Mastering A Class: Priming to Pump the Middle Class into Enslavement

¿The Slave-Master Dialectic of HegelL at Work?

The middle class for the United States—and probably for many other western nations—is often cited as being specially targeted by various policy measures to take away its wealth and social standing. While I don’t disagree that this is one of the major ongoing trends, the complaints and protests often seem to come from a place of entitlement and are only mildly less distasteful than when the upper classes bemoan “their” wealth being targeted. What isn’t focused on in the context of the 21st century war against the middle class are all the perks of being served by a service economy. The servants serving the middle class are both the array of technological conveniences and the lower classes themselves (often comprised of the children of the middle classes). Such a scenario goes a long way in showing complicity on the part of the middle class in their own demise, and build the appropriate “scaffolding” structure to allow their future enslaving. Let me delineate and lean on Hegel a bit:

The master of a slave over time will atrophy in body and mind because he is being spoiled by the benefits of his powerful position, and eventually in his utter weakness can be overthrown by a bold slave who all the while has been getting stronger and more knowledgeable during the years of hard and unjust toil. Now, this is a summary from a lecture I heard on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, but I think that this lesson can be generalized and ordered differentlyZ to explain some of the tendencies at play in our current western situation. If someone is neither a slave nor a master (the traditional middle class, arguably), but a middling sort with many peers whom together form a mutual defense against enslavement, how might they nonetheless be turned in to slaves by those who would see them in bondage? One solution is overwhelming violence to coerce them in to submission, but this is not always feasible or desired. This may come to be used, but if so it will be in tandem with a longer term priming that even the future masters might not even be entirely conscious of. Namely, the middle class is brought up to master status with regards to all the comforts that would seduce them in to ceding their modest power gains; this new master status is vacuous of real power that might be afforded a king who could demand one-of-a-kind treatment, but there are enough pleasant perks (debt funded) that can hoodwink a middle classer in to conceiving of themselves as a master. Delusions such as post-scarcity can infect their judgement to thinking they have landed successfully over the classic notion of shortage, and are masters without need of slaves; but as such this is both fanciful and misguided. In reality, the system leaves the consumers of consumer capitalism thinking they are capitalists, when really they are being made ripe for consumption/cannibalization.

We (of the middle class) have a view of a large and ornate beautiful backyard, we are just failing to notice that we are confined in a dog run. Many of us think our efforts have earned us our perches of sovereignty: some are paid to toil over meaningless abstract piles of data, or are given paper or bank account digits in return for managing some sector of the illogical supply chain, or in very real terms heighten the means by which the oligarchs can have an order of magnitude more power over others. But really, in both our leisure and our toil, we are fenced out from attaining actual important skills both of body and of mind that would serve us to defend ourselves from oppressors. Thus the middle class has been brought back in to the fold—a failing master ripe for overthrow and possibly new enslavement—it’s just up to the real masters to decide when and whether to seal the envelope. Perhaps worse than enslavement, they might decide we are junk mail to be sent to the shredder…

L I rarely condone any of Hegel’s work (rare are the times I’ve read any of it), and usually I condemn it on the grounds of its being profoundly wrong, not unlike Marx’s critique that Hegel got the whole world inverted in his thought. However, I’ve always enjoyed ruminating on one of the master-slave dialectic lessons that the slave ultimately overthrows the master because the slave gets stronger and the master atrophies (though I believe such a fate is not teleological determined as Hegel implied and Marx believed). Thematically, but in a reverse direction, I think something similar is happening to a whole class of people right now, namely the middle class…

Z Putting it in terms of this idiom might more clearly convey it: putting the cart before the horse doesn’t necessarily conjure a horse, but the cart won’t go to waste either—if need be humans will be dragged in to the horse collar of their own invention.

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