To be clear, I grew up within a solid middle class family. My father was a lawyer who spent most of his career as a workers’ compensation attorney for hard working, often blue collar clients. My mother was a high school educated real estate paralegal–with a few college credits under her belt–who worked her tail off for over 20 years for attorneys until she went out on her own to form a title company. My parents worked their butts off. I know, my brother and I were latchkey kids in the 80’s and 90’s, born and raised in the DC suburbs. Never rich, sometimes well off, sometimes not so well off and at the mercy of market forces we could not control ourselves. We make good Marx ideology candidates. Keep reading.
I spent the first 15 years of my post-public high school life working and earning four degrees: an associates, a bachelors, a Juris Doctor, and, finally, a Master of Laws. I also have over $300,000 in student loan debt. Yes, it is blood curdling. So, you bet your ass, I paid attention in class and worked my tail off too.
I emerged ready and willing to hit the ground running, only to find that my education no longer holds the same market value it did when I was sold the idea of more degrees. I had educated myself out of the market entirely.
After all that hard work, with crippling student loans to pay back, and not one response to a single resume in 6 months (not one in dozens of applications), to say I was livid would be an understatement. What has become the ultimate equalizer now? Technology. In my case, likely a poorly designed job applicant algorithm.
So, I did what any over-educated and underemployed person would do, I sat and thought, tried to figure out where it all went wrong. I spent months thinking I did something wrong, that I used poor judgment, that I was wrong somehow. I played through all scenarios and kept landing on the same question mark: ‘wait, so when did life become fair enough so that everyone gets a trophy for just showing up?’
No. You dear sweet idealistic people brought up with privilege and self-esteem, life is not fair. If you disagree, then I point you to the ISIS crisis. Do you think they or their victims find life fair? But I digress.
For now, I point my critical finger at Karl Marx and I begin my analysis on him. If you don’t know who he is, I’m sure you are well-versed in Wikipedia, though I urge you to spend time to review multiple credible sources. What’s a credible source? If you are college educated, shame on your teachers or shame on you for not paying attention in class that day. If you are high school educated or otherwise, it isn’t typically found on a standardized exam and I would be happy to explain.
Marx believed socialism and the idea of man returning to his true human status and not being reduced by the alienating effects of classism were a good thing. It looks good, sounds good–must be good? No. It’s a singular perspective that resonates with a particular ideology that has two distinct classes: the entitlement classes.
Entitlement exists within the upper and lower classes. The solid middle class tends to work their tails off to compete with one another to survive. ‘Survive’ is the operative word. This is why lucrative and productive economies tend to rely on a strong middle class.
For Marx, the idea was that socialism and later communism would be political states in which man no longer grappled with the feeling of alienation by classes. The problem: Marx (like many other radical idealists) was brought up in an upper middle class family, likely with a little help from the folks, educated and then theoretically touting the cry of the self-esteemed: ‘oh, but everyone should have a trophy!’
Applause! Marx, here is your trophy. Marx worked for his trophy and he was also a short-sighted optimist, aka, an idealist. What’s an idealist? Look it up. I will give you a hint: they tend to be considered impractical.
This is the entitlement perspective. It is a winning concept for those that grew up with a stable level of privilege (upper middle class) and the least advantaged and least educated lower classes. The mentality behind it is, arguably, learned helplessness.
Marx, though providing a valuable perspective of his upper middle class entitlement utopia, he didn’t give a thorough treatment of the disparity and sense of alienation those that earn their credentials with merit (and limited resources) would feel when suddenly their hard work and effort became diluted by those less deserving of a trophy for lack of true merit. This creates a tension that poor sweet Marx, the optimist, failed to fully grasp.
What happens when the highly-educated, but under-privileged hard workers are pushed below the level of 2 or 3rd tier trophy recipients?
Well, that is a good question. For any of you out there that feel this way, what do you think?
Missing American Dream cartoon illustrated by Ben Sargent (original source (dead link): http://www.uclick.com/client/nyt/bs/, available at http://www.politicalirony.com/2011/12/12/american-dreamers/.
© Mary Strayhorne ALL RIGHTS RESERVED