Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Class Warfare Inevitable?

While reading a discount copy of "Strange Killings" featuring the the Warren Ellis creation, Sergeant Major William Gravel, I began to wonder about class differences.

You see, Bill Gravel is a magician. But he's a very particular magician, namely a combat magician. His skills to manipulate reality (including warping the path of bullets, visual illusions, and summoning demonic horses) make him an extremely effective killing machine. This allows him to succeed both as a private mercenary and a soldier in Britain's SAS. His abilities are even strong enough to grant him access to two societies of the most powerful magicians in Great Britain, namely the Minor Seven and the Major Seven. But despite his amazing abilities, William Gravel considers himself a blue-collar man. His main goal is to protect his country, accrue enough money to pay for his drinking habit, and kill a few wankers along the way. Modest goals to say the least.

In the first arc of Warren Ellis's ongoing "Gravel", Bill's meager life goals cause him some trouble. He is thrown out of the Minor Seven by the six other members of the group and replaced by a paranormal archaelogist who has a more aristocratic bent. The main reason for removing Gravel from the Minor Seven is very simple and very elitist: he's a peasant. Gravel uses his magical powers for meager ends and doesn't behave as is expected for one of the most powerful magicians in Britain.

Gravel's response? He kills the bastards, one by one. In fact the first arc of "Gravel" is just the systematic murder of the men and women who consider themselves to be Gravel's betters.

The point of this being that there is class warfare in even such a small bizarre subset of the world. If even the Magicians of Great Britain can be torn asunder by social and economic disparity, is there any hope for the rest of world?


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brenatevi said...

Your idea sounds all nice and good... err, bad, except that the class system has been with us for millenia, if not for much longer, and probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Consider that even here in the US, "the Land of Opportunity", where the class system is relatively fluid, there is still elitism going on (think about our current leaders, and how many of them were already millionaires before they decided on public service.)

Or an even better example is the Soviet Union, or any other socialist nation, where there is still a class system, Party Members versus non Party Members.

So, Class Warfare? In my obsessive reading of history (not a historian, just enjoy history) "Class Warfare" only happens when something causes the system to go boom! And even in most of those cases, simple civil war breaks out, with one set of elitist jerks take on another set of elitist jerks, with all of those simple blue collars following them blindly.

But that's just my observation.

Will said...

In a sense, isn't any time "new money" comes on the scene an example of class warfare? If classes were purely rigid then certain families would have a lock on resources and, while resources are hardly evenly divided (even in socialist or communist countries as noted in brenatevi's post), there is a fair bit of fluidity to wealth and class in the western society. Take professional athletes in America who can come from modest means and become very wealthy and be part of the elite of America. I guess what I am saying is that violent class warfare in the west is avoided mostly through the, admittedly somewhat false, concept of upward mobility, which is really peaceful class warfare. In the case of Gravel, it seems like the mistake by the Minor Seven was to force the issue by depriving someone of his success and they reaped what they sowed.

I guess what I am saying is that the upper classes should ensure that the "lower" classes keep a belief in their ability to move up and, when someone does, they should accept that person as part of the upper class or risk true class warfare.

brenatevi said...

Don't guess man! Say it or not say it. :P

OK, with that joking aside, I agree with most of your post, except this last part:

"I guess what I am saying is that the upper classes should ensure that the "lower" classes keep a belief in their ability to move up and, when someone does, they should accept that person as part of the upper class or risk true class warfare."

There are examples of rigidly classed societies that have existed for thousands of years without any chance of social mobility. India is the best example; whatever caste you were born in, you were stuck in, and your children will be born in, and India has been stable for a long time.

If anything, most societies throughout history do NOT feature class mobility, except for the most ambitious, and most frequently literally bloody-minded, individuals.

All in all, class is a state of mind, quite frequently the state of other people's minds. I personally do not think of myself as a "working man," "middle-class," or any other of your puny labels. I'm me, a class of one. Everyone else can label me what they want, and I'll just nod and think they are full of it.

Will said...

@brenatevi, you raise a really interesting question that I am not qualified to answer, are class and caste the same? In the sense I was using "class," it is sort of the Marxist sense of the word that it is defined by economics only, but that is a fairly narrow way of viewing it and the post-industrial revolution view. In the broader sense you are applying the word, class becomes intermingled with societal and religious issues (i.e. feudalism and the divine rights concepts or hinduism and the caste structure). Of course, we could all just agree that Karl Marx was right and class warfare is inevitable because eventually the proleteriat will throw off their shackels ;)

brenatevi said...

@Will I actually have two short, separate responses for now:

1) I'll agree with Marx when my body sleeps in a pinewood box.:P

2) Even if the "Prols" overthrow Capitalism, they'll figure some other, much worse system to enslave themselves with, because my observation is that people love leashes.

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