Ok so what can I say about Lithuania? The north and south are ok but the middle is far too populated. The cities to me were generic and depressing. The drivers are crazy, with better roads than Latvia to speed on and there are more of them on the roads. Not my favourite country.
However it has seemed to have stirred something in my brain. I may have not have enjoyed the country and my surroundings but I’m still enjoying myself. Either riding or thinking or just knowing I’m not having to get up every morning and go to work. This is a key thing about my journey, it is an opportunity to take back my autonomy and be in charge of my life.
I’ve recently finished the book “Two cheers for anarchism” by James C Scott and something he argues in the book is that the petty bourgeoisie have been reviled in left wing political discourse but at least they retain their autonomy. They may in some instances find themselves shackled by long hours and a lack of security but the shopkeeper and the smallholder alike own the means of production, which gives some security.
Most of us these days think of ourselves as ‘middle class’ but what does that actually mean? Perhaps we could define it as having gained some elevated status through the ownership of material goods or by attaining a certificate of educational achievement. However on a base level we are no different to the working class, we do not own the means of production. Instead we are interred within offices as structured and stifling as the factory and with tasks as repetitive and unfufillling. We still have no autonomy for our actions and day to day lives. Instead we are sold a meritocratic dream that if we work hard and suceed in a career autonomy will follow. Or failing that our freedom will be granted us on retirement.
Now these arguments worked for my parents generation. Able to afford to own property (eventually) and often gain enough status and experience to set their own terms for work in their fifties and sixties. For my generation and those that follow there is growing evidence that these rewards have been removed. Yet still we are told to play the game and they will be bestowed upon us.
However reality bites. The ever increasing gap between rates of pay and the price of land and housing has firmly put the reward of home ownership out of the grasp of a large chunk of the middle class. An English man’s castle is no longer available to all. We’re told we should be more like our European neighbours where home ownership is more rare until you realise that firstly even the rental market is now increasingly unaffordable and that our European neighbours often rent in urban areas where they work but own property as a family elsewhere e.g. summerhouses.
Yet it’s ok as twenty years of long hours and sacrifice through our twenties and thirties will see us launched into managerial or consulting positions where we enjoy freedom and autonomy as we are valued for our knowledge and experience. As our parents generation retire we will fill their shoes. Now this would make perfect sense and does work for some, however if the average ‘baby boomer’ had 2.4 children and mostly (yes this is a generalisation) only the father worked, this leaves 1.4 children with no shoes to fill. To compound this, endless ‘rationalisation’ by companies and sectors as they realise that they’ve created massive bureaucracies of ‘bullshit jobs‘ reduces the opportunity further.
So what future is there for the middle class? A lifetime of boredom through office work. No autonomy in a world of repeated tasks that can be rationalised as somehow ‘better’ as they’re not physical or on the factory floor. However the engagement and level of skill required in the endless writing and filing of documents, the hours of email and meetings or the numbers swimming across spreadsheets are little different to that required to fit part x to point y on the assembly line.
In my eyes the worst part is that clinging to the idea that they are somehow better and not working class the middle class has created it’s own cage. If the definition I suggested above is that the differential for being middle class is that of owning certain material goods e.g. a car or attaining a particular educational certificate e.g. a degree then this creates the bars to hold the middle class firmly in it’s office chair with no escape. Those bars are built of personal debt, the levels of which are increasing year on year. Owning those status providing goods, the house for a lucky few, the car or the latest electrical do-dad. This ‘keeping up with the joneses’ to maintain a class status inherited at birth outstrips falling real incomes so people drop into debt. We also are encouraged to continue studying in higher education. This is amid increasing tutition fees and costs of living which equally propels us into levels of debt our Parents did not have to deal with.
All of this to maintain the myth we are a more wealthy, better educated portion of society irrespective of the fact in terms of necessary things for living we have nothing to show for it. Most people I know who either did not attend university but instead learnt some form of trade or have become part of the petty bourgeoisie by starting businesses have more autonomy and often in purely monetary terms wealth than those who work in traditional middle class occupations.
So lets put a stake through the heart of this false notion that enslaves us. The middle class is dead. The UK is a nation of landless peasants, we do not own the means of production and so are forced to sell our labour cheaply in the factory or the office. Until we identify how personally we can (possibly fleetingly) break out of those environments then we will never experience autonomy in our lives and true freedom.