On Being “Mixed Class”
August 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
Everything seems to be about money and class in my mind lately. I think I’ve entered another chapter of working out my ethics on a major subject in life. During college, it was food ethics. The few years after, it was sexual ethics. Then it became creativity. Now it is shifting to money, work, class. Everything seems to lead back there, and I can feel the same foggy, straining sense of trying to work out some clarity of my context and beliefs.
Valerie recently discovered the term “mixed class” someone online was using to apply to their life experiences. She mentioned it to me, because she knew I would relate to it. I recently spent time with a friends family, the sort of upper middle class people who do not think they are rich but talk casually about the various properties they own. I could not get over the fact that they thought and talked about money constantly.
I had only experienced that degrees of having everything seen through the lens of money in times of extreme poverty. When money is a problem you cannot solve to get your basic needs met, you think about it all the time. Every single decision, each food you buy, each item you purchase, means scarcity later. And there are times, when you have to spend anyways, because there is no flow of money and the scarcity is guaranteed. Money dominates your life. It oppresses you.
When I have been relieved from those times, like when my father finally won his disability suit, and when I finally got a job after months of underemployment that had me down to my last $50 outside of rent and utilities that I could spend on food for the foreseeable future, my constant thoughts of money cleared up like the foggy mind-state of a fever passing away. It’s hard even to remember accurately afterwards.
I think I am forever marked by my experiences of poverty. In the back of my mind and often in the forefront, I am not convinced that I will not face poverty again and not convinced that next time there will be a reprieve. I have probably five times more food stocked than anyone I know, because it gives me a tangible sense of food security.
Food insecurity causes a hunger than cannot be satiated. Even with a belly so full it is uncomfortable, there is still a gnawing ache, from a body that has not had a sufficient supply of what it needs to feel whole and well and a mind that is searching to solve a problem it cannot and trying to cope with that reality. The only people I have ever known who lived with empty fridges and shelves without an underlying anxiety that wrecked their mood and sense of safety in the world had enough money to buy prepared food anytime they wanted.
I’m fortunate that I have not faced the same degree of housing insecurity. And I am lucky that I always knew I could use my high school grade record and discipline, which in a way is taught and a privilege itself, to get myself into college, away from home, and through school.
Now I’m trying to sort out what to do with my mixed class self. There is literally a dual perspective, often conflicting in my own mind. My sense of what I can accomplish is paradoxical. My faith in the system in which I live is deeply jaded, which I am actually quite grateful for, but certainly is deeply uncomfortable.
Right now, I’m just starting to form the questions. How do I articulate and comprehend the economic system I live in, how it affects me, how I should live in it? How do I ethically engage with money? What efforts should I or should I not put in to gaining access to it? When do I have an excess? Where should it go? What are basic human rights, the privileges everyone should have? What is unjust privilege, which everyone should divest of?