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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Classism, Social Capital and the Family

I'll start with a personal anecdote:

Often when I get presents from other women, they come in cute little baskets and contain strange little items...most of which there is no apparent purpose for. These baskets do not come with a list of their contents. They do not come with directions. Being one who does not re-gift or "take things back" I often keep the baskets and occasionally look through their contents until I figure out a use for all the items there contained. I'm almost certain that the uses I proscribe to these items are not their intended purpose, because that'd be even more bizarre than the items themselves.

See, these items fall under the category: spa. Spa is not something that fits within my personal culture. I've never experienced "spa," though I know it exists. The closest I get to "spa" consists of my husband, myself and a bottle of olive oil, preferably with oil of essence added. Don't get me wrong. That's nice! That is a part of my personal culture which I fully enjoy. However, it doesn't bring me any closer to understanding the contents of those cute little baskets.

Now, the question I pose is this: Does the above anecdote classify me?

Context:
Eve over at Feminist Mormon Housewives wrote a post delving into the topic of classism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Now, since my readers are predominantly non-Mormons, I will adjust the topic slightly, to get your points of view.

However, I do invite you to read the post if you'd like. Including all the comments, it's kind of a long read, but there are a lot of interesting ideas in there that can be applied much more generally than a single Church. But, for the sake of the discussion I would like to have here at Haz_Pas (yes, that is my nick name for my blog, whether you like it or not) I would like to lift one particular quote from Eve's discussion.

Rosalynde said:

As you suggest (but has been lost in the comments, I think), "trailer-trashiness" is not so much lack of capital (that is, money) as it is a lack of social capital, a set of relationships, attitudes, and information that, almost imperceptibly, allows people to make social systems and structures work for them--and often gets misidentified, I think, as "drive" or "intelligence". Capital and social capital are often correlated, of course, but not always, and presently it's only the latter that is transmitted generationally in any appreciable way.


I find this concept of "social capital" to be intriguing. It's something I had never really thought of, but it makes sense.

More personal examples:

1) I'm an honest person. Honest to a fault sometimes. I've quit more than one job, because I was just too honest to do what my employers were asking me to do. If I'm understanding it right, integrity would be an aspect of "social capital." Now, I've been told that this is part of the reason I'm poor: I have too much integrity to make money. If that's true, then so be it. This bit of my personal "social capital" is one I'm not willing to give up, and I consider it a personal goal of mine to prove that business ethics doesn't have to be an oxymoron.

2) Cleaniless is next to godliness, but I'm nowhere close to being a god. My house is not the cleanest I've ever seen. Not even close. It's also not the messiest I've ever seen, though it's closer to that than the other. I admit it. Sometimes my carpet crunches. Disposable plastic cups get scattered on the floor, because I have not picked them up, my children do not throw them away, and most of our non-disposable cups are dirty. This isn't a perpetual state of affairs, but it happens frequently. Basically, I like things clean, but if I'm going to clean I really clean and that usually takes more time and more effort than I have to dispose to such a low priority. This is also an aspect of my "social capital," one which is more difficult to justify, but another one I feel no real compunction to change.

3) I am an avid self-learner. Yes, I'm going to college now, which means I'm no longer merely a self-learner, and yes, I kicked butt in high school, taking all college classes because the high school had no curriculum that was challenging enough to keep me from tears of boredom, but... It's more than that. I read a lot. Besides blogs, I read a lot of books, magazines and the like. I'm not a newshound. My reading tends to be broader than mere news. But, the point is, I'm not ignorant and I do not embrace ignorance. I read, I think, and I delve into topics (like "social capital") to try and understand them. That is another aspect of my own "social capital." One which I am not willing to set aside.

For many Americans, the (upper) middle-class lifestyle is what we crave. If we don't have it, we're trying to get it. If we do have it, we're trying to keep it. Some are admittedly above it, and striving up there where they are to either keep what they've got or get more. But, somehow, I doubt those guys are visiting my blog. So, we'll skip them. And, admittedly, there are those who don't have it, but who don't want it either. Some of those may be visiting my blog, and kudos to you! Me, I want it, but with this whole "social capital" thing we're talking about, I'm not sure I want all of it.

