Thursday, November 15, 2007

American egalitarian vs. hierarchical Victorian society? Tell me what you think

I've been thinking lately about the pros and cons of a Victorian style society with clearly defined social, economic, and political stratifications as opposed to our contemporary American society that promotes a sense (however unrealistic) of egalitarianism(equality) both socially and politically.

In the English Vicotorian era, economic and social classes were clearly distinguishable based on wealth, mannerisms, and education. As the ideals of chivalry and english gentry died along with countless millions and English commercial pre-imminence in the First Great War of the 20th century, American ideals of social, and political egalitarianism began to transform western society. By the end of the second cataclysmic great war of our time, America's social values were as overwhelmingly unopposed as it's military and industrial might.

This was a subtle but profound change in the way that Western Society had operated. For it not only contradicted the history and social conventions of the western world, it also directly contradicted the political philosophies that has made the West such a dominant historical force.

For instance, during the 19th Century in which Western Europe enjoyed the hight of it's global military, technological, and industrial pre-eminence, the dominant philosophies were of Social Darwinism, Laissez-faire, and individualism. While the mid 20th century saw the decline of the first two of these political and economic philosophies, the latter has remained the definining attribute of American society. In addition, the Republican party in particular continues to champion the 19th century ideas of victorian morality, social darwinism, and Laissez-faire economics (even Clinton commonly denounced big government).Thus while the philosophy of American Egalitarianism championed by the founders would have social and economic equality, American's commonly embrace and vote in favor of economic inequality and social stratification.

But American egalitarian ideas are not confined to the realm of economic concerns alone. They are made manifest in a host of societal outlets from fashions to mannerisms. In fashion people cleary display their unspoken desire for social egalitarianism even as their ballots and words contradict these desire. For instance, is it not unusual that the richest among us pay great quantities of money for clothing that is intended to appear tattered and filthy? Is it not ironic that only the most well off can afford to appear destitute by purchasing 300$ faded jeans with holes and wrinkles? Or how bout the irony that the poorest American's have the highest tendancy to be gluttonous and obese while only the richest can aford personal athletic trainers which enables them to remain perpetually fit and healthy, not to mention the scourge of Anorexia that generally affects the more afluent young girls of our society.

In a society in which Social Stratification is clearly defined, people are obligated to act, speak and dress a manner befitting their social position. A person of a noble family is required to present themselves in a gentlemanly(or ladylike) fashion lest they be shunned by their contemporaries. A person who is not of the nobility is forced emulate these behaviours in order to acheive greater economic and social status. This is quite the opposite in our contemporary culture dominated by 20th century American ideals of equaltity of birth. In our culture, a person who presents themselves a something inherently superior to another person (irregardless of that persons education or morality as such things are said to be relative) is considered a snobish pompous jackass, out of touch with the unquestionable principle of our society that all people are of equal status and value.

I have begun to find this idea of inherent social, economic, and political equality repulsive and insulting. Were it not for the fact that it affords all people irregardless of circumstance the oppurtunity to pursue happiness I would disregard it completely. But as it both contradicts and is apart of my economic and social philosophy I am conflicted on what I should beleive.What do you think about our contemporary society. Egalitarianism or Social Stratification? Help me reconcile my thoughts.

1 comment:

Brian Hay said...

I believed that your thinking is flawed, you offer little in teh way of how to choose the will that is most potent. Commonly through history Aristocracy was based on birth or conquest, which is a flawed method of choosing a leader. This idea of a general will is outlined in the philosopher Rousseau's writing and he adequately described as everyone giving up their rights to one another, so everyone worked together to accomplish the general will. The cause of factions would ultimately cause the downfall of Roussaeu's general will. This is a idealistic view of the options laid out to humans, but limiting to only three forms of government would underestimate the human ability to create a different system of government for their own different general will. You can't assume a general will and the mehtods to pick them, because depending on region and neccessities, their "will" will vary. Plus Plato and Aristotle could never figure out how exactly they would find their Philosopher King, because he had to experience everything, but succumb to nothing. Otherwise a very stimulating argument