There is something that’s been eating me inside and out. I haven’t been able to articulate it until now, but I am gonna try because I think it is important. At least to me it is. The sickness of our neoliberal world impacts both the middle class and the poor.
When you see generational poverty, it is easy to identify outright. It’s extreme. It’s often hopeless to the individual. It’s bleak. In the political space, poverty is a tool. On the one hand it’s used to identify “bad choices” and on the other, it’s exploited as “immoral”. But it’s a veneer.
It is used as a political football. Two angles: you are a bad person and undeserving or my goodness this is so tragic we must save you with a pittance… Charity … Handouts… No structural change… No real change.
Then we have the middle-class angle. Everyone will do great if we just give them a new program – take a real problem and make it a little less daunting. A pittance. We make no structural changes but we discipline labor with taxes and precarity and enticements to become rich…
So we lure the middle class and poor and dangle college or the military respectively as a way out and up.
We burden the middle class with lots of pay-ins. Lots of debt… impossible debt. Because once you start the path to leave your station – your birth class – you are expected to pay in to get in.
There are expectations as to how we dress. How we communicate. The language we use. The cars we drive. The homes we buy and the way we maintain our health. The family pet. Saving for our kids to go to college. The vacations we are expected to go on. The volunteer work we do.
It only worsens with the tax burden. The penalties and the guilt of providing for the family. The overall is a lesson in violence… the path is told in commercials with smiling families with nice clean clothes, washboard abs and perfect teeth.
The problem is when the debt burden comes due… It’s all on you. You were expected to know how to do this. You were expected to know how to manage money. Lessons most of us are never taught. I am not talking macroeconomics; I am talking about the personal checkbook.
You are expected to be a savvy investor with a portfolio. Never mind divorces… often resulting from the stress and strain of this ladder climbing.
If the stock market crashes, if your investments collapse… It’s on you. You may be ridiculed for having “rich people problems.” You are expected to have a network to lift you. Or at least the appearance of it… The very appearance of being well off is a mirage you are expected to maintain.
Some aspects get worse as you move up the social ladder. You carry all the pain you had to bear to get there but are now expected to be polite and unflappable. You must demonstrate no matter how much suicidal stress you are under to maintain the illusion… you are polite.
And should the stress and strain become too much, you will be rejected as a commoner who still misbehaves.
Never mind the expectations and glass ceilings. Never mind that once you “get there” you realize you aren’t truly there… You are in a no-man’s-land where you are still rejected from above by the elites and gate keepers of the good life.
You are now an unsympathetic case. You make too much to be seen as “in need” and you are hated by both the rich who want to maintain their exclusive birthright social circles, the poor who mistake you as rich, and the laws which say you do not need help.
You wake up wondering how you will survive. You are hated by your spouse for struggling and straining in an attempt to maintain a lifestyle you were sold as onward and upward. Your spouse wonders why the neighbors can do this but not your family.
So you are expected to do whatever you can to keep the roof on, to smile, to be capable of maintaining this ruse with a smile and politeness.
When the pressure becomes too great… The rafters start looking like a good place to toss a rope…
But yes… Politeness is ruled as the currency of the decent. The good. The “right” people… Yet… When you are on top… It’s easy to get a distorted picture of pain and suffering. Elitism is the currency the ladder climbers can never achieve but when they do… Success! Right?
Politeness is the currency those doing well trade in. It is a currency to let you know this is what it looks like when every day is your lucky day. This is the currency that weeds out the class jumpers & those living in the big houses with the elite couture… pets… lifestyles.
It’s the thing we aspire to… To want to be them… To want to live with a smile, no rotting teeth… No shitty oodles of noodles… No fear of answering the phone.
And when you realize you will never belong… And all you worked for crumbles… You die.