Every now and then – and more ‘then’ than ‘now’ – public discourse concerns itself with the question of class. (This happened briefly, for example, after the recent, although it doesn’t feel that way, presidential elections in the USA. At the time, some good commentary appeared in the US, and some people even wondered for a moment if Bernie wasn’t as mad as previously thought.)
A recent essay titled ‘In Defence of the Bad, White Working Class’, written by Shannon Burns and published in Meanjin, opens up similar questions for our context here in Australia, although the implications of its judgements and insights remain clearly wide in scope. It discusses racism, multiculturalism, class values, social and political discourse, tribalism, and more.
Burns believes that ‘progressives’ – among whom are the kind of chardonnay socialists who read Meanjin – ‘might benefit from considering lower class points of view, and the experiences that forge them, at least once in a while. They might also find that addressing those sensibilities, instead of ignoring or deriding them, opens up new pathways to mutual understanding and cooperation’.
As a taster, here are three snippets: the first on political discourse, the second on grievance as a sign of middle-class privilege, and the third on politically-correct speech:
The habits of progressive social and political discourse almost seem calculated to alienate and aggravate lower class whites.
Indeed, the willingness to expose your wounds is another sign of privilege. Those for whom injury has a use-value will display their injuries; those for whom woundedness is a survival risk, won’t. As a consequence, middle-class grievances now drown out lower class pain. This is why the wounded lower classes come to embrace conservative discourses that ridicule middle-class anguish. Those who cannot afford to see themselves as disadvantaged are instinctively repulsed by those who harp on about disadvantage.
Consider who determines the standards of so-called politically correct speech. Are they primarily negotiated across classes and social groups, or are they determined from above? If the latter is the case, then it would be senseless to deny that political correctness, as it stands, is a form and expression of elitism. When rules of expression are forced on people who have their own peculiar relationship to speech, and who can reasonably be expected to struggle with the constraints, it is not a fair imposition. Political correctness is hardly the evil that conservative commentators make it out to be, but as a moral burden it is clearly weighted against the lower classes, who are smart enough to recognise when they are being set up to fail.
Read the full essay here.