Dividing The Human Cake

There are, we might say, two kinds of people: those who divide humanity into two classes and those who do not. Joking apart, the bipartite division seems to be hardwired into us. That is no doubt because, with apologies to the minority of intersexuals, we are a dimorphic species. Among some animals the difference between the sexes is quite spectacular, while in others it is difficult at least for us to perceive. As animals go, we ourselves are sufficiently dimorphic to persuade ourselves that the twofold division is a universal model. And so we often apply it to race, making that intrinsically pseudo-scientific idea even sillier than usual by positing a fundamental opposition of “white” versus the others. We do the same thing with heterosexual versus homosexual, although in reality things are a good deal more complicated than that. Despite the attractions of a three-class theory of political economy, we frequently operate with only two – the ruling class contra the rest, or progressive versus reactionary. The latter is very often all too transparently a rewriting of the Saved Versus the Damned.

If we are going to divide the human pizza into only two segments, I have my own suggestion: at right-angles to gender, race, sexual orientation and class (we need more spatial dimensions than three, but never mind) I propose slicing by Menschen versus Arseholes. Well, whoever said it had to be a 50-50 cut? The others aren’t either.

Not all the tripartite political divisions are upper-middle-lower. I read recently that Johann Gottfried Herder operated with the bourgeoisie, a minority of intellectuals and the rabble. That seems, as well as an overlap, to be ignoring the ruling class altogether, but it does have the virtue of putting the concept of “rabble” back on the political map, where it had not been since the Marxist term of “lumpenproletariat” was created and then ignored. It may not be an economic class as much as a psychopathology, but unthinking social aggression is a very real phenomenon. Now, we know of cases where social rage was directed against the ruling class, the Jacquerie and other revolts, but it may also be directed downwards, against those even more unfortunate that oneself. Insofar as current politics are all about the Sixty-Two (or One Per Cent, if you fail to realise just how concentrated wealth has now become) using this kind of socially-aggressive rabble against well-meaning bourgeois intellectuals, Herder’s scheme is more relevant than ever.

Thanks to the knee-jerk, ahistorical and very tired recycling of the word fascist” for those who suck upwards and kick downwards, we have failed to develop a new term. It needs to be globally applicable, culturally universal, distinct from previous terms of opprobrium for those seen as poor and uncultured (e.g., redneck, oik), and indeed disconnected from the means of production altogether. It is very tempting to reuse the “Mensch versus Arsehole” vocabulary, but for the sake of a perhaps specious neutrality, we ought to create something new out of whole cloth. Both chauvinism and quisling derive from the surnames of infamous people; the choice of what to call the socially-aggressive ignoramus has never been greater.

The whatever-we-call-him can be a farmhand, a warehouseman, a burger-flipper, a bus driver, a nursing auxiliary, a teacher, a spreadsheet-jockey, a bureaucrat, a software engineer, a lawyer or a professor – but we nevertheless know him when we see him, or at least after a beer or two. Given one or two of his expostulations, rather like a fictional FBI profiler we generally know what else he thinks, if that is the right word, or who else he hates so as quite unjustifiably to enhance his self-esteem.

Posted on July 4, 2013 at 14:15 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

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