attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

Who? What, me?

 It seems Privilege is a loaded word.

When my American friends talk class and social level, they're not talking the same language as me.  It may be that the American Victorians copied many of the upper class affectations of the British, but they weren't and couldn't be the same thing.  Your country is built on the idea that aristocracy is of no value, and the mutation of your national psyche has elevated the idea that anyone can become anything, including a leading light of society.  This is not a concept that flies well in the class-bound structure of my homeland.

Do not confuse my use of the word class to mean elegance, manners, education, intelligence, or worth of any kind other than monetary.  Money is the great key that opens all doors.  Whatever you do once you have that money, you will be sucked up to by others.  Some may disapprove of your shenanigans, but if you keep making vast sums of money, your star will never fade.

Unfortunately (or maybe not), most people are not smart enough to hang on to their money for long.  In England, this problem was solved by the idea that your family tree was more imortant than your current bank statement, but this doesn't work in the American "classless" society, except in enclaves where everyone agrees that it matters.  As soon as that person moves from that enclave, who they knew or were descended from doesn't matter, no matter how hard they try to make it seem important (imagine a descendant of the Mayflower pilgrims trying to persuade a Hollywood producer of their importance, and you'll see what I'm getting at).

Some would say that the basis of class in the US is fame - after all, how many people do you know of who are famous simply for being obscenely rich?  But how many disappear without a trace if they lose that money?  It comes back to the money.  Britney Spears may be considered a white trash cheetos-snorking disaster, but as long as she's rich, she'll have far more influence on society than I ever will, and ultimately, being of a higher level means more influence.  Money is power.  In the UK, breeding is power.  It opens doors, gets you invites to great parties, allows you to marry Princes and Dukes.  In the US, money stands in for being the second cousin of the Marchioness of Queensbury.

The thing is, you guys have it better.  Anyone can become rich, and while this means that the people at the top change with alarming frequency, and you can't quite believe who's up there some of the time, it at least means you'll always have someone new to look at.  We just get lots of pictures of Prince Charles.  This is a good thing.  Yes, some of those rich people wouldn't know good taste if it bit them on the bum, but there's always a chance you'll strike it rich, and then you can educate them.

Now, privilege, that's harder.  Privilege, as the originators of that little meme say, is basically something unearned that you really should appreciate and not take for granted, you ungrateful little creatures (I'm paraphrasing).  I'm privileged, there are no excuses for that.  I had it easy compared to lots of you.  But if I keep that in mind and don't take it for granted, I can appreciate when that privilege can be extended to help others - when rich people talk about things that need to be done for the betterment of everyone, then governments listen.  I think the point is to learn how to use that privilege and social status for the greater good.

I don't think money or bloodline have value in themselves - if there's one thing my mother taught me, it's that hard work is always of value, and manners, compassion, and care matter far more than who one's grandfather ruled in the southern half of India in 1920 (yes, my grandfather was an evil Raj oppressor; what price privilege now?).  I have stuffed envelopes, picked up cigarette butts, and run statistical analyses, and would be hard pressed to tell you which had more value.  I know what they paid, and I know what level society rates them at, but their real value? 

(I'd say the envelopes - I dealt with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of insurance checks.)

I also think that what you start out as matters so much less than what you turn into.  And I think that's a philosophy worth disemminating.  Kind of like you Americans did with your crazy ideas about reaching the moon and becoming anything you want to be.

Clearly a lesson some of our most overprivileged still need to learn.  Let's steal their money. 
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