"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

On Becoming A Class-Traitor

As the end of the year approaches and various spreadsheets are compiled, I am increasingly forced to face the uncomfortable reality that unless something changes I will soon cease to be legitimately bohemian in economic terms. Affluence awaits. While I'm sure this is the sort of thing that parents love, and people less fortunate hate to hear me bitch about, it actually does provoke a significant amount of anxiety for me. Hence the blogging.

Clearly, I don't buy into conventional American moires about what's polite to discuss, and I frequently carry on about religion, politics, sex, drugs, and all sorts of other topics that people tend to avoid in polite company. However, aside from the details of my own romantic life, money is probably the thing I'm most trepidatious talking about. Seems like a good way to give offense and/or invite ridicule. Nevertheless, it's on my mind and I feel like getting it out in the open, so here goes.

If I Had Money I'd Buy A New BMX
I grew up, for a number of reasons, with a certain amount of classism, although I wasn't too conscious of this until I went to NYU. There was always some vague resentment towards "rich kids" and a general anti-capitalist attitude (some of which still persists), but it wasn't until I got up-close to the children of idle wealth that I realized how much it set me off.

Part of this is justifiably utilitarian -- waste is bad and a lot of people are unreasonably extravagant -- but there's a difference between inequality/decadence and being financially successful (c.f. Warren Buffet). I've come to see Classism as no different at heart than any other -ism: a prejudice; something to be overcome.

Luckily for me, over the years I've met some really awesome people who also happen to be in that tippy-top income bracket, and it's helped me transcend most of my initial negativity towards wealth. I tend to expect more from these people, but all things considered I think that's fair, and the important thing is that I'm no longer intrinsically biased or negative towards people who happen to have money

The Road To Douchebagdom Is Paved With Rationalizations
However, the prospect of leaving the lower classes myself puts me back at square one. It feeds into the overall identity issue I have -- where do I fit in? what is my purpose? -- and gives fuel to the crisis of meaning. Posessing an actual "net worth" seems weird and scary. What's next?

Self-loathing seems to be a recurring theme these days, and this feels at least as psychologically complex as living in the thick of North Brooklyn while still hating on hipsters. I made out ok with that though, and I'm pretty sure I can keep my soul and self-respect even if I do start having real money to spend. My own decadence is already cause for concern, and moving on from simple luxuries like Laphroaig will be tricky, but I think I'm up to the challenge.

The truly pressing concern about changing socioeconomic class status is the socio part. Overall I'm finding the gradual and seemingly inexorable spread of dear social relations out across the country and world -- what Bill calls "continental drift" -- making me sad, and I worry that this gulf of experience will only grow wider and harder to bridge if class becomes a factor.

For instance, while on the one hand I really enjoy not worrying about how I'm going to pay for rent and food -- ascend the pyramid, bitches! -- and I also really enjoy being able to buy beers and shit, I also find it hard to relate to other people's financial problems, both in scale and in attitude. $500 doesn't mean what it used to, and more critically there's a shift that's taken place such that I no longer look at money as an oppressive force with power over me or the world. To the extent that solidarity in the face of this is something people bond over -- and I think it is -- I'm on the outs, and I fear that's only going to be more and more the case.

For a boy already feeling semi-isolated and estranged from his peers, losing this connection is scary. It gives rise to semi-rational responses like bailing on my job or engaging in radical strategies of divestment and bumdom.

Believe In The Divinity Of Yr Forward Momentum
It seems unlikely that I'll stay poor though, barring a concerted effort or significant calamity. Much as I believe in holy poverty, I bend towards the seductively pragmatic notion that I can do more with more. That and I also want to have a family, and it helps to not be a bum when trying to raise children.

The obvious course of action is to invest in the people and things I believe in, and use the leverage of my newfound financial clout to help address the problems of continental drift. At a minimum, I can afford to travel and see people more often, and beyond that there should be lots of opportunities to put ducats to work helping to connect and integrate my world, rather than letting class-difference drive it apart.

I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I think it has its long-term manifestation in real-estate...

In the shorter term this figures in to my current quest for self-love (embrace your earning power, Koenig) and it probably means I should start getting a little more intentional and precise about how I spend my cashola. For the past year while I've been earning a good salary and enjoying cheap rent, it's been all about paying down debts and not worrying how much the groceries cost. Getting out in front of this stuff seems to demand a bit more rigor, and probably also means finding ways to justify having pure fun.


Josh, you got to know deep down somewhere that the movement can trust you with money.

And it IS a long walk through the city in the rain. Fo real.

As per holy poverty, it's useful to remember that Francis himself never condemned wealth in itself. He was frequently found at rich men's houses, drinking fine wine. It's worth noting that Jesus was as suspect for hanging out with tax-collectors as he was for hanging out with lepers.

Defending your soul from the accidents afforded by money is one problem, and using one's resources to create a more just world is another. Both problems are more usefully addressed beyond the confines of unintentional poverty. And also, you and Uncle Ben are both right. With great power comes great responsibility. Imagine a minute if he said just stay at home, Peter.

Forgiveness is essential because drunken, blind, misplaced guilt is a deadly block on the way to redemption. In many ways, it is crippling and useless.

Which ain't to say I don't relate. A friend of mine makes two grand a week playing in Wicked. Going out to breakfast or to bars with him has Changed A Little.

I sure hope all that ties together.

