September 7, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)


Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views.

James Madison, 1787

Utopian reformers are very good at seeing what is wrong with a system. What they rarely look at is what is right with it.

In a truly functional society, almost every able bodied member of it contributes, and the end result is that everyone survives. How well all members survive is a measure of how functional that society is. A society in which a few survive to the detriment of others is not worth much and can't continue for long.

Attempts have been made to derive a classless society under the assumption that absence of class was a good thing. Why is it a good thing? If class is a root of social problems, then having no class divisions must be better. It never occurred to these utopian reformers that their reasoning was faulty, as well as their information. We know that a major source of strife in families is between spouses. Would anyone in his right mind propose that, to improve society, we should abolish marriage, and with it families?

Part of what makes a society function is a division of labor and it is that division of labor that is some of the source of classes. Class becomes particularly important when the tasks required of members of a society are complex and often require a lifetime of experience. Often those skills are passed on from parent to child and, under the best of circumstances, skills and methods improve with each generation.

The idea of upper and lower classes makes a judgment that one class has more value than another. It is similar to making a judgment that the heart is better than the kidney which is better than the liver. Of course, the lower intestinal is the worst of all. It is natural to believe that what I do is more important than what you do.

Different classes have different values. The agricultural class placed great stress on honesty, hard work, the value of land, the value of family. The military class, which gave rise to royalty, laid great stress on physical fitness, courage and craftiness. The merchant class places great emphasis on the ability to calculate, make logical predictions, ability to read people and to bargain. There are also a number of sub-classes, which, in terms of pure survival, a society could function without, such as artists, musicians, writers etc. Some classes are a liability, such as thieves, beggars, speculators, healers who don't heal, and so on. There are other classes, such as the teachers, scientists, journalists which are an asset to a society, but by no means essential to survival.

Each of us is born into a class, complete with its value system. Some choose to change class, which can be done with great difficulty in some societies and easier in others. In this country a bright person can often change class; within some limits. Usually a radical change in class requires at least one generation.

Technology is changing society so rapidly that the class structure can barely keep up. It wasn't very long ago that computer people didn't even exist. Manual labor has become progressively less necessary or useful. Machines are taking over most jobs that were done by hand. A whole class has sprung up that is based on a variety of drugs from the legal to the illegal kind. Hunting and gathering as a means of survival is now virtually obsolete in the industrialized world. Cultures based on harvesting natural resources (timber, fishing etc.) are tottering on the brink of extinction.

At the turn of the century, there was a whole subculture based on the making of horse drawn vehicles. That culture easily shifted to the manufacture of the automobile.

Cultures that are based on the work and the family ethic have a better chance of surviving than others. The military culture is likely to survive, particularly that branch that is law enforcement, which is based on similar ethics. So will the criminal cultures which are based on a combination of business, plunder and the game of cops and robbers.

A dilemma that faces today's school teacher is that she/he has to teach groups of children with diverse ethical standards, many of which are quite different from her own. The standards imposed by the state might also be different from her own.

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