Peter Frase wrote a post on class identity, among other things. The piece critiques the familiar claim that class is different from other identity categories like race and gender because the proper leftist aim is to create a classless society, not a merely class-inclusive society.
Frase claims that “class” as used in the “classless society” construction refers to groupings within the economic hierarchy while “class” as used in the “class-inclusive society” construction refers to a cultural category, i.e. people with low-class tastes, dialects, aesthetics, and so on. Those who criticize efforts to fight classism (discrimination against low class people) as missing the point are, in Frase’s view, themselves missing the point. They are equivocating on the word “class” in order to paint class identity as totally different from race and gender, even though it isn’t.
What follows are disconnected remarks on this topic.
I. Anti-Classism Practically Inert
Frase is right in his narrow point about class having a cultural identity dimension, but in America that identity is heavily modified by other cultural inputs like race and geography. There isn’t a Low Class Culture, but a Poor Whites of the South Culture, Poor Blacks of the South Culture, Poor Whites of the Northeast Culture, Poor Asians of the West Coast Culture, and so on. These overlap somewhat: poor/working class whites and blacks in the south seem to eat similar foods. But they also diverge considerably: pro wrestling and country music are primarily low class white phenomena for instance.
The heavily racialized nature of the various low class identities practically guts anti-classism as a coherent or practical project. Practitioners of the identitarian framework tend to glom poor POC (people of color) happenings under the race banner (reasonably so), not the class banner. And then they tend to ignore low-class white identity as an oppressed category altogether. When poor POC things get adequately treated under the race lens and poor white things are ignored (or even made fun of for being white), what is anti-classism actually doing for anyone? Nothing.
Given the reality of left identitarian practice on class identity, it seems totally reasonable to me to talk about “class” in its purely economic meaning.
II. What’s More Important?
Even if it weren’t futile to try to get the left interested in classism, which I suspect it is for the reasons provided above, eradicating economic class (meaning material inequalities and such) is, I think, massively more important than anti-classism stuff. Being materially insecure is generally far more painful than snobby people being snobby about your various tastes.
People who have appointed themselves as having the high class cultural attributes also seem to greatly over-estimate how much people who aren’t like them want to be like them culturally. There is the “breads and roses” part of the left that gets real confused on this front and says they want to bring culture to the poor and working class, as if they don’t already have culture.
Making fun of someone who participates in low class cultural activities only hurts them if they care about your opinion. Some do, but most don’t. In fact, in my experience, they are glad to return the favor and make fun of upper class cultural things. The Opera, for instance, is objectively horrible on the merits, and live theater productions are nothing more than shit movies. Both heaps of cultural trash only survive, as far as I understand it, on the philanthropy of the very rich. They are too terrible to survive the market test, and it’s hilarious that upper class people waste their time going to them.
Additionally, if material inequalities were leveled, it’s not clear that cultural asymmetries between groups would continue to have any class significance. You’d just have different cultural groups, all making fun of one another as inferior. But you wouldn’t be able to identify the various cultural practices as lower class and upper class. Such identification is possible only with an economic class peg that would no longer exist.