|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2011-10-07 08:52:00
|Current music:||"Born At The Right Time" - Paul Simon|
|Entry tags:||activism, explaining the inexplicable, it's different for the rich, living with politics, looking left, political polemics, storming the castles, the personal is political|
Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"
When do we want it? "A couple of hundred years or so back, when it would have made a difference"
Not the rallying cry of the century, is it? But that's what should be screamed up at the windows of Wall Street; it's what should be rattling the windows of the privileged around the world.
One of the dirty little secrets which isn't often aired about the upper echelons of the rich and powerful (particularly in the USA, where the myth that anyone can come from dirt poor to stinking rich in a generation is still a powerful memeplex, peddled by extremely powerful myth-building corporations) is that by and large, they got where they are now by building on the gains of their ancestors. They didn't get where they were from nothing. They didn't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They pulled themselves up using a rope braided from the bootstraps of many ancestors, over countless generations, on both sides of their families, and reinforced by the bootstraps of countless non-family members as well. In the ranks of the extremely powerful, there's often a certain degree of both metaphorical and literal kinship.
Another dirty little secret: the secret to getting rich quick is to get rich slowly, over three or four generations, and then explode on the scene, flashing the wealth in an obvious way. This isn't to say there aren't the occasional rapid accumulators - people whose financial, technological, scientific or marketing genius was in the right place at the right time, people whose cultural input hits the zeitgeist in the correct spot to send the jackpot rattling down - but they're as rare as the lottery millionaires or the ones who broke the banks in casinos. By and large, the ones who are at the top now are the ones whose ancestors have been accumulating steadily since the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
They're also the ones who have learned a certain degree of protective colouration. They don't "look" rich. Indeed, they probably only look about middle class, because flashing the money about is a sure sign of a parvenu. But they're there, enrolling the kids in the best schools, sending them along to the best universities and paying course fees up front, rather than taking out loans. Mum and Dad are most likely alumni, so they've probably introduced the kids to a couple of the professors in their courses before the kids even start. The kids are driving second-hand cars, sure, but they're driving well-maintained second-hand Beemers, Audis and Mercs. They're living in a flat owned by their family, paying maybe a token rent. They're able to head back home for meals and laundry (or if not to their own home, probably to the home of an old friend of their parents, who'll run their stuff through the washing machine for them, and throw in a hot meal gratis). A power bill or water bill isn't a crisis. Neither is the phone bill, or the internet cost. An expensive textbook is a nuisance, but it's a cost the family is willing to soak. They don't need to get part-time jobs to cover bills, so they can afford to spend time studying (for extra credit), or socialising on campus, forming connections with other scions of similar income levels. No need for a part-time job means they're available to take unpaid interning positions during semester breaks, too - and family connections mean they can always find a firm which is willing to take them on.
So when they finally graduate (which they're more likely to do than their less-well-off classmates) the children of the wealthy are already ahead on points - they have a more diverse academic and social transcript, they'll have family connections to fall back on as well as friendships they've made on-campus in order to hear of openings and opportunities.
(Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"
When do we want 'em? "A couple hundred years ago, when it would have made a difference!")
Let's compare this with even my own situation. I'm white, working class, second-generation Australian. I went to a state primary school and a state high school in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth. I got myself a part-time job to cover personal expenses when I was still in high school (at the end of year ten, in fact) and I was working that part-time job when I first went to university. I couldn't afford a car of my own, so I had to catch in public transport (to one of the newer universities in Perth - said university is, in fact, about three years younger than I am). This meant I had to catch a bus or train into the city, and then catch another bus out from the city to the nearest bus station to the university, and a second bus from there to the university itself. Considerations of buses and connections meant I had to be very careful in my timetabling on work days (fortunately I only had to worry about one of these overlapping with my actual studies, but I had to be careful about subject selection) and also meant I was looking at approximately an hour transit time each way, minimum. What that meant in practice was "no classes finishing after 3pm on Thursdays, because otherwise I can't make it to my workplace for a 5pm start".
Two hours each day on the bus means two hours I couldn't spend in study. It meant two hours I had to make up at home (in around chores and family life - including things like making my own meals if I couldn't be "on time" for dinner). I was in the first generation of my family to actually give all the kids the option to attend university - which on one level was great. But on another level, it meant neither of my parents had any idea what kind of an environment was required for study, or what sort of study I was supposed to be doing. So I didn't really have a family support system.
Then there was the job. There was a lot of importance placed on having and keeping a job in my family (understandable; we're working class). So I wound up trying to juggle study and work, and most of the time, work would win out. If it was a work day, and I was expected to be elsewhere for a study-related thing, I'd have to make excuses, and explain the situation. I was working retail, which at that point of time in Western Australia meant "Thursday nights and Saturdays". So, no classes finishing after 3pm on Thursdays (bus connections) and no class or social events happening on a Saturday (irregular shifts).
Socialising was also largely out because in order to attend a university social event, I either had to stick around on campus until it started (and phone for a lift home from Mum, if she was willing to pick me up), or I had to go home, get changed, arrange to borrow the car (if my parents didn't need it), drive back to campus, and be home before midnight (or I wasn't allowed to borrow the car any more). I also had to be available to drive my younger brother to his part-time job (in the city, working fast-food).
It was all stressful. It was all hard work. And it all mixed in with a lot of different psychological factors which resulted in me effectively having a breakdown in the middle of my second year at university, bombing out of the second semester of second year, and being told "don't bother coming back next year". And part of the reason I got that result was because I really didn't know what the resources were that were available to me, simply by virtue of being part of that first generation of my family to reach university.
I'm back in study now, taking a fourth shot at achieving a degree. I'm a bit more aware of the resources I can draw on from the university (and to their credit, the university now is a lot more supportive of students from diverse backgrounds than it was twenty years ago - there's a lot more effort made to draw attention to what these resources are).
Another dirty little secret of the rich and powerful: not many of them have had much exposure to people outside their social class in a context which isn't employment-related. So when they speak of the lives of ordinary people, it's usually from a position of profound ignorance. Marie Antoinette, when she said "let them eat cake" (or more accurately "well, why don't they eat cake instead?") was speaking from a similar position of ignorance - the ignorance of the very possibility of a reality where both bread and cake weren't in ready supply. So when they speak of how "simple" it is to make money, or stay debt-free, or whatever, it's because they really aren't aware of the full context of what's going on here. They've never had to learn that context, and for many of them, unless they absolutely have to face it, they never will learn that context.
They had the right ancestors, you see. Simple as that.
This entry was originally posted at http://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/22084.htm