This ship is sinking. As First Class passengers head to the lifeboats, we—most of the second class passengers reading this article–have time for a little chat about class.
We don’t talk much about class in the USA yet it has the most profound impact on our entire life. Interesting, right? It’s a very complicated topic I will describe in the simplest of terms. This discussion will be brief, I am sure the call for Second Class passengers to lifeboats will be coming any moment now.
Class is often described as a system of ordering society whereby people are divided into sets based on perceived social or economic status. First question: Who decided that “ordering” society by putting people in boxes — based on access to resources — was a good idea? (My hunch, and it’s only a wild guess, is that the First Class passengers dreamed this entire status thing up.)
One of the consequences of the pandemic and economic free fall is that people are getting a crash course in what it means to be a first, second or third class passenger on the ship called USA.
First Class Passengers
First class passengers control the media you consume, the tech you use, the banks that own your home, the folks heading up the universities and medical research centers, the labs that create the pills you pop, and the financial backers of elected officials.
What impact do you think the pandemic and economic free fall have had on this elite group?
Given the beautiful bubble most live in, a world of luxury and comfort where concepts of time and space are almost meaningless, the First Class passengers may not even know a virus is lurking among the riff-raff. This is because their world of private chefs, butlers, groundskeepers, maids, drivers, pool boys, masseurs, horse whisperers, tutors and nannies live within the walls of their guarded compounds.
The wealth of the First Class, and control of information, culture and government, is passed down generation after generation. It’s a tightly knit club across all fifty states (and all 200+ countries). The policies being formed on the national, state and local levels are developed with the blessing of the First Class passengers. They decide, through action or benign neglect, if you or your neighbors across town get unemployment benefits, subsidized job training or timely access to medical care in a well-resourced hospital.
Second Class Passengers
Here we have, in the Second Class section, the directors and managers of all the institutions and businesses in your city and state. Most Second Class passengers are bought into the rules the First Class passengers created, are college educated and have managed to create lives of material abundance. By global standards, these folks live like gods. Jobs with health insurance and all sorts of benefits. A big home. Cars. Technology. Vacations. Spa days and pedicures. Dinners out. What’s interesting is that many of the Second Class passengers (also called the middle class) feel that they are barely making it. Given the propaganda (consume! buy! charge!) fed to this class since birth, there can never be enough things to purchase. Ever. As they sang in the Broadway musical Rent, “You are what you own.”
This was all before the pandemic.
Those paying attention (they are a well-educated bunch) have started to realize that their jobs and lifestyles could disappear tomorrow. What to do about that? Second Class passengers are in a unique position during this era of colliding crises. They do have the power to question policies that hurt, rather than help, vulnerable residents. They do know how to mobilize and confront lawmakers. They have the technology to create powerful local networks and be change agents. They understand concepts like benign neglect, social injustice, health disparities and historical trauma. (Of course, understanding is not the same as moving into action.)
Up until now, most of the Second Class passengers have been politically inactive. Yes, they do press “like” on Facebook for progressive ideas, read blogs like Medium, and donate to thoughtful candidates. But as for committing 10 hours a week to a local initiative that is ensuring everyone has access to the ten vital services for surviving and thriving—it’s not really something they have ever considered.
That may change when they realize there are no lifeboats left. We will see how bad it really needs to get (no jobs, no benefits, no help, food shortages, increased lawlessness, rising pandemic fatality rates) before the middle class finally and loudly scream, “Enough is enough!”
Third Class Passengers
These are the folks who actually make society work and a place of inspiration and joy (for the First and Second Class passengers). Our food, homes, cars, parks, tech components, clothes and entire hospitality industry only exist because of the hard work of the Third Class passengers. They work in factories and outside, often in the worst of conditions with little pay and iffy benefits. Their jobs come and go. Without jobs, they can’t afford services for survival like health care, stable housing and secure food. They are at the mercy of what are called “Market Forces” that determine if jobs exist or not.
What’s true is that other societies, far more civilized than the USA with a humanistic form of capitalism, have governments that ensure all ticket holders (1st, 2nd, 3rd class passengers) have access to the vital services for surviving and thriving regardless of employment status. Classes exist in these other societies yet there is a social commitment to ensure that everyone—100%— gets a seat in a lifeboat.
As the pandemic and economic free fall continue, it’s the third class passengers that drown first. In the movie Titanic, ship officers actually locked the exits so the Third Class couldn’t get to the lifeboats. (Thank you James Cameron, Leonardo and Kate for that instructive side story.)
Our little chat about class
So many questions to ponder as the good ship USA goes down. They said this country that had everything was unsinkable and yet, here we are. Have you charted your way to the lifeboat station yet? First Class passengers are still being loaded into the lifeboats now (as we near millions dead from COVID-19, massive joblessness and unprecedented levels of police brutality and racism).
The First Class passengers have a lovely message for you. Be patient, sit in your cabin and await further instructions.
*The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.
Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? The Plan Forward awaits you here: www.tenvitalservices.org