Books and Code · A Miscellany

Class Mentality


Social class is not a function of net worth, race, or religion. It is one of mentality. Let me explain.

For the past two years my family has lived in a small, two bedroom apartment about two miles from the campus of the university my wife and I attend. It is not our ideal living conditions, but we make do. Most residents are either college students or “blue collar” folks. There is also a number of people with physical disabilities due to the nearby school for the deaf. The management does a pretty good job of keeping up on any maintenance, snow removal, etc. The area is certainly no ghetto and yet I am struck by the apparent number of residents who seem to believe that it is.

In the past year I’ve seen:

  1. condoms inflated like balloons and tied to the support beams of the front door canopy
  2. trash abandoned in the hallway (this happens about twice a month)
  3. empty (or partially so) beer cans and bottles strewn on the lawn and parking lot, often broken if glass
  4. used gum stuck to the walls, carpet, and ceilings of the hallways
  5. last year someone actually opened our unlocked apartment door (while I was home) and threw some rotton apples inside (I’m assuming kids, but I don’t leave the door unlocked anymore)
  6. abandoned spills (and messes of all kinds, including vomit) in common areas
  7. broken beer bottles thrown into the swimming pool (necessitating its closure and drainage)
  8. graffiti on walls and doors

and countless other disgusting things that display a lack of any regard for the property, other residents, and frankly themselves. This Saturday someone, for apparently no reason, tore down the suspended ceiling in our hallway. Last summer, a resident who lives on the floor above us described his July 4th festivities to me in between gleeful giggles of self-satisfaction. He got drunk and shot fireworks at other inebriated barbecuers until they fought him. He’s a 40 year old car salesman with a 10 year old step-daughter.

In an Urban Archaeology class I alluded to before we discussed an archaeological study of Lowell, MA. (See Living on the Boott: Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses of Lowell, Massachusetts.) Lowell was a planned city built by capitalists around textile mills. Since it was from a Marxist viewpoint, the study discussed how the landscape was a representation of the power of the owners over the workers. In particular, much was made of backyards. My professor ranted about how the tenement buildings had nicely manicured front lawns, but the backyards were essentially trash heaps where residents would dump stuff. Since they weren’t overtly visible, the management wouldn’t clean it (or force them to). According to him, this showed how management mistreated the workers.

My apartment experience has given me a different view: some of the tenement residents were disgusting pigs. The tenement occupants didn’t care about the quality of the backyards because it wasn’t their property. Many of these folks had (and have today) a “low class mentality” and don’t mind living like swine.

I find such deconstructionist treatments interesting more for what they reveal about the deconstructor than the subject. For instance, if the leftist archaeologists had found the backyards as neatly manicured as the fronts, they would have used it as evidence that the managers insisted to exercise control over even this portion of the worker’s environment. Apparently, those deemed “in power” are responsible for their actions, but the “oppressed” are free to uncritically wallow in their own shit.