The Apocalypse Is Not A Team Sport

The Apocalypse Is Not A Team Sport

In America, it seems, teachers are considered middle class.

In Europe, any self-respecting teacher, at least the dozen or so I have met, would physically slap you for daring to suggest such a thing.

Speaking specifically of Britain, the middle class don’t teach your children or plumb your bathrooms. They own houses in the south of France.

There appears to be a fundamental disparity in the terms used to describe our shared apocalypse. Watching some of the articles shared on Google Plus (apologies whoever originally shared it. Lori maybe?) it looks like entry into the middle class is defined by the ability to purchase mid-range household appliances.

Mitchell Hartman: A lot of Americans think of themselves as middle class. My family does. We arrived more than a century ago in Philadelphia with the proverbial “clothes on our backs,” delivered bread and sewed men’s suits. A couple generations later, we were teachers, accountants and cardiologists.

I dialed up my first cousin, Marcy Tanter. She teaches English at a state college near Fort Worth, Texas.

Hartman: Are you middle class?

Marcy Tanter: Yes, and I think for the most part our family is. Pretty much everybody has a college education, everybody has jobs. We travel. We have computers and iPads and iPods and cars.

Later on in the piece the author quotes someone getting to what is essentially the nuts and bolts of the apocalypse on both sides of the Atlantic… and anywhere else in the developed world: moving the goalposts to suit the rich.

Welcome to America’s struggling middle, says University of Wisconsin economist Timothy Smeeding. It’s people making around the median income: $50,000 a year.

Timothy Smeeding: And this group is still middle class. But 10 years ago, they were behind the white picket fence, they had a nice house and steady jobs, and their kids would do better than they would. And now they’re finding a lot of that crumbling.

Expectations are clearly different on both sides of the pond. To me, the optimistic grouping of anyone making more than $50K into the middle class is emblematic of that ‘aspirational inclusiveness’ that made America the most successful nation in history and leaves me permanently in awe of her citizens.

But the attitude is still alien to me. In both Australia and the UK, competent tradespeople can make rude amounts of money -orders of magnitude more than the median income- and they would never be considered, nor would they likely consider themselves, middle class. (This is what our ‘upper middle’ looks like, unfortunately.) In a strange way, these perceptual differences remind me of Kevin Bridge’s famous “Chad Hogan” piece.

Fun fact: They were called ‘empties’ in New South Wales as well, except we didn’t gets coats stolen because obviously it was too warm to wear them, we (I) got oversized, mid-nineties skate shoes stolen. For me, it shows the nihilistic outlook that, from birth, is aware that the corridors of power are -by and large- irrevocably closed to it. And why shouldn’t we think this way? Grant Morrison’s inbred, pan-dimensional ruling elite has come to pass. Watch this next video. Seriously… watch it.

Let’s play un avocat du Diable for a moment: why shouldn’t we be ruled over by blue-blooded millionaires? What actually makes them worse at domestic policy than your bus driver or school nurse? Well, here’s one reason:

“Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them,” writes Peterson. “They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble.”  Even more depressing: These traits are “developed,”  not “inherited.”

This week the New York Times ran a special series about London. As you know, to me the city is the quintessential theatrum mundi. Where else murders children for witchcraft and simultaneously eats Wall Street’s lunch? One of my enduring first impressions when we moved here was the spectacle of truly extreme wealth rubbing shoulders with the entire planet’s flotsam. While the rest of the country limps along, parts of London are currently experiencing an apocalyptic property boom as Italy and Greece’s 1% desperately try to get their euros out of their failing countries and into something solid before their personal wealth evaporates. (Guess that rescue plan isn’t going to take, huh, Frau Merkel?)

It’s a strange place. As China Miéville puts it:

London is full of ghosts — ghost walks; a city’s worth of cemeteries; ghost-advertising, scabs of paint on brick. The city invoked something, read a grimoire it shouldn’t have. Thatcher’s face recurs at every turn, not in clouds of sulfur but of exhaust, on buses bearing posters advertising Meryl Streep’s celluloid turn as our erstwhile prime minister.

Another ghost is being born (dying?) as we write. As part of the Tory elite’s sustained attack on cornerstone civic institutions, the BBC World Service is leaving Bush House -a truly beautiful building I only had the pleasure of working in for a total of three days.

There is no better place to watch an apocalypse unfold. When I speak to friends and family on the other side of the world; sure things are tough and milk is more expensive but really… there is nothing quite like having to evacuate the centre of town an hour after lunch to avoid getting caught in a riot, there is nothing quite like waking up to the smell of burning cars and then the next morning having your bus delayed in Notting Hill because a foreign billionaire’s cavalcade has closed the street before you start to think… actually things are a bit imbalanced, aren’t they?

