Social class in the United States, it is certainly an undeniable fact of life in America since its beginning. I have chosen to write about this topic, because I feel like I have the most knowledge to write on it. The main sign of Social Class in America today, is the noticeable levels of Stratification and Inequality that you find in neighborhoods that are relatively close to one another, and with it you notice the very large gradient in lifestyle’s between those who live on one end of the road and those who live on the other end of the road. I speak predominantly from experience on this observation. The next issue of course is the issue of why there is this large gradient of living and lifestyle choices that people make based on their class, some believe these conditions are intentional and that there is an unseen war or conflict between one keeping the other down, while others do not see it this way, per se. This issue of social class and socio-economic inequality must be addressed and I have a few suggestions for which I believe those who are less than better off, can improve their own conditions, of course my views are more radical, but I believe they can be addressed peacefully, without much need of violence, in fact I see the use of force as something that is counter to improving the situation of those who suffer from inequality and stratification.
Social Stratification according to the Henslin Textbook is, “a system in which groups of people are divided into layers according to their relative property, power, and prestige.” This feature is prevalent in all societies, placing people under a pyramid hierarchical setup between those who have much at the top because they are so few and those with a little at the bottom because they are so plentiful. The inequality generated here of course, is the fact that the rich with their property, power, and prestige are able to receive the best of the best in the marketplace, while the poor with their lack or relatively insubstantial property, power, and prestige are unable to get the best the marketplace has to offer, or they need to wait in line, so to speak.
It should be clear that the lifestyle choices of the rich and affluent are more or less going to be extravagant. They will have the best cars, the best homes, and the best that the market can provide them. It should also appear obvious that the poor on the other end of the spectrum would have the opposite problems; this is not to say that they would get the worst of everything, but at the same time the quality of what they have maybe obsolete or just older, not as up to date as the rich. However after reading “The Code of the Streets” by Elijah Anderson which spoke about the two pre-dominant sub-cultures in the Inner City neighborhoods, I came to the awareness that both the rich and the poor act in the same manner usually having the same two predominant subcultures in both classes as well. According to the essay, there are two kinds of families and from it two kinds of sub-cultures emerge within the one socio-economic class, they are “The Decent” families and “The Street” families, of course for the rich perhaps it would be more fitting to give them the title of “The Aristocratic” families, which could be equivalent to “The Street” families of the lower class, in substance, even if certainly not in form.
The Decent families and sub-culture, whether rich or poor that seek to raise their children while living in the awareness themselves, that one ought to live a life of self-control. While the poor are more communal and even Faith based, the more wealthier could raise their kids, while living in the awareness themselves that wealth does not come easily, but should be earned and that one should not necessarily be ungrateful for what they have. The other sub-culture, whether based on “Street” or “Aristocratic” worldviews should not be seen as different in substance, only in form. The Substance they both share, is that they seek to maintain a sense of identity, based on the environment they find themselves in, they both live stressful lives, albeit in different environments but what I believe to be for the same reasons, the respect they get from others is based on their ability to save face.
According to the Henslin Textbook the two perspectives that deal with Social Stratification are those in the Functionalist and Conflict Theorist camps. The views of the Functionalist are based around two understandings. The first is called the, “Davis and Moore’s Explanation” which states that, social stratification occurs because there is a need to fulfill all positions, some of which are less crucial than others, the less crucial positions can be filled by the less qualified and so because these less than important jobs are not given the greater rewards of those jobs, this is true also in the inverse for the more important jobs. The other view is actually a criticism of the “Davis and Moore’s Explanation” called, “Tumin’s Critique of Davis and Moore,” this critique states that, we do not know what positions are more important and do more for the society at large. It also states that, if the previous explanation was true we would live in a meritocracy, or a society ruled by those best able to provide, but it is income that often determines who gets the better education, not merit. The final point is that, if social stratification was so functional it would benefit everyone regardless where they are on this chain, but it is not benefiting everyone therefore it is dysfunctional to some while not to others, this is the inequality. Overall both of these perspectives within the Functionalist sociological perspective both believe that society would work better if those who had the merit to lead in certain positions would fill them, instead of simply those who were able to afford to get into such a position.
