Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Vanishing point

Kevin, I suspect if there were an accepted definition that answered your question, we would also have an answer to mine...Anyone can think of numerous ways of defining class, but the very numerosity suggests that none of them has any controlling interest in the market of general discourse in the U.S. I.e., if one analyzes how the word is used, the implicit definitions in various contexts, no single understanding will emerge. This could be tentatively termed the Furball Theory of American Social Insight - we actually have none whatsoever. When Tom Brokaw addresses the "audience" of his evening news, the class of all those watching is not a class, but a highly nuanced demographic segment reflected in the eye of the Peacock. The fractal zipcoding of marketeers offers shifting psychologistic criteria that say nothing about economic cause or structure. What you point to - the binding of "class" to legacy or social origin - is diffused and displaced in the U.S. in ways that probably should not be mistaken for some triumph of capitalism. But this gives us no purchase on how to sensibly talk about class here. In some way that is difficult to pinpoint, I suspect Americans experience class differentiation, but through a filter of such an elaborate system of lies as to not realize that this is what they are experiencing. I'm afraid this isn't much help.

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