I’ve been thinking about the professional class–the class which sits between the wealthy billionaires and the ordinary workers. The professionals are college-educated and they are traditionally paid more than ordinary workers. But as economic inequality grows and the position of workers becomes more precarious, the professionals are less secure than they used to be. A university degree no longer guarantees a stable, robust standard of living, but it still separates those who have it from those who do not. Why? Because college students are socialised to pursue the degree as a means of demonstrating their merit. When that merit goes unrewarded, young would-be professionals grow very cross. They want their virtue to be recognised. Unable to earn more or enjoy a higher living standard than the workers, the would-be professionals retreat into the cultural realm. They use the language and ideas they learned at university to assert their moral superiority, gaining an imaginary victory over the workers. This condescension leads the workers to resent the professionals in turn, and makes it very difficult for these downwardly mobile professionals to form political alliances with the workers. All of this, of course, perpetuates the dominion of the rich.
To use a metaphor, the professionals are the house slaves of capitalism–they identify with the owners because they live better than the field slaves and are invited to participate in and contribute to the culture of the owners. But once they are deprived of their superior living standard and opportunity to culturally contribute, they can defend their feeling of superiority only by mocking the field slaves for being unable to read.
This is not to say that the whole of the professional class is going this way. Some college educated people still enjoy the economic and cultural advantages which historically belonged to all or most college-educated people. I want to explore how this group–what I call the “rump professional class”–interacts with the downwardly mobile group, which I call the “fallen professional class”.
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