Friday, October 17, 2008
Markets are called "free" because actors in them are permitted certain choices--about whether and how to form contracts, what to do with "their" goods, and so forth.
This description of how some of those freedoms tend to actually work themselves out under capitalism is much truncated for the demands of bloggery; hopefully any unclarity can be worked out through discussion. The ideas, even the analogy, are not mine; I'm told they've been liberated mostly from Hegel and Zizek, and they've come to me through the much appreciated vicarious scholarship of my friend Greg.
Let's say I want to become a world class violinist. Given that I have the talent and basic physical abilities:
If I'm a member of the lower class, there are objective material restrictions on my ability to accomplish this. If I live in tar paper shack, sell rubbish for a living, and haul water an hour every day, I think we can all agree that no matter how much I'm willing to sacrifice it is practically impossible for me to succeed.
If I'm a member of the middle class, my success is significantly contingent on my ability to manipulate relationships to my material gain. I can maintain good relationships with family members in hopes that they will pay for lessons; if my boss likes the work I put in at my day job, he's more likely to be understanding of my need for flexibility in hours and travel to competitions. Even my access to the teachers I need may be a matter of presenting myself amicably.
If I'm a member of the upper class, the limits on my ability to accomplish are largely the limits of myself; for the most part, I just have to want it enough.
So, when the upper class says, "you just have to want it enough," it is true. . . for them. And they have to believe at some level that it's true for everyone else too.
That's part of why the middle class believes them. . . but the statement transfers well enough into a middle class paradigm anyway; you just have to want it enough to develop the skills, the relationships, the networking. If you want it enough to do those things, you have a very decent shot. Arguably this is why the middle class has such a neurotically selfish mentality; lurking in the background, there's always the possibility that their relationships will fail, and the material reality is that their success is contingent on all those relationships.
This is also why, in the realm of charity, they will speak of doing all they can--of giving all they can--while their house is not filled with the homeless and they spend their tax returns on expensive hobbies. To be middle class is to build a wall around me and mine and allow every relationship to become a commodity; morality is only efficient it in so far as it is less fun than a new boat, or appropriate Christmas presents for your family. . . with whom, of course, you must maintain certain relationships.
It's at the lower class level that reality intervenes; there is a material world, and without material wealth it intervenes in everything, no matter how much you want it. On top of this, the material manifestations of racism, of class culture, and of literal inability to transition to a middle class approach, are omnipresent in day to day life.
To some of us, this does not seem like a system to optimize freedom.
That was all.