Flat White

Covid and the new class divides

3 August 2021

5:10 PM

3 August 2021

5:10 PM

I fought class identity for most of my life. For some reason, I believed it was something that held people from working-class backgrounds down. My father was so steeped in class identity that he often corrected me when I dreamed of greater things. “Never forget where you come from darlin,’” he would say in the cockney accent that he was loathe to abandon, even after a lifetime in Australia. It is not that I wanted to be “above myself,” it is just that I felt like we lived at the bottom of the social and economic order and I didn’t particularly like that. In addition to being born female, it made me feel far too attractive to the type of shark that is drawn to the smell of vulnerability. It turns out, my father need not have bothered worrying about me forgetting because you can’t forget what you know.

Covid has been a type of cocoon for some, who testify of unexpected transformations, for me it has reset my politics to a long-forgotten class consciousness. New class divides are appearing to me that look suspiciously like old class divides, again plastered over with the nonsense of authoritarian scolds. 

I want to declare first when it comes to science, I know less about immunology and vaccines than your average nine-year-old child. I have kept myself deliberately scientifically ignorant on this issue because the politics of covid is so fascinating. Besides, there seems to be such an abundance of experts on immunology that I see little room for more humanities, degree-holding experts. Nevertheless, I have had several fights and one block recently on Covid issues without even taking a position on the vaccine or the handling of it.  

The latest block was from a News Corp journalist Eliza Barr, as far as I can see, regarding my sordid and unfounded implication that she may be part of an elite. Barr retweeted a renowned progressive preacher, Father Rod Bower, whose famous church sign was subject to a graffiti attack.  The theological approach of preachers like Father Rod is to place the Holy scriptures in a French post-structuralist fog, and then to impose on the scriptures the same kind of fashionable identitarian ideology that you may be fed for your breakfast from our national broadcaster.   

Usually, this particular preacher places on his church sign exactly what our left-wing oligarchs think the masses should be holding as fashionable and correct opinions. “Jesus was a refugee,” “BLM,” etc. There is no limit to Father Bower’s willingness to place his church at the virtuous service of the righteous revolution. A number of years ago his signs were dubbed “signs of the times” by the Sydney Morning Herald, but his latest sign has been dubbed a sign of the end times by a vandal. The sign said “vaccinate,” but it has been graffitied over with the words “Mark of the Beast.”  

I don’t condone public destruction of property, but I thought this was pretty amusing.  The good father was not amused, and the day after the lockdown “freedom” protests across Australia, he posted a picture of the molested sign with his pronouncement that his “disgust at yesterday’s wilful stupidity in #sydneyprotest was only deepened this morning. So embarrassed to be an Australian.”

I, on the other hand, am proud to be an Australian, despite living in a society that is simultaneously steeped in the denial of class and rotten with expanding cracks of class division. We, in the “lucky country,” have long declared ourselves a “classless” or “egalitarian” society. It’s a mythology that allows for our cultural elite to seamlessly integrate the narrative of the victorious struggle of the working man into their own cultural framework.  

In Australia, we routinely receive lectures from ordinary-looking blokes, littered with slang words like “mate,” “fair go,” and “bugger,” informing us of the correct ways to think on a wide variety of political, moral, and scientific matters. One of these elites actually wears a pirate scarf on his head. It has become so that the use of conspicuous working-class vernacular by wealthy media personalities is a signal post for a form of targeted opinion dissemination.

It wasn’t the noble father’s disdain for our nation that bothered me, his disgust and embarrassment, were not for the nation, but for an economic class of people whose political loyalties are shifting.  When Eliza Barr, the News Corp journalist re-tweeted Bower, she did so with the claim that the graffiti was “very distressing.” I suggested, rather politely, that it was not at all distressing. My view is that this kind of hysteria over vaccine conspiracy theories is a distraction from clear class dynamics that are emerging. Barr then deliberately misread my point and said that “Thinking it is insane to conflate the vaccine with the mark of the beast is not classist. That is ridiculous.” I kindly said that this was not my point (which she knew).  

My point was that I thought “most of those people at the protest are working class.” I considered her subsequent link to an evangelical conspiracy theory, a long and disingenuous bow to draw. Being very familiar with Australian evangelical culture, I would put good money on the graffiti artist not being an evangelical. She kindly provided me with information about the American conspiracy theory of the vaccine being the “mark of the beast” before she blocked me.  

With my humble working-class goggles, I wondered if the protesters may not be evangelical conspiracy theorists, but people who are suffering in ways that the pastor or the journalist struggle to understand. People whose livelihoods and mental health have been shaken in ways that they didn’t consent to. People who may have been willing to take the risks encountered by the rest of the world with the virus, in exchange for the opportunity to have the dignity to provide for their family, to give their kids a normal life, to engage with society, to maintain a romantic relationship, to not be subject to tyranny. 

