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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



unclassy acts

I wonder how many socioeconomic classes I’ve really hopped? There’s definitely a version of my bio that let’s me sound rags to riches: Basildon (so déclassé even the rest of Essex looked down on it) to Oxford and a weird proximity to Tory grandees of the future, to Silicon Valley where I sat close on by as the mere millionaires of the 2000s self-inflated into Tessier-Ashpool decadence. But honestly, I was pretty middle-class through all of that. Other kids bullied me for my book learning and BBC accent in Basildon, I grew up mostly in bourgie Chelmsford, I was a grammar school kid at Oxford, and I was mostly in the journalism/non-profit complex in California. Like a stick of rock with “home counties” written right through it.

But I have got to spend a bunch of time with a fair spread of classes, even if it was mostly just dropping by their parties before going back to hide in the bedsit with my laptop. The main class development I’ve noticed during the journey was mostly external to it: people (culture? the dominant media?) were pretty forgiving of the rich (less so the gentry) in the neoliberal 90s. Then after 2008, the resentment of the differently-funded got more and more steep. I was noting with one of my most loyally socialist friends the other day how, nowadays, almost every article ends with a little condemnation of capitalism and the rich, like a perfunctory curlique sign-off, or Casey Kasem saying “and remember, keep your feet on the ground, and soon, soon, you will burn the blood-sucking parasites of the sybarite class as they cower trapped in their stolen mansions”.

Anyway, I guess one of the things I genuinely puzzle ablikeout is how much variance there is between people in each class. I notice a lot of people seem to presume rich people are cleverer; a lot of people also presume that they’re morally bankrupt. You can even — often — believe both: that rich people are sociopathic geniuses. And the reverse is true: that poor people are stupid, and default to ethical purity — except of course, when forced by privation to transgress some minor social rule or other.

I’ve read a couple of papers which claim to prove the richness = turpitude equation; they’re not super-convincing. One identified that the rich become less sympathetic to the poor. Okay. The poor get far less sympathetic to the rich too; people in foreign countries have some strange ideas about locals, and vice versa. It just seemed like an outgroup thing.

Anyway, my own observation is that, at least in terms of ethics and general intelligence, the curves seem to mostly stay the same as you jump up and down the economic ladder. Unethical rich people probably do more damage, simply because they have more power. Unethical poor people, on the other hand, will fuck you up directly, and are terrifying to somebody wimpy but verbal like me, in a way that a monied lizard is not. Is that because I’m a white guy? I don’t think so: again, I’ve met landied racists, but nothing matches being stuck on a nightbus for in-your-face violent prejudice.

Intelligence, is, of course, weirdly even more subjective contested as a value. As someone who came in with the standard prejudices, I am perpetually surprised at how dumb many of the rich are, mostly in a Tim Nice-But-Dim way. I was never surprised by the raw intelligence of members of the working class, because I grew up there. I’m pretty clever, but from an early age was pretty clear how far behind my academic prowess was from just people who could deal with reality faster, more flexibly, and with a quicker learning curve than me. I got out, and they were stuck, but that wasn’t due to intelligence so much as preference, and their comfort with how well they could handle what was in front of them, versus my discomfort in everything that wasn’t safely cushioned in abstraction and safety.

Let me go meta a little bit here: If you’re already disagreeing with me, I think you’re probably right, or at least, no less right than me. I’m knocking out a trite, and factually unfounded opinion piece here. I think it’s a rarely-stated and intriguing opinion, but only because I’m falling back to a wriggly contrarianism.

All I can say is: I too am a sinner. Even if I’d stitched in a few links that back up my point, it’s hardly better than the average Substack blather.

What I really yearn for online are more articles that aren’t like this. What I’d like to do is make predictions or do original research. But that takes up more time than writing; it needs some gearing and machinery underneath the probabilistic GPT text generation of my left hemisphere.

I have some ideas about how I could do that better, but first I need to build up this habit of writing. If I’m not saying anything, I can’t test my thoughts. I am, right now, somewhat sluicing out the opinions as I try to work out what’s valuable and what’s not.

(850 words)

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.