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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Fear of Déclassement

Over there in the jungle, you can read my first comment (yeah, time zones have certain advantages) on Hell's belief that the economic high priests are responsible for our ostrich behavior.
They have only figured out how to tell us what we want to hear, for the most part.
They wouldn't be telling us this... IF we didn't already want to hear it, because these people are not leaders, they are (court, lol) followers. They are not TRUE intellectuals, and I am going to be provocative, Dinky, they are FALSE prophets, as people way back when used to say.
I am currently wading through a book by Eric Maurin called "La peur du déclassement", (see title of my post for translation), and it is.. opening my eyes.
Mr Maurin seems to think that this fear is peculiar to French society, which has remained highly hierarchical and devoted to rank since l'Ancien Régime (remember that France had and still has, one of the most centralized States in Europe ; IT is the Western European country that reacted the most violently to putting constitutional government in place).
I am going to quote Mr Maurin in his comparison between French and Anglo-Saxon societies :
"The French notion of déclassement hardly has an equivalent today in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian societies. It is a symptom of our old inegalitarian and hierarchical society, which retains its aristocratic bent, where rank, and reputation are granted for life and are destined to remain in the family. The hereditary transmission of charges disappeared with the Revolution, but social dignity remains attached to the conquest, and retention, of status. The fear of déclassement is the passion of societies based on status that are subjected to democratisation when rank and class cease to be protected by heredity, but are up for grabs for every generation. It is for this reason that the propagation of this fear can be found in the attitudes of the privileged, and the most protected. What is occurring today is NOT the déclassement of the working classes, but the FEAR of déclassement among the middle and upper middle classes, with everything that this implies in the apartheid behavior in residential and school choices."

Now... I suspect that Mr Maurin has a few "liberal" or "neoliberal" prejudices about Anglo-American society, as many French intellectuals and academics tend to have.
It is certainly true that French society is extremely hierarchical. It is certainly true that losing one's job in France is a major psychological, financial catastrophe, because it is VERY VERY difficult to find a new one. It is certainly true that the French people have OVERINVESTED the capacity of work to provide a sense of individual self esteem and identity. It is true that NOWHERE in the Western world has the IDEAL of democracy, of the abolition of privilege retained its power to mobilize a nationalistic identity (except for perhaps, in the U.S.) as it has in France, while AT THE SAME TIME, the State's institutions and society's organization are geared to perpetuate privilege among the elites.
But.... WHEN people get their hands on wealth and status they are extremely LOATHE to give them up, and this is a psychological fact. When you create an "aristocracy", (and creating aristocracy is as natural as breathing, even in our modern democracies/republics, whose aristocracy seems to be based on HAVING, versus BEING...) it has A MAJOR desire : to pass on what it has acquired. (Nobody here is going to contradict me on this one, I hope...)
I submit that the fear of déclassement is extremely present in American society these days. And that it is a fear that is globally affecting our Western civilization.
Now... fear of déclassement may not touch YOU, in your lifetime, but it is a fear that you are NOT LIKELY to escape... if you have children. Our children are our projections of ourselves, in the future. They are US, to a very great extent.
And, just for Dinky, fear of déclassement is on a parr with the attitude of the third servant in Jesus' parable. That's why I harp on the parable.


Dink said...

Ah Deb, you beat me to the punch (as they say). I was going to post this morning under the title of "I Fought the Matrix and the Matrix Won" (nod to The Clash's "I Fought The Law And The Law Won").

But "declassment" is an interesting subject too so I'll roll with it. I think ego has dual motivation; the carrot and the stick. I think there is a perceived middle/neutral set-point of "the tribe tolerates me". The carrot would be going beyond this set-point and being perceived as superior to others. The stick would be falling short of the set-point and being perceived as inferior.

Joy of the carrot- better stuff, more safety. Fear of the stick- no stuff, danger.

I suppose where that set-point falls has a lot to do with personality. And personality brings up the tangle of the nature-nuture lattice. And then there is a whole mess of experiential data influencing beliefs on what boundaries are even possible.

I'd like to think that my set-point is such that I believe that I'm consistantly tolerable by the tribe so I don't need to keep chasing that superiority carrot. More often I have to keep in mind the inferiority stick (i.e. you can't wear a t-shirt to that restaurant, you have to wear the itchy thing. And put on the gold watch instead of the plastic one. Because this particular tribe is touchy about such things).

And I suppose its good to be conscious of "this is the tribe's range for judging me" vs. "this is my range for judging others". In short, don't automatically drink the Kool-Aid.

Thai said...

You lost me at the end Dink

Deb, I have to think on this. It is an interesting thesis. Yet one more variable to throw into the mix. Defending reputation is definitely a zero-sum game which is why I decided in blog land to throw mine out the window for fun.

I obviously have no ability to compare US vs. French attitudes on this so I will trust your observation.

Debra said...

Some questions for you, Thai, on fear of déclassement...
Just how NECESSARY is a college education FOR YOUR KIDS, in your book ?
Dink, from what I can tell, you don't have kids, right ?
Your point of view on this, if so, is quite different.
We can safely say that MAYBE you don't have as much at stake ??

Thai said...

Agreed, it is quite important.

Having said this, I have realized my own fears around this issue are not rational.

Faith is tough

Debra said...

Next question is...
Just WHY is a college education necessary for your kids ?
Because ?
1) You want them to benefit from a relaxed atmosphere in order to absorb higher knowledge.
(But is the atmosphere in college as relaxed as it was in the '70's ? Big question...)
2) You think that college education=good job + job security + comfortable American lifestyle.
3) YOU have a college education, and you can't imagine that Junior 1,2,3 wouldn't follow in your footsteps.
4) You secretly think that someone who DOESN'T have a college education is not bright, and will not "succeed" in life as well as you have.

For my part... I made the observation over there in the jungle that ALREADY my kids have not had access to the education that I received (at the tail end of the 30 glorious years, as we call them, the boom following WW2).
There are too many kids over here with higher education diplomas, and those diplomas do not = competence in the job market, NOR are they a guarantee of a basic level of general culture (and no, "our ancestors, the Gallois" does NOT count for general culture in my book...).
The diploma intox is having the same effect as women's flooding the job market has had.
Overqualified people who feel demeaned by doing work that is not a reward for the time and money they have spent getting that piece of paper.
Since my kids were little, I have tried to encourage them to THINK, and that no mean feat is not guaranteed by a diploma either.
In the upcoming scramble to adjust our lifestyles, the kids who THINK and have MANUAL SKILLS will have a better chance than the academics.
In my opinion.

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
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  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits