A Reply to Alex Danco: Revisiting MacLeod and the Three Ladders in the Wake of Trump

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Eight years ago, I wrote an essay on the three social class ladders that existed in pre-2016 American society. That essay disappeared due to a confluence of factors not really worth getting into, but I’ve been asked more than once to revisit it, in the wake of recent changes in our society. I do have strong thoughts on how that article has aged. At the time, I was unduly sympathetic to my native social class, the Gentry. This blinded me to something I had begun to suspect, and that Alex Danco articulated– that a sociological “middle class” is a comfortable illusion, a story capitalist society tells itself to mask its barbaric nature, performing a similar function to the notoriously clueless middle manager, Michael Scott.

The MacLeod Model

Around the same time as I wrote the three-ladder essay, I also analyzed the three-tiered MacLeod model of the modern business corporation, whereby each layer is assigned an uncharitable label: regular workers are Losers, middle managers are Clueless, and Sociopaths sit in the executive suite.

How accurate is the MacLeod model? Its origin is a satirical cartoon, but it accurately describes how the tiers of an organization are perceived, with one exception: Clueless middle managers generally don’t see their bosses as Sociopaths. I would not go so far as to attribute job labels to individuals. Taking a middle management position may be a wise career move (not Clueless). While the corporate system is evil, most executives are not literal psychopaths (or sociopaths) and most Sociopaths don’t become upper management (not enough spots). Laborers are, of course, economic Losers (as in “one who loses”) but are not “losers” in the U.S. pejorative sense of the word (meaning, “one without redeeming qualities”). It would be reductive and inflammatory to suggest that people’s true natures are indicated by their company-assigned, social-class-derived job positions. That said, the MacLeod model is entirely true when it comes to the expectations put on a role. Regular workers are expected to Lose– to generate surplus value for owners, to be discarded when no longer useful to their bosses, and not to complain about the fact. Executives, though some are individually decent human beings, exist to enforce the Sociopathic will of companies whose sole purpose is private enrichment. As for middle managers, their purpose is indirection, obfuscation, and deception. They are hired to conceal upper management’s true attitudes and intentions toward the regular workers, and to function as “true believers” in the company’s misleading, manipulative claim of standing for something more than private greed– that is, to propagate false consciousness (Cluelessness). Such a person need not herself be Clueless like Michael Scott, but it seems to help.

The separation between rationally-disengaged “Losers” and Clueless true-believers isn’t always well-defined, nor is it easy to find on an org chart, but the line separating MacLeod’s Clueless from Sociopaths is well-defined– it’s the Effort Thermocline, or the level in an organization where jobs become easier, rather than harder, with increasing rank. C-Words works less than VPs, who work less than Directors; but front-line managers work far harder than their charges for not much additional pay or respect. It is this way by design. A two-tiered corporation without a barrier between the overpaid, lazy, self-dealing executives and the exploited grunts would collapse under the weight of class resentment. Three-tiered MacLeod organizations prevent this by loading the level just under the Effort Thermocline with the drunkest of the Kool-Aid drinkers, the truest of true believers who will thanklessly and indefatigably clean up the messes made by the rationally-disengaged wage workers below them and by the self-serving, impulsive children above them. This turns class envy into a distant abstraction than a source of daily friction, because the tiers do not envy their immediate neighbors. Ground-level workers see their bosses working three times as hard for 20 percent more pay. Middle managers mistakenly (Cluelessly) construe their own superiors as more-successful, aspirational versions of themselves and believe (mistakenly, almost always) they’ll be invited to join the executive club if they just prove themselves a little harder.

The three-tier organization seems dysfunctional, bloated, and wasteful; but it’s far more stable than a two-tier business and therefore it tends to be a natural attractor for companies that exceed 50 people.

The Middle Class: “I can’t be Clueless because I know what Cluelessness looks like and I’m not it!”

In the early 2010s, I believed a lot of things that weren’t true. I bought into neoliberal, technocratic capitalism. Google sounded like a “workplace utopia” and so I applied to work there (and got in, and did work there, and learned a lot of what’s here). I also bought in to the Silicon Valley myth under which venture-funded startups, being “not corporate”, were exceptions to the invariable mediocrity of the MacLeod organization. Spoiler alert: I was wrong about nearly everything, on that front.

Anyway, in 2013, I would have staunchly disagreed that the cultural middle class, the educated Gentry, performed the function of the Clueless in a MacLeod organization. “I’m not Clueless at all”, I would have cluelessly said. Here’s what my argument would have been: large organizations fall into the MacLeod pattern because they have ceased to have a real mission– once they serve no purpose but private enrichment (often at worker and customer expense) they must develop group coping mechanisms that, while conducive to dysfunction, prevent class resentments from generating even more lethal dysfunctions.

I would have said that society serves a purpose; ostensibly, it does. Many of us get warm fuzzies when we see “our” colorful rectangles in triumphant contexts, such as next to the best on a list of numbers after an international sporting event. We want to believe that our communities– families, cities, nations, the world– are on the side of Good. We understand that the dreaded “corporations” mostly implement upper-class rent-seeking… but we think more highly of municipalities, of countries, of people united by religion or language or (at broadest) by the fact of being human. In this vein, I would have said that the MacLeod analysis does not apply at the macro level. I would have been wrong.

At the time, while knowing that old-style “corporations” were bad, I bought into the Silicon Valley mythology in which new-style “startups” would replace those and (of course!) invest the profits of automation into a better, richer world where life was better for all of us. Therefore, I believed Marx’s two-class, adversarial depiction of society to be false, inappropriate to a technological society with high economic growth. (“A middle class exists. QED, you are wrong, prole.”) In fact, I was the one who was wrong. The new-style corporate elite turned out to even worse than the old one. Social and economic changes in the past decade have largely proven Marx right.

To do Marx justice, we must note that Marx did acknowledge a middle class’s existence: he wrote on the petite bourgeoisie, the small business owners and independent professionals. He predicted, correctly, that they would be losers in the ongoing class war– that machinations of the politically-connected, mostly-hereditary haute (or “true”) bourgeoisie would push them to the margins and, eventually, throw them into the proletariat. Marx did not loathe the petite bourgeoisie and he did not overlook their existence– he simply recognized them as powerless relative to market forces and the movements of history. What they gain through innovation and comparative advantage, they lose over time to the superior political and economic power of the real elites, who never compete fairly.

We could argue endlessly about the nature of the middle class(es?). Are highly-paid corporate workers hautes-proletarians or petites-bourgeois? Do the cultured-but-poor in traditional publishing outrank the wealthy-but-tasteless rednecks of Duck Dynasty? No one knows, and it probably suits the bourgeoisie that no one knows, because it keeps people from getting envious. If everyone thinks he’s at or above the 95th percentile of his own idiosyncratic class ranking, then no one’s angry. This would, in fact, multiply in effect the purpose of the middle Clueless/Gentry layer of preventing class resentments felt by workers toward owners from reaching a boiling point.

One thing I missed in the early 2010s is that there is (or was) probably more than one Gentry. It seemed natural to privilege a certain “blue state”, limply-liberal, New Yorker-reading Gentry over the megachurch pastors and talk-radio hosts, but this was intellectually errant on my part. A “red state” Gentry certainly existed then, and while I could point out its cultural and intellectual shortcomings, those are equally numerous (if different in flavor) in the “blue state” gentry. A pox on both houses.

Gentry failures

A Gentry can fail, and indeed it is probably the destiny of all of them that they will. The 2010s was the decade in which the U.S. Gentry (Gentries?) failed. Whether and when “the middle class” collapsed is a matter of debate, because no one can agree on what “middle class” is. The income spectrum will always have a middle because that’s how mathematics works, but sociological class (which represents the ease with which one gets income, not income itself) relations evolved in a number of ways, confirming Marx’s thesis that only one class distinction — the perpetual struggle between owners and workers– really matters.

In the 2010s, we saw extreme devaluation of the cultural armor (mostly, educational credentials) by which the middle class defines itself. The middle-class theory-of-life is that one does not need substantial capital (at a level almost always inherited) to live a dignified and comfortable life, so long as one possesses intangibles (skills, contacts, credentials) that ensure reliable employment. Recent years have falsified this: employment is no longer ever reliable; and it is increasingly likely, due to technological changes favoring the upper class at worker expense, to be undignified. Due to automation, which would be desirable if the prosperity it generates were distributed justly, hard skills seem to be losing their market value at a rate about 5% per year. The same is occurring for nearly all educational credentials: I know college graduates who work in call centers, and I know PhDs in five-figure “data science” jobs a high schooler could do. This leads to outrageous demand for the small number of universities that still have the social capital to make and fix careers. Tuition costs are rising not because the product of higher education has improved (it hasn’t) but due to the desperation of the former middle class. People are panic-buying lottery tickets where the prize is “connections”– that is, admission into the sociological upper class, from which upper-class incomes attained via corruption usually follow– and, for most of them, it won’t pan out.

In what way, when a middle class ostensibly exists, are there “really” only two classes? I think Michael Lopp, in Managing Humans, Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager, describes the typical business meeting aptly when he says that, in a discussion of any importance, there will be two groups of people, “pros” and “cons”. I don’t much like this terminology– “pro” has positive connotations (professional) and “con” has negative ones (confidence artist)– so I prefer to go with a terminology that feels more value-neutral. I’ve assigned these categories colors, “Blues” and “Reds”. Blues (Lopp’s pros) are the people who, if nothing happens in the meeting, will win. Existing processes suit them fine, they have management’s favor, and they’re usually only in the meeting for a show of politesse. (They rarely, if ever, change their minds.) The Reds are the ones who have to convince someone of their rectitude. They’re the ones who want to introduce Scala to a Java shop, or to exclude their divisions from a boneheaded stack-ranking process. Reds lose if nothing happens. They start the meeting out-of-the-lead and, if they don’t do a good job making their case, not only will their idea be rejected, but they will be resented personally for wasting others’ time.

I hate that I am giving this advice, but one who seeks corporate survival should always side with the Blues. It sucks to say this, because as a general rule, Reds are better humans. Blues are smug jerks with their arms crossed, whereas Reds are impassioned believers prone to bet their jobs (when they do, almost always losing such wagers) on what they consider right. In a better world, Reds would get more of a chance, but if you want to maximize your expected yield from Corporate, always go with the Blues. In the unlikely event that the Reds start winning (and become the new Blues) you will have plenty of time to change sides.

Reds exist to be listened-to, but ignored. Their purpose is to let the company say it “welcomes dissent” and “listens to its employees” and “goes with the right idea, regardless of hierarchy” even though it, in reality, will always go ahead and do exactly what the higher-ups already wanted to do. If a Red knows her role and accepts her inevitable defeat with grace, she probably won’t lose her job; but given that the corporate purpose of Reds is for their ideas to be rejected, why chance being one at all? Reds who fulfill their ecological purpose do not get fired– that only happens to those who believe in their rejected ideas too much and make enemies– but it never helps one’s reputation to have an idea shot down– in Corporate, no points are scored for losing gracefully– so it would have been savvier for a Red to have put her personal beliefs aside and thrown in with the Blues.

On a corporate controversy, such as whether to allow Scala in a Java codebase, one has the liberty of choice. Insincerity is not only facile, but pretty much expected. One whose conscience and knowledge pull Red can, nevertheless, join the Blue team and share in the victory. Most of these issues have low moral stakes (tabs versus spaces) and a single worker’s vote does not really matter anyway.

This is not the case in the macro society. You can’t actually join the Blue team, the team that wins if nothing happens. Capital has an advantage: it can wait, but workers have the humiliating daily need to beg a boss for money so they can eat and pay rent. Capital is the Blue team– the wealthy win, if nothing happens. Labor is inflexibly Red. If there is no demand for our work– if there is no factor within the universe that makes it acutely painful for someone to choose not to hire us– we starve.

The above is the only meaningful class distinction in American society. Not your college major or the rank of your undergraduate institution. Not your tiny but “classy” apartment in a fashionable neighborhood that you can barely afford. Not your “connections” to people who might know your work product is good, but who would choose their prep-school buddies over you for a slot in a lifeboat. Under capitalism, what determines the entirety of who you are in this society is one thing, and that one thing is whether time and inertia are on your side. There are only two social classes and most of us are in the lower one, the proletariat. Our day-to-day survival depends on our ability to serve a class of people who consider themselves a superior species, and who view us as contemptible, begging losers.

The raw, two-class truth of society is depressing, and so both the upper and lower class work together to create the appearance of a more nuanced society, with three or five or more social classes, and in times of relative class peace it is easy to believe such structures have meaning and are stable. We want to believe in “middle class values” and many of us have an uninspected desire to be middle class, to believe that we are such a thing. That’s deeply weird to me, because to acknowledge oneself as “middle class” is to assign validity to class in the first place. And what is class? Social class is the process by which society allocates opportunities based on heredity and early-life circumstances rather than true merit, and so by its construction it is unjust. To say “I’m middle class” with glee is to take simultaneous pride in (a) being allocated better career options than other people for no good reason, (b) and, at the same time, not getting “too many” unfair advantages and therefore not deserving to feel bad about them. Still, it seems to support the short-term psychological health of a society for it to be allowed to believe that such a thing as “middle class” exists.

In the 2000s, the U.S. Gentry began to fail on its own terms; to analyze why, we have to understand its purpose. A starting point is to inspect a telling bit of Marxist vocabulary, our name for the dominant, enemy class– the bourgeoisie. Though today we use it to describe the upper class, the original meaning of the word was the medieval middle class: the urban proto-capitalists. This is not an instance of idle semantic drift. Rather, Marxists correctly note that while the true bourgeoisie is a tiny upper class, bourgeois values are what society tells the upper ranks of the proletariat “middle class values” are supposed to be. In other words, bourgeois culture (false consciousness) is created to define the middle class, by and for the benefit of the upper class. It is also in the creation of this middle class that society is encouraged to define itself as other-than-commercial.

In a society like ours, the upper and lower classes have more in common with each other than either has with the middle class. The upper and lower classes “live like animals”, but for very different reasons. The upper classes are empowered to engage their primal, base urges; the lower classes are pummeled with fear on a daily basis and regress to animalism not out of moral paucity but in order to survive. People in the lower class live lives that are consumed entirely by money, because they lack the means of a dignified life. Those in the upper class, likewise, experience a life dominated by money, because maintaining injustices favorable to oneself is hard work. So, even though the motivations are different (fear at the bottom, greed at the top) the lower and upper classes are united in what the middle class perceives as “crass materialism” and, therefore, have strikingly similar cultures. Their lives are run by that thing called “money” toward which the middle classes pretend– and it is very much pretend– to be ambivalent about. The middle classes are sheltered, until the cultural protection, on which their semi-privileged status depends, runs out.

The “middle-est” of the middle class is the Gentry. Here we’re talking about people who dislike pawnbrokers and stock traders alike, who appear to lead a society from the front while its real owners lead it from the shadows. This said, I have my doubts on the matter of there being one, singular Gentry. I would argue that corporate middle management, the clergy, the political establishments of both major U.S. political parties, TED-talk onanist “thought leaders” and media personalities, and even Instagram “influencers” could all be called Gentries; in no obvious or formal way do these groups have much to do with one another. Only in one thing are they united: by the middle 2010s it became clear that both the Elite (bourgeoisie) and Labor (self-aaware proletariat) were fed up with all these Gentries. Starting around 2013, an anti-Gentry hategasm consumed the United States, and as a member of said (former) Gentry I can’t say we didn’t deserve it.

Technology, I believe, is a major cause of this. Silicon Valley began as a 1970s Gentry paradise; by 2010, it had become a monument to Elite excess, arrogance, and malefaction. Modern technology has given today’s employers an oppressive power the Stasi and KGB only dreamt of. The American Gentry was a PR wing for capitalism when it needed to win hearts and minds; but with today’s technological weaponry, the rich no longer see a need to be well-liked by those they rule.

For a concrete example, compare the “old style” bureaucratic, paperwork corporation of the midcentury and the “new style” technological one, in which workers are tracked, often unawares, down to minutes. The old-style companies were hierarchical and feudalistic but, by giving middle managers the ability to protect their underlings, ran on a certain sense of reciprocated loyalty– a social contract, if you will– that no longer exists. The worker agreed not to undermine, humiliate, or sabotage his manager; the manager, in turn, agreed to represent the worker as an asset to the company even when said worker had a below-average year. All you had to do in the old-style company was be liked (or, at least, not be despised) by your boss. If your boss liked you, you got promoted. If your boss hated you, you got fired. If you were anywhere from about 3.00 to 6.99 on his emotional spectrum, you moved diagonally or laterally, your boss repping you as a 6.75/10 “in search of a better fit” so you moved along quickly and peaceably. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it worked better than what came afterward.

