Back to Marie Antoinette

Is society dividing in two? And if so, where?

It is a commonplace of modern social thought that western societies are dividing into two opposite castes: those who are doing well (and whose children will do well) and those who are being left behind (and whose children will be left even further behind). This thought is common both to left and right: they differ mainly in the supposed causes of the division, the significance they accord to it and the correctives, if any, to be applied to it.

I am generally rather sceptical of alleged divisions into two of societies as complex as ours. First, no one agrees as to where the fracture actually is. Between the richest and the poorest, the most and the least educated, the healthiest and the unhealthiest, there are many gradations, imperceptible when viewed close-up. Nor does the alleged division into two allow for social mobility or for the possibility that a young person currently at the bottom of the pile will slowly mount that pile, even if he does not ascend to the top of it.

There are, moreover, an infinite number of ways of dividing society into two, for example those who try to do so and those who don’t, those with flat feet and those without, and so on ad infinitum. The significance of the social dichotomies is not a natural fact but has to pass through the human mind in order to attain any importance. No society is divided but thinking divides it so.

Nevertheless, one cannot help but reflect on the consequences of the rise in property prices by comparison with salaries, for example. It means that many of those without expectations of inheritance are unlikely ever to own their own house (and in France I recently read that 70 per cent of those who inherit more than 50,000 euros are themselves aged more than 70). Whether it is desirable for everyone to own a house is another question: I have changed my opinion somewhat on that question.

Be that as it may, on the Ligne13 of the Paris Métro recently on the way to St Denis, I could not but help observe the inhabitants of a different social world entirely different and separate from the one that I inhabit. I was almost the only European in the carriage; and I have rarely seen so many faces (packed together) exhausted by ill-paid work. I had to pull myself together to remind myself that attempts to close social divisions are often worse than the social divisions themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


3 Comments on Back to Marie Antoinette

  1. I was on the same metro line in September last year, heading to St Denis. I was also the only white face in the carriage. Kneeling in the standing area was a husband and wife (I assume) sharing and gnawing on a raw piece of low cut beef. No one seemed interested in their actions. I was gob smacked and couldn’t stop taking peeks.

  2. It is a fact generally unrecognised in the parallel universe that is PC world, that the different races – no, they are no pt a ‘social construct’ – have different levels of mean IQ.

    IQ levels are closely correlated with socio economic status. Further, about 70% of IQ is heritable.

    Three key results of this follow in a racially mixed society :

    1. Socio economic status becomes associated with racial groups. In other words class acquires a racial dimension.

    2. Class becomes hereditary.

    3. Attempts to close the gap between these racial groups on the basis that they are identical in terms of ability etc are largely wasted money and effort,
    4. Frustration, resentment and jealousy can develop among those at the bottom of the socio economic heap, self identifying in racial and also sometimes in religious terms, for those in the upper registers of society, also identified in these terms.

    This can result in serious civil strife. This is particularly the case if those at the bottom are told hat their position is the result, not of lack of ability, but of discrimination / oppression.

    This us what lies at the root of the riots involving car burnings etc which are becoming a regular feature of the banlieus in France.