealthy CEO or entrepreneur is, they should not be responsible for every act of workplace bullying, unfair treatment, and managerial monopoly of privilege that goes on in every department. Sometimes it is culture created by the CEO, yet much of what is unhealthy about working in a corporate environment can be indigenous to the mid-level corporate office culture. When criticizing business culture a very balanced approach is needed.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson no doubt has definitely spoken out against the racial oppression that African Americans receive at the hands of our society. Yet, he has also criticized black on black crime recognizing that white society cannot be blamed completely for every nine year old child gunned down during a drug war crossfire. He, along with other great black leaders like Malcolm X, while fighting oppression of African Americans engaged in occasional warranted criticism of the black community.
In the same vein, is it really fair to blame the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s of the world for every middle manager who gives free promotions to employees they find sexually attractive, and denies employees who are not buddies career advancement? Is it the failings of the Rockefeller family when a corporate employee who is the wrong age, race, or sexual orientation is the victim of peer bullying that leads to physical and psychological breakdowns? If upper middle class movements like OWS want to be truly about liberation, they should balance fighting the plutocratic power structure with criticism of the corporate and professional middle class when it is warranted. Imagine what we could accomplish as progressives, if we focused not just on inequality between one rung of the class/race ladder (the 1%) and another (all the rest), but on dismantling the entire caste ladder.