In the United States of America as we now experience it, saying you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard is like saying that with a little hard work you can win the lottery–some people will obviously win the lottery, but the cause and effect relationship between winning and hard work appears dubious. There are simply too many people who work hard and still wind up staring at the golden perches of oligarchy from the bottom of the pile to continue to believe that hard work is anything but an ancillary factor in the you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be sweepstakes. The charges of “class warfare” overlooks the most important point, not that the classes are pitted against one another for a bigger slice of the pie, but that there are classes to begin with.
By “classes” I don’t mean the more or less useful signifiers employed by sociologists to help us understand the distribution of wealth; instead, I mean the kinds of structures that operate more in the realm of the determinative, rather than the descriptive. That is to say, neither wealth nor poverty is any longer a class in which one finds oneself due to the happenstance of birth or the vagaries of the job market, but a kind of inescapable trajectory from which escape is increasingly unlikely.
Stephen Marche writes:
If your daddy was rich, you’re gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you’re gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can’t bear to tell themselves isn’t real. It’s the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.
If Marche is right, perhaps political and cultural pundits would do better to describe the current situation, especially as articulated by the Occupiers, as “caste warfare.”