I’ve worked in the software industry long enough to know that software engineers are the most socially clueless people on earth. I’ve often heard them debate “the right” metrics to use to track software productivity. My advice to them is: Always fight metrics. Sabotage the readings, or blackmail a higher-up by catfishing as a 15-year-old girl, or call in a union that’ll drop a pipe on that shit. Always, always, always fight a metric that management wishes to impose on you, because while a metric can hurt you (by flagging you as a low performer) it will never help you. In the old-style company, automated surveillance was impossible and performance was largely inscrutable and only loyalty mattered– your career was based on your boss’s opinion of you. It only took one thing to get a promotion: be liked by your boss. In the new-style company, devised by management consultants and software peddlers with evil intentions, getting a promotion requires you to pass the metrics and be liked by your boss. In the old-style company, you could get fired if your boss really, really hated you. (As I said, if he merely disliked you, he’d rep you as a solid performer “in search of a better fit” so you could transfer peacefully, and you’d get to try again with a new boss.) In the new-style company, you can get fired because your boss hates you or because you fail the metrics. The “user story points” that product managers insist are not an individual performance measure (and absolutely are, by the way) are evidence that only the prosecution may use. This is terrible for workers. There are new ways to fail and get fired; the route to success is constricted by an increase in the number of targets that must be hit. The old-style hierarchical company, at least, had simple rules: be loyal to your boss. Having been a middle manager, I can also say that the new-style company is humiliating for us– we can’t protect our reports. You have to “demand accountability from” people, but you can’t really do anything to help them.

This, I think, gives us a metaphor for the American Gentry’s failure. Middle managers who cannot protect their subordinates from the company’s more evil instincts (such as the instinct to fire everyone and hire replacements 5 percent cheaper) have no reason to expect true loyalty. They become superfluous performance cops and taskmasters, and even if they are personally liked, their roles are justifiably hated (including by those who have to perform them.)

The Elite seems to allow, and Labor to tolerate, the elevation of a subset of proletarians into the “Gentry” because it concocts intellectual justifications for the Elite, while at the same telling Labor that it will not tolerate extreme greed or political fascism from above. It leans left-of-center, functioning as controlled opposition, since its real purpose is to define how far left a person is allowed to go before being accused of “class warfare”, and it uses “both sides” argumentation to justify Elite predation (“you, too, would do it if you had the means”) and to vilify genuine proletarian activism. The Gentry, finally, teaches capitalism how to be human– that is, it trains the machine to ape emotions like concern for the environment and genuine empathy toward workers whose sustenance “could no longer be afforded” due to “shareholder demands” and “the market rate” for executive “talent”.

Three things happened in the first decades of the 21st century to accelerate the Gentry’s demise.

First, Labor grew rightly sick of us. We were no longer the professors marching with civil rights activists; we became the pseudo-academics in think wanks (typo preserved) justifying corporate downsizing and forever wars. We were no longer the middle managers protecting their jobs and wages from overpaid psychopaths looking for “fat” to cut and “meat” to squeeze– instead, we were the time-studiers and software programmers helping the psychopaths figure out precisely which jobs and hours to cut. We sold Labor out before they did anything to us– they were right to tell us to sod off.

Second, the Elite decided the Gentry was too expensive to let live. Labor of-color suffered declining living standards in the 1970s and ’80s in the first wave of deindustrialization, and “the white working class” suffered in the 1990s and 2000s. We, in the Gentry, could decry this from a distance because of our cultural armor. We weren’t laborers compensated for the market value of our work– we were special professionals paid well and respected for who we were. Ha! It turned out that we were not immune to the market forces that drive the (divergent downward, by nature) labor market. There still are middle managers and op-ed columnists and think-tankers… but they are gone as soon as they stop carrying Capital’s black bags. I know this from bitter personal experience, having been “de-platformed” as a result of some relatively mild criticism of our economic system.