In terms of "social capital," what does it mean to be middle-class? Are clothes and style an important aspect of middle-classhood? Is education? What about cleanliness? What do you have to have, in terms of "social capital," to be comfortable being a member of the middle-class in terms of your finances?

4 Comments:

At 5/24/2006 12:35 PM, Blogger Lisa Renee said...

I'm former trailer trash (lol) and darn proud of it because at least I owned my trailer.

However, I grew up in an upper middle class home. Income level wise now we are not even close to middle class on a financial aspect but I don't think there is a correlation between finances and social capital.

I've lived that lifestyle, the whole upper middle class and above country club set and I was miserable. Granted, the upside was not having to worry about money but there are more important things than money.

Are there times I regret not marrying the guy that my family wanted me to that would have "taken care of me". Sure once in a while when I'm worried about how I'm going to juggle things to keep utilities on. But personal ethics is important to me and most of those who I have met that had so much more gave so little as well as did some things that I wasn't comfortable with.

I used to want to have a clean house, yet I discovered I'm the only one who does the majority of the work so now I don't bother as much as I used to. It is better now that the kids are older and do pick up after themselves a bit more than they used to.

And...I hate those stupid little baskets too. While I do enjoy one particular brand of bubble bath and mineral type salt bath stuff at times with one bathroom the chances of actually being able to enjoy that stuff is not often. I typically give them to the girls to take in to school when they are creating gift baskets for those who have even less than us during the holidays. Hoping that for one of them it will give them a few moments of enjoyment.

:-)

 
At 5/24/2006 7:14 PM, Anonymous And Another Thing said...

I think Henny Yougman once said, "What good is happiness; it can't buy you money." What was once a joke is actually rather serious to a lot of people, unfortunately.

When I lived in Ireland I was at first aghast at all the people living in row housing, no cars, and confined to a city life. But, by the time I had been there a year or so I saw a richness of life that I did not encounter here. When someone was ill or there was a trajedy, people were not alone; there were scores of people who just showed up. Those people had, by and large, a lot of social capital.

However, they did not suffer poverty in the sense that we have here. Because there is this striving for a lifestyle that does not really exist, a lot of unhappiness is sown. I don't know if I can translate this properly, but in Ireland you never ask someone what they 'are.' The question is confusing, because what you do to earn money is not what makes you a person in that culture.

It must be borne in mind that an increasing number of Americans live in mobile homes. It has to do with the shrinking of the middle class but that is not really your question here. But one's 'class' is more pertaining to one's mentality rather than financial assets.

As regards the baskets, I'd advise you to fill them with any discount wrenches or screwdrivers and give them to your man at Christmas. We're suckers for that sort of thing. :)

 
At 5/24/2006 10:10 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

To me, happiness is more important than money. And love is more important than happiness. In fact, I specifically chose love over money when I married my husband. I didn't quite know what I was getting into, after all, I'd never known my parent's not to have enough money for food or the like, but I do not regret my choice either.

In the end, as per the "social capital" thing, I do wonder if you get to the point where being comfortable, you forget what it was like to want and thus lose compassion for those who have less than you or look down on them. Is that process inevitable? If not, how does one circumvent it?

I want the comfort of financial security for my family. Living paycheck to paycheck sucks. However, living my life with those I love does not. That I cherish. Whether the house is clean and neatly decorated, or whether you have to wonder if there's a little Tasmanian devil hidden somewhere in my house...does it really matter how that "classes" us if there's an abundance of love?

 
At 5/24/2006 10:13 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Thank you for that idea, Michael. I just might do that! Though this year I suspect I'll make sure there's some drill bits too. I mean, how was I to know the thing would snap in half while trying to drill a hole into a 90+ year old stud...and what kind of wood did they use anyway!?!

 

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