Privilege, judgement and the English working class

Mar 20, 2021

I come from a working class family and from East London. Getting distance from it for a number of years has driven me to try to really get to grips with how it seems to work, how it affected me and what it left me with. What follows is a bit of a winding, stream of consciousness noting-down of things.

In working class culture, there is a pervasive code of moral virtue - right and wrong. Some examples:

  • People who game the social care system and get "more than they deserve" are wrong, whereas landlords/investors who make enough passive income to survive are right.
  • Illegal immigration is wrong, but legal immigration is right.
  • People who survive off of handouts of some kind are generally less virtuous than those who "pay for themselves".
  • People who work part-time are less virtuous than those who work full-time.
  • People who make mistakes are less virtuous then people who don't make mistakes.
  • People deemed "in charge" of something deserve criticism when they fail in their duty, more than they deserve compassion.
  • People found to be non-virtuous in a given situation should 'submit' to the whims of the more virtuous to make amends, not as a matter of choice, compassion and shared personhood, but as a moral imperative.
  • People should not openly show distaste for the apparent consequences of their lack of virtue, lest they become even less virtuous!
  • Do NOT talk about money; behave like a Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaire.

These are all generalizations, without exception. There are no doubt many individuals who hold some of these feelings but not others. This is supposed to be no more than my own reading of the gestalt I was exposed to.

So I view this whole system as a way to climb to safety out of the metaphorical unvirtuous pit, away from the scroungers and low-wage "McJobs" - the scourge of "good" society.

Relatedly, I often peruse the /r/TheRightCantMeme subreddit. I don't know why exactly; perhaps I find validation in seeing others poke fun at the apparent stupidity and moral degeneracy of some of the culture I grew up in. Ironic, isn't it?

In said subreddit and in my life (particularly since 2020s BLM protests sprayed oxygen on the already ablaze discussion around critical issues that I am nowhere near qualified to speak well to), there are intense clashes between my socioeconomic/class origins, and the progressive/leftist politics I find myself moving closer towards.

My own political shift has been catalysed by becoming a comfortably well-off millennial, by way of becoming a skilled tech worker. The rules of the game changed as I gained enough money to stop feeling the need to run so hard. Once I realised I was riding the bulldozer and no longer likely to be crushed under it.

It's taken a long time to stop seeing many of my schoolmates as morally and/or intellectually deficient - those who largely ended up serving coffee and working checkouts, while I got my head down and raked in £££ (relatively speaking) which I then virtuously saved or spent on medical bills for my partner.

It's all a bit ironic, because I feel like I gamed the system; I picked up Computer Science - a degree which, given the post-school employment rate, has to be one of the easiest ways to security, with arguably little benefit to society or indeed anyone delivered via many such jobs. I also thought I was hot shit and perhaps that was true in some contexts, but at the time there's no way I could for instance, handle physics or mathematics. Not with my attention span and general lack of prowess around things that even "normal people" find easy. In case it's not yet apparent, I was a "high-IQ" and "gifted" child, ready with a plethora of internal excuses for why I didn't appear to do as well as others in basic things. "I was too bored to focus" is a common one.

Anywho, this is a bit too off-topic. On the subject of judgement, the thing that stimulated me to write all this down was the following post (TW: all-lives-matter asshattery).
What stands out to me here is "judging"; with its clear negative implication, why might the creator of this dumb meme feel judged by admitting privilege?

I think it works like this:

  • If you follow the system of virtue detailed above, you are rewarded with freedoms (fair is fair!). This includes freedom from judgement; as we have seen, judgement is relentlessly weaponized against the less-virtuous in this system.
  • An additional freedom afforded to the virtuous is freedom from compulsion - if you're not unfairly taking anything from anyone, you shouldn't have to do anything you don't want to do!
  • The leftist value system I tend to subscribe to implies the privileged should be morally compelled to some degree, to share their privilege. That their "property" isn't simply their own to do what they want with.
  • So one way to make sense of all of this within the established moral framework, is to effectively consider "privileged" a slur.
  • This fits well; there's the implication the privileged person should be compelled to do something because they are so privileged, along with the public "calling out" of the privilege (wealth is shameful remember, so this is injurious).
  • It makes sense that person may feel they are being not only judged, but judged "unfairly".
  • And by whom may this person feel judged? By some leftist who may also advocate giving things like free housing to those who haven't earned it.
  • Handouts are inherently unfair, because doing so implies taking things away from those who have "earned their keep". Even though the latter have done nothing "wrong".

I'm not sure where else to go with all of this, but it feels productive to get some of this off of my chest.

Abrubtly yours,
Lee