Third, we did it to ourselves. We indulged in cannibalism. We in the Gentry– especially the technology Gentry, which has been for quite some time the worst one– got so fixated on our own (relatively meaningless) individual intelligence that we became collectively stupid. As a result, we’ve been emasculated. When our employers began to impose rank-and-yank (or “stack ranking”) policies on us, we should have unionized, but we smugly assumed we wouldn’t be affected– “I’ll never be in the bottom 10 percent of anything”– and so we let the rat bastards divide us among ourselves. The limply-liberal left is as guilty as the right on this; rather than demand genuine social and economic progress for people in disadvantaged groups, we indulged in a virtue-signaling purity-testing cancel culture where people who said stupid things ten years ago get drummed out of the (dying anyway) Gentry.

Capitalist society allows the Gentry to exist for the purpose of cultural self-definition that obscures the machinations of the corporate system. Whether you like or hate the Soviet Union, the bare fact is that the Beatles did more to take down the Berlin Wall– to win the cultural war against the USSR– than MBA-toting synergizers (who are just a more expensive version of those hated Soviet bureaucrats) ever did. A society’s PR always comes from the middle of its socioeconomic spectrum. The upper class, which controls all the important resources and does no real work, tends to harbor so many moral degenerates that it’s best to conceal them. The lower classes are deprived of meaningful economic, social, geographical, or cultural chjoice and therefore inert relative to society’s self-conception; the world’s poor comprise the largest nation there is and it has no vote anywhere. It is the middle classes, then, who are expected to be other-than-commercial, and to operate at an apparent remove from the zero-sum power relationships and dirtbag machinations that actually dictate what goes on in a society such as ours.

Above, I’ve described the functional purpose of the Gentry, at which the current one has failed. Is there a moral case for a nation’s Gentry, though? I think so; but at it, we’ve failed utterly. The moral value of a Gentry, and of the national self-definition it enables, is that it can prevent Capital (the Elite) from dividing workers against each other. The 0.01%, being outnumbered, can only rule the 99.99% so cruelly by keeping the proletariat fractious. If the Gentry earnestly believes in a cohesive local, national, or global spirit and cause, it should resist these divide-and-conquer tactics. We, the American Gentry, have failed execrably at this. We’ve allowed Capital to make people who live in “red” states hate the people who live in “blue” ones and vice versa. We’ve let Capital exploit, rather than allow society to move beyond, archaic racial animosities. We’ve let them propagate everything from apocalyptic religious extremism (a “red” flavor of divisiveness) to commercialized sexual perversion (“hookup culture”, a “blue” flavor). All of this, Capital has done to pit working people against each other, and we’ve let them do it. Thus, we deserve (as a class) to die.

This explains the Rise of authoritarian leaders like Trump, all over the world. In 2016, Labor gave its vote of no confidence in the Gentry by electing an unabashed Elite parasite. His supporters are not all stupid. They know he hates their guts, and they do not much love him, but they hate us even more– because we’re the ones who promised to protect them from global capitalism, and failed. We were utterly, in the language of organizational dynamics, Clueless.

What’s Next?

Marx was right. If there are stable social classes, there are exactly two of them. The cultural armor of the “middle class” is paper-thin. Education at a competent but unremarkable state university will not prevent someone from being sacrificed to corporate downsizing, and “connections” to people who are themselves unsafe are worth very little. You are not better than a poor person because you buy an expensive brand of candle. In the end, there are just two classes– those who must sell their lives to survive, and those who don’t. That is, there are those who win in if nothing happens, and those who starve if nothing happens. There are those whose control of the world’s resources make them dangerous to others, and there are those who are in danger.

In the American midcentury, nearly everyone identified as “middle class”, whether they were corporate executives or grocery-store clerks. It was common, and perhaps remains so, to equate “middle class” with a certain salt-of-the-earth, virtuous status. As I’ve said, that’s patently ridiculous. Social class is mostly inherited and the rest comes down to random luck. We are not better than those we deem as “lower class”– we’re just luckier. The identification with “middle class” is self-limiting because it seems to tacitly accept that some people will be handed better economic opportunities. To tolerate that those born “higher” get unfair advantages, because one is getting unfair advantages over a larger group of others, should never be cause for moral pride.

