Monday, January 5, 2015

ascending to third-world status

According to a snippet of a TV show I saw last night, the attitude towards and backlash against the class divide in England began even before the advent of World War I.

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 provided evidence that those below decks fared sometimes disastrously worse than those above. 92% of the 168 men in second class perished compared to 68% of the 175 in first class. The disparity had an impact that added to other simmering social conditions.

The advent of electricity and the telephone and the typewriter and demand for improved labor conditions all chipped away at a society in which the privileged were assured and numbed by their privilege and those serving them were getting no better than they deserved.

As the 'guns of August' in 1914 inched closer, those to-the-manor-born went forward with all the regalia that had accompanied them heretofore -- coming out parties, tailors, tails at dinner time, summer retreats ... you know, the "Downton Abbey" stuff. Those "below stairs" knew their place and kept to it, though a sense of discontent simmered with the industrial changes.

My mother once said that "the greatest change in the 20th century was the loss of servants." I think she had a point and to the extent that she did, anyone might imagine that those accustomed to servants would most-emphatically not-be-amused.

As much as anything, the war and technology collapsed the world of the manor house. But that doesn't mean the world of the manor, however revised and tawdry, doesn't have its latter-day exponents.
The smart-home concept is known in tech circles as the Internet of Things. Current iterations primarily include our ability to control gadgets such as lights and security alarms or view data remotely through a smartphone app. At the International CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers will promote more devices and functionality. Some gadgets will be able to talk directly with one another, not just to an app. The four-day show opens to the public Tuesday.
Acquisitiveness, with its American spin, is the new aristocracy. The aristocracy of Edwardian England did have a sense of noblesse oblige, meaning that those in the catbird seat were compelled by 'decency' to look out for those less fortunate. And they did ... in much the same way a good horseman would look after his horses.

Aristocracy in its acquisitive format generally lacks any sense of moral compulsion or compass. It's enough that I have mine and it's up to you to see yourself up the ladder to "first class." Acquisitiveness does however create the kind of third-world disparities making themselves felt in the United States. In its pell-mell rush to third-world status, there are signs of 'hope' that serve to underscore extant disparities in the U.S.

In Detroit, an economically-distressed community, there is a move afoot to convert cast-off ship containers into homes to repopulate a blighted landscape.
Come spring, the house-in-progress will be delivered to Detroit'sNorth End neighborhood and secured on a foundation where a blighted home once stood. After finishing touches and final inspections, the 40-foot-long former container will feature 320 square feet of living space with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen, and will serve as home base for a university-student caretakers of a neighborhood farm and agricultural research activities.
The story does not say there will be apps-galore to ease the burden of this agrarian class, but there is a sense that those in the catbird seat are grudgingly willing to do something about the ragamuffins below decks. 320 square feet is about the right size for servants' quarters, and if they can grow their own food, it's a win-win situation for the new -- if less discreetly rapacious -- Edwardians... they get servants who do not require too much maintenance.

One difference between the earlier aristocracy and today's accumulators is that those in the catbird seat have learned to embrace, rather than shy from, war. Perpetual war -- topped off with the whipped cream and cherry of "terrorism" -- means that those below decks are kept in check if not in thrall: World War I holds no horror when the horror is kept simmering by those in the catbird seat. The only difficulty with this scenario -- or at least I imagine it -- is that the horror, when it arises, will take place not on some distant shore, but rather in our own third-world back yard.

Do they have an app for that?


  1. I imagine the want ads still include calls for "domestics" specialized as chef, au pair, maid/housekeeper, gardener/grounds keeper, personal/private secretary, private chauffeur (perhaps a hired car service more often), gentleman's gentleman/valet, bodyguard/security service (again contractually hired services as often as not... excepting perhaps rap and hiphop stars), and the celebrity entourage not so much hired to do so but receiving benefit of living expenses covered for whatever services are informally managed. That last one not found in the classifieds so much as picked up along the way. The modern lexicon is not without a suggestion of continuing servitude.

  2. I've had thoughts regarding the issue of ongoing wars being financial boons for those quiet purveyors of weaponry. When the story broke that the VA was a failed institution some financial support had to be thrown that way because the PR could destroy support for those in power.

    A major financial drain in modern warfare is the cost of putting guys back together who were blown up and psychologically damaged by the horrors of war. So it's a financial expedient to bring the boys home and suppress the bleed of that cost. Of course, guys in Montana flying drones by proxy are subject to PTSD apparently. But therapy and medications are cheaper than surgeries, physical therapy and prosthetics among other ongoing supports.

    So the cost of high tech/air war is lower in terms of human devastation for which we're financially liable. (Never mind the devastation's for which we're morally liable.) But these savings can now be applied to buying the higher tech weaponry so profitable to giant corporations. Guns and ammunition may be cheap to manufacture, but the global competition for those products coming from China among other nations have driven their prices down. But the highest of tech weaponry appear to remain unmatched in america. And while the market for such is restricted to our own, only lesser versions sold abroad, the ongoing war on terror is now to be won strictly with these weapons, the tax payer being the customer.