Footnote to the Economic Cycle. Class. Shaw.

George Bernard Shaw. Funny bugger. Smarter than people realised.

The idea of class is a bit of a cup of weak tea these days. Earlier in the 20th century, and before, it meant a lot, to a lot of people. To be working class was either a badge of honour or term of abuse. Ditto for being upper class. It's not clear to me if anybody has ever been proudly middle class, that's an interesting one. Happily so, yes, but proudly - I'm not so sure. Maybe Ricky Gervais is a new type of interesting middle class hero, a man who proudly lists staying home in front of the telly as a good night out. More power to him.

You still sense the remnants of class in the UK, with much of their popular culture still focused on class warfare. Ladette to Lady is a big rating show. And it was intellectuals working in England such as Marx and Shaw (who were vastly different in many ways, though) who really put class on the map as a category people identified with, just as Freud had done for the ego. But the yanks are at it too, even though they'd consider themselves ruthlessly egalitarian. Their president is far more a monarch than any of the remaining real monarchs, and maybe more so than many previous monarchs back when this sort of thing got peoples' juices flowing. Their Ivy League universities and associated feeder schools are as ruthless and shameless a social streaming device as has ever been invented.

The not so funny thing about the most recent economic euphoria of the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s is that many of the quite practical and sensible innovations of the class warfare era were stood up against a wall and shot. With loud applause from the people who had benefited most from them over the years. Unions were utterly demonised, as they always were under the Nazis - this tells us something important, you'd think, without trespassing on Godwin's Law. Memberhip plummeted even further as people of all ages, although especially the young, thought that this sort of thing was old-fashioned and useless, with the economy in a perpetual boom that, of course, turned out to be temporary. Working conditions were either stripped or actually handed back, without so much as a whimper. Public insitutions were increasingly stripped and sold off, with those that weren't such as education slowly starved of sustenance so that down the track they could be privatised, when the effects of continued public neglect could be blamed on teacher unions. And the whole idea of a public sphere or 'commonwealth', as it used to be called, came under attack. (Some of this dates back to the late 1970s and 1980s, when the Thatcher-Reagan school of governance hit the world.)

Now the problem with class is that people took something that was a sort of useful dynamic description and turned it into a banner. So that the quite valid differences in circumstances people experienced, usually through no doing of their own, which the idea of class tried to capture, became celebrated as essential parts of the architecture of reality. With membership conditions and so on. And over time as conditions changed and it became more and more difficult to figure out what a working class person is, for example, many clung to the category rather than rediscovering the inequities and differences it originally tried to describe and mitigate. Lots of unionists even today go on with the sort of 'comrade' rubbish that just makes them look like extras in an Eisenstein film.

But of more interest to me is the gradual collapse of public institutions. There was a time when a true conservtaive cherished institutions, but the modern breed is all about the individual, and gleefully smashes any institution in sight, particularly if it has a government heritage, and unless it's the military, who always come in useful when people need a bit of persuading to your way of doing things. And the other side of politics is pretty much the same, having signed up to the same neo-classical silliness. In practical reality though, anything that isn't institutionalised (in the broadest meaning of that term), doesn't exist, or doesn't exist for long. So a union is an institution, as is a government or government department, as is a company. As is a language or form of behaviour. An institution is just something that has an existence that survives over time, and it can involve people and objects and forms of behaviour, and whatever else.

It takes a long time, usually, to set up a sucessful institution. And most of them fail. That's just how life is, it's hard work to build something that lasts. In the demented euphoria of the boom times people forget that and happily trash everything that years of blood, sweaat, tears and thought has provided for them, assuming that the happy state they have today is just how things are, by some sort of miraculous default. They did the same thing with feminism, with many claiming its work was now done and let's all move on.

Now that reality has caught up with our most recent mass euphoria and people are losing jobs and homes, it hasn't really hit home to people that the good times they thought were just theirs by birth actually had a history. So the average worker, if we use that term to loosely describe somebody who isn't rich and works hard for what they do have, is now significantly less well-placed than they were before the lunacy started, having in many cases happily given up many of the institutions and fruits of these institutions in their mad rush to join the lemmings after a quick, euphoric buck. And the neo-classical retards who saw the solution to world poverty and disadvantage in a sort of globalised trickle-around effect, so that the countries we'd previously raped as colonies could 'trade' their way into the developed world - well, they still think that. But it's such an obviously stupid fantasy, with the apparent lifting of hundreds of millions of destitute poor from poverty turning out to be as temporary as the euphoric boom itself.

I was going to talk about Shaw, but that can wait until next time.


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