January 28 Globe & Mail article by Margaret Wente entitled: "Have we become a Caste Society?" Keeping in mind what Marx meant by (1) class; (2) superstructure & (3) ideology
Do you think Wente is right? Why or why not?
My understanding of the caste-system is that once born into a particular caste, there is nothing an individual can do to improve his or her place in that society. The only choice would be to leave for a country that did not support a caste-system. I agree with pohnpei397 (and I love to hear the story of his grandfather). Where in any caste-based society would a man who was born into a farming family be able to get a law degree and rise above the social "strata" to which he was born?
A "caste" society implies something far more rigid and inflexible than what we have in the U. S. People can still rise from relatively humble beginnings to enormous wealth (think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg). It's a lot harder to lose enormous wealth than to earn it, but there is still much more social mobility in the U. S. than the term "caste society" would suggest. In some ways, in benefits some political parties that social castes to some extent exist.
With respect to post #2, I don't think Marx ignored these things (human nature, etc.) he just located their origins in the relationship of actors to the means of production, and he dismissed their formal expression (in religion, politics, etc.) as superstructural. This is all far too reductionist for me, which I think was the point brett was making, but Marx did take these things into account, indeed he saw them as components of class-consciousness.
I do not believe that we have a caste system in America. America is one of the few nations in the world where people can make a better live for themselves. Example of this are all over the place. For example, think of how many immigrants made it. Of course, this is hard to achieve, but it is possible. Furthermore, I do believe that this is getting harder as the economy is getting more difficult. However, when we compare America to other nations, it is hard to say that there is a chaste system in America.
I agree the class is a major issue in the US. We see politicians arguing about taxes of the different levels of SES. Therefore, while I can see the justifications, I cannot agree that America is a caste system (yet).
Perhaps caste is a bit hyperbolic; but unquestionably, America is becoming something of a rigid class system. There is some social and economic mobility, as was pointed out above; yet it is much less possible for one to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation now than it was fifty years ago. Stable families do appear to be more common at the upper end of the social scale, as crime and addiction are more common at the lower end. America was long touted as the "land of opportunity." It still is, but those opportunities are more limited by class than ever before.
I'm not sure I agree with Brett here. It really seems like a caste society is more rigid than what we have and what we have had here in the US. For example, my maternal grandfather was born on a homestead in Northern Idaho to a family that was trying to make it farming, selling a few logs here and there, etc. He was born in 1911. He got a law degree and became a professor. It's hard to imagine that happening in a truly caste-based society.
Not arguing that we don't have inequality. Just saying that it's not as rigid as I think of when I hear "caste."
Now, bringing in Murray's new book, as Wente does, is interesting. We have seen things like the Marriage Project's study of families that seems to imply that Murray is right. It shows that stable marriages are becoming a thing of the middle (and up) classes. That might imply that there are coming to be real social differences that go along with class differences. However, I'm still not sure that these are deep enough and impereable enough to make us a caste society.
What about the idea that not only are we a caste society, but that we always have been. It is hard to find a society in history that hasn't been, at least in the economic sense, but also in the ideological one. America flirted briefly with limited measures of income redistribution and a greatly expanded middle class, but without major changes to its economic system, still finds the wealth and income disparities large and increasing. Ideologically, the political system greatly favors the wealthy over the poor. These are not unique to America, of course.
Marx the idealist tried to deconstruct these realities and address their root causes, but could not do so in a way that did not ignore human nature, economic behavior, and the violence that would be necessary to forcibly alter those realities.