First, credit where credit is due. The title phrase is a line from a fictional Socialist in a fictional book: Paris, by Edward Rutherford. While most of the characters in this work of “faction” are fictitious, the historical events portrayed therein are grittily accurate. I’m now reading another one by Rutherford, Princes of Ireland. Same genre, different place, but very well-researched.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about that phrase, and why it struck me so strongly as being so true. Perhaps it was because my parents, the first in their families to achieve bourgeois, or true middle class, status, tried so hard to inculcate the values they perceived as being properly bourgeois in me. They ultimately failed to do so, partially, no doubt, because the son of a laborer and the daughter of a farmer could never completely shake off their own working class values, no matter how hard they tried. Partially, they failed because they raised me in that most perceptively bourgeois of Protestant churches, the Episcopal Church, and because they encouraged me to be a voracious reader.
Among the things I read, from cover to cover and several times, was the New Testament. No matter how you slice it, ain’t no way ol’ Jesus of Nazareth was bourgeois. He was all about, and for, the poor, never the rich. When I first came across the phrase, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and asked my parents about it, they became visibly uncomfortable. They basically dismissed it as “just a saying” and changed the subject. I never forgot that little conversation.
I basically chose to be working class simply because I wanted to be able to look myself in the mirror without seeing a hypocrite. I learned a trade. When the market for that trade went away, I learned another. I survived by a lot of hard work and doing whatever was necessary to provide food, clothing, and shelter to myself and my loved ones, and the occasional luxury whenever times were a little better. And I’ve dealt with the bourgeoisie, and those who pretend that they are bourgeoisie, or aspire to be bourgeoisie, all my life, and I’ve observed something.
The bourgeoisie really do always choose comfort over reality, even in their thoughts and feelings. No matter what their professed values are, no matter how noble and caring they say they are about those less fortunate than they, when push comes to shove, they will never, EVER, willingly give up what makes THEM comfortable to insure that others enjoy a decent standard of living. They will never, ever admit that they are where they are because they, or an ancestor, were just lucky, just in the right place at the right time and took advantage of an opportunity. They are the first to say that they have earned what they have and why should they just give it away to those who would not appreciate what they are given. Somehow, they never admit that they got to where they are with a lot of help from other people who did not see the same benefits of their own hard work as the now comfortable bourgeois success story did. I’ll give a few typical examples. How often have you heard them? And, be honest, how often have you said some of the same things?
Why should I pay taxes for public schools when my kids go to private ones, or, why should I pay taxes for public schools when I don’t have any kids?
I think it’s fine for those(insert adjective here) people to have equal rights, but why should they rub their culture or lifestyle in my face?
I’m proud of our veterans and our troops, but I don’t want MY little Johnny going to war. Don’t even THINK about bringing back the draft.
Everybody has the same opportunities I had. Don’t tell me that they can’t be a success if they just work hard enough. Look at me! No, that’s not fair, Uncle Albert put a good word in for me at the firm because he knew I was qualified and worked hard. Desmonde(why do black people name their kids those weird names, anyway?) and Jose Lopez y Garcia(why do those Hispanics always have more than one last name? That’s just weird) have the same chance. Well, they just DO! How about those Chiefs this year? Well, I’m sorry Jose’s family is on Food Stamps, but that’s not MY fault!
No, I can’t afford to pay my help more than minimum wage. What? I should just give up that trip to the Bahamas? But I promised my daughter we’d take her there if she made the honor roll! And Tyler DESERVES his soccer league! What? What do you mean you think using a last name for a first name is weird? Everybody does it! You’re being rude.
What do you mean I don’t care about the poor? I donate a turkey every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas to the food bank or the church. I always donate to the Red Cross when there’s a hurricane or a tornado. The rest of the year? Well, that’s what Food Stamps are for. What do you mean it’s not enough? I’ve seen those people buying SODA and HOT DOGS with Food Stamps. The least they can do is eat healthy with my tax dollars. Oh, of course they can afford it. No, I just don’t believe that. This is unpleasant. Isn’t it a lovely day for golf?
The Defense budget? You want to be safe, don’t you?
A tax on stock trades? Are you crazy? That could hurt my 401K, and yours. You don’t have one? Oh, well you should.
But we NEEDED that vacation! We HAD to refinance! Besides, granite counter tops and an island in the kitchen increases the value of my house.
Yes, yes, global warming is bad. I bought a hybrid, you know. What else can I do? No, we NEED the room in the SUV! And global warming might have contributed to those awful fires in Colorado that burned down my timeshare. And the government is only paying for a third of the replacement cost, can you believe it? What about those people in New Orleans or New Jersey? They knew they were in a flood plain. No, the timeshare in a fire zone is different. What’s the Forest Service FOR, anyway?
Destroy capitalism? Well, SOME of us have stock, you know. We EARNED it. And you just want to take that away? You’re crazy. Besides, what would you replace it with? Tell me exactly how it would work for me without taking away anything that I already have and then I’ll think about it. Until then, let’s just fix what is broken. The system itself is fine. Look at me!
End examples. OK, I admit that last sentence would be a little too honest for most bourgeoisie. Anyway, feel free to add your own examples.
Finally, dear patient reader, my conclusion. The bourgeoisie, the middle classes, will never do anything to challenge the ruling financial aristocracy until their own status is directly threatened, and even then, they’ll be willing to sell the rest of us down the river so long as they perceive that same aristocracy will let them keep what they already have. They talk a good game, but they won’t deliver, except to themselves. A great example of that is that is the unfolding saga of the so-called Affordable Care Act. Real health care for all is easily obtained, but the cost of it would inconvenience the American bourgeoisie, therefore it won’t happen until the cost of NOT doing so exceeds the cost of actually doing something about it.
The bourgeoisie like to feel morally superior. They will adopt a Holy Cause, be that cause banning abortion, making abortion safe and legal, marijuana legalization, ethnic minority rights, gay rights(or the reverse of those two), prevention of animal cruelty, protecting some segment of the environment, or even food for the hungry, but they won’t ever sacrifice their own comfort levels in any significant way to achieve any of those goals. Anyone who points that out they either ignore, disdain, ridicule, or if sufficiently threatening, imprison. I speculate that they do these things so that they can look themselves in the mirror without seeing the true parasites on the body of the despised working classes that they really are.
For, without the labor of the working classes, they could not enjoy their comfortable lives. This is a hard truth, but still a truth. And I know it’s true, for I’ve found myself thinking a few of the same examples I cited above, from time to time. It’s hard not to, if you’re an American. We’re inundated with the stuff, after all.
I could go on, but fortunately for you, perhaps, THIS-TV, home of weird, random shit, is starting to broadcast a true war movie classic, The Battle of Britain. Great movie about a truly remarkable historical event. So, happy Veteran’s Day, and have a nice day.
Photo by Todd Blaisdel released under a Creative Commons license.