America’s Vague Caste System

America's Caste SystemNormally, I would be writing my birthday post now. In fact, normally, I would have already written it, but I just had to say something about the YouTube “conversation” I had, Racist Conservative Youth Complains About Racism. The truth is that the birthday posts take hours to write. I would really enjoy doing them if I didn’t feel under such time constraints. And this has been a bad morning. All night last night I dreamed that I was working at this gas station that I once worked at for about six months. It was not a pleasant experience. The way economics works in the real world is not the way it works in economic models. And it sure the hell isn’t the way that it works in the minds of conservatives.

At that time, I wanted to get a grunt job. I was working on my first novel then. My thinking was: get a minimum wage job—just enough to get by on—and I’d be free to do my real work in my spare time. Well, that didn’t work out exactly that way. Mostly, the job was exhausting from an emotional standpoint. The customers could be trying and I was often faced with situations where there was no “correct” way to act. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. What made the job almost debilitating was how management treated me and everyone else who worked there.

I thought it would be more like, “We don’t pay you much, but we don’t expect much of you either.” That wasn’t true at all. Instead, it was, “We are taking food right out of the mouths of our children to pay you, so you had better be busy all the time!” What’s more, if anything went wrong, it was always our fault. Management made snap judgments based upon no evidence. It must be the wage slave’s fault, otherwise, he’d have a good job. At that time, I made $9 per hour ($18,000 per year) and my immediate supervisor made something in excess of $50,000 per year.

Finally, I had had enough and I traded in my $9 per hour job for a $65,000 per year one at a start-up. And the wonderful thing about that change was that management treated me with respect and dignity. And the work was different, but certainly not harder and far less stressful. That’s when I realized that the more an employer pays you, the nicer they are to you. It’s a class thing. As a computer programmer, I was part of the educated class and thus I demanded to be treated with dignity. But the same person working in a gas station is just lowlife scum.

And indeed, there were some lowlifes who worked there. One woman had stolen $700, which was caught on video. Oh, didn’t I mention the video cameras? There were 26 of them, almost all of which were trained on the employees. The employers’ greatest concern was their employees, not their customers. But most of the employees were incredibly dedicated to the business. For example, they worked double shifts at a moments’ notice. They showed far more loyalty to the employer than the employer showed to them. But these older employees were not treated any better than the new hires that tried to steal from the company. Well, no different except that they were paid about one dollar more per hour.

In our culture, how an employee is treated and how he is paid is dependent upon what class he belongs to. For example, Scooter Libby is not only a convicted felon, he is also a traitor to this country. But he never spent a day in prison. He was disbarred, but he has likely gotten his license back by now, or at least is in the process. Not that he has to work. In 2004, his net worth was estimated to be $15 million. And if he had to work, there would have been people around to give him a “job” that would have paid the bills.

On the other hand, some poor kid who got nicked for selling cannabis will have a hard time finding any legitimate work after getting out of that prison that Libby never went into. It’s very simple: there are the right kind of people who may make “minor” mistakes by harming national security for political gain but really aren’t bad (e.g. Scooter Libby) and there are the wrong kind of people who may make “major” mistakes by ingesting prohibited vegetable substances (that is: drugs) and are really bad (e.g. basically any poor kid).

Inequality in America is about a lot more than money. I have no doubt that Bernard Madoff would have received a slap on the wrist if it weren’t for the fact that he defrauded other rich people—other of the “right” kind of people. As for the “wrong” kind of people: they just don’t matter. That’s one of the reasons that conservatives don’t care about getting them health insurance. The sooner they die, the better.

Welcome to the American Caste System. Where do you fit in?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “America’s Vague Caste System

  1. Had a few jobs like that in the day. "If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean." And I try to avoid convenience stores / fast food restaurants just because of how they treat their employees.

    A lot of it is simply shit rolling downhill. For franchises, the franchise owner likely sunk most/all their savings into "going into business for themselves" and is now the tenant of the franchising company, paying huge rent & fees and operating under the slimmest of profit margins (for themselves, not the company, which makes out like a bandit.)

    For non-franchise chains, the manager is being judged by other managers who are being judged, etc. etc., all the way up to the near-top. A mixture of small carrot and big stick is how these people are treated, and accordingly how they treat those beneath them. Not that any of this justifies how the low-wage employees are treated (oh, I could tell horror stories, probably most of us could.) Just that the mistreatment is systemic. And unfortunately what Americans have come to expect.

    You go into a grocery store in Scandinavia and the person behind the counter is sitting down. Not being told that sitting gives a bad impression to customers. The employees at such places will often as not wear little badges, not uniforms. Those f-ing uniforms are a sign to every customer in every American store that signals "I am a disposable non-entity; feel free to treat me as such."

    One last bit. I’ve also encountered many low-wage workers who are very dedicated, and I think it just stems from a personal belief that having a good work ethic is the right thing to do, and somehow it will be rewarded. Companies take huge advantage of this.

    I remember working at Burger King when I was 15, and we had to watch training videos from "Burger King University" all of which stated that every Burger King exec, from the CEO on down, "started where you are today." In college a guy two rooms down the dormitory hall was son of Burger King’s then-CEO. He had a good laugh at the "all started" bullshit; his dad was a cost-cutter for hire, like all CEOs. His laugh at that was so irritating I would routinely break into his dorm room (dorm windows never get locked) and steal fistfuls of Free Whopper coupons.

    There’s an old saying, "behind every great fortune lies a great crime." I believe it once applied to robber barons, but now it basically applies to almost anyone making a halfway decent salary. If they are, then somewhere down the line someone else is getting screwed, and talent/work ethic have nothing to do with who’s the shark, who’s the prey, and who’s the little symbiotic leech making a living by cleaning the shark’s teeth.

  2. It’s not really that surprising. Being treated with respect is a form of compensation, much like money or benefits. They won’t pay you $10 if they know you’ll work for $9, and they’ll treat you like a slave if they think you don’t have anywhere better to go.

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