When I wrote those earlier essays in the first half of the 2010s, I believed in neoliberal technological capitalism. I’ll spare the reader my own career history, but it failed me. It has failed society, too. Now that I’m older and smarter, I would say that in broad strokes I am a communist. What I mean by this is that the long-term objective of humanity should be a post-scarcity, class-free society with the minimum amount of hierarchy necessary to function. Nation-states seem to be a protectionist necessity today, but their power should diminish over time, and global amelioration of scarcity ought to be the goal. Markets may persist as algorithms for the bulk allocation of resources (command economies performing poorly in this regard) but should never have moral authority to destroy human life. In an ideal world, most people will work (as the need to work is deep and psychological) but the right to refuse work (via universal basic income) must be protected, not only for the benefit of those unable to work, but because it is impossible to have dignified conditions for workers without it in place.

My old three-ladder theory used “Gentry” as a pseudonym for a middle class (or, under US-style class inflation, an upper-middle class) mentality and gave us the tools to identify thirteen distinct classes within our society… from the E1 crocodilians at the very top… all the way down to the Underclass bereft of connection even to the least-regarded of the three ladders. As a descriptive tool for analyzing early-2010s North America, I think the taxonomy had great value. But the Gentry is dead now and I’m not sure we should ache to have it back. Thirteen social classes is too many; three is too many. Zero is the right number. Distinctions of hereditary social class should be abolished and, seeing the atrocious job global capitalism’s current leadership has done with regard to climate change, public health, and economic management, this cannot be done too soon. Corporate capitalism delenda est.

14 thoughts on “A Reply to Alex Danco: Revisiting MacLeod and the Three Ladders in the Wake of Trump

  1. Insightful as usual.
    How to avoid the problems of communism? i.e. the Sociopaths taking over the government and then genociding (rather than merely firing) workers they don’t like? See Cambodia, China, Russia…
    I maintain that without the cultural and historical context documented on /pol/ it’s impossible to understand what is really going on.

  2. universal basic income sounds nice but in practice would have some enormous strings attached. Speculation is that any actual UBI program would require “lifestyle concessions” in the manner of the Great Reset. This is all well and good if 1. powerful people in government are truly trustworthy and competent and 2. people are all truly equal with no innate differences in ability, preference, or “heritage”(yikes)/blood kinship.

    // climate change // would be great to fix if 1. and 2. are true, but if not it becomes a backdoor to implementing a corrupt, genocidal government on a global scale by systematically transferring wealth from political enemies to political allies.

    // public health // would be great if 1. and 2. are true, but if not it becomes a backdoor to implementing a corrupt, genocidal government on a global scale by systematically restricting the movement and free association of political enemies.

    // rational economic management // would be great if 1. and 2. are true, but if not it becomes a backdoor to implementing a corrupt, genocidal government on a global scale by systematically controlling all human activity especially the activity of political enemies, to benefit political allies.

    // UBI // would be great if 1. and 2. are true, but if not it becomes a backdoor to a corrupt, genocidal government on a global scale by systematically paying political allies to do nothing except vote for big-government spending and open borders until economic collapse of the system is achieved (see Cloward-Piven Strategy), then confiscating the remaining wealth of Trump supporters per the terms of an IMF bailout of the government, then sending political enemies to concentration camps. People remember history and there’s a reason that guns and ammunition are in record short supply in the USA these days. There is no reason to think that the Elite will magically become trustworthy by allowing their Politicians to vote in UBI. If UBI gets passed it’s because the Elite want it, and they don’t want it to benefit you and me.

    As they say on /pol/, I used to be libertarian until I realized the system would not leave me alone.

  3. Also, cities continue to work as “IQ Shredders” by causing smart people to move there and live in conditions where they cannot afford to have children, let alone >2 children. This is profitable in the short term, of course, but at what cost? A “side benefit” of this setup is rapid demographic change (i.e. browning of America, which is a good thing!) as population is brought in to grow the population at 7% a year to make up for the western city-dwellers who don’t have children. I reject the argument that lower population is needed to “save the world”; there is no realistic way to reduce population on a global scale and I personally believe that smart and responsible people are a net positive regardless of population size. I worry that UBI would act as an even more extreme “IQ Shredder” by causing even more people to live in city-like conditions.