Inevitably it breaks something in you. Here is how China Miéville’s article ends:

Morrison doesn’t sound despairing. But he does sound tired. “Every time you do something and nothing goes any further, it eats at you,” he says. “It starts this bitterness.” It can break people down. Make them hopeless, or worse. When none of their efforts to improve anything work, some, he warns, will stop fighting. They will say, “Let us just wait for things to — for chaos, really, to take place.”

Well darlings, the chaos is here. And I’m not convinced you should stop fighting, but I am thoroughly convinced you should be fighting dirty. The rules are suspended, the happy ending is missing presumed dead… the apocalypse is not a team sport.

Let’s throw this over to Chris:

Everyone sees a political system that is engineered to serve only the rich and the powerful; everyone realizes that the rest of us are being left to fend for ourselves.

Everyone realizes that the free market system (so-called) exists only to serve the executive class; that the “hidden hand” of the so-called free market is actually the funny handshake of collusion, price fixing and monopoly capitalism. We’re not here to argue any of that. What I’m here to tell you is that in this environment there is no longer any reason to worry about the opinions or beliefs of a professional class and knowledge-based elite that doesn’t care about you at all.

I don’t see a single economic system that isn’t ripe for severe disruption. Seattle is building a forest of free food in the middle of town. The kids who went to college aren’t buying houses. The kids who didn’t go to college probably shouldn’t. The kids who went to the best college really only used it to make connections to get into the House of Commons.

We are on our own. If it were possible I would go around and individually shake you all by the shoulders and shout this in your face. No rules. Fight dirty.

So reach for that crazy idea. Make whatever you do count. Channel your inner Machiavelli. RO has one of the better pieces of magical advice published so far this apocalypse when it comes to precisely that, especially considering the rapid centralisation of wealth and power out of our hands and into the pockets of a microscopic elite. Definitely go after the king’s favour.

But -and you must promise me this- ultimately you won’t be satisfied with anything less than his head.



Add yours
  1. 2
    Lance Foster

    Americans these days all want to be ‘winners.’ Since they can’t delude themselves that they are rich or will ever be rich, at least they can be ‘middle class.’ Americans define class based on ‘stuff.’ Me, I come from working class and never left it, even at the top of my own game making about 72K a year for a couple of years. When I was growing up, middle class meant you were either a professional (doctor, lawyer, engineer) or you owned your own business which did pretty well. I never knew any ‘rich people.’ To me, ‘middle class’ people were rich people. If your car was new, you had a decent big house, and you could go on real vacations to places like Hawaii, and didn’t have to worry about paying your bills vs getting groceries, that was rich. But rich ‘aka middle class’ people were pretentious insecure assholes. If you broke down by the side of the road, it would be a working class guy who helped you out. Working class people knew what it was like to be without, or sometimes be down on your luck. And in return, when you saw a guy in a brokedown car or hungry on the street, you would help, because not only could that be you, that had been you and will be you again. I am working class, always have been, and will always be.

  2. 5
    Satyr Magos

    We Americans tend to define ourselves as “middle class”–even when we’re not–because of cultural narratives which amount to “less than middle-class==less than human”. Combine that with a culture and economy which revolve around consumption, and you have a people who collectively define their value as a human being by their ability to purchase an iPod and keep up with all the current trends in Reality TV.

    (Can you tell I want out badly?)

  3. 6

    There is a narrative that defines so many people as middle class when it’s just not true. The news networks run 24 hours making sure you know what to worry about. In fact, I don’t think it’s necessary. The upper 1% has had the reins for so long that it appears to me they don’t even pretend to care anymore.

    Lance is right about the working class guy helping. I live in a town full of them. The working class guy is also the one who thinks the government will fix it, they mean well, etc.

    The entire picture of the U.S. economy is an illusion anyway. There is 3rd world poverty on reservations, horrible prostitution and drug rings in impoverished inner cities, millions living only one serious illness away from being homeless. But let’s all pat ourselves on the back because we vote damn it! Ha!

    This comment turned into one of my rants; no whiskey, rum please :)

    Great post, Gordon!
    Lonnie´s last blog post ..5 Alternatives To Freaking Out

  4. 8
    Jhonn Barghest

    I grew up in a working class family. My folks were hard workers, and that was encoded into me (sometimes to a disadvantage). Unfortunately, we were always in that position where we were always to poor for X, but then had too much money for Y. I’m a working class magus, no doubt. But I don’t want to live like my parents do, if I can help it. I don’t have to be rich. I just don’t want to have to worry about shit like my parents did. I love my parents. They’re great.

+ Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge