Perhaps the ‘middle class’ was a fluke, but it was nonetheless a crucial layer in the flowering of America so-to-speak. Families could afford the leisure of fishing, vacation homes, guilty pleasures, and, more importantly, reading. Books were cheap and they augmented leisure time with ‘cerebral’ time. The middle class also served as intermediary between the ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ classes. They could, through voting and political expression, give voice to both classes’ interests and moderate extreme liberal and conservative impulses.
George Carlin jokes aside, we still need this layer as we transition to fast-shifting patterns in social and economic structures and dynamics driven by technologies largely beyond our control.
But we now see a bifurcation of classes into the disenfranchised and the empowered. It’s not a matter of “the poor are lazy” nor the “rich are parasites” – rather that political powers are imbalanced and distorted, undermining crucial elements of a civilization’s survival and maturation.
This new structure won’t be healthy for either side – even the empowered class will suffer: a human can only sustain so much power until figurative and literal boredom, mania, depression, and addictions set in. Eventually, the house of cards burns down and everybody loses. A flattened society of broken adults is left. A national state-of-affairs like that always leads to mass child abuse.
Much of this bifurcation is unseen. Perhaps malls are giving us a visual taste of what’s to come.
Another place to witness the bifurcation? Bars. There was a time when a blue collar worker driving a beat up Oldsmobile and a CEO driving a brand new midlife crisis chick-magnet could pull up to a hole in the wall, order rounds, trade war stories, and leave shaking hands. It was American equality in its most practical sense, even if momentary. Those times are going away. They were nice. America had wonderful moments. I hope it’s not too late.