19 January, 2013

Social Class

I got into a stoush the other day on G+, I could have escalated things to a full on conflict but I just wasn't in the mood. It related to the social order of the corporate world.

The general idea was simple.

Original Poster: Good CEO's are worth every cent we pay them.
My Response: Then why do we pay the bad ones the same amount?
Original Poster: Hmmm??? We don't, do we?
Third Party: Any CEO job is hard work. If you don't believe me, just become a CEO.
My Reponse: Just become a CEO?? WTF? Are also you the kind of guy who kicks homeless people and tells them to get off their arses and get a job?? Most of the CEO's I know got into the position because they knew people already in power, so they just walked into the job.
Original Poster: You liberal, occupy supporter...I hate it how everyone thinks those people in high corporate positions just got into the job through toadying and nepotism...some of them worked really hard to get there.

I didn't want to continue the argument, it felt like butting my head against a brick wall.

But it did make me think about social class in RPGs. In Warhammer, it's theoretically possible to start as a street urchin, follow a series of career progressions and end up as a noble or a knight of the realm. In D&D it's pretty much inevitable that a character starts off lowly and then ascends to the realms of nobility or even godhood. We see it all the time.

But how realistic is that?

Vampire the Masquerade had a rigid social order. Either you were bitten by a low generation (more powerful) vampire and instantly ascended to the ruling elite of society, or you were bitten by a high generation (less powerful) vampire and were stuck in the dregs of supernatural society for eternity. The only way to improve your generation was to eat the souls of more powerful vampires (and naturally this was considered he most heinous of crimes by the ruling elite). This was more like the real world, either you're born into privilege, you get ignored among the masses, or you become a pariah and challenge the rulers. Naturally, a lot of people I know absolutely hated it for this reason...who wants escapism that's just the same as their everyday lowly lives?

In reality we can look to the various social orders that have held society in stasis.

Feudalism is a key example where if you are born into nobility you have certain rights and responsibilities (but history is filled with examples of nobles who didn't fill their "obligations" to their subjects), if you aren't born into nobility you generally die in obscurity. The only way that the masses are given hope is through the religious blackmail of "an afterlife in heaven if you do good deeds and don't cause a stir". Occasionally, a noble might grant a petty title to a peasant, in order to keep the citizens dreaming of possible titles of their own.

Exchange feudalism for capitalism. Those with money make contacts with money (like attracts like), and grant their wealth and their social circles to their children. Occasionally a wealthy patron might grant some of their money to one of the masses as venture capital, and this keeps the dreams of the masses alive (all the better to keep them in check).

I've been told by many a company director or manager that if I work hard, I'll get a pay rise and maybe even get promoted to their ranks. Almost all of these company directors and managers got their positions over me by knowing someone in the company, or (in at least two cases) because the company was owned by their parents. They just use carrot and stick...the carrot is the promise of more money and promotions (that never come), and the stick has been a firing or retrenchment (an especially harsh stick in a high-unemployment recession). Yet any time these individuals have been questioned about their motives, they point to nebulous and vague times when they "worked their arses off" to get where they are.

It's a modern caste system.

It's fair enough, the overseers of our capitalist world want to maintain their positions of power. They fear rebellion, but can't be allowed to show that fear. Like priests to "the almighty dollar", they keep their underlings working to feed a economical god. If they lose their cults, then other cults take over and they lose their power.


It's a cynical way to look at things, and I'll accept anyone's response who can prove me wrong...but it's the pattern I've seen time and again.


Maybe I've just developed this attitude to money and religion because I never bothered to learn the games of toadying and nepotism when I was younger. Perhaps it's because my parents could have provided me with some of the money and contacts to get a leg up into the middle or even upper classes (heaven knows, I've got cousins who flitter around with the social butterflies)...but instead I got parents with the typical babyboomer attitude of "Let's give our kids character by making them work for everything" (strangely this attitude died away with my younger sister and brother, conveniently as my parents started "living comfortably"). Perhaps the attitudes between money and religion are linked because my dad worked for the Anglican church for many years and I saw the same corporate nonsense happening there.

Either way, it probably explains why I keep designing post apocalyptic games, why one of my favourite movies is Fight Club, and why one of my favourite songs is Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution will not be Televised".

Enough rant, back to you regularly scheduled programming.

(PS: Did I mention I'm about to go into university study to become a teacher?...to infect a new generation with my thoughts?)
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