Classism in a recession

Yesterday was sign-in day at the social welfare office, which meant filing up with my Finglas brethren to prove to the government that I still exist. I’ve come to hate going to the social welfare office. Not because of the snotty staff or the frustrating bureaucracy (though these are certainly issues), but because it involves interacting with my neighbours. Yes, I admit it, I’m a snob.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel any embarrassment about being unemployed, like it’s below me or something. I grew up in a fairly working class environment, so I can usually feel at home in such environments. But the proudly ignorant prattle of Finglas’ residents, with their borderline retarded accents, is destroying my faith in humanity. I really don’t think I can take much more tracksuits or gaudery jewellery before snapping.

Of course this is my problem and I have to deal with it. I don’t expect anyone else to tolerate my prejudice. I mention it only because it has gotten me thinking about Ireland’s class-structured culture in these recessionary times. For as long as I’ve been aware of such issues we Irish have been telling ourselves that we don’t have a major divide between the working and upper classes. It was a stick for us to beat those uppity English fuckers. It was also clearly a lie. Our class structures may not be as pronounced or overt as that of the English, but it’s certainly there. And we don’t have any right to be self-congratulatory just because England is more honest about it.

I’m not sure if it was always there or if our classism was a product of our recent affluence. As we concerned ourselves with designer labels and how much our property was worth (regardless of whether we intended to sell it or not), did it become easier to look down on people? Where once we saw the salt of the earth did we suddenly perceived chavism? Maybe a level of classism was always there, but became more streamlined during the celtic tiger years, or maybe there was no change at all and we’ve always been this way. I don’t know the answer to this. I can’t remember back that far.

If there was a change, what facilitated it? I always got the impression that the working class were seen as the source of much of Ireland’s racism and homophobia, which obviously became a major issue as the country became more culturally diverse. However, this is a fallacy as far as I can tell as the upper middle-classes can be as equally racist and homophobic as anyone else, or at least that’s been my experience. Maybe we can lay the blame with the working-class themselves, as un-pc as it may be to say it. Did they replace their previous honest, hard working ethic with one that was far uglier in the eyes of outsiders?

Whatever the truth, what happens now is going to be interesting. Are we going become more understanding and less judgemental as we become more frugal and thrifty? Will we become less likely to whisper, “typical,” when we see young fellas smoking joints on the bus (based on actual events)? Clearly not, if I’m anything to go by. Conversional wisdom would suggest that if our class culture is a product of the celtic tiger, it will be reverted now that the tiger has truly deserted us. I really hope so. I hope we (me especially) will recognise that scumbags belong to all classes. I’m afraid, however, that I’m just not convinced it’s going to happen.

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