Skip to main content

Class-ism - the unrecognised bigotry

Just heard the Archers by accident and was struck by the class stereotypes. It really is: 'The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, HE made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate.' ('All Things Bright and Beautiful' - a hymn of poisonous lies from beginning to end).

Of course, many middle classes now suppose it's not God that's responsible for the entrenched social hierarchy but Darwinian social selection selecting for intelligence: 'Middle class children have better genes' says former OFSTED head Chris Woodhead.

What's the biggest obstacle to entering the prestigious middle class professions: sex, race, or class? Who would find it hardest to climb that greasy pole, a black middle class male, a white middle class female, a white working class male? I would guess class is the biggest obstacle. And unjustly so. Class-ism: the bigotry that's still largely unrecognised.

If the The Archers were to pander to and entrench racial stereotypes the way it does class stereotypes, it would be off the air in a week.

P.S. I remember having to sing those lyrics at school and thinking "WTF?" Nowadays they're often omitted. But not here.... (verse 3)


Tony Lloyd said…
I think it's ideological/cultural. Sorry for the use of the word but, er, a paradigm; in that sense Kuhn uses it when referring to the shared values of a scientific community.

The political "class" serves as a good example. It’s not really a “class” in the traditional meaning of something that you’re born into or brought up in that determines what you go on to do. The “political class" is a “class” that anyone can join no matter what their background.

The restriction now is the need to accept the broad sub-culture, values and Weltanshauung of the group. This involves all sorts of in-group signalling and ways of working that centre around the habits of that group. That has the indirect effect of lessening the participation of certain groups, but it isn’t the primary purpose. The primary purpose is to uphold the sub-culture, values and Weltanshauung.

Witness the absolute horror with which the Labour “grandees” reacted to some beardy lefty in the leadership election. It was almost as if someone had proposed a costermonger for membership of White’s. (“I mean to say, these socialist chappies are all well and good for geeing up the unions but they’re no good at all in the corridors of power. Leave that sort of thing to chaps like us.”). They’ve no problem about black people: Chuka Umunna is a sound chap. They’ve no problem with women; so long as you don’t actually want them to actually vote against tax credit cuts. They’ve no problem with the working class: just so long as that working class has absorbed all the habits of the Westminster elite.

Other professions seem to be less foul than this. And some of them are trying to do something about it (some of the big accountancy firms are trying to “blind” CV’s to reduce the “ooh, Baliol, we’ll have him”). But there are going to be cultures, Weltanshauung and so forth. It looks a bit like class, and disadvantages certain groups and classes, but au fond is different.

Solutions? Two that are a bit less obvious:

- Rob Blackie, one of the Liberal Democrat candidates for the London Assembly (just stick a bit of electioneering in there) swears by mentoring. This is people within various professions working with “out group” individuals who are interested in a profession but don’t know the intangible cultural aspects of the profession. How to call for a job, how to write a CV, how to apply for university etc. The mentors help them do that.

- Capitalism. Don’t bail out the banks. If they screw up by enforcing some dysfunctional drug-fuelled, sexist , criminal culture then just take them off the Administrator for nothing and kick Fred the Shred out to sit on the Embankment with a sign saying “I enforced a dysfunctional robber baron elite. Please help”.

BTW It’s probably only the politically interested, like you and me, who notice the “ordered their estate” bit: most people are snickering too much at “purple headed mountain”.
Anonymous said…
With reference to the message of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', there has always been a minority view in Christianity (for example, in Marcionite and Cathar thought), that God doesn't create anything, and certainly didn't create the material universe. He is, after all, perfect and complete in Himself, and the material universe is not. Perfection cannot create imperfection, and a complete being has no need to create anything.

On such a view, 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' is not only false, it is actually blasphemous (especially when we consider some of the repulsive things found in nature, although our ability to appreciate beauty in it is part of our spiritual side). Rather, human beings (or at least some of them) have a spirit that is eternally part of the Godhead. Everything else, including our bodies and this material universe (the existence of which is a mystery), either passes into nothing or is transformed into the glorious reflection of the eternal God.