Any indication of the devastating social and economic impacts on the Covid measures was initially downplayed by left-wing media in Australia. The Guardian Australia, reported less than a year ago that “Suicide figures show no increase in rate in NSW or Victoria during Covid”. But just last month we get the headline “Attempted suicide rates among Victorian teenagers soar by 184 per cent in past six months, Kids Helpline reveals,” The murder-suicide of a mother and her three children in Tullamarine, Victoria in January this year has barely been spoken about. The suffering of small business owners is reported in left-wing media, only in relation to the benefits workers may need from the government. Stories of family breakdown and hardship are only spoken about in whispers between us lowly plebeians in the shop, where we are told by politicians not to linger and talk for too long.

There has been a divide emerging between those in stable work, and those who have become subject to life-altering hardship. This has been combined with a sustained mistrust of media and a habitual search among those who feel voiceless for alternative media. People who are censored on social media often take the discussion to various message groups, uttering things in darkness that dare not be spoken in the light.  

There is a great deal of talk about the “woke” and the “anti-woke,” but the complexities that are emerging, particularly with the pandemic response, have broken even these frameworks. The elite that is emerging seems to be very similar to every elite that ever emerged. Those whose income and stability are dependent on the status quo and the silencing of dissent. I am not suggesting there aren’t some crazy-arsed ideas crawling around in the inter-webs, but the attempt to take hold of information in the way that they take hold of information is increasingly being done in a stifling cultural environment of censorship and dishonesty. 

People who I agree with on a range of issues are willingly consenting to the scolding of the frustrated, depressed, and angry classes of people who have suffered the worst in the last year. Generally, this brand of scold are people I use to call “champagne socialists.” Left-leaning but not “woke” people who are comfortable in their income, and who consider themselves well educated, intellectually balanced, and compassionate. Mostly I like them, and I don’t think they are motivated by malice. 

There is an emerging consensus of dishonesty in the covering of genuine class issues that appears to span all divides with Covid. The political shaking that has resulted from the pandemic is not yet entirely clear, but I can’t help but see it through my old working-class eyes, the knowledge of what it is like to be on the bottom of the social order. 

Dan Andrews, the far-left leader of Victoria, was asked at a press conference what the people at the lockdown protests were protesting about. He looked dazed and confused as if he was contemplating a difficult maths equation. Andrews is the epitome of the now all too familiar Labor career politician, armed with an arts degree and a penchant for authoritarian control. Seeing him there stunned was too much for one female journalist who declared “they are protesting about you.” The feigning of further shock at the suggestion was hard to watch. It was then followed by a Twitter inquiry for the name of the cheeky journalist by one of Dan’s minions, and a now-familiar Twitter pile-on of a dissenting female journalist, in what has become a new culture of misogyny and elitism, that looks like the old culture of misogyny and elitism, except it is from the party that working-class people like myself voted for without question all our lives. 

The father of the cultural elite has now tweeted a picture of his sign almost clean from graffiti and revealing his new message. The sign we can read from under the remaining graffiti are the words Jesus spoke from the cross as He was being crucified by the Roman Empire, albeit with the consent of the elite of his own people: “Forgive, for they know not what they do.” Such magnanimous forgiveness of the protesters can barely be believed. I certainly find it astounding to see a clergyman use the words of Christ in such bald-face condescension of human suffering and distress. 

The neo-Marxist elite were badly let down by the western working class. The working class organised politically within the capitalist state and successfully gained better wages and working conditions. These struggles and victories are all appropriated now into the new identitarian classes. You can pick one, but not one based on economic class, sex, or genuine human sexuality. You have to choose an identity category. Person of colour, queer, or one of the many genders. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if it doesn’t exist in a cultural framework that can be defined and controlled by elites, it doesn’t exist at all. 

So the working class has moved right politically in search of a voice. They look rather different now than my cockney father and his scruffy work-mates, many are small business owners. They aren’t even really working-class; they are a class of people whose lively hood is most subject to economic currents. Those people who find that they are not directly tied to a global economy and the alliance of government, capital and interest groups that take the lion’s share of what we use to call “surplus value.” I can almost guarantee that these are the “idiots” that the father and the News Corp journalist are so horrified at. Not evangelicals on 4chan, chatting about the rapture. People who are no longer represented by the famous Australian labour movement. Because the narrative of the labour movement, like all civil rights victories, has been appropriated into the narrative of the elite.  They use our heritage to legitimise their voice as that of “everyman,” and to scold those who dissent. 

When the new oligarchy takes power and Father Bower is seated at the right hand of the Australian Labor Party, he can be assured he will receive his reward. The working class having received the message, that shall they move from the fashionable left, they will be scolded and dubbed homophobes, transphobes, racists, right-wing, anti-vaxers, conspiracy theorists, or whatever cultural control mechanism is deemed appropriate. Because the working class does not own their own oppression anymore. Like the oppression of female people and homosexuals, it has been integrated into a cultural power structure that only governments, lobby groups, and (some) churches are anointed to give voice to. Class, like sex and the opera, has been cancelled for Covid.

Edie Wyatt has a BA Hons from the Institute of Cultural Policy Studies and writes on culture, politics and feminism. She tweets at @MsEdieWyatt and blogs at ediewyatt.com.

This piece originally appeared on Savage Minds.

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