Beware of degraded cell phones | Financial Times
With adjectives declassébut there is a noun opposite to toviste or parvenu? Has anyone ever been called nouveau pauvre?
In 2004, writer Christopher Booker identified “seven fundamental conspiracies” that recur in all of the world’s narrative cultures. Of these, wealth is one of the most common. The inverse social journey didn’t even make the list. Thomas Mann charts the decline of a large family in BuddenbrooksSo did Anton Chekhov in Cherry Garden, but each TV series is more than a century old. In Wall Street, Charlie Sheen’s character passes one or two people going in the other direction as he climbs the cliff face of America’s distribution of wealth. Their stories cannot be told.
If this downward mobile blind spot was just a loss to a bookshelf, stage or screen, I would leave the subject alone. But I fear the deposit is higher than that. Look around, and you’ll see a world shaped by fiercely demoted people.
The most persuasive explanation for the rage of today’s counterculture is “elite overproduction”. With so many graduates with so few jobs, the number of youth underemployed is clear but increasing year by year. Their absolute position in society remains enviable. Besides the parents’ lives, though, or their own expectations, the downgrade is obvious. All that eloquent anger must have something to do with it. Something, naturally enough to be a theory of structured society, is rigged.
History corrupting us with the right things equates to the same resentment. Brexit did not attract 52% of the vote but just a peasant uprising. Skilled but increasingly undercut workers were part of the alliance. Medium-sized towns also have better days. Follow the chain of dismissals upwards and you’ll find the type of Brit that is valued more than even super-luxury London, as well as Eton and Roedean, by the world’s wealthy. I will not forget (very regretful, to be fair) the Leaver I met, who complained that Chelsea are now Chinese. She said it, of course, because she said it, from her native Italy.
None of it is meant to be mocked. In fact, if there’s one goal here, it’s the romantic and dim Marxist belief that it’s the bad guys who cause major social rifts. More commonly, it was those who had come down to the world without touching anything like its floor. The deprived middle class, inflated for prosperity, has torn the Weimar Republic apart, not just or even mainly the beggars and those lining the soup kitchens. Resignation can be as painful as a complete absence. Or at least those who suffer from it are more likely to have the means to avenge it.
What is the current crisis if not a case study at the national rather than individual level? Russia is richer than most countries and stronger than all but a few. But nothing returns to its life as one pole of the bipolar world. And unlike post-imperialist Britain and France, it has no consolation in handing over a superpower it can aspire to patronize as an offshoot of its own culture.
And it’s still the “worst” versus “most dangerous” equation, because it makes intuitive sense. Even after 9/11, with its privileged Saudi author, there existed a surprisingly persistent notion of terrorism as aiding the world’s oppressed. It contains no denial from the man himself, who cites the shoes of the United States of America in his homeland and the lost territories of his religion (“the tragedy of Andalucía”) among his complaints. Geopolitically, it is relative loss, not absolute position, that must be tracked.
Because it is in the individual. It helps if you have, like I don’t, direct knowledge of the wrong type of cell. I was better off when I was younger, then I was better off than my parents of the same age. Any social trajectories that don’t fit, upward, and consistently take effort for me to understand. This even includes the stumbles of those who end up in the profession their parents coveted.
Without that effort, however, the real threat to civilized order cannot be understood. Pity them or not, it’s up to you, but fear what the fall might bring them down.
Email Janan at the address firstname.lastname@example.org
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