To such a Christian, the point of this earthly existence is to live 'in Christ', which is to live in the knowledge that we are eternally one with the God of Love, and are thereby strangers to this world and its materialism (in every sense of that word):

1 Corinthians 13 4-10: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears."

Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

And now for a more edifying hymn:
Paul P. Mealing said…
Living on the other side of the world, being born into privilege is a bit of an alien concept but we still have 'class', which is largely dependent on education which is partly dependent on wealth, which creates a self-perpetuating generational heritage not unlike America's, if we allow it.

This is especially true for Aboriginal people who are disadvantaged on every count: education, medical treatment, life expectancy, incarceration rate, job opportunities. It's a sad indictment on our society that we've created an underclass which promotes low expectations.

Regards, Paul.
Anonymous said…
"Rather, human beings (or at least some of them) have a spirit that is eternally part of the Godhead. Everything else, including our bodies and this material universe (the existence of which is a mystery), either passes into nothing or is transformed into the glorious reflection of the eternal God."

Oddly enough, similar views were defended by an ATHEIST philosopher, John McTaggart, in his book 'The Nature of Existence' (Vols 1 & 2, 1921 & 1927):

"McTaggart concluded the world was composed of nothing but souls, each soul related to one or more of the others by love. While he argued against belief in a personal God ... and denied the absolute (thereby justifying his atheism), McTaggart's philosophy was fundamentally optimistic. McTaggart believed each of the souls (which are identified with human beings) to be immortal ... McTaggart held the view that all selves are unoriginated and indestructible. The Nature of Existence also seeks to synthesise McTaggart's denial of the existence of time, matter etc. with their apparent existence."

The full text of 'The Nature of Existence' is available online:
Vol 1:
Vol 2:
Anonymous said…
BTW, Season's Greetings to all!

"For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:5-6)
Anonymous said…
Further to my comments above, on the eternal and uncreated nature of the 'image of God' that is in all (truly) human beings; it turns out that Jesus could have said something along similar lines in John 3:3. This passage is usually (mis?)translated as follows:

"Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.""

The word translated 'born again' has a double meaning in both the Greek and the original Aramaic, it can also mean 'born from above'. In John 3:4 Nicodemus assumes that Jesus meant 'born again':

""How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!""

Jesus appears to correct him:

Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." (The Spirit is eternal and uncreated, and is part of the Godhead.)

Most commentators assume that Jesus meant you had to be baptised in water and 'receive the Holy Spirit', and thus be 'born again'. However, an alternative interpretation is that 'born of water' simple means 'born the natural way' (as in 'her water broke', i.e, be physically born), whereas 'born of the Spirit' is an additional attribute that is not possessed by all who are 'born of water'. So Jesus is saying that there are two kinds of 'people', those who are 'born naturally as well as supernaturally, of the Spirit' and those who are merely 'born naturally'. Only the former are 'saved', because they are eternally part of the indestructible Godhead. Their physical bodies, along with the material universe, are not created by God (hence their imperfections) and will pass away. The next verse seems to support this interpretation, because Jesus adds:

"Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."

He appears to be reiterating the distinction between those who are 'born of water' (i.e. 'flesh') and those who are also 'born of the Spirit'. We all know that flesh ultimately dies, but the Spirit is eternal. Jesus then makes a cryptic remark:

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.""

He seems to be saying that those 'born of the Spirit' come from, and are going to, a dimension not accessible to those 'born of the flesh'.

Karen Friar said…
Class-ism also strikes me as the least understood by those with any amount of privilege. Mentoring, as suggested above, can only help those who already believe being 'the rich man in his castle' is within their reach. The true blocks to mobility are such things as recognizing that certain paths are open to the likes of you (e.g. being the first person on the family to study at university, do an EU stage) and not being aware that opportunities exist (e.g. scholarships). Education is key -- but not necessarily traditional education -- as is shaking off the idea that taking up such opportunities is class betrayal.

Popular posts from this blog

What is Humanism?

What is Humanism? “Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad. We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view. What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.


(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o