TUMBY BAY - Just like it is naïve to assume that racism doesn’t exist in most societies, it is naïve to think that most societies are now classless.
The differentiation of classes is no longer simply based on wealth and inheritance but involves more subtle factors.
The definitions of class have changed to the extent that they are no longer recognisable in the simplistic terms of yesteryear.
Nowadays, educational levels can determine where one sits in terms of class. Someone with a graduate degree, even if they are poverty stricken, is now regarded as middle class for instance.
The same goes for people with a demonstrated high intellect, even if they don’t have the certificates to prove it.
History tells us that more often than not the educated middle class are the change agents in society.
This is why the Australian administration in Papua New Guinea was keen to establish an educated middle class prior to independence.
The theory goes that while the lower classes are busy concentrating on survival and the upper classes on protecting and increasing their wealth only the educated middle class has the inclination, wherewithal and time to think about social issues.
What is recognisable as the middle class actually contains two sub-sets, the educated and the aspirational.
The former is largely made up of the caring professions, doctors, nurses, teachers, journalists and the like, while the latter is made up of business people.
Aspirational thinkers among the middle class usually spend their days trying to climb up social ladders and tend not to be too concerned about social conditions except where they affect them directly.
It is unfortunate when the educated sub-set of the middle class becomes too comfortable and complacent because that makes change difficult.
This has become blazingly obvious in places like Papua New Guinea.
In Papua New Guinea the distinction between the educated and the economically aspirational disappeared very quickly.
The result is a single hybrid middle class whose main interest is looking after its own interests.
While many of the middle class elites in Papua New Guinea seem to have sold their souls to Mammon, this is not so much the case in other parts of the world.
This is important because the coronavirus pandemic, which has seriously disrupted the world economic order, has now created opportunities to develop a new way of organizing and managing society and its attendant political, economic, and social components.
The realisation that change is required has been highlighted by the rank inability of the established order in many parts of the world, but notably in the US and UK, to effectively deal with the crisis.
This demonstration of the diabolical incompetence of the world’s ruling elites has created universal feelings of resentment and anger not seen since the great depression of the 1930s.
The pandemic has been accepted by many progressive thinkers as putatively providing an opportunity for transforming a system that is ridden with deep economic and political inequalities and is profoundly destabilizing the ecology of the world.
As Walden Bello, a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus observes, “the subjective element, the psychological critical mass, is there. It is a whirlwind that is waiting to be captured by contending political forces. The question is who will succeed in harnessing it”.
One would expect, given the counterproductive interests of the different classes in society, that the educated middle class will naturally lead any uptake of this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
However, there are powerful forces arraigned against change and it is not altogether clear whether they’ve got the backbone to carry it off.
Those forces include the powerful upper class and their aspirational acolytes who steadfastly adhere to the principals of neo-liberalism and want a simple return to business as usual.
Another powerful force is the inertia of the lower classes. They are the ones suffering the most from the disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis but motivating them to support change is always a problem.
Whether they are sufficiently moved by their suffering into positive supportive action is a trillion dollar question for anyone, middle class or otherwise, hoping to affect the positive social change the whole world needs.