America in the 21st Century is fast becoming a classless society. Whodda thunk? Well, it certainly started before the election of Barack Obama, and it isn’t Socialism. We are becoming a society without class–i.e. lacking grace or excellence, sophistication, refinement or quality. Decency doesn’t seem to be able to compete in the marketplace. More of everything is expected except restraint or refinement or deliberation.
Lack of class is not a new phenomenon, of course. Throughout history, education was not only considered the means to refined thought, speech and action, but an opportunity to greater possibilities in life. In the USA, education has always been a means to economic betterment as well as personal enrichment. In the last generation, faced with serious problems in education at all levels, attempts to improve schools have included more standardized tests and homework; fewer breaks, arts, phys ed, or literature. Meanwhile, we have seen a decline in actual college readiness, and with the media explosion over the last generation, a change in discourse that values uneducated speech as “real” (i.e. more compelling), and the cult of celebrity that makes unaccomplished and ordinary folks seemingly important. The accomplishment becomes getting on the air, or followed on social media, liked on Facebook or re-tweeted. The content is practically irrelevant, and the lack of class seems to inspire reaction and attention, and feeds the beast which becomes a brand. That’s the marketplace. The opportunities are in the noise created, not in refined work or ideas or accomplishment.
We see this in entertainment. We also see the news as entertainment-reality show. Appealing to the lowest common denominator has mass appeal (and thus ad revenue). While sports have always been entertainment, we have made sport of politics with little to no possibility for governing. Governing is not entertainment, although clearly the current class in Congress seems to be more interested in politics as a blood sport rather than governance. There have always been boors in politics, and attention seekers, thugs and bullies. In this century, they have dominated discourse and the media.
This week the spotlight has shown on Sarah Palin and Richie Incognito (who is anything but). They epitomize our bullying, uneducated, unrefined, media driven classless society. Of course, most of us do not associate with such boors, but they claim too much attention while inadvertently revealing their lack of awareness, and forcing their domination over others. They seek to intimidate and relish their (repeated) aggressive speech/behavior. Bullies tend to be arrogant and narcissistic, and typically tend to have trouble resolving problems. The opposite of bullying and problem solving requires thought, time, energy, planning and coordination with others while being willing to risk some power. These are the elements of education and refined thought and behavior.
I suspect that even our media-driven classless society will soon recalibrate. Some of the excesses of our classlessness will expire. New forms of education are evolving and gaining traction as we correct what hasn’t worked, and seek to meet current and future diverse needs. Any real change will take a long time, and economics tends to be the driving force. To be a first class economy and culture requires time,education, thought, energy, innovation, planning, coordination, dignity, and a willingness to restrain some power. Class dismissed? Not for those who want to –and can– do better.