By Dr Lisa McKenzie /RT/ – Middle-class squabbling over statues and outdated anthems only serves to fill up the political discourse with meaningless hot air and to perpetuate a system that keeps them comfortable and the working-classes quiet.
The moralising rhetoric of our betters has always been with us if you are working class in Britain. The Poor Law of 1834 laid down that narrative, distinguishing not between need but between culture, behaviour and a moral judgment of character – this was the original culture war. The plight of the working class under capitalism, discussed by ‘their betters.’
Culture wars have not gone away, they have progressed into other areas of family and social life and once again seem quite fashionable amongst the middle class. However, the culture wars of today are as confused and full of prejudice as they ever were.
The original culture war judged a man in retirement worthy of alms if he had been of good character his whole life and worked hard, despite a system that made that impossible through scarce decent paid local work. What man would not be forced to steal if he or his family were hungry? Yet at the same time an unmarried woman with children would be undeserving and her children inherited her shame. We have come a long way from those judgments, haven’t we? From the days when we judged people’s beliefs, actions, and justifications as deserving or undeserving?
Yet I see the contemporary culture wars breaking out everywhere and taking up so much political and social space there is barely room for anything else. They are again de rigeur amongst the elites, but those that have neither the time nor the inclination to stand in moral judgement of each other, seeing the world as they do from the level of making ends meet, do not involve themselves.
In the spaces where the chattering classes congregate – social media, news media and political talk shows – talking heads jostle and shout at each other in a never-ending battle of outrage. I’m on the sidelines watching these culture wars, despite the combatants’ best efforts to try and get me to pick a side because I speak and write about society as I see it as a sociologist. I may be a sociologist, but I am a working-class woman first. I am not fighting the culture war – I am fighting the class war.
Culture wars are great for the middle class. It leaves the warriors feeling relevant when in truth most are not. They fight daily battles over words to ancient anthems, and whether or not wearing a red poppy means you are a fascist. They argue over whether or not statues should be pulled down and who gets to decide what is funny and what is not.
The culture warriors tribally scream at each other for flagellating too much or not at all about their ‘white privilege.’ Nothing is more important to them than the outrage they feel at whatever thing they are outraged about at that moment.
But as these culture wars rage across social media and people scream until they almost have coronaries over issues they knew nothing about yesterday, there can be serious consequences amongst the screaming. People can lose livelihoods and jobs – culture wars morph into cancel culture, where, amid the noise and heat, a vindictiveness moves in, whereby any side can alert employers of “abhorrent” behaviour.
During their high-pitched tantrums, warriors use smartphones as artillery in this cultural conflict. Videos of red angry faces and screen-grabs of profanity-laced arguments can be taken and sent to workplaces.
Culture war sleuths, self-trained in online snooping, dig into social media accounts with the sole intent of finding out where someone works in order to complain about them to their boss. These contemporary Miss Marples wearing this season’s Mac lipstick and the Hercule Poirot’s wearing a Series 6 Apple watch are all out there, waiting to ruin somebody’s life at the push of a button.
While the middle class conduct their culture wars and column inches are filled by the latest battle, the real war is raging, the only war that I acknowledge, the class war. Let me explain. Today in Britain there are millions of people who are unemployed and this number is growing sharply. Our welfare system has been constructed and shaped continuously as a source of shame and punishment for working class people thrown out of their jobs by a capitalist system.
The original culture war that measured our moral worth into rough and respectable was won a long time ago. Now we have rising homelessness and tens of thousands of families are living in rent arrears because of our broken and rigged housing system. There is nothing they can do about their situation – private rents are too high, and social housing is scarce. Yet still, to be in rent arrears and to be homeless is the greatest shame and fear for a working-class family. What did and does it take for a family facing homelessness to be seen as undeserving?
Rather than judging an unfair system that (and yes, I will say it again) advantages the middle class and disadvantages the working class, those who benefit from it continue to thrive. They fill the political and social space with their moral judgments, measuring not only what we do, but also how we think on cultural scales to divide us up into neat piles of the deserving and the undeserving.
Fight your culture wars if you wish. I’m fighting the only war that will emancipate the ‘undeserving’ – the Class War.