Although it’s probably not a new thing, in recent years I’ve noticed a trend in the working-class being treated as more of a lifestyle than a classification based on one’s relation to the means to production. This is particularly common in the more anarchist influenced circles, but I’ve seen liberals, Maoists, and others do it as well.
The conversion of being a worker, a proletarian, poor, or simply a broke commoner into a lifestyle completely ignores the traditional definition of the working-class by Marxism and the broader “left.” Instead of a worker or poor person being someone who doesn’t own the means of production, doesn’t manage the means of production, and doesn’t get paid the full value of their labor, it’s now something any edgy, left-leaning activist can apply to themselves to differentiate themselves from “yuppies” and “suburbans” despite the realities of both economics and their own personal lives and finances. For the sake of this op-ed, I want to stress that these leftists define a yuppie as any young person with a halfway decent job who lives in the city. They don’t follow the traditional/dictionary definition of someone who is making enough money to be considered rich or almost rich (affluent), young, and lives in the city.
I knew someone who was fairly well-known in the Industrial Workers of the World who one day decided to engage in some yuppie-bashing on Facebook. The only problem was that he is a yuppie himself. He is a young, professional journalist living in an urban area. Or my friend who dislikes suburbanites even though his family could afford to live there if they wanted.
During my activist days, I met so many people who had the opportunity and resources available to them to learn a trade or go to college, but they refused to do so. Again, they weren’t from poor families and they definitely had the option to further their education or skills. Instead, they opted to live as minimum-wage workers. It appears as if so many people on the left believe that the shittier job they have, the more morally superior they are. It’s reminds me of David Rovics’ song “I’m a Better Anarchist Than You.”
I know another guy who pretty much never had any sort of job from the time I met him. He instead prefers to hitchhike, sneak aboard trains, and panhandle for money (from actual proletarians). He honestly insisted a panhandler can make as much money as a “yuppie” does at a job in less time, but anyone who is legitimately down on their luck knows that isn’t true. Oh, and he also hates suburbanites despite being from the suburbs (but he won’t admit that). By the way, this guy isn’t an anarchist at all.
In short, being a proletarian, especially one who is absolutely poor, is fetishized on the left to the point that people will ignore the economic and financial realities of their lives just to fit in and feel smug, while others seem to care more about having “prole cred” than paying their rent.
Let’s look at the cold, hard economic realities. Firstly, rich people, the real enemy, such as landlords, politicians, and business owners are either raising rent or demolishing working-class housing in the cities in order to make more money. Why rent to poor folks when you can fix the apartments up a bit and rent to people in the lower middle-class? Why run cheap apartments with roaches when you can build businesses or sports stadiums?
The “yuppies” are just a symptom of the larger issue, and “yuppies” (as defined by left activists, not the dictionary) are generally regular people trying to get by in life. Yes, they make more money than a cook at McDonald’s. Yes, many yuppies are just the traditional petty-bourgeois class with a 2016 twist, but most of them aren’t. They might have white collar jobs, but most of them don’t own or manage any business and they barely make enough to have modest savings after paying back their enormous student loan debts. Yes, yes, I know there are those who are quite rich and work in the tech industry (more in line with the dictionary definition), but most “yuppies” as defined by the left are school teachers, office drones, and other boring stuff. Just don’t tell the more posh leftists that, they might breakdown, lose their minds, and become nihilists (another posh identity).
With the systematic attack on and oppression of young people, which much of the lifestylist and identitarian left refuses to acknowledge, is it really productive to tear down and demonize Millennials who were lucky enough to get decent paying jobs? Fighting ageism isn’t trendy, cool, or posh now so I guess it’s OK.
As far as the suburbs go, where do you think the traditional residents of working-class urban areas are going to live after gentrification? The moon? No, they’re going to live in the suburbs! 26 percent of people living in concentrated poverty in America’s largest metro areas live in the suburbs. And those who aren’t poor are, as with “yuppies,” probably not managers, owners, or rich in any way. I’ve met bartenders, maintenance staff, tradesmen, unemployed people, truck drivers, soldiers, teachers, people who have to work multiple jobs to get by, and even drug dealers in the suburbs.
Some lifestylists seem to categorize people as evil “yuppies” and dreaded suburbanites based not on their income or job description, but rather on their own lifestyle. As a someone told me recently, “it’s about your appearance.” While this is at least understandable, it again brings to the foreground all that is pretentious and smug in the left of 2016. People are branded as reactionary for listening to this or that big-time rock band instead of local punk rock bands. People are labeled as evil “yuppies” and suburbanites for taking advantage of the fact that they can afford clothes from a chain retailer and don’t need to go to the thrift store. Whether or not the trendy lifestylists want to acknowledge it, the average worker or poor person would prefer to dress better than these non-bathing lifestyle activists. People on welfare look cleaner and wear nicer clothes than your average dumpster-diving anarchist or self-righteous Maoist. People are demonized for going to ball games or concerts, as if the sections of the working-class they fetishize don’t enjoy such things. While it’s true that, for example, sporting events in a city can cause trouble for the workers who live there, the lifestylists only pretend to care about that. It’s more about hating those who are different than them than aiding the workers in their struggle. It has all the solidarity of a feud between high school cliques.
And if you think for even a second I’m speaking only of the white working-class, you’re wrong. Workers of color are just the same, and they aren’t any more in line with your lifestyle than anyone else. If you honestly think they are, then you clearly haven’t been listening or paying attention to them.
The left would do well to realize that the real enemy isn’t determined by lack of “prole cred,” but by their relation to the means of production. It’s 2016, it’s the Information/Computer Age, not the Industrial Age of the early to mid Twentieth Century. Times have changed, job descriptions have changed, pay has changed (even declined), but the class system is still the class system. The proletariat isn’t a life choice, it’s a cold, hard economic reality that is way more diverse in job description, race, age, gender, and so forth than any leftist sect with a few token women or p.o.c.
Your lifestylism is fucking boring.
A normal worker.