The Death Of The Middle Class Is The Death Of Civil Society (Part II) – OpEd
The blame game
As we know from every crisis in human history, and especially the more recent ones, the most important item on any politician’s agenda is to find someone else to blame for it. It can be a foreign foe in the form of a hostile state, it can be an “enemy within”, usually long-standing political opponents and their supporters, or it can even be some invisible villain like a virus. To the politician, it doesn’t make a huge difference; they care not who and what is seen as the evil-doer, as long as they don’t have to take any responsibility for any of their decisions, their weakness, their greed and their ambition and various other failings and incompetencies. (Click here to read Part I)
For the body politic, however, it does make a very big difference. Festering animosity, fear and suspicion against their fellow man, falling prey to this “divide and conquer” strategy and turning against their neighbors is one of the most dangerous paths citizens can choose. Of course, even in “normal” times, there’s always a certain amount of envy in some of those who have less against those who have more and there’s some disdain from some members of the latter group against those less fortunate. This is just the way some humans are born or raised, I suppose, some simply have less capacity for empathy for the struggles of others or respect for their achievements.
However, what always stood in the way of all-out class warfare was that precious middle class. To those above, especially to those who got there merely by winning the birth lottery and through no effort of their own, it served as a familiar, “close at hand” reminder of the virtues of hard work, of providing a valuable service to others and of perseverance. To those below, the middle class stood as a beacon of hope, a promise of a better tomorrow, a reassurance that this aforementioned hard work actually pays off and a confirmation that the game is indeed fair.
As the middle-class collapses, so does this illusion. It becomes plain for those less fortunate to see that the game is not fair, it probably never was and some pigs really are “more equal than others”, as George Orwell put it. As for the “lucky” ones, they become increasingly detached from the majority and reality of their fellow citizens, they lose touch and they are doomed to isolation as the general public grows to despise them. This makes it ever so easy for manipulative populists to turn this sentiment into hate. Where one would previously see a job creator, now the public sees an exploitative fat cat, an oppressor and an enemy of the people.
It only takes the tiniest of sparks for this kind of powder keg to go off and to take all that remained of civil society with it.
A clouded outlook, with a silver lining
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many reasons to support an optimistic scenario going forward or to hope that the present trend will be reversed in time. The only thing that’s been reversed so far is that old attitude that our generation and that of parents used to have when talking to the “young ones”. There aren’t many parents today that say “you kids have it so easy these days”.
Both in US and in most of Europe, it is becoming an increasingly elusive dream for younger people to buy a house, something that was pretty much a given for their parents when they were around the same age. Many can’t even secure a decent, steady job, and they have to rely on the “gig economy “ to make ends meet. As for saving for the future, even the most diligent, responsible and hard-working among them simply find it impossible – and it is, when what you struggled so much to save yesterday is worth nothing tomorrow.
The outlook does indeed look discouraging and that divide between the haves and the have nots is certainly set to widen further. But the eternal optimist in me refuses to give in to the doom and gloom. And it’s not just wishful thinking that makes me see that silver lining, it is the facts on the ground and the opportunities we have today to learn from the mistakes of our past. There might not be a way through the tensions and the conflicts that likely lie ahead, but there is a way out.
Thanks to technology, we have the means to find answers independently, to connect and to learn from each other. Thanks to the internet, we have the combined knowledge of humanity at our fingertips and we can join forces with like-minded individuals to exchange ideas and to create real value, voluntarily and without central authorities. But most of all, armed with all this knowledge and all these tools, we have the means to “opt out”.
The more the pressure mounts, the more imperative it becomes for free thinkers, for creators, builders and producers, to abandon this crumbling system, to quit this rigged game and to choose their own path and to carve out their own future. This shift is already underway. So, you see, the old middle class might be dying, but a new one is just being born.