Yeah, man, it's the trust issue, and the expectation/uncle-ben thing the other Sam flagged too, and that things have indeed "Changed A Little." I suppose I'm getting stuffy enough to be nervous about that.

Well, as you say good sir, this here blog is about honesty and heightening the conversation, so if some of this pisses you off, well, it probably should. I don't mean it to offend, just to point out a few things.

Mr. Josh, you and I have gone rounds about this before and you may or may not believe it, but based on previous conversations and the post above you have no freaking clue what the lower class even is. Your current economic leap might be termed as being from lower-middle to upper-middle, at the highest delta y (thats the up-down one, right?). I don't mean this to belittle your current social situation shock - which is still completely valid.

Beyond that, you answer your own 'fears' right in the post:

Luckily for me, over the years I’ve met some really awesome people who also happen to be in that tippy-top income bracket, and it’s helped me transcend most of my initial negativity towards wealth. I tend to expect more from these people,

I personally don't expect 'more' from anyone, but if you do, how can you do less than hold yourself to those same criteria you expect from your affluent friends. You talk the talk, so now start walking the walk.

Of course, more than a little of this is my opinion of the starving-artist bohemian ideal. You were starving by choice, many other people are just starving. It is implicitly an impossibility to claim membership in an economic class that you are voluntarily a part of - it can't be done, both on the subject-object level and on an economic level. Rather, in my opinion, you were part of a non-economic social sub-class that identified itself by its lifestyle choices. In everyone choosing to be there, no one was really oppressed by anyone.

I knew you freshman year and you were already flexing these computer muscles, but chose the bohemian lifestyle. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with that, but don't pose like you were poor-by-oppression, you just weren't. Even without knowing your background I know this, because nobody looks back on that with potential regret or fear of losing something, at most nostalgia, and sadness they couldn't bring more people with them. I was right with you too - dirt broke working electrician calls, and crappy downtown theater but I had choices, ergo I don't claim to identify with the millions who really are lower class.

Now, I like to think that you make that distinction of poor-by-oppresion, vs poor-by-choice and assume your readership understands this, but its just not clear in what I'm reading above. You are dead on in discussing it as an -ism, it has bothered me for years that it is a taboo topic, which you chimed in on once http://treslervania.com/node/90.

I truly hope this post was a issue of semantics, and that I misunderstood, in which case I'll apologize for nearly every word of this post. Otherwise, its offensive and reeks of the same -ism it references. You say in the opening paragragh - "people less fortunate hate to hear me bitch about" - Why is it just the less fortunate who can hate to hear you bitch about this?

xoxo - Sam
P.S. sorry if this makes the anxiety worse, an underlying point to it is that you have nothing to be anxious about, you're like someone who gets nervous when they leave stores without buying something, for fear people will think him a shoplifter. Trust yourself and it matters not what you make.

Clearly since you and I met at a fantastically expensive private educational institution located in the world capital of finance and culture, we're not impoverished or oppressed in any morally meaningful way. My use of "class-trator" in the title is tongue in cheek. This post is all about navel-gazing and not about what's wrong with the world. Indeed, we've always been loaded to the gills with what the sociologists call cultural capital, which is really what's important. Chances. Choices. Potential.

I think you read my use of the term "oppression" and got it inverted: I'm not suggesting I was ever cash-strapped because of oppression. I'm saying that being broke is oppressive in and of itself. It colors ever aspect of your life, and even if you wound up there because of the choices you made -- and not because the universe dealt you a shit hand -- it's still no fun.

Further, solidarity in the face of this is something that people bond over, just as people with excess income bond around mortgage payments and the like. I'm used to the former, and I find the latter to be distasteful, probably because of lingering prejudice. All this is bound up in one's identity and relationships.

Which is why the idea of being "poor by choice" is more complex than you make it out to be, I think. Life is all about choices, for sure: I could have gone back and lived with my mom instead of trying to maintain an existence in NYC, or maybe I could have gone to a different school and studied more financially-viable things in the first place, but that would really mean I'd be a different person than I am.

To put it another way, I don't feel it's as though drawing a healthy paycheck was an option I passed up or deferred until now -- like there was some job I could always have gotten or something. In real terms without making the choices I'd made, including being broke a lot, I wouldn't have made the connections and had the experiences that got me to be where I am. Not having any money was part and parcel with trying really hard to be the best that I could be.

And, to be sure, I do expect a hell of a lot from myself. :)

That reads a world differently than the original post did to me. I've been accused before of taking these things to seriously, but I really see classism as one of the few totally unacknowledged prejudice points still around. I say unacknowledged - the other -isms are still there, but (we hope) are more recognized as issues.

My point, throwing words like poor, poverty, and lower class around when as you say, we are loaded with cultural capital, bothers me - hence my tirade.

That said, as I alluded I wasn't attacking your life choice, I also wouldn't change my time struggling in NYC trying to make things work when money was waiting elsewhere. Just the vocabulary used to phrase it. Probably one of those all to frequent times when the English language just doesn't have the words to differentiate things - how many words for snow do the Eskimos have?

Hey Josh,

Being the bohemian web devloper who codes in his boxers and comes to meetings with helmet-hair has, it would seem, paid off. While I think it's wise to watch for that "little red light" on your internal Douche-O-Meter I wouldn't get too tied up about the fact that you're solvent. I say, enjoy it while it lasts: soon enough you'll meet a nice girl with expensive tastes, get a mortgage you can hardly afford and with children in the mix, you'll feel right back where you were two years ago.

Bartles and James

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Franko.