    • I remember reading that; very very consistent with my memory of those times (I’m a 55 year old native Detroiter). Guy is hella primitivist, though, and primitivism depresses the hell out of me.

  4. Like they say in Leftbook, self care means not reading the comments. I love your commentary, Mr. Church, but you’ve managed to attract a pretty hardcore alt-right commenter. While I think it is good and proper to judge people by the company they keep, and not by the company that keeps them, understand that fascism is the record titled “I cannot be played on Phonograph X,” where Phonograph X is freedom of speech. Note that the chud called Anonymous accounts for only 75% of the comments (before the present little comment), but 94% of the word count. Quite the deluge of very predictable talking points.

  5. I am following you for quite some time already. You speak harshly about injustice, the topics that you cover look interesting, ideas look smart. And there’s something that is little sense I must say.

    You are repeatedly saying that you’ll go from wordpress to something else, because you do not like the ads. Surely you do not like the ads, because it is not about you, it is a bout the viewer (and she is feeding the others with their data about their attachments). The ads are computed so the viewer is triggered to buy something. As soon as the viewer realized that this is her nightmare, she’ll be liberated. Immediately. And you know what? You’ll not have a chance to connect to the viewer and explain that to them. Because you do not speak their language. And as long as you continue blaming the others (governments, corporations, nationalists) for your misfortunes, you’ll stay where you are.

    As long as you continue asking questions, you’ll become smarter and smarter. If you’ll start asking the right questions, you’ll get liberated from your suffering. Once you’ll be liberated your suffering, you’ll be able to help the others. Until then you’ll be just teaching them the same suffering that you have.

    I hope you do not find this comment rude.

  6. I do believe that the Gentry deserves what they got. They gave their cognitive talents to creating a de-facto corporate surveillance society governed by fear, lies, intimidation, and harassment. This was a society where even the slightest slipup, the slightest divergence from the consensus, the slightest spark of individuality would result in financial, social, and personal ruin. We used thin justifications such as “oh this creates more efficiency”, or “our algorithms will only catch you if you did something wrong”, or more quietly, “I have a doctorate, I am valued, this won’t affect me.” Before the 80’s, the Gentry knew they were in a constant negotiation with the elites, and they knew that government, regulation, and law was the means of this negotiation. Then Reagan came along and told us that this wasn’t manly, and we forgot we were in a negotiation, while the elites did not. To paraphrase Ivana Trump, we didn’t get mad, and they got Everything.

    The cruelest coda to this is that now the CCP is using all these wonderful AI tools that we built to build a social surveillance system, one arm of which is the auto-management of concentration camps for Muslims. We can boo-hiss about this all we want, but we were in on it from the beginning. Not only by buildings ng these technologies without thinking about their moral implications, but by coddling a government who made no effort to hide its real intentions. Because Free Trade or whatever.

    Now that we’ve been cut out, what’s next? My tendency is towards renunciation of those values and a life driven by compassion, moderation, simplicity, truth-telling, and activism. I have saved up enough to do so, and I am not scared by having my corporate masters lock me out of my profession. They have tried to do so several times, and I have always found a way to sneak back in. Unions are another option, but I cannot see a community as intellectually divisive as the Gentry getting behind that, and if there is one thing we are good at, it is turning our backs on one another. I ask you in all sincerity, what is next?

  7. Like someone said, insightful as usual. I don’t have much to add, but I’ve recently developed a serious lack of sympathy for the middle class. Not that I was blinded to its mild excesses, but it became apparent that the other sides—the elites and labor—had just reason (from my perspective) for sympathy (if tragic); the middle class appears simply clueless. Belly full and asleep at the wheel. At least the rich realize the need to mitigate or quash antagonisms. I enjoy the article even more because what we need are Marxist critiques, and to respond to its criticism; because it remains damned useful, yet tied to other activist (which I ultimately support) elements that seem to hinder global appreciation of class dynamics, etc.

  8. Pingback: 2:00PM Water Cooler 4/7/2021 | naked capitalism

  9. Pingback: 2:00PM Water Cooler 4/7/2021 – Economics

  10. Pingback: O hierarchiach z petitową burżuazją w tle |

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