There was a time in the history of America when life was lived simply and everyone was afforded everything in life equally. Nobody was ever too rich or too poor and social circles meant that everybody in town knew its inhabitants and were good neighbors to each other. But all of that is gone now. These days, society is well divided more by money and class distinction than anything else. Using a specific paragraph quote from the assigned reading for this class, I plan to discuss what factors influence our points of view regarding social classes, where we get our foundation for social class distinction, and how social classes are evolving in the 21st century. More importantly, I want to point out and discuss the pitfalls and drawbacks of the race to join the elite social class. All of these will be based upon my observations and points of view since I live with the great social divide every single day.
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In her article “This Land Is Their Land” author Barbara Ehrenreich depicts the social gap that now exists in our modern society. To quote:
Of all the crimes of the rich, the aesthetic deprivation of the rest of us may seem to be the merest misdemeanor. Many of them owe their wealth to their usual tricks: squeezing their employees, overcharging their customers, and polluting any land they’re not going to need for their third or fourth homes. Once they’ve made (or inherited) their fortunes, the rich can bid up the price of goods that ordinary people also need — housing for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaire’s horse farms displace rural Americans into trailer homes. Similarly, the rich can easily for over annual tuition’s of $ 50,000 and up, which has helped make college education a privilege of the upper classes. (Ehrenreich 2)
The paragraph quoted above speaks tremendously as to what factors determine a person’s social class in our modern society. The most common social indicators being family or personal wealth, personal income, and finally, the social status one was born in or climbed up the social ladder from. If a person meets the unspoken criteria for hobnobbing with the creme de la creme of society, he is accepted on one particular condition alone, he can keep up the Jones’. The result is a lifestyle that is dictated by the social norm of the class that he wishes to become a part of.
As I read over the quoted passage again, I find myself asking “Where exactly did we learn all about class distinctions?” Is this something that we inherently have in our system, or is this something that we learned over time? Then I remembered a story from my childhood. My parents had always done their best to provide me with the very best that they could afford, and I was always thankful for that. But as a child, I was forced to move in a social circle that, I now realize was way above my family’s station in life. That was a very unhappy part of my childhood because I could see that the other kids, those whose parents were in a higher financial bracket than my own, could afford the better and more expensive things which we could not.
That often left me the subject of pity or ridicule. I was the odd one out most of the time, all because my family “could not afford” what theirs could. So, there we have it, the social distinction is something that we learn from childhood, not because it is inherent in our personality, but because the adults teach us that it has to be that way. If you can’t keep up, then you don’t belong. Class distinction is taught to us by the very society we live in. Through lifestyles that are advertised as the latest trends and the sort. Class distinction is man-made and it is all based upon money. As long as you can afford it, then you belong to the upper crust. No buts about that.
However, the financial evolution of man has turned social and class distinction into a gray area. With all of the credit card offers, bank loans, and other financial offers, living like the Vanderbilt’s, Rockefeller’s, and Hilton’s of the world has now become possible. In the 21st century, it is no longer about the money and name that you grew up with. No, now it is all about how much you can charge to your credit card or cards.
These days, the rich, for all the pomp and pageantry that their life entails, for all the social status that their “wealth” brings, are all in debt. For that is what the high-class social life is all about, being in debt. Those who aren’t wealthy? Yeah, they have debts, but those are debts that they can manage to pay for within their lifetimes and without manipulating funds to cover their losses. That is why gentrification has come into play. Not everyone will want to play the high stakes game of life, and those people will be edged out of the social circle once the ultra-rich become the dominant part of their society. But this is still a symbiotic environment, so the monied people, even though they can manage to keep the less wealthy out of their circle, will always need them to balance their environment. The less wealthy will be those in the service of the rich, with a distinct trickle-down effect to them.
Overall, I believe that although social classes and distinctions truly exist, it is something that can easily be hidden and covered up in the 21st century, thanks in part to the selfish designs of the wealthy to continually steal from the lower-income bracket to finance their own greedy needs and wants. Fueled on by the people who want to “live the life” even if they have to beg, borrow, and steal to afford it. In their minds, that land may be “their land”, but one way or another, it can become “my land” as well, if that social and financial status deprived person just wants to make it so.