Like the Functionalists, there are predominantly two perspectives that cover the Conflict Theorist sociological perspective. The first is called “Mosca’s Argument” which says that Social Stratification occurs because, there will always need to be a leadership in power to organize society, this leadership will inherently create inequalities of power, and those in power will continue to use their power to stay in power, at the expense or even detriment of those not in power. The other perspective is that founded by Karl Marx, which is complete opposition to Functionalist thought, rather than viewing the powerful and rich as “being better” then the poor and weak, Marx makes the case that the only reason why they seem better is because they benefited off the hard labors of those who were under them. In the end attempts were made to make a synthesis of the two sociological perspectives, by sociologist Gerhard Lenski, who made the case that the issue is an issue of surplus and who gets the greater share of that surplus, and a conflict of dominance and submission occurs.
In the end my reaction to the two sociological perspectives is like Marx as complete disgust of the Functionalist perspective, because I know that there could be better people who are much more capable to lead society into peace and prosperity for all, then what we are being given as options. I see the world as Marx see’s the world with regard to the oppression of the working and lower classes, even to an extent the middle class as well. The Rich certainly do not wish to lose their wealth even if they got their wealth largely through the hard work of their wage slaves, it’s not that I have a problem with wealth and the various lifestyle choices that one makes with their affluence, but what I have with is how they secure that wealth. In the end I feel that same call that most Socialist share, “Laborers of the World Unite!” However, I disagree with Karl Marx on the means in which to make this happen.
Karl Marx was an Authoritarian Socialist, I am not. It is my belief that State Power, regardless of whoever owns the State is immoral, for the State is the Institutionalization of Force and it is a monopoly on force as well. I see it as disturbing that we are going to act like little children and fight over who is the morally superior group that will end up holding the metaphorical “gun.” I propose a different way to address the issues of social stratification and inequality: Libertarian Socialism, of the Pierre Proudhon and Bakunin variety. Ultimately, this goes right back to the idea that workers ought to own and control the means of production and that there needs to be a radical decentralization and removal of the hierarchical leadership that comes from on high, to tell everyone below what needs to be done, the best economies will not be the exploitative globalized economy, but localized and regional economies, so it puts the power right back into the hands of the people once again.
What I suggest to curb, social stratification and inequality, also goes right back to even Classical Liberal thought that, an individual has a right to the fruit of their labor, inevitably if the collective labor puts in the majority of their labor into a business firm (say 90% collectively), then they are not entitled to the majority of the fruits of the labor, but they have a right to it! So to go with my example further, 90% of the surplus generated by their 90% collective input should be distributed to them, not to the bosses who do say 10% of the work at best, but even then most of their work is Administrative and the workers on the ground floor can organize themselves and share in the Administrative duties that the management once did, since they are already doing 90% of the work together anyway.
Either way the real inequality is in the Firm, the places where income is produced and in the State, those who can protect the exploiters and can stand to benefit from them as well. Statism and Capitalism go hand in hand, as much of an Oxymoron as it may sound, one can be an Anti-Capitalist Free Marketer (aka Mutualism). Now the issue of how to get there is another question, but it can be done through collectivist anarchist means which are usually violent, rapid, and revolutionary change which I am against, or it can be done through individualist anarchist means which are non-violent and progressive change. Peaceful and progressive change can only be done by making change outside the political system, by means of creating, growing and maintaining institutions based on worker cooperatives & collectives, mutual aid, voluntary organizing, education, and commerce that evades the State Taxation and Regulations which often benefit the very people that they are designed to control. I also support Labor Unions, but only those who do not get their hands dirty in politics, such as the International Workers of the World (IWW). In the end I am an anarchist, but all anarchists are socialists. However, unlike the negative connotation of anarchism, I do not believe in the initiation of force, the only time force ought to be used is in self-defense, but even then it is a choice. I believe the only time the initiation of force is used, is when it’s a bad idea that no one else wants to take part in, seeing that no one wants to take part in another group’s idea, that group either must give up on the idea or force people into it.