My parents were working class. My father, born in rural Northern Ireland in 1905, finished school aged 14, then worked at a number of jobs acquiring skills as he went, until he finally went to night classes and passed his radio exams and became a Radio Officer in the Merchant Navy. By which stage he could do plumbing, brick laying, tiling, plastering, wiring, and some mechanics. Basically he was a mechanical and electrical genius. If it was a machine or used electricity he could fix it.
My mother’s background was mixed. Her father was a brick-layer, and had also been a policeman. But her mother came from an upper middle class family, where the daughters had been disinherited, and therefore de-statused by their brothers, a not uncommon occurrence in the 19th century. She was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, coldly analytic, never overlooking a detail. She became a Head Librarian.
I was raised in the countryside. We had few relatives, as my mother’s family lived in Australia and my father, marrying late, many of his relatives had already died. So I was raised in near social isolation, and grew up with no awareness of social class. Nor was I taught to have any. My parents view was life, and your status, was what you made it. Get educated, work hard, and employers recognising your merit would promote you. A naive view that I entirely believed. But a view I soon found was not shared by the peasant (anthropological term) culture, that I lived in. Not having any recognition of social class distinctions I accepted people as I found them. I liked people who were intelligent and creative, who were interested in doing things and thinking things. And this was the basis on which I accorded other people respect. But peasant society’s do not work like that. People are accorded respect according to their birth, the status of their parents. You are supposed to grovel to the higher-ups and you can treat as you like anyone you perceive as being lower-status to yourself. If you are perceived as lower rank, but have higher ability, you will be shunned and treated as an “upstart”, someone with views ” above their station”. So, I didn’t get on with Irish culture, to say the least. I had arrived at the conclusion that the entire human race were witless ass-holes by the age of 30, when I moved to England for work, and discovered everyone was not the same.
I had rejected the peasant model of rigid social class stratification, but I still held the view that social status was something that you worked for and could achieve. I still lacked any sense of class identity both in myself and others. You know the expression “colour blind”. Well, I was class blind. I still accepted people as I found them, without prejudice but having a preference for associating with intelligent, creative and active people. I had had an excellent Northern Irish education – alongwith the Scots, the Nth Irish working class placed a high value on education, and I supposed now I was living somewhere where I could find work, it would be onwards and upwards from hereon in.
Perhaps it does work that way for men. But I soon found out working in offices that just because I had no awareness, nor interest in anyone else’s supposed social class, only being concerned with getting the job done in as harmonious way as possible, for other people social class was a major preoccupation. A bit like race, but without the colour. And apparently, both my parents being honest working people all their lives, well-read and well- educated, meant that I was somehow inferior to the daughters of the shop assistant’s, whose qualifications were inferior to mine, that I was working with. It soon became clear that my role in the office setting, on the lowest grade, was to be the office donkey. That neither my qualifications nor hard-work were ever going to gain me a promotion over the middle-class wives. When I found other well-qualified, experienced working class women, running offices virtually on their own, on the point of retirement, and still on the lowest clerical grade, I realised I was wasting my time. I moved out of office work to become a postman, with a large increase in pay, a pension, good holidays, a fair work distribution, and after dealing with neurotic, obsessed, narrow-minded bitchy women, dealing with sexism from the men was child’s play.
But I digress. I was starting to learn about social class. That no-one is going to support meritocracy, except for themselves. That everyone’s fall-back position when faced with anyone with higher ability but lower status, is to pull rank. And the barriers go up alongwith all the ammunition, that we, the middle class are the sole owners of law-abiding ness, morality, sanity, decency, and a work ethic, and if you are lower class and present with qualifications and good work you must be a fraud, as you belong to the work-shy, skiving, criminal classes, who need to be kept out of middle-class venues for middle class protection.
As an aside I have to add that it is more than a tad irritating being treated as a criminal by the society you live in when you are not one. As I am not a criminal I would never lift my hand against these people, but after a lifetime of gratuitous abuse if, or when, they all go down in flames, I will not feel one iota of concern. Humanity has lost my good will.
I was slow to learn, but classism was not a one-off invention for my benefit. I have been surrounded by honest, hard-working, law-abiding, enterprising, working class people my entire life. They are the antithesis of the criminal classes. Everything they have, they worked hard for. And those that succeeded mainly did so by avoiding social structures controlled by the middle classes. They either were promoted on the basis of merit in working-class settings, either factory work or became self-employed and ran their own businesses. And I am talking about success by any standards. People reaching top management positions, people building up businesses worth millions.
So much is self-evident. What is not obvious is what I discovered last year after being subjected to bizarre behaviour from a relative. Totally baffled, I enquired on Wiki what the behaviour meant and they told me it was “gaslighting” a term I had never heard of. When I researched “gaslighting” I found ” gang stalking” which described the kind of events that had been happening to me since attending Ulster University ( Coleraine campus) in the 1970s, and ever since.
And a startling pattern became clear. Working class and ethnic people associated with me – people who had made good, mainly by building up businesses so they had substantial assets, had been stripped of their resources – conned or swindled out of their savings, houses or businesses.
The only conclusion I can arrive at is meritocracy is a sham to disguise the fact that our class system is in fact a rigid caste system, where those in charge fully embrace the peasant culture ideology that people must be confined to the social class they were born to and any who dare to lift themselves from the gutter are fair game to have the proceeds of their work stripped from them and pushed back into the gutter where they belong. That the ruling class view everyone not ruling class as slaves, who are expected to work for nothing, accept any and every abuse, and all that belongs to us, belongs to them, that they can help themselves to at their leisure.